Categories
Sustainability

Approaching Danger

Flood water from Lake Macbride reached within 600 feet of our home on June 14, 2008

We did not fear the 2008 flood, even though it rendered roads and bridges near us impassible and destroyed significant parts of Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. There was a lesson to be learned from it.

As the water level rose, flowed over the Coralville Dam spillway on June 10, then back-filled Lake Macbride, it would have taken much more than there was to flood our home near the lake. When the flood crested on June 15, we were relieved.

Lake Macbride is part of the water storage system for the Coralville dam and the reservoir created behind it. 2008 flooding was greater than any in recorded history, yet the system worked as well as it could have given the volume of water. Because news media were focused on the natural disaster, we had plenty of information upon which to make decisions: Should we sand bag the house? Should we move everything to the upper level? Should we evacuate? By closely monitoring the news, we were able to survive with minimum disruption in our lives.

The Aug. 10, 2020 derecho was another catastrophic weather event, only this time, there was little advance warning. The City of Cedar Rapids may never be the same after much of the tree canopy was destroyed. Straight-line winds have become a repeating occurrence on our property. The 2013 event did more damage than the derecho, yet in the latter electricity was out for four days. It took time to recover from this event, have a tree service remove broken limbs, and clean up debris. Everyone in the neighborhood had piles of firewood after the storm.

To what extent were the 2008 flood and the 2020 derecho made worse by climate change? In his essay on the 2008 flood, Eugene S. Takle summarizes where we are.

When rare and extreme weather events seem to increase in frequency, either locally or regionally, both statisticians and thoughtful lay people begin to wonder if something unusual is going on. They ask not only whether climate change was involved, but also — and more urgently — whether such extreme conditions will be repeated soon or nearby. The question is much more than academic…

Was Climate Change Involved by Eugene S. Takle. Published in A Watershed Year: Anatomy of the Iowa Floods of 2008, edited by Cornelia S. Mutel.

Our troubles as a society lie elsewhere, outside the rational thinking of scientists.

The lesson learned from these natural disasters is to be alert and pay attention to what one can’t control. The lesson applies to more than natural disasters.

Sixty years ago I did not foresee where we would arrive in our politics and society. The idea that corporations could and would spend countless fortunes to manipulate voters to support candidates who did not serve their best interests is mind-boggling. Yet here we are.

Everything is corrupt, including political office holders, news media, law enforcement, our judiciary, our distribution system, and an extraction economy that impoverishes people who remain out of plain sight. It is a harsh judgment, yet is increasingly and undeniably true. We may have been able to survive floods, derechos, and straight line winds, yet our biggest problem is one we made for ourselves.

The approaching danger to be addressed is one of our politics. Republicans controlled both chambers of the Iowa legislature and the governorship after the 2016 election. They used their majority to advance policies that serve interests which align with right-wing conservatives and business concerns. At the same time, 45 of 150 Iowa legislative races have candidates running unopposed this cycle. The apparent lack of interest in running for office is as much a problem as the Republican trifecta.

This year, because of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, the number of female voter registrations is up. It is hard to know what this means, other than that women who value the right to an abortion, to make their own health care decisions without intervention of politicians, are taking action by registering to vote for candidates who support that right. Whether this movement will persist after the Nov. 8, 2022 election is an open question.

The American political system is far from perfect. If we want to address the dangers of climate change in the form of extreme weather events, as we must, that political system is our only, best hope. We must all get more engaged than we have been.

Categories
Environment

Global Warming is Real

Drought-stressed corn crop in Cedar County, Iowa, 2012.

2022 has provided evidence in plain sight of the consequences of burning fossil fuels. The Greenland ice sheet is melting and expected to raise global sea levels by a foot. Such melting is already in motion and even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere today, it would have no effect on this destruction. A melting Greenland ice sheet cools the Northern Atlantic Ocean, which in turn slows the Atlantic Gulf Stream circulation and could lead to climate disruption on a massive scale.

From the American West to Europe to China, rivers are drying up. Our oceans are warming, causing fish and water-bound mammals to migrate to cooler places, disrupting fishing stocks. The upper Midwest is home to the largest global concentration of field corn. Continued high temperatures and lack of rainfall are expected to reduce yields. At $6.73 a bushel, corn is now roughly 50% above its 10-year average price.

None of this is good news. It is the truth.

In part, we got ourselves into this situation by ignoring scientists about the dangers of global warming. Here’s some more truth: President Lyndon Johnson, in a Feb. 8, 1965 special message to Congress, warned about build-up of carbon dioxide that scientists recognize today as the primary contributor to global warming.

“Air pollution is no longer confined to isolated places. This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through radioactive materials and a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.”

LBJ Presidential Library, speech on Feb. 8, 1965.

What’s a person to do?

There is little an individual can do. A solution will take governments addressing the physics of the issue at the highest level. It has become clear Republicans are the party of the fossil fuel industry and won’t take serious climate action. While some Democrats have fallen under the influence of fossil fuel interests and money, they were able to pass the Inflation Reduction Act which is the first legislation that addresses the climate crisis. We need more legislation to address the climate crisis, and that means electing more Democrats today.

The evidence of global warming is all around us. While everyone should get involved in what has become an obvious, global problem, the path forward in the United States is in retaining a Democratic controlled Congress and Executive Branch. No one wants to change their quality of life. However, life would be much better if we took action to control the changes caused by global warming by engaging in society.

Categories
Environment

Wildflower

Wildflowers on the state park trail.

Some days I’m thankful for the ability to walk the state park trail and see the ever-changing plant, animal and insect life. Being thankful is enough for this Saturday.

Categories
Sustainability

Hiroshima Day 2022

Hiroshima, Japan after U.S. Nuclear Attack. Photo Credit: The Telegraph

On the 77th anniversary of the United States dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, hundreds of diplomats representing the states-parties to the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), along with representatives from civil society, are convening at United Nations headquarters in New York for talks that will shape the future of the international nuclear arms control regime at a time when the risks of nuclear proliferation and nuclear competition are growing.

Godspeed to the delegates!

I have been writing about nuclear arms reduction since the nuclear freeze days in the 1980s. We don’t seem to be getting anywhere. When the 45th president was in office, he contemplated re-introducing so-called tactical nuclear weapons into our military arsenal and would likely have withdrawn from the NPT if given the chance. He rejected the idea of the U.S. eliminating nuclear weapons.

Where do we go from here?

Nuclear weapons should never be used again. Conservative forces that came to power in the wake of Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 have been steadily deconstructing the nuclear arms protocols that took so much work to put in place. Unchecked, they will continue their work. It seems clear people with common sense about nuclear weapons need a new narrative. This gets to be a worn sawhorse, but we need to elect politicians willing to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons in accordance with Article VI of the NPT, an agreement the United States willingly signed and ratified. Who knows if the treaty could be ratified again in today’s polarized U.S. Senate?

So another year passed without progress on reducing our nuclear arsenals. If anything, the war between Ukraine and Russia heightened international tensions and has nations keeping their arsenals in place until we know the outcome.

Let’s hope the NPT Conference produces significant results and a viable plan for compliance with Article VI. The United States should lead this effort, although we have been recalcitrant about hanging on to our nukes.

Today we must consider what it will take to make needed change.

Categories
Sustainability

A Solon Cemetery

View of the Saint Mary’s Catholic Church cemetery in Solon, Iowa on July 30, 2022.
Photograph of the now razed Saint Mary’s Catholic Church on Aug. 1, 2013. The cemetery was located around the church. Photo Credit – Wikimedia Commons.
The cemetery has a look of not being maintained. The closer the view, the more markers are found damaged and askew.

There are cemeteries like this across Iowa and the United States. I like the look of sunken and leaning monuments, and broken grave markers reflecting the passage of time. How is perpetual care done in places like these? Beyond mowing the lawn, not much is done except by family and volunteers. If I had family buried here, I’d maintain our burial site. What would happen after I’m gone? This cemetery is not featured on the current church website. I wouldn’t call it neglected, yet it is not a main part of the community.

Except for the image of the church, photography is by the author.

Categories
Environment

Environmental Round Up – It’s Getting Hotter

I’ve written about the environment on Blog for Iowa since my first post on Feb. 25, 2009. Never in the time since then has there been more happening regarding degradation of our environment. As Scott Duncan’s graphic above indicates, it is getting a lot hotter on most parts of Earth. Methane and carbon dioxide emissions are rising, the oceans are getting warmer, ice sheets at the poles are melting, and there is a general lack of political will in the United States and elsewhere to do enough reverse our course.

More than 40 percent of U.S. population lived in counties affected by climate disasters in 2021, according to Sarah Kaplan and Andrew Ba Tran of the Washington Post. In a report issued June 27, Kayrros, a firm that analyzes satellite data, said methane emissions have climbed despite the launch of the Global Methane Pledge at the U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, last fall. The firm said that “global methane emissions so far appear to be going in the wrong direction.”

“Sadly, we have taken the ocean for granted, and today we face what I would call an ocean emergency,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres told delegates at the June opening of the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal. “We must turn the tide. A healthy and productive ocean is vital to our shared future.”

Despite substantial evidence of environmental degradation that affects human life and society, President Biden’s plan to address the climate crisis fell flat in the Congress because there were not enough votes to pass it with a divided U.S. Senate.

“The reality we face implores us to act,” Al Gore said.

In Iowa we tinker around the edges of addressing the climate crisis. Decisions like the one I wrote about in 2009, which stopped Interstate Power and Light from building a coal-fired electricity generating station in Marshalltown, have been driven by economic factors rather than any concern about the environment. “You don’t like coal? Fine! We’ll use natural gas which is cheaper anyway,” they might have said. Neither the government nor industry in Iowa takes action on the climate crisis unless there is a positive, monetary effect on someone’s bottom line. Human health and well being has been a secondary consideration despite the warnings of public health officials like I was back in the day.

A lot of Iowa environmental activist bandwidth is being taken up by the fight to stop three different Carbon Capture and Storage proposals. Art Cullen cut to the chase in a July 15 editorial in the Storm Lake Times, saying, “The pipelines will get buried. The Iowa rainmakers will get theirs as we pretend that we are addressing the planet being on fire.” It is hard to give up on the fight against CO2 pipelines, even if it plays out like some of the other transportation proposals to take oil, electricity, liquefied CO2, or other commodities across county lines.

What is a climate activist to do? I would start by learning about big scale solutions and getting involved in electing candidates willing to take action on them. I reviewed The Decarbonization Imperative: Transforming the Global Economy by 2050 by Michael Lenox and Rebecca Duff here. It’s a good place to start. A couple of things seem clear. Individual action is unlikely to solve the climate crisis. Large scale solutions take technical skill to design and political will to implement.

I recommend readers become part of the solution to the climate crisis by getting involved in efforts to implement large scale environmental projects. In most cases, that begins at the ballot box with voting for candidates willing to do the work.

~ First published on Blog for Iowa

Categories
Environment

Crops in Northwest Iowa Suffer Due to Drought

Photo credit: Josie Taylor | July 6, 2022.

Ten years ago I posted about the impact of the 2012 drought on Iowa agriculture. Read the post here, yet the crux of the article was climate change was absent from public discussion of the drought. Nothing has changed since then.

Drought conditions continue to affect Iowa crops. Josie Taylor with Iowa Environmental Focus writes about how the current drought impacts crops in Northwest Iowa:

“Corn and soybean plants are continuing to suffer in some parts of Iowa from excessive heat and drought,” she wrote. “This has been seen especially in far northwest Iowa where drought conditions are worsening. Large areas of Plymouth and Woodbury counties are in extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.”

Read the entire article here.

Isn’t it time, ten years later, we acknowledged the 800-pound gorilla in the room? Climate change is real and Iowa agriculture won’t discuss solutions to it. We are running out of time to address the climate crisis before it is too late.

Learn more about The Climate Reality Project and how you can get involved in solving the climate crisis by clicking this link: https://www.climaterealityproject.org.

If Iowa agriculture won’t take action to mitigate the effects of climate change on their primary industry, the rest of us must.

~ First posted on Blog for Iowa

Categories
Sustainability

Time to Take a Step Back from the Brink

Actor Slim Pickens as Major T.J. “King” Kong in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Photo Credit – Getty Images

Iowans are legitimately worried about the risk of detonation of nuclear armaments as a result of increased tensions in the world. The war in Ukraine is perceived by some as a proxy war between the United States and Russia. While it’s true our two countries have the majority of nuclear weapons that exist in the world, both Putin and Biden have said they seek to avoid a nuclear exchange. The assertions about a proxy war do not seem accurate.

Dr. Robert Dodge, posted the following article at Common Dreams on Friday. It explains how I feel: We need to take a step back from the brink.

Ukraine, Existential Threats, and Moving Back From the Brink
We can no longer continue to wage war over finite resources and survive in a nuclear-armed world.

First published on Common Dreams by Dr. Robert Dodge.

This spring, as those before, beckons a season of renewal and opportunity for the future. We have just witnessed the major religions of the world celebrate Easter, Passover, and Ramadan and in the words of Ambassador El Yazidi of the Coordinating Council of Muslims in Germany, “We are all siblings in humanity and must work together for good.”

This is also a time when the world celebrates Earth Day with a heightened awareness of the fragility of our world and the intersectionality of mankind’s actions on the survival of our planet. Yet our world is in peril with many intersecting crises from the continued global pandemic, now in its third year, to climate crises that continue to inflict progressive epic storms and devastation. Add to that the two-month-old Russian war on Ukraine with threats and nuclear posturing by the superpowers bringing us closer to nuclear war by intent, miscalculation or cyber-attack portending the greatest threat of a global near-death event since the end of the last Cold War.

Against this backdrop, it is also tax season in the United States when the nation funds its priorities as we look to the future. In the words of Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners magazine, “Budgets are moral documents.” And so what are those priorities and how do nuclear weapons factor in?

The 2022 fiscal year budget, the first by President Joe Biden, will see the U.S. rob our communities of precious resources spending nearly $77 billion on all nuclear weapons programs, exceeding the expenditures of the last budget from the Trump administration. In total, the U.S. will have spent approximately $219 billion on all nuclear weapons programs in the last 3 fiscal years while fighting a global pandemic. To see the costs to your community, see the annual Nuclear Weapons Community Costs Project just released by Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles.

Current global nuclear arsenals contain about 12,700 nuclear warheads, with the United States and Russia having near 90% of those. The use of even a tiny fraction of these weapons threatens life as we know it. A regional nuclear war using 100 Hiroshima size weapons (less than half of one percent of the global nuclear arsenals) over cities in India and Pakistan—South Asia’s nuclear powers who have had a tumultuous relationship for decades—could cause a global famine threatening 2 billion people due to the devastating nuclear winter and climate change that would follow. A larger nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia targeting the major cities in each nation could possibly lead to the extinction of the human race.

This is not a situation that has to be. The existence of nuclear weapons and the continued dependence on fossil fuels with the destruction of our environment result from our way of thinking and behavior. We cannot continue to wage war over finite resources and survive in a nuclear-armed world. We must end our dependence on fossil fuels that threaten destruction of our life sustaining ecosystems. Instead, we must recognize our interdependence as one human family. Nuclear weapons have been made by man and can only be eliminated by man. Ending the subsidy and our dependence on fossil fuels while transitioning to sustainable renewable resources is also in reach given the political will.

The United States can and must lead on these issues. There is a rapidly growing national intersectional movement in the U.S. called Back from the Brink. It is a coalition of individuals, organizations, and elected officials working together toward a world free of nuclear weapons and advocating for common sense nuclear weapons policies to secure a safer, more just future. Endorsed by over 400 organizations, 326 U.S. elected officials, 58 municipalities and 6 state legislative bodies, it calls on the United States to lead a global effort to prevent nuclear war by:

  • Actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear-armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.
  • Renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first.
  • Ending the sole, unchecked authority of any U.S. President to launch a nuclear attack.
  • Taking U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert.
  • Cancelling the plan to replace the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal with enhanced weapons.

All are invited to endorse and join this movement. We have a way out. There is hope for the future and that of our children’s children. At this moment in history we must understand the threat and opportunity before us. Let this be a time when we choose hope for all of humanity.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Robert Dodge

Robert Dodge, a frequent Common Dreams contributor, writes as a family physician practicing in Ventura, California. He is the Co-Chair of the Security Committee of National Physicians for Social Responsibility and also serves as the President of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles.

Categories
Environment

Earth Day Has Been a Bust

Earthrise by Bill Anders, Dec. 24, 1968

In retrospect, Earth Day has been a bust. It turned into an annual reminder among privileged Americans to do something about environmental degradation. It became a do-nothing tradition that had little material impact on the environment.

It would have been better to pursue social justice, elimination of poverty, or equal protection under the law, right from the beginning. All paths would lead to improving the environment regardless of the starting point.

Charles C. Mann wrote about the elitist nature of Earth Day in his book The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World:

So ineradicable was the elitist mark on conservation that for decades afterward many on the left scoffed at ecological issues as right-wing distractions. As late as 1970, the radical Students for a Democratic Society protested the first Earth Day as Wall Street flimflam meant to divert public attention from class warfare and the Vietnam War; the left-wing journalist I.F. Stone called the nationwide marches a “snow job.”

The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World by Charles C. Mann, page 81.

As data from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii indicates, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere continue to increase. The latest reading was yesterday at 420.25 ppm. We may not have understood the significance of such a small part of Earth’s atmosphere on the first Earth Day, but we do now and the numbers continue to roll upward at what can be described as a steady pace. It is as if the environmental movement accomplished nothing.

Screen capture from The Keeling Curve website.

A climate crisis is happening in plain view. The folks at The Dark Mountain Project described it like this in their April newsletter:

The climate disaster unfolding around us is itself a convergence between the breakdown of ancient organic matter and modern industrial ambition, technology, greed and carelessness, a calamitous meeting of worlds. 

Email from The Dark Mountain Project, April 15, 2022.

However one describes the climate crisis, part of our problem in taking action to remediate it is we don’t have the intellectual skills to understand environmental degradation or what actions would be effective in reversing it. Likewise, current society has limited functioning methods to take action without a calamitous incident precipitating a need big enough to gain political consensus.

When in 1985 the scientific journal Nature revealed that over Antarctica, a hole in the ozone layer had formed, exposing humans to the sun’s cancer-causing ultraviolet rays, reactions were mixed.

At the time, President Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Environmental policy hadn’t been a priority for him and his advisers, who were more focused on fighting the creep of Cold War communism or federal involvement in issues they believed the states should handle. Even the revelation of the ozone hole didn’t change things–or at least not right away. In fact… Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior Donald Hodel was ridiculed in the press for reportedly saying in a meeting that an international treaty wasn’t necessary to address the damage and that Americans should just put on sunscreen and wear hats.

Reagan Administration Officials at First Dismissed the Ozone Hole. Here’s What Changed by Olivia B. Waxman. Time Magazine, April 10, 2019.

As we know now, the Montreal Protocol, the first-ever global treaty to reduce pollution and phase out chlorofluorocarbons, gained Reagan’s support and was agreed in 1987. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty unanimously the following year. Our current political environment has degraded to a point where such common-sense action is no longer possible.

Bill Anders’ Earthrise photograph reminds us of Earth’s suspension in the vast darkness of the universe. We are unique, and dependent on each other on this our only home. For complex reasons, we understand the risks of further environmental degradation and the warming of the atmosphere. We have been unwilling to take adequate action and Earth Day isn’t helping.

Categories
Environment

Winter Snowfall/Heat Wave

Geese walking on the lake, yet not for long.

Today’s high is forecast to be 78 degrees. Now Mother Nature is just messing with us. On the plus side, maybe the warmth will melt the 3-4 inches of snow that fell overnight. Iowa weather always has something a little different. What I found to be different is I used a different weather app to check the forecast and it was set to Washington, D.C. We don’t need a weather app to know there will be a lot of hot air over there.

Seven trays of vegetables rest on the germination table and the landing near the front door. Everything looks reasonably good. I added the task “assemble greenhouse” to my list and am ready to move onions and cruciferous vegetables outdoors. After the snow melts, I will.

There was an F3 tornado on Saturday that killed six people in central Iowa. Today, the Iowa legislature takes up House File 2299 which would make it harder for Iowa homeowners to prove damage from disasters like a derecho or tornado. There is a GoFundMe for one of the families affected by the tornado, and that appears to be the way society is going these days. We are on our own.

I like it when I can turn off the fan on the ceramic heater in front of my desk. It looks to be one of those days, that is, after I bundle up to take care of snow removal on the driveway. Soon the space heater will be moved to the greenhouse. I can’t wait.