Your October 2020 Pathfinder Newsletter
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    Two little girls have been romping around in my mind lately. One of them, Beatrice, lives in Manhattan. The other, Saga, resides in Longyearbyen, Norway, the world’s northernmost town, high in an Arctic warming twice as fast as the rest of the world.
    I read about six-year-old Beatrice in the autumn issue of Orion magazine, where she stole my heart by her notice of, well, pill bugs. As she watched the tiny "roly-polys" try to cross Federal Plaza on her walks to school, their safety began to gnaw at her mind as much as she now gnaws at mine. Determined to keep them from being crushed underfoot, Beatrice urged Mom to "use your voice!" and ask the mayor for "a railroad style gate" that would lower to let the small crustaceans safely cross. When that didn't work, she planned to post flyers asking for help in relocating the pill bugs. "We'll save as many as we can," she said.
    Bravo, Beatrice! And now from New York to Norway....

Image courtesy of Orion Magazine

    I don't know Saga's age, but from a photo that recently won the Portrait of Humanity Award, she looks no older than Beatrice. In the picture, titled "The Family at the End of the World," the golden-haired girl stands on a trampoline surrounded by vast Arctic spaces, by mountains instead of tall buildings, and by melting permafrost instead of bustling plazas. With dark clouds swirling above, she looks away from the camera at something we cannot see.   
    They haunt me, these two little girls, one on the brink of jumping high, the other stooped low to help small, imperilled beings. In my mind I pull them close, filled with a fierce desire to see a child's passion for pill bug lives swell into a pandemic-sized love that stokes adult action for all lives. A love that pulls and pushes each one of us so that every child may leap high into a world still brimming with wonders, a rightful inheritance for all the small, imperilled ones at the thresholds of their lives.

Read on for  Good News; TFF project updates; Walk of Why Not: Time for a Climate Corp; and Climate Updates



Note: as you read the sections below, you will find embedded hyperlinks that are blue and underlined.

Yes, there’s good news

Soil key to addressing climate crisis: "Regenerative Agriculture and the Soil Carbon Solution," a new white paper released by the Rodale Institute, discusses how a transformation of current ag practices — which now contribute to the climate crisis —"can be rolled out tomorrow providing multiple benefits beyond climate stabilization." The claim is bold: "Data from farming and grazing studies show the power of exemplary regenerative systems that, if achieved globally, would draw down more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions." Resources with the white paper include a sample letter urging members of Congress to support the Agriculture Resilience Act (H.R. 5861), introduced in February.  Read more here.

Bill would protect oceans and stem climate change: A new bill introduced 10/20 in the House would change Americans’ relationship with the oceans and aid in fighting the climate crisis. The bill safeguards large areas of the oceans; promotes ocean habitats that most effectively store carbon; limits activities that harm other important habitats and wildlife; and ends offshore drilling leasing.   Read more here

The blue carbon solution: Coastal ecosystems such as salt marshes sequester millions of tons of carbon, possibly even more than peatlands, but have been whittled away over the decades. Now Canadian scientists hope to re-flood marshes in an effort to mitigate the impacts of sea-level rise and store carbon. The ocean’s vegetated habitats (mangroves, salt marshes) cover less than 2% of the ocean floor, but hold over half of the carbon stored in ocean sediments. These ecosystems could offset 3-7% of global fossil-fuel emissions over the course of two decades, but instead, they continue to be destroyed. Recently, the first blue carbon standard was introduced into the global carbon market by Verra, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., that issues verified carbon credits. This means projects restoring or conserving blue carbon can begin accessing carbon markets.   Read more here

image courtesy of the Narwhal magazine

Japan aims for carbon neutrality: Japan, the world’s fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, plans to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions 80% by 2050, joining China, the largest polluter, and the EU in promising to bring their net carbon emissions down to zero. Achieving the new timeline will require a major overhaul of an infrastructure highly dependent on fossil fuels. Japan is already considering a substantial increase in its supply of wind and solar power, and is also looking at newer technologies such as plants that burn ammonia or hydrogen.    Read more here

Utah leaders want climate action: More than 100 state leaders from across the political spectrum have signed the first-ever Utah Climate and Clean Air Compact — urging the state to become a national leader on climate action. Those involved in the compact pledge to address a wide range of climate and clean-air challenges, such as the economy and re-energizing rural communities.   Read more here

NY ditches dirty power plants: The New York Power Authority, a publicly-owned power utility, plans to transition six natural gas–fired power plants in New York City to cleaner technologies. The six are “peaker plants,” designed to fire up only during times of peak demand. Most are at least 50 years old, and some run on especially dirty fuels. They're also disproportionately located in communities of color that are burdened with other health risks like heat vulnerability.    Read more here

Drilling plan falls apart:  Trump’s plan to drill off the Atlantic Coast for the first time in more than half a century is on the brink of collapse. Opponents of the drilling declared victory after the government acknowledged that permits to allow seismic blasting in the ocean — the first step toward locating oil deposits — will expire next month and not be renewed.   Read more here

Fossil-fuel divestment — plus: The University of Cambridge, an 811-year-old British institution, announced on 10/1 that it not only plans to divest its $4.5 billion endowment from fossil fuels — it also aims to achieve net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions across its investment portfolio. That means even after it has sold off all of its investments in fossil-fuel companies, it will continue to reduce its holdings in companies that emit greenhouse gases, or engage with them to reduce their emissions, and then offset any remaining carbon pollution tied to its investments. While Cambridge joins a growing cadre of universities, cities, and even countries divesting from fossil fuels, its two-pronged approach is a first.   Read more here

Device turns waste heat into electricity: Car engines, solar cells, refrigerators, and even people, radiate heat into their surroundings. This low-temperature heat is a wasted source of energy because there's no good cost-effective technology available today to capture and use it, as is possible with high heat. In a recent Science paper, researchers now report a way to convert low-grade heat into electricity using a liquid-based device called a thermocell. The inexpensive and scalable device could lead to a commercially viable technology to generate power from waste heat.   Read more here

Leaders pledge to halt Earth’s destruction: France, Germany and the UK are among more than 60 countries promising to put wildlife and climate at the heart of post-Covid recovery plans. World leaders have pledged to clamp down on pollution, embrace sustainable economic systems and eliminate the dumping of plastic waste in oceans by mid-century as part of “meaningful action” to halt the destruction of nature. The commitments include a renewed effort to reduce deforestation, halt unsustainable fishing practices, eliminate environmentally harmful subsidies and begin the transition to sustainable food production systems and a circular economy over the next decade.    Read more here


TF&F Updates

Monthly presentations on hiatus: We’ve hit the pause button on TF&F zoom gatherings (normally the last Tuesday of the month) through the end of this year. Instead, the Board will use the time to reflect on how we might better connect with our members in these upended times. Please know your comments are always welcome and even vital to this task. We’d love to hear what you think would be most important for TF&F to focus on now. Should we continue the monthly gatherings via zoom as the pandemic continues? If so, is there a topic you'd love to see us explore? Let us know at

Fidalgo Forest Stewards/ACFL monitoring: This project began in Spring 2019 to gather data about the Anacortes Community Forestlands  so that we can build a baseline that will allow us to track changes in the health and well-being of our community treasure. Below, you can see how much has sprouted up in a very short time.

Plot Studies — monitoring of the 12 plots was suspended for 2020 due to concerns about about the coronavirus, as current protocols require a group of volunteers to work closely together. If the virus is still present next spring, we'll try to revise the protocols so that monitoring can resume. 

Cedar Surveys — proceeding largely unhindered, as this monitoring is conducted by pairs, making social distancing less difficult.

Phenology Surveys (shrubs & trees) — kicked off this year and proceeding largely as planned. Data and photos from this year's effort will be evaluated.

Weather Station — the project's weather station was installed this year at the Anacortes Sewage Treatment Plant.

Soil Moisture Studies — two sets of instruments have been installed on different trails this summer. Data has been downloaded twice this year with the next scheduled for the first week in January. 

Little Cranberry Lake Fire Site — this time-series photo survey  shows the site is recovering quickly.

If you'd like to help out with any of these forest projects, contact Jack Hartt, our volunteer coordinator,  at


The Way of Why Not:
Time for another CCC -- this time a Civilian Climate Corps 

Here's where we ask "What if?" and "Why Not?" We highlight "new-world-building" projects happening elsewhere, in hopes of stirring the imagination and prompting action in our own community.

    As youth unemployment soars and the climate crisis accelerates, numerous proposals have cropped up to resurrect the Civilian Conservation Corps — a Great Depression-era program that hired young men to work on natural-resource projects across the country. Biden has one such plan (he's also mulling a possible "climate czar") and California just announced its own program.    

    With so many competing proposals, what should a modern-day Civilian Climate Corps look like?

    The original CCC (1933-1942) placed single men aged 18-25 in work sites to improve parks and forests on federal lands, eventually employing more than 3 million men. Most current Climate Corps proposals, in contrast, focus on employing young people from places that have suffered environmental injustice, especially communities of color, and placing Corps members in those communities to mitigate these injustices.

Americorps volunteers at work in Baltimore, 2016   Image courtesy of

    Here are four guidelines to maximize the impact of any new CCC:

1. Leverage existing AmeriCorps programs to quickly grow a Climate Corps. Millions of people — especially the young and people of color — need work now. To rapidly grow a Corps large enough to address both youth unemployment and climate impacts, launch it through an expansion of AmeriCorps, strengthening that federal public service program and building on its benefits. 

2. A Climate Corps is best suited to create certain types of jobs. Any rapid employment program for young people beginning their careers and created under AmeriCorps would likely be a 1-2-year commitment, meaning that a Corps would best deliver on short-term projects that don’t require much upfront training. Examples: native grassland and coastal ecosystem restoration; removal of invasives and restoration of natives; wildlife corridor improvement; trail-building; irrigation system repair; disaster preparedness work; and forest restoration and management, including in urban areas. A CCC shouldn't fill high-skill and private sector jobs, as some proposals suggest, but should still be large enough to meet our massive economic and environmental challenges. The maintenance backlog of the National Parks Service is in the billions of dollars; the U.S. has suitable land for an additional 60 billion trees; and wetlands — which yield major carbon-capture, flood-protection, and biodiversity benefits — occupy just half of their historical acreage. Climate Corps jobs should focus on maintenance and restoration programs that address these needs.

3. A Climate Corps can prepare participants for jobs they can move to after completing the program. While a Corps wouldn’t be well-situated to complete projects that require substantial specialized skills, a program could train its members to perform these jobs after they complete their service. (Researchers have analyzed how many jobs decarbonizing our energy system would create — 25 million in the near-term.) A Corps could also set participants up for green-career pathways by partnering with labor unions, green businesses, tech schools, and community colleges to place people in jobs, training, or educational programs when their Corps work ends.

   4. Design a program with equity at its core. A Corps should prioritize hiring people from frontline communities — especially those predominantly Black, Indigenous, or people of color — and developing projects in those communities. This geographic targeting could help protect the people and places most vulnerable to climate change. Planting trees and creating parks in formerly redlined neighborhoods, for example, would not only give people more opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, but could reduce excess heat created by concrete and asphalt. Improving wetlands could reduce coastal flooding, which disproportionately impacts lower-income communities of color. A Corps could also prioitize applicants from those who face discrimination in the job market, such as women, LGBTQ+ people, or former prisoners. A CCC that prizes equity should pay a livable wage and provide health insurance and an award that covers the cost of a local public university education for at least the duration of a volunteer’s Corps service.

    Our nation is being ravaged by wildfires, hurricanes, and mass unemployment. A new CCC could lead in restoring both the environment and the economy. Yet it must be designed not only to support worthy green projects, but to set up those who serve for future success. That will lead to a future that's not just greener, but more just, too.

Read full article here:


Climate Updates ... because we need to know

Ocean heatwaves more severe: A marine heatwave is a period of 5 days or more when the sea-surface temperature is significantly warmer than the 30-year historical baseline for that place and time of year. The count of annual marine heatwave days increased globally by over 50% from 1925-2016, with heatwaves becoming 34% more frequent and lasting 17% longer. That means that while the 1980s had about 25 heatwave days per year, that number jumped to 55 by the 2010s. One study shows that by 2100, no matter whether humanity follows a high emissions path or a low one, the oceans will be in a “near-permanent heat-wave state.”   Read more here

Tsunamis linked to melting permafrost: In Alaska and other high, cold places, mountains are collapsing as the permafrost that holds them together melts, threatening tsunamis if they fall into the sea. One area of concern is a slope of the Barry Arm fjord in Alaska. The Barry Arm slide began creeping early last century, and sped up a decade ago — if it lets loose, the wave could reach hundreds of meters up nearby mountains, crashing as high as 10 meters over the town of Whittier. 14 geologists have warned that a major slide is “possible” within a year, and “likely” within 20 years. In 2015, a similar landslide, on a slope that had also crept for decades, created a tsunami that sheared off forests 193 meters up the slopes of Alaska’s Taan Fiord.    Read more here

Climate science not a "matter of public debate": And here are 5 good sources for those who disagree: the US National Climate Assessment; NASA;  NOAA; Scripps Institution of Oceanography CO2 Program; and the IPCC. If you're having holiday gatherings this year (not recommended, sigh), just hand this list with links to your climate crank uncle and call it good.   Read more here

Arctic sea ice not yet freezing: For the first time since records began, Arctic sea ice in Siberia has yet to start freezing in late October. The delayed annual freeze in the Laptev Sea has been caused by unusually protracted warmth in northern Russia and the intrusion of Atlantic waters, say scientists who warn of possible knock-on effects across the polar region. Ocean temperatures in the area recently climbed to more than 5C above average, following a record-breaking heatwave and the unusually early decline of last winter’s sea ice. The downward trend is likely to continue until the Arctic has its first ice-free summer, which models suggest will occur between 2030-2050. The delayed freeze could amplify feedbacks that accelerate the decline of the ice cap.   Read more here

CO2 emissions caused largest extinction: Scientists have for the first time determined a "conclusive picture" of the initial trigger and subsequent processes responsible for Earth's biggest mass extinction. The answer? Massive amounts of CO2 spewed from a volcanic eruption. The study, in Nature Geoscience, sought to understand the mechanisms behind the "Great Dying", a period around 252 million years ago in which 95% of marine species were wiped out within tens of thousands of years. Scientists have advanced many theories for what caused this turn of events, including a release of methane from the seafloor and volcanic activity, but this is the first time a group has determined the exact cause.    Read more here

Nearly half of U.S. in drought: The most widespread drought in the continental U.S. since 2013 covers more than 45% of the Lower 48. A lack of late-summer rain in the Southwest expanded “extreme and exceptional” dry conditions from West Texas into Colorado and Utah, “with significant drought also prevailing westward through Nevada, Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.” Much of the western half of the country is now experiencing drought conditions and parts of the Ohio Valley and the Northeast are as well. The American Southwest has been mired in drought for most of the past two decades — studies suggest the region is in an emerging megadrought, similar to some periods in the past 1,200 years, when droughts persisted for 40 years or longer.   Read more here

Climate change likely drove our ancestors extinct: In a study published 10/15 in One Earth, scientists determine that three early human species lost a significant chunk of their climate niche right before going extinct. (A climate niche is the sweet spot of climate conditions best suited to a given species' survival.) "It is worrisome to discover that our ancestors, which were no less impressive in terms of mental power as compared to any other species on Earth, could not resist climate change," said the lead author. "And we found that just when our own species is sawing the branch we're sitting on by causing climate change. I personally take this as a thunderous warning message. Climate change made Homo vulnerable and hapless in the past, and this may just be happening again."     Read more here

Climate crisis has doubled natural disasters: Global warming has spurred close to a doubling of natural disasters in the last 20 years, and world leaders are failing to prevent Earth from evolving into "an uninhabitable hell" for millions, the UN warned on 10/12 in a report entitled: "The Human Cost of Disasters 2000-2019."  At least 7,348 major disasters occurred between 2000 and 2019, claiming 1.23 million lives, affecting 4.2 billion people and costing the global economy some $2.97 trillion.   Read more here

Largest tropical wetland becomes inferno: This year, roughly a quarter of Brazil's vast Pantanal wetland, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, has burned in wildfires worsened by climate change. The Pantanal is home to exceptionally high concentrations of breathtaking wildlife: jaguars, tapirs, endangered giant otters and bright blue hyacinth macaws. It also offers unseen gifts to a vast swath of South America by regulating the water cycle upon which life depends. Its countless swamps, lagoons and tributaries purify water and help prevent floods and droughts, as well as store untold amounts of carbon. But this year, drought worsened by a warming climate turned the wetlands into a tinderbox. The Pantanal has been burning since January, with the worst fires, in August and September, blazing for two months straight.   Read more here

Rewild to mitigate climate crisis: Restoring damaged natural landscapes can be one of the most effective, cheapest ways to address the climate crisis while also boosting wildlife populations, according to research in the journal Nature. If a third of the planet’s most degraded areas were restored, and protection thrown around areas still in good condition, that could store carbon equating to half of all human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions since the industrial revolution. The changes would prevent about 70% of predicted species extinctions. There are scores of places around the world where such interventions would be most effective, from tropical forests to coastal wetlands and upland peat.   Read more here

Mt. Baker rises above a full Baker Lake in June.  Photo by Jack Hartt

"Moving into uncharted territory": “By the middle of this century, for most systems, there will be no looking back. The very warmest conditions now will be the routine conditions then. The warm years will be something we haven’t seen,” said Washington State Climatologist Nick Bond. “It’s not going to be uninhabitable. We’re not doomed, but we’re moving into uncharted territory.” Bond’s biggest concern is decreasing mountain snowpack that threatens downstream water supplies, both in quantity and timing of runoff. Reservoirs such as Spada Lake, which provides Everett’s drinking water, might not fill — even as the region’s population keeps growing. Peaks above 6,000 feet still will have snow by mid-century, “but there’s not much of the Cascades above that."  In 2015, we had a double climate whammy: low snowpack and a warmer-than-usual early summer. That year’s record run of salmon had trouble reaching spawning beds: “That caught us by surprise. That will be typical in the 2050s.” Even if rivers are high enough for salmon to spawn, they’re less likely to do so in warmer water. The resident orcas are at risk of extinction because wild salmon are, too. Bond doesn't recommend removal of Snake River dams, which many consider the best hope for restoring salmon populations, pointing out that, while they are barriers to migration, dams hold back cold water that can be released to help fish survive hot summers.   Read more here

Undeniable link between weather disasters and climate change: By many measures, 2020 has been disastrous. Hurricanes in the Atlantic are so numerous there aren't enough letters in the Latin alphabet to name them. California fires torched more than 4 million acres, smashing the state’s record for land burned in a single season. In the first nine months of of 2020, at least 188 people have been killed in 16 weather disasters that cost $1 billion or more. And that’s just the U.S. Don’t forget the bush fires in Australia, floods in Central Africa and the powerful Cyclone Amphan, which killed dozens of people in India and Bangladesh. 2020 has also been hot. During one of our warmest winters on record, the Great Lakes never froze, Moscow imported fake snow for the holidays, and the fire season in parched California began months ahead of schedule. Temperatures soared in the Siberian Arctic, melting permafrost and fueling devastating fires. In Baghdad, the mercury hit an unprecedented 125F, and heat waves smashed records from Phoenix to Hong Kong. But how do scientists know this year’s weather disasters are linked to climate? Let’s begin with the easiest to explain: coastal flooding. By melting polar ice sheets, warming has raised the global average sea level between 8-9 inches since the start of the industrial era. The higher the sea level, the easier it is for a high tide to send water surging into communities. According to the NOAA, flooding during high tides has doubled in the U.S. in the past 20 years. Rising waters also increase the risk of flooding during hurricanes. But increased storm surge is just the start of ways climate change has made hurricanes worse. As water warms and evaporates, it can interact with weather disturbances to create a swirling cell of rising humid air, falling rain and raging winds. The warmer the water, the more intense the resulting storm. With global sea surface temperature increasing 0.13F per decade, the chance of a given tropical storm becoming a hurricane that is Category 3 or greater has grown 8% every 10 years. As for fires, a warmer atmosphere sucks more moisture from vegetation and soils, drying out fuels and setting the stage for worse wildfires. A landmark study in 2016 found that climate change was responsible for more than half the increase in fuel dryness in western U.S. forests in the past 50 years.   Read more here

Powerful methane seep discovered: Scientists studying the consequences of methane emissions from underwater permafrost in the Arctic Ocean have found a 50-square-foot area of the East Siberian Sea boiling with methane bubbles. "This is the most powerful seep I have ever been able to observe," the lead scientist said, using a term for methane gas bubbling up from the seafloor to the surface. "No one has ever recorded anything similar." As global temperatures rise, the world's permafrost is thawing—releasing ancient bacteria and viruses as well as greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane that further heat the planet.     Read more here

Three scenarios for a climate-changed future: Elizabeth Kolbert, who has reported on climate change for 20 years, offers 3 views of what an overheated world will look like, from best to worst case.  All involve drastic change. "As the warnings have grown more dire and the consequences of warming more obvious, emissions have only increased that much faster. Until the coronavirus hit, they were tracking the highest of the so-called pathways studied by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. If this continues, the I.P.C.C. projects that, by the end of this century, global temperatures will have risen by almost eight degrees Fahrenheit."   Read more here

40% of plants risk extinction: A grim new assessment of the world's flora and fungi has found that two-fifths of species, nearly 140,000, are at risk of extinction as humans encroach on the natural world. The  "State of the World's Plants and Fungi 2020" notes that "Never before has the biosphere, the thin layer of life we call home, been under such intensive and urgent threat. Deforestation rates have soared as we have cleared land to feed ever-more people, global emissions are disrupting the climate system, new pathogens threaten our crops and our health, illegal trade has eradicated entire plant populations, and non-native species are outcompeting local floras. Biodiversity is being lost – locally, regionally and globally."   Read more here

Warming changes flower color: A recent study in Current Biology found that the ultraviolet pigmentation of certain flowers had changed in response to the climate crisis and the depletion of the ozone layer. While this isn't something visible to the human eye, flowers rely on their UV patterns to attract pollinators. If those patterns change, it could seriously impact the ability of plants to reproduce.   Read more here

Warming has killed half the Great Barrier Reef: On some areas of the northern half of the reef, the abundance of large colonies dropped by up to 98%, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. “We expect this decline to continue” because of warming. “The only effective way to improve the outcome for coral reefs is global action on greenhouse gasses. If global temperatures rise to 3 or 4 [degrees Celsius], the reef will be unrecognizable, so there is no time to lose.” Corals that spawn the larvae that make more corals “have declined dramatically over vast stretches of the Great Barrier Reef. It will therefore take time for reproduction to recover. Corals are tremendously resilient because of their capacity to produce millions of babies but they/we desperately need a break from disturbances.”   Read more here

September heat record busted: Earth reached a record hot September last month, with U.S. climate officials saying there’s nearly a two-to-one chance that 2020 will end up as the globe’s hottest year on record. Earth has had 44 straight Septembers where it has been warmer than the 20th century average, and 429 straight months without a cooler-than-normal month, says NOAA. The hottest seven Septembers on record have been the last seven.   Read more here

Emissions likely peaked in 2019: Global carbon emissions from energy use dropped 8% in 2020 due to coronavirus-related shutdowns — a decline equal to two-and-a-half years of energy sector emissions, according to a new report from the energy research group BloombergNEF. The drop means that global greenhouse-gas emissions likely peaked in 2019, and will not rise to that level again even as the global economy rebounds from the pandemic. According to the report — BNEF’s annual New Energy Outlook — emissions will rise gradually from now to 2027 as the economy recovers, but will then decline 0.7%  year-to-year until 2050. Wind and solar energy, alongside battery storage, will supply 56% of the world’s electricity demand by 2050, with some countries generating as much as 80% of demand. Despite this projected progress, however, the world will still be on track to warm 3.3C by 2100, the analysis finds. To keep global warming well below 2C, emissions need to fall 10 times faster, at 6% per year until 2050.   Read more here

Climate Change in Skagit County - Are We Ready? If you're curious about what Skagit County and two local governments have done to adress local climate impacts, check out this brief summary by John Doyle, former La Conner Town Administrator and Planning Director.   Read more here

A Parting Gift:

The two-minute trailer to "My Octopus Teacher"


The Pathfinder is compiled and edited by Evelyn Adams.

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