Monday, December 29, 2014

Looking Back at 2014

Deception Pass First Day Hike - Lainey Piland photo

2014 is drawing to a close, and the dwindling days that remain are the perfect time to reflect back on the year. In terms of outdoor adventures, 2014 has been a great year for this Nature Nerd: starting with a "first day hike" at Deception Pass on January 1st and ending with a soggy-but-wonderful Black Friday hike to Coal Creek Falls. And let's not forget the spectacular Geminid meteor shower just a few weeks ago.

Here are some of the highlights from 2014: the five most-popular blog posts on A Day Without Rain this year:

1. See America: Reviving New Deal artwork to celebrate our national parks

2. Going Green: Toxins in Your Shampoo?  Clean Up Your Beauty Routine

3. Wanderings: The Snoqualmie Valley Regional Trail

4.  Going Green: A Day Without Waste on April 9th

5. Wanderings: Seeking Spring

Thank you to all who take the time to read my blog, and I hope to see you back in 2015 to share even more adventures, "going green" tips, and Nature Nerd musings! 

You can also follow me on Twitter: @LaineyPiland

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Wanderings: The Geminid Meteor Shower

Lainey Piland photo

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, 
the silent stars go by...

For as long as I can remember, those have been my favorite lines from a Christmas song.  The image they evoke, of a peaceful world sleeping beneath the watchful gaze of stars wheeling overhead, makes me feel as though I've been wrapped up in all the comforting warmth of the Christmas season.

Those lines were running through my mind over and over last night -- or rather, very early this morning -- as I sat outside on my deck with my head tilted back toward the heavens. Despite the temperature being somewhere in the upper 30's, I didn't feel cold.  This wasn't due to the thick fleece blanket I was burrowed into, or to the several pairs of socks on my feet.  I was too focused, too intent, too hopeful to feel cold.  Tonight was the peak of the Geminid meteor shower, and I was bound and determined to catch a glimpse of the show. My breath formed small puffs of vapor as my eyes searched the heavens above, whispering through dry lips "Please let me see just one. Just one."

You see, for most of the year, I've been a frustrated stargazer.  This is a notoriously difficult hobby to maintain in western Washington, where cloudy skies are the norm.  But this year, it just seemed like I couldn't catch a break.  How many supermoons was I blind to this year? Did I get to test out my homemade viewing device during the partial solar eclipse?  Speaking of eclipses, didn't we have a few of those this year, of the lunar variety?  What about those northern lights we were promised?  What about the Perseid, Leonid, and Orionid meteor showers this summer and fall? Clouds, clouds, clouds.

So imagine my delight last night upon finding clear skies as I peeked through the curtains around midnight.  This could be my chance.  I hurried through my tiny condo, switching off lamps, dousing the Christmas lights, and throwing on enough layers of clothing and blankets to keep me warm.  In short order, I was flat on my back on the lounge chair outside, with a sky full of stars blinking overhead.

Unfortunately, I was unable to escape from those much-disdained "city lights," so my prospects for being able to see much of a show were rather dismal.  After allowing a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the relative darkness, I began to pick out familiar stars from the sky.  Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, and Rigel in Orion.  The showy Sirius in Canis Major was twinkling violently like a prism twirling in sunlight. I located the Pleiades star cluster, for which I've always had a special affinity. At last the stars Castor and Pollux resolved from the dim starry sky.  Those two stars lay in the constellation Gemini - the radiant for tonight's meteor shower.

Meteor showers are named for the constellations where meteors appear in the night sky.  The meteors radiate outward in all directions from this 'radiant'.  Radiant.  There's a deliciously magical-sounding word for you.  The radiant for the Geminid meteor shower is located in the constellation Gemini, the radiant for the Orionids is in Orion, for the Leonids in Leo... etc.

So I lay there in the cold, staring up at Gemini and anxiously waiting.  Sirens wailed down the street.  The acrid smell of asphalt wafted from overnight work on the nearby freeway. Thankfully, the wind soon shifted and carried with it a sweeter fragrance. The lonely stars blinked. As the moments passed, I began to worry that I wasn't in a dark enough location to see the meteor showers - that I was blind to a spectacular show occurring right in front of my very eyes.

Suddenly, a thin glowing thread of light appeared in my peripheral vision, then disappeared. Wait, was that it?  Was that a meteor? The excitedly whispered words coalescing in clouds around me were now "I saw one.  I SAW ONE!"

This was the first of thirty-one meteors I spotted during the hour spent sitting outdoors in the freezing cold.  Meteors appeared everywhere in the sky, shooting off in all directions.  They animated Orion's bow; they landed in the Pleiades; the brightest of them humbled even the piercing glitter of Sirius.  Most of the meteors were faint, and glimpsed only briefly as thin white trails on the edges of my vision.  I was lucky enough however, to see a few particularly spectacular meteors that blazed bright orange across a few degrees of sky. 

Hands-down the most exciting moment was when two flaming meteors seemed to fall straight down from the sky.  They appeared exactly where my gaze had been resting in the vacant sky, allowing me to follow their side by side progress as they plummeted downward.  Now these were METEORS: blazing orange fireballs, trailing behind them a plume of glowing light and a tail of smoke.  They appeared to be making a beeline for the tops of Doug fir trees a hundred yards in the distance, which caused me to gasp inadvertently even though I knew better: those meteors were still miles away, miles above.  As they burned out, I sat looking at the dark sky with my mouth agape for the briefest moment, before shoving my blanket in my mouth to stifle a delighted shriek that would no doubt have alarmed my neighbors. After this, I'm fairly certain that the duration of my time outdoors was spend with a huge idiot grin on my face.

Eventually, the time between meteor sightings lengthened, and I was forced to crane my neck from one corner of the sky to the other to search them out.  Frowning, I also noticed that the sky seemed to be getting lighter.  Peering over the deck railing toward the ground two stories below, I quickly saw the reason why.  Thick fog was rolling in, creeping upward into the sky and carrying with it the diffused glow of streetlights from below.  After a few more minutes sans meteor sighting, I reluctantly concluded that this magical experience had come to an end.  Plus, I was beginning to lose feeling in my toes.  I tipped my head upward toward the sky, drinking in the midnight blue vista smattered with twinkling stars.  "One more," I whispered, "please, one more..."

And wouldn't you know it, right there in the sky just above Orion's head, a fat orange meteor streaked across my vision and flared out. Number thirty-one. I smiled. Okay, maybe I can forgive the cloudy Washington skies since -- in a benevolent Christmas gesture? -- they've parted tonight and allowed me a glimpse of the stunning show overhead.  Wrapping my dew-damp blanket around my shoulders, I eased back into the house feeling completely full, content, and peaceful; leaving those silent stars to continue their work unseen.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Wanderings: Coal Creek Falls

Rainy day hike to Coal Creek Falls

9.1 billion.  The number of dollars spent by Black Friday shoppers this year.  Also-- I'm pretty sure-- the number of raindrops that splattered against my jacket, ran down my face, and soaked into my jeans on a Black Friday hike with my sister and her pup, Ruby.  Rather than elbowing our way through crowds of people clamoring for the best deals on big-screen TVs and socks, we instead took on a soaking rain, light breeze, and temps in the low forties during a hike to Coal Creek Falls. 

Call us crazy (I prefer 'adventurous'), but we certainly weren't the only people hitting the trails instead of the shopping malls, despite the deplorable weather.  When we arrived at the Lakemont Blvd. entrance to the Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park, there were already a handful of other vehicles in the parking area. We bundled up in our jackets, pulled our hoods tight over our heads, and ducked out into the deluge.  Miss Ruby the pitbull was outfitted with her own hiking backpack, which she wasn't too sure about... looking at us with wary, uncertain eyes, she was clearly questioning WHAT in the world we were doing outdoors in the cold rain.

After stopping at the trailhead kiosk to plan our route, I stuffed an already-soaked map into my pocket and off we went.  According to the Washington Trails Association website, Coal Creek Falls is a short 2.5 mile hike, which includes 400 feet of elevation gain.  The elevation gain begins right away, as we quickly discovered.  Huffing and puffing and trying to encourage a reluctant Ruby, we slogged uphill beneath the reaching limbs of bare bigleaf maple and alder branches.  The natural leafy umbrella they would have provided in any other season now lay in a sodden carpet along the trail. Not only did we have the relentless, soaking rain to contend with, we also had the frequent startling splat of absurdly large water droplets dripping from bare branches onto our hoods and shoulders.

Lesson #1: when hiking on a rainy day in winter, make sure it's in a coniferous forest.

The brave hikers setting out. 

About halfway up the incline, we spotted a sign to the side of the trail which reminded us of the history of this place. Cougar Mountain was mined from 1863 to 1963, and the lasting effects of extracting 11 million tons of coal can still be seen in the park today.  This particular sign marked a dangerous "cave hole," where too-shallow mining caused the surface to cave in to the tunnel below, leaving behind large depressions in the earth that are still noticeable today.

Pay attention to those signs!

Obediently staying on the trail and far away from the cave hole (Did you see that sign?? Don't have to tell us twice!) we continued uphill until we reached a junction in the trail. From this point, the Coal Creek Falls trail branches off to the right along the face of the hill, giving our burning lungs and legs respite from the uphill climb.  This section of the trail is much narrower and, thanks to the rain, was slightly muddy.  We wound through a forest of conifers: cedar, hemlock, and Doug fir. The hillside sloped steeply upward to the left of the trail, and steeply downward to the right.  Eventually, the rushing, rumbling sound of fast-moving water rose from the depths to our right.  We must be getting close to the falls.

It sure was green! Sorry for the blurriness... rain on the lens, you know...

Muddy Coal Creek churning down below. 

A few more twists and turns in the trail, a few notched cedar stumps and many raindrops later... the crashing water of the falls came into view on the trail ahead. At only 28 feet high, this isn't a large waterfall by any means, but it was impressive nonetheless. Swollen with rainwater, Coal Creek roared mightily down its small but lovely falls.  This was definitely worth the uphill hike in the rain!  

Lesson #2: to ensure the most impressive waterfall experience, schedule these hikes for extremely, ridiculously, soaking-wet rainy days.

We made it!
Coal Creek Falls

After a few minutes of standing on the bridge over the swollen creek (Ruby, don't fall in!), snapping a few photos with our rain-splattered cameras and admiring the falls, we decided that we were thoroughly soaked and ready to head back.  Although there are other trails that loop back to the parking area, we decided to go back the way we came.  We knew the route, knew what to expect, and figured it would be the quickest way back. As soon as we turned around, Ruby was the one pulling us forward! Smart girl. She knew we were headed back the way we came, which meant a nice warm car and a dry place out of this unrelenting downpour!

At this point, I was frozen and completely drenched to the skin.  I wish I could have looked around, taken a few more photos, and admired the scenery a bit more, but the only thing at the forefront of my mind was to get down this hill. My wilderness survival skills might be at a novice level (okay, I'm limited to what I've seen on Man vs. Wild) but I knew that soaking clothes and cold temperatures were not a good combination! I showed my sister that, by making a tight fist, I could produce streams of water from my sodden gloves. She announced that her hiking pants were no longer waterproof.  Ruby hustled us along.  

Lesson #3: when going for a hike in the rain, make sure that your waterproof gloves, pants, jacket, etc. are actually waterproof.

We made it back to the car, peeling off as many dripping layers of clothing as we could and throwing the garments into the trunk.  Ruby, once freed of her backpack, leap into the backseat and proceeded to dry herself off by rolling back and forth on the cloth seat.  It's a dog car, my sister said with a laugh.

Looking through the trees... there's a view out there somewhere! Yes I know... finger on the lens... hard to tell when you're wearing soggy gloves!

Coal Creek Falls was a great hike.  I'm looking forward to going back to the Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park on drier days to explore more of the trails and enjoy the scenery. Many of the trails are said to boast stunning views, which we got a small glimpse of on the descent as some of the mist cleared out a bit.

Spending time in nature, getting some exercise surrounded by beautiful scenery, and hanging out with your older sis who you don't get to see nearly enough... now that's better than any Black Friday "doorbuster" deal!

Happy Ruby

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Musings: Thankful for Wildness

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's finally here: the glorious, delicious holiday where we spend time with friends and family, feast on tasty food, and reflect on the things we're grateful for.  If only we could do this more often!

Throughout the month of November, many people take to social media to express the things they're thankful for. While scrolling through my Twitter feed, I came across a question posed by the Wilderness Society, one of my favorite organizations to follow.

"What wilderness areas are you most thankful for?"

I had to think about that one for a minute. I've hiked in national forests, state parks, and a good majority of the national parks in the western U.S. (thanks Dad!). But have I ever been in what one might call 'untouched wilderness'... areas "untrammeled by man... where man is a visitor who does not remain..." as defined by the Wilderness Act? Certainly, I'm grateful for all of the protected wilderness areas in our country, but I am not well-acquainted enough with these places to be able to pick one and declare that this is the one in particular which I am thankful for.

How about the places I am familiar with? My favorite place to spend time in nature or go for a short hike is Saint Edward State Park.  However, with a history of human presence, including a formidable brick seminary building and a forest which at one time had been completely mowed down, this park hardly qualifies as wilderness.

Old cedar stump at St. Edward, showing a notch left where a springboard was inserted for loggers to stand upon.

Moss Lake Natural Area, which I visited for the first time this year, is comprised of several hundred acres of forested land set aside for preservation in the midst of encroaching suburbia. But this area had also been completely clear-cut at one time. Not untrammeled. Not wilderness.

Hemlock growing out of a massive stump: the remnants of an ancient cedar that had been cut down years ago.

My favorite and familiar places are not wilderness, that is for sure.  As I mused on this fact, the realization slowly dawned on me that despite not fitting into the category of wilderness, these places are a perfect expression of wildness - the indomitable spirit of nature to overcome even our best and most destructive attempts to alter it.

Saint Edward State Park and Moss Lake Natural Area were once logged, left clear-cut and barren nearly a century ago. Visiting either of these places today, you'd never know it.  The forest has returned, along with its wildlife and ecosystem functions.  Wildness.

Moss Lake Natural Area today.

Saint Edward State Park today.

So, to answer the question: I am thankful for the places that have reclaimed their wildness from the destructive hand of humans - those places which defy attempts to civilize them.  Those places which offer astounding examples of resilience and adaptability.  Those places which, in their reclaimed wildness, remind and humble those of our species who see themselves in control of nature - above it, separate from it. 

I'm thankful for the second-growth forests, for hemlocks that take root in old cedar stumps, for the re-vegetated streambanks, for the rivers that run wild. I'm thankful for the notched stumps, the native species, the tiny little Doug fir sprouting in the cracked sidewalk outside my front door.  Thankful for the reminders that although we may destroy nature, its wildness imbues it with resilience so that - where once an ecosystem was laid waste and left barren - a beautiful new forest now flourishes.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Musings: Living Up to the Lives of Trees

Lainey Piland photo

A pile of sodden paper lay on the kitchen counter in front of me, unceremoniously dumped there after my quick dash out to the mailbox in the midst of a drenching autumn rain shower. After peeling off my dripping jacket and drying my hands, I turned my attention to the overwhelming pile of mail and tried to determine which item to deal with first.  My prodding fingers caused an envelope from Orion magazine, my absolute favorite publication, to surface to the top of the pile. We have a winner.

The letter was a request for donations, as the magazine is ad-free and relies entirely on donated funds to continue in print. I usually toss such things aside, but, as with everything else Orion produces, this letter was so compellingly written that I stood there damp and shivering at my kitchen counter and read the entire captivating thing - front and back. The last sentence of the first paragraph was the most utterly profound thing I've ever read in a letter asking for my monetary contribution: "...this particular magazine endeavors to live up to the lives of the trees it is printed on". 


Continuing toward the end of the letter: "... every cell of heartwood or sapwood that becomes part of Orion carries a word or image that we believe is worth it."

What an incredible ethic to incorporate into one's daily life, business, and thoughts.  Certainly not surprising coming from a nature-focused publication, but after reading this, I couldn't help but think how our world would be changed so much for the better if every individual adopted this mindset.

If we all internalized an utter respect and gratitude for our environment and natural resources, I think we would be much more careful with how we utilize them. The next time you grab a paper towel to clean up a mess; the next time you use a disposable coffee cup; the next time you read a book or magazine - stop and remember what these items are made of. Don't see these things as they are; instead, see them as they were. Think of that tree in its natural and unadulterated state. Are these products just as useful and necessary as the original tree from which they were made? How much more fulfilling, beautiful, inspiring - and less wasteful - the world would be if we were careful to only utilize consumer products with as high a purpose as their original forms.

Trees are pretty important. They sequester carbon. They provide shade. They turn carbon dioxide into breathable oxygen. They provide wildlife habitat. They absorb rainwater. They provide an unending source of awe and comfort. When they die, their nutrients feed a new generation or trees. Trees are important. And for a print publication to recognize this fact and endeavor to have the content printed on its pages live up to the importance of all those things listed above... simply beautiful. You know there will be no waste of trees or words there.

Now back to the rest of that mail pile. Credit card offers. Grocery store advertisements. Political fliers (if I find one more of these ridiculous things stuffed into my mailbox or the cracks of my front door, I give up. I'm not voting for anyone!). None of these things breathe life. None of them provide shade for a weary soul. None harbor awe or wonder. Future generations will not be inspired and nourished by them. When it comes to living up to the lives of the trees on which these mailings are printed, none of them even come close. However, I will grant that each did a smashing job of absorbing rainwater during my soggy dash back into the house.

With my new-found perspective, I glumly dropped these failures into the recycle bin, mourning the wasted lives of the trees which supplied their paper. Best of luck in your next incarnation, dear trees. Perhaps you'll be lucky enough to be recycled into the pages of a publication that appreciates you.

Lainey Piland photo

Friday, October 10, 2014

Going Green: Toxins in Your Shampoo? Clean Up Your Beauty Routine

These days, many people are increasingly concerned with living a healthy lifestyle.  We exercise daily. We purchase organic foods and free-range, grass-fed meat. We grow our own fruits and vegetables. We try to get eight hours of sleep every night. We drink wine... for the antioxidants, of course. But how many of us take a moment to evaluate our personal care products for harmful chemicals?

Hiking: healthy exercise, healthy air! Bonus points if you have a cute rescue pup along. Lainey Piland photo

You can get a good night's sleep, do yoga daily and eat your homegrown organic kale for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but your health could still be at risk from carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting chemicals lurking in your shampoo, deodorant, lotion, soap, or makeup. Any personal care product is suspect.

The Issue

Wait a minute, there are dangerous chemicals in my shampoo?  Doesn't the government regulate that sort of thing?  Unfortunately not. According to information from the Environmental Working Group, the Food and Drug Administration does not require products to be tested for safety and does not review or approve ingredients before products are sent to store shelves. This means that your shampoo company can use any ingredients they well please, without having to prove they are safe to use.

The U.S. cosmetic industry's self-policing Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel has deemed a total of 11 chemicals too dangerous to use in personal care products. The European Union, however, has banned the use of over 1,400 chemicals in personal care products due to health and environmental concerns.  Many of those banned ingredients are regularly used here in the U.S.

Why are certain ingredients so dangerous? Many of them are carcinogenic, meaning they cause cancer. Other ingredients are endocrine disruptors, which means that they interfere with the normal function of our hormones - reproductive hormones in particular. The use of such chemicals in personal care products is especially concerning because, well, we use these products on our skin.  All over our bodies.  And our skin readily absorbs them (some products actually contain compounds to increase skin absorption of the product). Many of these chemicals accumulate in our internal organs and fatty tissues, where they can potentially reach high enough levels to cause cancer, affect reproduction, or cause other health issues.

Those same chemicals can also be ecotoxic, or toxic to the environment and wildlife. Chemicals in our personal care products typically enter the environment when we wash them down the drain during showers, when we wash our hands, flush the toilet, etc. This water then travels through the sewer system to a wastewater treatment plant.  While excellent at removing the icky yucky stuff and disinfecting the wastewater, these plants are unfortunately unable to remove chemicals from personal care products before discharging the wastewater into the environment via rivers, the ocean, or bodies of water such as Puget Sound.

If you're feeling skeptical and thinking it seems impossible that cosmetic companies would use harmful, cancer-causing chemicals in products that we apply to our bodies... I agree completely! However, this is the unfortunate and unfathomable reality. Read on and find out for yourself...

What Can I Do?

Clearly, our personal care products can pose serious threats to our health and the environment.  But how do we know if the shampoo in our shower or lip balm in our purse is harmful? One quick and easy rule of thumb is to look at the ingredient label.  If it contains a long list of ingredients that you cannot pronounce and/or have not a clue what they are - then you probably don't want to put that product on your body.

One of the best methods for determining product safety--and the one which I rely on--is to gather all of your products and look them up on the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. This well-researched and easy to use database will give your products a score of 0-10 based on the toxicity of their ingredients. The higher the score, the more toxic the product. Once you locate your product, you can see toxicity scores for individual ingredients and a list of associated health and environmental concerns. They even offer an app for your smartphone: with a quick scan of the barcode, you can find your product on the database. Fair warning: this can be a scary endeavor!

If, after looking up your products, you decide that you need to find less-toxic options, the Skin Deep database can help with that as well. Simply select the product type you're looking for from the menu, and the database will pull up all of the options, categorized from the lowest toxicity score to the highest. The mobile phone app is helpful for finding safe products while in the store.  Scan the barcode, find the toxicity score, and determine whether you want to purchase the product or fling it back onto the shelf and run away! Don't be fooled by products with the word "natural" on the label - this term is essentially meaningless, and many purportedly "natural" products still contain harmful ingredients.  Read the label, and look it up!

My Own Experience


I found out about the Skin Deep database several years ago, and have had a nagging feeling since then that I needed to switch to safer personal care products.  It wasn't until about 6 months ago that I finally took the time to research new products, and surprisingly (or perhaps not), finding safe products that were reasonably priced, actually worked, and which had a score of 2 or lower on the Skin Deep database ended up being a rather exhausting endeavor.

If you're interested and need some recommendations... here are the products I currently use, which emerged victorious from my hours of research:

Shampoo and conditioner - I purchase these items from Face Naturals (toxicity score 0-1).  These products smell divine, are made from organic ingredients that you can actually pronounce, aren't tested on animals, and are reasonably priced, for the most part (they last a long time!).  Just a warning to anyone making the switch from conventional to natural shampoo and conditioner: you will probably hate it at first. Your hair might feel flat, greasy, and just not good, but stick with it.  You'll go through a transition period of 1-2  weeks, and then you will love your hair! It will be light, clean, and shiny, with no residue buildup that typically happens with conventional shampoo. To really clean my hair, I add a sprinkle of baking soda to my shampoo every other day.

Lotion - I use plain ol' organic coconut oil (toxicity score 0). Trader Joe's sells it for about $6 per jar - the best price I've found so far.  Rub it into your skin and use a clean towel to dab away the excess, if needed.

Soap/Body Wash - I use Dr. Bronner's castile liquid soaps (toxicity score 0-3). The lavender scent is heavenly and relaxing, and the peppermint is refreshing! Plus, the crazy bottles give you something to read in the shower.

Deodorant - I make my own using Deodorant Recipe #3 on this page. (all ingredients have a score of 0).

Makeup - I purchase all of my makeup (except mascara) from Rejuva Minerals (toxicity score 0-1). For me, this consists of powder foundation, blush, and eyebrow powder. These products are free of toxic ingredients, packaged in biodegradable paper containers, and are not tested on animals. Plus, my blush is made with crushed rose petals. ROSE PETALS! I feel like a princess every time I use it. Their products might look pricey, but I promise they last a long time and are well worth it. I use Physician's Formula Organic Wear mascara (toxicity score 1) which works well and can be purchased at most drugstores for a price comparable to "regular" mascara.

There are many other products available which are safe and effective - the ones listed above are just the products that I personally decided to go with.

There you have it: my total collection of beauty products

Whew! This was a long post.  If you made it this far... thank you.  This is an important health and safety concern which the majority of the population probably isn't aware of. Please tell family and friends, feel free to share this blog post, and be sure to leave any of your own personal tips, experiences, or questions in the comments below.

You can also take action and join the effort to pressure cosmetic companies to remove toxic ingredients from their products.  The Story of Stuff is petitioning Proctor & Gamble to do just that: read more and sign the petition here.

Note from the Nature Nerd:  I realize this post is slightly different from the content I usually share on this blog, but the issue of toxic personal products is critically important to both human health and the environment. After reading the Story of Stuff petition linked above, I decided to write this blog post immediately. The petition calls out Proctor & Gamble for "pinkwashing" their products in honor of October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  To "support" breast cancer awareness and encourage consumers to purchase their products, the company slaps a pink ribbon on the label... the very same label which lists cancer-causing chemicals in the ingredient list.  This is a slap in the face to anyone whose life has been touched by cancer, and is completely inexcusable. These companies need to be held accountable for the dangers their products pose to consumers.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Place Where I Live

Snoqualmie Valley near Carnation Farm - Lainey Piland photo

Comfort. Proximity. Inspiration. Peace. Memories. Familiarity. Family and friends. A particular place can earn the title of "home" for so many reasons. This one tiny dot on Earth's surface happens to hold just the right qualities that capture our hearts and cause us to decide, yes. This is the place.

I recently wrote a short piece to share on the "Place Where You Live" page of Orion Magazine's website. However, the more I think about it, the piece I wrote would more accurately be called "The Place Where I Lived/ The Place Where I Will Hopefully Live Again Soon".

I wrote about the Snoqualmie Valley, the place I lived most of my life, and the place where I still do a good deal of my living, although it is currently not the place I lay my head to sleep every night.

Click here to read my piece about "The Place Where You Live" on the Orion Magazine website.

View of Mount Rainier from Carnation - Lainey Piland photo

Although I'd rather be living somewhere in the Sno Valley area, I'm trying to find some good, homey things in the place where I currently reside - a small condo in a Seattle suburb, just a stone's throw from a major freeway. It's a work in progress...

There are small stands of familiar trees on the property - western red cedar and Doug fir - which are surprisingly large and hearty for their location. There are two female Anna's hummingbirds that - for most of the day, every day lately - squabble, scold, and chase one another around and through the branches of a large Althea tree outside my window.  There are sweet fawn-colored rabbits that show up in the evening hours to nibble the sparse green patch of lawn along the sidewalk, leaving little rabbit poops for everyone to step in on their way to work in the mornings. There is a surprisingly great view of Mount Rainier visible in the wintertime through the bare branches of deciduous trees outside the front windows. There certainly are things to enjoy here, even though this place will probably never quite feel like "home".

What are the endearing, unique, homey features of the place you live? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below!

Friday, September 12, 2014

In the News: Climate Change, Despair... and Hope

Lainey Piland photo
Climate change is always a hot topic in the environmental/green/nature nerd community, but lately, the most pressing issue of our time has been capturing headlines right and left. Although often cast as an environmental issue, climate change has far-reaching impacts which in fact make this a humanitarian, economic, social justice, and environmental -- not issue -- but CRISIS.

Why a crisis?  We know all too well that pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (via fossil fuel burning and deforestation, mainly) traps heat in earth's atmosphere, which causes warming. Our global temperatures are warming, our oceans are warming, the Arctic is thawing (and releasing copious amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas twenty times more potent than carbon dioxide), our oceans are acidifying, and the Arctic sea ice and Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are melting. We know all these things.  However, there is an emerging realization that all of these things are happening faster and sooner than we anticipated. And this is where things get really scary.

The Low Carbon Economy Index report released recently by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers paints perhaps the most alarming picture I've seen. During the 2009 UN Climate Summit, nations agreed to limit global warming to 3.6 degrees F above pre-industrial levels, which should allow us to avoid some of the worst effects of climate change.  According to the report, in order to stay below the 3.6 degree limit by the year 2100, we can only emit 270 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels in that same time frame.

Unfortunately, at the rate we're going, we will hit that limit in 2034-- sixty-six years ahead of schedule, and only twenty years from now.  This is well within the lifetime of most people alive on planet Earth right now. Climate change is not a consequence to be suffered by those unfortunate and oft-mentioned "future generations". Most of us alive today could witness and experience the devastation of our planet, drowning of coastal areas, suffering of millions (billions?) of people, the collapse of the ocean ecosystems and countless species extinctions. This report from PricewaterhouseCoopers underscores the need for immediate action to transition to clean energy sources such as wind and solar and eliminate fossil fuels along with their heat-trapping emissions as soon as possible.

If charts and statistics aren't your thing, then take a look at the weather report released this week by The Weather Channel, dated September 23rd, 2050.  Nope, that's not a typo... this fictional, yet all-too-possible, scenario depicts what our evening weather reports could look like by mid-century as a result of climate change (although the PricewaterhouseCoopers report above might suggest that the timeline should be moved up a bit):

Droughts that last a generation? Record heat waves? Alaska becoming the ideal venue for the Summer Olympics? Do we really want to see this fictional future come to fruition?

No, we don't. From what I've seen in the media and in the climate change movement lately, there is a sense of building hope and momentum.  It feels as though we're nearly at the crest of the hill, at critical mass, at the tipping point where our global society has finally awakened to the enormity of the problem and is ready to say "no more". It is not being dramatic or alarmist to say that our very survival is at stake.

For instance, colleges and universities, businesses, individuals, cities, and churches have begun pulling their money from the fossil fuel industry, recognizing that investing in fossil fuels is investing in a bleak and difficult future. The Fossil Free campaign has been instrumental in achieving fossil fuel divestment around the globe, with each new day seeming to bring divestment announcements from this university or that church.

In addition to the successful divestment campaign, other stories have further indicated that the fossil fuel industry is becoming socially, morally, and economically unacceptable to the general public. This is the shift in perception that is needed to push our world toward renewable energy. One particular example in the news this week is the story of the district attorney in Bristol County, Massachusetts who dropped all charges against two climate activists charged with intentionally blockading a coal freighter ship.  The charges were dismissed on the conclusion that, due to the grave danger of climate change, the activist's actions were justified.  The attorney also commented to the listening crowd that he will be in New York City on September 21st.  What is that all about...?

Well, it's just a little thing called the People's Climate March, which is expected to be the largest climate demonstration ever. It might even end up being the largest demonstration ever. Period.  Scheduled to coincide with the UN Climate Summit in NYC on September 21st, this march intends to send a message to world leaders that the people overwhelmingly demand action on climate change now. We cannot wait a moment longer.

The NYC march will be by far the largest event in the People's Climate Movement, but there are an additional 1500 satellite events occurring around the globe in solidarity that same weekend. If you're in the Seattle area like I am, you should know that the local chapter of will be holding a march on September 21st as well. Click here for details.

There is much to be hopeful about, and the stakes have never been higher.

September 21st. I will see you there.

Related posts:

In the News: National Climate Assessment 2014

Earth Day Musings: Now is the Time to Act on Climate Change

400: A Sobering Milestone

Friday, September 5, 2014

Wanderings: Moss Lake Natural Area

It's a warm and languid late-summer afternoon. The humid air smells damp with mud and and fresh with the exhalations of innumerable trees. Dry, newly-fallen leaves crunch on the gravel path underfoot. No sound disturbs the stillness, save for the whisper of a breeze in the rustling alder and cottonwood leaves above.  Not a bad day to explore the Moss Lake Natural Area near Carnation, Washington.

The Moss Lake Natural Area is a 372-acre complex of wetlands and forest, and is managed by King County.  Despite its generous size, I had never heard of this Natural Area until my husband stumbled across it while searching for hikes online.  He suggested that we check it out, and of course I agreed.

Moss Lake

We set out from the parking lot and headed toward the only trailhead we could find.  It wasn't marked, but we assumed this was the way to go.  A short distance along, a small sign marked the offshoot trail to Moss Lake.  This was a very short trail.  After about 50 feet of squeezing through the narrow and overgrown trail, we emerged on the shoreline and saw this:

Moss Lake was beautiful! And so serene.  I stood watching the light breeze riffle the water's surface and send the tall grass gently swaying, and kept exclaiming in a whisper "I can't believe how QUIET it is here!"  In many natural areas, parks, and preserves, the peaceful scenery is at odds with the noise of distant traffic, airplanes overhead, or nearby homes, but such is not the case here. Complete and utter solitude.

I would have liked to explore the lake more, but the accessible shoreline was very limited, and if you stepped too close to the water, you'd find yourself sunk to your ankles in rich black mud the consistency of congealed oatmeal.  After appreciating the lake scenery for awhile, we headed back to the main trail and continued along.

The Hemlocks

For a few hundred yards, things felt very claustrophobic.  The graveled trail was wide enough, but lined on either side by solid walls of salmonberry which block your sightlines and only allow you to see the trail stretching out before and behind you.  I half expected to be ambushed at any moment by a bear lumbering out of the salmonberry hedge. Just when I was beginning to feel underwhelmed and wondered if the entire trail was this monotonous and confining, the salmonberries gave way and opened up into a truly magnificent second-growth hemlock forest.

It's gorgeous, is it not?  I remarked to my husband that these had to be the healthiest looking hemlocks I'd ever seen.  I've always had the impression that hemlocks are a bit sad and weepy; faded and droopy. The Eeyore of trees.  These however were tall and robust, with healthy green needles and a thick coating of moss on the branches which, dare I say, might rival even the famous epiphytes of Olympic National Park.

Sadly, the foray through the hemlock forest was a brief one, and as we continued, the trail returned to its previous adornment of salmonberry, cottonwood, and alder with a conifer thrown in here and there for good measure.  After a few minutes' walk, we noticed a narrow trail off to the right departing from the main trail, half-hidden under the low-hanging boughs of a hemlock and crowded on both sides by sword ferns. The hemlock had a bright orange arrow affixed to its thick bark. My husband and I looked at each other.  Was this a trail? I shrugged.  Let's check it out.

The Fairy Forest

This was a delightful path winding through a young hemlock forest. These hemlocks didn't look very healthy - in fact, they might have been dead; their bare branches boasting dripping moss instead of needles. The ground was carpeted with a thick layer of moss and dozens of varieties of delicate groundcover plants. Wilted trilliums were plentiful, their enormous leaves still bright green although their flowers were long gone. Surrounded by ethereally-illuminated greenery and with no lack of sunlit glens, it almost felt as though we had stepped into a fairy forest.  Then I saw a small house hanging from a tree limb and decided that was in fact exactly where we were.

Continually wiping spiderwebs from our bare arms, we followed the path as it gently ascended a small hill, emerging unexpectedly into a blackberry thicket.  Here, the delicate blue-green vines of native blackberry were tangled together with the thick and brutal vines of the invasive Himalayan blackberry.  Many people don't realize that the Himalayan blackberry - that ubiquitous plant most of us think of when we hear 'blackberry' - is actually a non-native species.  Our native trailing blackberry is a thin ankle-snagging vine that grows low along the ground and bears white, star-like flowers that eventually develop into tasty berries.

The large vine of a Himalayan blackberry lying atop a bed of native trailing blackberry vines.

Also, surprisingly, we found several lilac plants blooming in the blackberry thicket. I'm not sure how they got there, as I don't believe they grow wild here... but the flowers smelled nice!

After a few minutes of berry picking (and eating!) we decided to turn around and headed back down the trail through the fairy woods, fingers stained red with blackberry juice.  We rejoined the main trail and continued on our way.  After a few more minutes of walking, we ventured through a cottonwood forest and ascended small hill, where the trail forked.  One trail was marked with the word 'Loop' and a pair of googly eyes stuck to an alder trunk.  The other trail wasn't marked.  Without a trail map and with no idea of where we were going, we decided to call it a day and headed back toward the parking area, with another brief stop by the lake on our way out.

Historical Disturbances

Sometimes, I think I've missed my calling.  Okay, I always think I've missed my calling, but I sometimes think I should have been an environmental historian.  I'm not sure if that's even 'a thing,' but it really should be.  During the course of any given hike, my eyes eagerly scan the scenery around me, looking for evidence of historical disturbances.  Like the rest of the Snoqualmie Valley region, the forest near Moss Lake was logged earlier in the 20th century, and what stands there now is a robust second-growth forest that speaks to the astounding capability of nature to restore itself from utter devastation. On this particular day, I found two remarkable pieces of evidence left behind a century ago during clearcutting - ghosts of the venerable old-growth forest that once dominated the landscape. 

Along the fairy trail (I have no idea what it is actually called, so I'll just go with that), we spotted an eight-foot tall cedar stump, charred from a lightning strike or long-ago forest fire, and which still bore a characteristic rectangular notch in its flesh.  This notch is where the loggers inserted a springboard, upon which they would stand as they sawed the mighty tree down, and was clear evidence that this landscape had been disturbed by humans.

Toward the end of our wanderings along the main trail, I happened to notice a large mound off to the left, out of which grew a sizeable hemlock tree.  Interested, I took a closer look. Upon recognizing the familiar bright red color, the spongy softness of decaying wood, and the vertical ridges along the sides of the mound, I felt my mouth fall open.  That dinner-table sized mound was an old stump.  A cedar stump.  Holy moly, this had once been a huge tree! 

 Now, I'm about average height - 5'6" or so - and had it not been for the hemlock growing from its center, I could have sprawled out spread-eagle on the flat surface of the stump, and my hands and feet probably wouldn't have reached the edges. Absolutely massive.  I stood back and squinted into the sky, trying to picture the towering old-growth cedar tree that once held court here. At the same time, I scowled at the loggers who had wiped the landscape clean of such awesome trees, leaving future generations (hello!) bereft of the experience of seeing them. The tree had probably been carted off to the mill and turned into lumber.  Where was the tree now? Was it a house, bridge, or barn? Did it still tower over the landscape in another form, somewhere far from here? All I know is that it once stood here and cast a magnificent shadow over the place where I now stood, in the Moss Lake Natural Area.


All in all, we probably hiked (walked) about two miles. If you're looking for a place to really go hiking - a place where you can work up a sweat for several miles and be rewarded with a stunning destination at the end - then I wouldn't recommend Moss Lake.  However, if you live in the area and are looking for a place to spend time in the outdoors, get some fresh air, enjoy a nature walk, or poke around in the forest, then this place might fit the bill.

The real downsides to the Moss Lake Natural Area are that the trails are few and poorly marked, and according to this trail map (which was nowhere to be found at the actual Natural Area) the two loop trails leave the property, with one of them "looping" back to the entrance road far from the trailhead in the parking lot.  

As you can see from my experience, there are plenty of things to see at Moss Lake - just not much hiking to do. And really, regardless of the place you go, there will always be plenty of things to see in nature.  You just have to look for them.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Environmental Issues: Wildfires in Washington State

The overcast gray skies outside my windows this morning are a familiar sight in Western Washington, but they have been scarce so far this summer as blazing sunshine and record heat have predominated.  Neither the residents nor the landscape of our Evergreen State are accustomed to long stretches of hot, dry weather.  And for evidence of the latter, one needs look no further than the eastern half of our state, which is currently on fire:

Large Fire Map - Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. CLICK HERE for interactive version.

According to the spokeswoman for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center quoted in this Reuters article, we are on track to break a record this year for the number of acres burned by wildfire.  Already, hundreds of thousands of acres have burned so far, with 250,000 of those acres belonging to the Carlton Complex fire, now standing as the largest fire in state history.  Hundreds of homes have been burned.  Tens of thousands of people have been affected. And the official wildfire season won't end until October.  We still have a long way to go.

Why so many fires this year? Conditions in our region have been abnormally hot -- and dry, as you can see in the drought map above.  Combine that with several unfortunately-timed lighting storms and the conditions are ripe for wildfires to explode.

Have we just been unlucky this year with the combination of heat, drought and more numerous lighting storms than usual, or is this a portent of what we can expect to see regularly in the years to come?  Unfortunately, this may just be the beginning.

The 2014 National Climate Assessment (NCA) cites increasing wildfire as one of the top threats to northwest forests. Climate change will cause our region to experience hotter, drier summers similar to (and in the future, even worse than) what we're experiencing this year.  As a result, the amount of land burned by wildfires is expected to increase up to 500% in the Cascades. Details in the NCA here.

The wildfires we've seen so far this summer in Washington State have been devastating.  Lives and homes have been lost, livelihoods disrupted, hundreds of thousands of acres of forest burned, wildlife habitat destroyed-- and the worst could yet be to come. This destruction is not something we want to see repeated year after year, and is all the more reason for us to act on climate change immediately. Those who say the northwest isn't experiencing any effects of climate change: take a look at the fire map above.  This is climate change hitting home.

Not a sight I want to get used to... wildfire smoke clearly visible on eastbound I-90 near Bellevue (I took this photo from the passenger seat - wasn't driving, I promise!)

Helpful links:

WA State Dept of Natural Resources Wildfire Prevention and Awareness Tips

Northwest Interagency Coordination Center (daily updates and detailed information on current fires)

This White House video offers a concise summary of the link between climate change and wildfires.  Regardless of your political leanings, this short video is worth a watch.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Nature Nerd Wednesdays

Welcome to Nature Nerd Wednesdays, your mid-week nature break to reconnect with the calming, refreshing, and inspiring effects of nature. Take a deep breath and enjoy...

Saint Edward State Park- Lainey Piland photo
The writer John Burroughs once said that he visited nature to be soothed and healed and to have his senses put in order.  In light of recent sad events in the news, today I found myself reflecting on the very aspects of nature which provide such healing and hope for downcast souls.
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature -- the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
― Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
...and to that I say: Amen.  Nature has repeating rhythms and a capacity for renewal that are astonishing and comforting, and have the ability to put our own worries and struggles into perspective.  The natural world around us is a great visual reminder that in the grand scheme of things, there are no insults, setbacks, or difficulties from which we cannot recover.

Last weekend, my husband and I went hiking at Saint Edward State Park, which is one of my absolute favorite places to visit. Comprised of more than 300 acres of mostly-wooded property, this park is a study in nature's capacity for renewal.  Those who visit the park and are unaware of its history would likely be surprised to learn that the forest was clear-cut in the early 20th century.  This is shocking because presently the park boasts a lush and diverse second-growth forest and massive trees that look as though they've stood for centuries.

Here are a few photos taken on a recent hike at Saint Edward which speak to nature's ability to renew itself.  I gave these photos the snazzy name of "Hemlocks Growing from Cedar Stumps" (although perhaps "Alien Tree Takeover" would also be appropriate, and a bit more colorful...):

The once-towering cedar trees along the trail may have been reduced to crumbling stumps, but still life goes on as hemlocks take root and grow. It is amazing to hike through the forest at Saint Edwards and consider that even after experiencing the grievous insult of being clear-cut, enough substance remained on the devastated landscape to support an entire new, flourishing forest that stands triumphant today.

Whether it is the rising and setting of the sun each day or the regrowth of a once clear-cut forest, nature's rhythms and continual renewal are indeed healing and soothing, if we learn to seek them out.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Environmental Issues: Are Protected Wilderness Areas Still "Wilderness" in an Era of Climate Change?

Lainey Piland photo
"In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States... leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness."
These are the opening lines of the Wilderness Act of 1964, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.  This crucial act has protected 110 million acres of designated wilderness in the United States.

Although there are 618 million acres of federal wildlands, only a portion of those are protected as wilderness; areas described in the Wilderness Act as being places "where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain... an area of undeveloped land retaining its primeval character and influence... affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable... has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation..."

The picture here is quite clear.  Wilderness areas are those which--although visited by humans--have been unchanged by our presence.  However, on this 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, many people are beginning to question whether wilderness is still wilderness in the era of climate change.

Our society has burned fossil fuels without restraint, raised the atmospheric carbon dioxide level to the highest it has been in human history, and is causing our global climate to change. Although designated wilderness areas may remain "untrammeled by man" in the sense that we're not paving over the forests and building Wal-Marts or luxury resorts, these previously wild areas are very much affected by the climate change humans have created.

In the eyes of the Federal government, lands preserved under the Wilderness Act are still designated as wilderness.  However, in reality, do they still retain their primeval character? Are they still affected primarily by the forces of nature? Are they still untrammeled by man? It seems as though we are coming to the realization that no, these descriptions no longer apply to our 110 million acres of protected wilderness.  Humans have become a force of nature, and by means of climate change we're trammeling the heck our of our wilderness areas.

How are our wilderness areas going to be affected by climate change? This New York Times opinion piece offers great examples: a warming climate could lead to the extirpation of Joshua trees from the National Park that bears their name.  The giant redwoods of California may not survive in a drier climate. As tree species migrate to more favorable climates, Tuolumne Meadows in John Muir's beloved Yosemite is at risk of becoming a forest.  And the list goes on.

With these significant effects in mind, the question then turns to a touchy subject for many people.  Do we do anything about it? As suggested by the NYT article referenced above, do we start managing and meddling in the wilderness areas to try to retain the natural features which caused them to be protected in the first place? Or, as others may prefer, do we adhere to the sentiment of the Wilderness Act and leave things alone; simply accepting a Joshua tree wilderness with no Joshua trees, or Tuolumne Meadows that are no longer meadows but now a forest?

I stand somewhere in the gray area between these two options.  In situations where we can reasonably intervene to protect the flora and fauna of a particular Wilderness area, I believe we should do so.  However, there were a few questions that stood out in my mind that I believe we should consider before taking any such action:

1. Will it exacerbate climate change?  Any actions that are energy or resource-intensive or which involve removing trees and other vegetation (which store carbon) could potentially contribute to climate change. The end result would be a worsening of the problem that necessitated these actions in the first place.

2. Is there a possibility of a successful and sustainable outcome long-term? We need to consider whether it makes sense to strive as long as possible to stave off changes that are inevitable. For instance, if we decide to irrigate a redwood forest to keep it alive in a hotter, drier climate in the coming decades, will we continue to irrigate the forest for decades after that, when the climate grows hotter and drier yet, and when water will be in short supply? Tragically, there will likely be many cases in which practicality wins out and we will have to step back and let nature take its course, and take some of our treasured landscapes along with it.

But... if our global society makes a serious commitment to address climate change, perhaps we can maintain certain wilderness areas in the meantime, preserving them for a future in which the worst effects of climate change have been avoided, and these areas can once again flourish on their own, in their original glory.

Lainey Piland photo
I've come across several articles questioning whether the Wilderness Act is still relevant. In terms of protecting wilderness in its original "primeval" state unaffected by humans - no. Climate change has ruined that possibility. In terms of protecting large natural areas of our country from development - absolutely! Wilderness areas provide wildlife habitat, clean the air and water, and offer tremendous opportunities for outdoor recreation and inspiration.  We absolutely need to keep these areas under protection--and continue expanding them--for those very reasons.

I spent a great deal of time outdoors as a child, and I remember traipsing through the woods near my home, stopping every so often to look down at the dirt beneath my feet and wonder "has any other person stood on this exact spot before me?" I truly believed that the rubber soles of my child-sized Keds were the first to touch that exact patch of earth.  Perhaps the earth two feet to my left had already been touched by another person, but the exact earth under my feet - nope, I was the first. I remember feeling completely awe-inspired at the (perhaps fictitious) notion of discovery and untouched wilderness.  A visit to our nation's lands protected under the Wilderness Act can allow any person to experience that same feeling upon encountering sweeping meadows, an old-growth forest, or soaring mountains, existing in the complete and utter absence of any human development.  How sad that the authenticity of such an experience is equally as threatened by climate change as the very landscapes that inspire it.

Friday, June 27, 2014

In the News: Maps Show a Sweltering Future for U.S.

My BFF during the summertime...
Nearly five years ago, I was laying on my couch recovering from major knee surgery and feeling utterly miserable. My misery wasn't due to the pain of recovering from surgery (thank goodness for prescription pain meds!) but rather because of the sweltering, unbearable, oppressive, and completely-inexplicable-to-a-western-Washingtonian heat that was smothering the region.  I'm sure that all of us remember the heat wave in late July 2009, where for a week straight the temperatures were over 100 degrees by noon, and didn't drop a degree below eighty overnight.

There I was, in my tiny dark cottage with blanket-covered windows to keep out the sunlight, leaving a sweat-stained outline of my body on the couch, misting my arms and legs with a spray bottle and desperately wishing for air conditioning, because the three fans pointed at me were doing little more than pushing around ninety-degree air.  Might as well have been using a hairdryer to try to cool off.  Like I said: miserable.  And forget trying to go outdoors... the heat seemed to suck the air right from your lungs, leaving you sweaty and winded in seconds. Even the shade offered no respite from the hot, still air.

Those days were unarguably unpleasant.  Now just imagine having an extra MONTH of extreme temperatures each year like those we experienced in 2009.  According to the Risky Business report released earlier this week, that is the reality we'll be facing if we do not take immediate action on climate change.

The Risky Business report was prepared by the Rhodium Group, an economics research firm, and was commissioned by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg; former Treasury Secretary (under George W. Bush) Henry Paulson; and Tom Steyer, a prominent entrepreneur and environmental activist.

The report examined the potential economic effects of climate change in the United States (bottom line: we can't afford NOT to act on climate), but what really grabbed the attention of the media were the following two images from the report, depicting projected increases in days of extreme heat across the US.

This first chart shows the average days per year with temperatures over 95 degrees.  The interesting part about this chart is that it generally follows the lifespan of those of us in the "millennial" generation.  So I can see exactly how hot and awful things could be here in western Washington when I'm old and gray... 20 days per year with temperatures over 95 degrees? No thanks.

Source: Risky Business

This second chart shows the number of days per year wherein the combined heat and humidity will make it unsafe for people to be outdoors, under three different scenarios: business as usual (no reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases), medium emissions reductions, and large emissions reductions.

Source: Risky Business

Take a look at that chart for the business as usual scenario for the year 2200: this shows that in the Puget Sound region, there could be 15-20 days every year where it is unsafe for people to be outdoors due to risk of heatstroke.  That's nearly three weeks of being confined to the indoors. This means that future generations--our great- great- great-... grandchildren-- won't have the same opportunities to enjoy our beautiful Pacific Northwest nature that we've had.  So many of the summertime memories of fun and adventure in the outdoors will be unavailable to them.  How completely tragic.

But there is hope here.  Take a look at the "large emissions reductions" scenario.  If we can pull our act together and force our government, businesses, and economy to embrace clean, renewable energy and decrease CO2 emissions, then we can still avoid some of the worst effects of climate change. We can pass down a more livable planet to future generations. If that isn't a compelling reason to act on climate, then I don't know what is.  The EPA's recently announced Clean Power Plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants 30% by the year 2030 is a great start, but there is much more work to be done.

Although we will feel some effects of climate change regardless of any drastic actions taken in the near future, it is so important to remember that we can still avoid the worst effects by taking those drastic actions.  We can still avoid the potential for that infamous 2009 western Washington heat wave becoming a regular and prolonged occurrence.  Think of the misery, the sweating, the lethargy, being confined to the indoors and glued to the weather report on your television, searching for some glimmer of hope that Steve Pool will tell you that the temperatures will cool off soon... only to be left in despair with a ten-day forecast of blazing sunshine and 100-degree temperatures. That's enough motivation for me!

If you're one of those business-minded types who enjoys economics, check out the Risky Business report to view the climate change issue from a whole new angle!