Smoke fills the skies over the Pacific Northwest, giving a strange, orange glow to what sunlight makes it through. The wildfires causing it are burning untold acres from Alaska to New Mexico. The air quality here in Portland this week is among the worst in the world, including Beijing and New Delhi, and the streets are quiet, with most people staying indoors to avoid the smoke. Our eyes are red, our throats scratchy. Many of the brave souls who risk their bike commutes or dog walks, or who have to work outside, wear filtration masks. The whole scene gives the city the feel of a William Gibson novel. (The electric scooters scattered all around town by tech companies as part of a pilot rental program only strengthen the effect.)
Western wildfires aren’t new. Nor is this the first year the smoke has oppressed so much of the country. But people all over the Pacific Northwest are saying the same thing: It’s getting worse. An Oregonian article headlined “RIP, Pleasant Portland Summers” echoed that sentiment. As unpleasant as the smoke may be for those of us in range, the threat is far worse for the people whose homes, businesses, and ranches are in the path of the actual fires.
“The Carr Fire, in Redding, 160 miles north of Sacramento, has incinerated over 1,000 structures, most of them people’s homes,” writes Carolyn Kormann in The New Yorker. “Forty thousand people have been evacuated, and six have died. The fire is so large—more than 110,000 thousand acres—that it has created its own weather system… .”
Kormann says the science confirms our suspicions. It is getting worse.
It’s not just the West, or even America, either. Fires burn across Europe and other parts of the world, and as climate change advances along its dangerous arc unchecked, they’ll continue getting worse. As will the heat waves and record temperatures occurring around the globe, the changing ice patterns in the Arctic, and countless other repercussions. The signs might look different where you are, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there—they’re inescapable now.
“Climate change is slow until it’s terrifyingly fast,” Kormann writes.
How did we get here?
Earlier this month, the New York Times Sunday Magazine ran a remarkable series by Nathaniel Rich called Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change. It addresses the years from 1979 to 1989, “the decisive decade when humankind first came to a broad understanding of the causes and dangers of climate change.” It tracks the efforts of a small group of scientists, activists, and politicians to raise the alarm. It’s a remarkable piece of journalism, reported over 18 months with more than 100 interviews, and photographs and videos by George Steinmetz.
According to the scientists Rich interviewed, the slow part of climate change began a long time ago—which means we’ve already begun the terrifyingly fast stage. We’re well past asking how we got here. We need to be asking what we’re going to do about it—and whether it’s too late.
Switching gears, it’s time again for this month’s roundup of links…
Our friends at NTEN just released the latest State of the Nonprofit Cloud report, for which they partnered with Microsoft to survey more than 250 nonprofit professionals. “Nonprofit organizations are embracing cloud technologies to help them more powerfully serve their constituents and better connect their services and staff,” Lyndal Cairns writes. “But while the benefits are great, there are still some roadblocks.” As always, it’s free to download.
File this one under wishful thinking, maybe, but as Idealware kicks off research for a report on project management software to be published this fall, this article jumped out at me. It sums up the Pomodoro method, which can be boiled down to four key elements:
1. Work with time, not against it.
2. Eliminate burnout.
3. Manage distractions.
4. Create a better work/life balance.
Simple, right? If you’re successful, drop me a line and let me know what you’re doing with the extra 23.3 hours you’ve freed up each week.
Ever feel like posting on Facebook or tweeting is just like yelling into the wind? Julia Campbell has some tactical advice for how to get more social media engagement, and a quick primer on the algorithms that govern who sees what on the sites (and why).
Writing for the Center for Effective Philanthropy, Andrea Bretting, Michael Jordan, and Mailee Walker make a persuasive argument for the philanthropic sector to change the prevailing views on what it will fund and what it won’t.
Earlier this year, we held a panel discussion on what nonprofits need to know about cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin. One thing we heard was that it’s a volatile market. This New York Times Tech piece looks at the lessons investors are learning—some of them hard.
Here’s a useful tech tip for putting an end to those targeted ads that follow you from site to site around the web, trying to sell you something you searched for or already bought. Follow this advice and you’ll no longer be haunted by pharmaceutical companies selling antifungal creams because you Googled rash symptoms one night. (Hypothetically, I mean.)
Over at Wired, Nitasha Tiku shares the results of a new Pew Research study that shows kids are “trying to negotiate between worry that they spend too much time on their phones and anxiety when they are separated from their devices.” The study found that 54 percent of US teens ages 13 to 17 worry they spend too much time on their phones, 52 percent have taken steps to cut back, and 57 percent have tried to spend less time on social media. But 56 percent associate being away from their phones with feeling anxious, lonely, or upset.
What’s more, Tiku says, Pew found that teens who worry about excessive screen time are not more likely to change their behavior. Among those who say they spend too much time on their phones, 53 percent have cut back on mobile usage. That’s not far from 55 percent of teens who have cut back, despite feeling like they spend too little or the right amount of time on their mobile device.
We all know that teens aren’t the only demographic to find it difficult to pry themselves away from their phones. As a culture, we’ve become dependent upon them in part because of the power and convenience they afford us.
Last year, Idealware published some research on how nonprofits could use text messaging for program delivery. At Associations Now, Tim Ebner offers a few examples of associations who have found success using texting for advocacy, customer service, and dues renewal with their members. (If you’re interested in this topic, make sure to read our report and accompanying workbook.
At last, a little good news—well, not good news, exactly, but at least it’s not your fault. Casey Schwartz lays bare the ways Silicon Valley has re-engineered humans to become screen addicts with blisteringly feeble attention spans.
“The liberation of human attention may be the defining moral and political struggle of our time,” Schwartz writes, quoting technologist-turned-philosopher James Williams. She illustrates the problem with one of my favorite examples—third-baseman Pablo Sandoval getting busted checking Instagram in the middle of a baseball game when he still played for the Boston Red Sox. The Sox suspended him, and now Schwartz shames him—which, as someone who grew up a Sox fan in New England, is OK by me. At least he wasn’t on base at the time.
Still, don’t be like Pablo.
As if it’s not bad enough that Silicon Valley is trying to distract you, even your own brain is piling on. At Gizmodo, Jessica Boddy highlights the results of a pair of new studies that show just how badly your own mind does not want you to focus. Reading this made me think of Dug, the talking dog in the movie Up, who would constantly interrupt himself mid-sentence at the prospect of another squirrel to chase—except I’m the dog, and everything in the world is a squirrel.
Thank you to everyone who sent me suggestions, and as always, if you come across something you think would be a good fit for the Best of the Web, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
See you next month!