Climate Disease

“Climate change” is an understatement. It’s like calling cancer “cell change.”

We should call it “climate disease” and remember these things:

Climate disease is chronic and progressive.

Climate disease attacks the life support systems of the earth. Those life support systems are our life support systems.

Climate disease is killing people today.

Climate disease could kill your grandchildren tomorrow.

Climate disease has a known cause.

Climate disease has a known cure.





In looking over ten years of Facebook posts, I come across the one that was the most emotional for me to write and the one that still brings me the greatest sadness.

September 21, 2016

As a high school student in America in the 90s, I was required, compelled, forced to study subjects such as Math, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Yes, I was interested in these subjects, but I didn’t have much choice in the matter: if I had been perpetually truant, I could have found myself in juvenile court and my parents could have been subject to fines and legal charges. I spent countless hours of my youth attending required classes, doing homework, and studying for tests in the aforementioned subjects. I was graded and ranked based on my performance, and my success in getting into college was affected by those marks on my transcript. My future depended, in part, on how well I understood basic science. The overwhelming consensus of the scientific community – those people who discovered all that stuff in my science textbooks – is that anthropogenic climate change is a grave threat to humanity. One of the 2016 presidential candidates believes that climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese. If that person is elected president, I will respectfully ask American society for a refund for all that time I was made to spend in science class in my childhood. What was the point? Do we as a nation really not believe the things we force our children to study, the things we give them homework and tests on, the things we grade and judge them on, the things we tell them they must understand if they are to succeed? Political allegiances and other matters aside, are we really willing to elect – to even contemplate electing – a leader who does not believe the basic science on which our future depends?

I wrote the post because I felt betrayed, and two years later the feeling of betrayal has only deepened. The post was ostensibly about the 2016 election but really it was about the way our society demands that children become literate in science while at the same time electing leaders who ignore, misinterpret, or brazenly contradict science when it matters the most. This situation existed well before 2016, of course, but as a young person growing up in the 1980s and 1990s I had faith in the system. I expected that the system that was forcing me to do a homework assignment on Boyle’s gas law instead of riding my bike after school was a system that would protect me by applying Boyle’s gas law when it needed to be applied, and ditto for the science that has come since Boyle. I expected that the system that was demanding my time and energy as a student would repay me by defending my future. It would do that by cultivating and practicing the very knowledge it claimed to want to transmit to me. I never imagined that the whole thing could be a ruse, all of those standardized tests, bearing their official titles and addresses:

The University Of The State Of New York
Office of State Assessment
Albany, NY 12234

Those test booklets with their pages and pages of questions and multiple choice bubbles, it all seemed so serious and so official, and yet it seems to have been a kind of joke, given that the system doesn’t respect what it tested and graded us on, consuming so many hours and days and years of our youth.

I don’t like saying that I feel betrayed because, of course, my own personal feelings are insignificant in comparison to the threat we face as a civilization. If negative emotions are rarely productive, I feel I should find a positive way of looking at all this and I should focus on the way forward. But right now I need to scream.

Earth, Leaving Facebook

Window Insulation

If you asked me which topic I care most about, music, photography, or window insulation, I would list them in that same order, with window insulation being in a very, very distant third place. But if you asked me to identify the Facebook post of mine from the past ten years that has given me the greatest personal satisfaction, I would probably pick this post from 2014 about window insulation. It was satisfying because it had a result: in the weeks after I posted it, I learned that a handful of friends and acquaintances, including many who never liked or commented on the post, had seen it and had proceeded to insulate their windows because of it. Think about it, there could be cold air streaming through crevices in your windows right now, keeping your heating system in high gear and leading to unnecessary carbon pollution in a time when the existential threat of climate change is coming into ever clearer focus, and you can stop it (the air, at least) with some plastic and some tape.

January 7, 2014

I’m inspired to make a rare public service announcement. With this week’s weather in the U.S. you will definitely know if you have drafty windows. Insulate them! I did 3 of our leakiest windows at the beginning of the season and just completed another 5 last night (it took around an hour). The kits by 3M and Frost King are under $20 for five average-size windows and you’re likely to save many times that amount in heating costs. I can confirm that both products work as advertised, though 3M’s plastic looks clearer to me. I don’t want to presume that you haven’t already considered this, but in case you require a nudge to action, here it is.



Earth, Photography

Boston Flooding, 2018

Back in January 2018 my neighborhood in East Boston experienced significant flooding along with many other coastal parts of the city and region. At the time, I posted a few flooding-related photographs to Facebook and now, as part of my resolution to leave Facebook in 2019, I’m moving the material here. All three of these images employ the selective colorization technique that I wrote about in my post on Salient Color. They are all taken at the site of new condo developments on the East Boston waterfront near the Maverick T Station. The third image, “Sold Out,” was taken by Kannan T. and edited by me.


The water does not favor one particular side of the construction fence.
The best view of Boston is to be had in this lounge chair at LoPresti Park.
Sold out.
Earth, Photography

My Spider

Considering that today is a holiday that has some association with spiders, I thought I would share some photos of a Cross Orbweaver that I took in September 2017. I found the spider one day in my garden, and it stayed there for about a week, building and rebuilding its web. I developed an obsession with photographing it. By the time it left, I had taken around 1240 shots and had begun to refer to the creature as “my spider.” I’ve been struggling to edit the collection since then, but with the impetus of Halloween being today, I thought I’d present an abbreviated version.

This first shot shows the spider with its legs outstretched, as if in shock, desperately grasping for something that’s no longer there:


I just said the spider looks like it was “desperately grasping for something that’s no longer there.” Indeed, that’s what it was doing, and I’m to blame! You see, as I photographed the spider over many hours, I felt so much gratitude for the fascination it was affording me that I made a resolution that I would never do anything to disturb it, even if some disturbance would give rise to better photographs. My one manipulation of the environment was to mount a piece of black paperboard in the background to make the web easier to see. At one point, when I was probably five-hundred shots already into this photographic journey, I inadvertently broke my resolution. As I was adjusting the paperboard, I accidentally touched and jostled the web, causing the spider’s meal — a meticulously encased moth — to fall tragically to the ground. This photo shows the spider reaching for the meal that had just dropped from its preprandial embrace. I was surprised at how long the spider held this pose (maybe five seconds?) as if it simply couldn’t accept that the moth was really gone.

Eventually the spider retracted its legs in a gesture filled with more pathos and desperation than I am used to seeing from an arachnid:


The spider seemed to be feeling pretty bad, and so was I, for having put it in this state. Luckily I hadn’t entirely ruined the spider’s day. While I had caused it to lose one of its meals, there was another partially encased moth waiting elsewhere in the web. The spider eventually emerged from its curled-up lamentation and began heading towards the second moth as I watched:


When the spider found the second moth, it decided that this morsel could not be left where it was (why?), so it began carting the thing to the other end of the web. Here you can see the spider pulling and swinging the second moth around with only two threads supporting the precious cargo:



Now the spider begins to approach the precariously suspended moth as if ready to eat:




But instead of commencing its feast, the spider decides that the moth must first be wrapped in more layers of silk (again, why?). Here you can see the spider secreting a “blanket” of silk from its rear end and wrapping it around the moth:


After further encasing the moth, the spider again decides that the moth cannot be left where it is. For some reason, another precarious transfer is undertaken. The moth, now hanging from just one thread, seems to be in danger of plunging to the ground at any moment:


But spider’s execution is virtuosic, the silk is remarkably strong, the moth never falls, and finally in this third position, the spider begins to eat:


Here’s a closeup:


That’s the end of our little story of the spider losing its meal and finding another, but I do have a few more images to share. But by taking photographs and looking at the photographs very closely, I’ve learned some interesting thing about spiders that I didn’t know before. For example, spiders (some spiders) have claws. That’s how they’re able to grasp the strands of the web. Look at this:


And as we saw above, spiders can “spray” a nebulous blanket of silk from their rear ends (technically, from their spinerrets) when encasing their prey. But they can also secrete a single, well-defined thread of silk. Here’s a nighttime shot of the spider pulling thread to use in rebuilding its web:


Haven’t seen enough yet? Here’s what the spider’s underside looks like:



I should mention that while the spider looks big and dramatic in these photographs, it’s really a tiny little thing that you might consider to be visually unremarkable if you didn’t get in very close. This next image shows my basic technique for photographing the spider. The idea was to position the black board behind the web in such a way that the board itself would be in shadow while the web and spider would be illuminated by sun. I got lucky with several days of bright sun. The photos in this collection were all handheld shots taken with a macro lens at a distance of only a few inches — basically as close as I could get.


I’ll leave you with this closing portrait of our eight-legged friend:





Title: “Fountain.”

Year: 2017.

Artist: Boston Parks Department.

Materials: Various.

Description: Inspired by current events ranging from the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan to the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, this installation, which features bright orange traffic cones and yellow tape positioned around a common drinking fountain, calls attention to the absurdity that arises when water, essential to life, becomes—through humanity’s own actions—a danger to the very life it supports.


Shampoo In Bar Form

It is safe to say that I’ve never had a reputation for knowing about, or even having the remotest interest in hair care products. But it is also true that, intermittently over the last 25 years, whenever I’ve found myself in a discussion of startup ideas and disruptive innovations, where everyone is excitedly describing their pet plan for “changing the world,” I have sometimes revealed my own revolutionary product concept, and I never even asked anyone to sign an NDA: shampoo in bar form. Solid shampoo. The fact that no one, not one single person, in all this time, has ever told me they think this is a good idea, to me has always seemed like evidence for the truly revolutionary nature of the proposal. Every dismissive laugh, every “Haha, no one will buy it!” has been like a trophy to me. People just don’t get it, that shampoo in bars is more convenient for travel, lighter to ship, and less bulky to store than liquid shampoo, is spill-proof, and most importantly it can be packaged in simple recycled paper as opposed to a wasteful plastic bottle with a pump mechanism that’s going to end up polluting an ocean and possibly choking a polar bear to death. Apparently those environmental and ergonomic differentiators are very difficult to understand. But luckily I didn’t have to waste years of my life actively pitching this concept, making prototypes, trying to develop a market, inventing founder’s stories about how I was just a simple guy hacking on shampoo formulations in his garage, looking for a better way. No, all I had to do was wish for it, and with no other discernible effort on my part, aside from waiting many, many years, poof! Over six companies selling shampoo in bars have now materialized — J.R. Liggett’s, Lush, D. R. Harris, Obia Naturals, Seanik, Chagrin Valley — everyone is doing it! I guess I had gotten a little lazy in following the market these past few years. Online product reviews today are full of newly formed bar-shampoo aficionados saying “Love it! Great idea!” Where were y’all a decade ago when I was crying out into the wilderness? Well, in any case, I am delighted to have just procured my first sample of bar shampoo and will be using it for the first time tomorrow morning. With so many people already on the bandwagon, I feel like a late adopter.

Update 12/11/2016: I switched over to solid/bar shampoo around Sep 7, 2016. My first bar of J. R. Liggetts, priced around $6, has lasted me approximately 3 months, up until today, Dec. 11, with daily use. Great product: compact, convenient to transport or store, long lasting, packed in recyclable paper, no toxic ingredients, pleasant lather, an easy and fun way to reduce your environmental impact — try it.

Earth, Music, Voice

Who robbed the woods?

Inspired by activists like Warren Senders, Andrée Zalesk, and Kannan, I’ve wanted to create some music about a shared concern: climate change. So, I was happy to come across Emily Dickinson’s poem “Who robbed the woods?” The poem admits multiple interpretations, but I take it as being about the rape of our natural environment. Emily would not likely have had “climate change” on her mind but surely she could have been familiar with people and organizations who do not treat our shared home with respect. I’ve been working all month to set the text to music (for baritone and piano) and have just finished a draft of the composition. I have put together a rough demo recording where I am singing against a software-generated piano track; while my vocal delivery here has not benefited from much preparation I think the clip does convey what the composition is about; I wanted to share the rough version “early” and invite your reactions to the poem itself and to the way I’ve tried to interpret it musically. Thanks for listening. Please follow along with the text:

Who robbed the woods,
The trusting woods?
The unsuspecting trees
Brought out their burrs and mosses
His fantasy to please.
He scanned their trinkets, curious,
He grasped, he bore away.
What will the solemn hemlock,
What will the fir-tree say?

Earth, Music

Climate Message

This is my contribution to the First Climate Message Video Festival, an online event organized by vocalist, composer, and teacher Warren Senders.  The idea is to record yourself making a little music, then stop and say a short message urging the listener to learn about climate change, and then continue with the music.  If you’re involved in music you can participate too.  See the Facebook Event for the video festival and the project website.