Categories
Environment

Getting Beyond Coal

Move UI Beyond Coal, near Jessup Hall on the University of Iowa Pentacrest. Photo by the Author on Nov. 16, 2011.

In 2019, the University of Iowa signed a 50-year contract for a consortium of private companies to operate their coal-fired power plant and more. They should have phased out the coal plant and initiated a plan to transition to alternatives to provide the electricity and steam required. No one was listening to any of the advocates for shuttering the plant. They hadn’t been listening for years. It was an inside deal in an increasingly less than transparent state government.

In return for a $1.2 billion cash payment to fund an endowment, the university assumed different responsibilities regarding the facility. The consortium attorneys contend they didn’t understand their role and did not meet contractual obligations, according to the lawsuit. For Pete’s sake, not even three years in and there is a lawsuit? Shaking my head.

In November 2011, there was a demonstration at Jessup Hall on the University of Iowa Pentacrest urging then president Sally Mason to cease operation of the coal-fired power plant. We delivered a petition to her office. There were speeches on the steps of Jessup Hall. I gave a speech, among others.

Our deeds that day fell on deaf ears.

I remember when mass mobilizations and demonstrations could accomplish positive things in society. The best example was in 1974 when we drove Richard Nixon to resign from office as president. Those days are no more.

Instead of making social progress, big money politics of a wealthy consortium wielded their power to make more money. Filing a lawsuit is just part of the deal, even if the details over which they are suing should have been clarified well before a signature was inked.

Because the state, and the board of regents, is involved, taxpayers will ultimately pay for the suit. That’s not the future we had hoped for when we advocated for the University of Iowa to go beyond coal.

Categories
Environment

Climate Slog Begins

Sky during a January tornado warning. Two tornadoes touched down in Iowa County, the first winter tornadoes in 56 years.

There is a lot of climate-related stuff going on in Iowa. The presumption that made Iowa an agricultural center is there would be enough naturally occurring rain in the growing season to support our major crops of corn, soybeans, and hay. I’m not sure where winter tornadoes fit in. On Jan. 16, two tornadoes were sighted near Williamsburg, Iowa, the first winter tornadoes in 56 years.

There is an ongoing drought about which some local buddies and I talked on Tuesday. Our discussion centered around good yields with drought resistant seeds, pivot irrigation rigs found near Marengo, and the need to protect the Silurian aquifer where our village well draws its water. We shouldn’t want to become like western Nebraska where they are drawing down the Ogallala aquifer. Things appear to be akilter as far as atmospheric moisture and precipitation goes. Corn and beans won’t grow without rain.

It is important for our government get involved with mitigating the effects of climate change. Doing something significant is beyond the power of a single citizen or community. I wrote our U.S. House Representative this week to encourage what she’s doing already.

Congratulations on being assigned to the Committee on Energy and Commerce and for providing some history of the committee’s work in your last newsletter.

I’m writing today to encourage your work on the House Conservative Climate Caucus. I also note your participation at COP 26 and COP 27. Thank you for engaging in one of the most important issues facing our society.

While you and I may not always agree on how to approach climate solutions, I believe the science will out. If anything, you have repeated you believe in science-based solutions. I agree with that wholeheartedly.

Good luck in the 118th Congress. I’ll write again if I have any more specific requests.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide feedback.

Email to Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks on Jan. 16, 2023.

If I hear back, I’ll post the response here. I’m not hopeful she or her office will respond, as they did not respond to my last email in 2022.

With Republicans assuming the reins of government in Iowa, everything about addressing the climate crisis will be a slog. Because political work to gain more climate friendly representation during the last three cycles proved futile, we have to make do what what we have. That means staying in tune with what’s going on in the atmosphere and spreading the word as it is revealed. It will not be super-sexy work, yet it is what is needed and climate action takes a back seat to tax cuts for the wealthy.

I have confidence we’ll slog through it no matter how difficult.

Categories
Environment

Eschewing Avocados

Avocado from Mexico.

It is my minority opinion that avocados should be avoided in the United States. Don’t buy them, don’t eat them. The fruit has become popular, and because of it, Mexican growers can’t keep up with demand. This creates a problem.

To meet surging demand in the U.S., farmers in Mexico have cut down swaths of forest in the western state of Michoacán, one of the most important ecosystems in the country. By some estimates, as many as 20,000 acres of forest — the area of more than 15,000 American football fields — are cut down each year and replaced with avocado plantations. The rapid expansion of orchards will threaten forests in Mexico for years to come.

The bad news about your avocado habit by Benji Jones, Vox, Feb. 13, 2022.

Dishes like guacamole, avocado toast and smoothies taste delicious. Refined oil from the fruit is popular among foodies and nutritionists because of its unsaturated fats. By one estimate, sports fans eat through 105 million pounds of avocados on Super Bowl Sunday. The deforestation problem is directly related to such consumer demand.

The immediate catalyst for this post was a project to reduce my cookbook collection. I found many recipes for guacamole and felt we needed a reminder to moderate consumption and address the deforestation their popularity causes. I can hear long-time readers asking, “Didn’t you cover this before?” Yes, I did in the post titled, “Can Hipsters Stomach the Truth about Avocados from Mexico?” Not much has changed.

What can consumers do about deforestation which creates high-margin avocado plantations? Solutions are complicated. Ecosystem Marketplace outlines some of the challenges here. In the meanwhile, go light on the guacamole and avocado toast, and find another oil for cooking.

It is something we can do to contribute to efforts to solve the climate crisis.

Categories
Environment

Kitten Diversion

Warning on the Hoover Trail near Solon, Iowa.

I occasionally hike a section of the Hoover Trail that branches from the North Shore Trail along Lake Macbride. It is a longer walk and with fall weather, I seek to spend more time outdoors. It was perfect for a long Sunday walk.

A couple of gray kittens were sunning on dirt next to the trail. “What are you doing here?” I asked. It was half a mile or more to the nearest building.

They were not just born yet still very young. I talked to them, but didn’t touch them. If I had a bag or backpack with me, I would have picked them up, brought them home, and had them checked out by a local veterinarian. Lacking suitable cat transportation, I left them where I found them, hoping for the best.

The next day, my spouse and I discussed the kittens and decided if I could find them again I would bring them home for processing and potential domestication. That is, as pets. We decided they were not yet feral cats, because if they were, they would have hidden when they saw humans on the trail. Our fear was that someone dumped them, a common occurrence in rural Iowa.

Grabbing an old moving box, I put a couple of old towels and a pair of gloves in it and walked back to the spot. It is inaccessible by automobile and took a half hour or more to make it back.

I stopped by the benches and bike racks near the pond to cool down. The sound of birds was all around. There were squirrels, grasshoppers and other insects on a bright afternoon. It was peaceful and restful. The kittens were nowhere to be found. I will assume that is good news although was a little sad when I left. The lesson is to pay attention to one’s surroundings. I doubt bicyclists noticed the kittens while they sped by.

We seek to do good in life, yet sometimes it works out differently.

Rest stop on the Hoover Trail near Solon.
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
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
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.