Squirrels Are Smarter


Near the last days of fall color in Michigan’s northwest corner, where I live, squirrels were especially active. They darted across the two-lane roads in front of my bicycle. On one ride to Glen Arbor (that’s Glen Lake in pix above) you could hear their quickening steps on the forest’s dry leaves, like the brushed strokes on a tight snare drum. Foraging and darting, they prepared for a cold winter.

We are told that people are the smartest living organisms on the planet. We are capable of assessing conditions, reasoning, anticipation, and action. We use tools and show emotion.

But watching our region’s squirrels make preparation for a season of cold prompted pause about our capabilities. Here in the U.S. we face a lengthening season of distress, maybe a decade or more of perilous transition as markets change and climate change bears down on our stability. But we are making scant effort at preparation.

In fact, with more diligence than ever before, we are doing the very things that are certain to make the crisis worse. We are digging for coal and drilling for oil with prodigious resolve. We are opposing wind and solar and efficiency gains that would rebuild and rejuvenate the economy. And we are content with the politics of austerity and disinvestment that assures we delay indefinitely the principle of shared responsibility that would help us invent a new national mission.

Squirrels, meanwhile, prepare for the new season of cold and dark. Hear them scurry on dry leaves. They are getting ready for what’s next.

— Keith Schneider

On Keystone Pipeline, White House Blinks

Aware of the growing and visible opposition to the 1,700-mile Keystone Pipeline, much of it organized by writer Bill McKibben and his colleagues at 350.org, the White House today blinked. In a statement, the administration said it would evaluate a new pipeline route from Canada to the Gulf Coast, one that presumably takes it away from sensitive wetlands in Nebraska. Protests there have been so strong that even Nebraska’s Republican Governor Dave Heineman announced his opposition.

I’ve written extensively about tar sands and the Keystone Pipeline, which its proponents consider vital to the energy economy and security of the U.S. It is intended to transport oil from Alberta, Canada to refineries in the Midwest and Gulf Coast. Its opponents attacked the $6 billion proposal as a threat to wetlands and water (from leaks), a useless drain on economic activity designed to wean the nation from oil, and a threat to the climate because of all the greenhouse gases it will release during mining, processing, and use of tar sands-generated oil.

Next month I head out to the Pacific Northwest and northern Great Plains to report on several more big facets of this story — the fight over shipments of big equipment from Idaho and Montana to Alberta, and the expanding oil and gas fields of North Dakota. Make no mistake about what’s happening in American energy development. The United States is diligently perpetuating the drive-through fossil fuel economy. The struggle over building the Keystone Pipeline is a clear indication that Americans are paying attention to the consequences.

— Keith Schneider