Saturday, November 23, 2013

38th Parallel authors compared to famous travelers of the 1930s

After our 38th parallel book slide talk at the Alpine County library (Markleeville, CA), this notice ran in Tom Sweeney's local newsletter:
"The program... TRAVELING THE 38th PARALLEL, A WATER LINE AROUND THE WORLD, last Saturday was an enjoyable time for all the armchair adventurers in attendance; it was a full house. Modern day Martin and Osa Johnsons*, David and Janet Carle shared their travels and the book they wrote about them. If you missed it and ever get another chance be sure to take advantage of it."
**stars of the great 1950s "I Married Adventure" series

So we looked up the Johnsons, who traveled in the 1920s and '30s, wrote about, and filmed their adventures. Osa's book "I Married Adventure" is still available at online book stores.    

Monday, November 18, 2013

News from China about better environmental protection...maybe.

A Reuters article about new China policies on the environment sounds like good news regarding the tension between economic growth and environmental degradation. The government of China has announced reforms to beef up the Ministry of the Environment's oversight and reduce focus on uncontrolled economic growth.  During our travels across the nation on the 38th parallel, we saw some of the serious pollution problems generated by the nation's recent push to grow, grow, grow.
   The article also mentions the tendency we observed to build grandiose national park structures instead of addressing underlying issues with impacts of development (see our blog from April 28, 2011, "National Parks of Yinchuan, Playgrounds or Preserves?"

   We also interviewed an environmental NGO, "Green Camel Bell" in Lanzhou, where staff struggle to address such issues.  University professor, Zhang Songlin, at Northwest Normal University told us, "In old times, the belief was that if you harm the environment, you would be punished.  Now, increased GDP is the belief."  Professor Songlin was not very hopeful, at that time, but perhaps these 2013 reforms are going to help.
See our blog from May 1, 2011:  "Up the Yellow River to Lanzhou's Green Camel Bell."


Wednesday, November 13, 2013


"The stories are inspiring, sometimes heartbreaking, and should whet the appetite for more information about the history and environment of the areas.  Summing Up: Recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates and general readers.   --R. C. Hedreen, Southern Connecticut State University"
October 2013
 CHOICE review of Traveling the 38th Parallel

Monday, August 12, 2013

Goodreads review by Debbie Boucher of Traveling the 38th Parallel

A Goodreads review of Traveling the 38th Parallel  on August 11, 2013, reads: “The perfect combination of arm-chair travelogue and environmental treatise. I learned as I joined them on their journey, and I saw things I will most likely never see. I came away with an important message: It is the power of place that moves us to do things we might never have considered doing, like standing up for the environment against incredible odds. It is the power of one that truly makes a difference. Thank you, David and Janet, for reminding me of this.” 
by Debbie Boucher, author of Oblivia, Back to Normal, and Millennial Fears

Monday, July 22, 2013

Iberian Lynx jeopardized by Climate Warming

An article was just published about the problems climate warming is bringing to Iberian Lynx, a very endangered cat in Spain and Portugal where there are captive breeding and release efforts underway that we explored as we traveled the 38th Parallel for our book (see our blogs from April 27 and 28, 2010).  This article summarizes the report just published in Nature Climate Change. See:

The authors of the report concluded that the species may face extinction unless efforts to reestablish them are shifted northward.  This link goes to the original report titled "Adapted conservation measures are required to save the Iberian lynx in a changing climate":

Lynx drawing by Javier Grijalbo, Madrid, Spain:

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Amazing Yellow River Sand-Washing photos

Amazing photos at a Chinese webpage of the annual effort to flush silts from the Xiaolangdi Reservoir on the Yellow River. That river's silty story was a key one in our book, Traveling the 38th Parallel, a Water Line around the World.yellow river
 Read more about it here:Yellow river sand-washing photos
and even more photos here on a Chinese English-language site.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Color photos from our 38th Parallel book

As we have presented slide shows with color photos from our 38th Parallel travels, many readers have asked about color versions of the 30 images in the book.  We are re-posting all of those, in the order they appear in the text, plus the maps (in black and white) together in this single blog post.  Click on a thumbprint to advance through all of them in larger size:



Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Water Tensions and Middle East Peace

As we learned while traveling the 38th Parallel, tensions about water limits in the Tigris and Euphrates River watersheds are threatening peace in that troubled region.  The June issue of "Smithsonian" has an article,
Lack of Water to Blame for the Conflict in Syria?
which explores the current conflict in Syria and the broader regional tensions in Iraq and Turkey that are driven by too little water leading to refugees moving into cities, and ties to the recent uprising in Syria.

   Just last week an International Rivers conference in Turkey focused on the threats to displaced persons and flooded cultural sites in places like the Brazilian Amazon and at Hasankeyf, Turkey, on the Tigris River.  One of the most compelling stories in our book emerged from out visit to Hasankeyf.  Demonstrators from many nations attending the conference protested at the gates of the Ilisu Dam construction site:  See this report from May 21

As the Smithsonian article mentioned, NASA's GRACE satellite is providing documentation of the serious depletion of groundwater aquifers in the Middle East, and also in the Ogallala aquifer of the Great Plains in the U.S., and in California's San Joaquin Valley, all stories that we encountered along our travels.  You can read more about the scientific measurements from space that help explain so many on-going human and environmental challenges here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Glacial Melting in the Karakorum and Pamir Mountains of China

"Climate Change May be Baring Mount Everest" is the headline in a LA Times article of May 14, 2013.  Imbedded in that article is a link to a Nature article from last year about "Tibetan Glaciers Shrinking Rapidly."  Both stories help clarify the conditions we saw at Oytagh glacier and along the Karakorum Highway in southwestern China during our 38th Parallel travels.  We told that story in a post back in May 9, 2011 after visiting the rapidly shrinking Oytagh glacier. 
    What could be emphasized more in the news stories is the human concern that comes with glacial melting in that region.  To reach the mountains we had traveled along the southern edge of the Taklimakan Desert, the southern route of the famous Silk Road which connects a series of oasis towns where water has been critical to locals and travelers for thousands of years.  The source of water that creates those oases is the melting snow and ice from the nearby mountains.
   The recent research reported in the news stories notes the complexities of documenting impacts in that part of the world, where increased rainfall is coming to some regions influenced by westerly winds out of Europe as a result of global warming, while less falls in other sections of the Tibetan Plateau where the Indian monsoon is the weather-deliverer.  The monsoon has been weakening in recent decades.
   This week we learned that measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide are close to the 400 parts per million concentration and continuing to rise.  "The weekly average reading at Mauna Loa was 399.52...up nearly 22 points from a decade ago, according to the NOAA."  With so little effective action occurring globally to address this trend, the coming decades are going to be very challenging around the world.


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

38th Parallel Desal Plant in Spain, Europe's Largest, Nears Completion

The desalinization plant in Torrevieja, Spain where construction was stalled when we visited that 38th Parallel site (see "Saline lagoons of Spain's Costa Blanca",  posted on April 30, 2010) is finally close to completion.  In a news story in The Leader on March 3, 2013, we read that "it’s been over ten years since Zapatero’s government first heralded the new Torrevieja plant as an alternative to the Ebro water transfer into Murcia and Alicante, and over two years since the main structure was completed."
At last, the plant, the largest in Europe and second biggest in the world, is within weeks of beginning operation, though "the product may be so expensive that nobody will be prepared to buy it." 
As we learned during our travels, Spain decided to invest in desal as an alternative to damming northern rivers and sending more water south via aqueducts, the model they had been following that is so similar to California's history.  But the energy and environmental costs of desalinization continue to be major hurdles, particularly when compared to less expensive water conservation and recycling options. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

South Korea's New Administration Critical of "Green Growth" 4 Rivers Project

Another recent news story related to a topic in our book:

In a Korea Herald article that appeared March 28, 2013, the controversial 4 Rivers Restoration Project that we saw underway while in South Korea and wrote about in TRAVELING THE 38TH PARALLEL is described as coming under criticism and scrutiny by the new President's administration.  "President Park Geun-hye and her officials are openly skeptical toward [former President] Lee’s green packages, saying they were too oriented toward economic growth. They hinted at a shift back to the goal of sustainable development, which Lee had ditched as outdated.  Government agencies are investigating the controversial river project over not only its negative impact on water quality but also unsavory ties between the government and contractors"
As Chooney Kim, the KFEM environmental NGO activist, told us when we visited, a time when the construction was still not complete, "The government calls this 'green economy,' but has no concern about the ecology.  They just keep construction workers busy, busy, busy."  Rather than restoration, the work greatly widened, deepened, and channelized the largest rivers in the nation, including the Han River that passes by Seoul.
Despite such criticism, this news article seems to mourn the loss of the nation's"green growth" program, while it also mentions criticism that the new government has faced by environmental groups for not yet articulating a clear environmental program as a replacement.  This week, the international media are all focused on the threats of military action by North Korea, understandably, but this on-going debate over the meanings of "green" and "sustainability" continues, nevertheless.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Asian Dust in the Eastern Sierra of California

The Sierra Wave news service ran a radio story about the hazy skies recently in the Eastern Sierra, where we live.  It is that time of year when the dust storms blow off the Asian deserts; we saw that in action when we were in China.  
So we wondered about the Eastern Sierra haze in the air last week, speculating that it might be the Asian spring dust reaching around the globe again.  Good to have that confirmed, yet it is not a pretty thing. We are a very connected world, which is both good and bad and that is one of the key lessons we discovered as we traveled the 38th Parallel around the world.  Here's the link to the radio story:

Dust from the Gobi Desert clouds Owens Valley | Sierra Wave: Eastern Sierra News
Why has our air looked so hazy since last Friday? It was made in China, you might say, and blown across the globe to California.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Three hopeful news stories about topics in the book

This week three news stories reported hopeful actions tied to stories we told in Traveling the 38th Parallel.  One describes farmers voluntarily cooperating to limit Ogallala aquifer pumping in northwest Kansas, here:  "Drought Ravaged Plains Efforts to Save a Vital Aquifer"
And the second tells about conservative outrage over China's involvement in Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining in Kentucky:  Motherjones mountaintop-removal-china-conservative.

We'll take all the good news we can get on both topics, which were some of the most disturbing issues we encountered along the 38th Parallel.

And KQED posted this story about San Joaquin River flows that may be adjusted to improve wildlife conditions by a slight increase in spring flows.  Good clear coverage by KQED:

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Interview about 38th Parallel book with CBS radio host Peter Greenberg

The April 16, Saturday morning CBS radio travel show, hosted by Peter Greenberg, "The Travel Detective," included an interview with us about the 38th Parallel book. We found the podcast by clicking a link at: Peter Greenberg CBS radio
Our interview came up 54 minutes into the show, right after Peter's segment about the new TSA rules, in the third hour of the show.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review in Foreword Reviews for Traveling the 38th Parallel

From Foreword Reviews, Spring 2013, pages 20, 21, review of Traveling the 38th Parallel written by Kristen Rabe: 
"David and Janet Carle illuminate an environmental discussion on waterways and wetlands with accounts of their travel across the Northern Hemisphere. The authors acknowledge the complexities of these issues while also recognizing the many like-minded people around the world who are working to address the issues in meaningful and sustainable ways. .
   The authors are passionate about preserving the diversity and richness of the natural world and are attuned to the complexities of related issues. ...[teaching] us much about what we need to be doing—and why it is vitally important to care.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

"A Grand Adventure;" Book Review in Mammoth Times

With the title "A Grand Adventure," a book review appeared on February 15 in the Mammoth Times, written by Wendilyn Grasseschi, for TRAVELING THE 38TH PARALLEL, A WATER LINE AROUND THE WORLD.  Here's the Mammoth Times link  
From the review:

"Who would have thought something as seemingly mundane as a number could underlie much of the world’s most productive cultures?
   "That is what local authors and former Mono Lake rangers David and Janet Carle found when they set out four years ago to walk around the world following the same latitude that their home—Mono Lake—lies on—the 38th parallel.
   "It's a lucid, well-written book that moves the reader from the salty shores of Mono Lake to the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea with equal ease. It reads more like an adventure novel than a non-fiction travel book, and includes stories about people from around the world.
   "These stories remind the reader that humanity is related by more than just similar DNA, but also by dreams, worries, and challenges that are often mirrors of each other."

Many bookstores and online book vendors, around the world, now have our book in stock.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Audit, 1 year after completion of S. Korea's 4 Rivers Restoration Project

Another on-going story from the up-coming book (which is being shipped to warehouses and retail outlets now!):  An internal state audit of the 4 Rivers project (reported on January 19, 2013, at, by the Board of Audit and Inspection, found that "16 dams that were the key parts of the restoration project had problems in durability and safety. The report also claimed that 'unreasonable management' caused fears over deterioration of water quality. Due to large-scale dredging work, the maintenance costs for the rivers are expected to reach 288 billion won (272.5 million dollars) a year, according to the audit. The findings suggest that the government rushed to complete the project before President Lee left office, causing breaches in quality control and exposing sign of shoddy construction."  The government disputed the findings, but scheduled its own audit.
       We wrote about this topic on July 1, 2010, but took down that post because it seemed controversial as we prepared to next travel to China.  It became a key chapter in our book.  Here is the original blog:

Dams and Dredging: Korea's River “Restoration” Project

Seoul is a city of 10 million people now, but hundreds of years ago, it was a newly founded village along the banks of a pretty creek called Chonggyecheon. As the city grew, the creek became a sewer and finally was covered over by concrete and a freeway. Until recently, that is, because Mayor Lee Myung-bak brought the creek back to the daylight and pushed construction of a semi-natural running water experience for the urban dwellers in Seoul. We were impressed with the creek walk as an urban park, though water from the Han River is pumped at considerable energy costs to enhance the flow.

Now Lee is the nation's president and he seems determined to re-design the nation's four largest rivers, an objective that seems much less wise. The Han is one of South Korea's four major rivers, along with the Nakdong, Geum, and Yeongsan . From a watershed that gathers runoff from mountains to the east, the great Han River passes through the capital city of Seoul (37°35'N), then turns northwest to enter the ocean at the northern boundary of the country at the Demilitarized Zone (37°46'N). Late last year, excavators began carving away riverside bluffs to as much as double the width of the channel, while also digging out miles of riverbed to deepen it by 12 to18 feet. On the two days we explored a 6-mile stretch along the south fork of the Han River near Yeoju, construction crews were at work on 3 dams (weirs) while trucks were constantly being loaded with riverbed sand and gravel to be added to mountains of material already piled nearby. We had never seen so many gigantic excavators at work at once.
Yet this is just one part of a much grander $20 billion project. A total of 16 new dams are planned on the main channels of the four rivers, plus 5 more on their tributaries, while enlarging 87 existing small dams and armoring over 200 miles of riverbanks. The big dams under construction were close enough together so that the series of excavated “water basins” and gates could conceivably become a continuous canal. Opponents of the project think that is exactly the point, as a navigable canal connecting the nation's rivers was a key objective for President Lee when he took office, until national opposition stopped that grandiose plan. The current effort is part of Lee's “Green New Deal,” with stated objectives to store water against the prospects of drought, prevent flooding, improve water quality, restore river ecosystems, promote river-related recreation, and stimulate the economy (read more about the government program here)

The goals sound commendable, but a closer look raises questions. Clearly, lots of money is moving toward jobs and construction company profits. But, as we learned from the environmental group KFEM (Korean Federation for Environmental Movement) (KFEM blog here) at their headquarters in Seoul, and then with others from the KFEM Yeoju office, who took us along the Namhan--the south fork of the Han River--the listed benefits seem exaggerated. This nation, though densely populated, has a good water supply; episodes of flooding occur primarily on upper tributaries, rather than the main channels where the work is focused; and the engineering approach seems likely to degrade water quality, because slowing the flow will increase accumulation of algae and pollutants. Most blatantly, the removal of natural wetlands and streamside vegetation is not “river restoration,” but rather destruction of habitat and natural processes.

The United States went through a river damming and channel straightening/concrete armoring stage in the last century. In California we lost 90% of our wetlands and riparian woodlands and our extensive list of endangered species is closely tied to that lost habitat. We, along with many other nations, learned that a more effective way to manage watershed systems is to protect and restore wetlands and allow floodplains to absorb high water episodes, regulating those flows while reabsorption and riverbank vegetation filters impurities.

So it was sad to watch the living river-bed being pulled out and lush riverside plateaus being excavated, to know that endangered plants and animals were being pushed even closer to extinction, and that small family farmers near the river were also being displaced. Though the construction destruction continues every day now, opponents of the project are determined that it must stop. On a poster in the Yeoju KFEM office, an excavator is being restrained by an aster plant, one of the endangered species being threatened by the project. Mr. Ma told us the words say, "Be Persistent, It is Your River."