Environmental Issues 2018-style

Earthrise by Bill Anders, Dec. 24, 1968

There was never any doubt that when Republicans won the 2016 election setbacks were in store for parts of the environmental movement that rely on government regulations.

Conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation were ready with swat teams to investigate every part of the executive branch and reverse anything and everything that could be to favor business interests during the president’s first term.

The funders of these operations have plenty to celebrate going into the new year. The rest of us took a step backward.

What I’ve learned in almost 50 years of being in the environmental movement is there is no parsing the actuality of environmental degradation. A person can summarize the greenhouse effect in as few as 200 words. The impacts of global warming are available to anyone who would recognize them. There is an inevitability of climate action with the main concern being we wait until it is too late to save ourselves.

The battle over the coal industry is being fought less by environmental advocates and more by market dynamics. So many electric utilities converted to natural gas because of its current low cost and availability. Why wouldn’t a utility want a thermal energy source delivered right to their door over a mineral that had to be delivered and handled by the rail car load at greater expense? Based on the home heating conversion of coal to natural gas, ongoing when I was a child, there is no going back to coal.

Natural gas is also a problem because of greenhouse gas emissions. While solar energy installations have stalled as a result of the president’s tariff policy, the market will figure it out to use the sun and wind directly. Renewable energy will prevail in the marketplace over extraction-based energy sources. Based on the science of climate change, they have to prevail if we hope to adapt to the deteriorating environment we created.

Symbolic gestures like the Green New Deal the House of Representatives is proposing are something. However, the problem of environmental degradation won’t be solved by governments alone. We need a resurgence of green habits. It is still too easy and inexpensive for someone to hop in the car and drive 20 miles to pick up groceries to expect them to change their behavior.

Progress made on environmental issues and policy during the Obama administration was no progress at all if it could be so easily reversed by the next administration. The idea a potential Democratic president in 2021 could reverse the damage done by Republicans is a shallow hope. We have to do better than this.

As 2018 draws to a close there is much to be done to reverse the deleterious effects of a changing climate. Some of it can’t be reversed yet we can’t lose hope. Despair is a form of climate denial.

“We do not have time for despair,” Al Gore said recently. “We can’t afford the luxury of feeling discouraged. Too much is at stake.”

Inside politics and out, now is the time for climate action.

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Christmas is Coming

Christmas Lights

It’s been seven weeks since the end of apple season, now two weeks until Christmas. The glow has come off holiday seasons.

It’s not that I’ve become all grinchy, hidden away in a darkened lair while neighbors illuminate their homes in festive lights. I don’t know what it is but last year we didn’t even open the holiday decoration boxes and this year likely won’t either. It makes the clean up easier and there are no young children and few family members with whom to share our traditions. People turn inward this time of year and so shall we.

We make home made chili on Christmas eve and serve it with cornbread. There are special recipes and sparkling apple cider. Christmas day we’ll fix a dinner with elements of what we had for Thanksgiving — sweet potatoes, wild rice, farm vegetables, a relish plate, and a source of protein. There will be leftovers. It will be tasty and traditional.

I know what to do to make it through the holidays — contact friends and relatives and plan for next year. Write a budget, get organized for tax season, plan the garden. The world starts shutting down Christmas eve and there will be time for a long winter’s nap… or two. Time to spend writing along with restlessness and resting for what’s next in 2019… a long walk on the lake trail.

My disconnect from Christmas began with military service. The first year in Germany, no one even knew I was there except for the battalion commander’s secretary and my family. Without a telephone, before the time of personal computers, I spent the holiday alone and that broke me from family traditions. By the time New Year’s came, other officers realized I was there and tried to include me. It felt ersatz and futile.

There was a resurgence of Christmas spirit with some joyful times when we married. Even in our decoration-less home with just the two of us the day is special. That will be enough. We’ll miss having our daughter with us and will think of her as Christmas day turns to night. One year she worked the park’s fireworks display as families gathered on streets of make-believe. Someone has to make holiday memories for night visitors.

Today I return for a shift at the home, farm and auto supply store. With five days off work I’m getting cabin fever and that will dissipate as morning turns to afternoon. Socialization at work is a main reason to stay in the work force while I can. Soon the Christmas merchandise will go on clearance with bargains to be had. I might bring something home. Who knows whether our holiday lights will even work after so long in storage. I might even use them again this year because hope remains. It’s the season of hope.

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Note to my Congressman

Congressman Dave Loebsack


Congratulations on your reelection last month and thanks for the conversation after the Second District convention.

My wish list is brief, here it is.

Create a process to audit where defense dollars go. We are spending a lot on defense, more than I believe is needed. We ought to be able to determine where this money goes. I believe we can save money. I’d bet there is enough money to pay for the president’s wall, not that we should. Please work on such accountability for the Pentagon.

Protect Social Security and Medicare. I first paid into Social Security the summer of 1968 and 50 years later depend on my Social Security pension to help pay monthly bills. Most of my friends on Medicare believe it doesn’t cover enough. However, what we have adds value to our lives. Keep these both solvent and determine a better, more cost effective way to manage them.

No doubt you are aware of the dire reports on the potential consequences of climate change on society. The New Green Deal for which Nancy Pelosi has indicated support could be part of a government effort to mitigate the consequences of global warming and climate change. It is not enough. Scientists have indicated in the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that the horizon for catastrophic consequences is much closer than expected. It is time to act on climate change, and I hope you will do your part every day.

Thanks again for your representation. Best wishes for end of year holidays and an optimistic new year.

Regards, Paul

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What I Like About the County Seat

Old Capitol

There are things I like and dislike about nearby Iowa City which is the seat of Johnson County government. Here’s a post about what I like in no particular order.

Parking at the Administration Building The primary reason I travel to the county seat is to take care of county business. When the board of supervisors built the administration center they created ample, well-maintained parking that is always convenient once one figures out the traffic pattern of the streets surrounding it. Getting in and out to take care of business or attend a meeting has always been easy and welcoming.

Downtown Parking My reasons for visiting the downtown vector are to attend a meeting or special event, or to get service from one of the specialty shops that can only be found there. The small city near where I live can’t support a jeweler, a printer, or clothier, so the county seat is the next best bet. I opposed building the parking ramps back in the day, but today they are a stress reliever. If my wallet is emptied of bills, they will take plastic for settlement.

HyVee In our ecology of food we need a large conventional grocery store where I can find specialty items and a few staples. Located near the edge of the city, the North Dodge Street HyVee is convenient when I am in the county seat for other reasons, and not too far when I’m not. Inevitably I run into people I know there, most times multiple people in a single visit. It is not only about getting a few grocery items but about socializing. I also use the store as a place to meet people who live in the county seat.

Bookstores Because the University of Iowa is its own large population center the city is able to maintain a large independent bookstore and an equally large used bookstore. On rare occasions when I feel like shopping, Prairie Lights Bookstore and the Haunted Bookshop are usual destinations. It is hard to go inside one or the other and leave without buying a book.

Memory Repository Since 1970 I’ve spent significant time in the county seat, attending university, and afterward, living a life. We married there. Our daughter was born there. I protested the Vietnam War there. My earliest creative efforts took place there. One of my favorite places to be is having a coffee near the intersection of Market and Linn Streets. Today I make fewer new memories there. When I think of who I became after leaving home, a lot of it happened in the Johnson County seat. From time to time I need to remember that.

This list is a description of who I am in the context of geography. I understand people don’t get that excited about parking capacity. We live far enough away from the county seat for it not to be a nuisance, and close enough to get in and out quickly while conducting the business of a life. Wherever we lived there would be a county seat. I like ours just fine.

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COP24 and What’s Next

Image of Earth 7-6-15 from DSCOVR (Deep Space Climate Observatory)

Like others, I was skeptical the broad coalition to act on climate formed during and after the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris would last. This week at COP24 in Poland, three top oil producing states, the United States, Russia and Saudi Arabia, along with number nine, Kuwait, blocked acceptance of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report the conference commissioned.

The four oil producers objected to “welcoming” the report and preferred the vague language of “noting” the report. Because the conference proceeds only after reaching consensus, and they couldn’t, the report was not adopted.

“Opposition to climate action is one of the issues motivating Trump’s cozy relationship with the corrupt leaders in Russia and Saudi Arabia,” State Senator Rob Hogg tweeted Dec. 9. “This is not who we are as Americans, and we need to put a stop to it.”

“Under Trump, instead of leading the world to act on climate change, the United States joined with Russia and Saudi Arabia to stop the recognition of a scientific report about the increasingly urgent need for climate action,” he tweeted.

Absent U.S. leadership on climate I expect further dissent within the coalition that reached consensus Dec. 12, 2015 with the Paris Agreement. Our politics, led by moneyed interests, hinders efforts to do what makes sense regarding climate change. We can’t even agree on the facts about climate change. Accepting the IPCC report, or “welcoming” it to use the vernacular of the conference, should be a non-issue.

Although President Trump announced his intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the U.S. continues to be party to it. We live in a time when the truth has become unhinged from reality and it’s hard to see what path our country will take regarding our need to act on climate going forward.

What we see in Iowa is changing weather patterns enhanced and made worse by climate change. The 2012 drought was unimaginably oppressive and reduced corn and soybean yields. After local storms on Sept. 19, 2013 knocked trees down and damaged our home I wrote, “Everywhere in the farming community, people are concerned about extreme weather. Weather is always a concern for farmers, but this is different.” New research shows change in the atmosphere is reducing the nutritional content of foods we take for granted. None of this was expected. All of it hits home.

Whether people use the words climate change is less the issue. What matters more is our lives are changing, with tangible costs, and people are worried about it. Not only for the monetary damages of a storm, or for reduced crop yields, but for what it means for the future.

The aspiration of the Paris Agreement was noble, but likely unfeasible without leadership from the United States. Regretfully President Obama did not get buy-in from Republicans in government before he signed the Paris Agreement. Once he was gone, politics took over and his efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change are rapidly being rendered null.

There’s no easy solution to climate change. Was there ever? The truth before us is we must act on climate before it’s too late. Whether society is capable of doing so remains an open question. COP24 provided another setback to action.

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Lazy Vegetarian

Home Made Veggie Burger

We are an ovo-lacto vegetarian household, although Morningstar Farms makes me a lazy vegetarian at home.

In our ecology of food we still purchase mass-produced, vegetarian burgers, recipe crumbles and chik patties. It’s an easy dinner to warm one up, prepare a couple of side dishes, and call it done.

I came up in a household where variations of hamburger played a number of roles. Mother made burgers, chili, taco meat, meat loaf, meatballs, and many other dishes using various cuts of ground beef. To a large extent, our current use of meat substitutes is to evoke memories of that long ago childhood.

A couple of homemade vegetarian burger patties wait in the freezer, and I look forward to finding or inventing a recipe that hits all the notes of satisfaction. Maybe then we can quit using outside products. In the interim, manufactured meat substitutes create a predictable, inexpensive, convenient source of food comfort.

I recently read Anthony Bourdain’s book, Appetites, in which he wrote about hamburgers. I don’t know if he approved of manufactured burgers, but using inexpensive buns from the wholesale club, I took his written explanation and videos and made a hamburger sandwich that proved to be quite delicious. A burger and fries (made from local potatoes parboiled and frozen after harvest), with home made dill pickles, is my go to dinner when my spouse is working. The manufactured burger patties fit the recipe just right.

I mentioned the Bourdain story to a friend. His response? “You do know he committed suicide?” Guess I’m not too worried about that possibility. For now, meat substitutes remain in our food ecology.

Tradition and memory play a role in our food culture. It wouldn’t be that difficult to figure out the nutritional content of food products and construct a generic meal designed to meet nutritional needs. The dialectic between nutritional science and memory waxes and wanes, and a desire to serve memory seems unlikely to be suppressed. As Chef Matt Steigerwald said, “Food is important.” I submit a corollary, “Food we grew up with is also important.”

I’m not really a vegetarian, except at home where I am a lazy one. From time to time, at social events, or when I’m in a hurry, I’ll eat something containing meat. Suffice it that the industrial meat complex is not sustained by my meager consumption of its products.

When I worked a summer job at a meat packing plant, one of the measures of our work among summer help was whether or not we’d eat what we made. That depends, I said. We made things like fertilizer, rendered lard, chitterlings, organ meat and other exotica which haven’t had a place on my plate ever. Back in the day, when I was single, I occasionally bought white bread, packaged bologna, and yellow mustard to make sandwiches, although those seem like ancient times. There were enough FDA inspectors around the plant to engender a feeling that the food products were safe to eat. I’m not sure that remains the case and my exposure to it is minimal.

It doesn’t seem human to be regimented or formulaic in the kitchen. If it were, why wouldn’t we have a home robot prepare all our meals? I’m no robot and flourish in an environment where each kitchen session is a blank slate. There are also times when a burger, fries and a dill pickle make me feel like home. That has little to do with nutrition.

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Tofu Mole – Not a Recipe

Mole and Adobo Paste

I found jars of mole and adobo paste in the pantry. They expired a long time ago but that didn’t stop me from re-hydrating a jar with home made vegetable broth and making a dish with tofu.

Using prepared mole paste makes the process easy. Layer drained and washed black beans, cut corn and cubes of firm tofu in a casserole. Next, pour mole sauce all over and bake in a 375º oven until thoroughly heated and bubbling, about 35 minutes. Top the casserole with sliced green onions and fresh cilantro if available. Spoon the mixture on brown rice to make a satisfying meal.

This is not a recipe as there is no intent for readers to prepare the dish. I’m capturing a moment in time. I’m not even sure I will make Tofu Mole again once the jars of paste are used up.

It’s another idea on the current excursion into Mexican flavors. It is all uncharted territory and that makes the journey engaging.

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