Reflections on Climate Change Part 3: What you can do!

If you haven't already, check out part 1 and part 2 of our three-part series drawing conclusions about climate change after the Climate Odyssey project. This is part three in which Zion reflects on the best ways to take action to prevent catastrophic consequences from climate change! 

Push locally to adapt

Efforts to prepare communities for the increasing impacts of climate change do not need to be top-down from the state or federal level, nor do they need to be headed by scientists or those who know all the details of climate change.  Even if we don’t know exactly the timing and exact numbers, we do know what the relative changes are.  We know sea levels are rising, and that the rate of this rise is increasing.  Weather is intensifying, creating more intense downpours, hotter heat waves, and more rapid changes week-to-week, putting intense hot next to intense cold.  Storms are becoming more extreme; as are droughts, and combined this is making life difficult for ecosystems on land and in the seas. As members of local communities, it is in our interest, our family’s interest, and the interest of those we work and live around to be better prepared for the changes that have begun and are intensifying. 

As a society, reactive decision-making is common-place after the storm or drought hits, but proactive decision-making is what will ultimately save the most lives, money, and hardship as the impacts of climate change speed up. Using recent severe weather events, when explained in the context of their increasing likelihood under climate change, can be a visceral rallying-point on which to gain local support emotionally and financially. Working locally to encourage proactive decision-making can be tough, since funds are always limited, and election cycles often mean government action is focused on short-term gains.  But planning programs at the local-level do exist and can provided the basis for envisioning and financing the changes need. With persistence and enhanced local understanding of the gains that can be achieved, more proactive decision-making can be encouraged and supported within our communities.

Push nationally to support global mitigation of carbon emissions

Dealing with the human-caused carbon pollution in our global atmosphere is no easy task, but it is essential if we want to stop climate change and remove the increasingly expensive requirement for our communities to continually adapt into the future. Without global action to reduce and reverse carbon emissions, we will never reach stability in our economy, ecosystems, or communities.  To achieve this, we need to change public opinion on the benefits and drawbacks of fossil fuel use.  Our society is currently built around fossil fuels and they provide numerous positive aspects to our lives from transportation, electricity, and warmth. But without some type of direct accounting for their negative aspects as well, we will continue to overuse them at our own unseen expense.  Individual and organized support for national and international programs that encourage carbon-neutral energy sources is required. 

We all share the same atmosphere, so unless we as a world can collectively reduce emissions through investments in alternative energies paired with economic programs that reflect the true costs of fossil fuels, we will continue to expand the threat climate change posses to us all.  As individuals we need to force government action through our vote, our voice, and our dollar.  Corruption and self-interest is inherent in government, but our democratic systems that represent the public interest can still succeed if enough people push for the mitigation of carbon emissions throughout enough nations in our shared world.

Educate and inspire others

The decision to support both local adaption and global mitigation of climate change is a combination of both a cognitive understanding of the science AND an emotional engagement with the issue. Without either of those, the behavior of individuals will not change.  Climate Odyssey is an example of this cognitive-emotional overlap that hopes to engage people with art, then change understanding through embedded science.  As individuals we can all find ways to connect with others we meet day-to-day to engage and inform them about climate change.  We can also use our skills to reach others through our own contributions to social and mass media via print and online exchange, similar again to how the Climate Odyssey pieces were designed.  Everyone brings there own set of abilities when it comes to inspiring and educating others, and however we each decide to do it, the more we can engage and inform others, the faster we, as a globe, can alter this scary path that we have created for ourselves.

Thanks for reading! We're getting SO close to wrapping up the Climate Odyssey artists' books and interactive map. I'll get those out as soon as possible. 

 

Reflections on Climate Change Part 2: The Good News

This post is part two of three of our reflections on the state of climate change impacts and adaptation on the Atlantic Seaboard of the US. If you haven’t yet, please read part one to hear about some of the negative impacts that are occurring.

Now for some good news about climate change on the East Coast!

Deniers vs. Doers

Despite skepticism at the national and state level about the existence and origins of climate change, there are many land managers and citizens out there advancing adaptation efforts. In states like Florida and Georgia, both of which are represented by governors who deny anthropogenic climate change, we were excited to meet with dedicated environmental advocates like Jennifer Kline of the Georgia DNR, St. Mary’s Riverkeeper Rick Frey, and Caitlin Lustic of The Nature Conservancy in the Florida Keys. 

Jennifer surprised us when she shared that “Residents accept that the sea is rising, because they can see it for themselves.” However, in order to receive approval and funding for adaptation efforts to protect residents and property, Jennifer and her colleagues often refer to “long term coastal hazards” instead of climate change impacts. Her department is spearheading a living shorelines initiative to advance soft shore protection from storm surges, and also facilitates the Georgia Coastal Hazards Portal. The GHCP is a valuable tool that shows projections for sea level rise, erosion, and invasive species in great detail along the Georgia coast. The Georgia DNR is also hosting Georgia’s first climate adaptation conference this November.

While in Georgia we also met and befriended St. Mary’s Riverkeeper Rick Frey and his wife Lynne. They volunteer quite a bit of time and money to protect the St. Mary’s River in Georgia from pollution and overfishing. They also spend time in schools and out on the river sharing environmental education lessons with local students.

Finally, Caitlin Lustic’s work for the Nature Conservancy in Florida marches forth despite taking place in a state where state government agencies are banned from even using the words “climate change” in official discourse. The Nature Conservancy however, along with other environmental non-profits, operate on national scale and are therefore able to fill in the gaps in adaptation efforts left by state government denial and inaction. 

Seeing is Believing

As Jennifer mentioned, Georgia residents watching their backyards and highways flood are aware that something is changing, despite denier rhetoric in conservative media and in government. As we traveled down the coast discussing climate change impacts it became obvious that there is no better PSA about climate change than a major event like Hurricane Sandy or historic flooding in South Carolina. Long time residents of these areas are converted to believing in sea level rise as they see the changes first hand.

Though any increase in belief in climate change is a positive sign, many are still skeptical that the changes are caused by human activity and can therefore be reversed. This is where environmental education efforts can play a crucial role.

Environmental Education

Environmental education is growing in popularity in the US and we saw several excellent examples of groups working to share accurate scientific information as well as the local environment with residents. We found the most notable cluster of environmental educators in the Lower Hudson Valley, including ClearwaterHudson River Keeper, the Center for Urban Renewal at Beczak at Sarah Lawrence, and Groundwork Hudson Valley’s Science Barge. Though these groups had diverse missions and modes of operation, each prioritizes environmental education as a key strategy for informing the public about climate change.

As populations concentrate in urban areas and our online personas become as important socially as our offline ones, intentionally connecting citizens with natural spaces near their home is more important than ever. A person will not advocate to protect what they don’t see as important, and each of these groups works to share the importance of natural places with citizens young and old. In addition, there are groups who stand to benefit from doubt about climate change, and they often share misleading information about climate science. Environmental educators have an important role to play in combatting misinformation campaigns in order to foster a scientifically informed public.

Global Mitigation Efforts

Support for managing human-caused carbon emissions at a global scale, also known as climate change mitigation, has spiked in the past year in the United States. For a start, according to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, the number of Americans who believe climate change is happening has increased by 7% since 2014.  Next, the historic climate talks in Paris in December 2015 marked a giant leap forward in the effort to attain global cooperation in reducing green house gas emissions. Though the agreement has not been fully ratified and is said to be difficult to enforce, it still represents a major milestone for climate change mitigation.

In conclusion, we have a long road ahead to adapt to current climate change impacts and mitigate future ones, but there are plenty of people on the East Coast and across the globe working to solve these problems. If I am being completely honest, I am left about 65% pessimistic that impending changes to the climate will be mitigated before major damage is inflicted to our coastlines, and 35% optimistic that we can cooperate long enough to do something to prevent it.

Check out my final post, “What can I do?”, debuting tomorrow, for some proactive steps we all can take to improve the outlook for our country as climate change impacts become more prevalent.

​Reflections on Climate Change Part 1: The Bad News

Now that we’ve had a little time to reflect on our journey this past year, I’d like to share our observations about climate change impacts on the East Coast. I’ve broken this post into three parts: the bad news, the good news, and what you can do about it. Let’s rip off that band aid and talk first about the bad news: the immense challenges that face our coasts in coming decades.   

Throughout our journey, touching thirteen states over three thousand miles, we spoke with non-profits, environmental educators, land managers, and fisherman about how climate change was impacting their local environments and communities. Ready or not, the following four categories of impacts are already occurring and were fresh on the minds of those we spoke with.

Infrastructure

Our buildings, roads, pipes, and bridges, particularly on the East Coast where European settlements date back several hundred years, are already deteriorating due to age and lack of funding. When the threats of rising seas and more severe storms are factored in, the picture begins to look dire.

During our stop at the Hudson Riverkeeper last September we learned how New York City’s complicated system to deliver unfiltered water to the city is threatened by increasingly intense rainfall. More frequent cloudbursts mean that small, clear streams are turned into raging muddy rivers more often, forcing the city to consider spending billions to filter drinking water.

We also drove on two different highways that had been submerged in recent storms, one leading to Tybee Island, Georgia, and the other to the Western portion of the Florida Keys. Both of these were rendered impassable at one point during storm surges or king tides in the past two years, cutting island residents off from the main land. If people are going to continue to inhabit these places, these roads will need to be raised several feet to accommodate projected sea level rise in the coming century.

Fisheries

Like our infrastructure, fisheries and ocean ecosystems were already threatened before ocean warming and acidification became and issue. Fish populations worldwide are being harvested faster than they can reproduce while at the same time warmer and more acid oceans are causing some species to die out or relocate. This can lead to economic turmoil for small fishing communities like Tangier Island, VA. The blue crab gathered by the watermen of Tangier have been declining for several decades. Now ocean acidification is changing the ecosystem in Chesapeake Bay and further destabilizing the population, leaving this small community less and less economically viable.

We also observed how isolated communities like Tangier can be less resilient to impacts because their economies are often based on a single natural resource. If that resource is disappearing there may not be an alternative economic engine, making it unaffordable to live in such a remote location.

Weather

Instances of severe weather, including tornados and hurricanes, are projected to increase under climate change. Living on a boat gave us a visceral experience of large storms like nothing we had ever experienced on land. On a boat you not only feel the wind and rain pounding above you but also the floor beneath your feet lurching with every wave, creating a barrage of motion and sound from all sides. We experienced more than 100 mph winds during a triplet of storms on Lake Michigan, endured a miserable night being tossed around on the Hudson while Hurricane Joaquin collided with a nor’easter, and came within striking distance of two tornados during our time in Florida.

These storms rank as some of the most terrifying experiences of my life. With each sleepless night I moved beyond a cognitive knowledge of the projected increase in severe weather to an emotional and fearful understanding of what it actually feels like to experience severe storms more often.  We were fortunate to avoid any real damage from these storms, though we caught glimpses of the damage to lives and property that resulted. The process of rebuilding is messy and expensive, and shows no signs of streamlining despite projections of more frequent severe weather to come.

Assisted Ecosystem Transformation

As I mentioned in my post about coral reef recovery efforts in the Keys, coral reefs are rapidly declining due to ocean warming and other factors, in addition to being difficult to access and not well understood scientifically. The likelihood that Caribbean reefs will look the way they do today in 50 years is minute at best. The challenge for residents, fisherman, scientists, and environmentalists is to decide which parts of this complex ecosystem should receive the finite resources available for conservation. To answer this question in a pragmatic way, one must to forfeit the goal of conservation as it has been understood in recent decades.

The concept of restoring systems, or helping them return to a state defined by how they functioned before human intervention, has been the basic goal within the environmental movement since it’s beginnings. This restoration paradigm is established on the assumption that returning to such a state is possible. However, now that we have entered the Anthropocene and we are the stewards of our global climate, the atmosphere and oceans are changing too rapidly and unpredictably for the goal of restoration to be practical. Instead, scientists and environmentalists must first assume that systems are constantly in transition, and then move ahead creating goals for how an altered system can be best sustained. A key part of this process is called an assisted migration, and it requires stakeholders to prioritize their resources by saving species that are deemed both important and possible to save.

The question of what is worth saving is, as you might imagine, extremely controversial and complicated to answer. Those trying to protect coral reefs in the Caribbean are still learning how their complex system functions while scrambling to keep it viable, making assisted migration even more complicated. On a larger scale, Americans interested in protecting the environment and its valuable ecosystem services are forced to engage in a sort of environmental triage at the same moment as our infrastructure and economy face mounting threats from climate change impacts.

Conclusion

In addition to these four, there was another common theme in responses to our questions about climate change impacts. We noticed that any ruminations on climate change were always followed up by reports of other threats to local areas. For example, when a person would list environmental challenges on the East Coast, sea level rise was just one item on a list including chemical pollution, natural erosion of sand beaches, and invasive species.

In short, systems and resources we as Americans have decided to manage are both very complex and often face a slew of other threats in addition to impending climate change impacts. Things can seem bleak, but there are positive developments worth celebrating, so check out part 2 of this series!

Coral Reef Restoration in the Florida Keys

Earlier this month we sat down the the Nature Conservancy’s Coral Recovery Coordinator Caitlin Lustic to discuss how climate change affects coral reefs in the Florida Keys. Coral reefs play an important role in protecting ocean front property from damage during storm surges by reducing the height of incoming waves. Residents of coastal Southeast Florida need these reefs more than ever as the sea level rises and storms worsen, but reefs are suffering their own climate change impacts.

Threats

My first impression of Caitlin’s work left me in awe of the complex task she and other marine biologists studying coral have at hand. Scientific understanding of corals is limited relative to other fields due to their complexity and slow growth rate. It takes years to answer questions about coral because they take so long to show measurable growth and because studying them means diving down to an underwater field site which is much more time consuming and expensive than driving to one on land.

Even with these barriers to understanding, it is clear that corals in the Keys face a slew of threats. Coral reefs began to decline noticeably in the 1980’s when a pathogen killed off a sea urchin species that kept a coral-competing algae at bay. That algae caused immense harm in the following decades and scientists have worked with mixed results to reintroduce the urchins. At first urchins were raised in tanks and then released back to the reef, but their ignorance of predators left them comically vulnerable and they were quickly snapped up by bigger fish. Now they are raised in tanks with an octopus to scare them straight, hopefully increasing their odds of survival.

Climate change poses an even bigger threat than algae to coral reefs. Ocean temperatures are rising and so is the level of carbon dioxide in sea water, making the water more acidic. These two factors seem to exacerbate both coral bleaching and disease, although due to the aforementioned complexity of coral reefs implicating a single threat is difficult. Coral bleaching, for example, occurs when ocean water is too warm and too still. The colorful algae living within the corals die off in these conditions, leaving the white “bleached” coral structure exposed and the coral without an important source of food. The algae usually return when the water cools off in the winter, but the coral can be left weaker and more susceptible to disease. Corals are prone to a variety of diseases which are thought to spread between the corals via predators (think a mosquito spreading malaria), corals that are touching, or the water itself.

Restoration

Caitlin’s job involves overseeing and completing coral restoration in the remaining coral reefs in the Florida Keys. The Nature Conservancy coordinates with multiple coral reef nurseries in the Keys to grow a fast growing species called staghorn coral in underwater nurseries. Clippings can be taken from it’s branches and “replanted” onto struggling reefs. This is done using two-part epoxy to affix the clipping to the reef where it continues to grow.

Other nurseries grow a species called boulder coral and reintroduce clippings to reefs through a technique called resheeting. A boulder coral start is cut into multiple small pieces in a lab with a band saw and then the pieces are epoxied to the reef in a group. The pieces are near to each other but are not touching at first. As the clippings grow they eventually join together to form a much larger boulder coral than can be grown in the same amount of time from a single clipping.

Staghorn coral fragments in a nursery. © Ken Nedimyer

Staghorn coral fragments in a nursery. © Ken Nedimyer

Next Steps

We asked Caitlin if restoration was working and she reminded us that improvement in reefs takes place very slowly over a number of years and is hard to measure. Many small-scale studies are underway studying the benefits of coral restoration, but to study these efforts over the long term is incredibly challenging. These types of studies are hard to fund unless they examine a factor that directly affects the economy, such as supporting commercially fished species, and that connection is difficult to establish in a reasonable timeframe.

 She mentioned two other factors that are benefitting coral including the protection of 2,800 square nautical miles called the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. This area allows marine life to thrive by restricting boating and commercial fishing and protects the largest known sea grass bed in the world, greatly benefiting the coral reef ecosystem. In addition, the Florida Keys is near to completing the process of shifting from septic tanks to a piped sewage system. This change will keep nutrient-rich human waste from clogging the crystal clear waters of the Keys with algae while benefiting coral reefs.

Caitlin’s response to our questions about climate change and coral reefs had a similar theme to those of our other interviews throughout Climate Odyssey. When trying to protect a specific place or system from damage by people, climate change is just one of many threats competing for attention.

To see more pictures of coral restoration click here

Farewell to the Wildcat!

Greetings from Warrensville, North Carolina!

I have some big news to share today my friends! Zion and I successfully sold the Wildcat this week and concluded our sailing journey! Selling the boat does not mean that our project is finished - I still have several blog posts to write, campaign perks to send out, and the interactive map to complete. Stay tuned, there is still much more to come!

Bidding farewell to our faithful vessel after more than 1,000 hours of restoration, 3,500 miles sailed, and nine months of living aboard was an emotional moment. After checking over the boat one last time, we ceremoniously high-fived and took a selfie before packing our entire lives into our overloaded Impreza and heading off for a few celebratory milkshakes.

As you might imagine I’m in a reflective mood at the conclusion of such a long journey, and I wanted to take some time to share some thoughts and stories from living on a sailboat for nearly a year. I’ll write a companion newsletter to this one soon with conclusions about the state of climate change impacts and adaptations on the East Coast.

Living on a boat for nine months allowed for moments of breathtaking beauty. After carefully winding our way amongst the thousands of tiny granite islands in the North Channel of Ontario, a channel suddenly widened before us. Just then the wind, ushering in the gentle summer storm rolling up behind us, dramatically filled our sails. We picked up speed and seemed to fly past the small granite humps topped with pine trees as sheets of rain approached from behind.

Humor and misadventure also characterized the Odyssey. A few months later we loaded our friends, lunch, and a few beers into our dinghy, revved up the 40-year-old engine, and puttered our way out to an uninhabited island off the coast of South Carolina. The bugs and thorns on shore were formidable, but after finally reaching the beach we discovered an untouched trove of shells and other treasures washed ashore by hurricane Joaquin. We collected some monster whelks and beach glass, ate our lunch, and then hiked back, only to find our engine had breathed it’s last while we were away. After a vigorous effort to revive it proved futile, Zion popped in the back-up oars and paddled us to the boat as the sun sank behind us.

My favorite moment came on New Year’s Day of 2016. After ferrying eight friends and their camping gear out to Tiger Key in the Everglades National Park we enjoyed a few lovely days camping on the beach (as well as the engine troubles that seemed to be our hallmark). On the morning of January 1st we loaded up the boat for a day sail into the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico. We snacked and chatted until one of us realized we were being followed by a pod of five spunky bottlenose dolphins. They swam right beneath us as we lay on the nets, even swimming sideways to get a better look up at us. We watched in awe as they continued to swim along for several minutes, seeming to delight in our squeals and shrieks.   

These moments of joy and discovery came well earned, sometimes emerging after long weeks of sailing through nearly unbearable heat and humidity dogged by relentless biting insects. As a light sleeper I struggled with sleepless nights spent anchored near loud train tracks, under bright marina lights, or near harbors where powerful wakes from fishing vessels caused a jarring wakeup at 4am. 

One of the biggest challenges I found was summed up thoughtfully by one of my favorite authors, John Steinbeck, in his account of a road trip taken across the US in 1960 titled Travels with Charley in Search of America. The story is, unlike the tales we (myself included) weave today on social media, no filtered highlight reel of a sparkling and flawless journey. I wish I had the same talent for articulating my complicated feelings about our Odyssey, but alas I’m better with images than words so I’ll borrow some from Steinbeck. As he settles into the routines of travel he begins to notice something about the truck drivers he meets along the way. As he sat down at a bar filled with them he observed,

“I soon learned not to expect knowledge of the country they passed through. Except for the truck stops, they had no contact with it. It was driven home to me how like sailors they were. I remember when I first went to sea being astonished that the men who sailed over the world and touched the ports to the strange and exotic had little contact with that world.”

This lack of meaningful connection with the places we stopped along the way was a source of subtle but persistent frustration. We covered 3,000 miles in the first five months of our journey, never stopping for more than five days at a time. That whirlwind left me feeling unsettled, exhausted, and impatient with the inconveniences of living on an old wooden boat. I am, after all, building a career as an artist making work about specific places observed and catalogued over long stretches of time. Floating through a new landscape each day was not conducive to my slow and deliberate absorption of my surroundings, and as a result, to cultivating a grounded and calm state of being.

I am well aware however, as a friend reminded me during his visit to the boat, that no person can grow until they have ventured out of their comfort zone. I’m grateful to have had the chance to wander far away from home and the familiar, and to do so with an incredibly capable and patient partner in crime! Big props to Zion for always stepping up to do the most challenging jobs on the boat like freeing a clog from the vent in our septic tank, diving into choppy Chesapeake Bay to cut a crab trap stuck on our rudders, or steering the boat for long and soggy days on the Intracoastal Waterway. And of course for keeping both of us in good spirits whenever things went south.

Finally, as always, thank you so much to all of you who donated to our campaign and made this journey possible! Again, there is a lot more to come, so stay tuned.

Happy trails, Lucy (and Zion) 

Preparing for Climate Change in the Southeast: Interview with Coastal Hazards Specialist Jennifer Kline

A wooden walkway stretching out over a marsh in St. Marys, Georgia. 

If you, like me, have lived most of your life west of the Mississippi you may have found yourself baffled by what seems to be a dangerous combination of vulnerability and political apathy regarding sea level rise in southern states like Georgia. 

Well after five months of living in the Southeast I’m happy to report that we’ve been falsely judging the book by its cover! Behind the political climate-denier bluster that makes headlines one can find some very smart and dedicated Southerners who are doing their best to prepare their region for climate change impacts. Zion and I were lucky enough to sit down with one of these individuals, Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Hazards Specialist Jennifer Kline, to discuss climate change impacts and adaptation.

Communication

Jennifer’s goal is for coastal counties to be prepared for the larger storms, rising seas, and worsening droughts projected as the atmosphere warms. When her department first began to consider climate change nine years ago, they tried forming specific climate change adaptation plans for each county. Due to the aforementioned acceptance by some Georgians of rhetoric that denies climate change, these plans were quickly rejected. Jennifer and her colleagues were not deterred and began instead to incorporate their adaptation plans into hazard mitigation plans that already existed. They also use the term “long-term hazards” in place of “climate change” to help make the plans less overtly controversial. 

Today things are a little easier thanks to the obvious increase in tidal flooding in coastal areas. “Residents accept that the sea is rising” said Jennifer, “because they can see it for themselves.” One dramatic example took place this fall when a king tide event left the only road connecting Tybee Island to the mainland flooded and impassable. The Coast Guard had to be on call in case one of the island’s 3,000 residents had a medical emergency and needed to evacuate by boat.

To further advance communication about climate change impacts the DNR is hosting Georgia’s first statewide Climate Readiness conference this fall to help groups concerned with everything from agriculture to public health discuss adaptation strategies.

Adaptation

Besides incorporating climate change adaptation into disaster recovery planning, Jennifer and her colleagues facilitate a Living Shorelines initiative and the Georgia Coastal Hazards Portal. Building living shorelines involves planting marsh grasses instead of building concrete bulkheads to prevent erosion. Georgia’s long and shallow tidal zones make the technique a little tricky, so the program is still being developed. Once ready it will have great potential to buffer Georgia waterfront property and infrastructure from storm surges and high tides. 

The Georgia Coastal Hazards Portal is an online map that shows very specific visualizations of how erosion and sea level rise might affect the coast. It uses projections of sea level rise that vary from 1 to 2 meters of rise by the year 2100. This tool can help anyone, from a private homeowner building a dock to a city council make changes to zoning, to see projected changes in great detail. Offering this tool empowers citizens to see in detail how their coastline might change in coming decades.

In conclusion, a sometimes hostile political climate isn’t stopping people like Jennifer at the Georgia DNR to prepare the state for imminent changes related to a warming atmosphere.   

Sea Turtles and Climate Change

We took a fun little field trip the other day to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on nearby Jekyll Island. The center was established in 2007 and built inside of an old power plant. They have rehabilitated and released hundreds of stranded and injured sea turtles and work to educate the public about how to protect them. Here are a few of the “patients” we saw while we were there:

Loggerhead sea turtles are threatened by a variety of human factors, including roads and ocean debris, but they are also vulnerable to climate change for a surprising reason. The sex of a sea turtle is determined by the temperature of the egg during its development. Since turtles dig deep holes on sandy beaches to lay their eggs, the eggs laid deepest are kept at lower temperatures are more likely to turn out male. The eggs laid closer to the surface don’t stay as cool and more often end up being female. As the air and oceans warm scientists worry that populations of turtles could slowly come to have too many females relative to males, and would therefore slowly die out. You can read more about this threat here.

St. Marys, Georgia

As I mentioned in my Spring Update, we have spent a lovely five weeks in St. Marys GA working to sell the Wildcat and wrap up the Climate Odyssey project. I feel very lucky we found such a laid back and affordable place to spend this time because selling a boat can be a bit of a headache. We've had several interested buyers but none have yet worked out. 

We spend most of our days at the public library shamelessly borrowing internet and air conditioning. I knew I was officially ready to conclude the sailing life when I found myself fighting back tears after my library card application was rejected. The rejection was valid - we can't prove residency in Georgia. This small inconvenience would not normally bother me but after a year away from any stationary home I am so ready to have a mailing address again! 

On a brighter note we've made several friends in town including the local River Keeper and a very friendly pianist named Paul. We've had some great adventures with Paul, all of which begin or end with a tour of a residential areas where he can name the price of nearly any house on the street. Here's Paul giving us a brief piano performance in a hotel lobby on St. Simon island: 

Here are a few more pictures from our time in St. Marys!

Spring Update!

Greetings from St. Marys, GA!
 
My apologies for the long break from the last update! Zion and I are settling into our temporary home in St. Marys, Georgia for the next two to six weeks while we wrap up the Climate Odyssey project and work on selling the boat. I’m excited to share what we’ve been up to this spring!

During the month of February Zion jetted off to Squamish, British Columbia to teach at Quest University while I headed to Lakewood, Colorado for the month. Zion’s class was a success, though teaching on the block plan (one class taught in 18 class days instead of 18 weeks) is always a draining experience! Meanwhile I worked on the design of the Climate Odyssey’s artists’ book and caught up with friends and family in Colorado.
 
Upon our reunion in early March we hit the ground running by sailing more than 400 miles in just 6 days to get from Moore Haven, Florida to St. Marys. We made it just in time for my mom Polly and stepdad Kim arrived for a quick visit. We spend a few days anchored near Cumberland Island and hiked many miles on through its gorgeous mossy oaks and empty beaches, spotting dolphins and wild ponies frolicking just a few yards from one another!

Next our friend Eliza stopped by for a whirlwind visit before Zion departed west once more – this time to defend his PhD at the University of Idaho. He passed with flying colors and is now officially Dr. Klos (aka Dr. Z)! Zion is reveling in the first week of his life as a non-student in 23 years.  
 
Now we’re enjoying life in St. Marys while getting back to work. My task is to wrap up the Climate Odyssey project by finishing up the interactive map and to finally distribute campaign perks!
 
Zion is busy working on advertising and selling our boat. We’ve grown quite attached to the Wildcat over our many months of restoration and sailing but we have to face two important facts, A) we are just about out of funds and B) wooden boats do not thrive when left unattended. If we stored the boat on land until we were able to take her on another big adventure (at least fiveyears from now) she would likely begin falling back into the disrepair we worked so hard to rescue her from! So we decided to find another loving home for our unique craft. We’ve had a few showings but so far no serious offers. If you know of anyone looking for a unique wooden catamaran, send them this link!
 
Stay tuned for more in the next month, and thank you as always for your support!
 
Lucy and Zion

Cumberland Island II

We had an excellent time with my mom and stepdad visiting Cumberland Island, GA. It's only about 8 miles from our new home in St. Mary's to get to Cumberland by sail. The island has a fascinating history and is packed with interesting creatures from feral ponies to loons, armadillos to wild hogs. The mossy oaks and breezy, empty beaches are one of a kind and we had a blast sharing this magical place with family! 

The Big Sprint

After our gallant return from our month off, we had just six short days to sail about 400 miles in order to make it from Moore Haven to St. Mary's, GA in time for my mom and stepdad's arrival. We made it with a day to spare! We had some perfect winds from the south helping us along, as well as some beautiful weather and day light savings to help us get up early. The delicious bacon from North Country Charcuterie helped as well!

We'll be based in St. Mary's for the next 1 to 2 months. I'll write more soon about this very cute and friendly little town! 

Our view for much of the way up the Florida coast

Our view for much of the way up the Florida coast

We're back!

After a much needed month away from the Wildcat, Zion and I returned last Friday. Upon our arrival in Florida we drove back down to Moore Haven, and crossed our fingers and toes as Zion turned the key to the new engine for the first time in a month. We breathed a huge sigh of relief as the engine purred back to life! It is so quiet compared to the old one that we keep opening the engine cover just to be sure that it's still running.  

Neither of us realized how much of a toll the month of being broken down had taken on our morale. Had we known we'd be in one place for that long, we might have had a different attitude about settling in, but instead the month was a series of modified plans followed by let downs. Essentially the following script played on repeat: "Once we just get __ part, we'll be up and running! Oh shoot, that part isn't in yet, we'll have to wait four more days...". Woof. I'm glad we made some new friends in town, but I'm happy to leave the stress of boat-repairs-sans-car behind. We made it through and the upside is that now we are once again operating a fully functioning vessel with a much more dependable engine! As I write we're cruising north with the sails up at 6 knots, the sun is out and the sails are up. Life is good. 

Here are a few pictures from the last few days: 



January Newsletter

Greetings from Lakewood, CO!
 
January was one of the rockier months of the Odyssey so far! I mean that both figuratively and literally – we bobbed around in some powerful and erratic waves when a tornado ripped past just a mile or two away near Cape Coral, FL on the night of January 9th. Luckily the anchor held just fine and we and the Wildcat emerged unscathed. Just five days later we received another tornado warning and were able to seek shelter in a library onshore instead of on the boat. No funnel cloud touched down that time, but we watched several inches of rain pour down each hour. This came at the height of the dry season in Florida, and we shook our heads while watching first hand the incredibly anomalous weather Florida has experienced during this record El Niño year.
 
We caught our breaths and headed back into the Okeechobee Waterway in hopes of reaching Fernandina Beach, FL by the end of January. Unfortunately we didn’t make it very far before our 17 year old engine finally gave out for good, leaving us stranded in tiny Moore Haven, FL, hundreds of miles from either coast. We spent the next three weeks there awaiting our new engine and accompanying parts. Our unfortunate circumstances and the limited food offerings in town inspired a few grumbley blog posts on my part.
 
Our stay in Moore Haven was both frustrating and enlightening. We befriended lots of curious locals who were eager to chat about our unique and immobile home while Zion stood in the cockpit tinkering with the engine. We’re so grateful to Geoff, Susan, Miriam, Carl, Bonnie, Robert, Zazel, and Janet for giving us rides, meals, advice, and encouragement. On our very last day in town Zion got the new engine fully installed and functional! The final step required him to swim beneath the boat to pass some cabling up through the deck, and not two minutes after the cables were in place a large alligator popped up about 50 yards away! “Time to get out!” I yelped, and Zion quickly flopped up on the dock wide eyed and laughing at the timing. Our new friend didn’t seem too interested in us in the end, but Zion’s swim with a gator was the cherry on top of a weird and wild month!
 
We got a few pieces of good news during our unexpected stay. First, we were profiled for Grist.org’s list of 50 people working to “shape a greener 2016”. It was an honor to be listed alongside some very innovative projects! Also, I was thrilled to learn that I had made it on the short list for the MFA program at UC Santa Barbara! Everyone on this list is usually accepted to the program, so we went ahead and celebrated victory! I’ll be travelling out there next week to visit the campus and check out where we will likely move come September.
 
For the next month I’ll be in Lakewood, CO working on the Climate Odyssey artists’ books (and reveling in my proximity to Whole Foods, yoga classes, art supply stores, and friends and family) while Zion teaches at Quest University in BC. I’ve compiled some pictures from our last month, including the shots from the process of making Japanese woodcut prints on board. Enjoy, and thanks again for following along.
 
Wishing you smoother sailing than we had in January!

Lucy & Zion

Food Privilege, Dollar Stores, and Climate Change

One unexpected element of sailing from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico is the amount of time spent in small rural towns. From Ashtabula, OH, to Oriental NC, and Moore Haven, FL, we’ve been leapfrogging from one to another to stop for gas or ice cream or boat supplies. My take-away from these stops has been a big ol’ privilege check, and a timely one at that. Not to mention my healthy middle class background and white skin, I’m about to enter an MFA program in the fall and commit fully to becoming a visual artist – a profession that is inherently quite privileged.*

Our tour of rural places over the past six months has opened my eyes to just how big of a head start I got in life. One glaring example of this is food. Or more specifically, where I buy my food. I grew up about a mile away from two large grocery stores that sat across a busy street from each other. Not only did they carry an enormous variety of products, they were locked in an amusing battle of one-upsmanship to expand their offerings. One would get a flashy new sushi bar and the other had one within a few months. Next came the olive bar, the expansive deli, the coffee shop in store, etc. This was my food paradigm; tubs full of artisan olives and the free cookies in the bakery.

Fast forward to 2016. The town we’re staying in right now, Moore Haven FL, has a population of 1,600 and no grocery store at all. If you want to buy food that isn’t Burger King or tacos there are two dollar stores in town to choose from. One of these barely even has a cold case, picture a little more than a gas station’s selection of food with a whole lot more junk food and cheap plastic crap on offer. The other carries exactly one choice for each basic product. What I considered “basic” suddenly seems absurdly snobby. Goat cheese, not basic. Leafy greens of any kind, not basic. Garlic, apparently not basic. In short, rural food deserts are real, people!

Just this morning NPR covered the closing of a Walmart Express in Oriental, North Carolina where we stayed for a couple of days back in November. We arrived in Oriental the same day that the last local grocery store in town closed its doors. Locals blamed the Walmart Express that had opened just a year earlier for taking away too much business from the independent store. Now Oriental is truly out of luck because not three full months after losing their local grocery, the Walmart has just closed, meaning the nearest grocery store or pharmacy is now 15 miles away. Suddenly even a crummy dollar store doesn’t sound so bad!

Though intuitively food deserts seem an inevitable consequence of the free market and the Walmarts of the world, researchers seem to have a hard time explaining their origins. Regardless of why they exist, the problem has serious implications regarding climate change due to the increased instances of severe weather events. When natural disasters like the historic flooding seen over much of the Midwest this year occur, there are times when towns are cut off from major highways and population centers for days at a time. If you don’t have a grocery store and your town is isolated by a flood or a hurricane, how do you feed people and get them their medicine? As Zion and I have dodged tornados while sailing across southern Florida we’re viscerally reminded of the increased instances of severe weather under climate change. For many reasons including food deserts rural Americans remain more vulnerable to natural disasters than ever before. 

I had the same vague awareness of this problem that I did of many environmental topics before I left on this journey. But now instead of just reading about food deserts, I have to shop at those dollar stores myself! And if there is a major storm which knocks out power and services on land (this has happened twice to us since departing in July) we can’t get gas or do laundry just as others on land can’t do those things. What we can do is pack up and sail to a better spot, something that much of the 19% of Americans who live in rural areas can’t do.

Food privilege, checked.

 

* I couldn’t find an article to back this up so I’ll just share my account of the circumstances by which one becomes a professional artist. In short, you can’t do it without an excellent education and some kind of lucky break in which either through a connection, your family, or other means (for me this is an awesome partner who supports me) you are given the free time and funds to experiment for several years before sales of work can support you. In my view, hard work and talent just aren’t enough to earn the time you need to develop. I’d compare becoming an artist to becoming a professional athlete: you can have oodles of talent but if you don’t have the funds and time to train and work your way up, you very likely won’t ever go pro.

 

Adventure is just Suffering in Retrospect

**Warning: This post contains some ample self-pity, proceed with caution (and empathy if possible).**

"Adventure is just suffering in retrospect."

These wise words were permanently affixed in my mental library just moments after I first heard them. I had just stepped out into a temperate evening in Japan to hike up Mount Fuji, blissfully unaware of the freezing rainstorm and overcrowded, treacherous trails that awaited me. After my fellow hikers and I somehow made it to the top, we huddled for warmth in a urinal next to hundreds of others in the same bind, all of us having departed at night in hopes of watching a legendary sunrise over Tokyo. The murky dawn came and went, the sun and the horizon obscured by freezing mist.

Of course I lived to tell the tale and to have many other, far more pleasant, adventures during my time in Japan and beyond! But that phrase always reminds me that there will inevitably be a low point, or more honestly many low points, to remind a traveler that an extended time away from home is not an escape from the challenges of real life. A long journey away is more like a disorienting reorganization and exaggeration of one’s normal range of emotions in pursuit of novel experiences, personal growth, etc. etc. I can’t explain exactly why I am drawn to such experiences any better than that phrase does – the suffering eventually fades from memory and the adventures remain.

I recently called my mom to vent about our situation on the boat (which since that phone call has become significantly more complicated and frustrating) and she said something along the lines of, “Not sure why you keep punishing yourself, life doesn’t have to be this hard!” I appreciated the sympathy and the reminder that not only was I not blackmailed into going on the boat, the crucial art and science component was almost entirely my idea!

Well I’m here to report from the trenches of one of the low points. We are on day 13 in Moore Haven, $4,000 poorer than when we arrived, with a brand new engine sitting on our deck that is unable to run properly without parts that will arrive on Saturday. Said parts will likely still leave the motor too large to fit into the engine well of the Wildcat, meaning the metal engine mount below the deck has to be rebuilt. While we float in a canal with a healthy alligator population. In a tiny town of 1,600. Without a car. Or a shop. Oh and we spent yesterday afternoon in the ER while Zion got a cut on his finger stitched up. 

Hence some frustration and a gratuitously whiny blog post. After making it to the 3,000 mile mark in December we thought the hard part was done; we high fived, got drunk with our friends, and set off to ramble our way back up to North Florida and complete the Climate Odyssey project. Now it looks like the Wildcat will be immobilized until at least early March when we get back from our month away. Upon our return Zion will get down to business rebuilding the engine mount and hopefully we’ll be back in business! He’s made enough miraculous repairs at this point that I have faith we’ll get it worked out.

Despite the conditions our spirits remain buoyant. We’re comforting ourselves with a long list of “Well at least…”’s and “It could have been worse if…”’s. Not to mention a bag of Cheetos and a hard earned pack of Hostess cupcakes.

 

 

Engine Update, and the Grist 50!

We may not be mobile at the moment, but we are enjoying a little 15 minutes of fame thanks to Grist.org! We were profiled for their Grist 50, a list of innovators working towards a green 2016. It's an honor to be mentioned! Check out the list, there are some really impressive projects and new ideas to consider! 

We're still kicking it in Moore Haven and waiting for engine parts to come in. Though there isn't a lot to do in this tiny town, the view isn't half bad. Zion spent the day extracting our old engine while I went on a walk with a new friend, a Canadian baptist minister and snowbird waiting out the chilly Ontario winter. Not bad for a Wednesday.  

Moore Haven, Florida

After yesterday's storm passed we cast off from Labelle and made our way to Moorehead City, FL. We planned to stay the night and head out early to cross Lake Okeechobee on our way back to the Atlantic. Unfortunately the engine trouble Zion has beaten back with dozens of different small fixes has finally caught up to us. Our immediate plans are in flux now that our engine may have finally called it quits, but I'll keep the blog updated as to where we'll be next! 

An eventful journey from Everglades City to Fort Myers, FL

After a fantastic new years spent in the Ten Thousand Islands area of Everglades National Park, we hit the water once again. We were rejuvenated and ready to get to north Florida for some well earned time down time docked at a marina. As we should have learned by now nothing on a boat is ever so simple. In the last 5 days we've received emergency texts from the National Weather Service to seek shelter immediately regrading two different tornadoes! The first came within just a mile or two of our anchorage and scared the hell out of me. Below you can see what remained of the dinner I had been preparing before the storm hit! We sat huddled in the bridge with our life jackets and headlamps on, glued to the radar app that updates with a painfully long 10 minute delay. The boat was rocking and rolling and we felt the direction of the wind pivot us 180 degrees around our anchor in a just a minute or two. Luckily the anchor held and the storm finally passed. 

The second storm hit near Labelle where we were docked yesterday. Luckily we were tied up instead of anchored, and could at least leave the confines of the Wildcat to wait out the storm in a nearby library. Though there was a tornado warning I can't find any stories about a tornado actually touching down. We watched the sheets of rain pummel the boats at the city dock from the safe and dry lobby of the library.  

These storms are very unusual for this part of Florida at this time of year, but then again all kinds of strange weather is occurring across the globe during this record El Nino year. Though it's interesting to read about the subject in light of our climate change focus, it's uncomfortable and occasionally terrifying to experience first hand. 

Climate Odyssey Year End Report!

Happy belated New Year from Fort Myers, Florida!

We spent the holiday soaking up the Florida sunshine and record heat with friends and family, both on the Wildcat and off. It was wonderful to have some time to catch up with loved ones and reflect on how far we’ve come this year!

Here’s a quick review of all we accomplished in 2015:

$14,015 : Amount raised in 2015

1,512 hours : Time spent restoring the boat

3,000 miles : Distance sailed between Manitowoc, WI and Everglades City, Florida

5 (possibly 6) months : Number of months we spent on the water that were the hottest on record globally!

Our proudest achievement is getting ourselves and this 30 year-old craft safely all the way from Wisconsin to the Gulf of Mexico. Through engine failures, oppressive heat waves, voracious mosquitoes, and a near miss from hurricane Joaquin we sailed on. For our perseverance we were rewarded with surreal days spent weaving between granite islands in Ontario, a few nights anchored in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, a recent astonishing sail with some gregarious wild dolphins, and a front row seat to countless sunsets reflected on calm water.

While sailing I also blogged about and photographed numerous examples of climate change impacts seen along the way. The most visible included massive cypress trees killed off in the Carolinas due to increasing salinity in the groundwater, erosion on the sandy shores of Georgia, and of course the slow drowning of tiny Tangier Island by rising seas.

Finally, I also spent hundreds of hours learning Adobe Flash in order to create a preview of the interactive map that will combine climate change science resources and our blog posts in a collaged map containing images from our travels. Next I hope to find a developer who can help me make the map more accessible and interactive. Stay tuned for more in the coming months!

What’s next?

We’ll be taking the remainder of the winter and spring to hunker down and finish the Climate Odyssey project from a single location. This means fewer miles on the water and more hours working on the interactive map, community and classroom visits, and completing campaign perks! During the month of January we’ll be sailing to northern Florida where we can dock the boat affordably while we live aboard and work. We’ll also drive our car out in March, giving us better access to communities and schools in the Southeast.

Look out for new community profiles, classroom visits, updates to the interactive map, and campaign perks coming out in 2016! In the mean time, check out the photo essay from November and December. As always, we’re so grateful for your support.

Happy new year!

Lucy and Zion 

 

The Warmest Shortest Day

Neither of us have ever experienced an 80 degree winter solstice! We awoke to dolphins and osprey fishing next to the boat then motored through the morning to a nice anchorage near Marco Island.  Not a bad way to spend the shortest day of the year.