Surferbird News-links, 64th Edition

Photographs of fall; the polar vortex and melting Arctic sea ice; evaporation as a renewable energy source; potassium and vascular health; pesticides in honey; clothes made from methane; MS and gut microbes; autism and the environment; beautiful masculinity, Dan Fogelberg and so much more. 

Greetings! Welcome to the latest edition of Surferbird News-links. We're enjoying a quiet reprieve in our part of the world. Most of the fires in surrounding areas are contained; my youngster made it to school every day last week without a tardy; things are looking up. But when will cool weather arrive? Oh well, I might as well share some stories while I wait. So, let's get started!

news from my wood

I finally added my apartment's utility bill to my Arcadia Power account. The house we rent in the Bay Area has been on the free 50 percent wind energy plan for about two years. But recently, I upgraded to Arcadia's 100 percent renewable energy plan, and my bill didn't increase by much at all. It's easy peasy! You can do it too.

And since I'm on the subject of Arcadia Power, I want to assure you that I don't earn points, credits or income by recommending them. In fact, if you have a local renewable energy provider, go for it! Otherwise, here's a link to Green-e, which lists other options from around the U.S. Because Arcadia Power is featured in so many online publications, I'm more familiar with them. 

The city I live in plans to join a local clean energy program by spring. But I'm not sure if they'll offer 100 percent renewable energy. Yet, what many people don't realize is that you can combine your Arcadia Power account with local plans. This ensures that the energy you use comes directly from clean sources or at least supports them. 

Yeah, I know; I can be pushy sometimes! I'll go one step further and provide you with a link to Arcadia Power, or alternately, visit the Green-e website, above. I can't think of a better way to let this administration know how you feel about their attempts to repeal the Clean Power Plan and bring back coal than to invest in clean energy.  

New blog posts

I haven't written any. But I spent a lot of time last week editing an older essay about playground bullies and politicians. I hope to use it as a writing sample when I pitch to magazines. And I think it's much better. I even threw in some new characters. What do you think? 


images of fall from around the world, (

Earth is full of incredible beauty.  But the first thought that came to mind when I saw these photographs at the Atlantic was relief from seeing something other than images of fires and hurricanes.  These pictures offer more than relief, though. They connect us to other cultures around the world—all of them celebrating autumn. We're blessed to live on a planet with so many lovely nooks and crannies. If everyone savored these spaces, from the far reaches of distant continents to our own backyards, we probably wouldn't be making parts of our planet uninhabitable. Is it that some people never feel the richness of nature? To experience it is one thing; to feel it is quite another. 

climate change and nature

Retreating to nature is a valid response to climate change, (

The link, above, is to an excerpt from an essay in Paul Kingsnorth's book, "Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist," published by Graywolf Press. Don't worry; I'm not about to give up my blog. I'll keep writing about the environment. But Paul Kingsnorth has influenced my perspective. And what I've learned from him is that one of the best ways to be an environmentalist is to slow down. I think I've always known that but needed the reminder.

So, what does it mean to slow down? After all, not everyone can retreat to the country, as Paul does. The rest of us have to cultivate a relationship with nature in our towns and cities. Yet, I think Paul is spot on when he encourages us to stop trying to control nature and to do more with our hands. And you don't have to live on a farm to do that! 

I can be still and observe a small piece of wildness from the windows of my apartment—the lovely, tall tree and the squirrel that rustles its branches as he or she gathers food, then drops it all over my car! It's impossible to control a squirrel. And even though my space is tiny, I have a long list of projects to do that help the environment and also save money. I can make my own shopping bag, cook homemade broth, mend my clothes and hang them to dry. 

You can find ways to help, too. By living more simply, we consume fewer resources, including fossil fuels. Think of the trucks, ships and planes that carry goods around the planet. But also consider that in the future we might not have enough natural resources to go around. Every time you save energy or repurpose something, you're chipping away another small piece of our consumerist society. I'll share some of my projects in future posts. And I'm sure I could also learn a lot from you!

If Earth is getting warmer, why has the Northern Hemisphere seen so many recent cold spells?, (

Some scientists think that melting Arctic sea ice contributes to a weaker polar vortex (, a mass of low pressure air that normally stays over the poles. That's not good because when the polar vortex weakens, it can cause colder air to move into nearby regions. What this means for the Northern Hemisphere is an increased chance of severe winter storms in parts of North America, Europe and Russia. On the other hand, a strong polar vortex keeps cold Arctic air over the Arctic.

Not all scientists agree on the details, though. For example, others think long-term changes in sea surface temperatures and equatorial changes, rather than melting Arctic sea ice, weaken the polar vortex. Yet, what climate scientists do agree on is the Arctic is melting, and that can influence weather. Furthermore, considering changes in the polar vortex when predicting weather could give people more time to prepare for severe cold snaps. 

green technology and renewable energy

using evaporation from lakes and reservoirs as a source of renewable energy, (

A new study suggests that evaporation from lakes and reservoirs could supply the U.S. with 70 percent of its energy needs. The advantage is that unlike wind and solar, evaporation is more constant. But what is most surprising is that the process uses spores from soil bacteria that change their size based on humidity. By contracting and expanding as a response to humidity, the spores function like a muscle, creating motion that can be used to generate electricity. Scientists will need to do further studies, but this looks like a promising source of renewable energy for the future.

Can switching to 100 percent renewable energy save us from climate change?, (

According to this piece at Resilience, some scientists think that 100 percent renewable energy will save us from climate change and that the technology to do that already exists—without any hiccups in our current level of energy consumption. Other scientists argue that although they support these goals, current technology falls short of meeting demand. But it's a sad day, indeed, when one group suggests suing the other. How will scientists remain credible with so much bickering?  

On the other hand, what if the math doesn't add up? What if it's impossible to meet current and future energy demands with renewable energy—in time to stop runaway climate change—without decreasing our energy consumption? That's what a series of papers published by Patrick Moriarty and Damon Honnery from Monash University in Australia suggest. But the last paragraph of the article best illustrates the author's point, and I've included the first part, below:

If our hope is to deploy wind and solar capacity that maintains indefinitely the current throughput of energy in the world’s affluent societies, then, yes, the situation is hopeless.
— 100 Percent Wishful Thinking: The Green Energy Cornucopia, by Stan Cox, originally published by

I hope you have time to read the rest of the paragraph because the author's views run counter to much of what you hear in the media. Granted, many of the ideas expressed at Resilience give me pause for thought. But I would rather be exposed to different perspectives than to skip along a merry path without a compass. 

food and farming

A new book on glyphosate and politics, (

Carey Gillam has made a career out of reading and writing about glyphosate and Monsanto, the company that makes an ever popular herbicide that I don't want to name. Did you read any of the Harry Potter books? If so, do you recall the other name the witches and wizards gave to Voldemort because they were afraid to say his real one? But I digress. I'm also stepping into sketchy territory by offering my opinion about a company without backing it up with facts. We'll save that for another time.

Anyway, Gillam recently published a book at Island Press about her adventures with glyphosate called "Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science." And in case you haven't heard, the World Health Organization considers glyphosate a probable carcinogen. Regardless of your views on the safety of glyphosate, though, the corruption exposed in this interview with Gillam highlights Monsanto's practice of having its public relations department write papers that refute any health concerns only to, then, convince scientists to put their names on the papers so that it looks like independent journalism. There's more to learn in the interview with Gillam at Civil Eats. If I can stop writing Surferbird News-links long enough to read an actual book, Gillam's is at the top of my list!

pesticides in honey is bad news for the bees, (

Detected levels of pesticides found in honey are probably too low to cause a problem for humans. But even though pesticide manufacturers claim that these chemicals don't pose a problem for bees, either, some scientists disagree. According to Marla Spivak from the University of Minnesota, the fact that pesticides end up in honey means that bees are exposed to high enough amounts to make them sick when they're under stress from other factors, such as malnutrition and pests. It's similar to what happens during flu season when people don't get enough sleep and eat junk food: They catch the flu. Let's not talk about that. 

health, home and textiles

clothing made from methane?, (

I was skeptical about this until I read the article. Oh sure, let's just send more microfibers to waterways and synthetic clothes to landfills. Have I become cynical? But textiles made from this technology developed by Mango Materials will compost and biodegrade. Also, any fibers that end up in wastewater via your washing machine will break down at the treatment plant. And marine animals could even break down an entire garment if you decide to strip and toss your clothes in the ocean. (I won't be doing that anytime soon.)

The technology is fascinating and works by using waste methane from dairy farms and landfills to feed bacteria "that can produce fully biodegradable bio-polyester fibers." It's a way to sequester carbon while making eco-friendly clothing. I'll be following this closely because I love textiles and enjoy wearing clothes made from a variety of fabrics. Hello, yoga pants!

The connection between MS and gut microbes, (

In two separate studies, scientists found an association between the gut microbiome and the likelihood of developing multiple sclerosis. Will we be treating MS with probiotics in the future? Although scientists have a lot to learn before we get to that point, the results of these studies look promising. It's important to keep in mind, however, that other mechanisms have also been linked to MS. But I hope researchers can tease out the details because having a low-tech way of treating MS and other diseases would be invaluable. 

potassium and vascular health, (

If you're concerned about having healthy arteries, consider consuming adequate amounts of potassium to prevent arterial calcification and aortic stiffness, according to a study at the University of Alabama. If you're interested in the details, you can learn more about the study in the article, above. But before you go consuming mega-quantities of potassium, even dietary sources, make sure that it's safe for you to do so because some people have underlying medical conditions ( in which extra potassium is contraindicated. 

Is there a connection between environment and autism?, (

Have autism rates increased? Or, perhaps, higher rates are due to greater awareness, a more inclusive definition of autism and additional services available throughout communities and schools. This piece by Liza Gross at Ensia sorts though the data on genetic and possible environmental links to autism. But until recently, scientists have largely focused on genetics. If you've ever wondered about the relationship between specific environmental factors and autism, this piece covers what scientists know so far. Bottom line: We need a lot more studies before we fully understand the role environment plays and how genetics might also influence that. 

science and technology

an important new discovery in science and medecine: the brain has a lymphatic system, (

Medical students are taught that the brain doesn't have a lymphatic system. But that's about to change because researchers from the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke just published fascinating images of it. You can view them in the link to the Atlantic, above.  Although scientists are quick to point out that they still don't know what the brain's lymphatic system does, this discovery could possibly lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms behind neurological diseases associated with the immune system, such as MS. 


can men be beautiful?, (

What if men invested as much time in grooming as women? Many do. Besides, not all women wear make-up or have the patience for multi-step skin care routines. I seem to fall in that category, lately. But, perhaps, by giving men permission to indulge in skin care, our culture will move toward greater acceptance of different forms of self expression. Who is the master of your grooming rituals? Is it you, or what society has burdened you with? Watch the video in the link to learn expert skin care tips for men and women—for anyone! 


Autumn is a particularly poignant season in our family—a time of births, but also a time of deaths. And so the cycle of life continues. But each new day—new season—reveals Earth's mysteries. And in the rubble of fires, hurricanes and piles of fallen leaves, hope burns eternal.    Laura

Please note: This is a gorgeous music video. I've played it many times. But at the end, there's a banner on the screen that says to click for latest uploads. It's probably safe to do that, however, I didn't put that there. I don't have a YouTube channel. But I do hope you'll watch and listen to Dan Fogelberg's "To the Morning."