The Casual Blog

Tag: TED talks

Resetting in retirement, new animal photos, new music, and reading The Uninhabitable Earth

A white-tailed deer at Lake Wheeler

My transition from a corporate schedule to a non-corporate one has been fairly undramatic.  I find myself smiling more and carrying around less stress. But it’s been sudden, and a little disorienting.  On Sunday night, I found myself starting to think about getting up early to get to the gym for the start of a new corporate work week, when there wasn’t going to be one.  Old habits die hard.

But I’m starting to develop some new routines that I like.  Instead of rushing out early to the gym, most days I’m starting with 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation.  Then I head out to one of our local forests and lakes with my camera and look about for animals and plants in the gentle early light.  After a couple of hours of looking, I head to the gym for various types of cardio activity, resistance training, core work, and stretching.  If it’s not a swimming day, I either read or listen to podcasts while I sweat.

Back home, I get a shower and make a green smoothie for a late breakfast.  Then I’ll download and process my latest photographs. I’m experimenting with various software tools, including especially Lightroom and Photoshop, and also Topaz, Nik, Aurora, and Helicon Focus.  

When my eyes and neck start to ache from photo processing, I usually practice the piano.  Currently on the workbench are Chopin’s first Impromptu and the Op. 27, No. 1 Nocturne, Liszt’s third Consolation, and Brahms’s Rhapsody Op. 79, No. 2.  

I’ve also been working on a couple of dozen jazz standards, like Misty, Stardust, and All the Things You Are.  I got reasonably proficient at playing some of the great American songbook before law school, but afterwards put that music it in storage for most of the last 30 years.  Now I’m getting the dust and cobwebs off and enjoying it again.

A gray squirrel with a hot dog at Lake Wheeler

Speaking of music, I finished reading the new biography of the Robert Schumann by Judith Chernaik, which I found worthwhile.  Schumann (1810-1849) was a great composer, who adored and married Clara Schumann, a great pianist, and had several children. He struggled with mental illness for much of his life, but left an enduring legacy.

I also finished reading Ian McEwan’s latest novel, Machines Like Me.  It’s a sometimes funny but ultimately serious book set in the recent past but with a futuristic premise:  the protagonist buys an expensive new home gadget, which is a completely realistic super intelligent humanoid robot.  There are various practical problems with having this device, and even more moral problems. I find the trajectory of advancing artificial intelligence fairly worrisome, and McEwan gave me some new grounds for worry. 

Although I finished The Uninhabitable Earth, by David Wallace-Wells, I immediately began re-reading it.   I would not recommend this book to anyone struggling with depression. The unvarnished accounting of the global-scale disasters that, to a high degree of probability, are coming our way are hard to process.  But I’m hoping there are many healthy people who will read it and be inspired to action. As much as Wallace-Wells makes vivid and real the possibility of cascading climate disasters, he also explains that, just as this is a situation that humans have created, it is one that humans have it in their power to address.

A great blue heron at Crabtree swamp

This week there was a good Ted Radio Hour podcast on this same subject.   It was inspiring to hear 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg, and get some ideas about carbon capture, animal agricultural redirection, and addressing climate change denial.  I’d like to think the dire reality of our situation is starting to sink in to public consciousness, and we may be starting to pull out of our death spiral.

In E.O.Wilson’s recent book Half Earth, on preventing more species extinctions (which I’m also re-reading), he points out another possible name for the coming era.  Instead of the Anthropocene, which emphasizes a biological world existing “almost exclusively by, for, and of ourselves,” he suggests calling it “the Eremocene, the Age of Loneliness.”   On our current trajectory, the earth will have fewer and fewer non-human species. This is, of course, disastrous for non-domesticated animals and plants, but also tragic for the humans who remain.

Carolina wren at Yates Mill Pond

It’s always seemed to me a simple thing to enjoy being outside in nature, but it’s starting to seem less common and more worthy of attention.  Now that I have more time to get out to our local parks, I’m spending more time with our still common animal neighbors, like deer, squirrels, and birds.  The ones here are from the past week. The deer at Lake Wheeler seemed shy but interested in having a good look at me. The squirrels there were having an after-picnic picnic.  The great blue heron at Crabtree swamp spent a long time hunting, standing still for periods, moving slowly, and striking quickly. It had several little fish for breakfast.

A sliver of hope

Raleigh 3
We had some weird weather in Raleigh this week, including hail, intense winds, and tornado warnings. I was in a meeting on the 18th floor of Red Hat Tower when everyone’s smart phone gave a warning signal, and we agreed it was time to get away from the windows. We took our computers to a big interior closet, where we continued the meeting. The building was still intact when we emerged.

Was it global warming? Hard to say. Good scientists are by training careful and conservative, and usually avoid ascribing root causes to particular weather events. But we know for sure the globe is warming, and the problem is big. Make that existential.

This is not an easy subject to think about. First, it’s depressing: the long-term risks for humans, other animals, and other living things are grave. Also, it’s uncomfortable: in trying to understand the problem, we ultimately end up seeing part of it in the mirror. All of us who like having electricity and traveling with internal combustion or jet engines are complicit. Also, there isn’t a clear path to a solution with our existing dysfunctional institutions.

But there’s still a sliver of hope, which I try to keep in mind. Helpful on this is Al Gore’s new TED talk. He doesn’t pull any punches in describing the destruction humans have wreaked on the planet with greenhouse gas emissions, but he also notes that we’ve made tremendous progress in wind and solar power, and progress is continuing. We may turn this around. Anyhow, it’s encouraging that he hasn’t thrown in the towel.

In reading a Times report this week about rising sea levels and increases in coastal flooding, I clicked on this link
which is a great little primer on global warming. It’s organized in a FAQ format, with short form answers to questions like how much is the planet heating up, how much trouble are we in, and is there anything we can do. It takes just a few minutes to get the basic facts. And armed with those, there are some things we can do, like elect leaders who have a clue.

On the climate hope front, I also need to give a shout out to Bill Gates, whom I have not always viewed as a force for freedom and progress. Gates may ultimately do far more good for the world as a promoter of emissions reduction technology than he has done as a software technologist. Anyhow, he’s got up on his bully pulpit, and he’s clearly working hard to encourage innovative energy ideas.