26 December 2016

Falling into It

Arriving at the intended place can inspire unexpected journeys.

I knew last summer that I wanted to visit Mima Falls on my winter break. Tucked away in a forest of Washington state's Thurston County, the falls and their relatively easy hiking trail seemed like a nice way of unwinding from the fall semester, so I penciled them in as a reward before classes even started.

Long-exposure shot of Mima Falls.
On December 16, with the easy path and perfect weather, my mom and I reached the falls according to plan, but once there, I found myself going somewhere I hadn't anticipated. The modest falls wouldn't challenge Niagara or Multnomah, but they sit within a cozy setting, and because of their relative smallness, they aren't as heavily visited as their more famous counterparts. Together, the quiet place and the welcoming falls inspired me to experiment with long-exposure shots on my camera.

The long-exposure pictures of the falls represented my first real attempt at such photography. No strong desire to do it had previously overcome me, but Mima Falls brought out the urge. Although far from perfect, the pictures left me with a smile and a drive to take my long-exposure photography further in the future.

Like the best of destinations, Mima Falls urged me on to future adventures.

02 December 2016

Lead the Money

"Follow the money." We've all heard that before, and it has a lot of value as an idea, but after we follow the money, we must also take the next step and lead the money.

Following the money helps identify the source of the problem. In the case of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), following the money points to corporate influence on government as the problem. Of course, corporate influence reaches well beyond this issue, but DAPL provides a clear example of how to take the next step of leading the money.

Simmering for months, the DAPL issue and the protests around it have drawn much attention recently. Intended to carry oil from North Dakota east, the pipelines's route passes Native American land and moves under the Missouri River, threatening water supplies. Tribes in the area led the protests against DAPL, the construction of which began before all permits had received approval. Within the last month, law enforcement protecting the pipeline escalated tactics to deal with protesters. As you can see below, police officers employ tear gas and water cannons in freezing temperatures on the protesters. According to a Grist report, police blew off a woman's arm with a concussion grenade.

The fingerprints of corporate influence appear all over DAPL. Despite the escalating use of force by police officers, the Obama administration has refused to step in and protect the protesters or halt the pipeline. Together with the recent decision by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to approve an expansion of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline through British Columbia, DAPL shows the influence corporations have (even on leaders who say they are committed to addressing environmental issues like global warming).

If we were to stop after following the money, we would not be able to address the problem. Luckily, however, DAPL has prompted renewed efforts to lead the money. This YES! Magazine article discusses how people are divesting from the banks that fund DAPL. Divestment hits back at corporate influence by retaking control of our money. Rather than bank with big, corporate banks, people move their money to and do business with credit unions and community banks.

For me, the DAPL divestment represents the continuation of a movement that began in response to the economic collapse in 2008. I joined a credit union in 2007 because it had the best rates on car loans. Following the economic collapse, which came about largely because of corporate banking malfeasance, I moved all my money into the credit union.

Individuals looking for alternative sources for credit cards can also play a part in this divestment. Many credit unions have their own credit cards. Another alternative comes from Beneficial State Bank, which is a B Corporation whose credit cards support nonprofit groups, including the Sierra Club. For more information on Beneficial State Bank's credit cards, click here.

With corporations exerting so much influence on our elected officials, leadership on social change issues must come from us, and leading with our money gives us a great power to create that change.

27 November 2016

In the Heat of the Polar Night

As the lights go out for the winter in the Arctic, something strange and terrible stirs.

Despite the onset of polar night (24 hours of darkness), temperatures in the Arctic have soared to 36 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Additionally, Grist points out that Arctic sea ice has hit an all-time low for this time of year. The video below explains both issues:

We already know that global warming disproportionately affects the poles. Put simply, the Arctic and Antarctic will experience a greater degree of warming relative to other parts of the planet. Some estimates put the polar temperature increases at 12 degrees warmer than usual. This most recent news from the Arctic suggests those predictions might prove optimistic.

The stunning 36-degree increase over normal temperatures, and the equally shocking flatlining of sea ice production indicates a major change has come to our planet. We've already heard whispers of it in storms, droughts, glaciers, the oceans, and more. However, it's rumbling to life right now in the Arctic. We don't have to wait to see if this is a big moment. We know it is. Natural cycles, badly warped by human influence, have shifted into a startling new force and altered our world in dramatic ways.

In the polar night, that unfamiliar force stalks us, and when the lights come on and we open our eyes, we'll find ourselves confronted by its horrific visage.

20 November 2016

Under One Roof

In Tesla's vision of a sustainable future, everything comes together under one roof.

Best known until now as a maker of high-end electric cars, Elon Musk's company moved us last month toward what he called a "seamlessly integrative" way of life. Teaming with another Musk venture, SolarCity, Tesla unveiled home and vehicle options that combine to fuel a completely solar-powered way of living.

As you can see from the video below, Tesla and SolarCity bring together car and battery technology with an innovative new approach to roofing and solar panels to revolutionize electricity generation and consumption. 

The solar roof provides the key to Tesla's integrative life. For the most part, the car and battery technology already existed. Tesla simply revealed advanced forms of its previous power-storage batteries. However, by integrating roofing and solar panels and connecting them with a home battery pack and an electric car, Tesla gives people a smart, purposeful, and function power system. The system can power an entire life with sustainable energy and empowers people by putting the solution to their energy needs under their own roof (or more accurately, in their own roof). For more information on these products from Tesla, click here.

These latest advancements from Tesla have blown the roof off both the way we think and the way we consume energy.

11 November 2016

One Bird, One Voice

I am one bird. I am one voice. That is all. That is enough.

For many, the 2016 election brought frustration, fear, anger, and sadness. I too felt some of those things during a Democratic primary in which what was fair, right, and smart seemed disregarded. Watching the Democratic Party's insiders control the process tore at my sense of fair play and stabbed at my core values. However, by the end of the election, I felt much different because, for the first time, I took to heart the understanding that I am one voice.

During the summer, I stepped back from the election and concentrated on enjoying the things most important to me: nature, family, and home. Outside of the political whirlwind, I discovered peace in being a single voice. I realized that all I can do is do my best, be informed, and make sound decisions. I can't control others or let my life hinge on their decisions.

Because of my hard-won, new perspective, fall 2016 went much differently for me than any general election since I became a voter. After a few months of living with that perspective, I realized that half of October had passed without my becoming drained or overwhelmed by the general election. When the results came in, I was cool and calm in the knowledge that I had done my best.

Rather than dwelling on the negative, my mind gravitated toward what I thought had been the best parts of the election. At the top of that list, sat a bird. During a primary rally in Oregon, a female house finch landed on Bernie Sanders' podium in a powerful moment of hope and life. The bird later became known as Birdie Sanders. If you never had the chance to see Birdie in action, you can watch her below:

That bird, that podium, that moment: That is the image I choose to take from this election, and given my personal breakthrough over the summer, it's not really surprising that it came back to me in the end. With it, I will walk away from the 2016 campaign holding on to the two most powerful things I know: nature and my ideals. They give me my heart, my joy, my indomitable spirit, my unbreakable will, and my sense of direction. They are who I am and what I do. I leave the rest to others and those others to their own choices.

I am just one bird, and all I can do is use my single voice in the hope of making the planet a little better in my own way.

04 November 2016

It's for the Birds, for Our State, for Ourselves

I'm not sure where this blog entry will put me on the spectrum of environmentalism, but I know where I stand on global warming.

On this year's ballot in Washington state, voters have the opportunity to decide whether to pass Initiative 732, which calls for instituting a carbon tax in the state. I previously blogged about the effort to put the initiative on the ballot in this post. I even collected signatures in support of the initiative during summer 2015, a time when Washington blew away heat records on a daily basis.

Mount Rainier and some of its receding glaciers.
When I-732 earned enough signatures to reach this year's ballot, I felt happy. That happiness faded when I saw several environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, line up against the initiative because they felt it didn't go far enough in addressing global warming. I wondered where that put me as an environmentalist.

As I considered the points of those opposing the initiative, I thought of the reasons I had supported it in the first place. I concluded that my environmental perspective required me to vote for I-732, and last week, I sent in my yes vote. Below are a few reasons why I voted yes.

I voted for I-732 because I saw the corpses of starved seabirds wash up on the Washington coast in August 2015.

I voted for I-732 because I saw the Nisqually Glacier on Mount Rainier melting away in the July 2015 heat.

I voted for I-732 because I saw Washington state, the place I love more than any other on the planet, dry up, bake, and burn last year.

I voted for I-732 because the Pacific Northwest is part of me, a part I couldn't bear losing.

In the end, I didn't vote as an environmentalist. I voted for birds, my state, and myself. I hope those are good enough reasons, and I hope other Washingtonians will find their own reasons to vote yes on I-732.

31 October 2016

Move It Outside

When it comes to Black Friday, we often appear to have nowhere to run, but following outdoor retailer REI's lead might move us in the right direction.

The advertising and craziness of post-Thanksgiving shopping seem to grow every year--more and more things, more and more consumption. However, when REI introduced its Opt Outside campaign last year, a new direction, one that focused on experiences and the outdoors, popped up on the horizon. This year, REI looks to expand on the campaign and turn that new path into a movement.

In keeping with last year's decision, REI will close for Black Friday 2016, giving its employees a chance to spend the day after Thanksgiving with family, friends, and nature while having a paid day off. The retailer has even begun encouraging other companies to do the same. Clearly, REI wants Opt Outside to develop into something bigger. It's challenging a dominant perspective about what we value and how we spend our time and resources.

Consumers have a crucial role to play if Opt Outside is to become a movement. Choosing loved ones and the environment over shopping sends a powerful message that encourages other companies to follow REI's lead. To join the movement and find some ideas for how to make the most of Opt Outside, click here.

If we have one place free of the Black Friday frenzy, it's the outdoors, and that's exactly where REI is pointing us.

30 September 2016

For $30 More

My new backpack with its valuable front straps.
A little extra money can go a long way, especially on a hike.

Earlier this year, I broke down and decided to buy a new backpack. I loved my old one, but its zippers were stripping, and the padding was crumbling away. Since I use my backpack nearly every day (either for my walk to work, a trip, or a hike), I definitely needed a good replacement that had versatility.

To make the purchase as environmentally friendly as an act of consumerism can be, my first instinct was to turn to Patagonia, the California-based maker of outdoor apparel that emphasizes environmental stewardship. Sure enough, I found a selection of backpacks made from recycled pop bottles. That made me feel better about making the purchase, but it wasn't the last good feeling I received from buying the backpack.

Considering Patagonia's sizable selection of backpacks, I had some choices to make. The choice I ultimately made taught be a good lesson. After narrowing the selection down to two possibilities, both of which provided great versatility, the final issue I had to resolve was one of price. One of the backpacks seemed like a great bargain at $89, and it came with everything I had been looking for. However, it lacked the straps that fasten in the front to secure the pack around the body. The other option, Patagonia's Jalama 28L, featured those straps but cost $30 more than its counterpart. After some deliberation, I decided the extra money might be worth it.

The first time I put my money to the test, I knew I'd made the right choice. I immediately threw my new backpack into action for a nine-mile hike at Mount St. Helens, and it exceeded all my expectations. With the straps taking pressure off my neck, shoulders, and back by securing the pack to my torso, I felt lighter and kept my legs fresh. With my old pack, which lacked the straps, I would end long hikes with heavy legs, so I was surprised by the feeling of having fresh legs after the Mount St. Helens hike. Subsequent hikes produced the same happy results, and I thanked myself for the extra $30 I had spent.

I may have paid a bit more for my new backpack, but the changes it has brought to my hiking are priceless.

05 August 2016

Plan Beach

The waves roll in on a perfect day at Twin Harbors State Park.
My last big outdoor trip of the summer went to the dogs, and they went to the beach.

Several of my adventures this summer have not gone according to plan. In some cases, the people changed; in others, the destinations changed. The overall goal had been to visit Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood, and Mount Adams. I was able to accomplish the first three-fourths of that objective in various ways. Mount Adams proved more elusive. I could see it on clear days, but the hike I had planned near it fell through when the United States Forest Service had to close the access road for repairs.

If nothing else, however, the summer was about going with the flow. As in the case of the Mount Hood trip, the obstacle at Mount Adams led to another path, and happily, my family's dogs could go on this one. My mom and I loaded them up on the day we'd originally scheduled for Mount Adams and took them to Twin Harbors State Park in Grayland, Washington. The park encompasses a beach as well as a pine forest that lies behind the dunes.

Despite being the second option for the day, the trip to the beach came together like we'd planned it all along. We had perfect weather, and the dogs enjoyed their stroll in the sand. Everyone found plenty of things to enjoy. Our older dog didn't know what to investigate first--the surf, the driftwood, or the dunes. The younger dog enjoyed the attention he received from the other people at the beach. I found the pine forest with its evergreen huckleberry bushes very cute, and as always, my mom enjoyed the smell of the ocean. I hadn't been to that beach since a field trip in seventh grade. Yet I am glad that my scrambled plans gave me the chance to go back finally.

My summer wasn't without its challenges, but it ended up being a day at the beach.

17 July 2016

Partly to Perfectly Cloudy

A misty morning on Rampart Ridge.
I've seen a lot more of clouds than of mountains this summer, and I couldn't be happier about it.

The Pacific Northwest is known for its clouds. Even the summers, which are normally pretty dry, typically see their fair share of cloudy days. Last summer, that wasn't the case though. The stifling heat that baked the region also burned off the clouds, making for a seemingly endless string of bright, sunny days and clear views of the mountains. Although those views were nice, the unusual weather grew old. That's why I have no complaints about my cloudy experiences with the mountains this year.

The clouds have defined my hikes at, near, and on Mount St. HelensMount Hood, and Mount Rainier in 2016. In fact, I'd go so far as to say they have made those experiences perfect. The most recent hike was on the Rampart Ridge Trail near Longmire at Mount Rainier. We had heavy cloud cover for the whole hike, but the trail and the conditions could not have been better suited for each other.

Rampart Ridge (the Ramparts for short) formed from a lava flow off the mountain, but it is below the tree line, so unlike some other hikes on Mount Rainier, it is covered by forest, including some massive old-growth trees at the lower levels. Even on clear days, the trail along the ridge has only a few clear views of the mountain. That's okay because the forest is the real show. Our cloudy day made sure we remembered that.

Within the trees, we found a lively, colorful ecosystem. The undergrowth, glowing green with moss and vine maple, housed Douglas squirrels and birds. We heard the haunting calls of varied thrushes and saw cute wildflowers and fungi. Then, there were the clouds. We hiked high enough to meet them and were fortunate to walk through their mist. At one of the open areas, we looked across Kautz Creek to see Pyramid Peak shrouded in fog. We also received a visit from a gray jay. As we moved through the old growth sentries near the end of the hike, we came upon a barred owl.

The clouds never let us see Mount Rainier. Instead, they helped us focus on the best of what the Ramparts had to offer, enclosing a magnificent world all its own.

All in all, it's been perfectly wonderful to have the clouds back in the Pacific Northwest this summer.

11 July 2016

One Way or Another

Mount Hood from I-84 in Portland, Oregon.
Outdoor adventures represent a mix of making things happen and letting things happen.

This summer's plan was to visit four volcanoes. Mount Hood in Oregon was one of the four. As it turned out, that trip meshed planning and decision-making with adapting to the environment and circumstances.

Initially, I planned the trip to Mount Hood for late July. However, a few weeks ago, I learned that my brother-in-law was flying into Portland and needed a ride from the airport on July 7. Since the flight arrived at 9:30 p.m., that left plenty of time for an adventure in Oregon during the day, so I moved the Mount Hood trip up and added in dinner reservations for Multnomah Falls. The new plan seemed perfect. It consolidated trips, saved gas, and did not require rushing.

Nature had other plans, however. Checking the forecast the day before the trip, I found that clouds and rain were predicted for July 7. Since I could hike anywhere and not see Mount Hood, it didn't make any sense to drive two hours out of Portland for a hike on a cloudy day, so I changed my plans again. With the dinner reservations at Multnomah Falls set, I moved the hike to that area. That's when things finally clicked.

My mom and I hiked around and between Multnomah Falls and Wahkeena Falls, took in the sights of the Columbia River Gorge, and had an amazing dinner at the Multnomah Falls Lodge Restaurant. As luck would have it, I even got a picture of Mount Hood (at least, most of it). When we drove through Portland on the way to the falls, the cloud cover had lifted enough to see all but the mountain's peak. I snapped a picture of it from the car and felt satisfied that the trip would go down as a success. The experience at the falls confirmed that feeling.

When it comes to spending time outdoors, things don't always go according to plan, but if you put a good strategy in motion, a few adjustments along the way are just fine.

06 July 2016

Taking the Next Step

A view of Mount St. Helens from the hummocks.
My hike near Mount St. Helens 11 days ago began last summer, and it's not over yet.

On a Father's Day trip to the mountain in 2015, my dad and I found some information about the trails in the area. After last year's successful hikes at Mount Rainier, Olympic National Park, and the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, I spent part of the winter planning excursions in the Pacific Northwest for this summer. The details about the Mount St. Helens trails provided a number of great options.

The hike from the hummocks northwest of the mountain to Johnston Ridge seemed particularly interesting, and I quickly settled on it. By Christmas, my mom and my cousin were on board for the hike.

As it moved from the Toutle River Valley up Johnston Ridge, the Boundary-Hummocks Trail displayed a surprising range of features and ecosystem types. The hummocks, formed by deposits left from the massive lahars (mudflows) triggered by the volcano's 1980 eruption, contained lush ponds shaded by alder. The ponds provided homes for beavers and birds and fed thriving thickets of ferns, cattails, and horsetails. Below the hummocks, the Toutle River continued its task of cutting through the sediment deposits.

Johnston Ridge, which received much of the 1980 blast, featured different terrain. A few trees had returned, but much of the land was open, giving us a great view to watch the day's clouds shuffle around the mountain. The clouds became the stars of the hike. They began to clear at about 9:30 a.m. Around noon, they re-formed near the mountain's middle like a Hula-Hoop. By the late afternoon, they covered the summit. Rather than taking away from the view though, the clouds seemed to enhance it with various personalities. Last year, during the hot, dry summer, we saw no clouds around the mountain. The clear view was fantastic, but this year's clouds made for many unique perspectives not possible without them.

When the hiked ended, I felt like I knew Mount St. Helens more intimately. I'd walked in two very different environments in the span of just a few miles, and they had revealed a lot about what has been happening around the mountain in the last 36 years.

In truth, this one trail represents just the tip of the iceberg with regard to the network of paths around the mountain, so an adventure that began in 2015 and continued this year has plenty of next steps.

16 June 2016

There and Back Again

The beautiful blue of the Quinault River.
Outdoor adventures can have unintended destinations, and going places can take us back.

For Father's Day 2015, my dad, my grandma, and I drove to Mount St. Helens. The trip went so well that we decided to replicate the experience with a new destination this year. We considered a drive to Mount Rainier, but my dad settled on Donkey Creek in the Olympic Peninsula. This wasn't a random decision. He'd spent time there with his parents on hunting trips when he was younger, and he wanted to see the area again. Going there would be a new experience for me, so his suggestion sounded good.

Instead of taking the trip on Father's Day, we made the drive on June 4, which allowed us to take advantage of the peninsula's cooler temperatures on a hot day; and rather than taking Highway 101 up the peninsula, we cut through the Wynoochee River Valley for a more leisurely and scenic route. Dad had plenty of time to observe and discuss how the area had changed over the years. The day was clear, and we caught glimpses of the Olympic Mountains.

Turning onto the Donkey Creek road brought together different points in time. I'd never seen the area, so it all should have been new. However, the time Dad and Grandma had spent there in the past came back as they talked about places they'd camped and hunted, so I felt a surprising familiarity with these fresh surroundings. While they noted the changes to the area, I began to think about how we were there both in the present and back in an earlier time simultaneously. The two periods meshed for a powerful experience.

Emerging at the Newberry Creek entrance, we realized how close we were to Lake Quinault and made the quick decision to take the loop around the lake. Coincidently, on June 4, 2015, my mom and I had hiked the Willaby Creek Trail on the lake's south side, so the return exactly one year later made for a nice bookend journey. On the drive around the lake, we found great views of the Olympics and the cool, blue Quinault River. We also saw a cow elk and her calf and stopped to take in the sight and sound of a waterfall.

It's great to know where you want to go, but leaving some room for the unexpected can take you just about anywhere in time and space.

31 May 2016

Like Bottles on the Beach

View of Grays Harbor from Bottle Beach State Park.
You can try all you want to make something become what it isn't, but the secret is knowing it for what it really is.

I know Grays Harbor pretty well. I grew up in the surrounding area, made plenty of stops in the cities of Aberdeen and Hoquiam, and drove through many times to points beyond like Grayland, Ocean Shores, and the Olympic Peninsula. However, two weeks ago, I found two parts of the harbor I hadn't previously discovered. They were right under my nose, and they gave me a new appreciation for an area that has disappointed many people's attempts to make it more than it is.

For this summer's adventure list, I slotted exploring the Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge into the leadoff spot. Best known for its annual shorebird festival, the refuge is otherwise largely overlooked. In fact, I'd driven past it many times, but until May 17, my knowledge of its location had remained vague. As it turned out, the refuge wasn't hard to find.

Migrating shorebirds typically move through Grays Harbor in late April and early May, so I knew I was a little late for them (mostly, I wanted to explore the refuge), but even without many of its star attractions, the refuge didn't disappoint. Sandpiper Trail, a boardwalk path running through the refuge, revealed a diverse ecosystem with tidal areas and thickets of alder, willow, salmonberry, and elderberry. Many of the shorebirds had already moved north, but the songbirds, including cliff swallows, marsh wrens, and goldfinches came out in force. My mom and I also ran into two members of the refuge management team, and they showed us some Caspian terns and a black-bellied plover. One of the women suggested we go to Bottle Beach State Park on the south side of the harbor, saying we might see more birds there.

Although seeing shorebirds hadn't been the main goal of the trip, we decided to find Bottle Beach. Like the wildlife refuge, the state park wasn't difficult to find--right of the highway in plain sight. Despite that, neither of us had even known it existed prior to our conversation with the refuge manager. The beach soon showed itself to be a hidden treasure. Empty of people and nestled into the cove near Ocosta, the beach contained an active group of shorebirds, including more black-bellied plovers and a host of red knots, as well as a spectacular view of the Olympic Mountains. My mom and I capped the trip with lunch, ice cream, and saltwater taffy in Westport, and we left the harbor with the feeling that we'd come to know this familiar body of water much better.

At one of the informative sites on Bottle Beach, we learned that Grays Harbor had once been earmarked as a port site that could rival San Francisco. The silty harbor had other ideas though. While it does a fair amount of shipping business, it isn't deep enough to be a major port. I wouldn't trade things like Bottle Beach or the Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge for that anyway. They are much more true to what the area is.

Recently, some have tried to turn Grays Harbor into a main coal and oil shipping terminal, but those efforts have met fierce resistance from the local communities, and the fight against the projects makes perfect sense when you really know the harbor.

29 April 2016

Punch in the Nose

Some news hits you right in the face.

Last month, I was devastated by the reports that white-nose syndrome (WNS) had come to Washington state. The disease, which kills bats, had been previously limited to the eastern United States after being introduced from Europe.

Although the prospect of WNS coming to the Pacific Northwest had been a real concern, I figured it would take time to cross the Rocky Mountains state by state. The stunning news that a bat thirty miles from Seattle had been found with the disease infuriated me. WNS has wiped out bat colonies in the east and now has a gateway to do the same in the west.

The most enraging part of the WNS story is how irresponsible we have been. People spread the disease by carrying it from cave to cave. We have known this for years, yet we have not taken the necessary precaution of banning cave exploration. Now, because someone failed to decontaminate their equipment before entering a cave in Washington, my home region (and the surrounding area) risks losing our amazing bats, which are so important to containing insect populations.

I used to be filled with happiness whenever I saw a bat, but now, the sight of them just makes me want to punch people in the nose out of sadness.

29 March 2016

A Living Document

Three years after its public release, Blackfish continues adding chapters to its remarkable story, making it one of the most successful and important documentaries in history.

When I blogged about the film in July 2013, Blackfish was pretty much unknown, and it remained that way for months. Showings on CNN brought it widespread attention though, and since then, the film's impact has grown exponentially and unceasingly. The latest chapter in its run is that it can claim some responsibility for ending SeaWorld's orca breeding program.

That's right, two weeks ago, SeaWorld, whose stock has plummeted since the release of Blackfish, announced that it would stop breeding orcas. This means that the orcas currently at SeaWorld will be the last ones there.

After an unheralded beginning, Blackfish has done and continues to do amazing things. It took on a massive industry that almost no one questioned at the time; it brought into the animal-rights movement people who had never considered environmental activism; and it changed public and corporate policy. Animals continue to be used for entertainment, so the film's story is not yet over, and it will be exciting to see what future impacts it has.

Blackfish may not have made a big splash right out the gate, but its rippling influence remains alive and vital.

07 February 2016

Dropping Discursive Closure on Science Misinformation

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has dropped the mic on a rapper who claimed Earth is flat, bringing discursive closure to an argument over a long-settled scientific fact.

Dropping the mic, according to the Urban Dictionary, involves "Calling someone out so hard that you just walk away indisputably victorious." Those employing this communication strategy often actually drop a mic or pretend to do so.

In communication terms, dropping the mic represents a form of discursive closure, a concept that refers to a number of strategies designed to end discussions and cut off any further response from others. In short, dropping the mic is a way to end the conversation when the communicator is at an advantage. Traditional forms of discursive closure include naturalization, which is performed when a person says, "That's the way it is," and topical avoidance, which prevents some topics from being discussed.

To see how deGrasse Tyson produces discursive closure by dropping the mic, watch the following video of his appearance on The Nightly Show in January: 

As you can see, deGrasse Tyson uses the mic drop to end the argument he was having with B.o.B about the shape of Earth. The action communicates that B.o.B's opinions will no longer be entertained by deGrasse Tyson. He's also using the communication strategy in an attempt to head off science misinformation in general. Settled scientific fact is left in a position of power, and those who might seek to challenge it are dismissed.

And that's the way it is.

15 January 2016

The Irony of Don Henley's "Praying for Rain"

We already know Don Henley as a great singer, musician, and entertainer, but as it turns out, he's also a pretty good rhetorician.

For his latest album, Henley effectively uses a rhetorical-narrative device to draw attention to the issue of global warming. The song, "Praying for Rain," employs irony to question our lack of action in responding to the signals of a warming planet. Check out the song here:

Ironic narratives feature main characters overcome by and unable to affect their situations. In "Praying for Rain," the irony becomes apparent when the first-person narrator, a farmer besieged by drought, says, "We hardly had a winter, had about a week of spring. Crops are burned up in the fields. There's a blanket of dust on everything. The weatherman is saying that there ain't no change in sight. Lord, I've never been a praying man, but I'm saying one tonight." Laying out the drought conditions paints the picture of an overwhelming situation for the farmer. He's never seen anything like it--a common reaction to the extreme weather events generated by global warming; and we know he feels powerless because of his admission that the predicament appears endless. Together, these narrative elements suggest we're listening to an irony, a suspicion confirmed when the man who's never prayed is driven to prayer--ironic indeed.

Action, not prayer, however, is the objective of Henley's irony. The farmer might turn to prayer, but that doesn't end the ironic narrative. In desperate circumstances, all he has is prayer, and the desperation only grows as he repeats that prayer over and over again without receiving any response. That's what we're left with: a powerless man and an unheard echo that remain completely at the mercy of their circumstances. In this way, Henley uses the ironic narrative theme of powerlessness as a call for action. The repeated chorus holds us in the frustration of failing to take action, calling into question all those times when people have actually tried to pray drought away.

We can't choose not to act while action is still possible and then expect that we'll be able to act in desperate circumstances, and Henley has given us the right rhetorical device to hit that realization home.

10 January 2016

Publication Celebration

The new year began in a big way for me last week.

A year and a half ago, I blogged about submitting a paper for publication. Following a long process of peer review, I received news on January 4 that the paper has been accepted for publication in the journal, Environmental Communication.

This was huge news. First, the paper will become my first publication. That fact, combined with the hard work that went into it, gave the acceptance letter special meaning. Second, as I blogged about in announcing the submission, the paper makes a contribution to communication theory by providing a way of discovering important discourses about the environment in media.

I am very proud and excited to be published, and I am glad to have the opportunity to help advance our understanding of the environment.

Happy new year, everyone!