Climate-Denying US Chamber Has A Point When It Comes to Grassroots Resistance to Clean Energy

windturbine

The US Chamber of Commerce and many of its state-based affiliates, including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, are nests of ideological movement conservatives devoted to all manner of influential key words that have shaped how states and Washington view their duties to mother nature. The Chamber has promoted such concepts as “free-market environmentalism” — which means allowing market trends to strip the earth — and “sound science,” which is a euphemism for ignoring science-based fact whenever possible.

Last summer the Chamber came under fire for what Pete Altman of the Natural Resources Defense Council called “its obstructionist stance on clean energy and climate legislation.” A number of the Chamber’s highest profile members broke with the organization and Greenpeace in December called the Chamber a “global warming crime scene.”

But in my research on the grassroots opposition to big clean energy projects around the country I learned about the Chamber’s Project No Project Web site, which characteristically attacks what it calls “environmental extremists” and NIMBY’s, but also documents energy projects around the country that have faced resistance at the grassroots, among them dozens of clean and renewable energy projects.

“No one objects to a fair and timely process whereby projects are examined and the affected communities can be heard,” wrote Thomas J. Donahue, the Chamber’s president and chief executive, in an op-ed last year in the Washington Examiner that accompanied the launch of Project No Project. “But reasonableness and common sense must carry the day. The  simple truth is that it takes too long to build almost anything in our country today—even  clean, green, and renewable energy resources that create jobs, enhance our energy security, and improve our environment. It’s time for change.”

This week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar awarded federal approval to the Cape Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts after nine years of review and public confrontation that included fierce opposition from the Kennedy family and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Local environmental groups also aligned with Indian tribes in fighting the project. And yesterday the leaders of those organizations said they would pursue their work in the courts.

Cape Wind exposed a fault line in the environmental community that threatens to become the most important schism in the history of the modern American environmental movement. The NRDC, Greenpeace, the Conservation Law Foundation, and a number of other prominent state, regional, and national environmental organizations supported the project.

The same green vs. green trend is emerging in other projects and across the clean energy and climate realm. On the one hand, major environmental organizations are pushing hard in Washington and in states to secure more funding for renewable energy projects, and for regulation and statutes that cut emissions of climate changing gases.

On the other hand local organizations are using every veto tool in the opposition playbook to kill clean energy projects. In a growing number of instances they’ve succeeded in producing long delays that threaten projects. In other cases, clean energy developers confronting public  resistance have walked away.

My friends and colleagues in the environmental community and the clean energy development community tell me that almost every clean energy project of any size and scale is running headlong into civic opposition that in most cases is led by local environmental groups. The only region that appears to be ready to accept big clean energy projects is the South, where a colleague says she hasn’t picked up any signs of resistance.

Outside Magazine just published a very good piece on grassroots opposition to clean energy projects that includes telling quotes from leaders of both sides. “Renewable-energy developers are running headlong into half a century of very successful environmentalist opposition to large energy projects,” said Randy Udall, an energy analyst in Colorado and a member of the greenest political family in America.

He also told the magazine, “The notion that if we just cover rooftops, we can leave the deserts alone, that we don’t need new wind farms, and don’t need to build new transmission lines—that doesn’t pass the mathematical sniff test.What I say to these people is: Buy a calculator. Run the numbers. We’re going to have to scale up renewable energy in a way we can hardly imagine.”

Developers are more than aware of civic resistance to their projects and its source. “Local opposition to proposed wind farms arises because some people perceive that the development will change what they are used to,” write executives of the Wind Capital Group, a developer of Midwest wind farms that is based in St. Louis. “It is true that a large wind farm can be a significant change, but while some people express concern about the effect wind turbines have on the beauty of our landscape, others see them as elegant and beautiful, or as symbols of a better, less polluted future. The visual effect of wind farms is a subjective issue, but most of the criticisms made about wind energy today are exaggerated or untrue and simply reflect attempts by particular groups to discredit the technology, worry local communities and turn them against proposed projects. In the electronic age, myths and misinformation about wind power spread at lightning speed.”

— Keith Schneider

Earth, Wind, Fire On Day of Onrushing Risks

The accelerating consequences of the warming Earth, the hazards associated with increasing reliance on fossil fuels, the promise of big clean energy projects, and the difficulties in advancing a national climate and energy policy fit for the 21st century came into sharp focus today in Washington and across the nation.

c_temp_change_us
c_temp_lower_48
c_snowpack
c_bird_abundance

In Boston, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that aftter nine years of public confrontation, the United States had reached a decision to approve crucial permits to build 130 utility-scale windmills off the coast of Nantucket in Massachusetts. The Interior secretary’s decision, according to U.S. regulators, may help speed construction of the first offshore wind farm in the United States. But that is not at all assured as an alliance of local environmental organizations and Indian tribes who see the windfarm as an intrusion vow to press their opposition in the courts.

Salazar’s announcement was made within minutes of a statement by the U.S. Coast Guard, which was preparing to ignite a portion of the huge oil slick from last week’s explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig to test whether burning some of the crude might prevent oil from reaching the Louisiana Coast.

In Washington, a new EPA assessment of how climate change is affecting precipitation, growing seasons, bird migrations, and 21 other indicators served as a kind of insistent background music to the raw and clamorous political combat that has blocked a trio of Senators from New England and South Carolina from introducing of a bipartisan climate and energy bill they have worked on for months.

There is still no clear indication that the disruption that caused the delay this week – a bid by the Democratic Senate majority leader to consider immigration reform before the climate and energy bill — will be resolved. But news organizations are reporting that the draft bill has been sent to the EPA for analysis, a crucial step required for full Senate floor debate.

Bound Up In The Ropes of Economic, Political Circumstance
Though today’s events occurred separately, they nevertheless formed the political, environmental, and scientific boundary lines of an era of economic transition that is leadng the U.S. to a place it has rarely been before – uncertain, wavering, and for every potentially small step forward, three steps are in retreat in the face of onrushing risks. Those include what the EPA on Tuesday called “indisputable evidence” that human activities are producing sweeping alterations to the planet’s environment.

The federal approval of the Cape Wind project in Massachusetts, and the test burn in Louisiana served as the big climate and energy news of the day. Arguably, though, the more durable and significant advance of the week was the EPA’s new assessment, “Climate Change Indicators in the United States,” which was released on Tuesday.

“Over the last several decades, evidence of human influences on climate change has become increasingly clear and compelling,” said the report’s authors, which included five U.S. departments and agencies, six American research universities, three non-profit organizations, and contributions from government researchers in Japan, Australia, and Bermuda. “There is indisputable evidence that human activities such as electricity production and transportation are adding to the concentrations of greenhouse gases that are already naturally present in the atmosphere. These heat-trapping gases are now at record-high levels in the atmosphere compared with the recent and distant past.”

Indicators – Not Good
The EPA study, which was made public a week after the State Department released a 193-draft report that argued climate change posed a grave threat to the global economy, describes the accelerating consequences in the United States and globally of a warming planet. Those include rising sea levels, melting glaciers, lengthening growing seasons, intensifying lethal storms, steadily raising temperatures, aggravating heat-related illnesss, draining snowpacks of moisture, and wildlife pushed outside their traditional ranges.

Though many of the details are not new, the compendium of scientific evidence, rigorously gathered and compellingly presented, strengthen the narrative of swift change in the natural world that opponents of climate science have tried for years to dismiss. “These indicators show us that climate change is a very real problem with impacts that are already being seen,” said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.

A Sampling of Consequences The 24 climate change indicators and a sampling of the agency’s findings are:

U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions: From 1990 to 2008, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities increased 14 percent to nearly 7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities rose 26 percent from 1990 to 2005, to 38 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. CO2, which accounts for three-quarters of all global greenhouse gas emissions, increased 31 percent.

Atmospheric Concentrations of Greenhouse Gases: Levels of CO2 are higher now than they have been in thousands of years, “even after accounting for natural fluctuations.” Concentrations have risen from 270 ppm to almost 390 ppm.

Climate Forcing: From 1990 to 2008, scientists calculated a 26 percent increase in the absorption of energy in tge atmosphere, or “radiative forcing.”

U.S. and Global Temperature: Seven of the top 10 warmest years on record for the continental U.S. have occurred since 1990, and the last 10 five-year periods have the warmest five-year periods on record. The first decade of the 21st century was the warmest on record worldwide. Average temperatures in the lower 48 states have risen an average 0.13 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since 1901, and the rate of increase has accelerated over the last 30 years.

Heat Waves: The frequency of heat waves and the percentage of the United States experiencing heat waves has increased since the 1970s. The Dust Bowl decade of the 1930s remains the record-holder for heat waves.

Drought: During the first decade of the 21st century 30 to 60 percent of the U.S. experienced drought, but the indicator is too new to determine whether droughts are increasing or decreasing.

U.S. and Global Precipitation: Average rain and snowfall has increased in the U.S. and globally. In the continental U.S. precipitation has increased at a rate of 6.4 percent per century since 1901, Globally, precipitation has increased 2 percent per century. Conditions vary within regions. Parts of the Southwest, and Hawaii have seen a decrease in precipitation.

Heavy Precipitation: Intense “single-day events” or very heavy rainfall is increasing. Eight of the 10 worst years for extreme rainfall in the United States have occurred since 1990.

Tropical Cycle Intensity: The intensity of tropical storms in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico is increasing. Six of the 10 most active hurricane seasons have occurred since the mid-1990s.

Ocean Heat: Since the 1950s the level of heat stored in the world’s oceans has risen. EPA notes that the data interpretations vary as scientists are working with different measuring techniques.

Sea Surface Temperature: Temperatures rose an average of 0.12 degrees per decade from 1901 through 2009, with the fastest rise over the past 30 years.

Sea Level: Oceans have risen an average of six-tenths of an inch per decade since the 1870s.

Ocean Acidity: Ocean acidity has increased.

Arctic Sea Ice: The Arctic is melting. The expanse of Arctic ice in 2009 was 24 percent less than the area covered on average from 1979 to 2000.

Glaciers: Glaciers globally are receding at a quickening pace and have lost more than 2,000 cubic miles of water since 1960, contributing to the rise in sea level.

Lake Ice: Lakes in the northern U.S. are staying ice-free about one to two days longer each decade since the late 1800s.

Snow Cover: North American snow cover has decreased steadily, from 3.4 million square miles in the 1970s to 3.18 million in the first decade of this century.

Snowpack: The depth of snow in early spring has, on average, decreased in the western U.S., with some areas seeing a decline of more than 75 percent between 1950 and 2000.

Heat-Related Deaths: Heat-related illnesses caused over 6,000 deaths in the U.S. since 1980. But the data classifying deaths as heat-related is new, and the EPA acknowledges there is considerable year-to-year variability and it is difficult to discern long-term trends.

Length of Growing Season: Earlier spring warming and later fall frosts have increased the average length of the growing season in the lower 48 states by about two weeks since the start of the 20th century. The trend is most apparent in the West.

Plant Hardiness Zones: Higher winter temperatures since 1990 in most parts of the country have shifted northward the region where species of plants are able to thrive.

Leaf and Bloom Dates: Leaves are emerging, and lilacs and honeysuckle are blooming slightly earlier than a century ago. EPA notes that it’s difficult to determine if the observations are statistically meaningful.

Bird Wintering Ranges: Studies have found birds in North America have shifted their wintering grounds an average of 35 miles northward over the past half century, and a few species are moving hundreds of miles farther north and further inland.

“I have seen most of these data before, but it’s extremely useful to have it all in one place and presented in a visually appealing—and appalling—fashion,” wrote Dan Lashof, the director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate Center in Washington. “Over the last two decades scientists have patiently assembled the pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle into a crystal clear picture of how our planet is changing. Professional climate science deniers will continue to focus on the handful of pieces that have been misplaced or lost under the sofa. But for everyone else there is no denying that this picture spells trouble.”

— Keith Schneider

Earth, Wind, and Fire On Day of Onrushing Climate Risks

The accelerating consequences of the warming Earth, the hazards associated with increasing reliance on fossil fuels, the promise of big clean energy projects, and the difficulties in advancing a national climate and energy policy fit for the 21st century came into sharp focus today in Washington and across the nation.

c_temp_change_us
c_temp_lower_48
c_snowpack
c_bird_abundance

In Boston, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that aftter nine years of public confrontation, the United States had reached a decision to approve crucial permits to build 130 utility-scale windmills off the coast of Nantucket in Massachusetts. The Interior secretary’s decision, according to U.S. regulators, may help speed construction of the first offshore wind farm in the United States. But that is not at all assured as an alliance of local environmental organizations and Indian tribes who see the windfarm as an intrusion vow to press their opposition in the courts.

Salazar’s announcement was made within minutes of a statement by the U.S. Coast Guard, which was preparing to ignite a portion of the huge oil slick from last week’s explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig to test whether burning some of the crude might prevent oil from reaching the Louisiana Coast.

In Washington, a new EPA assessment of how climate change is affecting precipitation, growing seasons, bird migrations, and 21 other indicators served as a kind of insistent background music to the raw and clamorous political combat that has blocked a trio of Senators from New England and South Carolina from introducing of a bipartisan climate and energy bill they have worked on for months.

There is still no clear indication that the disruption that caused the delay this week  – a bid by the Democratic Senate majority leader to consider immigration reform before the climate and energy bill — will be resolved. But news organizations are reporting that the draft bill has been sent to the EPA for analysis, a crucial step required for full Senate floor debate.

Bound Up In The Ropes of Economic, Political Circumstance
Though today’s events occurred separately, they nevertheless formed the political, environmental, and scientific boundary lines of an era of economic transition that is leadng the U.S. to a place it has rarely been before – uncertain, wavering, and for every potentially small step forward, three steps are in retreat in the face of onrushing risks. Those include what the EPA on Tuesday called “indisputable evidence” that human activities are producing sweeping alterations to the planet’s environment.

The federal approval of the Cape Wind project in Massachusetts, and the test burn in Louisiana served as the big climate and energy news of the day. Arguably, though, the more durable and significant advance of the week was the EPA’s new assessment, “Climate Change Indicators in the United States,” which was released on Tuesday.

“Over the last several decades, evidence of human influences on climate change has become increasingly clear and compelling,” said the report’s authors, which included five U.S. departments and agencies, six American research universities, three non-profit organizations, and contributions from government researchers in Japan, Australia, and Bermuda. “There is indisputable evidence that human activities such as electricity production and transportation are adding to the concentrations of greenhouse gases that are already naturally present in the atmosphere. These heat-trapping gases are now at record-high levels in the atmosphere compared with the recent and distant past.”

Indicators – Not Good
The EPA study, which was made public a week after the State Department released a 193-draft report that argued climate change posed a grave threat to the global economy, describes the accelerating consequences in the United States and globally of a warming planet. Those include rising sea levels, melting glaciers, lengthening growing seasons, intensifying lethal storms,  steadily raising temperatures, aggravating heat-related illnesss, draining snowpacks of moisture, and wildlife pushed outside their traditional ranges.

Though many of the details are not new, the compendium of scientific evidence, rigorously gathered and compellingly presented, strengthen the narrative of swift change in the natural world that opponents of climate science have tried for years to dismiss. “These indicators show us that climate change is a very real problem with impacts that are already being seen,” said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.

A Sampling of Consequences The 24 climate change indicators and a sampling of the agency’s findings are:

U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions: From 1990 to 2008, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities increased 14 percent to nearly 7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities rose 26 percent from 1990 to 2005, to 38 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. CO2, which accounts for three-quarters of all global greenhouse gas emissions, increased 31 percent.

Atmospheric Concentrations of Greenhouse Gases: Levels of CO2 are higher now than they have been in thousands of years, “even after accounting for natural fluctuations.” Concentrations have risen from 270 ppm to almost 390 ppm.

Climate Forcing: From 1990 to 2008, scientists calculated a 26 percent increase in the absorption of energy in tge atmosphere, or “radiative forcing.”

U.S. and Global Temperature: Seven of the top 10 warmest years on record for the continental U.S. have occurred since 1990, and the last 10 five-year periods have the warmest five-year periods on record. The first decade of the 21st century was the warmest on record worldwide. Average temperatures in the lower 48 states have risen an average 0.13 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since 1901, and the rate of increase has accelerated over the last 30 years.

Heat Waves: The frequency of heat waves and the percentage of the United States experiencing heat waves has increased since the 1970s. The Dust Bowl decade of the 1930s remains the record-holder for heat waves.

Drought: During the first decade of the 21st century 30 to 60 percent of the U.S. experienced drought, but the indicator is too new to determine whether droughts are increasing or decreasing.

U.S. and Global Precipitation: Average rain and snowfall has increased in the U.S. and globally. In the continental U.S. precipitation has increased at a rate of 6.4 percent per century since 1901, Globally, precipitation has increased 2 percent per century. Conditions vary within regions. Parts of the Southwest, and Hawaii have seen a decrease in precipitation.

Heavy Precipitation: Intense “single-day events” or very heavy rainfall is increasing. Eight of the 10 worst years for extreme rainfall in the United States have occurred since 1990.

Tropical Cycle Intensity: The intensity of tropical storms in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico is increasing. Six of the 10 most active hurricane seasons have occurred since the mid-1990s.

Ocean Heat: Since the 1950s the level of heat stored in the world’s oceans has risen. EPA notes that the data interpretations vary as scientists are working with different measuring techniques.

Sea Surface Temperature: Temperatures rose an average of 0.12 degrees per decade from 1901 through 2009, with the fastest rise over the past 30 years.

Sea Level: Oceans have risen an average of six-tenths of an inch per decade since the 1870s.

Ocean Acidity: Ocean acidity has increased.

Arctic Sea Ice: The Arctic is melting. The expanse of Arctic ice in 2009 was 24 percent less than the area covered on average from 1979 to 2000.

Glaciers: Glaciers globally are receding at a quickening pace and have lost more than 2,000 cubic miles of water since 1960, contributing to the rise in sea level.

Lake Ice: Lakes in the northern U.S. are staying ice-free about one to two days longer each decade since the late 1800s.

Snow Cover: North American snow cover has decreased steadily, from 3.4 million square miles in the 1970s to 3.18 million in the first decade of this century.

Snowpack: The depth of snow in early spring has, on average, decreased in the western U.S., with some areas seeing a decline of more than 75 percent between 1950 and 2000.

Heat-Related Deaths: Heat-related illnesses caused over 6,000 deaths in the U.S. since 1980. But the data classifying deaths as heat-related is new, and the EPA acknowledges there is considerable year-to-year variability and it is difficult to discern long-term trends.

Length of Growing Season: Earlier spring warming and later fall frosts have increased the average length of the growing season in the lower 48 states by about two weeks since the start of the 20th century. The trend is most apparent in the West.

Plant Hardiness Zones: Higher winter temperatures since 1990 in most parts of the country have shifted northward the region where species of plants are able to thrive.

Leaf and Bloom Dates: Leaves are emerging, and lilacs and honeysuckle are blooming slightly earlier than a century ago. EPA notes that it’s difficult to determine if the observations are statistically meaningful.

Bird Wintering Ranges: Studies have found birds in North America have shifted their wintering grounds an average of 35 miles northward over the past half century, and a few species are moving hundreds of miles farther north and further inland.

“I have seen most of these data before, but it’s extremely useful to have it all in one place and presented in a visually appealing—and appalling—fashion,” wrote Dan Lashof, the director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate Center in Washington.  “Over the last two decades scientists have patiently assembled the pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle into a crystal clear picture of how our planet is changing. Professional climate science deniers will continue to focus on the handful of pieces that have been misplaced or lost under the sofa. But for everyone else there is no denying that this picture spells trouble.”

Keith Schneider, a journalist and communications strategist, is director of media and communications at the US Climate Action Network. Reach him at kschneider@climatenetwork.org.

When It Comes to Climate and Clean Energy, “Just Say No” Has Become Too Popular

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Monday, in the parlance of Washington policy and journalism, was scheduled to be a potential day of breakthrough in the work to achieve action on the warming climate. Senators John Kerry (Mass.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (Conn.) had announced that they’d come to consensus on what a bipartisan energy and climate policy fit for the 21st century looked like. The results were to be unveiled at a news briefing that had global import.

Instead nothing happened. It was like reeling in a sailfish, all fight and silvery splash, only to have the beast die on the way into the boat.

This is the third time in five months that that I’ve been involved in climate and clean energy campaigns that culminated in less than they promised. “Just say no” is emerging as a far easier answer than saying yes to progress.

In Copenhagen in December, nearly 200 nations gathered at the largest summit ever with the express purpose of reaching agreement on a climate treaty. Instead what they came up with was a novel accord that points in the right direction and may not achieve more than that.

In Traverse City, a small utility’s bid to acquire 30 percent of its energy from local renewable resources, including a state-of-the-art clean right-sized clean burning 10 mw wood biomass plant, generated such fierce hyperbole about unfounded risks among some environmentalists that you’d have thought the utility was proposing a 100-acre toxic waste site for the middle of town. The local push back, led by a grassroots environmental group, is consistent with similar resistance in 30 other states to proposals for new wind, solar, geothermal, wood biomass, and transmission lines. This week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is expected to decide on a big offshore wind farm in Massachusetts that has been the focus on a popular opposition campaign. The clean energy transition may not be televised.

Now comes the Senate’s attempt to push through a climate and energy bill, which over the weekend got washed up on the shoals of partisanship, immigration policy, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s re-election, and the powerful climate change-denying communications machine operated by America’s fossil fuel collective.

Today, Senator Reid retreated just a bit and sought to assure his Democratic and Republican colleagues that debate on the climate and energy bill would come before debate on the immigration bill. That makes sense since there is no immigration bill to debate in the Senate. But Graham, a very lonely Republican in the climate and clean energy space, has not yet indicated whether he’s ready to participate in introducing the ready-to-go energy bill that he’s spent months shaping with Senators Kerry and Lieberman.

The politics of stasis — of doing nothing — is brought action on climate change to a crawl, and that may be kind. The public will to act, to reduce emissions of carbon, to provide for the safety of the planet and all its inhabitants, is just not apparent in the United States, or in much of the rest of the developed world.

Clearly, a new operating program is needed politically and a new communications frame and strategy needs to be developed. Today the Environmental Protection Agency made public a new report on climate change effects that are getting worse:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are increasing. Between 1990 and 2008, there has been about a 14 percent increase in emissions in the United States.
  • Average temperatures are rising. Seven of the top 10 warmest years on record for the continental United States have occurred since 1990.
  • Tropical cyclone intensity has increased in recent decades. Six of the 10 most active hurricane seasons have occurred since the mid-1990s.
  • Sea levels are rising. From 1993 to 2008, sea level rose twice as fast as the long-term trend.
  • Glaciers are melting. Loss of glacier volume appears to have accelerated over the last decade.
  • The frequency of heat waves has risen steadily since the 1960s. The percentage of the U.S. population impacted by heat waves has also increased.

Still, people in the United States aren’t much concerned. They are clearly indicating,  in grassroots fights and in support for lawmakers who counsel to do nothing, that they are satisfied with the way things are. That is a dangerous sentiment in an unsettled world making powerful and swift transitions in every important sector — the economy, markets, the environment, energy, population, and competition for resources.

— Keith Schneider

Judy Feder, My Friend, Dies at 53

judy3_on

Along the avenue of beautiful women Judy Feder, who died yesterday at 53, never failed to attract notice. It wasn’t just her slender waist and long lashes, her red hair and porcelain skin, her knowing smile and flashing eyes. That all helped, of course. Those drawn into Judy’s field of gravity became aware of another dimension to her loveliness — her spirit, which moved at its own pace and was adorned with words like this: Vivid. Secure. Adventurous. Ambitious. Animated. Alive.

Judy was the first girl I ever loved. It didn’t last nearly long enough. But in the few months I was lucky enough to call her my girlfriend during the summer of 1971, she at the Westchester Music and Arts Camp, me as a young counselor in training in western Massachusetts, we wrote long, bright, ardent letters to each other. Hers came three times a week — neat feminine cursive on blue stationary. Mine were sent just as often — pencil on white paper I scrounged from other counselors. On the days that the mail brought Judy’s letters I savored her prose. My heart beat faster.  I read her letters again and again. Those weeks away from Judy, she inspired in me the ability to love and the capacity to write.

We all have our roles. After Judy alerted me that our romance was over –in characteristically Judy notation that mixed the clear drum beat of doom with flute like grace notes — she almost never failed to introduce me to people as her “first boyfriend.” She did it to tease me. But she also wanted me to know that she’d reserved a permanent place in her heart for a first love.

Judy was the least ambiguous person I ever knew. My mother once told me that the most difficult years of her life were my teenage adolescence, which both describes the distractions of that period and the fortunate life Mom has lived. The point, though, is that Judy also disapproved. The high school classes missed. The grades that didn’t measure up. The partying and carousing and carrying on. Once, and only once, she caught up with me in the hallway at White Plains High School and let me know that I could and should do better. I don’t remember the precise words but I do recall how she said them. It may have been the only time I was near her that Judy didn’t smile.

Judy went on to Princeton and Tapani, a career, and her handsome capable boys. One weekend, before Eero was born, she came down to Washington with Tapani and Eliel to spend a few days at my house. We hiked in the Shenandoah National Park, strolled the National Mall, drank wine, and laughed alot. Every morning during her shower Judy entertained us with arias and melodies, the songs of a happy woman who delighted in what her life had become.

Like everyone else, I gulped when Judy announced she was sick. She resisted its onset, which is the only way she knew. She responded to the pulse of love that her family and friends sent by sending it back. Her emailed dispatches kept us abreast of breakthroughs in medical science even as they provided candid access to Judy’s passion, reckoning, endurance, and commitment to live. She would still spin, as she always had, at the center of her own life.

“The vocabulary of caring (aka “how do you talk to sick people”) interests me greatly these days,” Judy wrote in February 2009.  “I’ve never been quite sure how to respond to “how are you?”  Most of the time I answer, “I’m feeling well thanks,” or “I’m doing pretty well.”  Lately, I’ve been trying out:  ‘I’m actually very sick at the moment, but I’ve just started a new regimen, and I’m feeling optimistic.”  Or, “I’m not feeling very well, but we’re working on it and I think we’ve got a good plan. Of course, there are always the people who go beyond “how are you” to “how’s your treatment going” or “how did that procedure go?”  I’m grateful for these questions, but I realize that the brain is not wired to process the answers.”

She added: “But how I do love the heightened joy of those every day miracles. I loved the magnificence of The Seagull and the ass-kickin’ Alvin Ailey.  I loved lighting candles all over the house during the holidays and sharing memorable meals with those I hold dear.  I loved making excellent music a few Sundays back.   I loved hearing a student of John Updike read his words with the tenderest reverence.  I even love helping a younger cancer sister through some of the low points I know all too well. And I love all of you.”

Judy Feder’s life — purposeful, well-lived, and too short — was distinguished by her brains, her joy, her flair. And one more. Her pure resonance.

— Keith Schneider