Why Trump is like Nasal Congestion

dsc_8391     Send Trump to the North Pole—it’s warmer there.

It’s beginning to look a lot less like Christmas up north. Mid-month December temperatures at the North Pole have risen 50° F above average to just below freezing—nighttime temperatures in Taos are colder. During summer, parts of the Arctic are warmer than Taos.

Time to start panicking?

Meanwhile: Hysteria reigns in North Carolina over who gets to use which bathroom. “Liberal” media (MSNBC, Huff Post, etc.) continue giving Trump more of the free publicity they used to propel him into the White House. The Obama administration slams Russia for providing armaments to Syria used to kill civilians there while at the same time providing armaments to Saudi Arabia used to kill civilians in Yemen. Democrats blame (among others) the Russians for costing them the election—easier to blame foreigners than there own stupidity (e.g., they really should have won).

From the Radical Natural History perspective, it is clear that negative media about Trump misses an important point. He is not a cause of our problems, but a symptom. Think of him as nasal congestion, an outcome of the corruption of the common cold, not the cause. It is the deeper virus-like corruption of a world civilization—that can tolerate, ignore, or even benefit from (in the very short term) the cataclysm of rising temperatures and species extinction—which has not the slightest compunction about producing Trump and his illiberal companions.

Time to start panicking, or past the time when we should have done so?

The Environmental Movement Betrayed Part II


The outcome of the December 19, 2016 election is another disaster for environmentalists. Beginning in November, environmental advocacy organizations have made their usual response: a plea for more money.

The appeal for funds has become an end in and of itself rather than a means to an end. Environmental organizations will raise more money in reaction to the complete take-over of government by a single political party, but species extinction and climate heating will continue as before on an ever accelerating path.

As long as fund raising remains the goal, radical naturalists and well-meaning environmentalists alike will continue to lose wild-nature one piece at a time until it is gone.

We should instead see fund raising only as a means, and direct action (with results) as an end.

Here are a few things we can do now:

  • Admit that as goes the occupation regime in Washington, D.C., so goes the environment (nothing but disaster ahead without our concentrated opposition).
  • Reject the prevailing trend that partisanship must trump patriotism.
  • Accept that acting to save our environment from destruction and the agents that intend to bring that destruction about, is an act of urgent patriotism.
  • Agree that doing violence in doing so is not answer (we don’t want to become like them)
  • Pay attention to the “unpresidented” intervention by a foreign government in choosing the current leadership in Washington. React in the following way:
  • Call the election result what it is—illegitimate. Become an election denier, a Dearther (for the dearth of information provided by intelligence agencies and others that might have changed the election result).
  • Shame Democratic politicians into not attending the inaugural on January 20 (nothing else will get their attention). If they attend, they will validate the fraudulent election result.
  • Demand the appointment of an Independent Special Prosecutor to investigate, without restrictions, the actions of a foreign government in influencing the election.
  • Demand the appointment of a second Independent Special Prosecutor to investigate the actions of the FBI over its political intervention in the election.
  • Demand an immediate disclosure of all tax and business records by the new elected and appointed officials regarding their financial ties to foreign governments.
  • Stop referring to fascist (euphemism: “alt-right”) propaganda as “fake news.” The word to use instead: lies.

While raising money to support specific environmental causes is necessary, emphasizing money is not the answer—in that direction lays despair and hopelessness. Our opponents will always raise more.

Our usual defensive/reactive posture must be replaced by its opposite. We must fight to save nature (or itself and for our own self-interest) and create awareness that what we do in the world, destruction or preservation, is the very definition of morality.

Writing on the Wall photo by David L. Witt


The Environmental Movement Betrayed


Liberals and conservatives have failed to adequately address the climate change crisis. Neither political party gave significant attention to any environment issues during the 2016 elections. Politicians left and right are unable even to ask meaningful questions regarding the environment because the frame of reference of these philosophies is not set up to do so.

In his 2014 book, The Great Debate, Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, And The Birth of Right and Left, the political scholar Yuval Levin chronicles the late 18th century origins of conservatism (Burke) and Liberalism (Paine).

Burke believed that rejecting the traditions and practices of the past leads to disaster. He feared that the passions of the moment overwhelm reason, and that instead, keeping to what works contributes to overall societal happiness. We retain inherited political and social institutions for good reason—the maintenance of order. Social relations are and must be restrained by the legacy of past generations and by our obligations to future generations. These traditions mostly obviate the need for social engineering by government regulation.

Paine believed that not rejecting those traditions and long standing practices leads to disaster. Discarding the dead hand of the past and adapting to changing conditions creates justice in the contemporary world contributing to overall happiness. He trusted citizens to employ “reason” in their consideration of political matters. Social and power relations should change with each generation, through revolution if necessary, and that the present should be of greater importance than the past or the future. Reason, rather than tradition, should be our guide.

Paine favored individual choice. Burke supported the obligations and privileges to which we are born. Both views have negative implications for contemporary environmentalism.

Conservatives see no reason to intervene in ancient environmental systems since those have and will continue to manage—and even evolve—on their own. Applying “reason” (including science) to address environmental issues unnecessarily grants authority to radicals who are more than willing to tear down the existing order for obscure (to the conservatives) revolutionary objectives. We have built a great nation on certain shared values (such as property rights, capitalism). Leave well enough alone.

Don’t expect liberals to come to our rescue. According to Paine, the motives of authorities (representing the long existing establishment, including scientists) are suspect; they are not to be trusted. Personal experience and immediate needs (such as alleviation of poverty, prevention of war) are of greatest concern. The people of the future can (and should) address the problems of their own time. Meanwhile, we must look out for ourselves.

As a result, neither conservatives nor liberals have much to offer environmentalism. Conservatives fear that environmental action will trample the rights of individuals well vested in the current system. Liberals fear that environmental action could compromise their goal of a more just and equitable society.

If conservatives admit the reality of climate change, then they have to admit that the issue can only be addressed though collective action organized by multinational governmental agencies. If liberals admit that climate change is real, then they have to adjust to societal sacrifices, knowing that the less well off and less powerful will give up more than the rich and powerful in addressing the problem.

Their differing worldviews make conservatives and liberals unable to understand one another on almost any issue. At the same time, but for entirely different reasons, their preconceptions make them equally unable to take revolutionary action that would disrupt our world society today for a payoff (in environmental and climate terms) that cannot be achieved until far into the future.


“The Great Chasm” Photo: David L. Witt

Clinton can still win the election

Secretary Clinton is only 42 votes shy of winning the Electoral College, the second phase of the Presidential election which takes place in each state on December 19. Another way to put this is that she already has 228 votes lined up. If 42 Republican electors were to put country ahead of political party and change their vote to Clinton (who won the popular vote) we could, perhaps, achieve a more hopeful future. Somebody get this idea to Michael Moore!

The College was designed for just this purpose. Alexander Hamilton explained in an essay in The Federalist Papers that the College was the one chance to keep the Presidency from going to an unqualified person.

There is little time to left to save what remains of wild-nature–as well as ourselves–the extraordinary measure I propose could be our one remaining chance.

Ansel Adams Wilderness Trip Autumn 2016


Backpacking tool kit

In the past eleven months we have seen the Paris Agreement (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), the Antarctic Protection Agreement (Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) while at the same time the variety of environmental disasters from species extermination to melting ice caps has continued apace. American anti-environmental politics in this election cycle has deteriorated from absurd to farcical (or vice versa). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife (dis)Service continues to keep species such as the American Pica from receiving Endangered Species Act Protection. Given all this, months ago I quit making editorial comments. What is the radical natural history writer to do?

Give up on politics at the moment for a return into the heart of wild nature.

In September, I took a break from my primary research on Ernest Thompson Seton to assist in research on John Muir. For decades fellow radical naturalist Bob Hare has been inspired by Muir’s accounts of the Sierra Nevada, and for several years has been systematically following Muir’s routes through the Range of Light. See: Wilderness Adventures with Bob Hare.

I occasionally join him in the adventure, including this year for a few September days exploring the Ansel Adams Wilderness (west of Mammoth Lakes, California). One of our destinations this year: Lake Catherine, a jewel of a lake, outstanding even by the standards of a region known for its outstandingly gorgeous lakes.

Venturing from Taos, New Mexico, to Sacramento, California, thence across Yosemite and southward to Mammoth Lakes, we packed supplies and gear for a six- night trip.


Our goal–going beyond the distant peaks

Sept 28. From Minaret Vista (near Devil’s Postpile National Monument) we looked out over the San Jauquin watershed to Mt Ritter and Banner Peak (the high points right of center) the stone pillars below which Lake Catherine glistens in the sunshine or glowers beneath storm clouded sky (although first we had to get there).



Bob at the base of a large juniper


Typical trail passage

We are both photographers so stopped frequently to pose in front of trees, on trails, etc.



Still a ways to go

We took so long to reach Thousand Island Lake (Banner Peak and Mt. Davis in the distance above the lake) that I thought we had taken a wrong turn. Our path-finding skills have not diminished, but more than forty years on from our first backpacking trips together, either we walk more slowly or the upward tilt of the trails has increased.


Trail by the lake



Finally made camp as the wind gradually increased—a harbinger of what was to come.


Sunrise photo suite

dsc_7858 dsc_7845dsc_7860dsc_7865

Sept 29. Morning sunrise photography occupied us for some time.


Island Pass images


That morning we headed north and uphill intersecting the Pacific Crest Trail for a hike over Island Pass and to the overlook of Waugh Lake in search of places from where Muir made sketches. Late afternoon we returned through an unrelenting windstorm that did not cease for the remainder of our trip.


Ascent of North Glacier Pass


Looking down to the lake


And looking up…


Sept. 30 From our camp at Thousand Island Lake we hiked up North Glacier Pass on the north side of Banner to where it became a Class 2 climb—talus mixed with large boulders.


Amazing lake


Bob at top of pass

After nearly having been blown off the rocks several times we reached the top of the pass and the unforgettable view of Lake Catherine. (I wonder for whom the lake was named?)


Much steeper than it looks

Bob continued down to the lake and beyond in search of another Muir sketch site (detailed in his blog). At 1:00pm, he promised to return in 2 ½ hours. I retreated over a hundred feet back down in the pass to get out of the worst wind, covering myself with a poncho as wind shelter. He appeared above me at exactly 3:30pm.


Sunrise on Banner


Thousand Island Lake, wind swept

Oct. 1. We still had half the planned trip remaining, but high elevation snow and non-stop wind changed our plan. We headed down to Garnet Lake.


Beautiful trail from Thousand Island to Garnet Lake


Garnet Lake reveal

From Garnet Lake, we climbed down through a hundred feet of rock gully back into the San Jauquin valley finding a long abandoned (and occasionally entirely absent) trail for our return. Our research continued for a few more days—a story for another time.

Framework Convention on Climate Change

DSC_5428 Sun Dog

Adoption of the Paris Agreement

December 12, 2015

In combating climate change, the Agreement emphasizes “should” rather than “must,” which is to say that it is voluntary. It calls for recognition of social justice, for sharing technology, and for wealthier countries to support appropriate development in less wealthy countries. Environmentalists (including me) will fault the agreement for not being stronger. At the same time, however, it does establish an international moral imperative to combat this grave danger that threatens us all.

Will it be enough to save remaining wild nature and the larger part of world civilization? Implementation of the agreement is likely to be slower than needed. But how could 190 countries have come up with a better plan? Short term interests of corporations and the politicians they buy is as strong as ever.

Still, maybe, perhaps, if we’re lucky, maybe the United States of America will take the lead as its used to do in the 20th century when faced with global challenges.

Here are some highlights. For the full document, go to:


Article 2

This Agreement, in enhancing the implementation of the Convention, including its objective, aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty, including by:

(a) Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;

(b) Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production; (c) Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.

Article 4

  1. In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.
  1. Each Party shall prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions that it intends to achieve. Parties shall pursue domestic mitigation measures, with the aim of achieving the objectives of such contributions.

Article 6

  1. Parties recognize that some Parties choose to pursue voluntary cooperation in the implementation of their nationally determined contributions to allow for higher ambition in their mitigation and adaptation actions and to promote sustainable development and environmental integrity.

Article 8

  1. Parties recognize the importance of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including

extreme weather events and slow onset events, and the role of sustainable development in reducing the risk of loss and damage.

Article 9

  1. Developed country Parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention.

Article 10

  1. Parties share a long-term vision on the importance of fully realizing technology development and transfer in order to improve resilience to climate change and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Article 21

  1. This Agreement shall enter into force on the thirtieth day after the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 percent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.

<Will it be sunset, sunrise, or something in between? Aylmer Lake sundog, Summer 2015. dlw photo)

Ethnic Cleansing Goes Mainstream: Donald Trump and Our Christmas Wish

SAM_3532       I recall a movie from the Cold War days. A device was discovered that had the power to make bad people disappear. After giving consideration to the merits of this power, it was used to make all the Commies disappear—Russians, Eastern Europeans, probably Chinese. Those who remained on earth rejoiced at the triumph of our way of life. Getting rid of those we don’t want around is more messy than making a wish.

The Donald wants all the “Mexicans” (short hand for Latin American civilization) to go away. His proscription for doing this is ethnic cleansing—forced deportation. His political opponents have not called his plan ethnic cleansing, but they should since that it what it is. The mainstream media has failed us by not applying this obvious labeling.

What does this have to do with radical natural history? I’ll get to that, but first, more examples of magical wishing from this week’s news:

Fox News wants Starbucks and its non-Christmas promoting red coffee cups to go away. Violent Shiite groups want violent Sunni groups to go away (and vice versa). Many Israelis want Palestinians to disappear (and vice versa). The Koch brothers, ALEC and other right wing anti-American groups want democracy to go away. The Catholic Church wants media coverage of their pedophile scandals to go away. Sagebrush Rebellion conservatives want public access to public lands to go away.

Carbon companies and their hired politicians want environmentalists and solar energy to go away. Big Pharma wants the movement for patient’s rights to end. The Prison Industrial Complex wants the opponents of mass incarceration of poor people to vaporize. European conservatives want Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraqi refugees to go somewhere else. The Chinese government wants all other countries to give up their right of free navigation over wide parts of the Pacific Ocean. Nearly everyone of any sense wants Putin to go away.

Back to natural history: Fish and Gave authorities in New Mexico, Wyoming, Oregon and other states want wolves to go away. A majority of humans, in claiming all natural resources and physical space for themselves want, in effect, for wild nature to go away

It is the same mindset that wants to get rid of “Mexicans,” wolves, nature, or whatever. And the harder we all work on getting our wishes, the closer we come to making all those wishes come true. We’re well on our way.

(I managed to gain special access into The Donald’s soul and was rewarded with the picture that leads off this essay. For Sci-Fi fans, recall the Krell of Altair-4.)

November 10 Evening Nature Discussion Group


Third and Fourth in a series of Setonian Evenings

6:30 – 8:00 pm at the Seton Gallery, Academy for the Love of Learning

Tuesday November 10 and Tuesday December 8, 2015  Free

133 Seton Village Road (off the Old Las Vegas Highway)


Host: David L. Witt

As an important participant in the 1930s Santa Fe literary scene, Ernest Thompson Seton held evening salons at his home (Seton Castle) discussing Nature, Environment, Life and Lifecraft. The Academy’s Seton Legacy Project is reviving this tradition with a conversational series focusing on our relationship to the natural world. What “learnings,” warnings and inspirations might we find out there—and within ourselves—with close examination and reflection?

We will explore topics suggested by Seton, starting with readings from his stories. We want to hear your stories as we examine what is important about our experience with wildlife, wild places, and life in general.

Our Setonian evenings take place amid the drawings and books of the Seton Gallery. The setting is informal, a perfect atmosphere for the sharing of ideas and insights. We will start with a topic, but there is no set path—the direction of the discussion will emerge as we go along.

November 10: Connecting Seton to the Academy through Lifecraft

Seton developed a philosophy of outdoor education disseminated through his Woodcraft League. It was about learning and living. Seton’s “Nine Principles” and “Fourfold Path,” for understanding nature and just being in the world appear to complement the “Learning Field” model of the Academy. We will look into the meaning of these.

December 8: The Radical Natural History of Generally True Patterns

Combining the teachings of Seton and Muir with Systems Theory, we find that the dissimilar systems of physics, biology and society work in remarkably similar ways demonstrating our connection to nature (and disproving the prevailing theory of our disconnection). We will consider examples to find which of them may hold up in the real world.




Lakeside dispatch from David L. Witt/August 2, 2015

{In late July and early August I led an expedition to Aylmer Lake in the Canadian Arctic. We were following part of the route taken by Ernest Thompson Seton and his expedition of 1907. Field notes from the expedition can be found at my Seton website. This essay and others were first published by the expedition’s sponsor, the Academy for the Love of Learning, at the Seton Expedition website.}

Five blue tents are illuminated warm in the sunshine on the remote beach in northern Canada as earlier they had shown through moonlight of the night passed. Or of what constitutes night at 64° North Latitude on August 2nd. The sun sets, then the light briefly transitions to twilight before the coming of dawn again brings the full light of day to Aylmer Lake.

Hours of wind-stillness have calmed a lake so that it reflects the detail of clouds, outboard motors and Cottongrass along the shore. Nothing seems to move on the ground, although time has moved on, this is a new day. There has taken place a passage. How do we go about perceiving it?

First look to the record of the sand. There is the faint presence of Musk Ox tracks, already old. There is a recent record of a Caribou’s oddly shaped track passing west to east on the wet beach; overlaid on that is the subsequent track of an Arctic Wolf passing in the same direction. The most recent track is the huge paw prints of a Barrenland’s Grizzly, this in the dry sand, so it is indistinct. That track in the sand ends in two furrowed sand ridges, a roughly shaped: ( ) with the left part of the parenthesis no more than half the size of the right. This shape suggests that two bodies lay here hours earlier or a day earlier, sow and cub. Immediately to one side are two blueberry infused scat piles, one larger than the other.

The beach sand recorder of wildlife activity is immediately compromised by our presence, marred with an overlay of human footprints. We searched the beach for any sign of danger (i.e., bears) then looked for a temporary tent home sites, then unloaded cargo of food containers, cameras, sleeping bags and such other stuff as seems needed here for a couple of nights. Within a day the number of our imprints seem the result of hundreds of visitor’s restless pacing, although we number just five. The wild ones pass by in a single line and then are gone on. We, relentless, march back and forth grinding nature beneath our feet into ever smaller bits.

Next look to the passage of waves. The lake sleeps for now, glassy calm, but sometimes it rises and washes the beach free of the imprints of those already come and gone since the last storm. The moccasined feet of ancient Indians left impressions that must seem very careful compared to the brutal force of hiking boots. Generations of wolves have stalked generations of caribou. We know this because the wolves left behind, hidden in the short willow scrub beyond reach of waves, bones still white or if old enough, mossy. On this morning there are no new wildlife tracks overlaid on our own. No nocturnal grizzly visit, so we are at ease at breakfast. In a day or a week, or soon, waves will come to erase all that has happened here this past week since the last storm.

This place is not often visited by our kind. There were four known expeditions on this beach between 1832 and 1907, plus an unknown number of indigenous tribal visitors before and since. The earliest of these may have arrived several thousand years ago. Archaeologists made surveys here in 1951 and 1982. Diamond prospectors (mining is a major industry up here) have likely walked this shore in search of treasure.

There are five in our party, arrived in two 16’ aluminum fishing boats powered by 30hp Evenrude outboard motors, looking for the treasure of knowledge. I can sit on the sand watching outward toward the water for birds or lean against the boat and watch inland for oncoming bears. Passages may occur behind my back either way.

A mother Mallard Duck appears leading her band of ten little ones out of their Cottongrass refuge and into the deeper water just offshore. They swim with startling speed. I would not have noticed them at all except for a sudden excited fluttering of the entire group for reason unknown to me. They continue to the farther end of the beach out of our way.

Still water marked duck passage, closing behind. Fish surfacing or insects flailing wings show passages of another kind, although for only an instant before non-stormed water returns to its almost glass surface.

Beach tracks by whatever kind of creature will also be eroded by wind, one grain at a time toppled into the crater created by claw or pad or hoof or boot.

One other form of passage is absent in this season but evident as the dominant force at other times: Ice rules here seasonally. Winter ice will encroach upon the beach leaving its own mark by scraping away everything although there will be tracks in the snow for a moment. Glacial ice has in the past and will in the future, as Seton observed, churn the land itself, reorganizing (or eliminating) this beach as well as the lakes, rivers and hills of the north into a new form. Plants will be crushed, animals forced to migrate elsewhere.

The forty-meter hill north of the beach is a sand esker created by a glacier, a place of mounded ground-up rock. On its summit ancient people erected temporary shelter of caribou hide tents held up by poles. They tore rocks from the esker surface to hold down the tent edges, insuring their survival for another night during the long marches across the tundra in the hunt for Caribou. The resulting stone rings, averaging 4.5 meters in diameter, number as many as ten, several still easily discernable, others leaving only faint trace, as the malleable surface of the sandy esker shifts gradually reclaiming its component parts. The rocks are covered with black lichen, a slow growing organism that does not do well with disturbances. Which is to say that the rocks have to remain stable for a long time to support much lichen growth. The passage of the native hunters is long past, but remembered by the stones.

When Seton and his party arrived 108 years ago this month they borrowed (or reused) stones left by the ancient natives, taking several from two adjoining rings, building a cairn-monument to their own fleeting presence. Documented in a photograph as still standing thirty years ago, we found the cairn toppled by another of nature’s irresistible forces, the rodent. In this case, specifically, the “sic-sic” (as it is known locally), Spermophilus parryi, the Arctic Ground Squirrel. This small creature (about the size of a prairie dog but with a long tail) makes its home in burrows. Perhaps understanding the advantage of the protection of a stone castle, the squirrels built their dwelling beneath Seton’s cairn, eventually undermining the pile of ancient tent stones, altering the historical record just as Seton did when he removed them from their ancient rings. (Rodent revenge: Seton’ fellow traveler, Preble, killed several of them to take back as specimens to the Smithsonian.)

Someday the ice sheets will return erasing everything and beginning the cycle again.

<Caribou antler placement by Patty Nagle on Sandhill Bay shore, dlw photo>