Archive for January, 2015

Report from a Plunger

Friday, January 30th, 2015

“We did it! On Saturday over 200 of us braved the elements to make the 10th annual “Keep Winter Cold” Polar Bear Plunge our biggest yet. Neither the rain nor an incredibly high tide could stop us from jumping, wading and even diving into the Potomac River! Plungers were as young as nine and as old as 85, including students, community activists and Franciscan priests,” reports Mike Tidwell, Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN). 

photo by Bruce Rosenthal

photo by Bruce Rosenthal  

Mike is describing last weekend’s CCAN Polar Bear Plunge that I wrote about last week in The Earth Connection.  It was indeed great.  Spirits were high among the crowd gathered to demonstrate our commitment to a healthy climate!  

My friend Diane and I arrived early at National Harbor.  And even though this was to be my fourth Plunge, I felt my familiar ‘pre-plunge jitters.’  The prospect of stepping out into frigid water on a winter day just doesn’t seem to get easier.

Soon Diane and I were met by our friend Barb, who had brought a most welcome pre-plunge treat–hot chocolate!  And this was not just any hot chocolate.  Barb had made it with a yummy liqueur, and she even brought whipped cream.  Sipping hot chocolate while enjoying the pre-plunge rally somehow calmed me.  I felt warm and centered, ready for the shock that lay ahead.

One rally speaker, Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip-Hop Caucus, inspired the crowd with his updated version of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous statement:   “One day this generation will say, ‘we are fossil fuel-free at last!’”  Who wouldn’t be willing to take the plunge after that!

Another highlight of the rally, for me, was Mike Tidwell’s salute to the 10 ‘Plungers’ who raised the most money, including me as the top fundraiser.  I am thrilled that, thanks to the support of friends and family, I raised more than $4,000 for CCAN!  And CCAN raised more than $82,000 overall, its highest total yet in 10 years of Plunges!

photo by Bruce Rosenthal
photo by Bruce Rosenthal

A few more speeches, and then the moment was here!  Off to the tents went the Plungers, a women’s tent and a men’s tent, where we all shed our sensible coats, hats, and gloves for–bathing suits!  Aaargh! 

Because the water level was higher for this year’s Plunge than for any of the previous nine, there was little beach on which the Plungers could gather.  So instead of all thronging into the river en masse, we plunged in small groups.  As I made my way out of the tent toward the river, I envied a woman who was on her way in, dripping and shivering.  Her Plunge was over!

There we were, some picking our way over the rocks to the water, others wet and moving as fast as they could back to the tents.  Were it not for all the shivering, we could have passed for a bunch of people enjoying a summer dip in the river. 

Every year I vow to walk out as far as my shoulders.  But until this year, I had never succeeded;  my feet went numb too soon.  But either the water was warmer this year or I’m more used to it.  I did manage to go out almost up to my shoulders.  

Back in the tent, I could hardly feel my feet.  My friend Diane, kindly and patiently, helped me get dry again and dressed.

Then for the best part.  Diane and I joined the other Plungers and supporters at the adjacent restaurant for the Plunge Afterparty.  Did it ever feel good to warm up and celebrate with longtime friends Diane, Barb, Bruce, and Bonnie, and enjoy a hot lunch and a good visit! 

Sitting there in the warm restaurant, I felt deeply happy–for a lot of reasons.  I was glad to have been part of such a rousing event, to have raised so much money for CCAN, to enjoy time with some dear friends, AND to savor the knowledge that I will have no reason to step out into frigid waters again for a whole year!–April Moore  

P.S. Please click here to look at some fun photos from thePlunge that CCAN posted on its website:   photos from the 10th annual ‘Keep Winter Cold’ Polar Bear Plunge

 

 

 

Crazy for Our Climate

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015
photo by Ira Shorr

photo by Ira Shorr

 

This is the fourth January that I am doing something crazy.  On Saturday, just three days from now, I will walk out into the Potomac River, wearing only a bathing suit!  Oh yes, and also a fleecy headband to give me the illusion of warmth!

Actually, I’m plunging into the river not because I’m crazy but because I’m passionate.  I’m passionate about the urgent need to address our climate crisis.  And I will not be alone:  I’ll be plunging with more than 100 people, all who feel strongly about protecting the climate.

This Saturday’s Polar Bear Plunge, at National Harbor, near Washington, D.C., is the annual fundraising event for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN).  CCAN works throughout the mid-Atlantic region to enact policies that increase the use of clean, alternative energies, phase out our dependence on fossil fuels, and put us on a path to a stable, healthy climate.  And CCAN is a first rate outfit!  International climate leader Bill McKibben has called CCAN “the most effective regional climate organization in the entire world!”  

So spending a few minutes in frigid water is a small price to pay for a strong, well-funded CCAN.  We Plungers  are raising money for CCAN by inviting our friends and family to sponsor our plunge by making a donation to CCAN.  This Saturday’s event will be CCAN’s 10th annual Polar Bear Plunge, and organizers hope it will raise $100,000.

I think CCAN’s Polar Bear Plunge is a brilliant fundraiser.  Many people, when they see that their friends are willing to make a sacrifice for something important, feel moved to make a financial sacrifice of their own for the same worthy cause.  And dramatic acts, like more than 100 people jumping into a frigid river in the middle of winter, attract attention.  So this event, coupled with a media campaign, can help publicize CCAN’s needed work.   

And the Plunge is quite an event!  It always begins with a boisterous rally, which fortifies us Plungers for the   uncomfortable minutes ahead.  Every time I have taken the Plunge, my friend Diane has accompanied me, encouraging me and greeting me with a towel when I return, shivering, from the river.

I have seen Plungers as young as 10 and as old as 80-something.  In fact, one year an old woman relied on her cane to stay upright as she carefully made her way out into the river!  Last year it was so cold that the Plunge organizers had to hack up river ice so that we Plungers could get into the water!  

As a Plunger, I’m afraid I’m not like the young men who energetically dive into the water head first, and then splash wildly as if it were a hot summer day.  Instead, I approach the water as the fairly timid 60+ woman I am.  I  take a deep breath, put one foot in front of the other as I move from the water’s edge out into deeper water.  

It has  surprised me how quickly my feet lose all feeling.  Then my calves.  Then my thighs.  Last year I had planned to go out up to my neck, but because of my fear of falling and being too numb to get myself out, I turned back when the water was just above my waist.  (My friend Kathy playfully demanded half her money back because I didn’t completely immerse myself!)  But I needn’t have been concerned.  A first aid team is at the ready, perched in a boat nearby. 

The best part of all, though, is the joyous celebration after the Plunge, when Plungers and supporters all gather at the nearby restaurant.  It feels great to sit inside where it’s warm and visit with my friends who have shown up to support me, and to know that the next Plunge is a whole year away.

By the way, I have set an ambitious personal fundraising goal for this year’s Polar Bear Plunge, $4,000.  If you would like to support my Plunge with a donation to CCAN (we know that constructive climate work anywhere in the world benefits all of us no matter where we live) I would, of course, be grateful.  You can click this link to my personal fundraising page, where you can quickly and easily donate online.  April Moore’s Plunge  

I’ll report back next week.–April Moore

 

 

The Strange History of Birds

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

 

     A dramatic expansion in genetics research capacity has enabled scientists to learn some surprising things about birds and their evolutionary history.

     Using new DNA research techniques, scientists have gained knowledge that turns traditional groupings of bird species upside down.  For example, field guides typically grouped bird species by observable similarities like size, color, and habitat.  But the new research shows that living bird species may be far more genetically similar to birds that seem very different than they are to species that seem similar.

     Recent research reveals that falcons, for instance, are more closely related to parrots than they are to hawks, even though they look much more like hawks.  And flamingoes, it turns out, are more closely related to pigeons than they are to almost all other waterbirds!

     The new bird research, according to Science News, was conducted by a consortium of 200 scientists from around the world and funded by the Chinese genetics institute BGI and other sources.  Findings suggest that many bird species that appear closely related are not examples of close ancestral relationships after all.  

     Instead, such bird species’ similarity is the result of convergence over time.  These different species evolved in different parts of the world.  But they developed in some of the same ways because they occupied a similar environmental niche.  With similar environmental forces operating in these species’ distant niches, birds in far distant areas developed some of the same characteristics, even though they are not related genetically.

     Sorting out which modern bird species are truly related to one another and which are not had long posed a problem for researchers, explains ornithologist Shannon Hackett of the Field Museum of Chicago.  An avian ‘big bang,’ she explains, took place around the time dinosaurs went extinct and sent many lineages ‘flying’ off in different directions.  

     Before current genetic research techniques became available, it had been hard to figure out which fossils belonged with which emerging group, Hackett explains.  In fact, many scientists believed it would never be possible to sort out which birds were truly most related to which other species.

     One fascinating aspect of this new research is that parrots, songbirds, and humans, for that matter, have converged on very similar genes involved in vocal learning.  In fact, birds may prove to be a useful species for further insights into human speech disorders.  The usual medical research species–monkeys and mice–don’t learn sounds as birds and humans do.–April Moore 

 

 

 

 

So What Is Plan B?

Sunday, January 11th, 2015
A couple of months ago I had the opportunity to speak about the climate crisis to a group of bright high school seniors.  I love speaking to these Virginia Regional Governor’s School students;  they are intelligent and interested.
     And instead of feeling crushed by the weight of my message, these students respond with hope and with the confidence that they have what it takes to deal successfully with the problem.
     But two months after my last gig with these high school seniors, I find still echoing in my mind a question that one young man asked that day.  We had spent at least an hour in engrossing discussion about what must be done if we are to avoid a climate catastrophe, the roles for nations, localities, institutions, and citizens.
     After all of this, the young man, groping for words, asked haltingly, “Well, what if we don’t do all the things we need to do?  What if we can’t manage to do it?  What do we do then?  What is the. . . . plan?”
     I could have wept on the spot.
     I saw a 17-year old who had not yet grasped that the grown-ups he’d always trusted to be in charge could completely let him down.  He just assumed that the generations running things were making at least the minimum necessary arrangements to ensure that the future would be okay for him and his generation.  Surely there must be some ‘Plan B.’
     The people in charge could not just sit back and expose us to catastrophe.  Could they?
     I was so struck by the young man’s question, I really don’t remember how I answered.  I wanted to be truthful, but I didn’t want to puncture his sense of security, his faith in those in charge.  As a mom, perhaps, I didn’t want him to be afraid.
     As I have continued to think about this student’s question, I see that he was really speaking for all of us.  Even among those who ‘get’ the seriousness of our climate crisis, most don’t really get how very bad life could get for the generations to come.  For one thing, we have never experienced anything like what might well lie ahead if we fail to act decisively.
     In addition to a natural reluctance to envision how bad life could become, there is the deliberate misinformation campaign on the part of the fossil fuel industry, whose wealth has induced one of our two major  political parties to make it party dogma that the science on climate is to be ignored.  The fossil fuel industry, through its political lackeys, lulls us into inaction with its deceptive message that climate science is a hoax, that we should stay addicted to fossil fuels.
     I wonder what the people who are running this misinformation campaign would say to their own children if they came to them and asked, “What’s the plan?”–April Moore

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