“Those who can’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” —George Santanaya

Hey! I do believe that the climate is changing all the time, and has for centuries. My parents told me about the pronounced warming trend in the 1930s. And I’m old enough to remember those cold days in the 1970s when the predictions of a new ice age were dire. These were the messages on the magazine covers then:

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Be afraid. Be very afraid.

It’s a good thing I’m not trudging the politically correct campuses of today. I’d probably be marching to a different drummer; I’d be marching on behalf of the 1/3 of the world who still don’t have electricity, or the 783 million people do not have access to clean water, or the 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. Think of what that could do for the impoverished! Rich nations of the world: put your money there, where it will make a difference now—not in 2100.

“The world is barely half a degree Celsius (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than it was about 35 years ago.”  Wall St. Journal, Your Complete Guide to the Climate Debate, Nov. 27th, 2015.

Earlier this year in Paris, scientists gathered to discuss a phenomenon called the global-warming hiatus. “Between 1998 and 2012 humans pumped unprecedented quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but the average global temperature barely rose. Why?” asks The Economist. Special Report. Climate Change. November 28, 2015. Key points of climate science are settled, but questions and uncertainties remain.

“On a global scale,” the WSJ Guide continues, as scientists keep confirming, there has been no increase in frequency or intensity of storms, floods or droughts, while deaths attributed to such natural disasters have never been fewer, thanks to modern technology and infrastructure…Arctic sea ice has recently melted more in summer than it used to in the 1980s, but Antarctic sea ice has increased, and Antarctica is gaining land-based ice, according to a new study by NASA scientists published in the Journal of Glaciology. Sea level continues its centuries-long slow rise—about a foot a century—with no sign of recent acceleration…”

According to Bjorn Lomborg, president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, “ The (emissions) cuts on the table  in Paris, then, will leave the global economy, in rough terms, $1 trillion short every year for the rest of the century—and that’s if politicians do everything right. If not, the real cost could double…At best, the emissions cuts pledged in Paris will prevent a total temperature rise by 2100 of only 0.306F…” Gambling the World Economy on Climate, WSJ, November 17, 2015.

Does this make sense? I say, spend the money on the third world now.

Villages built of coral. Traveling around the world by boat, I had the opportunity to mix with islanders where they live. They taught me a lot about how they “use” climate change initiatives to gain funding from the western world. During the U.N. Copenhagen climate change conference in 2009, the Maldives government made an eye-catching plea for climate change action by holding the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting. Although I admire the cleverness of the Maldivians, here’s the real story: these islanders are indeed hurtingnot because of climate change but because of coral mining. Yes, they mined their own fringing coral reefs to use as construction material for cool, gorgeous courtyards and homes! “Our parents did not know that practice would damage the reefs forever,” an Uligan Island schoolteacher explained to me. “They thought the reefs would grow back, like trees.” Now at high tides, the ocean surges over the damaged reefs and fishermen must use expensive diesel to travel to more distant islands to find reef fish.

The formation of a coral atoll. During the 21st Conference on Climate Change happening now, new focus will be on rising seas flooding the Marshall Islands. It appears that the role of reefs in protecting islands and way islands sink during atoll formation is not well understood.

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“This animation from NOAA shows the dynamic process of how a coral atoll forms. Corals (represented in tan and purple) begin to settle and grow around an oceanic island forming a fringing reef… if conditions are favorable, the reef will continue to expand. As the reef expands, the interior island usually begins to subside and the fringing reef turns into a barrier reef. When the island completely subsides beneath the water leaving a ring of growing coral with an open lagoon in its center, it is called an atoll.” NOAA

Fringing reefs that surround an island are sometimes referred to as house reefs. These are the reefs that islanders depend on not only for food, but for protection. They protect coasts from strong currents and waves by slowing down the water before it gets to the shore. They are also called barrier reefs because they provide a barrier between the ocean and the shore. Fares are outlying low reefs that provide a second layer of protection for tropical islands.

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The Carteret Islands

First global warming refugees—or not? The Melanesian Carteret islanders have been touted as the first global warming refugees; they were forced to evacuate the entire island and most of them have been relocated to Papua New Guinea. But what is not reported is the back-story: (1) The Carteret islands consist of a base of coral that sits atop an extinct volcanic mount. In the usual geological course of events first proposed by Charles Darwin, such islands eventually subside due to weathering and erosion, as well as isostatic adjustments of the sea floor. An atoll will gradually sink; the sea doesn’t rise. And if the sea did rise due to global warming, it would have risen evenly throughout the entire Pacific Ocean. The entire Melanesian island chain would be seeing a rise of the same level—measured in millimeters or centimeters. (2) These islanders may not want to go back to Papua New Guinea, but that is where most of them came from. For they have already been refugees once. Political refugees, they escaped Bougainville to avoid the fighting there. (3) Along with their wives and children, the men loaded into their small boats packages of dynamite, to get an early start on their food reserves. As they dynamited their fringing reefs to kill the fish and provide quick meals, the underlying coral crumbled. A fissure was most likely formed in the reef, because eventually the one reef became two. The incoming tidal waves now breach the reefs, gradually eroding the shoreline, swamping the islander’s beloved banana and vegetable gardens. A man-made problem? You bet. But this is one problem not caused by global warming. It sad that islanders who are confronted by a very serious problem appear to have been exploited by the “cause” of global warming.

No easy solutions. I have talked with simple islanders as well as government officials, and I find that no solutions are easy. In the name of environmentalism, it does no good to simply gloss over the day-to-day problems most locals face—just to survive. By all means, help them out. Now. The good news is that concerned people around the world are finding—and acting upon—creative ways of protecting and saving our wonderful world for future generations.

For further information, refer to my series of essays called The Enlightened Enviromentalist at my sailing website.


With the world news focused on wars in the Middle East wars and the plight of more than 50 million displaced people, highest since World War II, we tend to pay scant attention to a few disputed reefs in the South China Sea. But this sea and what’s above and below those reefs are more important than you may think.

First, this is the geographical meeting place where Southeast Asia’s 600 million people converge with China’s 1.3 billion people and the Indian subcontinent’s 1.5 billion people. The South China Sea is the throat of the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans, where sea routes merge.  More than half of the world’s annual merchant fleet tonnage passes through the choke points of the Malacca, Sunda, Lombok, and Makassar straits. When Gunter and I sailed through the Malacca Strait, the most dangerous in the world, we were astonished to learn that the oil transported through that strait was triple the amount that travels through the Suez Canal and fifteen times the amount that transits the Panama Canal. Last week, while researching the Asian section of “The Long Way Back,” I learned that approximately two thirds of South Korea’s energy supplies, nearly 60 percent of Japan’s and Taiwan’s energy, and 80 percent of China’s crude imports come through the South China Sea.

Second, more important than its location, is the fact that this area has proven reserves—lots of it—seven billion barrels of oil, as well as an estimated 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. China calculates that this sea will eventually yield 130 billion barrels of oil, more than Saudi Arabia! A second “Persian Gulf” in Asia could overcome the need for oil to pass through the dangerous Malacca Strait.

A third reason why the South China Sea is important is that it is on its way to become the most contested body of water in the world. Countries lining the South China Sea are scrambling for territory and power. Anyone who speculates that with the onset of globalization, territorial disputes have become “so last century” should observe what is happening here, where geography is destiny.” Just maybe Mark Twain was right in quipping “God created war so that Americans would learn geography.” The South China Sea is home to more than two hundred small islands, rocks, and coral reefs—only about a dozen of which are permanently above water. Yet the geostrategic importance is significant. Take the Spratlys, with significant oil and gas deposits, for example: These reef islands are claimed in full by China, Taiwan and Vietnam, and in part by Malaysia, the Philippines, and Brunei. China has built concrete helipads and military structures on seven reefs and shoals. On Mischief Reef, China has constructed a three-story building and 5 other military structures. On Johnson Reef, China put up a structure armed with high-powered machine guns. On other reefs, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines have naval structures, runways, piers, and storage tanks. See figure 1.

FIGURE 1: Spratly Islands military settlements by countries claiming rights.

FIGURE 1: Spratly Islands military settlements by countries claiming rights.

China’s maps dating back centuries (see figure 2) claim a historic nine-dash line, or “cow’s tongue” looping the entire South China Sea from China’s Hainan Island 1,200 miles south to Singapore and Malaysia. All of these weaker, littoral states are more or less arrayed against China and dependent on the United States for diplomatic and military backing. Conflicting claims will only increase; energy consumption in developing Asian countries is expected to double by 2030, with China accounting for half of that growth.

FIGURE 2: The nine-dash line, or tongue, (highlighted in green) of the South China Sea claimed by China but disputed by others.

FIGURE 2: The nine-dash line, or tongue, (highlighted in green) of the South China Sea claimed by China but disputed by others.

China has built dredged platforms with runways long enough to land her jet fighters and has been declaring maritime sovereignty in the area for some time. Under President Xi Jinping, China wants to break an American circle of alliances that reaches from the Korean peninsula through Japan and the Philippines. America’s future as a maritime power in the Asia-Pacific and the security guarantees to its allies—all of them concerned about China’s growing military might—is at stake. The U.S. sent a blunt but restrained message last week by sailing the USS Larsen, a guided missile destroyer, within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef.

This struggle for balance of power will most likely continue for decades. “…there is no philosophical enemy to confront,” postulates Robert Kaplan, author of Asia’s Cauldron. “The fact is that East Asia is all about trade and business…While the language at Asian summits will be soft, the deployment of warships in disputed areas will be hard.”

The trajectory of this huge region could change, making the Pacific I love not so pacific in the future.

BLOG SOURCES:

Wall Street Journal, Oct. 28, “Horizon Shifts in Spratly Islands Dispute” 

China’s Pacific Overtures,” Simon Winchester, New York Times

Credits: Wikipedia commons.

Books: Asia’s Cauldron, Robert D. Kaplan; Pacific, Simon Winchester


I learned a new term this week: “eudaimonic well being.” Eudaimonia is a Greek word associated with Aristotle that is often mistranslated as happiness, says the Shirley Wang in the March 15th Wall St. Journal. Some experts say Aristotle actually meant well-being when he wrote that humans can obtain eudaimonia by fulfilling their potential.

Even as happiness research is exploding, some of the newest evidence suggests that people who focus on a sense of purpose as they age are better off than those who focus on achieving feelings of happiness. They have better cognitive skills, better mental health, and even live longer.

Bingo.

I had just written my last blog on being happy by “enjoying the path.” Too much focus on feeling happy can actually lead to feeling less happy! Analysis by researchers at San Diego State University again confirms that people who pursue extrinsic rewards, such as money or status, often aren’t as happy as those who don’t.

So don’t sit around worrying. Focus on your goals.  Pursue your passion. And suddenly, you’ll realize that you are indeed experiencing happiness, of the “eudaimonic kind.”


“Living your dream” is a mantra for Bob Bitchin, founder of Latitudes & Attitudes, the sailing magazine that first published my stories of our circumnavigation.

My mantra is the quote from Hellen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all,” often repeated in the first book of my trilogy, “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: MAIDEN VOYAGE.”

On Sunday, February 6th, President Reagan would have turned 100. I was intrigued by the WSJ article by Peggy Noonan, a speech writer for Reagan.  In her article, “Ronald Reagan at 100,” she says, “He told me as he worked on his farewell address of a recurring dream he’d had through adulthood. He was going to live in a mansion with big rooms, “high ceilings, white walls.” He would think to himself in the dream that it was “a house that was available at a price I could afford.” He had the dream until he moved into the White House and never had it again. “Not once.”

Before I had the dream of sailing around the world, I lived in Minnesota and wanted to move, preferably to California, to escape the cold and cruel winters. When I would shut my eyes to do my affirmations, I had a vision of myself sitting in a big chair, looking through a picture window, down at the Pacific Ocean.  It wasn’t until after I met and married Gunter, that one day, sitting in that very chair, in our second-floor condo, I looked down at the view of Sail Bay and realized that indeed, that view had been my vision!

I’ve always learned best visually. When I began to write sailing stories, I had no problem describing what I saw. But it took some writing courses and extra effort to convey what I heard, tasted, and felt. When my book, “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: MAIDEN VOYAGE” reached the production stage, I could not imagine grouping the photos in the middle or end of the book. I insisted that they be on the page with the story, so that the reader could be there, tagging along with me on my adventures. That’s why my book has over 150 full-color photos and maps.

I sincerely hope that this book will provide more than enjoyment, that it will help you visualize your own dream.  And that your dream will become a reality!