Monday, February 25, 2019

"It's good to know there are still humans out there."

On Panhandling, and Homelessness

Part One


I’ve often wrestled with the conflict of how to deal with the person on the street who asks me for money.

I ask myself, “Should I give this fellow the dime, or the dollar, that he’s asking for? Will he use it for alcohol or drugs?  Or is this person genuinely in need of food and coffee? Is the person homeless, or just in a low ebb?

For most of my life, I’ve chosen between one of two courses of action, both of which left me feeling uneasy.

I’d either say “No, I haven’t any change,” because I didn’t want to interact with the person, or, I’d toss some change at the person, paying him off, as it were, so I would be left alone.  Oh, there was a third option too – just ignore the person.

An experience of mine showed me that there is another way, a more humane way, of dealing with our fellow man (or woman).

I was with several friends tending to some business in downtown L.A., a few days before Christmas.  We stopped to have dinner at Phillipe’s, across the street from Olvera Street and Grand Central Station.

As we were departing the restaurant, a man who’d been standing just outside the door asked one of my friends if he could have some change for a sandwich.

My friend, Vernon, asked the stranger his name.

“My name is William,” the man replied, somewhat suspiciously.

Vernon then simply asked the man what kind of sandwich he wanted.

“Ham!,” William immediately responded.  Vernon then asked one of our group to go back into the restaurant and buy William a ham sandwich.  William wanted to wait outside, but Vernon insisted that we all go inside together.  Vernon then sat William down at one of the stools at Phillipe’s, and served him a ham sandwich, pickles, and a cup of coffee (black).

Needless to say, the rest of us were a bit taken aback, but since Vernon was our teacher, we respectfully kept quiet.

Vernon then talked with William, learning that William was currently unemployed, lived alone in a small nearby apartment, and was in his late 40s.  William spoke openly about this situation as he savored his sandwich. William was dressed modestly, with clothes that were by no means new, and a bit scuffed.  But he was by no means a “bum,” even though one might think otherwise by looking at him.

Vernon told William – and it was the first time I’d heard this – that he (Vernon) had been in a similar situation several years earlier.  Thanks to the goodwill of total strangers who took Vernon in until he “got back on his feet,” Vernon was able to re-enter the work force and “become a productive asset to society.”  William stopped chewing and looked at Vernon when he said that. “That meant I was able to pay my bills,” said Vernon, laughing. William and the rest of us laughed too.

William was highly and openly appreciative.  He loudly proclaimed as we took our leave, “It’s good to know there are still humans out there.”

During our drive home – we had all come in one vehicle – we discussed what Vernon had done.  To me, I had just witnessed a revelatory “better way” of dealing with my fellow man.

Since then, I’ve put this into practice on many occasions.  In some instances, the individual refused my offer of food because he wanted to buy alcohol.  But overall, following Vernon’s example has provided me with uplifting interactions with people I’d previously remained blind to.  One man actually told me that I was the first person who talked to him in two weeks!  He’d seen people, and people gave him money, but no one else actually took a moment to talk to him.

In those cases where I was aggressively asked for money, I would refuse or walk away.  I was repelled by the notion that I owed the person something, because they were down on their luck.  Years later, when I experienced a period of homelessness, I kept this in mind, that my attitude can be a major factor in whether or not someone will choose to get involved with me in solving my problem.  For example, among other things, I learned to always lead with an offer when I was in need, and I learned to find how I could benefit the person from whom I was seeking aid.

Of course, none of this is a long-term solution to homelessness, or poverty, but it is a step in the right direction.  I believe that most people are more than willing to help others if they are approached with humility and honesty. 

How I Published my First Book.

How I  published my first book:

Memories of Sue and Rich Redman.

[Excerpt from “Squatter in Los Angeles,” a Kindle book.  Also available from the Store at]

It was during the time that I was a squatter that I began my life-long association with Sue and Rich Redman. I probably would not have remembered this aspect of my squatting life had it not been for the fact that in December of 2013, when I started writing this book, Sue Redman passed away.  I was very upset, and felt a great sense of loss, and began to recall my life with Sue, and with Rich. They were two sides of one coin.

Even though I had a semi-guaranteed weekly income of $5 a week (circa 1977), and therefore felt that I was on top of the world, I did have enough sense to realize that I should get some sort of job that could provide just a bit more income in case times got rough.  I decided to knock on some doors of small newspapers who might actually hire me.

I went up to the Altadena office of the Altadena Chronicle, owned by Sue and Rich Redman. They decided to give me a try at typesetting since I was somewhat familiar with their massive outdated equipment from when I worked on similar equipment in Ohio.

Gradually, I typeset the entire first edition of my Guide to Wild Foods in my offtime at the Altadena Chronicle office, and Janice (who illustrated the first edition) laid it all out for printing. I managed to save and borrow enough money for the printing and binding. Rich Redman took over the printing, and within a relatively short while, we had a big production going on with the stacks of printed material. 

Rich told me that I could save money if I collated all the very large sheets into their proper order so that we could then take it to a folder and binder operation in Burbank.  So we loaded everything onto someone’s truck and took them to the large kitchen of my Highland Park squatter’s homestead.  Remember, this was going to be about 2000 books, so there were many stacks of large sheets of paper.  I cleared all the counters and tables and invited people over for work one Saturday.  I purchased pizza and other snacks.  We had big stacks in the kitchen and people found their way there and helped to hand-collate the pages.   

Perhaps a dozen people came over, and by dark, Janice and I were still collating.  We finished on Sunday, and then took the book the following week to the book producer that Rich had suggested.   We had begun to see the potential of this cinder block house on top of the hill as a business location.

In about two weeks, the books were done and I was again on the top of the world, relatively speaking.  The book really had quite a few typos and entire sections missed!  It could have and should have been a bit better.  Remember this was all “old School.”  No computers, just printouts and endless printouts, and then physically pasting-up a dummy to be printed from negatives.

Once the initial excitement of having a book in print wore off (which it did quickly), I then realized that I was in possession of many boxes of books which I stored in my room and wherever I could fit them. I upgraded my bed, which had been a sheet of plywood on top of four or five milkcrates.  Now I had a platform composed of boxes of books, over which I laid my plywood bed.  Now, besides everything else, I was in the book marketing and distribution business, something I knew close to nothing about.

By far the most book sales were face-to-face with the people who came to my classes and the stack of books did slowly diminish.  It took about a year to sell a thousand.  Eventually, there was a second printing, with corrections fixed and improved drawings.  Then there was another edition with a color cover, with two printings. Then many years later, there was an edition wherein I drew all the line drawings of the plants – my favorite version. Other editions followed, where I no longer desired to be a book publisher, wholesaler, advertiser, and warehouser. I have since discovered why authors prefer to write books, and let someone else in on the action and income by doing the publishing and sales.

I sold some of that first edition book through an ad that Sue Redman gave me in their Altadena Chronicle, next to the wild plant column I’d write every week.  Not many, really, but I did sell some, and more people began to ask me to give a talk here and lead a walk there. I believed I was doing something important to help the people of the world help themselves. I was living as a squatter, with an income well below the national poverty level, with no medical insurance, just a motorcycle for transportation, and feeling good that I slept on my plywood bed.  Still, despite the fact that my lofty lifestyle and vast success should have gone to my head, I had plenty of people who helped to keep me humble.  My relation with the Redmans began at this very pivotal time in my life, and we remained close friends lifelong.

Years later, after a marriage and divorce, and a period of homelessness,  I then began to reside in a small house on the Redman’s property up in the extreme northwest area of Altadena called the Meadows.  I loved living under the protective umbrella of the Redmans, and felt again as if I were a close part of that family. I had no heating or cooling there, just the open or closed doors. It was a small place where I slept on the floor, and awoke to the sound of birds and a squirrel who always jumped on my roof from the mulberry tree. I made compost there, gardened, did water recycling, and frequently removed a rattlesnakes from the garden and out to the remote canyon. It was a wonderful place that I shared with the deer, the squirrels, and the bear that raided the trash can every Sunday night.

When I came back from Mexico one winter while residing there in Altadena, Sue greeted me and we talked about what I’d just learned about Kukulkan, the Mayan Christ. Sue was fascinated and said, “You must write about that.” Indeed.

Sue’s passing reminds me that life is precious, that each moment is a forever eternity which disappears like the sun behind a mountain.  Sue’s passing reminds me that I have had a rich life in the quality of friends and mentors.  She reminds me that one should live each moment to the fullest and best, and that to love selflessly and impersonally is to become immortal, as she has become in my mind.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Police Chases: Why must they be televised live?

POLICE CHASES: Why must the television news stations report them live?

[Nyerges is the author of “Extreme Simplicity,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and other books.  He is a teacher of self-reliance, and can be reached at]

Sometimes, I have time to watch television in the evenings, and there are a few things I look forward to.  For example, I really like Doc Martin, the BBC program about a quirky doctor in some small English town.

But I particularly look forward to watching the 11 p.m. local news, mostly to see the weather reports for the following few days.  It gives me a chance to see how my outdoor activities might need to be modified if there is rain forecast, or high temperatures.

However, for reasons that I have not fathomed, whenever someone decides not to stop for the police and makes a run for it, we are forced to watch the entire chase, boring as it usually is.

Last night was no exception.  After the first five minutes of the news, and the weather teaser, we were told that the police were in pursuit of a suspect, and then we watched from the helicopter’s point of view as four or five police vehicles followed a van on local freeways.  That meant that for the remaining 25 or so minutes of what was expected to be actual news, I was forced to watch a scene of a van at high speeds with police cars in pursuit.

I turned the channel.  I was not surprised – though I was dismayed –to find that every other 11 p.m. news channel was covering the same event, from pretty much the same angle. Channel 2, 4, 5, 7 – nothing but the police chase!  My time was wasted, and I only waited by the TV because I hoped they’d have some sense and at least cut in and give me the weather report. At the very least, they could have put the chase scene into a little box on the bottom of the screen so that those who really got excited by the chase could see it, and the rest of us could hear the weather report and other news.

I have never been privy to the offices of the news stations who make such decisions that a police chase is now the top priority and we’re going to cover it, until the end.  For many reasons, it’s a bad decision, and should be changed.

For one thing, I often wonder if the fleeing person has a radio or small TV in their car, and is listening to the newscasters who are telling the viewing audience where the police are located, how many police are following, and speculating on what tactics the police might use to end the chase.  If I were a police officer, I’d find this very intrusive of my work.  In some cases in the past, because of the non-stop television exposure, people would be out on the street, cheering on the fleeing person in some cases, and generally getting in the way of the police activity.  That wouldn’t have happened if the television station simply reported the news of the chase after it was over, and informed us about the outcome. 

Another reason why I find the chase so mundane is that the newscaster are practically pulling hairs to keep a conversation going, especially when it is a prolonged chase.  The commentary is predictable.

Is it a male or female driver? How many people are in the car? How much gas do you think they have left? I wonder where they are going? Do you think they will turn around and head back to where they came?  Do you think he has a gun? Is the car stolen?  Can we read the license plates? Why did they not stop from the police?  It goes on and on, with mindless prattle about the details that concern the police but not the average TV viewer.

And sometimes it’s worse than that.  We watch on live TV as a driver being pursued hits other cars, hurts people, kills people.  It’s bad enough that it’s happening, but it makes it worse to think that the pursuing driver might actually be listening to the news report and deriving some sick glory from all the attention he (or she) is getting.

I think George Orwell would be proud of his ability to see the mindlessness of the people of the future of which he wrote.  When every television station is fixated on watching the police chase someone, I can only think of Orwell and his insightful “1984.”  Admittedly, sometimes we are told that the person fleeing is a felon, or has just shot someone, or some other fact about the matter, though we almost never learn the outcome of the chase.  Sometimes it ends within the allotted time frame, and often it doesn’t.  But even if we watch a car stop, and the guy get out, and get arrested, it is always a big “so what?” to me, because we still do not have any idea of the full picture of what just transpired – and the worse part is that I do not get to hear the weather report!

Suggestion: Call, write, or email your local television station, and tell them that you’re not satisfied with the incessant coverage of police chases.  Their contact information is readily available on-line. Of course, if you like watching such chases, then do nothing, and everything will stay the same, and I’ll just have to start looking up the weather reports on-line…

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Country in the City

Excerpt from "Squatter in Los Angeles," a Kindle book, also available from the Store at


Part of the underpinnings for my philosophy of what I did stemmed from my reading of the Plain Truth magazine back when I was still living with my parents. I’d read about subjects such as agriculture, and various social ills. I’d have long discussions with Nathaniel Schleimer.  We were high school buddies, inseparable, and we’d go into Eaton Canyon at night, and sit and talk. We were both hikers, backpackers, bicyclists.  We both had a love and respect for the natural world, not as nature-worshippers exactly, but from the standpoint that our life is dependent on the life of the planet.

We knew without having to earn a PhD that to stay in radiant health, you had to exercise, and drink good water, and eat good food, and think good thoughts. Neither Nathaniel nor I were optimistic about the state of the affairs of the world. We didn’t have to look far to see that the system was constantly being stretched beyond its limits by too many people, all needing to eat, and the growers and deliverers and processors of food all finding ways to take shortcuts to feed the masses.  That’s why we got interested in wild foods. We didn’t think we were particularly special, but we knew that a step in the right direction was to learn the skills of self-reliance, one by one, little by little. 

We were still young, and still living with our parents, but we seemed to work out the general and most sensible path for survival.  We saw dark clouds looming for this country, and though we hadn’t yet risen to the level of being concerned about our fellow man, we wanted to survive ourselves. 

By the time I’d graduated from high school, I wanted nothing more than to live this life, and living on a farm made the most sense.  I moved to Chardon, Ohio and lived on my grandfather’s farm with my brother and my uncle for 7 months.   

Still, since I didn’t have the tools and resources to actually live the life I wanted to live there, I came back to California.  My interests coincided with the non-profit WTI of Highland Park, a small group of people who had taken up roots in a ruralish-seeming part of Los Angeles.  They were sometimes described to me as people who were trying to live country in the city, an ideal that appealed to me. As Nathaniel and I often lamented, why do so many of us backpackers go into the wilderness and practice their high degree of concern for the land and water and resource-use, but then return back home and practice the same tired wastefulness as everyone else?  Why not “be here now,” and “be the example of what you want to see in the world,” as others have said?

So when I was in the unenviable position of being a squatter, these are many of the ideas that ran through my mind each day.  Here I am, now, and I can live and practice these principles, more or less unfettered.  Just do it!  I was still in the position of having few monetary resources, but lots of ideas, sufficient time, and good health so that I had no excuses for not living what I believed.

I have many times thought back to my friend Joe who I’d invite to my high school to speak about ecology and natural living. Joe had the words, and the ideas, and the concepts.  Yet, once when I visited Joe and began to ask him some questions about what he personally did to be a part of the solution, he disappointed me by asserting that “nothing will change without government intervention.”  I found that absurd, and still do.  Of course, I am writing this decades later, and I have a greater perspective now. I remember reading about the “re-education” camps of  the North Vietnamese, and of Pol Pot.  In those extreme cases, “government intervention” simply meant “do it the way we tell you or we kill you.”  Is that really what’s required to change the world?

Well, to be fair, Joe did have a point, to a degree.  However, I have slowly come to the realization that no one can change the world, you can only change yourself, and your habits and behavior. Now, that  might affect others who see your example. Maybe. They see “something better,” something that rings true and they try it in their own way in their own life. You’ve affected one person by changing your behavior.  Then, the idea catches on. Why didn’t we think of this before? It become almost the norm, and then little by little, further refinements in our thinking and in our actions.

So though Joe was perhaps correct to lament and criticize what he perceived as non-action by “the government,” that still did not give him an excuse to not do all those things that he could do in his own personal private life.  And since I was so ignorant of politics and the games that go on in city hall, my only realm of change was in my own little world. What could I do?  Is it enough? Could I do more, given more time and money and cooperation from others?  These were the things that would keep me up at night.

Monday, February 18, 2019

How to Make Your Own Nicotine-free Smoking Mixes

Have you ever had to fill out some sort of form, maybe for a job or some sort of poll, and they want to know if you are a smoker?  I  always check “no.”  I am not a smoker.  Well, at least I don’t smoke much.   I have long maintained that the real culprit in commercial cigarettes are the chemicals added to the tobacco and paper, things such as moisturizers, flavors, things to keep the cigarette burning, etc. etc.  There are anywhere from 70 to 250 such chemicals, depending on who you believe.  If the tobacco companies had to list all the ingredients on the label, there’d be no room on cigarette containers. 

Let’s just assume that “the government,” in its ultimate wisdom of knowing what is best for us, decided to put all the tobacco companies out of business and you could no longer buy tobacco at your corner market.  Guess what?  Various species of tobacco grow wild throughout the country. 

Here in the West, there is a widespread introduced species of tobacco commonly known as Indian tobacco (Nicotiana glauca) or tree tobacco (it can grow up to 25 feet tall). (In fact, there are wild tobaccos throughout North America.)  We allow it to grow out back because its yellow tubular flowers attract hummingbirds.  This plant would kill you if you ate it, but it can be dried and smoked.  It is far more potent than commercially grown tobaccos, and in general I would not recommend driving your car and smoking this plant at the same time.  If the bureaucratic do-gooders ever outlawed tobacco, there’d still be no shortage of wild tobaccos around the country.

All that said, though I have smoked tobaccos in the past (commercial and wild), today I prefer to make my own non-nicotine smoking mixes for those times when I sit out back and think about important things.

My blend varies from season to season, depending on what wild leaves I have picked and dried. 

The blend will typically have some dried peppermint and/or white sage (Salvia apiana).  This gives a sweet flavor to the smoke, somewhat like menthol in cigarettes.  Any of the sages and mints would do -- even those growing in your garden.  This should be no more than 1/5 of your blend. 

Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) is a European medicinal herb that can now be found throughout most of North America and the world. It has a long history of use for treating coughs and sore throats when used as a hot tea or candy.  I learned recently that it can also be blended into your smoking mixes and there still may be some good effect from the horehound, even if you smoke it.  It is a true mint, after all, and it smokes well, though it doesn’t add that menthol-like quality to your smoking mix as do the other mints.

I often add dried manzanita leaves (Arcostaphylos sps.), which were used by American Indians of the Southwest in their smoking blends.  This smokes very well, though there is little taste or flavor.  The most commonly known variety is the kinnikinnik, or Arcostaphylos uva-ursi, which is not a bush or tree like the other manzanitas but is a trailing vine.  Regardless which variety I use, I let them air dry, and then crush them into small pieces. The manzanita leaves are all somewhat tough and leathery so it will be necessary to break them into small bits so they can smoke.  I have heard that the flavor of this particular leaf is improved a bit if it is aged, and if it is allowed to slightly ferment, in much the same way that one might age certain tobaccos.  However, I  have never taken the time to experiment with this, since the dried and crumbled leaves smoke quite well.

I sometimes add dried and pulverized willow bark (Salix sps.), usually red or arroyo willow.  This adds a pleasant flavor, and was apparently used in traditional American Indian smoking blends.  A tea from the willow bark has effects similar to aspirin, and can be drunk or applied to wounds to relieve pain.  In fact, the original aspirin came from the inner back of willows, which contains salicin.  We have heard some folks say that smoking the willow bark in their mixes also provides some pain-relieving qualities.  That’s not been my experience, but you can try it and see what you experience.

I add the dried leaves of mullein.  Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is now a common weed in the U.S. though it’s a European native.  Of the many virtues of mullein, it is good in a tea for breathing problems, even asthma.  Interestingly, mullein has long been smoked to improve the breathing passages.  If you’re going to smoke, you really ought to include mullein in your mix.  The large leaves of mullein have the texture of flannel.  I generally pick leaves from the first year growth.  Mullein lives for two years, and in the second year it sends up a tall flower spike and produces smaller leaves.  (By the way, these fresh leaves make pretty good toilet paper).  Mullein is common throughout the country in fields and along streams.

I  usually add a little bit of mugwort to my mix -- no more than about 1/5 of the mix -- since it produces a very pleasant aroma when burned.  Mugwort (Artemisia sps.) is found along streams and the dried leaves, rolled into a cigar shape, were used by early Native American in Southern California as punks for transporting coals.  When I collect mugwort for smoking, I typically just collect the leaves from the lower stalk of the plant that have dried on the plant.  On the other hand, if I am collecting the leaves for their medicinal values, I would collect the leaves green, clean them, and then dry them for storage. 

There are other herbs that I sometimes add in various amounts.  I like the leaves of passionflower (Passiflora sps.), a somewhat common vining plants throughout much of the west, the south, Europe, Mexico, and even the Hawaiian islands.  The leaves have a sweet odor
and dont seem to irritate the throat or mouth.  Medicinally, the tea from passionflower is drunk in cases of insomnia or nervousness.  The flowers are used medicinally also, but I usually only smoke the leaves. 

I also add a small amount of Damiana leaves to the blend which I buy from the health food store.  This is a plant which supposedly grows in the wild around, but it is a plant I do not know and haven’t encountered it.  It makes a delicious tea, and a very pleasant smoke.  Damiana leaves were also smoked by the ancient Aztecs.  I have long enjoyed the fragrance of the damiana tea, and it does create a pleasant aroma when smoked. 

When I have it, I add a few pulverized pieces of sweetgrass braids to the smoking blend.

Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon sps.)  is a common southwestern herb found in dry and desert-like places.  It is very fragrant, and usually sticky.  There are several varieties, and all have a history of being used as a tea for breathing and bronchial problems.  It is sometimes added to smoking mixes for its fragrance, and apparently because some folks believe that the beneficial effects on the lungs and bronchial tract still carryover when you smoke it.

Interestingly, you’ll notice that many of the herbs I have listed are frequently used as the primary remedy for coughs, sore throats, asthmatic conditions, etc.  At the very least, there is the presumption that by smoking herbs that are generally beneficial to the throat and lungs, that you will be somewhat counteracting the harmful effects of the smoke.  Whether this has any real scientific basis is uncertain.

Coltsfoot is an herb commonly found along roadside ditches and wet areas in the eastern parts of the United States.  It is a two year plant, and the large first year leaves are the ones typically gathered for smoking.  Coltsfoot has been used as a smoke for at least a few centuries, and there is the belief that smoking it can actually be somewhat good for a sore throat.

You can make your own blends and determine what you like. 

I don’t smoke a lot – I might sit out back maybe once a month or so and smoke my hand-made elder pipe.  I’m not addicted to it, like the  person who cant stop chain smoking commercial cigarettes.  I simply likes to smoke occasionally, at special times, while thinking about a particular subject. 

I am quick to reiterate that I am neither encouraging nor endorsing smoking of any sort.  I certainly do not advocate the use of regular commercial tobacco, since its use is related to a host of diseases. But perhaps the use of wild nicotine-free herbs can help you cut down on the harmful tobacco.   If you do choose to smoke, moderation is the key.  

And if you’re one of those people who simply isn’t going to go out and collect your own herbs, then try the Store at or send $12  to School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.  
Nyerges is the author of “Guide to Wild Foods,” “Foraging California,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” and other books. He leads regular survival and wild food walks. He can be reached at, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.


Availability in wild

 How prepared

Flavor **


Aroma **

How used medicinally *


Common in wet areas in Eastern U.S.

Dry the first year leaves

Mild, bland


Mildly sweet

Tea for bronchial problems



Dry the leaves

Good, “herbal”


Very pleasant, like incense



Very common

Dry the leaves




Tea for coughs, sore throats


Common in wild and gardens

Dry the leaves



Mild, sweet

Many uses.  Good tea for digestion.


Widespread in west and southwest

Dry the leaves






Widespread along streams

Dry the leaves


Medium to harsh

Sweet, like incense

Many uses


Widespread in fields

Dry the first year leaves




Used as tea for asthma and breathing problems

Passionflower leaf

Widespread vine in west and south

Dry the leaves



Sweet; has been compared to marijuana

Used as tea; natural sedative


Widespread in gardens and in wild

Dry the leaves

Sweet, adds a menthol quality


Sweet, sagey, like incense

Many uses

Yerba santa

Widespread throughout the west

Dry the leaves

Somewhat sweet, “medicinal

Medium to harsh

Fragrant smoke

Used as tea for coughs, breathing problems


Widespread along streams worldwide

Dry the young bark, shred it.

Bland, not noticeable



Used as tea for pain-reliever

*  For medicinal uses of herbs, see any of the books by herbalist Michael Moore.

** In general, Bland flavor and aroma indicates that there is no strongly identifiable flavor or odor, and that the herb blends well with other smoking herbs.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Global Warming: Fact or Fabrication?

“SOME LIKE IT HOT” : Is “global warming” a fact or fabrication?
Robert Haw speaks about Global Warming

[Nyerges is the author of several books, including “Self-Sufficient Home,” “Extreme Simplicity,” and others.  He can be reached at]

Robert Haw, former JPL employee, recently spoke to a packed audience at Eaton Canyon Nature Center on the subject of “global warming,”  a nearly two-hour presentation where hard data was presented. 

Haw became more acutely interested in the subject since 1988, when NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen testified before Congress that the data shows that the earth is warming.  Haw was skeptical at first, and continued to research the subject.  After the release of Al Gore’s famous “Inconvenient Truth” documentary, Gore started the Climate Reality Project where workshops were people could be trained in presenting the Gore slide show.  Haw took this training, and has since developed his own Powerpoint to present the salient facts of “global warming,” also sometimes referred to as “climate change.”

Haw begins with data from the SMAP (Soil Moisture Active/ Passive  satellite), which circles the earth 14 times a day measuring soil moisture. This data shows the actual dryness or wetness of soils. The SMAP data shows a clear drying trend, as does other satellite data, especially of agricultural areas.

Haw is a focused man, working to demonstrate the authenticity of each point before he continues, as if we’re in a college-level course on climatology, or math, where each point is predicated on numerous other points.  He tells us that there are 7 billion people on the earth today, and everyone’s livelihood depends on a stable climate. Everyone is burning fossil fuels, directly or indirectly, which causes pollution, he states.

This, among other things, releases carbon dioxide into the environment. Carbon dioxide in the environment has been measured according to a standard established by Dr. Keeling (of Caltech) who set up an observatory in Hawaii in the 1950s to measure the CO2 count.  Today, there are hundreds of CO2 measurement stations around the world, following the techniques established by Dr. Keeling.

Carbon dioxide levels in 1960 were 310 ppm; by 2016, they were  410 ppm.  What does this mean?  More CO2 means more heat, and more heat means, among other things, melting of snow.  Scientists use a variety of data to calculate “average world temperature,” which was 54.5 degrees f. in the early 1900s.  Today, the average world temperature is 56 degrees.

This heat “goes” somewhere, according to Haw, with real consequences.  The bulk (94.3%) of the increased world heat from CO2 is absorbed by the oceans, which results in slightly higher ocean temperatures. 

The biggest concern about melting of ice in the Arctic is the melting of the frozen swamps in this region which releases methane gas, a greenhouse gas. Haw points out that methane has 86 times the warming potential of CO2, meaning that ice melt could increase more rapidly as the process of releasing methane proceeds.

To demonstrate his point, Haw shared records of recent high temperature records.  For example, Pasadena in 2017 had 35 days over 95 degrees (usual is 6). In 2018, there were 26 days over 95 degrees, including an all-time high temperature on July 6 of 116 degrees f.

Haw points out that heat, and heat-related sicknesses and diseases, are now the leading cause of death in the U.S. 

As a result of rising temperatures, ice melts at the poles, and this raises sea levels. This is measured by several methods, including satellite and on-the-ground observations.  Not only is the perimeter of the ice measured, but also the thickness.  Today, ice thickness in the Arctic is about 1/3 of the thickness of the early 1900s.

Currently, the sea level rises about 4 millimeters a year due to ice melt.  If the pattern continues unabated, the sea level rise could potentially create millions of refugees in the next 30-40 years.

Haw pauses to address the concerns of those who are called the “climate change deniers,” who claim this is all fake news.  One of the points brought up by such “deniers” is that the earth normally cycles through these changes through thousands of years, into ice ages, and back out again, with the cycle repeating with no apparent assistance from mankind.  This cycle, known as the Milankovich Cycle – the long periods which cause Ice Ages – are explained by the tilt of the earth in relation to the sun (the 23 ½ degree tilt which causes our weather), and the 26,000 cycle known as the Precession, as the earth moves around the sun. As these two cycles coincide, the cycles of Ice Age, to melting, occur naturally.  The big difference, emphasizes Haw, is that the Milankovich cycle takes hundreds, if not thousands of years to bring about its changes. By contrast, the warming effects of our use of fossil fuels has sped up this process so that we’ve seen thousands of years of climate change occurring in the last 50 years.

“Global warming deniers” also point to periods of heavy rain, such as California has been experiencing in December of 2018 through February of 2019, and elsewhere.  However, as a result of more CO2 in the atmosphere, a warmer atmosphere holds more water.  Thus, the world’s hydrological cycle is affected by there being an increase of 4 to 5% humidity from about 40 years ago. The result is more rain when there are storms. 

Haw’s “Some Like it Hot” Powerpoint also details the U.S. cities where flooding now routinely occurs during storms and high tides, cities such as Miami, La Jolla shores, and Norfolk, Virginia. 

Haw refutes each of the points of “global warming denyers,” one by one with the actual facts, and asserts that global warming is very real, that it’s urgent, and that we are the cause.

Haw spends a considerable amount of time in his presentation detailing the short term and long term actions that would help to avert the radical consequences to our western way of life.  “If we want to survive,” he says, “we need to change. The change can be voluntary, or it can be mandatory.”  Haw details many of the solutions put forth by politicians, such as “cap and trade,” regulations, and raising the cost of fossil fuels.

“The real problem,” he says, “is that we all have too much stuff and we continually want more.  All that stuff takes energy to make.”  Though he feels it’s a good short-term solution to switch to electric vehicles, he feels that we need to learn how to power-down and just use less energy.

Haw points out that he has about 1/20th of his household’s carbon footprint that he had 10 years ago.  He does this by driving an electric car and bicycling.  For a water heater, he uses a heat pump water heater, which costs more initially, but less in the long run.  He advocates reducing all natural gas use, and replacing gas furnaces with heat pump heaters. 

There’s nothing wrong with putting solar panels on your roof, he points out, but more importantly is to learn to do with less, and have fewer vehicles overall.  Haw is a great example of someone who puts their belief into action.  “We need to simplify,” he emphasizes.  “It’s about using less energy and having less stuff.”

“Don’t we have a moral duty to future generations to preserve a world worth living in?  Think Golden Rule,” he suggests.

Robert Haw can be reached at