Categories
Kitchen Garden

Spring Burn Pile

Spring burn pile April 22, 2021.

Thermal energy came from the pile of white ashes on this year’s tomato patch. It warmed my hands. The embers will exhaust their fuel soon and I’ll spread them on the ground after they cool. Tomatoes will be the last to be planted in a few weeks.

The burn pile was mostly branches from the felled oak tree. Yesterday I cleared three garden plots for spading, tilling, and then planting: more steps on the path to a productive garden.

It looks like Tuesday night’s hard frost killed most of the beets and damaged broccoli, kale and collards. I have plenty of seeds and seedlings for replanting. First we’ll see if the bigger plants recover before yanking them out.

The Washington Post published an article about transportation and the shift to electric vehicles. It gave reasonable consideration to the operating costs of such vehicles, and the trade offs between operating a gasoline powered vehicle and going electric. I found if the car gets parked most of the time, very little gasoline is burned.

Thus far in 2021, I spent $36 on gasoline; in all of 2020, $492; and in 2019, $930. The coronavirus pandemic curtailed our driving and reduced how much gasoline we purchased. Unless one of us returns to working a job, the gasoline we burn for transportation should be minimal.

All the same, the news in the Post article about the inefficiency of internal combustion engines was eye-opening.

Most internal combustion engine cars are so inefficient that the vast majority of energy produced by burning gas gets lost as heat or wasted overcoming friction from the air and road. In other words, instead of filling my car’s 16.6-gallon tank, I might as well put 14 gallons of that gas in an oil drum, light it on fire and watch the smoke drift upward.

Washington Post, March 30, 2021.

When you put it that way, of course we’ll look at buying an electric car. We need to stop burning fossil fuels as quickly as we can.

When I burn brush on a garden plot I’m releasing carbon into the atmosphere, along with returning minerals to the soil. However, what I’m doing is already part of the carbon cycle and therefore a renewable process. University of Iowa chemistry professor Betsy Stone explained it to me:

“It’s considered to be a renewable fuel because we have that carbon cycle going on,” Stone said. “With fossil fuels, we’re releasing fossilized carbon. It goes into the atmosphere and takes millions of years to get back to fossilized form again.”

Paul Deaton, Iowa City Press Citizen, Oct. 7, 2015.

I cut the stump of the oak tree tall so I could sit on it while contemplating the garden or needing a rest. Yesterday, while figuring out where to plant things it occurred to me burning brush was a good thing. I also thought we should probably get an electric vehicle.

While the first burn is done, I’ll be sitting on that stump coming up with ideas more often. Some of them will make their way into doing things.

Categories
Environment

Climate Change Response

Bridge over calm, polluted water, April 6, 2021.

In March I wrote Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks about the climate crisis as follows:

I hope you will support the efforts of the Biden administration to act to mitigate the effects of our changing climate. Naturally I’m curious about your views on how you might address the effects of climate change while in the U.S. Congress. The approach of the Biden administration regarding mitigation of climate change is such there should be many areas in which to work with them without supporting an overarching environmental bill. I look forward to hearing your policy stances and how you can help address climate change while you are in the Congress. Thank you for your public service.

Here is her unedited response. It is not what I expected.

Received April 19, 2021 via email.
Categories
Environment

Introducing Myself, Again

Leftover seedlings

This is the text of an email sent this morning to the small group of Climate Reality Leadership Corps participants I am mentoring this spring. Every time I introduce myself, it seems like I am re-inventing who I am. Eventually all the stories will add up.

Welcome to the spring 2021 Climate Reality Leadership Corps training. I am Paul Deaton and will be your mentor. We’re looking forward to your participation!

Before I get too far, if you received this email and no longer plan to participate in the training just hit reply and let me know. As of last night’s mentor training, more than 4,700 people had RSVP’d for the training. There are 300 mentors.

I will be your mentor for both the training and as you begin to perform acts of leadership after the training. I use the pronouns he/him. I was born in Iowa and now live in a rural, Eastern part of the state.

I participated in the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 and have been working on environmental issues, in addition to a career, ever since. I completed a career in transportation and logistics in 2009 and fully retired during the coronavirus pandemic. I attended the 2013 Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Chicago and was a mentor at the 2015 Cedar Rapids, Iowa training. For me, Climate Reality has been a portal to diverse climate action all over the planet. I learned a lot and am here to help you do the same.

In retirement I spend more time writing. I started a blog in 2007 and am currently working on a book-length project. I am an avid gardener and last night I had to put a space heater in my small, portable greenhouse because of a frost warning. I start most of my own seedlings and spend a lot of time in my kitchen garden.

During my career I spent time in Texas, which is where everyone in our small group lives. One consulting project was near Sweetwater where I stayed on a 5,000 acre cotton farm during the rattlesnake roundup. (All the motel space was booked). I learned Texas is a large, diverse state. I look forward to getting to know you and other group members.

I plan to follow the lead of the Climate Reality staff as a mentor. I’m here to help as much or as little as you want. The Climate Reality staff continues to release information about the training and will up until the first day. As they do, I’m reading it and asking questions to prepare for our experience. One of the main things I will do is host the small group sessions via Zoom after each of four streamed general sessions. I want to assure you everyone’s voice is welcome to be heard during our small group meeting.

If you have questions, email is the best way to reach me. As the training takes shape, I may send an additional group email with any update. Staff will be emailing a lot, so I will keep mine to a minimum.

I hope you are as excited as I am for the training. Let me know how I can help.

Categories
Environment

Solar Arrays and Politicians

Sunset in Colorado Springs on July 11, 2011

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.

~ Published in Little Village on April 13, 2021

Categories
Environment

Environment

1970 Earth Day Button

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.

Perry Beeman, Iowa Capitol Dispatch, April 5, 2021.

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.

Categories
Sustainability

In the Mississippi Basin

Snow melting March 2, 2021.

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.

Categories
Living in Society

Three Weeks Until Spring

Snow melts first over the septic tank.

The thaw began and there is no stopping it. The ground remained covered with snow for most of February, yet no more. Snow cover is slowly melting and will soon be gone. Above the septic tank was first to go.

36 hours after the COVID-19 vaccination I still feel normal. Even the soreness around the injection spot feels better. I emailed the farm to see if we can make arrangements for my return after the booster shot in a couple of weeks. The farmers are all twenty and thirty somethings so their priority group has not been approved for vaccination yet. There are protocols to negotiate before making my way back to farm work.

I applied to be a mentor in the Climate Reality Leadership Corps U.S. Virtual Training beginning on Earth Day. There are three virtual trainings this year, one in the U.S., one for Latin America, and one global training. To find out more, follow this link. If I’m accepted, this would be my third time attending, the second as a mentor. I’m feeling bullish about reengaging in society after getting the first dose of vaccine.

Democrats got solidly beaten in the 2020 Iowa general election. I’m not sure what I want to do to help rebuild the party. I’m also not sure the party can be rebuilt in a way to win elections anytime soon. In any case, it’s time for the next generation to take the reins. While I will remain supportive, I’m stepping back. Politics won’t be a priority as we slowly exit the coronavirus pandemic.

Getting out of the pandemic is a first priority. We are doing our part to follow the governor’s guidelines and hope others will too. What’s certain is I’m getting spring fever and can’t wait to get outside and do normal things again. It’s only three weeks until Spring!

Categories
Sustainability

Record Cold, They Say

Animal Tracks

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.

Categories
Sustainability

2021: A Pivotal Year

With Al Gore and Company at the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Chicago in 2013

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.

Categories
Environment

Warm January

Open water on the driveway, Jan. 31, 2021.

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.