Sleepless in Seattle

We’ve been spending the last week in Seattle with our family and grandson, Finlay and as usual have been delighted by the facilities and beauty of the city. Not least are the views to be seen from the house where we are staying in the Queen Anne area. The I 5 Freeway shown In the dawn photo below, from our experience is never still whatever time you look out from our deck. Seattle never sleeps!

In the foreground is part of Lake Union, from where the small sea planes take off. But the shock this time was the brilliant display of the Cascade Mountains with the sun rising in the east. We’ve never before seen it so clear. We need to get out for some walking there when we are next here.

Climate change – invest now!

The reports just 17 days ago about the devastating mudslide and loss to date of 30 lives in the USA at the village of Oso in Washington State made international headlines. Locally this remains a major story, with some asking why sensors were not, as a precaution, put in place in advance to monitor water levels on this slide prone slope as is done in Switzerland. (Seattle Times 7 April 2014). Others point out that there has been a history of mudslides in the vicinity and warnings were given of the dangers. Click on the bar below for a timeline of five satellite pictures showing landslides there since 2002.

It has reminded us it was just 21 months ago that Thornthwaite’s Seldom Seen hamlet and The Larches were inundated with a flow of water, mud and debris from the Whinlatter forest after heavy rainfall over a 24 hour period.

These phenomena are not of course new. They’ve happened before and all over the world. And in the scale of things the problems here in Cumbria were not that serious. But they provide evidence – like the reports that last year was the wettest in Britain since records were kept – that we are experiencing here as well as elsewhere the effects of climate change.

It’s important to emphasise however that these adverse effects can be mitigated – a point that was stressed last week by Dr Chris Field, Chair of the IPCC when discussing the implications of their new report

The problems require practical action and ‘ambitious investment’; and this can actually save money. What’s now being spent at Oso to make it safe to continue the search and rescue effort is costing much more than would have been needed for the advance installation of water saturation monitors.

Here in Thornthwaite we have had useful meetings with the Forestry Commission (FC) and others and it’s good to report that work has been done to address some of the problems in the area, which were identified with the FC representatives in the first weeks after the flooding.

As the photo (top) shows, a substantial hard wood planting programme to stabilise the ground has been carried out in the area, close to Comb Beck where a substantial landslide had blocked the public footpath up the beck.

In addition the FC has recognised our criticisms of the initial culverting of the forestry road above The Larches. The single pipe being laid under the road to drain water was simply blocking up with small stones brought down with the water.

Instead two large five feet deep brick chambers with square metal grills have now been built with 15 feet long ‘feeder’ pipes to collect the water run-off and with two feet wide diameter pipes under the road to distribute the water onto the SE slopes and down to Comb Beck. See photo, with arrow indicating grill.

So far this has done the trick and in heavy rain!

Climate change is here – UN

After months of debate and reviews of a mass of scientific reports, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has this last week produced its long debated (second) report on the effects of a warming planet. The report includes a summary of the ten “climate related drivers of impacts” – see figure below.

The report is clear and deeply worrying and affects all of us. No country can avoid the ‘overwhelming’ impact of climate change, but most at risk are those living in low lying areas where rising sea levels will force mass migrations of population to other areas.

Other results of our unwillingness to cut back on carbon emissions will mean tundra regions will warm and polar ice caps melt, crop levels will be affected and fish catches will be smaller. The BBC’s website provides an excellent summary of the report. (

It’s obvious that despite the evidence of the Impact of global warming on our climate and on future generations, there has been since 2009 – when we first started commenting on this issue on this blog – a growing reluctance by many governments to take the robust actions we need to avert the growing crisis.

Perhaps because of this, Chris Field, the Chair of the IPCC Committee indicates that effective actions can actually be taken. For instance we can build defences against rising sea levels and locally cut CO2 emissions. These actions will require in the words of the report ‘ambitious investment’, but politicians and the constituencies they serve need to understand that in the long run this is the safest and only route that we can take.

A copy of the full report (in pdf format) can be downloaded from the IPCC website.

Airline dumps 130 passengers

Ever been abandoned on Christmas Eve by your carrier 280 miles from your destination?

Approaching Jackson Hole on our American Airlines flight from Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), the news from the cockpit was worrying. “The runway’s icy and covered in snow. We’ll have to fly on to Salt Lake City”.

On our arrival there about 8 pm we had to contact a range of local hotels, where we were on the hook for paying for our accommodation, although at a discounted rate. “Get back to the airport by 5.30 am tomorrow and we’ll have you on an early return to Jackson Hole”, we were assured.

Lift off was just before 8 am for the 37 minutes flight. “What news do you have about conditions at Jackson Hole?” I asked a steward, as I boarded. Pretty obvious question I thought! “Don’t ask us,” she replied, “We’re the last ones to know!”

We were soon there above the airport, but no descent was announced. You’ve probably guessed why – the runway was iced up. “We’ll have to circle for a while,” was the captain’s less than reassuring message. Was he remembering the company’s faulty landing at Jackson Hole three years ago on 29 December 2010, when the reverse thrust lever and speedbrake levers – shown opposite in the official report of the accident – didn’t deploy correctly and the plane went off the end of the runway.

About 90 minutes of circling later and a lot of aviation fuel wasted, we were told: “It’s unsafe to land. We are returning to Salt Lake City. We cannot say more at present.”

On arrival came the announcement: “Stay in your seats. The captain will shortly tell you what is to happen.” One of America’s largest airlines would soon have its control centre staff handling the problem. Sure enough the captain emerged. “We are going to return to Dallas immediately. You can get out here in Salt Lake if you like, but your luggage will not be coming off the plane. Make your own decisions.”

The effect was electrifying. Men and women throughout the plane rose to their feet, arms raised, fists clenched all shouting with one voice “No!” The Passengers’ Revolt at Salt Lake City will go down in the memory of those 130 people for the rest of their lives! And the pain, inconvenience and camaraderie that followed.

The captain’s position was clear. He was under orders from people with “much larger pay checks than mine,” but after 15 minutes of conferring with his more highly paid colleagues he came back out with the update that bags would be unloaded at SLC, so those choosing to get off there could take them rather than have them returned to DFW.

All of us were to be dumped at Salt Lake City or offered a return to Dallas, where we had set off from 1200 miles away. Take it or leave it. Their contract to get us to Jackson Hole was to be torn up, though several other carriers were bringing planes into the resort over this period.

Groups gathered over the next two hours and fixed their plans, most going that day on a 280 miles road journey to Jackson Hole by car, taxi or bus at their own expense. See photo above of this slow route from the inside of one of the buses.

Why we asked couldn’t American Airlines have organised this for the entire group, using local bus companies, acknowledged their responsibility and paid the costs? Something is seriously wrong with the operations side of this company.

One thing was certain: most of the dumped passengers on the Airbus 319 Flight AA 2273 to Jackson Hole will be thinking twice before they book an American Airlines flight again. The photo below shows 22 of the dumped passengers on arrival finally at Jackson Hole after a 280 mile bus journey from Salt Lake City airport.

Nelson Mandela

Yesterday we watched on the television the drama of the day long celebration in Soweto of Nelson Mandela’s life. it was a moving experience and reminded us of that day in February 1990 when we had watched his release after 27 years of imprisonment on Robben island. Could we believe our eyes then about what was unfolding for South Africa and its apartheid system?

Like so many others now I have found myself asking how I might try to measure up to this extraordinary man’s example with his commitment to justice, his compassion, his humour, his love of others and his lack of rancour against those who had been responsible for his long years of imprisonment. A truly great man, whose like I will not see in my lifetime.

Over ninety world leaders had come to South Africa to celebrate Mandela’s life – an indication of how significant his contribution has been not only to South Africa’s development but to the politics of the whole planet. Most moving was the speech of US President Barack Obama, whose African origins made him an obvious choice.

In a well crafted speech he talked of how Mandela had ‘not only freed the prisoners, but the jailers also’. He chose to extend his theme into a debate about poverty, malnutrition and the need for education, making a connection that some of those present would have found uncomfortable. ‘Too many leaders support Nelson Mandela and his ideas, but are not tolerating dissent in their own countries.”

Obama finished by referring to the ancient African word ‘ubunto’, which roughly means ‘humanity to others, but has the notion of inter-connectedness, ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’. We have plenty to learn from Africa and Nelson Mandela.