2013: Looking At the Bright Side

John Scalzi recently put up a blog post “2013: Year of the Asshole“, and while I don’t disagree with him that there is ample evidence of a general asshole ascension I would suggest this exercise is a lot like playing “Left 4 Dead” on easy, while having god mode turned up to max. The targets are plentiful, morbidly stiff, and if they’re still standing after you’ve moseyed through that level you either lack a pair of arms or or are sleeping.

So, while there is plenty of room to be terrified that people like Ted Cruz and Justin Beiber are on the loose let’s take a moment to think about some of the people doing great things over the last year. These folks deserve some attention, they really do. The assholes get enough already.

Pope Francis:

Surprised? Don’t be — churches in general have been languishing in asshole territory for a long, long time. The Catholic Church has been deep down near the bottom of that well for what seems like ever. It used to be that all this atheist needed to do to illustrate the point that religion might be having a net negative effect on society was wait for the Pope to open his big, fat mouth.

While this guy is not some paragon of social perfection he certainly has the right idea. He is outspoken and isn’t tolerant of intolerance. Hey, I’m not saying he’s my hero, but he is single handedly turning the wheel on an immense behemoth of an institution. And that institution has the capacity to do some very large amounts of good. That my friends is pretty good news when its all said and done.

Gavin McClurg:

Most of you are going to say who the hell is Gavin McClurg? “A pretty amazing dude,” would be my answer. This year McClurg broke the North American Paragliding distance record soaring east 387 kilometers from Idaho’s Sun Valley across a good chunk of the wide part of the State. This guy works harder at playing than most people do at their jobs. And, just to be clear, he gets it.

“Like any proper expedition, it began before before the beginning. The plans, the maps, the logistics, the gear, the practice and training, the team. To the sponsors we say things like ‘epic’, ‘wild’, ‘awesome.’ These words have become too common. They don’t even have any meaning any more carelessly tossed around like a cafeteria potato salad. We try other combinations, but they all fall short. So we try it in French. Vol-biv. ‘Vol’ — fly. ‘Biv’ — camp. Simple. Some highly engineered fabric, some impossibly thin lines, and a harness big enough to hold some emergency gear, food and water. A radio, GPS, vario, and sleeping bag, and a mountain range in California that stretches over 800 kilometers. And a few knuckleheads that think its possible.”

And there it is, McClurg thinks its possible. He has the skill and knowhow, but more importantly he knows he can do it. This year he released a couple of pretty amazing/inspirational films including “Surfing the Sierras” (where that quote came from) and “500 Miles to Nowhere“. All this in addition to setting an amazing soaring record and surviving some intense wildfires near his home in Idaho.

I’m adding Gavin because he is a hero.

Renewable Energy Dudes

This year, quietly, solar power hit grid parity with coal production. “What the hell does this mean,” you ask? It means that since large scale, commercial photovoltaics hit the mass market back in 1977, this year was the first time ever that watt-for-watt production costs were the same between the competing solar sources and coal. Again you say, “What the hell does that mean?” Simply put it means that producing power on the grid, where most of you are going to buy it, using clean, non-climate altering solar power is now price competitive with highly subsidized, dirty, fossil fuel energy sources like coal.

There are many other advances being made in this critical sector of our society, but this one in particular is due in part to some very dedicated people who have, year-over-year, made this a reality. It is undeniable evidence that humanity can change the way we live. And now, for the first time ever, we can do it competitively on an open market.

Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

This year, after years of wrangling in the courts, the Bureau of Land Management made the right decision when it dropped its plans to open up 80,000 acres of wilderness-caliber lands in the San Rafael Swell for oil and gas development. I hope, deep down in my soul that SUWA is hard at work crafting legislation, and finding champions who will protect this precious place as Wilderness so that this question can never be brought to the policy table again.

But, while you are sitting on your couch, reading this blog post, perhaps with your favorite newsertainment program blaring in the background, you’re probably wondering why this is so important. Beyond the fact that the San Rafael Swell is important to me, in its natural and untrammeled state as might be possible given the regular abuses this amazing desert must endure. Beyond the fact that this tiny area remains singularly unique in a region now being exploited ruthlessly by fossil fuel extraction activities. It remains “wilderness-caliber.”

I’ll leave you with a quote from Edward Abbey to ponder before we move on to the next candidate.

“We can have wilderness without freedom; we can have wilderness without human life at all, but we cannot have freedom without wilderness, we cannot have freedom without leagues of open space beyond the cities, where boys and girls, men and women, can live at least part of their lives under no control but their own desires and abilities, free from any and all direct administration by their fellow men.”

Maria Leijerstam

Since the invention of “fat-bike” people have been racing annually across the snow and ice to be the first to reach the Southern Pole. There are a lot of innovative designs out there now and some very fit and capable men who make overland travel in Antarctica their life’s work, but until this year, no one had made the journey.

Maria Leijerstam shows me that a) there is still plenty of room for innovation in exploration and b) that anyone can travel and explore if they have the dedication and willingness to learn.

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