Trash heap at the top of the world

It’s that time of year again. Each May,  there is a brief window of opportunity, granted by the seasons and local conditions, when you can attempt a visit to the top of the world.

Climbing Mt. Everest has become one of the world’s most expensive, deadly, and destructive hobbies. Every year thousands of hopeful climbers and tourists descend on the area, many of whom really shouldn’t be there at all.

And, of course, a lot of them die. There have been about 300 or so deaths on Everest over the years since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first summited in 1953, and the Sherpas who guide the adventurers have died more often than anyone else. The last year without known fatalities on the mountain was 1977.

This year, the death toll has already reached ten, including an 85-year-old guy who was trying to reclaim his record as being the oldest to do it.

An industry has grown up around getting the clients to the summit one way or another, even if it means cutting some corners. The paying customers expect it, having put up tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to be there.

In 2014,  Wang Jing, the 41 year old owner of a large Chinese outdoor clothing firm, defied a Sherpa strike by taking a helicopter to 21,000 feet, drawing some scorn from the mountaineering community.  She was trying to get to the “seven summits”, the highest point on each continent. The Sherpas were striking to redress many grievances they had about their treatment. This article covers the subject well.

The 1996 case of socialite Sandy Hill, who brought her cappuccino machine along,  got a lot of attention when Jon Krakauer wrote about her in Into Thin Air, his excellent account of the disaster on Everest she was part of.  He describes her as essentially being carried to the summit,

“the Sherpa, huffing and puffing loudly, was hauling the assertive New Yorker up the steep slope like a horse pulling a plow”

Hill became the focus of disdain and ridicule, a caricature of the rich and demanding westerner, and a self-promoter who put others in danger. She has her own version of the story, of course.

Everest is maxed out. It’s getting so there’s a traffic jam near the top, as people wait their turn to try for the summit.

everest line

A good deal of attention is at last being put on the environmental impact of all this activity.

This article talks about how people are leaving shit all over the place. Literally. It says

At base camp, visitors annually produce about 12,000 pounds of human waste each year, which often ends up in the waterways that nearby villages rely upon. “It’s getting notorious — people getting sick from water contaminated by dumping human waste,” Alton Byers, director of science and exploration at the US-based Mountain Institute, expained. “The place is getting covered with landfills, creating an environmental hazard for humans and animals.”

Here’s a good one from Outside Magazine with a lot more detail on the defecation problem. Gross, I know, but actually very interesting. Human laziness is the biggest part of the problem. It’s hard work removing stuff at those altitudes. Dead bodies are a particular challenge, and many have been there for decades.


Nepal is trying to address the trash situation with a rule that everyone has to pack out 18 pounds of trash. Literally tons of spent oxygen tanks have been hauled out, but trash generation is far outpacing trash removal.

Pictures from base camp:




Is there any place on this planet that we haven’t yet ruined? Please keep it a secret if you know of one – maybe it can remain free from our intrusions for a little while longer.

Trump attacks knowledge

The Environmental Protection Agency, under its new head, climate change denier Scott Pruitt, has explained that it  wants “to take as inclusive an approach to regulation as possible.”

To make this happen, they have dismissed five academic scientists from a major scientific review board and will replace them with representatives from the industries whose pollution the E.P.A. is supposed to regulate.


Pruitt, Trump, and Coal Miners – life is good

According to the Failing New York Times,

President Trump has directed Mr. Pruitt to radically remake the E.P.A., pushing for deep cuts in its budget — including a 40 percent reduction for its main scientific branch — and instructing him to roll back major Obama-era regulations on climate change and clean water protection. In recent weeks, the agency has removed some scientific data on climate change from its websites, and Mr. Pruitt has publicly questioned the established science of human-caused climate change.

Ken Kimmell, the president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said, “This is completely part of a multifaceted effort to get science out of the way of a deregulation agenda.”

Just a quick reminder to you all: we’re only about 6% through the first four years of this nightmare clown-show.

In other news, former president Barack Obama accepted a “Profiles in Courage” award at the J.F.K. Library in Boston on Sunday.


He has chosen to refuse the many requests he’s had to directly confront Trump on his agenda of reversing every initiative of the Obama administration, most importantly the recent idiotic “Repeal and Replace” effort now underway to deny tens of millions of Americans access to healthcare, so that the very rich can be just a little richer.

He explained that “To weigh in would be a violation of his duty as a past president to let his successor operate without hindrance from him.” If only his successor would grant him the same consideration!

In accepting the Profiles in Courage Award, which has also been given to George H.W. Bush, John McCain, and Gerald Ford, among others, Obama did say,

“It takes little courage to aid those who are already powerful, already comfortable, already influential, but it takes great courage to champion the vulnerable and the sick and the infirm.”

Courage and knowledge vs. cowardice and ignorance? Dignity and composure vs. dishonor and vulgarity? Competence vs. ineptitude?

The American people have made their choices.

What could possibly go wrong?

A  wax worm that eats plastic has been discovered. Could this lead to a way to solve the problem of plastic waste disposal?


That would be nice, as humans now produce 80 million tons of polyethylene every year.


We’re going to need a lot of wax worms.


Holes eaten by 10 wax worms in 30 minutes

Here’s a brief video in which a Spanish scientist explains the accidental discovery, and a link to her publication about it.

Once we figure out what to do when the world is overrun with the wax worms, we should be good to go.

Maybe robots will eat them? But not ones made of plastic? Don’t know yet.

In any case, I, for one, welcome our new wax worm overlords.

Gotta get those coal jobs back

In 2014, the last year for which statistics are available, the total number of jobs throughout the entire coal industry in the U.S. was 76,572, including office workers, sales staff and all of the other individuals who work at coal-mining companies.

The Whole Foods company alone employs 72,650.

To put it in further perspective, the coal industry falls somewhere between the economic clout of travel agencies and the bowling industry, two other sectors that are on a downward trajectory in terms of overall employment.


Looking at the above list, it strikes me that none of the other industries highlighted pose anything like the health risk to its employees that comes with coal-mining, or anywhere near the power to destroy the environment of all for the benefit of the few. Some will argue that skiing has a pretty bad environmental record (golf, too), but its impact is nothing like coal’s.

The coal industry gets the focus though, because it has been the subject of government regulation, and because Hillary Clinton has been unwise enough to disparage it. It is therefore the poster-industry for the “How Democrats Want To Destroy America” contingent, and the focus of various demagogues, most notably Donald Trump. Coal also has the advantage of being geographically focused in a small region, so if you want to target a certain group of electors, coal is a good bet.

Of course, neither government regulation or Hillary Clinton are actually responsible for the long downward trend in coal jobs – it’s automation. It’s been happening since 1920.

coal jobs

And, looking to the future, automation is only going to get a lot better still. For a frightening peek at what robots already can do, check this:

There is nothing Trump can or will do to bring more jobs to the coal industry, although I’m confident he will be able to resume the environmental destruction.

Earth Day, 2017

Of all the seismic changes in our culture that were either wrought by or illuminated by Trump’s ascendancy, the most disheartening to me is the demotion of science and the scientific method to the status of “belief system”.

It never occurred to me until recently that not only was there no universal agreement on the ability of science to clarify details of how the natural world worked, for example, or to settle what used to be called “old wives tales” once and for all, but that those who trusted science to perform these functions might actually be in the minority among their neighbors.

It was always simple to me. If someone asserted that their grandmother taught them that you could bring cold water to a boil faster than hot water, and that their grandmother was a very wise person, rarely wrong in anything she said, and a fabulous cook as well, there was no reason to “believe” it or “disbelieve” it. It wasn’t something that you had to take on faith, as it could be easily settled by science. In your own kitchen. In ten minutes. And without casting aspersions on the grandmother or her abilities as a cook.

It was either true or it wasn’t. Demonstrate it and learn the truth – the actual truth.

There’s a really cool and yet extremely depressing site called Yale Climate Opinion Maps that will provide a nice way for you to spend a few minutes on Earth Day. It allows you to display where people live who believe that climate change is a real thing, or think it’s caused by humans, or whether they think it will affect them directly, and so on. You can display the information by state, county, congressional district (the doorway to madness!), etc. You can mouse-over the results for more detail in each case. Fun.

Here’s a sample, showing where people live, by county, who think global warming is happening (sorry, you have to go to the site itself for the cool mouse-over info and more).


Here’s one showing, by congressional district, the percentage of adults who think CO2 emissions should be regulated.



And here’s one, by state, showing where people trust scientists on this subject.


Another reason to be happy to live in Massachusetts, except that the climate is actually horrible here.

It would be really great if you could somehow convince the people who don’t “believe in” climate change that when virtually every real scientist in the world tells you climate change is real and human-influenced, then that’s all you need to know about it. You don’t need to inject your grandmother’s ideas about it into the mix (unless she’s a climate scientist, that is, in which case we already know what she thinks).

They can also tell you whether cold water boils faster than hot if you’re curious (spoiler alert: cold water takes longer to boil than hot, of course).

Anyway, from all of us here at GOML, we wish you and yours a Happy Earth Day, and we hope there are many, many more. Or, to be more realistic, at least a few more.

Marathon Monday Mashup

A few random, loosely connected thoughts occur to me about Boston and the things people say about it on Marathon Monday, always a big festive occasion here.

1. Boston is a racist, small, parochial city that is, at its heart, deeply illiberal.

Yes, OK, we’ve heard this often and I have no great desire to argue about it. I suppose the stereotype still fits in several neighborhoods that resist change and hang onto their ethnic enclaves like grim death. I won’t mention them by name because it always pisses people off, but you can tell by looking at a map who the usual suspects are – they’re all in Boston proper, but separated from “downtown” by bodies of water, train tracks and highways, or other natural and man-made boundaries that make it easier to retain their unique “character”.

ted landsmark

The Bad Old Days

2. Boston is a world-class city, internationally known for its culture, institutions, and history of progressive thought and action.

Yes, this one is also true and I like it a lot better. In fact, I would say the truths here greatly outweigh the truths of No. 1 above. No one can match our hospitals and universities. Our museums and symphony are as good as anyone else’s. We’re a technology and financial center, and an incubator of new businesses and ideas.

Great institutions anchor the Longfellow Bridge

I’ve heard it said that there are more books per capita in Boston/Cambridge than anywhere else. We can be counted on to be on the right side of history when it’s time to vote. True, we’re not New York, and we’re all in bed by 1:00 A.M., but that’s a good thing, if you ask me.


And if you like sports, Boston has it all – plenty of championships in the four major professional sports, and a wealth of great college programs as well, e.g. three national powerhouses in college hockey within walking distance from one another: Harvard, Boston University, and Boston College.  A fourth, Northeastern, is quickly closing in on this elite circle. And amateur sports flourish here, too, which brings me to:

3. The Boston Marathon is an international, cross-cultural magnet. It is the oldest annual marathon in the world, and arguably the most famous. Tens of thousands will run officially and unofficially, and some will be professional athletes, but the overwhelming majority are amateurs.  It will draw people from all over the world who have trained and sacrificed and traveled great distances for the honor of running “Boston”.

I’m writing this before the race, but I will go out on a limb and say that both the men’s and women’s winner will have come from a far away land and have an absolutely huge grin on their face despite the exhaustion of having gone all out for a couple of hours.


Yesterday was a hot day, not a great day for running. But out on the Charles, lots of runners were getting in their last tune-ups before the race. Smiles all around, people taking selfies, locals and visitors in happy concatenation. A great day to be a Bostonian.

4. Martin Richard Park. Since the 2013 bombings, the Marathon has taken on a new and important aspect, beyond that of just sporting glory. It has come to embody the “Boston Strong” spirit of overcoming adversity, and not surrendering to our worst impulses. A new park and playground has opened up honoring Martin Richard, the little kid who lost his life in the bombings, and his family wants everyone to enjoy it and have good and positive feelings about it, like Martin would.

I hope it is successful and doesn’t become another in the unfortunate string of misuses and privatization of public space that we like to rail about here at GOML.


5. Doing harm while doing good. Apart from the Marathon, just about every weekend there is some sort of outdoor event where you can try to help an important cause. Maybe it’s a “walk for hunger” (shouldn’t that be a walk against hunger?), or one to support cancer research. It’s hard to keep up with them all, but everyone seems to want to do good.

But sometimes, even the well-meaning can do harm while trying to do good. I was out walking yesterday and noticed some pink plastic/rubber ties on stakes in the ground by the riverbank, obviously there to help participants navigate some part of a charitable event. Having just written a few days ago about the proliferation of plastics everywhere around us, I couldn’t get the following progression out of my mind:


pink 2


And, just to go out on a high note, here’s a bonus pic of a teenage goose on the ground and some teenage trash in the trees.


Man and nature in harmony. If only.

That’s it for my Marathon Monday Mashup. Peace out, people!

Paradise lost

I wrote a piece on Midway Island four months ago that no one read (so I should probably take the hint and not revisit the subject, but, hey, that’s why Stewie is Generis). It was about the ecological disaster happening there, in the middle of the Pacific where no one really lives. If you want to know what’s going on in the picture below, check this out.


Here’s an 11-minute video from National Geographic that explains a lot more about the big picture.

What made me think about this was a short video I saw the other day showing someone sifting a bucket of sand on Kailua Beach in Hawaii. A random, ordinary looking bucket of sand turns out to be filled with plastic debris. This means, of course, that every bucket of sand in Hawaii, and probably everywhere else, looks like this as well.

For technical reasons, I can’t display it on this site, but do yourself a favor and click on this link to be amazed.

What you can see on the surface in Hawaii is bad enough, as this next picture shows.


But even if you cleaned up everything you see on the surface, you wouldn’t have touched everything beneath the surface that the sifting video clip shows.

And it made me realize there’s nothing particularly unique about Hawaii or Midway – the whole planet is already deeply damaged, possibly beyond repair. It’s just that it’s more jarring when you see it in the places we expect to be pristine, i.e. in “paradise”.

But we’ve become accustomed to a very high level of ambient garbage everywhere in the cities. It occurred to me that if you sifted a bucket of dirt from the banks (or the bottom) of the Charles River, you’d have a huge amount of plastic and metal garbage as well, probably a lot worse than in Hawaii, but in the cities it’s no longer a shock.

Yesterday, I took a walk by the river and was struck by the debris everywhere, and the fact that it’s completely “normal”.  No one thinks much about it, though there is an annual clean-up day that does make things look a little better, a least on the surface, and at least for a while.

There’s a Canada Goose in this picture, believe it or not. See if you can spot it.