Earth Day is coming and politicians have been reviewing Iowa’s solar electricity generation capacity. State Rep. Ras Smith posted about his trip to a solar array in Decorah. Iowa Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg, Senator Joni Ernst, and Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks attended the dedication of a solar array in Wapello last week. The support for solar was bipartisan.
It’s no surprise. Solar arrays require no fuel except free sunlight. It is becoming the lowest cost option to generate electricity. Solar importantly avoids most liabilities of burning fossil fuels like coal and natural gas.
The message I hope these politicians take away from such appearances is government action is required to reduce carbon emissions in Iowa and elsewhere. Replacing coal and natural gas generating capacity with solar arrays is a way to do that.
We can install solar arrays on our homes, contributing to reduction of air pollution. Government regulation of our air and water quality is more important than individual action when it comes to reducing use of fossil fuels.
Focus on individual actions diverts our attention from what’s most important: what only government can address. Let’s remind our politicians we need government action this Earth Day.
Earth Day is upon us. We should do something to note the occasion. Things like plant a tree or garden, or get together with neighbors to volunteer in our community come immediately to mind. I want to do those and more.
An individual can do a lot to improve the environment. We are past the point of relying solely on individual actions to address environmental problems.
The non-profit Conservation Coalition recently posted video of Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks. She said, “We don’t talk about very simple things that we can do that will allow us to both clean our environment, have a better environment, let people enjoy nature, but then also will be very productive and low cost going into the future.”
Individuals can do more. However, reducing acid rain, to which she referred in the video, was accomplished neither by an individual, nor was it low cost. Acid rain was addressed by George H.W. Bush signing the 1990 Clean Air Act.
We need more environmental accountability driven by the Congress, specifically by Chuck Grassley, Joni Ernst and Miller-Meeks. Focus on individual actions diverts our attention from what’s most important: the issues only government can address. We need focus on government action this Earth Day.
~ Published by the Cedar Rapids Gazette on April 13, 2021
Where does society stand as Earth Day approaches? On shaky ground.
The Iowa legislature was unable to pass a revised bottle bill this year. Grocers and other retailers have wanted out of the responsibility to accept recycled cans and bottles since the beginning in 1978. If the legislature passes anything, it would be to relieve them of this duty once and for all. That’s how we roll in Iowa under Republican rule.
The problem with any of the states that has a bottle bill is not the amount of deposit, recycler handling fees, or the decision which containers are covered. It is that even with the best programs too much plastic, glass and metal finds its way into the waste stream. For Pete’s sake, it’s raining microplastics and the ocean is inundated with the stuff. Bottle bills create a diversion from the problem of regulating manufacturers, they assert that consumers are responsible for this form of pollution. Blaming consumers is an old sawhorse originating in the industry-backed Crying Indian campaign of 1971. If you are of a certain age, you’ll recognize this commercial.
Iowa is a state that does not care about the quality of our water except to comply with public drinking water standards. We have more livestock than people here and between manure runoff, field drainage tile, and surface runoff, our list of impaired waters is very high. Just this month, Iowa Department of Natural Resources approved a cattle feedlot in the watershed of a pristine trout stream.
“IDNR’s refusal to disapprove the plan submitted by Supreme Beef shows the sad state of affairs in Iowa when it comes to animal feeding operations. State laws and the DNR both prioritize new concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) over protecting our streams, rivers, and lakes,” Iowa Environmental Council attorney Michael Schmidt said in a statement.
There are two main components to environmental protection. Personal actions and government regulation of polluters. The largest corporations would like to see a focus on individual action because they seek to divert our attention from their corporate behaviors and what it would cost for them to improve. Elected officials? They mostly would like to avoid controversy with the electorate that put them in office. I eat a vegetarian diet, so I avoid most hog, cattle and chicken products. It’s not doing the job of environmental protection from livestock pollution.
Earth Day has become a celebration of Spring where individuals do things: clean up litter, plant a garden, or go on a bicycle ride. While personal action to improve the environment remains important, what matters more is corporate accountability, something a small group of industrialists is working hard to get us to avoid. Like the Crying Indian advertisement, they seek to distract us.
On Earth Day 2021, we must focus on holding corporate polluters accountable. That means working with elected officials to get something done to protect the environment. We’ll have to be persistent, though. In Iowa our federal elected officials don’t want to hear about holding their financial backers accountable. Even with our Republican office holders, one hopes repetition can lead to belief. Not contacting them about the environment is exactly what corporate interests want us to do.
Snow melt began running in the ditch yesterday as late winter progresses in Big Grove. I doubt we will get more snow. It’s been pretty dry for the last nine days. The dry, cold weather combined with a substantial snow melt is a cause for concern.
What fraction of the snow melt leaves our property is bound for the state park lake a little more than a hundred yards away, then to the Iowa River which is a tributary to the Mississippi River.
The Mississippi River’s drainage basin is the third largest in the world, exceeded in area only by the Amazon’s and the Congo’s. It stretches over 1.2 million square miles and encompasses 31 states and slices of two Canadian provinces.
Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert.
In 1966 I kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings as an eighth grade project. Late winter, beginning in February that year, an ice jam hit the Quad-Cities area, resulting in flooding.
Unprecedented in size and steadily growing larger, a seven-mile-long “glacier” of ice is, like a giant cork, plugging the main channel of the Mississippi River from Credit Island to Buffalo.
Quad-City Times, Feb. 20, 1966.
My comparison of the ice jam was with the 1965 Mississippi River flood, one of the worst in Iowa history.
The great flood of 1965 on the Mississippi River, along the eastern border of the State, exceeded any flood known in 139 years. It caused damages probably in excess of ten millions of dollars in the State of Iowa. … The underlying cause of the flood was an abnormally cold winter which prevented the melting of an excessive snow cover in the upper reaches of the basin. Heavy rains late in March followed by rapid melting triggered the runoff which caused the floods.
The 1965 Mississippi River Flood in Iowa by Harlan H. Schwob and Richard E. Myers, United States Geological Survey, October 1965,
We are in that scenario — a cold winter which prevented snow melt the first two months of the year — at least until now. If the weather remains dry, the Mississippi may not flood downstream. If we get rain, there could be record flooding. Here’s hoping rain holds off until the snow melts. I say this despite the drought parts of Iowa have experienced this winter.
The 1965 and 1966 flooding formed my outlook about floods and how they happen. It is important to note the City of Davenport chose to do nothing to prevent the levee from flooding after these floods. City officials said it was to preserve the look of the levee, which later became the home of a jazz festival celebrating native son Bix Beiderbecke. Annual flooding and the damage it caused was acceptable in favor of aesthetics. At the time of the decision, the Quad-Cities was under economic pressure because businesses were curtailing manufacturing there. The economic boost of Bix made a difference, they said.
I visited the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers near Saint Louis with an eighth grade classmate some years ago. It’s a lot of water, as far as one can see. The idea there is an engineering solution to tame the Mississippi basin seemed preposterous when standing at water level and seeing the vast mixing of the two differently colored rivers. I doubt it can be done, especially with the unpredictable nature of climate change and how it is changing the hydrology of the Mississippi basin. The massive engineering projects to control the river in the Mississippi delta have made it a kind of hybrid human-nature phenomenon as Kolbert describes in her book.
A lot has happened (since 1989) to complicate the meaning of “control,” not to mention “nature.” The Louisiana delta is now referred to by hydrologists as a “coupled human and natural system,” or for short, CHANS. It’s an ugly term — another nomenclature hairball — but there’s no simple way to talk about the tangle we’ve created.
Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert
The river will eventual prevail in the Mississippi delta, despite humans’ best efforts, it’s easy to predict.
Each spring I think of our connection to the river and our place in the Mississippi basin. Ours may be a small role, yet it serves as another way we are connected to the rest of the world. As I contemplate working outdoors today, it is difficult to forget how powerless humans are against what’s left of the natural world.
The ambient temperature is six degrees below zero. The February streak of subzero days is a record according to meteorologists. The headline on the Weather Channel website is “If you think it’s cold now, just wait until Valentine’s Day and next week.”
It’s cold, but not that cold. Overall this winter seems warmer than usual. Why?
We are not in the 35 below zero range we hit a couple of years ago. That was the cold spell that caused 70-degree temperature swings, began killing our Locust tree, and caused long-stable sewer and water pipes to break around the neighborhood. It’s not that cold yet.
We are also missing a strong cold spell at or below minus 20 degrees. I follow these cold snaps to identify when I should prune the apple and pear trees. We didn’t hit one last year and thus far haven’t this year. Combine it with the fact 2020 tied for the warmest year on record and perhaps one can see why I’m skeptical regarding the hubbub about how cold it is. I just walked on the driveway and it is a quiet, refreshing, albeit cold night. The kind that sets the stage for hope and human activity.
I will attempt to get the buckets of compost from the garage to the bin in the garden. However, there is no hurry because even if I do dump them, the compost will not decay much until the temperature warms. There is also an eight inch pile of snow on top of the composter to clear.
The coronavirus pandemic was a killer as it closes its first year. Thus far 2.4 million people globally died of the coronavirus. In the United States, 485,000. In Iowa, 5,236. Every one of the deceased had a name known by others. The coronavirus is a pestilence the likes of which there is no living memory, except maybe among a decreasing number of centenarians.
One can lose track of hours and days in the pandemic. Each human interaction takes on special meaning. It’s precious because there are so few of them, and those we have are mostly through electronic media. When a human calls, it’s a big deal. We are tempted to pick up the telephone when it rings, even though it is reasonable to predict the caller is a machine wanting to ID me as a potential customer to buy an extended warranty on my 1997 Subaru.
Hopefully we’ll get enough COVID-19 vaccine in the community so everyone who wants it can get it. The vaccine is proving effective overseas where the population of anti-vaccine folks is lower than in the U.S. If the vaccines are working, and it appears they are, there is hope of ending the pandemic. In the meanwhile, we’ll stay home, keep warm, and if we have to go out we’ll do so only when it is necessary, and wear a face mask and stay socially distant. Because we have pensions, we can afford to do this. Others are not so lucky.
There is pruning to do, although not as much as last time. The Aug. 10 derecho felled a large branch on the Red Delicious apple tree, so I don’t want to stress it much more than it is. No living creature want more stress right now. One day this week I’ll put on my overshoes, a warm coat, hat and scarf, and go on walkabout to check the yard and neighborhood. I’ll take my mobile device with me in case some human calls.
2021 will be a pivotal year. We have a new American president, a new Congress, and abundant hope for progress in arms control and in mitigating the effects of warming atmosphere and oceans.
Each person can do something.
No matter your background, I encourage readers to consider participation in one of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps virtual trainings this year. The April 22 training is United States-focused to align with the opportunity our new government presents. There will be a virtual Latin America-focused training in July, and a virtual global training in October. Here is Al Gore’s announcement video and a link to the training page for more information.
We received news on Tuesday afternoon the New START Treaty was extended.
“A week ago, the United States and Russia ‘exchanged diplomatic papers’ in order to extend the New START treaty for 5 years,” wrote Physicians for Social Responsibility in a Feb. 2 email. “Biden and Putin got this done in time — before New START was set to expire this Friday, Feb 5.”
Recent Republican administrations have not favored arms control treaties. In fact, the George W. Bush and Donald Trump administrations exited existing agreements. U.S. Admiral Charles Richard recently wrote in the U.S. Naval Institute journal Proceedings, the potential for nuclear war remains present.
“There is a real possibility that a regional crisis with Russia or China could escalate quickly to a conflict involving nuclear weapons, if they perceived a conventional loss would threaten the regime or state,” the four-star admiral wrote.
There’s nothing new in the Richard’s statement. While our relations with Russia and China require scrutiny, not only with regard to nuclear weapons, but with every facet of their complexity, a few things remain clear about the course the United States should be taking to prevent the detonation of nuclear weapons which may escalate into a full on war. In their new book, The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power From Truman to Trump, William J. Parry and Tom Z. Collina outline a framework that includes these items:
The president should not have sole authority to launch a nuclear weapons attack. The U.S. Constitution gives Congress sole authority to declare war. They should be engaged with any decision to launch nuclear weapons against another state or non-state actor. There is no need for the “nuclear football” that has been shadowing the president since the Kennedy administration.
We should never rush into nuclear war. Experience has shown us time is required to gather all the information needed to verify an attack is in progress. There is simply no need for the president to decide to retaliate based on sketchy or incomplete information in a matter of a few minutes. Launch on warning should be prohibited.
First use of nuclear weapons should be prohibited. Given U.S. conventional force superiority, there is little reason to use nuclear weapons.
Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles with nuclear warheads, positioned in silos to launch on warning are obsolete. If the U.S. were attacked with a large-scale nuclear missile launch, ICBMs in silos would be the among the first targets. They are part of the so-called nuclear triad which includes submarines and bombers ready to launch a nuclear attack or counter attack. If there were a nuclear attack on the U.S., submarines and bombers would comprise our primary retaliatory response. ICBMs are obsolete sitting ducks.
Strategic missile defense systems don’t work, despite billions of dollars spent developing them. Russia sees U.S. missile defense systems as a threat to their ability to retaliate in the event of a U.S. nuclear attack. U.S. missile defense systems, by their existence, block advancement of arms control negotiations between the world’s two owners of 90 percent of nuclear armaments.
The bigger picture is nuclear states should take seriously Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and work toward elimination of nuclear weapons. For those nuclear states which haven’t joined the treaty, they should. Countries should reduce and eliminate spending on weapons of mass destruction.
While I don’t agree with the Biden administration’s military spending priorities, I’m glad to receive the news they extended New START for five more years. Now build upon it.
This winter is shaping up to be a scary one. There has not been a substantial cold snap where the ambient temperature remains below zero for a week or more. We need that to suppress the insects living in the ground that feed on our plant life in the garden and yard when it gets warmer. Cold weather is also the best time to prune fruit trees.
It’s no surprise it’s getting warmer.
Atmospheric CO2 concentration hit 413.95 ppm at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii in December 2020. In my birth year of 1951 the global average was 311.80. There is a direct correlation between atmospheric CO2 and planetary warming. Our best hope is it’s not too late to mitigate rising CO2 levels.
According to NASA, 2020 tied 2016 as the warmest year on record in global average surface temperature. According to this chart, the rise in global surface temperature is in an accelerating upward trend since the baseline period of 1951-1980.
In the general election of 2020, Americans took a necessary step toward climate action by electing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the president and vice president willing to examine and understand the science of climate change and take action. Because Biden served as Barack Obama’s vice president, he knows what to do. It would have been better to elect a stronger majority in the legislative branch of the federal government, yet we didn’t. The majority we have will serve as we can’t wait two years to increase the majority of science believers in the midterms.
The United States rejoined the Paris Agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Like the election, it’s a beginning step. The Paris Agreement is flawed, yet it is difficult to see how the world makes progress toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions without the kind of cooperation it envisioned. Our country simply must be part of the discussion.
As a single citizen, or a small family, it is difficult to see how to help. We can and should reduce our personal carbon footprint, especially by doing things that don’t require a lot of capital: use less hot water, set the furnace thermostat lower, run the air conditioner at a higher temperature, use less gasoline and natural gas, eschew air travel and long automobile trips. The coronavirus pandemic kept many of us at home and that had a direct impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Eventually we will learn to live with the coronavirus and when we do, the need to control emissions will remain.
These are scary times. One view is there is nothing to be done about all this. The apocalypse is coming and the best we can do is mitigate its impact on us as individuals. It’s a vision of doomsday preppers, isolated and remote enclaves of the wealthy, and an attitude of preserving self as the catastrophe hits. I reject this view. We are stronger together and together we should remain in mitigating the impact of climate change.
It also seems important to focus on the big picture. Political leadership is required to make progress. For some of us, such leaders won’t be as bold as we want or feel is needed. We can’t relent on our politics.
Iowa has had its recent climate-related difficulties, floods in 1993 and 2008, tornadoes, straight line wind, a derecho, and drought. At the same time row crop yields were decreased due to climate change, as in the 2012 drought, a new, diverse agriculture remains possible because of our growing conditions. Gardeners like me contribute to resolving climate change by growing more of our own food. The process would be scalable if the importance of growing more local food were more generally accepted. We do what we can with local resources and conditions. We could do more.
Scary as it is, we can’t get depressed. It is human nature to be hopeful and hope is one of our most powerful attributes. It is important to be realistic about where we stand on mitigating the effects of greenhouse gases. For the next years, the picture isn’t going to be pretty. We can’t give up. We must persist in the effort to make our communal lives better. That’s what I plan to do.
It’s no secret there is an epistemological crisis undermining the authority of knowledge. It may be the most significant problem to grow out of the Reagan administration. That the discussion of creationism versus evolution returned during the 1980s was only the beginning.
There is a difference between justified belief (a.k.a. facts) and opinion and it is epistemological. That is, “relating to the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion,” according to Dictionary.com. At issue is that solutions to other pressing problems rely on the ability of Americans to separate opinion from facts, something we as a society have become less able to do. Al Gore recently summarized our current situation as follows:
And though the pandemic fills our field of vision at the moment, it is only the most urgent of the multiple crises facing the country and planet, including 40 years of economic stagnation for middle-income families; hyper-inequality of incomes and wealth, with high levels of poverty; horrific structural racism; toxic partisanship; the impending collapse of nuclear arms control agreements; an epistemological crisis undermining the authority of knowledge; recklessly unprincipled behavior by social media companies; and, most dangerous of all, the climate crisis.
Al Gore, New York Times, Dec. 12, 2020
Unless we can agree there are facts, and how to distinguish them from opinions, we may have reached the end of the long, good run that was the American republic.
During the time since Reagan, moneyed interests gained hegemony in our government and society. Thom Hartmann put it this way in his forthcoming book The Hidden History of American Oligarchy: Reclaiming Our Democracy from the Ruling Class:
Billionaire oligarchs want to own our republic, and they’re nearly there thanks to legislation and Supreme Court decisions that they have essentially bought. They put Trump and his political allies into office and support a vast network of think tanks, publications, and social media that every day push our nation closer and closer to police-state tyranny.
Thom Hartmann, The Hidden History of American Oligarchy: Reclaiming Our Democracy from the Ruling Class, to be released February 2021.
It is particularly distressing American oligarchs used the cover of the coronavirus pandemic to increase their grip on the nation and extract taxpayer money intended to alleviate the fiscal crisis it caused. In normal times this would be unthinkable. These are not normal times.
In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act which deregulated use of the public air waves. Regulations put in place in the 1920s through the 1940s were largely repealed. The result has been to consolidate most media under half a dozen corporations which now control the message. Perhaps Sinclair Broadcast Group is the worst in that they distribute editorial pieces from the corporation for inclusion during on-air broadcasts. All of the media corporations play a role in the deterioration of knowledge.
In 1987 President Ronald Reagan directed the FCC to cease enforcement of the Fairness Doctrine. In 2011 the Obama administration removed it from the FCC rules completely. Broadcasters no longer had an obligation to present balanced or fact-based information. The significance to the epistemological crisis these actions brought is hard to overstate.
What do we do about it? For those of us on small, private blogs it is easy: have a basis in fact if we run a story, focus on inquiry and understanding. As Tom Nichols pointed out in his book, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters, “None of us is a Da Vinci, painting the Mona Lisa in the morning and designing helicopters at night. That’s as it should be. No, the bigger problem is that we’re proud of not knowing things.”
With their 40-year head start, it will be challenging to overtake the oligarch puppet masters who bought much of our government. Hartmann has a dozen ideas to get us started. Gore and Nichols have more. The bottom line is the truth matters, scientific methods matter, and while religious belief plays a role in human culture there is a difference between things we take on faith and those that can be verified through scientific methods.
At the Oct. 22 presidential debate, Joe Biden said, “We’re going to choose science over fiction.” It’s a starting point on a long journey, one which we all should join.
After the Electoral College vote for president and vice president on Dec. 14, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly congratulated president-elect Joe Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris on their win. He noted Harris is the first female vice president-elect, a historic achievement.
In the kabuki dance that is our nation’s capitol, “(McConnell) urged Senate Republicans not to join a long-shot effort led by conservatives in the House to challenge the electoral college results when Congress formally tabulates the vote Jan. 6,” according to the Washington Post. Such an action is doomed to failure as on a straight line party vote it will fail in the U.S. House. Media outlets indicated McConnell wants to avoid such a vote in the Senate.
Former Vice President Al Gore was one of the first world renown environmental leaders to meet with president-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York after the November 2016 election. The conversation was kept private.
Yesterday, during a 45-minute webinar with members of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, Gore said, “This is our moment.” The next four years represent an opportunity to address the climate crisis, beginning with the Biden administration’s intent to rejoin the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, better known as the Paris Agreement. Gore had a long to-do list and there truly is a lot to get done to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. We all must do our part.
McConnell’s announcement and Gore’s speech are the beginning points for a long, difficult journey. Not only does Washington need to recognize scientific truths, we must return to the Obama era practice of embedding climate action in every aspect of the U.S. government. Biden is willing to do so. With the appointment of John Kerry and Gina McCarthy to new roles devoted to addressing the climate crisis, the structural framework is being built.
The Climate Reality Leadership Corps has a number of members across Iowa. The May 2015 training event in Cedar Rapids helped increase our numbers. There are two Iowa chapters of Climate Reality leaders, one in Des Moines, and another in Ames. I joined the Des Moines chapter this morning. Having organized the state for other projects, I’m not sure of the efficacy of developing this chapter, or another in Eastern Iowa, when so many other environmental groups exist in the state. Efforts to pull them together have proven difficult because there is a lack of consensus on priorities. There is also plenty of diverse work to be done. In a society where internet connectivity plays an increasing role, efforts to organize people willing to take action on the climate crisis is energy that should be used to address the climate crisis directly. It is important to be a part of this and other groups. It is more important to focus on the work.
The Sierra Club has a strong presence in Iowa and I support and will work on some of their priorities, such as regulation of companies that seek to pump water from the Jordan Aquifer and ship it out of state. There are other groups as well. In Iowa there are issues that merit our attention. I described them to some long-time friends in an email:
I don’t know what people feel about carbon sequestration as a way to impact greenhouse gas emissions, but it’s all the rage in Iowa. Because it’s all the rage, it is possible, although unlikely, something can be done on it. The danger is it supplants other, more important action that could be taken to reduce GHG emissions.
Another concern is ethanol production. We need a resilient form of agriculture that relies less on making combustible fuel from corn and other biomass. We’ve been at loggerheads for a long time over ethanol yet if we could drive a wedge into this issue in 2021 it would be a positive development.
I don’t know where the University of Iowa is on their blending of biomass with coal, but after numerous attempts, I don’t see any headway in influencing what they do. They should retire the coal plant, and if we could figure out a method or argument to persuade them, that would be a balance between barking up the same tree and a major breakthrough.
Email to Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility, Dec. 14, 2020.
The elephant in the room is the 2023 Farm Bill. Biden indicated addressing the climate crisis in it is an important priority. While Department of Agriculture secretary-designate Tom Vilsack is known for his alignment with large agricultural interests, and has been no friend to the environment, he is also a good Democratic soldier who will do what Biden asks and who deserves our support as the Farm Bill works its way through the process. Advocates for addressing the climate crisis in Iowa should monitor and devote some bandwidth to the emerging Farm Bill.
Gore waited to make his speech until after the Electoral College vote. We knew what was coming and are ready. There remains a lot to do to address the climate crisis and it will take all hands on deck. This is our moment.