Wednesday on the Web: 12 July Edition

BC Wildfires
As you can imagine, much of my reading in the past week has focused on the wildfires in BC.
I wrote a post summarizing the wildfire situation in the Canadian west on Friday, when we *only* had about 100 wildfires in BC. On Saturday, approximately 100 new fires started, and on Sunday another 30 started. As of Tuesday, the BC Wildfire Service lists 135 active wildfires, with 21 “wildfires of note,” which are “highly visible or which pose a potential threat to public safety.” The map of active wildfires tells the story quite well (orange is existing fires, red is new fires (last 24 hrs), flames are fires of note):
As of Monday morning, over 14,000 people had been evacuated across the province due to wildfires. On Monday evening, a new evacuation alert was issued for the entire city of Williams Lake and surrounding areas – approximately 20,000 people. Everyone is waiting to see what today’s weather will bring, as it’s expected that high winds will make the situation worse.
It’s also getting tricky to travel around Interior BC, as wildfires have led to extensive highway closures. This makes evacuations that much more difficult. Provincial parks have been closed due to the fire danger, and cities like Kamloops are also closing regional parks. There is a province-wide fire ban, and a province-wide state of emergency. The provincial government has asked the federal government for aid in the form of aircraft – the feds are ready to send in ground forces if necessary.
Grizzlies and salmon in BC
To take our minds off the terrible wildfire situation, check out this cool grizzly research from PhD student Megan Adams out of Chris Darimont’s lab at the University of Victoria.
As Ivan Semeniuk writes in The Globe and Mail,

“the research shows the extent to which bears in B.C. are acquiring nutrients from the open ocean though eating salmon. In some cases, those nutrients are finding their way many hundreds of kilometres inland, forming “hot spots” near the Alberta border where bears are thriving on a high salmon diet.”

Here’s a cool map that shows bear’s salmon consumption in relation to location:

This is Figure 5 from Adams’ OA Ecosphere paper.

Doomsday predictions of climate change

An article came out in New York Magazine on Sunday, titled The Uninhabitable Earth, by David Wallace-Wells. The subheading was:

“Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think.”

It’s created an uproar online, as people argue about the veracity of the scientific facts presented in the article. People like meteorologist Eric Holthaus have identified 14 key points that aren’t correct (although I think some are open to interpretation), while climate scientist Michael Mann has identified 2 potential errors.
While the science has been questioned, many people are also questioning the tone. Should we report on climate change with such doom and gloom? Are we scaring people away from doing something about climate change?
What struck me were the responses to Eric Holthaus’s list of 14 problematic scientific facts. While some people said thanks for setting the record straight, others said that his points made them less upset about the article, less scared to death, or less discombobulated.
I’m not sure that’s a good thing.
For example, a new paper just came out on the sixth extinction. Unlike the sixth extinction article I featured in my June 21 Wednesday on the Web,  it doesn’t pull any punches in saying we’re in a major mass extinction event and we need to be concerned.
I think we *need* to feel discombobulated, to feel that things are badly out of whack, to actually do something about it. We need to be clear that the environment is in trouble, and everything isn’t all rainbows and unicorns (although there are good news stories out there – I recommend George Monbiot’s Feral for some of those).
My science CNF (creative nonfiction) group had an interesting discussion about the NYM article, in which we addressed the difference between CNF with science and straight science journalism. The NYM piece is definitely CNF with science, as the piece is filled with descriptive, florid language. We agreed that you have to get your facts right – particularly when writing CNF, because you’ll be scrutinized more closely – but that you can take whatever tone you like, which isn’t the case in science journalism. And as David Roberts writes for Vox,

“[not] every single instance of fear has to be accompanied by a serving of hope. Not every article has to be about everything.”

Exactly. As Faith Kearns wrote in a 2015 article, fighting climate change requires that we embrace the difficult, unpleasant stuff – the stuff that makes us uncomfortable – while working in relationship with other people. Sounds to me like the best prescription for what ails us.
Make time for your writing

A gift from one of my nephews a few years ago.

In my first Wednesday links post, I referred to an article at Brevity Mag about writing as practice, and how we sometimes just have to get it done.
This second article from Brevity Mag, by Allison Williams, is a good follow up to that original one. Williams calls writers out on our excuses that maybe we can finish a writing project when we have a solid block of time, or when we can find our notes, or when we get a great idea. She reminds us that that solid block of time will never come, and provides some tips on how to re-engage with writing projects that have stalled. I particularly like her advice to start touching it almost every day:

“take five minutes on the bus to actively think about the project. Or open up the file and read one page…so when you’re ready to write, it feels like picking up where you left off rather than a new endeavour.”

Surviving anxiety

Photo by wokandapix (CC0 public domain)

Written by the editor of The Atlantic, Scott Stossel, this is an honest, humorous, and sometimes painful read about the realities of living with anxiety. It’s long, but worth the read, because Stossel brings in so many different aspects of his illness, and refers to various historic figures who suffered from anxiety (for example, Søren Kierkegaard). He includes anecdotes of particularly cringe-worthy situations he’s found himself in, but he also explores the source of his anxiety, diving into the morass of determining whether mental illness is caused by biochemistry, upbringing, heredity, or environment. He also addresses the potential benefits of anxiety – something that many people writing about mental health issues often ignore. He’s extremely honest about how he copes (the beginning paragraph, where he talks about his Xanax and vodka routine before public speeches, is priceless), and about how difficult life can be with anxiety. It’s helpful to have such an outwardly successful person share their story – it certainly changes how you view their path to success.

“My anxiety can be intolerable. But it is also, maybe, a gift—or at least the other side of a coin I ought to think twice about before trading in. As often as anxiety has held me back—prevented me from traveling, or from seizing opportunities or taking certain risks—it has also unquestionably spurred me forward.”

On life’s transitions
Jennifer Polk is a career coach based in Toronto who works a lot with academics to help them transition into non-academic positions. She runs a Transition Q&A at University Affairs magazine, in which she interviews people with PhDs who have turned away from the tenure track.
This week I ran across an older post from 2014, interviewing a writer I follow regularly today: Kelly J. Baker. She earned a PhD in religion and graduated in 2008, at the peak of the recession. After spending six years on the academic job market and working as a lecturer (non-tenure track), she finally gave up on an academic career and is now a freelance writer. Her writing is candid, tough, and funny all at the same time – well worth reading.
What struck me about her transition Q&A was this sentence:

“Sometimes, we need to start our transition by reimagining ourselves unbounded by previous expectations.”

This sounds very familiar. Excuse me while I go and work on my personal essay about starting over and transitions…

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