COVID-19 and the Northern Border

I participated in a Wilson Center Webinar “COVID-19 and the Northern Border” on April 14, 2020.  It was a follow up/update to Wilson Center’s publication “Reports from North America’s Borders: Experts React to New COVID-19 Travel Restrictions.”   The panel was introduced by Wilson CEO Jane Harman and moderated by Chris Sands, Director of the Canada Institute. Panelist included:  Alan Bersin, Global Fellow, Mexico & Canada Institutes, Wilson Center; Former Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and Chief Diplomatic Officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Policy; Kathryn Friedman, Global Fellow, Canada Institute, The Wilson Center; Research Associate Professor of Law & Planning at the University at Buffalo; Laurie Trautman, Global Fellow, Canada Institute, The Wilson Center; Director, Border Policy Research Institute Western Washington University & Solomon Wong, President and CEO, InterVISTAS Consulting Inc.
Notes from each participant are included below.  They were in general as upbeat as you could expect given the nature of the crisis.  The good news is that the closing of the border was done with consultations between the USA and Canada and carried out in the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect, bred of long and trusting relationships.

Canada and the USA agreed to temporarily restrict all non-essential cross-border travel for the first time since September 11, 2001.  The agreement restricts travel for tourism and recreation but allows business travel crucial to our integrated supply chains.  Until the closure, $2.7 billion worth of goods crossed the Canada-U.S. border every day.
Please refer to the earlier comments of participants hereYou can also watch the event at this link.

Alan Bersin – Global Fellow, Mexico & Canada Institutes, Wilson Center; Former Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and Chief Diplomatic Officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Policy
Governments Canada and USA agreed on how to let goods pass, if not people, so not like 9/11.  Not unilateral.  Ended up with a North American approach.  First time we had something like this. Also, not indefinite shutdown.  USA and Canada announced 18 March for 21 March with review a month later.  This was an orderly shutdown and not a complete one.

Recognized importance of keeping supply chains.  Public health concerns well balanced with economic ones.  People cooperating.  Not much confusion or anger.
Question is how to restart economy.  We can say that instead of being a source of grief and conflict, it may be a bright spot, as way to help the general restart of economy. An example for good.

Re 3M exporting masks to Canada.  Trudeau called the WH and it was changed. There was talk about barring PPE for export but explicit exception for Canada and Mexico.
It is working well because of relationships and trust and confidence built over a long time.
Supply chains v human traffic

A weak point has been sharing information about supply chain integrity.  In future will need more information developed and exchanged.  New techniques in information technology will allow us to share information w/o comingling, which might compromise sensitive or proprietary information.

Recognize the importance of North America.  Use C-19 experience to think about how North American can work even better.

Kathryn Friedman – Global Fellow, Canada Institute, The Wilson Center; Research Associate Professor of Law & Planning at the University at Buffalo
Buffalo-Niagara Passenger traffic down 98%, bus traffic down 99.6%.  28-30% commercial traffic down.  Industries that rely on cross border (mostly tourism) are badly hurt.

People mostly abiding by rules.  On the USA side, there is not much problem.  On Canadian side harder. People who work in the USA must quarantine when they come back.
USA-Canada – shows how a good relationship can work.  We always have to “weed the garden” but the system is working well.

Laurie Trautman – Global Fellow, Canada Institute, The Wilson Center; Director, Border Policy Research Institute Western Washington University
In NW not many workers pass back and forth.  Concerned that Canadian discretionary spending will not be back very quick.  Canadians buy gas, get their Amazon purchases etc.  Flow of American going north was much smaller and they were not shopping much.
Hopes this crisis shows the importance and effectiveness of working of the border.

Solomon Wong – President and CEO, InterVISTAS Consulting Inc.
Passenger traffic almost gone, but decline not so much, since cargo has filled some of the void.  Delta etc are converting to cargo very rapidly.  Moving medicines and perishable good.

Some experience with SARS and MERS, so they can better adapt to risks.   Air travel has been a conduit for super spreading.  Flights from China are coming back.  Flights from China to Vancouver have been full, still not going back.
Role of big data – finding asymptomatic carrier of disease is fundamental challenge.  The undiscovered territory is what can be done with large data.  In China they can check where you went.  Lots of potential privacy issues.  Chinese less concerned with these issues.
Lots of room to grow.  Do not focus only on tech or too much on tech.  People and process matter.

Jane Harman kicked off.   Have we learned lessons since 9/11 re other countries?
Wong – lesson learned is that people need to be reassured. If there are too many different forms, too much complexity, it makes people afraid.
Friedman – Maybe cannot handle other countries as easily as Canada.  Our countries are extraordinarily integrated. No other place is like that.
How will restriction complicate supply chains and family reunification.
Trautman – trucks are still moving.  Changes in demand are affecting more than peculiar border issues.  For example, Washington State processes oil and ships back to Canada. They are doing less, since there is a big drop in demand.
Friedman – family visits are still problems due to quarantine.
Have you heard timeline for more stringent measures?
Bersin  – had not heard of more stringent. April reassessment will identify what worked and what did not, maybe develop best practices.  Tension between more bureaucracy and more local initiative. So are is working okay.
We will need to resume step by step.  Border can be crucible for opening other sectors, based on data.  Mechanisms still not up to do this.


Chrissy & I went to Smithsonian for a program “Sicily: Eternal Crossroads of the Mediterranean.” It was a disappointing program. I thought it would be something like what the title suggested. In fact, it was more a semi-technical art history discussion with some (not all) of the art and architecture happened to be in Sicily. The lecturer was well expert on the art, but her talks were more like watching slides from her vacation than an integrated program about cultural crossroads.

One thing I found interesting about the talk was about the talk itself. There was a big crowd there and many people seemed to like the program a lot. Chrissy and I talked about it. It might be that it was a lot like being a tourist. She took you through the buildings like a tour guide. I wanted the connections, not the tourist sites. That is the great thing about pluralism. We do not all need to like the same things.

No matter. It got us out and down in Washington on a nice day. They provided what they called a Sicilian lunch. We got a prosciutto ham sandwich, olive salad & some cannoli. I do not think these things are especially Sicilian (Prosciutto comes from Parma, not in Sicily) but it was good.

We went to Spain last year and were very favorably surprised by the wonders there. Sicily is another of those crossroads. It was an intellectual and cultural hotbed for a few centuries. I think that is the next place outside the USA for us to visit.

First picture is Smithsonian castle looking good in spring. Next is me at the mall. Lighting is not the best. Last is from the lecture itself.

Cândido Rondon

Cândido Rondon is not well known enough even in Brazil, even though there is a state – Rondônia – named after him, and certainly not as well as he deserves outside the country. I had not heard of him before I went to Brazil, at least not that I recall. I was vaguely aware of Theodore Roosevelt’s expedition to Brazil. He explored what was then called the River of Doubt, because nobody knew where it went. It is now called the Rio Roosevelt. But I assumed that it was Roosevelt’s expedition, much like his safari in Africa. In other words, I didn’t know much and much of what I did know was wrong.  

Our Ambassador in Brazil, Tom Shannon, took a special interest in Rondon and that stimulated my initial interest. If the boss likes it, it is a good idea to at least look into it but I soon started to see why he was important. I ended up visiting Rondônia twice, talked to enough people, read enough to become a passable lay authority & developed enough of a passion for the subject that I still attend presentations five years after leaving Brazil.   Larry Rohter discussed his book at a Wilson Center program “The Life and Legacy of Cândido Rondon: Amazon Explorer, Environmentalist, Scientist, and Advocate for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” This is the most complete biography of Rondon available. It is available only in Portuguese. I thought of reading it as language exercise and may yet, but it costs $92 on Amazon. Not sure I want to pay that.  

Rondon had a long and eventful life. He was born in the year Abe Lincoln was shot and lived long enough to hear that Sputnik had been launched into space. He was an explorer, scientist, anthropologist and soldier, but remarkable was his philosophy of non-violence. When dealing with indigenous people, his orders were to die if necessary but never to kill. His expedition with Roosevelt was not unique for him. He was the greatest of tropical explorers. Roosevelt always gave Rondon credit as his co-leader, but back in the USA they kind of thought of him as a “native guide” to the great Roosevelt. Rondon saved Roosevelt’s life a few times in the Amazon, but the expedition nearly killed Roosevelt anyway. (A great book re is “River of Doubt” by Candice Millard). His health never recovered and this may have influenced U.S. politics, since he did not have that unbounded energy to throw into elections in 1914 & 1916.  

Besides his exploration and science writing, Rondon was a respected statesman. He was instrumental in keeping Brazil from falling under the influence of the Nazis and in getting Brazil on the USA side when the war came. Rondon was nominated for the Nobel Prize three times, first time by Albert Einstein.   It was an interesting presentation. Glad I went. I rode my bike down to Washington and enjoyed a great spring day. I forget the simple joy of spring and then rediscover it with greater joy each year.   First four pictures are from springtime Washington. Pond cypress with spring catkins, magnolia and spruce, longleaf pine flowers at the National Botanical Gardens, followed by spring flowers in general. Last picture is from the presentation.

Background and video of the  presentation

Canadian Provinces

I attended “The Premiers’ Perspective: A Canada-U.S. Relations Outlook for the New Decade” at Wilson Center on February 7, 2020.  It was advertised as “a conversation with the Honourable Scott Moe, Premier of Saskatchewan and the Honourable Jason Kenney, Premier of Alberta. The Premiers will speak on how provincial interests play a role in Canada’s vision and presence on the global stage and how topics such as trade, energy, and innovation will shape Canada-U.S. relations in 2020 and beyond” and that was what it was.  “Politico” co-sponsored the event and so Luiza Savage Executive Director at “Politico” joined Jane Harman President & CEO, The Wilson Center in welcoming the guests and Lauren Gardner Reporter from “Politico Pro Canada” moderated the discussion. The program lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes.
Jane Harman introduced Chris Sands as the new director of the Canada Institute.
 Notes are below.

The funniest part of the “Premiers’ Perspective: A Canada-U.S. Relations Outlook for the New Decade” came when Scott Moe, Premier of Saskatchewan seemed to say he disagreed with everything Premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney said, after they agreed on everything else up to that point.  What he had in fact that is that “I would JUST agree …”  Kenny asked right away, and Moe cleared it up on the spot.  Goes to show how misunderstandings happen.
Besides what would have been big news, but wasn’t, there was probably little that surprised people familiar with the two leaders, but there was a lot of useful insights and explanations.  Saskatchewan & Alberta are especially tightly integrated into the North American market, so it was no surprise that both premiers strongly endorse USMCA.  They foresaw no problems getting the agreement ratified by the Federal Parliament and reported that the premiers of all the provinces had come out strongly for the agreement. Jason Kenny said that it was especially important to get ensconced in the North American zone, as there are growing concerns about protectionism in the USA and around the world.
Both agreed that the new USMCA was an improvement over NAFTA, although they did not voice complaints about NAFTA.  When asked about concerns about specific products, they mentioned forestry, aluminum and dairy.  Softwood lumber exports are important in both provinces.  Detailed adjustments can be made within the treaty, so the sooner they get in the better to start the detailed work.
Defer to the Federal Government in international affairs
Both premiers made a point of emphasizing while they want to make the concerns of their own provinces well-known, it is the Federal Government that runs foreign policy and trade negotiations.  Jason Kenny added that this is especially important to recall now, given the challenge of China.  They don’t want to give the Chinese the impression that they can divide Canadians.
Huawei dispute hurts
Western Canada has been hurt by the Huawei extradition dispute.  When the USA and China have disputes, Canada suffers collateral damage.  Scott Moe mentioned harm done to potash exports from his province, as well as general agricultural products.  Beef and pork restrictions have also hurt, but the thorniest problem might be the canola ban.  They did not explain.
Speaking about China tensions, Jason Kenny said that there was more than two Canadians (Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor) imprisoned related to diplomatic dispute surrounding the Huawei extradition.  He made special mention of Huseyin Celil, a Canadian citizen and former Uighur activist who has been imprisoned in China for 13 years.
Both provinces are producers of raw materials and especially energy and this is the biggest bone of contention between these provincial and the Federal authorities.  Some of it has to do with the provinces thinking that they pay too much to the Federal Government, but more of it is related to policies that restrict, or at least do not encourage, energy exploration and transportation.
Pipelines and transporting energy
Scott Moe characterized their concerns “the three Ts”: taxes, trade and transportation.  Jason Kenny said that he must assume that the Trudeau government is in favor of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, since the Canada Development Investment Corporation (CDIC), accountable to the Canadian Parliament, acquired the responsibly in 2018.  He explained that Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal cleared the way by ruling against challenges from First Nations groups concerned about the environmental impacts of the project.  [The Trans Mountain expansion would add more than 600 miles to the pipeline and increase its capacity from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000.]  The government has a duty to consult indigenous people, but this does not imply their power to veto a project.
Kenny regretted the Obama decision to stop the Keystone XL pipeline and implicated the new (at the time) Trudeau government.  He suspected the there was at least a tacit agreement by Trudeau not to kick up a fuss.  Kenny believed that the veto violated the spirit if not the letter of NAFTA.
Scott Moe went on to explain the importance of pipelines.  No form of energy exploration or transport is risk-free but moving oil by pipeline is by far the safest, compared with alternatives such as rail and trucks.  Beyond that, moving oil by rail gets in the way of other commodities, such as potash, timber and other agricultural products.
The Keystone XL pipeline is beneficial for international interests, Jason Kenny added.  It will produce billions in revenues, create jobs and enhance closer relationships between the USA in Canada.  It also creates jobs in the USA as far away as the Gulf Coast, where refiners are tooled to refine heavy crude, no longer so easily available from Venezuela.
North American energy
Scott Moe pointed out that North American energy is important for geopolitical as well as straight economic reasons.  We are transitioning from oil to renewable or other non-fossil forms of energy. This transition will take some time, but when it happens much of the world’s oil will become a stranded resource.  It is better if the last useful barrels of oil come from North America and that if the resource is stranded, better it be stranded elsewhere.  Until then, current demand will be satisfied from somewhere. North American energy is more secure and extracted in more ecologically friendly ways than in places where environmental protection is viewed with somewhat less enthusiasm.
Science-based regulation
Both premiers advocated a science-based regulation process.  Kenny pointed to his province’s $30/ton tax on industrial carbon tax as part of his government’s commitment weaning the world off fossil fuels. [The tax went into effect on January 1, 2020 and is the centerpiece of Premier Jason Kenney’s climate strategy. The tax could increase in future years to keep pace with the federal government’s climate plan for industry. Alberta’s oil sands are included in the tax.]
Don’t mock the people: the rise of populism
In response to questions, the premiers talked about the rise of populism. This factor in all advanced Western countries. Kenny thought that Canada was less affect by this malady (my word) and he credited Canada’s better immigration policies as well as the Canadian energy industry.  Canada’s skill-based immigration system matches potential immigrants with Canada’s needs.  They integrate much easier into society and are more easily welcomed by Canadians, since they provide useful skills.  The other factor, the energy industry, is less direct, but Kenny explained that semi-skilled workers in downsizing industries could move into the booming energy industries, and their related functions.  Many have moved some distance from declining eastern areas to the booming prairie provinces.
Kenny recommended former Prime Minister Stephen Harpers 2018 book, “Right Here, Right Now,” that addressed the root causes of populism.  When political elites dismiss the concerns of ordinary people or even mock them, they react with populism.
Addressing the “Wexit” issue, calls for Alberta to leave the Federation, Kenny said that concerns are genuine and serious, and he would not want it to develop further, but it is mostly talk. Still, polls show that 25-30% of the Alberta population supports Wexit, but that 75-80% understand the concerns.
Canadians first
Both Kenny & Moe emphasized that they thought it important to be Canadians first.  They emphasized that it was important that the Federal government run foreign policy and trade negotiations.  They singled out Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland for special praise two separate times and praised the work of Canadian diplomats in Washington.  They also referenced section 92 of the Canadian 1867 Constitution that gives significant power to provinces to develop and manage natural resources.  Good balance.
Moe and Kenny agreed on most things, in fact it seemed on all things discussed at the Wilson Center meeting, so much so that there was little need to differentiate.  Besides getting along very well, they gave the impression of being practical and competent leaders.
A complete video of the program is attached.

Forest health conference

I have to get a new battery. My car would not start this morning and I had to call USAA to get a jump start.  That made me late for the forest heath conference.  I don’t regret that too much.   I missed sessions on pesticide safety, a technical presentation for certification I am not seeking, on aquatic invasive that I do not deal with and on the progress of the spotted lanternfly in Pennsylvania.  The last would be interesting for historical reasons, but since I arrived in time for the presentation on the spotted lanternfly in Virginia, I figured it was okay.  Also, one of the big reasons I attend these conferences is to see forestry friends and meet new ones, and this I did.

Spotted lanternfly in Virginia
 Spotted Lanternfly in Virginia – David Gianino, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

The spotted lanternfly is a showy insect that showed up in Pennsylvania from China in 2014. It made it to Virginia in 2018, Fredrick County and Winchester.  It probably arrived on a load of rocks. A big danger of the lanternfly is that it can stick egg masses on almost any flat surface, and to the untrained eye the egg masses look a lot like a mud splash.
The lanternfly feeds on ailanthus and tends to follow that tree.  If it limited itself to ailanthus, most of us would welcome the help. Unfortunately, they also preferentially go after magnolia, silver maples and zelkova, and will attack a variety of other trees and agricultural crops opportunistically.

Mr. Gianino described efforts to quarantine and eradicate lanternflies in Fredrick County and Winchester.  Unfortunately, it has been more a holding action than a victory.  The egg masses can stick to car and rail cars, so the efforts are aimed at rail and road networks.  You can imagine the challenge.  Winchester is a rail center and served by Interstate 81, which is why it is necessary to get the infestation under control there and probably how the lanternflies arrived in the first place.

If you see a lanternfly, report it and then kill it and any of its eggs or kin you find nearby.  They even have an app to help and give a kind of contest feel.  People can compete to find and kill the most of the pests.  SQUISHR is available at the Apps Store.

Globalization of soils
Can Soil Microbes Be Used as a Metric to Assess Urban Soil Health? – Stephanie Yarwood, University of Maryland

The next discussion concerned urban soils worldwide. We notice that lots of urban animals & plants have been globalized.  Rats, pigeons, starlings, sparrows, dandelions, turfgrass & various sorts of ornamental trees and bushes are so common in cities worldwide that most city dwellers probably think that they are native to their home cities.   What about soils?  Is there a convergence of soils and soil microbes?

Yarwood and her colleagues studied soils in Baltimore, Helsinki, Budapest and Potchefstroom in South Africa.  These cities were chosen for opportunistic reasons.  The teams studied less altered soils from the nearby countryside and soils in various states of disturbance.  They found that the soils were indeed converging.

Yarwood also talked about mycorrhizae.  These are the symbiotic fungi that help plants get nutrients, protect the plants from toxins and pathogens, influence soil structure and the community of plants.  Mycorrhizae functions are still imperfectly understood.  What we do know is that they greatly enhance plant growth and sterile soils w/o them is not much use, not matter how rich.  There are two major types. Ectomycorrhiza tend to work outside the roots systems.  They are less common than endomycorrhiza or arbuscular mycorrhiza, that work more within the roots, but are common on lots of the trees we most value, such as pine, oak, hickory & beech.

Mycorrhiza networks are disturbed when soils are disturbed, so frequently disturbed urban soils might share characteristics with other disturbed urban soils.

Pollinators – James Wilson, Ph.D., Virginia Tech – what’s with the bees?
What can forest managers do that will most help bees?  Mr. Wilson said, “T&B” thin and burn. The best thing you can do is provide a wide variety of flowering plants.  Most of the plants we eat do NOT require bee pollination, since most of our food comes from grains, which are not bee pollinated.

Bees eat pollen, however.  That is why they hang around corn fields. They are not pollinating, but they are gathering pollen. This is where bees are sometimes harmed by pesticides not aimed at them.  Ironically, fewer bees are killed when in fields of GMO corn, where pesticides are less necessary.

There are around 4,500 types of bees in the USA, 536 in Virginia.  Most are not honeybees.  The honeybees we mostly know live in hives and are not native to North America.  Not all bees are social, although most live in communities, few are as large as hone

bee communities and some bees are solitary.   The more social the bees, the more generalists they are.  Solitary bees often specialize on a particular plant or plant type.
There was a lot of talk about bees disappearing and there are lots of reasons. When they talk about bee decline, they are usually talking about honeybees. A problem with honeybees is concentration and that is often in California.   73% of all portable hives in the USA are in California.  This is based on the value.  Beekeepers in Virginia can rent out a hive for about $40 a day.  In California they can make $175.  Hives are literally stacked up in California. The bees are often too close, facilitating the spread of disease and they sometimes just stressing the bees from all the moving.

A practical thing I learned from the talk was that lots of bees, especially the solitary bubble bees, use old stems as nests.  Wilson cautioned that we should not cut down old standing stems. Don’t mow any more than you must.  I also learned a trivial fact.  Bubble bees sometimes shake down pollen by buzzing and vibrating.  That is why they seem to be hanging around w/o flying.

Emerald ash borer update
Establishment & Early Impact of Spathius galinae on EAB in the NE US – Jian Duan, Ph.D., USDA Agricultural Research

Eradication of emerald ash borer has failed.  That was clear more than a decade ago.  That means that the ash will never again be as widespread as it was once.  There is some hope against the implacable emerald ash borer, however.  Some ash trees are evidently resistant to the ash borer. Ash trees in China and the Russian Far East, home of the emerald ash borer, are fairly resistant.  American woodpeckers are starting to eat them, and some local wasps are attacking them.  Mr. Duan also talked about varying success of Asian wasps introduced to parasitoid on the larvae of the borers.  I learned the parasitoid is different from parasite, in that it always kills the host. Good for ash borers.

All this means that some ash trees will survive and maybe expand their range again, even if they do not become so common as they used to be.

Oak decline
Oak Decline; A Fight Against the Inevitable
This was mostly a talk about individual oak trees and often in urban or suburban environments, interesting but maybe not as useful on the landscape level.

Planning for climate change
Climate atlas
Adaptation Planning and Climate Change – Leslie Grant and Patricia Leopold, United States Forest Service

Virginia is getting warmer and wetter.  Trees take a long time to mature and forest ecosystem take longer than individual trees to develop.  That means we need to plant today for the expected climate tomorrow.  Scientist have estimated which trees and ecosystems will prosper and which will be challenged.

Loblolly, for example, will expand its range and be even more appropriate in Virginia.  Poplar range is likely to shrink in the commonwealth.  Fairfax County is thinking about the future and changing its tree planting plans and recommendations.

I have been adapting on my own land.  The longleaf pine we are planting are at the northern edge of their natural range and genetically they come from farther south.  I am also planting bald cypress in some of the damper places.  The “Virginia” loblolly available from many private firms tends to be genetically from Georgia or South Carolina.  In effect, southern genotypes have been moving north for generations.  We can also expect, or at least hope for, epigenetic adaptation.

Fire in the forest & communicating about forestry
The last two presentations of the day, on prescribed fire and on communications, were very much the sort of things I find interesting.  The problem was that I have found these subjects interesting for many years and there was not much I had not heard many times.  While I was glad to have confirmation, I don’t have much to add.
Tomorrow is another session.  Looking forward.

Mass Timber road show

The Think Wood mobile tour is a beautiful museum-quality display showing environmental & economic benefits of different softwood lumber and engineered wood products. I attended the launch at the National Building Museum.
New wood technologies
New technologies and innovative techniques are transforming the way we build with wood. The key to much of this improvement is mass timber. This category includes heavy timber beams and various sorts of laminated timber (held together with glue, nail and dowels). The most revolutionary is Cross laminated timber (CLT). As the name implies, boards set across each other creating a mass wood product with strength in tension and compression and giving it the strength and spanning capacity of steel and fire resistance of concrete.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman from Arkansas & architect Susan Jones were among the speakers.
Bruce Westerman
Westerman gave the perfect talk about how and why we need to care for forests. I was mightily impressed that he did it w/o notes. I am not accustomed to such environmental competence in politicians, and I briefly considered moving to Arkansas just so I could vote for this guy. When I looked up his biography, I understood. He has a MA in forestry from Yale.
Besides the discussion about properly caring for forests, Westerman went on that building with wood was something that we can right now do to address climate change. Trees absorb carbon as they grow. When harvested trees go into buildings, the wood may hold that carbon for decades or even centuries. Wood buildings are essentially part of the forests life cycle.
Susan Jones
Susan Jones is probably America’s leading evangelist for cross laminated timber. In fact, it was her talk at the National Building Museum in 2016 the converted me to the cause of mass timber and the forest connection.
She was also instrumental to changing building codes to allow building taller with wood.
Nothing we can do that is more effective to address climate change
I am not an engineer or an architect, so I can tell you only what experts tell me about these wood innovations. Forests I know from personal experience and lifelong passion and it is my land ethic and understanding of a total forest life cycle and my land ethic that drives my commitment to building with wood.
Most of our mid-rise and almost all our tall buildings are made mostly from concrete and steel. Production and transport of concrete and steel buildings is extremely energy intensive and emits massive amounts of CO2. Fortunately, there is a simple solution – wood. Wood is the original green building material.
Besides caring for my own forests and helping others do the same, nothing I can personally do that will do more to address climate change than advocating for more wood used in building medium-rise and tall buildings. Healthy forests and cities built with wood is a virtuous cycle.
Beyond all that, wood is just nice. It makes people feel better to be around wood. Most people like to look at it, touch it and smell it. I know that scientists have figured out the connection. I just know it is true.

My first picture show the exhibit on the rainy day. I took the pictured sheltered in the tent with little salmon sandwiches and free beer. The next picture shows what happens when mass timber is exposed to fire. The outside chars, but it does not easily burn and it maintains its structural integrity. Scientists and fire departments around the world are testing this product and finding wonderful results. Next are pictures of Rep Westerman and Susan Jones. My last picture is one I took a couple years ago at the “Timber City” exhibit showing the types of mass timber.

Origins of Internet

Vint Cerf, Steve Crocker, and Radia Perlman were pioneers of the Internet. Vint Cerf is recognized as one of the “fathers or the Internet.” I can’t say I really knew how eminent they were, but the subject “Origins of the Internet” seemed interesting and it was.   It is almost the 50th birthday of the Internet. ARPANET made its first two connections on 29 October 1969. Cerf explained that it was just the start of a communication network. Nobody knew what it would become. They knew their limitations, however, and wisely played on that. They did not try to build a system but rather a process that others could build.   Radia Perlman said that her strength was that she knew less about computers than the average person. Her contribution was to make things so simple that a person like her could use it. She said at times she had to fight engineers, who like the complications. She said that there were complaints that some people enjoy the set up. Perlman said that people need not understand all or most what they are doing. You can have competence w/o comprehension.  

I am almost finished with a book called “The Code” that talks about this history of Internet, and I have read others. I did not learn many new facts from this lecture, but I got a more. Seeing the ease and comfort that these people had discussing the subject was worth the trip into town. The loved their work and they helped create great things. My first picture is from the talk – “An evening of discussion and discovery with the creators and architects of the Internet. Vint Cerf, Steve Crocker, and Radia Perlman, are set to speak at GWU about their lives and experiences that helped them to create one of the most revolutionary inventions in human history. These distinguished speakers will discuss how failure, collaboration, and inclusivity foster great science, and how science can continue to build on the great work they have begun.”   The other two pictures are Washington Monument at night. I rode my bike down to the talk, but I take the Metro back, both because it is dark and because it is all up hill on the way back. It was a very easy ride in because of a northwest wind that gusted up to 25 mph. Great tail wind was almost like using one of those electric bikes.

Deep Dive: IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate

I sense a subtle but important change of emphasis in the ICC reports on climate change that I think was evident in this “Deep Dive: IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate” I attended today. There was plenty of gloom about the projections of the future, and there is plenty to be gloomy about. The earth is warming at a rate unprecedented in human history. Oceans are rising both from thermal expansion of the water and lately from the melting of terrestrial glaciers (melting of sea ice does not raise sea levels) and there is danger that the Antarctic ice sheets could join in, something not previously anticipated in this century. The change in emphasis that I perceived is a more practical approach. There is more emphasis on trying to figure out what we can do, both to mitigate and adapt, and less of ultimately fruitless search for blame in the past.
An iterative process is making the science better
An important factor, IMO, is that projections are becoming more precise. Science is an iterative process and with each iteration we get better, never finding final truth but getting closer to usable ones.
Introducing the day’s program was Ambassador David Balton, Senior Fellow, Wilson Center and Pete Ogden, Vice President for Energy, Climate, and the Environment, United Nations Foundation. They laid out some of the facts I mentioned above and talked about the value of the new report. This is the first one to emphasis oceans and the cryosphere. These two were put into the same category more as an expedient than a plan, but their pairing was fortunate, since they are intimately connected. Water flows between them. Ogden talked about the usefulness of IPCC reports. The scientists do not make policy, but they inform it.
How the IPCC report function works
Ko Barrett, Vice Chair of the IPCC, talked about how the IPCC reports are produced. This one involved 104 authors combining 6981 studies and encompassing 31,176 comments. The report documents the thawing of glaciers and permafrost. Barrett explained that changes are coming too fast of natural systems to adapt. Humans can help, and we will need to adapt, but we need to mitigate change to slow it down enough that we can adapt. The oceans have been absorbing much of the heat of climate change, but marine ecosystems have been harmed (consider bleaching of coral) and there is a question about how long this can continue. Things often do not develop uniformly. Rather, natural systems feature punctuated equilibriums with tipping points of significant change. This is a risk.
Timely, ambitious and coordinated action are called for. In high mountains melting is evident. Smaller glaciers are shrinking, and some are disappearing. Glaciers and snow cover are reservoirs. Even if we limit greenhouse gas today, ¼ permafrost will be lost. This is already affecting arctic populations. Many low-lying islands will be under water.
She mentioned something I had not thought about – oceanic heat waves. Of course, it makes sense. Oceans have weather just like the land does. And the extremes are the issue, not the average.
The quicker and better we act, the better we will be able to address the issue
Next up was a panel discussion moderated by Monica Medina, Founder and Publisher, Our Daily Planet. First to present was Mark Eakin, IPCC Contributing Author. He talked about oceanic heat waves that cause coral bleaching. There have been three big bleaching events in recent years: 1998, 2010 and a long one 2014-17. The distressing fact is that this is still going on. Once coral ecosystems are dead, they take a long time to come back, even if the heat is abated. We are currently looking at big bleaching events around Hawaii and the Caribbean.
Robert DeConto, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; IPCC Lead Author, talked about his part of the report showing a set of charts, showing projections based on a low possibility, a blue curve with aggressive curbing of emissions, and a higher one, a red curve if current trends continue. We – and the world – probably can adapt to the blue line, red maybe not.
Sea level rises – thermal expansion and melting of terrestrial glaciers
There has been a change in why sea levels are rising. In the past, it was thermal expansion. Now it is more land-based melting. Greenland is melting from the top down. As it melts, it gets darker and absorbs more heat. There is more than 7 meters of sea level rise worth of ice in Greenland. An even bigger problem would be Antarctica. The danger here is sea level rise and the sea getting under the ice. Much of Antarctica is below sea level. It has been in the deep freeze, so it did not matter, but if water gets below the ice, it will be a bigger deal.
Adaptations requires mitigation, not a choice between them
Michael Oppenheimer, Princeton University; IPCC Coordinating Lead Author, picked up with what can we humans do about the problem. The big thing is to reduce emissions so that we are closer to the blue line. We might have a chance to catch up with this, to adapt.
Adaptation will include retreating from the coasts and allowing for natural buffers. There have been buyouts after hurricanes. Those who do not want to move away might build higher off the ground. We can also build protections, like sea walls. We can even advance into the sea, as they have in Netherlands. But a precondition for any adaptation is to mitigate.
Mr. Oppenheimer was very critical of subsidized flood insurance. This encourages building where it otherwise makes no sense. This is exacerbated by incentives that do not include preparations. The Federal government will help after a disaster, but fixing the system gets politicians no credit. People forget the last disaster and they don’t appreciate the disaster avoided.
During the question period, Mr. Oppenheimer talked about adaptation. Some of our coastal problems are exacerbated by climate change, but climate change is not the primary driver. Conservation of coastal areas in ecosystems like salt marshes and mangroves could be very helpful. These systems are themselves adaptive. It is an ecosystem-based defense. But we tend to destroy these things as much as protect them.
Developments in the high arctic
There was supposed to be a second panel, but evidently the only one to show up was Ambassador Kåre R. Aas, Ambassador to the United States, Norway, so Moderator: Sherri Goodman, Senior Fellow, Wilson Center, interviewed him. Ambassador Aas gave practical advice. We cannot solve all the problems at the same time, and so need first to address the worst or the ones that pay off the most. Fix the problem not the blame. Norway is working toward a no net carbon future, but in the meantime is a big producer of oil and gas. The Ambassador emphasized that using gas is better than coal, even if the long-term goal is to use neither.
The thawing arctic is opening up new opportunities and challenges. Shipping is become easier in the region. The Arctic Ocean is a kind of frozen Mediterranean Sea. If it thaws, ships can move. Resources are also an issue if the deep freeze thaws. The Norwegians are watching with some alarm the Russians on the Kola Peninsula. This is an old concern, made more current by climate change. But the Ambassador has observed that many people feel more threatened by the Chinese than by the Russians. China is no where near an arctic power, but they have strong interests in the region’s resources.
Ambassador Balton and Rafe Pomerance, Chair, Arctic 21, closed the program. Mr. Pomerance emphasized the need to get lots of people onboard, to build consensus. These are big issues that affect everybody. Solutions imposed, even if they are objectively sublime, will not be as effective as those brought about by consensus.
All things considered, an interesting discussion, encouraging despite the gloom of many of the facts. We have to continue our striving.
You can download the report at this link.

Stoicism and Seneca

Rode down to a presentation at Smithsonian about stoicism and got a practical  lesson in stoicism on the way down. I used the hourly weather prediction to get plan to ride my bike when it was not raining. About 15 minutes into my ride, it started to rain, really hard.
Stoics do not seek suffering, contrary to popular perception, but neither do they avoid it if it stands in they way of what they want. Once you get really soaked, you cannot get any wetter, so it does not matter.

The lecture at Smithsonian was about Seneca. He was an interesting case. He wrote beautifully about Stoicism, but he was one of the richest men in Rome and he worked for the very immoral Emperor Nero. It is not necessary for the person to be personally virtuous in order to preach virtue.

But I think it might go deeper than that. None of the ancient philosophers can really play in the big leagues today. They simply did not have the intellectual resources we enjoy, since they were the ones building the intellectual resources we enjoy. Ancient Stoicism did not have the moral structure that we need to go with the methods they used. It is great to practice self-control and reason, but modern readers are also looking for a moral structure. Reason is not sufficient. It must be right reason. At least that is the way I feel about it.
The lecture was good. I learned a little about the life and times of Seneca. I like him less than I did before the lecture.

My pictures show the rain on the way. It stopped when I was about a 30 minutes out, but I did not dry out. Next to the bike trail if Four Mile Creek. I took the picture at the underpass at Wilson Blvd. The creek floods there. It was filling up as I watched. I enjoyed the lecture a little less being soaked and itchy. Last picture is the lecture.

The Senkaku paradox: Risking great power war over small stakes

The Senkaku paradox refers to something unimportant causing a major war, as all sides escalate until it all gets out of hand. That is the World War I scenario. Nobody got what they thought, much less what they wanted.

I rode down to see Michael O’Hanlon talk about this paradox. The Senakaku Islands are totally unimportant. Nobody lives there. Nobody goes there. Their total land area is only seven square kilometers. They don’t even qualify as islands under the law of the sea. But China has begun to talk about claiming them. They are currently “administered” by Japan, but not even claimed by the Japanese. How can these piles of rocks constitute a risk?
The Chinese are using this as a provocation. It is a matter of pride and principle. This is what happens when there is no practical value and it makes negotiations harder, since nobody can trade concessions.

The “islands” are covered by the USA-Japan defense treaty, so if the Chinese make a move on them, the USA is bound to help Japan. Failing that would harm the alliance. Doing it would risk a war over something nobody cares about. This is the paradox.
O’Hanlon also talked about Putin. China is a rising power, and rising powers are dangerous to the established order. Russia is a declining power, and declining powers are even worse. Consider that World War I was provoked to a large extent by a declining power, Austria-Hungary, trying to hold on to its fading glory.

Putin wants to weaken NATO. What if he made some “small” aggression into a Baltic country, something too small to fight about but big enough to endanger the alliance if left untended?

O’Hanlon suggests sanctions aimed very precisely against Russian gas and oil. This is better deployed as a threat than a response.

Putin can be put on notice if the Europeans build more ports for liquefied natural gas. Putin would know that we COULD be serious about cutting off his markets. W/o energy sales, Russia is just a 3rd world country.

Fracking has greatly weaken lots of bad guys, chiefly Putin and the Iranians.
Anyway, good talk and worth the time going down.

I have a personal story about Michael O’Hanlon. Back in 2007 I ran State Department Worldwide Speaker Program. I noticed that too many of our speakers were Bush supporters. I was myself a Bush supporter, but our mandate was to represent all the diversity of American opinion and I respect the principle, so I checked into it.
I learned that some programmers were avoiding “controversial” speakers, and by controversial they meant possible Bush opponents. The irony is that most of the programmers were liberal Democrats. They feared the reaction, even if there had never been one. They believed those intolerant myths.

I reiterated our long-standing policy of representing all of America and told everybody that if there were any complaints to send them my way. Among the people I asked our programmers to recruit was O’Hanlon. He had written lots of good articles. They were often critical of Bush but thoughtful. I don’t recall if he ever traveled for us, but he was contacted, as were many other thoughtful liberals.

We got only one complaint. A couple colleagues showed up in my office looking scared. They said there had been a complaint that one of our speakers was critical of Bush. I determined that the complaint was unjustified and then asked who complained. I assumed that no experienced diplomat would lodge such complaint. Still, I was relieved to find out it was nobody important, some pissant junior officer who had yet to learn not to antagonize his betters. We could safely do nothing and nothing is what we did. I told my guys not even to answer the guy. So ended a tempest in a teapot.

Let’s hope that other small things like that end w/o even whimper. It is too easy to make little things big when you think small.

The Senkaku paradox: Risking great power war over small stakes1