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'Yang Gang' comes through with school supplies after Swanzey man's tweet

SWANZEY — Ask the Yang Gang, and ye shall receive.

For Zachary Griffin of Swanzey, what started as an unsettling observation and a tweet turned into a windfall of school supplies sitting in his living room.

Griffin, 44, said he has never been that involved in politics, whether national or local. But ever since becoming an ardent supporter of and volunteer for Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang, Griffin said he’s begun to see issues in a new light.

So when he recently heard two of his boys — Bailey, 8, who attends Cutler, and Bentley, 7, who attends Mount Caesar — talk about how their teachers at the Swanzey elementary schools often pay out of pocket for school supplies, he tried something new.

Griffin said he had gotten lists in the past from Cutler and Mount Caesar asking parents to donate hand sanitizer bottles or other supplies not covered by the school budget. On relaying that basic struggle to some Yang organizers last week while knocking on doors, something clicked. They suggested that Griffin “Yang the teachers” by airing the issue online.

In between working as a car salesman at Brattleboro Subaru, picking up the kids and canvassing, Griffin sent out a tweet calling on Yang’s legion of online followers — who self-identify as the #YangGang — for some help.

Linking to an Amazon wish list page from his @SubaruZakk account, Griffin sent the call out into the void Jan. 22:

The next day, school supplies started showing up at his door.

Almost a week later, packages from all over the country had piled up in his living room.

In an interview on Tuesday, Griffin said 30 boxes had already been delivered to his house, including more than 2,000 pencils, two supersized sets of hand sanitizer and plenty of paper.

“The response has been unbelievable,” Griffin said.

Members of Griffin’s family also made their own calls for supplies in videos that he tweeted out, leading to even more packages.

Griffin said he’s made contact with a teacher at Mount Caesar, but hasn’t yet turned over the supplies. He said he wants to make sure they get allocated efficiently without turning into a mess for anyone at the school.

When he approached the principal at Mount Caesar, Griffin said, she didn’t know who Andrew Yang was.

“And I was like, ugh, that’s why I’m doing this!” he said.

Officials at Mount Caesar and Cutler did not return a request for comment Wednesday.

On Thursday, Monadnock Superintendent Lisa A. Witte emailed the following statement to The Sentinel:

"We are very appreciative of the efforts members of our community make to provide for our schools. The administration of the district was unaware that this effort was being undertaken, and were equally unaware of any association with a particular candidate or political campaign," Witte said in the email, after the article's publication. "The Monadnock Regional School District does not endorse or support any candidate, party, or special interest group."

Witte said the school board will discuss whether it can accept the donation at its next meeting.

Through the whole experience, Griffin said he’s reflected on his evolution as a voter and engaged citizen.

In 2016, he said, he was a registered Republican and voted for Donald Trump.

But ever since discovering Yang on a YouTube video and subsequently attending his events, Griffin has become an unaffiliated voter and gone door to door to learn about issues affecting his communities.

“I’m in the car business, so I see automation — I mean you look at [artificial intelligence] eyesight, these cars driving themselves, it’s real,” Griffin said. “And nobody talks about it.

“And then I watched the debate, and he started getting everybody to talk about it,” he continued. “And I was like, ‘Wow, we would never even be hearing about this.’”

Yang, a New York tech entrepreneur, has helped push automation, artificial intelligence and universal basic income into the Democratic Party’s discourse, earning a fervent following across the Internet and in pockets of the Granite State.

Even with the first-in-the-nation primary grabbing his attention, Griffin said that canvassing has made him want to get more involved in local politics to make a difference.

Griffin added that engaging with politics has made him more sympathetic to educators and the funding issues facing schools, which he has not always been as aware of heading to the ballot box.

“It definitely makes me want to be more involved [with the school board] as well, because as far as politics have gone, I haven’t really been that deep in it, you know what I mean?” he said. “I’d get down to the end and I’d be making a decision.

“But becoming a supporter of Andrew, I’ve gone all in.”

This article has been updated to reflect a statement from Superintendent Lisa A. Witte.

Satellite data reveals patterns of record warmth

Last year was the second-warmest on record for the globe, but in many places, such as Australia and Alaska, temperatures were unprecedented in modern record-keeping. This is known from data gathered by thermometers at the Earth’s surface, and analyzed by agencies such as NASA, NOAA and the U.K. Met Office.

But orbiting in space is another source of global temperature readings that can operate as one of many checks on the surface instruments. NASA’s Aqua and Terra satellites can detect thermal energy at the Earth’s surface and are used to sense land surface temperatures.

Though the data set is far more limited than the surface records, the satellite data can help reveal interesting patterns to how climate change is playing out around the world.

Descartes Labs, a Santa Fe-based company that operates a huge repository of geospatial data for use in building predictive models for anything from environmental indicators to financial data, examined data from the Aqua and Terra satellites going back to 2003 and provided it to The Washington Post.

Descartes Labs and The Post’s graphics team produced these maps that show temperature rankings over different periods of time.

According to Descartes Labs, the consistency of the remotely sensed data as well as its high resolution of one kilometer makes it useful for comparing long time spans.

The first map shows areas that had one of their top five warmest years in 2019. Immediately the warmth in Australia, Alaska, Europe, most of Africa, South America, Greenland and Southeast Asia pop out. The main exceptions are large parts of the United States and Canada, which did not experience record warmth in 2019.

The second map highlights only those areas that had their warmest year on record in 2019.

One can compare the space-based temperature measurements with surface data (shown in the second map below the satellite data), and they pretty much tell the same story. Australia was extraordinarily hot, and also experienced record dryness, before its devastating bush fire season that still continues. Alaska, parts of Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia and Mexico also saw record warmth, according to both data sources.

The extraordinary heat in Australia is worth zooming in on in its own right. The country was never as hot and as dry at the same time as it was in 2019. In December, Australia recorded its two hottest days on record. On Dec. 18, the nationally-averaged maximum temperature was 107.4 degrees Fahrenheit (41.9 Celsius), shattering the old record of 104.5 degrees (40.3 Celsius) set in 2013.

The heat and drought conditions led to unprecedented bush fires that consumed huge tracts of forests rich in biodiversity, particularly in Victoria and New South Wales. The fires in 2019 and 2020 have killed more than two dozen people, effectively doubled the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and led to a political crisis for pro-coal development Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The fires have killed as many as 1 billion animals, and likely pushed many species beyond the brink of extinction.

Coinciding with a large patch of scarlet on the map, some of the most destructive bush fires struck between Sydney and southeastern Queensland. Climate change has led to more frequent and intense heat waves in Australia, and has increased a key metric used to predict fire severity to unprecedented levels, known as the Forest Fire Danger Index.

Australia has warmed by just over 1.8 degrees (1 degree Celsius) since 1910, with most of the warming occurring since 1950. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology has found an uptick in the frequency of extreme heat events and severity of drought conditions during this period, as well.

In all surface temperature data sets, 2016 was the warmest year on record, coinciding with a record strong El Niño event in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Such events tend to boost global average temperatures by adding a large amount of heat to the near surface waters of the tropical Pacific, as well as adding heat to the atmosphere.

The red areas in the composite maps in the last graphic are regions where that particular year was the hottest within the 2003 to 2018 time period.