Thursday, August 30, 2007

Champion of Ignorance

When the News Press reported that the oceans would rise seven meters in “about ten years” they did two things. First, they scared their own readers, apparently by choice, and second they put these words into my mouth. I never said anything like this, and never would. So why did the News Press chose to frighten its readers and use a campaign of misinformation against the lightblueline art project?

Perhaps they read the Independent and the Daily Sound and realized that the responsible journalistic positions had already been taken. After all they waited several days to report the City Council approval of the lightblueline. But then, they chose to not attend the council meeting. They also chose not to attend the various public city arts committee meetings where the lightblueline project was scrutinized and then unanimously approved. Instead they offered up opinions about lightblueline being a pet project on some hidden inside track. Then there was the twelve thousand dollars the city put up to pay the overtime for street workers to help protect the safety of the hundreds of volunteers who would be painting the line. That’s about one percent of the City’s art budget.

Next there was the “soliciting donations” accusation. As though no other public charity in Santa Barbara had ever done this before. The “link to a private website” was another curious position. Almost all of the science education content in the US is served up by non-governmental sources. Perhaps the News Press would prefer that the city hire an “information tzar” to monitor the content of the local non-profit websites. Who knows what the Santa Barbara Museum of Art might post next? When the Historic Landmarks Commission approved the lightblueline there was some hope that the actual message of the project still might rise above the steady stream of misinformation from the News Press.

However, the News Press had no intention of fulfilling its role in the public sphere. Any self-respecting newspaper would have looked into the actual science of global warming and at least make a gesture to talk to local scientists about this. Lightblueline gave the News Press contact information for several prominent UCSB experts, none of which the paper chose to interview.

Human induced climate change is the single largest challenge that human society has posed for itself in our history on this planet. We have about ten years to mitigate the effects of global warming by cutting back on our greenhouse gas emissions. This will mean sacrifices large and small from each of us. That is the reason why lightblueline was formed: to help all of us in Santa Barbara realize what we have to lose in the long term if we don’t act together in the short term.

Lightblueline is assembling a robust educational service on its website; a place for teachers, students, and the public to learn about climate change and sea-level rise. Apparently the need for this resource is more critical than we thought. For example, the whole idea that drawing the line in Santa Barbara would affect property values is based on a profound ignorance of the facts of the project and of climate change. But now ignorance has found a champion. Surely the editors of the News Press realize that this just another distraction from the real problem. What is the position of the News Press on human-induced climate change?

A big loser here is the News Press, which just wasted the remnants of its reputation in a vendetta against a volunteer-based, educational public art project. The need to come together to work against climate change grows stronger. Education will overcome ignorance. It’s simply sad that this happened in Santa Barbara. We all lose when our mediasphere has been poisoned for private reasons.

For the record, I told the News Press that sea-level rise due to inaction to stop climate change would take centuries. The real problem is that we only have a decade to protect our future waterfront.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

If you love global warming vote for me

In today's Independent, Nick Welsh notes that the six new candidates running for City Council are all motivated in part by their opposition to lightblueline. While the idea that all six of them will need to keep up the rhetoric all the way through the election is curiously encouraging--the whole point of public art is to get people talking--such a platform is more of a plank.

The City is spending zero dollars on lightblueline, a fact all of them knew before they filed. Lightblueline is a temporary art project, and will, in any case, be gone before the next council term is up. Maybe they don't like art. They could, of course, run against the Santa Barbra Museum of Art, a much more visible, durable opponent. They could argue that a science center would be a better use of the space.

But then again, by opposing lightblueline they are also running against the science of climate change. They have joined forces with what Newsweek called "the denial machine." This means they have to spend the next three months attacking the science that NASA and NOAA and the world's top science organizations, including UCSB, consider to be the best science available. That should lead to some interesting interviews, and more conversations. Perhaps the Art Museum could be turned into flat-Earth science center.

This is the year that the US Government (the Bush Administration is hosting a summit in September on reducing greenhouse gas emissions), including the House and the Senate, and the California governor and legislature, and Santa Barbara City have all adopted measures to reduce greenhouse gases in response to the threat of human-induced climate change. Stopping climate change is a long-term sustainability issue for all coastal cities. A fitting backdrop for these six, these brave contrarians, to step up and actually support climate change, or at least support the continuing lack of public awareness of climate change. And the platform-turned-plank gets longer still.

They have a strategy. They claim a few gallons of paint decorating the city streets for a few years might lead to property value changes. Of course they don't accept the logic of their own argument: if it lowers values on one side of the line it must raise values on the other side--and guess which side has much more property? This means that art will accomplish what floods, mudslides, fires, and earthquake and tsunami risk have failed to do. Such a narrow plank to stand on.

Of course they do have a so-called newspaper on their side. A newspaper that managed to misrepresent the lightblueline project from its first "news" coverage and subsequent editorial rants. Fortunately there are a lot of other sources for news in Santa Barbara. And all of these other news sources are going to be asking real questions about the candidates and their positions. So, over the next three months we can all watch them walk the plank.

NOTE: Bob Hansen would have run anyhow, art or no art.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Earth Scientists love the lightblueline

Although I'm still a social scientist, I've been working in a community of earth scientists, earth data providers, and geographers for almost a decade now, including leading scientists and information specialists here in Santa Barbara (Catherine Gautier, David Lea, Jim Frew, Mike Goodchild, Keith Clarke, Reg Golledge, to name just a few), and every one of them--from NASA Goddard to the Artic workshop in Seattle-- that I've talked with about lightblueline in the past year is excited and grateful about the lightblueline project.

Excited, because they really like how the message can be condensed into a simple story so that the public can realize the scope of what climate change might do in the centuries ahead. Grateful, well because they've been dedicating their lives to bring this information to the public and every time they read the news, the message is lost. It seems that the work of a thousand top scholars can barely hold its own in the press against the work of the paid skeptics.

Sure, there are a lot of new discoveries to be made, particularly in the area of regional-scale effects of climate change. The global picture has much less noise left in it.

This month, 400 scientists studying the Antarctic will convene at UCSB. Lightblueline hopes to get their opinions about the project. Not that that would hold any weight against the skeptical blogs, but it certainly will with the people of Santa Barbara who like their information straight up with a dash of fact.

It can't be said too often that lightblueline is ART. It is temporary, but then so is our chance of stopping dangerous climate change. Scientists are getting tired of shouting and not being heard. That's why they are excited about lightblueline... what's your reason?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Pulling the City Together

For the first time in decades a major environmental crisis has actually united our squabbling political parties at the national level. While they may support a differing range of policy solutions, all of the leading candidates for president, Republican and Democrat, agree on one thing: human induced climate change is a real threat to our nation's resources and economy.

Next month President Bush will be hosting a meeting of the world's industrial nations on this very issue. Governor Schwarzenegger has put the State of California at the forefront in responding to the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Both of our Senators and our local Congresswoman are supporting the effort (and also leading this) to address climate change.

Our Mayor has joined with hundreds of other mayors across the nation to show that cities can take a lead in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Now our City Council together with the City's Visual Art in Public Places Committee and Historical Landmarks Commission agree: it is time to allow a public art statement on this vital issue.

Most people living in Santa Barbara grew up somewhere else. We've all settled here for a reason: Santa Barbara is a fantastic place to live. We love the waterfront and the recreation and beauty of our coastline. We may have come from a thousand other places but we share a common future: the future of Santa Barbara. The lightblueline art project is our community's way of showing we care about Santa Barbara's future. We want to help protect our waterfront resources for future generation.

When we decorate the street we challenge ourselves to get real about climate change. We stand on this possible future coastline and say to each other, "this is not the future we will leave our great-grandchildren."

Stopping global warming will not be easy. It will not be inexpensive. But the cost of not stopping global warming is far more expensive. Painting a decoration on the street announces we understand why each of us has to do our part to stop global warming. As a city we must pull together in our response to climate change. Fortunately we have real leaders on the City Council. Together we can protect Santa Barbara's future.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Non-profit organization caught red handed asking for support

The headlines were startling. This was an exclusive story only the News Press could handle. Their Opinion Editor had caught a Santa Barbara non-profit organization asking for donations on their website. Not just asking, they were “soliciting”. Nobody was exempt from this action. Children, old people, realtors: anybody could go to this page and be solicited for a donation.

Fortunately for the city of Santa Barbara, the News Press’s timely response has kept this practice from being copied by other non-profit organizations. Imagine a world where any non-profit organization might ask for money from the public to support its mission?

That was way too close.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Federal Reserve Board Raises Interest Rates, Cites Conceptual Public Art

lightblueline is my first (and likely only) foray into art in public places. We are two months away from decorating the streets and already there are people drafting really interesting arguments about the consequences of doing this conceptual art piece. All public artists (I guess I'm in that group, now that the Angry Poodle has called me a "Crypto Christo") really fear is that nobody will notice their art. The next fear is that nobody will care. After that, it's all good.

I've seen letters from realtors speculating that decorating the street will lower property values for those properties lower than seven meters. Somebody should check the map... most of Santa Barbara is above seven meters. By the same logic most of Santa Barbara would actually GAIN value, and all because of 10 gallons of paint.

Just think, if the value of all the property above seven meters went up by just one percent, the City would make hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra property taxes on newly sold homes. Soon other coastal cities around the nation would catch on to this bonanza, forcing property values up across the country. Certainly the Federal Reserve Board would have no choice but to step in an raise interest rates in response to this unexpected economic surge.

Question of the week: When was the last time a piece of temporary public art affected property values anywhere in the world?

Answer? Let me know if this ever happened anywhere...

Again, we have the say that lightblueline is on the side of realtors and property owners along the coast. We are the ones working as hard as we can to keep the ocean down on the waterfront. It's the people in denial about climate change science who are the threat not just to property values but also to property on the coast.

And what about the argument that realtors will need to disclose the hazard from climate change simply because there is a line on the street? That would, of course, require that art achieve the power to create regulatory policy. That would be another first in the history of art in public places.

In terms of flooding, California civil code says that realtors are supposed to let people know if the property is within the current FEMA flood map zone. Last time I looked, FEMA flood maps did not include any information about future sea level vulnerability due to climate change. Will these in the future? I’m certain the FEMA is just waiting for a public art project to force it to change its policy. True, cities do have the power to also add local hazards into the requirements for real estate transactions. Again, that's not what the City did. They only authorized a temporary art project.

Sea level rise affects all the coastal cities in the world, and so, all the coastal cities in California. Any new regulation about reporting hazard vulnerability will certain happen at the state level or above. Right now there is a bill in the Senate (already passed the Assembly) to require sea-level rise vulnerability as a part of updating general plans. I guess someone must have heard that Santa Barbara was putting 10 gallons of paint on their streets.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Future: a whole new territory for insulting public officials

I'm offering here an opinion on an opinion. I promise not to go there very often.

While checking out last Sunday's diatribe against lightblueline, my eyes drifted left and found an opinion piece entitled "In disaster we'll be stuck with them." Now, I have to admit that I have not been reading the NP over any length of time, so I might have missed a whole series of insightful and thought-provoking editorials in the weeks before this.

So, this might have been an off day.

In this piece the author used the old third-grade playground argument, "you don't agree with me so you must be stupid," to criticize the majority of the City Council who voted to help the City become more aware of the potential local effects of global climate change.

Ironically he invoked the names of Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale as examples of true leaders. Of course if Humphrey and Mondale were in the Senate today, they would be joining with the Senate majority to call for the United States to step up and do its part to stop human induced climate change. Both of them would be firm supporters of the lightblueline effort. If they were around today they would somehow have become stupid too.

Apparently the author has exhausted his supply of current issues with which to insult City Council members, because he then moved to speculate on the future. He suggested that in any future emergency, the current City Council would fail to respond. By this he has opened up a whole new territory for speculative insults. He can imagine any number of future crises and then insult the City Council for not being able to respond to them.

He does like a couple City Council members, who are thus declared un-stupid. I'm sure they are really very pleased to know this.

At the end of the piece the author criticized the Mayor for being "thin skinned" about all the criticism she's received... mostly from him. I guess she is just supposed to stand there and take it.

There is a very good article on lightblueline in today's Daily Sound. You can find it on the web at

Monday, August 6, 2007

Still a proud social scientist

The factual errors in yesterday's lead article in the News Press's Opinion section (Titled "The Thin Blue Line") were nearly continuous and often fatuous (a word I have new respect for, now that I've been forced to actually read the News Press). Lightblueline has requested, most politely, that the News Press give it equal space in next week's Opinion section to respond. So I will not discuss that particular article, (even though this blog is NOT connected to lightblueline) as the News Press likes it's opinion content to be exclusive.

In fact, it really does appear that the News Press pretty much has a monopoly on the opinions I've found there. I can't imagine finding opinions like these in the Daily Sound or the Independent. No, these are opinions authentically exclusive to the News Press. Why, sometimes it seems like they've been printed before anybody has even thought about them. If you want to read views like you've never seen in any magazine or newspaper before, the News Press Editorial section is your puppy.

The one thing the author did get right is that I am a social scientist. Damn proud of it too. Never ever claimed to be anything else. Just don't get where that particular point fits into any argument.

While lightblueline is waiting for the News Press to do the right thing (not, of course, holding our breath), I'll blog on about other issues surrounding lightblueline.

I did get an email from Dennis Ojima, who is a senior scholar at the Heinz Center in DC, saying they've found coastal valleys in Greenland that are below sea level and could suddenly flood when the sea level rises a few feet. More about that when the data are published.

I might admit here that my own opinions of the News Press's Editorial section are hardly exclusive.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Tracking down the elusive News Press

I need to catch up with a few of the items that have appeared in the News Press. Now that it is apparent that few if any of the letters of support for lightblueline will find a place in its editorial pages, there is a lot of careless criticism that might need some response. Of course, I'd really like to contribute to a News Press fact-based feature piece about lightblueline and the City's campaign to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Then again, I'd also like to break 80 at Sandpiper.

At the moment, one of the problems with being hounded by a blog that calls itself a newspaper is the need to track down a copy to read. Since the News Press hides its digital version behind a subscription wall, and since I don't subscribe, and since nobody I know subscribes, and since nobody who the "people I know" know subscribes (this could go on a while), I am stuck in the moral dilemma of donating quarters to the NP blog, locating cast-off copies in local coffeehouses, or biking over to the library. Problem is, I go to coffeehouses that locals frequent (Jeanines, Vices and Spices, or the Coffee Cat) and frequently the already-read newspaper baskets don't contain any NP copies either. I suppose I could meander over to Starbucks. Or maybe not. I've managed to track down some copies at the UCSB library, and so I have a general idea of what the noise is all about. And I've recently had a couple conversations with "reporters" from the NP blog, not that these have been very encouraging.

The lightblueline effort has been spinning up around town for a year now. We've had numerous meetings at the University Club, and we've been showcased in local media (the non-blog variety) for several months. We've had tables at events at City College, UCSB, and Earth Day, a couple squares at the I Madonnari festival, an exhibit at City Hall and several First Thursday receptions. We attended and were acknowledged at the marvelous series of speakers on climate change that was hosted at UCSB over the last six months. We haven't been hiding.

The lightblueline art project went through a series of publicly available reviews by the City's Arts Advisory Committee and its Visual Arts in Public Places committee. We have been pestering the City's very tolerant staff for months to learn about the right way to put a decoration on a city street. City staff graciously allowed a group of residents to come in and ask questions. They expressed all the concerns one would expect a Street Department to have: safety, aesthetics, and procedures. I cannot say they were actually enthusiastic about our proposal, but that's not their job. They are extremely professional and knowledgeable about all things "street". We look forward to working with them to get this project on the streets.

For a year then, lightblueline has been preparing to do this project in the best possible way, getting it right, knowing that Santa Barbara is very careful about how its streets look.

And during this whole time the News Press blog never approached lightblueline to learn about the project. And their continuing ignorance about the project now has a certain stubborn quality to it. It allows them to make up their own vision of the project which they can in turn excoriate. They've harangued against miles and miles of lines, when the entire lightblueline project is only 1200 linear feet of decoration. They complain about the City contributing expert staff to help keep citizen volunteers safe on the day the line is painted. They talk about the $12000 budget as if it was twelve million dollars. The News Press failed to send a single reporter to the City Council meeting, or to any of the Arts Advisory Committee meetings, or to any of the UCSB climate change talks, or even to the lightblueline website (I needed to tell the reporter our URL), and yet they clamor against the process that led to City Council approval. They object to city staff providing useful information to local residents.

The very first time the NP talked to me was a week after the July 3 City Council vote. Several days after the news of this was factually reported in the Daily Sound. The reporter asked how the City Council voted, and I couldn't help wondering a) why they hadn't walked across de la Guerra Plaza to attend the council meeting, or b) why they couldn't go to the Council website and watch the streaming video of the meeting. "The council voted six to one in favor of the project," I reported to the reporter. "Who voted against it?" she asked. You can guess who was the only Council Member interviewed for the NP blog.

The most dangerous thing the NP blog did was misreport the science about climate change and suggest that climate change could lead to a seven-meter sea-level rise in ten years. And then they took that gross factual error and reported that I said this. I've requested more than once that the NP correct this mistake, but that isn't going to happen. I suggested that they can talk to any of several top climate scientists at UCSB about global warming. UCSB has several experts in this field.

A couple things the NP blog has done, through its almost daily showcasing of this project, is send a lot of volunteers to us and helped raise the project's recognition among a cohort of residents that might not have seen our booth at Earth Day. Our community website has had over 10000 visitors in the last six months. And we haven't even begun to paint.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

lightblueline: Protecting Property Values in Santa Barbara

lightblueline joins with homeowners and commercial property owners and civic leaders (the city owns a lot of property too) in proclaiming that we need to do everything we can as a city to sustain the investments we have made in the waterfront district from the threat of sea-level rise. We can help sustain this property and our beautiful coastal landscape by working together to stop human-induced climate change.

Here in Santa Barbara we've gotten used to (and sometimes a might too complacent about) our local environmental risks: wildfire, earthquake, landslide, and flood. In the last century we've seen them all. Each of these has its own geography, the hillsides burn, Mission Creek floods, La Conchita gets buried, and so landowners are generally well aware that their favorite location on the ridge or near the ocean is also a spot where something bad, at some point might just happen. Planners work with 100 year and 500 year event scenarios, and the rest of us hope that 100 year earthquake is still 50 years off (even when the last one happened 80 years ago).

Now we face a new environmental risk, an increase in vulnerability to sea-level rise due to human induced climate change. The science tells us this vulnerability will occur if we do not reduce our global greenhouse gas output. Some of this sea-level rise happens because the oceans are expanding as they warm. Some comes from the decrease in snowpack and glacier cover. But the real concern is from the polar ice sheets, where most of water that might feed the oceans is stored as ice. If we melt just 10% of this ice the oceans will rise seven meters. And if we keep on producing greenhouse gases in the same rate we do now, we will lock in at least this amount of melting through our actions in the next 10 years. IMPORTANT NOTE: the actual melting takes additional decades to centuries. Climate change does not happen overnight.

Unlike earthquakes or floods sea-level rise due to climate change is something we can prevent, but only if we act now. We have maybe 10 years left to keep the ocean down at the waterfront. The City Council has provided bold leadership to reduce carbon output within city government. Groups like the Community Environmental Council are working on local solutions: check our their Fossil Free by 33 website.

The message is clear: we can support the City's leading efforts at reducing greenhouse gases or we can sit back and let our grandchildren's grandchildren watch the oceans rise, forsaking our responsibility to property owners along the coastline.

If you are serious about property values in Santa Barbara, well, then that's another fine reason to support the City's lightblueline effort.

This is a personal blog... not a newspaper

For the past month I've seen the Santa Barbara News Press, once a respected local daily paper, now an embarrassment to the profession of journalism and to fine city of Santa Barbara, avoid both fact and reason in attacking the lightblueline project and the City Council. The paper has misquoted me and refused to correct this, and has also refused to explore the science and the policy implications that are the basis for lightblueline.

Fortunately for Santa Barbara, there are several other sources for local news: the Independent, the Daily Sound, Edhat, and even the Nexus; all of which try to get to the facts of a situation, as their profession requires.

Today the News Press is a blog masquerading as a newspaper. I've started the lightblueblog as my way of responding to the News Press and other aspects of the lightblueline project that need to the told, but that do not belong on the lightblueline website.

The bottom line is that the lightblueline project is a very simple geography lession: ten gallons of paint decorating an elevation contour. An opportunity for residents to realize how close we live to the ocean, and how vulnerable we are to any changes in sea level, long term or sudden. The fact is, not knowing about a vulnerability does nothing to prevent it. But in this case, knowing about the vulnerability we face due to climate change CAN help us participate in preventing this.

People ask me about how I can respond to the News Press. How does one respond to a blog that does not accept your comments? You start your own blog. This is mine. It's not a newspaper. But then neither is the News Press.

Stay tuned to lightblueblog for factual responses to the fantasy editorials rolling out of the News Press. And feel free to comment: you don't need to subscribe.