Monthly Archives: April 2022

Earth Day 2022

Earth Day 2022

Our Fragile World

Earth Day
April 22, 2022

Looking Back on the 52nd Anniversary of Earth Day

NOTE: I’ve written about Earth Day on this date in past years. Here is this year’s edition.

In 1970 I was a student at the University of Michigan studying natural resource economics. So I was quite interested as Senator Gaylord Nelson took steps to organize the first Earth Day. He wanted to illuminate the main problems affecting the environment – evaluate how the world’s population was affecting the limited natural resources and suggest ways to keep the earth sustainable for future generations.

Two or more generations have passed since but Senator Nelson’s urgency has not translated into the corrective action that he called for. Slowly, very very slowly we’ve seen some progress. In 2016 an overwhelming number of United Nations members signed onto the Paris Agreement for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Formally known as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change these countries pledged to combat climate change worldwide. Surprisingly the US abruptly withdrew from the agreement. President Trump considered the terms of the agreement to be cost prohibitive and would lead to a major loss of jobs. However with a new Biden administration in office the USA has now rejoined as a participant in this global organization. There is hope if our country can stay focused on addressing the climate change challenge.

Becoming Unstuck in Time

Please take bear with me as my mind has become unstuck in time.

The phrase “unstuck in time” comes from Kurt Vonnegut. I recall meeting him in the late 1960’s when he was invited to be “writer in residence” at the University of Michigan (U of M) in Ann Arbor.

Vonnegut sometimes dropped into the “Brown Jug Restaurant” for coffee and to smoke a cigarette. As an aside, he claimed that smoking was the slowest form of suicide. My wife Kris was a student at the time, waitressed here and would sometimes serve him. Due to her hearing difficulty she admitted that she wasn’t a very good waitress and frustrated Vonnegut with her (lack of) service. More to the point, his stay on campus as writer in residence ended prematurely when he suddenly left saying something like: “I’m leaving Ann Arbor since I have nothing more to teach you about writing.” So it goes.

Kurt Vonnegut photo courtesy of
Colleen Taber

the author and his dog living “60’s back to nature

The Fifth Dimension

The 1960’s was a very vibrant and exciting, yet conflicted era. My high school yearbook quotes Charles Dickens: “it was the best of times and it was the worst of times….we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way”. This was the period of the military draft and Viet Nam, living off the land and making peace, hippies and long hair. We were contemporaries of heavy metal, Motown, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, James Taylor and Woodstock music.

Early Movements Towards the First Earth Day

With this as a backdrop, we encounter the ENACT Teach-In. Rachel Carson‘s book Silent Spring detailed the harmful effects of pesticides on the environment. Many have cited Silent Spring and the horrible 1969 oil spill near Santa Barbara as two of the main impetuses for the environmental movement at this time. In 1970 on March 11, a dedicated environmentally conscience group organized the Environmental Action for Survival (ENACT) Teach-In at the U of M to discuss, to educate and to propose solutions and laws to stem environmental problems created by the earth’s inhabitants. Speakers included Senator Nelson, ecologist Barry Commoner, Michigan Governor William Milliken and U of M President Robin Flemming.

The organizers attracted a large audience to fill the 13,000 seat Crisler Arena through entertainment provided by the cast of Hair (a Broadway hit show) and folk song artist Gordon Lightfoot. Among the songs Lightfoot performed was the Canadian Railroad Trilogy (click for lyrics). This poetic ballad depicts building of the railroads across Canada and the difficult tradeoffs between developing a strong, vibrant economy for a growing population and keeping the land pristine for the future – an emotional description of the environmental conflict in musical terms.

The ENACT Teach-In was a success and preceded Earth Day by six weeks. On April 22, 1970 more than 2000 colleges and 10,000 primary and secondary schools participated in the Earth Day Environmental teach-in, celebratory and activism activities throughout the US.

As a student my career plan included conservation, ecology and recycling. I studied writings from the likes of educators and humanists Kenneth Boulding, Buckminster Fuller and E.F. Schumacher and took courses such as forestry, resource management and cost-benefit analysis.

My Career Outside of The Environment

The next year I graduated with a degree in Natural Resource Economics. However my great enthusiasm for things environmental soon wained. After an unsuccessful year of job hunting in this field I was still unemployed. Instead, I ended up in the computer and publishing business. So it goes.

How well or how poorly have us earthlings have done to improve the environment these past 52 years? Not long ago I read an opinion piece that details how environmental issues have bounced around for 30 years between our Republican and Democratic leaders without very much accomplished. An older NY Times article by Nathaniel Rich aptly describes political obstacles standing in the way of Earth Day goals.

The Environmental Movement Continues

In spite of the absence of political agreement on how to attack the environmental issues, there have been deliberate and urgent activities to resurrect many of the same or similar ideas from these earlier decades that call for a change in our lifestyles. By far the discussions have revolved around the global use of fossil fuels. Some argue that reducing our consumption of oil, natural gas and coal would result in the loss of jobs for so many employed in the extraction, processing and delivery of the energy sources. But a look at statistics from 2020 shows how alternative fuel activities have affected employment in these various energy sectors. An article from USA Facts highlights the change in employment in various energy supplying industries. These graphs show that industries using renewable fuels are steadily gaining jobs while traditional fossil fuel based industries are losing jobs.

In a very different industry many performing artists have released songs with a conservation theme over the years. A recording that actually preceeding Earth Day in 1970 was Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell (click for lyrics). Almost in tandem to Earth Day was Marvin Gaye‘s Mercy, Mercy, Me in 1971 (click for lyrics). The tune Conviction of the Heart (click for lyrics) was performed by writer/singer Kenny Loggins at Earth Day 1995 in Washington, DC. A more recent recording is Jackson Browne‘s song Downhill from Everywhere (click for lyrics) which depicts the pervasive amount of plastics that end up in the oceans.

A few years back we took our young grandkids to see The Lorax, a movie based on a Dr Seuss’ book. It describes a place where the trees have been clear cut so there are no trees left. Everyone depends on manufactured air to provide oxygen for their survival. Through battle with “industry”, the hero finally succeeds in planting a single tree. This act restarts the path to regenerating oxygen naturally. While the story is a little far fetched, it presents the oxygen depletion issue to a young generation.

We later took them to see another movie – The Croods which depicts the struggle of a family of cave people to survive in a deteriorating world. They survive through human ingenuity with inventions such as fire, shoes and wheels. I hope this isn’t the only lesson for our next generation – that technology alone is going to save our environment. Yes, we are quite ingenious. But a lot of us have reservations that technology by itself will solve our planet’s woes.

Photography and the Environment

My lifelong interest has been photography. So you might ask “what does all of this rambling have to do photography?” I wanted to look at photography then and now to compare their individual environmental impacts.

At first, I thought this was going to be a “no brainer” – that digital photography yields huge environmental savings compared to conventional photography. But as I began to dig deeper, I see that there are two sides to this argument.

Conventional Photography

Having worked in several commercial photo labs long before the advent of digital, I’m familiar with the processes that are used in conventional (film-based) photography.

Most conventional cameras use a cartridge or canister of film for taking 12, 20 or 36 photographs. Each “roll” of film is individually packaged for sale in hundreds of thousands of retail locations. Besides the resources needed to manufacture the film, a considerable amount more are used to market and distribute the products.

Film derives its light sensitivity from a chemical mixture of silver halide that’s coated onto its surface. After being exposed to light by the camera, the film is first “developed” – the silver halide image is converted into a metallic silver and then “fixed” – the unused silver halide is dissolved. This makes the negative image permanent. Color film requires additional chemicals to form the dyes used to reproduce the various colors. And still other chemicals are used to enhance the drying of the photographic materials. In addition to these chemicals, a large amount of water is used to rinse and clean the chemicals from the surface of the film.

Conventional photographic prints are processed similarly using a silver halide sensitive paper and chemicals to develop and fix and wash the positive images. Most commercial photo labs make prints from each exposure on a roll of film.

The environmental impact of conventional photography is significant. A large amount materials is consumed to make film and photographic paper. A large amount of nasty and toxic chemicals are used to process both the film and prints. And an awfully huge amount of fresh water is used in the process as well.

Digital Photography

At first glance, the coming of age of digital photography appears to have a beneficial impact on the environmental.

With digital, no longer is there a need for roll after roll of film. Instead your cell phone memory or a single chip (SD-card or CF-card) can capture hundreds, maybe thousands of images.

These digital images no longer require chemical development. The images are immediately available to review on your cell phone or on the camera screen. For permanence, the images can be copied to your computer hard drive for safekeeping, further enhancement and presentation.

Unlike conventional processing where each exposure is mindlessly printed by the photo lab, you can be more selective. Instead you can choose to print only the best of the best images. And it’s your choice to print them using a conventional photo process at your favorite photo lab or print them at home on your color ink-jet printer.

Regardless of which celle phone or camera you’ve purchased, digital photography seems like a winner from an environmental standpoint.

The Rest of the Story

As with many things in life, digital photography has a few “gotcha’s” that cloud its environmental friendly moniker.

The upside is that digital provides big savings in resources by eliminating film, packaging, paper and chemical processing. However, digital shifts the resource burden to the manufacturing and maintaining the personal computer. Yes, there are some who make do without a personal computer. These picture taker brings his/her digital film to a photo lab to make selected prints. But many picture takers collect, organize, retouch, process and present their photographs using a personal computer.

While it’s dated, a United Nation report tells us that “the average 24 kg desktop computer with monitor requires at least 10 times its weight in fossil fuels and chemicals to manufacture, much more materials intensive than an automobile or refrigerator, which only require 1-2 times their weight in fossil fuels. Researchers found that manufacturing one desktop computer and 17-inch CRT monitor uses at least 240 kg of fossil fuels, 22 kg of chemicals and 1,500 kg of water – a total of 1.8 tonnes of materials.”

Of course a personal computer or your cell phone is used for other tasks as well, so it’s not fair to put the full blame for digital photography’s negative impact on the environment.

And to power all of these phone, cameras, computers and accessories the need for electricity either from the wall outlet or batteries is climbing. Does this contribute to our CO2 footprint?

Not surprisingly, manufacturers are working feverishly to add new and amazing whiz-bang features to their digital recording devices. Instead of buying a conventional camera every ten years or so, the buying cycle for cell phones and digital cameras is a much more frequent. Read: more resources consumed.

Wrapping it Up

We can credit the overwhelming adoption of cell phones and digital cameras for saving the environment from millions of rolls of film and the required chemicals to develop the the film and prints. In addition to the great quality of digital technology, we benefit from a huge reduction of harmful photographic chemicals.

Unfortunately, from an environmental standpoint, digital photography is a mixed bag when considering the pervasive number of new cameras and extensive use of the personal computer.

In his novel Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut might comment on this no-win situation with the phrase so it goes.

Some years ago I wrote another article that might be of interest if you’re following the status of our environment.

After all of these years as an avid photographer I’m still a proponent of carefully using our precious natural resources. Aside from photographing family, my favorite pastime is nature and landscape photography. Below you can see some of the ways that I commune with nature.

These photos were taken in many of our National Parks, Monuments and parklands. As you read this, I’m off to other outdoor places to experience more of our earth.

To the best of my ability I continue to practice “leave no trace photography” – disturb neither our wildlife nor its surroundings. Photography, whether conventional or digital, is a gift that lets me enjoy the wonders of our amazing world visually. I think many others agree.

I’ve long been conscientious about my “environmental footprint” – using recyclable packaging; choosing fuel-efficient vehicles; keeping our trees healthy; reducing fertilizer and pesticide usage. Individually I’m not making much of a difference but together we can really make a dent.

As for Earth Day – some believe that it is the world’s largest annual non-religious holiday with more than a billion participants.

Happy Earth Day!

More Information
Here are a few articles about Earth Day and about the conventional vs digital photography debate.

For those of you who are interested in the movement, here is a link one of the main Earth Day sites.

History of Earth Day

Earth Day Action Site


Written by Arnie Lee

Please leave your comments below or address your thoughts about this article, to Arnie via email

Canadian Railroad Trilogy

By Gordon Lightfoot

There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run

When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man and long before the wheel
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real
But time has no beginnings and history has no bounds
As to this verdant country they came from all around
They sailed upon her waterways and they walked the forests tall
And they built the mines the mills and the factories for the good of us all
And when the young man’s fancy was turning to the spring
The railroad men grew restless for to hear the hammers ring
Their minds were overflowing with the visions of their day
And many a fortune lost and won and many a debt to pay
For they looked in the future and what did they see
They saw an iron road running from sea to the sea
Bringing the goods to a young growing land
All up through the seaports and into their hands
Look away said they across this mighty land
From the eastern shore to the western strand
Bring in the workers and bring up the rails
We gotta lay down the tracks and tear up the trails
Open your heart let the life blood flow
Gotta get on our way cause were moving too slow
Bring in the workers and bring up the rails
We’re gonna lay down the tracks and tear up the trails
Open your heart let the life blood flow
Gotta get on our way cause were moving too slow
Get on our way cause were moving too slow
Behind the blue Rockies the sun is declining
The stars, they come stealing at the close of the day
Across the wide prairie our loved ones lie sleeping
Beyond the dark oceans in a place far away
We are the navvies who work upon the railway
Swinging our hammers in the bright blazing sun
Living on stew and drinking bad whiskey
Bending our old backs til the long days are done
We are the navvies who work upon the railway
Swinging our hammers in the bright blazing sun
Laying down track and building the bridges
Bending our old backs til the railroad is done
So over the mountains and over the plains
Into the muskeg and into the rain
Up the St. Lawrence all the way to Gaspe
Swinging our hammers and drawing our pay
Driving them in and tying them down
Away to the bunkhouse and into the town
A dollar a day and a place for my head
A drink to the living and a toast to the dead
Oh the song of the future has been sung
All the battles have been won
Oer the mountain tops we stand
All the world at our command
We have opened up the soil
With our teardrops and our toil
For there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man and long before the wheel
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real
And many are the dead men too silent to be real

Big Yellow Taxi

By Joni Mitchell

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swinging hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
Oh, bop, bop, bop
Oh, bop, bop, bop
They took all the trees, and put em in a tree museum
And they charged the people a dollar and a half to see them
No, no, no
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone
They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot
Oh, bop, bop, bop
Oh, bop, bop, bop
Hey farmer, farmer, put away your DDT
I don’t care about spots on my apples
Leave me the birds and the bees
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
Hey now, they paved paradise to put up a parking lot
Oh, bop, bop, bop
Why not?
Oh, bop, bop, bop
Listen, late last night, I heard the screen door slam
And a big yellow taxi took my girl away
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ’till it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
Hey now, now, don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone
They paved paradise to put up a parking lot
Why not?
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
Hey, hey, hey
Paved paradise and put up a parking lot
Oh, bop, bop, bop
Oh, bop, bop, bop
I don’t wanna give it
Why you wanna give it
Why you wanna giving it all away
Hey, hey, hey
Now you wanna give it
I should wanna give it
‘Cause you’re givin it all away
I don’t wanna give it
Why you wanna give it
Why you wanna giving it all away
Givin, givin it all
Givin it all away
Why do you want me?
Why do you want me?
‘Cause you’re givin it all away
Hey, paved paradise to put up a parking lot

Mercy, Mercy, Me

By Marvin Gaye

Woah, ah, mercy, mercy me
Ah, things ain’t what they used to be (ain’t what they used to be)
Where did all the blue skies go?
Poison is the wind that blows
From the north and south and east
Woah mercy, mercy me, yeah
Ah, things ain’t what they used to be (ain’t what they used to be)
Oil wasted on the ocean and upon our seas
Fish full of mercury
Oh Jesus, yeah, mercy, mercy me, ah
Ah, things ain’t what they used to be (ain’t what they used to be)
Radiation underground and in the sky
Animals and birds who live nearby are dying
Hey, mercy, mercy me, oh
Hey, things ain’t what they used to be
What about this overcrowded land?
How much more abuse from man can she stand?
Oh, na, na, na
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh
Hey, ooh, woo

Conviction Of The Heart

By Kenny Loggins

Where are the dreams that we once had?
This is the time to bring them back.
What were the promises caught on the tips of our tongues?
Do we forget or forgive?
There’s a whole other life waiting to live when
One day we’re brave enough
To talk with Conviction of the Heart.
And down your streets I’ve walked alone,
As if my feet were not my own
Such is the path I chose, doors I have opened and closed
I’m tired of living this life,
Fooling myself, believing we’re right
I’ve never given love
With any Conviction of the Heart
One with the earth, with the sky
One with everything in life
I believe we’ll survive
If we only try
How long must we all wait to change
This world bound in chains that we live in
To know what it is to forgive
And be forgiven?
Too many years of taking now.
Isn’t it time to stop somehow?
Air that’s too angry to breathe, water our children can’t drink
You’ve heard it hundreds of times
You say you’re aware, believe and you care,
But do you care enough
To talk with Conviction of the Heart?

Downhill from Everywhere

By Jackson Browne

Downhill from the prison
Downhill from the mall
Downhill from the factory farm and the hospital
Downhill from the border wall
Downhill from the high school
Downhill from the gym
Downhill from the church and the stadium
Downhill from the baby’s room
Downhill from the office
Downhill from the bar
Downhill from the theme park and the family car
Downhill from happy hour
Downhill from everywhere
Downhill from all you see
The ocean is downhill from gravity
Downhill from here
Downhill from everywhere
Downhill from all of humanity
Downhill from the silver screen
Downhill from the end of the scene
Downhill from the vineyard
Downhill from the mine
Downhill from the fruity plain and the bottom line
Downhill from Columbine
Downhill from the racetrack
Downhill from the news
Downhill from the sponsors and the camera crews
Downhill from the pain to lose
Downhill from God’s golden shore
Downhill from the grocery store
Downhill from the center floor
K Street, and the never-ending war
Downhill from everywhere
Downhill from all you see
The ocean is the last stop for gravity
Downhill from here
Downhill from everywhere
And all mankind’s ambition and vanity
Do you think of the ocean as yours?
Because you need the ocean to breathe
Every second breath you take
Is coming from the sea
We don’t really know
‘Cause we don’t really see
Do you think of the ocean as yours?
Do you think about it at all?
Downhill from the campus
Downhill from the loan
Downhill from the funeral home
Downhill from the laptop
Downhill from the troll
Downhill from the Russian doll
Downhill from the N.R.A
Downhill from the G.O.P
Downhill from the I.C.E
And you hide all the messes trying to be free
Oh yeah

Dunphy, Nevada

Places that you may have never heard of

I’ve been writing about places with interesting names. They’re mostly in remote areas of the country that are unfamiliar to most travelers. As I roam the roads, I keep my eyes open for these kind of places.

You can’t help by notice the large green signs along the road tell us where to find certain towns and interesting places. Once in a while I come across an interesting name and wonder what this place is all about. Dunphy is one such place.

In north central Nevada along the I-80 freeway is a sign for Dunphy. It’s located between the two better known towns of Carlin and Battle Mountain.

I found that the TS Lazy Ranch was started by an Irish immigrant named William Dunphy. Dunphy and other partners used the open ranges in this area as a large, successful ranching operation.

Barite, a mineral used in oil drilling process, was discovered in the area in the 1930s. The raw barite ore was shipped to Modesto, California to be processed. Not long after a mill was constructed along side the Western Pacific railroad to crush and ship the raw materials onward.

In 2014 the Halliburton Corp built a new 66,000 sq ft plant to process the barite.

The TS Lazy Ranch ranch is still in operation operation as a cattle ranch using modern management of the land, livestock and wildlife

For more info about the Halliburton Barite Plant click here.

Dunphy turns out to be another neat place with an interesting name.

These are more of my places that you may never have heard of

Aragonite, Utah
Wamsutter, Wyoming
Argenta, Nevada

In a previous life

Once upon a time we were in the “software” business.

Here’s how we got to that starting line.

In 1973 I started working at several corporate computer centers as a programmer and system analyst. I would sit at a desk size keyboard to write programs on punch cards. I’d feed those punch cards into a room size mainframe computer to get it to perform a series of calculations required to run various business functions. The humongous mainframe computer was mostly relegated to tasks that only personnel with a technical background could handle.

Starting in the late 1970s a small device affectionately known as a microcomputer appeared on the scene. Micros were the beginning of a new kind of tiny (compared to the mainframes) personal computer that could fit on a small desktop.

When a micro named the Commodore PET was announced, I placed an order for one. Soon after, I received delivery of the all-in-one Pet serial number 57. My goal was to see if it could be useful for the more general public. But I was surprised that the PET wasn’t as user friendly as I expected – especially programming it to do useful tasks. This then was the start of the small software business name ABACUS that would take us through the next 30+ years.

Here’s a picture of me sitting in front on a PET “microcomputer”

Our first product was a book for programming the PET “microcomputer”

Despite its relatively high price ($795 to $995), the PET quickly became a popular product. In fact we sold tens of thousands of the PET Machine Language Guide. We quickly published a series of other books for the PET and produced dozens of games, music, tools and other software for successor Commodore micros in coming years.

our book series for Commodore micros

our display at an early microcomputer trade show

Soon many new micros were being introduced and sold: Tandy TRS-80, Apple II, Amstrad, Texas Instruments and several more. By the mid-1980s we turned our energies to a more powerful micro from Commodore called the Amiga.

By the mid-1980s there were several new brands of micros

Our Amiga series of books

We continued developing software and publishing books (more than 200 products) during the next ten years mostly for the huge IBM PC marketplace. This was a time of a very competitive environment – so competitive in fact that we barely stayed above water business-wise.

But skip ahead to the mid 1990s  and we somehow found ourselves producing hundreds of unique and innovative products for users of Microsoft Flight Simulator. We attended many aviation conventions and software trade shows where we bumped up against many amazing classic and modern aircraft and the interesting people who fly them. This was one of the most exciting times for us at Abacus.

several of the famous WWII Tuskeegee Airmen at an airshow 

a huge C-17 passing over the crowds at Oshkosh airshow

flight simulation software and our magazine

more flight simulation software

an A-10 Thunderbolt II leaving Nellis AFB

one of our flight sim accessory mouse pads

the Abacus offices for many years

some souvenirs from over the years

The flight simulator market gave us a much welcomed boost to our business for an extended number of years.

However, Microsoft withdrew its Flight Simulator product from its lineup so in 2011 we decided that it was time to take down our shingle.

So that’s a short history of our previous life hawking computers, software, books and magazines.

It was fun being pioneers at the start of the microcomputer era – one that lasted 33 years for us. And while this previous life has passed, these past times are something to look back on having made many friends and recalling so many good experiences.