Ballston Beach breakthrough, 2015

Ballston Beach in Truro had another breakthrough with this recent storm, effectively making North Truro and Provincetown into an island at high tide.

You can see some photos we took at low tide yesterday afternoon (click to enlarge) and below that a dramatic video taken by Bobby Rice of Truro.

 
 
 

Lac-Mégantic: beauty and death

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams –W.B. Yeats

284px-Mont-Mégantic-2About six weeks ago, Susan and I canoed in Maine, then made a brief excursion into Québec.

Nature around Mont Mégantic

We planned to visit the area around Mont Mégantic, a monadnock about 15 km north of the border. It’s in the middle of the Parc national du Mont-Mégantic and is the terminus of the Sentiers Frontaliers, a hiking trail that connects with the Cohos Trail in the US, which runs north from Crawford Notch, NH to the border. The trail is in a beautiful area, and represents an even more beautiful cooperation among volunteers on both sides of the border, who are working to make ways to enjoy, but tread softly, in the forests and rivers.

Image 1The treasuring of the environment is even more evident there because the Mont Mégantic Observatory is the first site to be recognized as an International Dark-Sky Reserve. Lighting within a 50 km radius is strictly controlled to minimize the impact of artificial lighting on astral observations and on wildlife. Again, international cooperation will be needed to sustain the dark sky, but already a rare resource has been created in which both professionals and amateurs can enjoy seeing the Milky Way and know that at least in this one small region respect and love for nature prevails.

Down the grade into Lac-Mégantic

lac-meganticWe came to the Mégantic area from the east, and actually slightly north, having visited Saint-Georges. Traveling on back roads we reached the village of Nantes, at a small elevation and a few miles from Lac Mégantic.

From there we descended into to the beautiful lakeside town of Lac-Mégantic, following the little used rail line along Rue Laval. We walked for a while around the town and in the parc des Vétérans. If we had not had a B&B reservation, we might have stayed longer to enjoy the lake and the small town atmosphere, which fit so well with what we knew about the peace with nature in that region. But unlike so many who have suffered there, we were fortunate to be away when disaster struck.

On July 5, a Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway train engine near Nantes caught fire. That fire was extinguished and the train was left unattended, parked on the line. Hours later it rolled down the grade towards Lac-Mégantic, derailed, exploded, and turned the town into an inferno. There were soon photos of the physical destruction, but accounting for deaths has been slow due to the extreme destruction.

The cost of cheap energy

Aujourd’hui, nous sommes tous des citoyens de Lac-Mégantic.

The story has moved to the back pages of US media, even as the death toll has risen to 38, with many still unaccounted for. As awful as some more publicized recent bombings, explosions, fires, plane crashes, etc. in North America have been, this disaster is already more deadly than all of those combined.

Lac-Mégantic explosionOf course, the tragedy might not have affected me so much if I hadn’t felt some kinship with the area. But it has made me both sad and angry. It’s impossible to imagine how people can cope with the loss of loved ones and the destruction of their town.

I’m glad that people are asking questions, starting with some basic ones such as: Why was a train with 70 full tanker cars left unattended? and Why weren’t the brakes set?

It’s good that some are moving on to bigger questions: Why do Canada and the US still carry 70% of oil using a tanker car design that was deemed unsafe over 20 years ago? Why is it allowed to send dangerous cargo on regional (Class II) rail networks, which have fewer safety mechanisms and less thorough safety checks?

Maine lawmakers noted recently that “in the last year alone, crude oil shipments have increased fifteen times over” and “there have been three derailments of trains carrying hazardous materials in Maine just during the last six months.”

For some people, the answer to all of these questions is to build more pipelines, which destroy the environment more when they rupture, but may kill fewer people directly. The rail disaster will also give support to defenders of nuclear power, e.g., the aging Pilgrim, Mass. plant that uses the same design as the Fukishima reactor and strangles any possible escape route from Cape Cod. Others might call for renewable energy, which still needs to be transported at great environmental cost.

I wish that there were a moment when we might ask: Why must we design our society around cheap energy? Must every politician in every party declare that cheap gasoline is their first priority? Would it be so awful to minimize the loss of life and environment, and possibly even lessen the imperative for war? Is “cost” only what we see on a bill for goods and services?

Could we reduce energy use so that areas such as Mégantic could remain unspoiled, or at least less spoiled? And that no Lac-Mégantic would ever experience such a disaster again?

The ‘Invisible’ Forces of Haiti

Elizabeth Pierre-Louis

Elizabeth Pierre-Louis

I heard a very impressive lecture yesterday titled, “The ‘Invisible’ Forces of Haiti—How Can Books and Culture Help the Reconstruction Process,” from Elizabeth Pierre-Louis, library program coordinator at the Fondation Connaissance et Liberté (FOKAL), Haiti. There should soon be links to a video recording and the text from the summary.

The talk reminded me of  the devastation of the Haiti earthquake. As bad as the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in California was, the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan was many times worse than that in terms of deaths and homes destroyed. But the Haiti earthquake was many times worse than Japan’s with as many as 300,000 killed and 1.5-2 million homeless. The current cholera epidemic shows that even a terrible situation can become worse.

Haiti has neither the money nor the technical expertise to recover, and half of the people are under age 21 (some sources say half are under 18). It’s also one of our closest neighbors, and many of its problems are directly traceable to the US’s unquestioning support for the Duvaliers’ dictatorship that robbed the country of what little it had. Last year, the world pledged $5 billion in aid, which was not nearly enough, but then delivered on only a third of that.

It’s inspiring, and humbling, to see how Haitians continue to live, to create, and to work together in spite of challenges no one should have to face alone.

Art scene in Sandima

We went to the (almost) abandoned village of Sandima yesterday.

The story is that it was wiped out three times: once many centuries ago by the bubonic plague, when many residents died and the village had to move; again by the citrus industry, which lured away the young people to work in the orange groves closer to Yalikavak; and a third time, by rampant development, which has covered hillsides with white block houses for people seeking the Mediterranean sun and lifestyle.

The village is just up the hill from Yalikavak. It looks like an old war zone, with abandoned homes, stone walls, watering stations, and a mosque, all now becoming overgrown with vines and scrub vegetation. There are two schools, an older, religious school, next to the mosque, and a newer one with four rooms. The latter looks as if it must have been an attractive site for learning at one time, but now is missing doors, has large holes in the floor, and is covered with graffiti.

It’s possible to follow old footpaths and to go into the buildings, which are not much more than piles of rubble, everything of value having been removed. There’s a second abandoned village just across a ravine.

There are only three residents in Sandima today. One is an 86-year-old man who refused to leave. His story is that he walks into Yalikavak every day, not for work or food, he has his garden and cows in Sandima, but to look for a mate.

There are also two artists, Ismail Erkoca and Nurten Değirmenci. Ismail gave us a tour of their house, which is the most decorated one I’ve ever seen. Every surface, including floor and ceiling, was covered with art works, or just painted, or festooned with bougainvillea, lantana, hibiscus, and other flowers. Navigating the nooks and crannies, bridges, and hidden passageways required a guide. It soon became clear that if selling artwork were not a business, then giving tours of the house could become one.

The house is called Nuris Sanat Evi, Nur from Nurten and Is from Ismail. Sanat Evi means art house. The story of the name (we heard many stories) is that Nur means holy light and Is means black soot from a fire. So, one needs light to see the darkness.

We enjoyed the adventure of talking with Ismail and getting a glimpse of his life, one far removed from İstanbul, where he was born.

I was pleased to learn more about the Köy Enstitüleri (Village Institutes) from Ismail. I wonder whether the newer school in Sandima was created following John Dewey’s report or somewhat later as a result of the institutes? I’ll save thoughts on that for a future post.

Priorities and values

Money reflects priorities, and priorities reflect values. Consider US Government expenditures to

Put another way:

The US government has in effect offered $3.80 for each of the 20 million people who’ve lost family members, food, clean water, homes, and livelihoods because of the floods. It’s spent 158 times that for military aid, much of which has not gone to fight terrorism, but to bolster a military dictatorship, to provide heavy weaponry that threatens India, and to benefit the US defense industry. It’s spent 4,276 times as much to fight a war that shows little prospect of winning hearts and minds, nor for ending terrorism.

(Of course, we may later spend more on flood relief; we could consider annual, rather than total costs; all of the numbers are contested estimates. But regardless of how you cut it, the differences are striking.)

Then we ask: Why don’t “they” love us and embrace our values?

Extreme energy nightmares

Has your sleep returned to normal after BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster? If so, it may be time to think about why this was not an aberration, why we’re likely to see more and even larger disasters in the near future.

Michael Klare lays out some plausible scenarios in a recent Mother Jones article, BP-Style Extreme Energy Nightmares to Come.

The only question is: What will the next Deepwater Horizon disaster look like (other than another Deepwater Horizon disaster)? The choices are many, but here are four possible scenarios for future Gulf-scale energy calamities. None of these is inevitable, but each has a plausible basis in fact.

The only thing that seems implausible is that we can continue to extract energy at the rate we do now without ever greater environmental, political, and economic costs.

“Very rigorous maritime engineering standards”

BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg says that he does “care about the small people.” CEO Tony Hayward says, “I’d like my life back” (he barely had time to watch his 52-foot yacht “Bob” compete in a race off England’s coast). And to the House Oversight and Investigations sub-committee on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill: “I wasn’t involved in any of the decision-making…we drill hundreds of wells around the world.”

I’ve recently learned where they’re getting their material. As John Clarke and Bryan Dawe say, the industry adheres to “very rigorous maritime engineering standards.”