Categories
Environment

Sustainability in the Coronavirus Pandemic Recovery

Garlic and onions from a test dig on June 17, 2020.

As the coronavirus pandemic runs its course, governments are expected to spend trillions of dollars in stimulus to get the economy going again.

It’s now or never for the environment. Sustainability should be integrated into recovery plans because the health crisis, the economy and the environment are inextricably connected. There is only one chance to manage this recovery to improve environmental sustainability. There are only so many times trillions can be spent to jump start the economy. Sustainability must be considered and become part of any stimulus plan.

People have ideas on how to do that. The International Energy Agency developed a 174-page essay titled “Sustainable Recovery.” They revised “should” to “could” when recommending the plan, as a step toward political correctness in presentation. Sadly, no single logic applies to global matters. One is being political whether they say something about climate change or not when discussing the recovery.

Global carbon dioxide emissions reduced by 17 percent in April as people sheltered at home, industry reduced production, and automobile use slowed. Since then, emission levels are surging back. A conscious decision to integrate smart energy use into the recovery is needed. The issue has been politicized so thoroughly it seems doubtful any such action will be taken in the United States.

Fiona Harvey, environmental correspondent for the Guardian reported, “The world has only six months in which to change the course of the climate crisis and prevent a post-lockdown rebound in greenhouse gas emissions that would overwhelm efforts to stave off climate catastrophe, one of the world’s foremost energy experts has warned.”

No one know how long we have. It’s common sense we will spend stimulus money in the quantities planned only once. Ideas are out there. What’s lacking is political will.

The fact that almost no one is talking about addressing the climate crisis as we “open up” the economy is part of the problem. Oil and gas interests have so infiltrated our government politicians don’t want to hear about solar or wind generated energy, even if they are the least expensive and least damaging regarding carbon dioxide emissions.

Think about it though. When has doing what makes sense gotten so politically out of fashion? Among other things, that needs to change.

Categories
Environment

Climate Change in 2020

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

I noted the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with a letter to the editor.

“That’s it?” I asked myself this morning.

Next I reminded myself the essential environmental task between now and the general election is to remove as many Republicans as possible from office nationally, in Iowa, and locally.

When I attended Al Gore’s slideshow presentations and the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training I held certain assumptions about how government would work. What may have been isn’t or has been tossed out the window in the time of Donald Trump’s political leadership.

When I say we should “Act on Climate” it means getting involved in politics to elect people who will address the climate crisis. None of us can do much alone.

Our choices are few but to do the work of getting people to vote. Six months from the election Democrats can feel the wind at our backs. Nonetheless it will be a hard sail to shore and a foundation on which we can begin to face the challenges of the climate crisis more directly.

Categories
Environment

Earth Day 50 Years Later

Earthrise by Bill Anders, Dec. 24, 1968

I helped organize my home town for the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970.

Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders’ Dec. 24, 1968 Earthrise photograph changed the way we look at our lives. We became aware of the fragility of human society spinning through the void of space.

As we complete the 50th year since then, society changed.

The Environmental Protection Agency was created in December 1970. The Republican president led an effort to protect our natural environment through legislation including The Clean Air Act (1970), The Clean Water Act (1972), The Endangered Species Act (1973), and more. These laws made positive things possible.

50 years later our government seems ready to throw all that in the ditch because it is too much of a burden for business. Powerful interests infiltrated our government. Corporations write environmental laws that protect their interests first, rather than the common good. A form of nationalism is rising which says, “Put America first.”

We live in a global society in which we are intimately connected, as Anders’ photo suggests. Large American companies manage a global supply chain and produce much of their revenue in other countries. We are connected as the current pandemic suggests: the coronavirus does not recognize national borders.

We must transcend nationalism and consider the best interests of everyone. We must lead in a way only the United States can. On the first Earth Day we thought that was possible.

I hope it still is.

~ Published in the Solon Economist on April 16, 2020.

Categories
Environment Politics

Mining the Jordan Aquifer

State Senator Liz Mathis (L) and State Representative Molly Donahue at the Ely Public Library, Ely, Iowa. Feb. 29, 2020.

It should be no shocker that I attended a political event on Saturday. How could I miss it? It was six miles from our house.

State Senator Liz Mathis represents the 34th Senate District in the Iowa legislature. Alongside State Representative Molly Donahue, who represents House District 68, they hosted a legislative listening post at the Ely Public Library.

The closer one gets to Cedar Rapids, the more likely we are to encounter kolaches, a traditional semi-sweet roll originating in the Czech heritage of Iowa’s second largest city. Mathis pointed out the box of kolaches in the back of the meeting room soon after my arrival. About 16 people attended.

I was in graduate school in Iowa City when Mathis began her broadcast news career at KWWL at their then new Cedar Rapids bureau. She has been a broadcast anchor, television producer, college professor, and is currently an executive at the non-profit organization Four Oaks Family and Children Services. Donahue has been a teacher for 30 years with a current focus on secondary students in special education or those who have behavior disorders that can affect their learning. They were well qualified to discuss Iowa’s mental health system, school safety, the K-12 education budget, the school bus driver shortage, and related topics. I listened and tried to learn.

News on Friday was Pattison Sand Company of Clayton sought to extract 34 million gallons of water per year over a ten-year period from the Jordan Aquifer, according to Perry Beeman of Iowa Capitol Dispatch. The water would be shipped by rail to arid regions in the American west, potentially to New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Arizona or California. The Jordan Aquifer is also the source of municipal water for the city of Marion which lies within Mathis’ senate district.

Earlier this month Pattison proposed to extract 2 billion gallons per year from the Jordan Aquifer using wells they drilled to support their frack sand mining operation. This proposal was rejected by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The problem with tapping the Jordan Aquifer is it is prehistoric water, in other words, it has been there a long time. The aquifer does not recharge at the same rate as the Silurian Aquifer which lies on top of it. Once the Jordan Aquifer is drained, the water will be gone and communities that currently rely upon it could be left without a reliable water source.

The climate crisis is evident in the American west. Demand for water exceeds the region’s capacity to produce it through rainfall, snow melt, and underground aquifers. Something’s got to give for people who settled there to survive. Mining and shipping water from Eastern Iowa is not a good idea because what may be abundant to meet our current needs will be diminished by the extraction proposed by Pattison and others. It is easy to see how a discussion over water rights could escalate into regional conflict over this basic human need.

If we look at history, humans have continued to exploit natural resources until they are gone, in many cases leading to the collapse of societies. Our brains are not wired to perceive the threat shipping billions of gallons of water from Iowa to the west could have. We have to pay attention, and the role of government is to look out for the common good.

It is hard to image an overall plan to resolve the climate crisis at its root causes. Further exploitation of natural resources doesn’t solve anything and could potentially make matters worse. At least we were discussing it and in doing so raising awareness on a sunny morning in Ely over kolaches.

Categories
Environment Nuclear Abolition

Nuclear Power Transition

Google Maps Image of Duane Arnold Energy Center

In 2018 NextEra Energy Resources announced plans to retire the Duane Arnold Energy Center (DAEC) — a 615-MW nuclear power plant located in Palo, Iowa — before the end of 2020.

NextEra’s main customer at DAEC, Alliant Energy, will buy out its contract in September for $110 million, sourcing electricity instead from NextEra’s wind generation fleet. The move is expected to save Alliant Energy customers $300 million over 21 years.

There are no plans to replace Duane Arnold with new nuclear generating capacity.

Two essential problems with nuclear power plants are they cost too much, and a lack answers to the question of what to do with spent nuclear fuel. These problems are political. In our current political climate that makes them unsolvable, practically speaking, even though potential solutions exist for both.

Certain environmental groups favor nuclear power to replace coal as an emissions reduction tactic. On its face this is belied by the urgency of the climate crisis.

“Nuclear, especially next-generation nuclear, has tremendous potential to be part of the solution to climate change,” climatologist James Hansen said on Dec. 3, 2015. “The dangers of fossil fuels are staring us in the face. So for us to say we won’t use all the tools (such as nuclear energy) to solve the problem is crazy.”

The challenge for nuclear energy is the timeline for market penetration in the industrial age. It will take too long.

Cesare Marchetti of the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis did research which suggests the historical trend on implementation of new technologies such as wood, coal, oil and gas takes 40-50 years to go from one percent to 10 percent of market share. Nuclear energy occupies about 12 percent of current global market share. It will take almost a century for an energy source to occupy half the market. The world doesn’t have 50 years, and likely longer, to wait for nuclear energy sources to gain acceptance and growth the way coal, oil and gas have.

Even if political issues surrounding nuclear waste disposal could be resolved, the financial cost of building out a fleet of new nuclear power plants would likely follow the course of the Georgia Power Vogtle Plant expansion, which, when they broke ground, was the first nuclear power plant contemplated in 30 years. Despite proclamations of “making American nuclear cool again,” by then Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the Georgia Public Service Commission questions whether the plant will be economically viable if going on line is delayed much longer. New nuclear energy remains too expensive, especially when compared to renewables and natural gas.

Renewable energy (wind, solar, hydroelectric) is further along than nuclear in its evolution as an energy source. At 31 percent of global market share, we remain decades away from achieving 50 percent market penetration, according to Marchetti’s analysis. At the rate we are going, elimination of coal, oil and natural gas from the energy production mix for electricity won’t occur in my lifetime, and likely not the lives of the millennial cohort. By then all of this electricity talk may be rendered moot by the climate crisis.

There are no big-picture answers to the trouble of an over-heating planet in a 500-word blog post. What remains clear is our problems are driven more by politics than by technology and reason.

It is critical we root out influence and corruption in government. To do that it will take voters who care about our future and are willing to make the hard choices necessary to address the climate crisis.

In any case, from my vantage point, it seems unlikely nuclear power plants will be part of our energy future.

Categories
Writing

Energy Matters

Snow-covered Driveway

Friday I ran errands before the winter storm hit. Errands means filling the automobile fuel tank with gasoline, buying a lottery ticket, and driving south on Highway One to the grocery store in the county seat to purchase organic celery, frozen lima beans and sundry other items not available locally.

The storm hit between noon and 1 p.m. depositing a fluffy, four-inch covering of snow on everything.

It wasn’t a blizzard as one could easily see into the distance through the small, falling snowflakes. The wind wasn’t blizzard-bad. It gave me a chance to try out the electric snow blower I bought at the home, farm and auto supply store on Dec. 12., a concession to aging.

Our rural electric cooperative buys electricity from CIPCO (Central Iowa Power Cooperative). Their electricity generation fuel mix is coal, nuclear, hydro, landfill gas, wind, solar, natural gas, and oil energy resources, according to their website. They haven’t updated the breakdown by fuel source since 2016 which showed 38.3 percent coal, 33.7 percent nuclear, 27.0 percent wind, solar, hydro and landfill gas, and 0.5 percent natural gas. I could say we have a nuclear powered snow blower… or not depending on how I feel on any given day. Yesterday I was thankful I didn’t have to shovel as the work went quickly.

We need energy to fuel a modern lifestyle and there is not a lot of control outside our personal habits. We use electric appliances and there is no reason to change back to natural gas, the most recent alternative. Our home heating is a forced air, natural gas central furnace supplemented by an electric blanket in one bedroom and a space heater in my writing room. We have no fireplace and burning wood isn’t a sustainable option. We use an on-demand, natural gas water heater which has served us well. I learned about on-demand water heaters while visiting a friend in Vienna, Austria in 1974.

We got rid of incandescent light bulbs long ago and do our best to turn off lights when not using a space. I occasionally forget the light is on in my writing room and leave it on overnight. We consolidate trips to major cities in our vehicles, combining work days with shopping and other errands. We spent an average of $3.65 per day for electricity and natural gas in 2019 and $2.55 per day on gasoline to operate my car. When we upgrade my 1997 Subaru there will be an opportunity to change to electric or get a more fuel efficient vehicle. Same for the other car in the house, a 2002 Subaru. As we age I can see owning only one automobile.

I still use gasoline to power yard equipment including our mowers and trimmer. I tried a Black and Decker electric trimmer but it wouldn’t hold a charge long enough to finish the whole yard, even with two batteries. When it broke after years of service I got a Stihl trimmer with my discount at the home, farm and auto supply store. I didn’t use a gallon of gasoline for the trimmer in 2019. I don’t like mowing the lawn unless it is to collect grass clippings to use as mulch. In 2019 I filled up my 5-gallon gas can twice: once at the beginning of the season and once in July. It’s still half-full. I expect to purchase a gasoline-powered rototiller for the garden. Like with the snow blower it is a concession to aging.

A snow day is a chance to bunker in and get caught up on desk work. I wish I could report I had. Instead I read, watched snow fall, and wondered about our collective future in an environment where the weather event was unremarkable, but its late arrival this winter is an unmistakable sign about our warming climate. I need to get to work today, as do we all.

Categories
Cooking Home Life

Cavendish Banana Bread

Banana bread made with Cavendish bananas

Three bananas were going bad on the counter so I decided to make banana bread. That’s what people do, or at least did when I was still at home.

These were Cavendish bananas as most commercially available ones are. They were also organic although I’m not sure how cultivation is different.

Like its predecessor, the Gros Michel banana, the Cavendish is susceptible to  a fungus that could wipe out the variety. If that happens as expected, diets will change.

For a recipe I got out my copy of the Holy Family School PTA cookbook. I like this book for the familiar names of the recipe authors, some of whom I knew. Monsignor T.V. Lawlor served as the church’s second pastor from 1943 until 1961 and his photograph is printed inside the front cover of the book. This dates the cookbook in the 1950s most likely, after the school moved to the location I attended a couple of blocks south of the church on Fillmore Street.

I chose a banana bread recipe contributed by Mrs. H.A. Tholen. It called for shortening, although I substituted butter and kept everything else the same. Here are the ingredients as written:

1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup shortening, 2 eggs, 3 bananas mashed, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon soda, 1-3/4 cup flour, and a pinch of salt.

Instructions are, “Mix in the order given and bake in a slow oven.”

Well that won’t do. Looking at other sweet breads in the book I decided on a 350 degree oven for 50 minutes. It turned out great as you can see in the image.

Making banana bread from overly ripe bananas is a cultural inheritance not only from my mother and maternal grandmother, but from a broader society where fruit like the Cavendish banana is readily and cheaply available. However, like most mass marketed fruit and vegetables it is subject to change from climate and from other pressures, forcing old habits and patterns to change.

There was something positive in yesterday’s bakery. It was a warning too, that life is fragile and ever changing. We seek comfort in what we know, delaying the embrace of what is coming. I don’t just mean what’s coming for Cavendish bananas.

Categories
Environment

Climate Change Plans Before the Iowa Caucuses

Al Gore in Chicago, 2013

The climate crisis calls for us to dream big and fight hard because our future depends upon solving its underlying problems.

If I sound like Elizabeth Warren, it’s because last night I heard a presentation about her plans for climate action by staffers Spencer Dixon and Jackie Curnick at the campaign office in the county seat.

The expected positioning was present.

“What about a carbon tax?” one attendee asked. Dixon responded Warren believed with her plans a carbon tax wasn’t needed. The discussion drew in the Citizens Climate Lobby position of a carbon fee and dividend which friends have been lobbying in the Congress this week (HR763). Dixon wouldn’t endorse this plan.

“What about nuclear power?” another asked. Warren opposes construction of new nuclear power plants and plans to phase out existing ones. The suggestion of one attendee that current nuclear power generating stations continue to operate indefinitely belies the physical limits of reactors constructed in the 1970s and 1980s. Many pixels have been spilled explaining why.

Two things surprised me: Spencer’s assertion that public lands could be developed to help meet our electricity needs, and the U.S. should help colonize Africa and Asia the way China is doing to resist and potentially displace their hegemony. I don’t see how the former is different from what Republicans under Trump are already doing in their ways, and the latter is morally reprehensible. It’s not clear Warren herself would back these assertions and Spencer acknowledged that.

The top Democratic candidates have a plan for climate action. Republicans are coming along to a very limited degree. Former Republican presidential candidate Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) acknowledges a need for significant private sector investments and innovation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and switch to more green energy. Romney joined the newly formed, bipartisan U.S. Senate Climate Change Caucus. A president Warren would have to have some backing by Republicans for her climate plan to be durable. The Obama administration is a casebook in why executive orders can ultimately fail without legislative backing. Our participation in the Paris Climate Agreement was reversed with the stroke of a pen by the following Republican president. Obama may have had a plan for single-payer health insurance. Because of political realities what we got was the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which thus far has proven durable despite countless attacks by conservatives. Any climate solution must be backed by legislation and according to Spencer, Warren has a plan for that.

The Republican elephant in the room is how does any presidential climate action plan go into effect when in a best case scenario Democrats, with two Independents, might in 2020 win a slim majority in the upper chamber, not enough to stop a filibuster. The immediate reaction, and Warren’s position, is a new meme for Democrats, “abolish the filibuster.” In other words, if one can’t win the traditional way, change the rules. If the filibuster were abolished, that action would originate in the U.S. Senate, not in the executive branch.

After the presentation I spoke to other attendees and avoided the discussion of which Democratic presidential candidate’s climate action plan was the best. We’re not at a grocery store comparing canned vegetables, after all. The next president, if it’s not Donald Trump, must act on climate change. Plans notwithstanding, the expectation is Republicans will resist, obstruct and delay any meaningful changes as they have since the rise of Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as the Republican leader. Winning the U.S. House and Senate is as important as winning the presidency.

The benefit of last night’s meeting was identifying Warren’s plans for climate action so there will be something to talk about when door-knocking potential caucus-goers. Climate change appears to be on most Iowans’ mind so that’s necessary and important.

Categories
Environment

A Climate Action for Every Iowan

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

Iowa Public Television devoted its weekly Iowa Press program to climate change.

Dr. Gene Takle, Professor Emeritus at Iowa State University and Dr. David Courard-Hauri, Professor and Director of the Environmental Science and Policy Program at Drake University faced reporters David Pitt with Associated Press and Katarina Sostaric of Iowa Public Radio.

No new ground was broken in the 27-minute program because the nature of climate change as we experience it in Iowa is reasonably clear: it’s about moisture, too much in the spring, or too little during the growing season. World-wide warming atmosphere and oceans contribute significantly to extreme weather in Iowa.

Some don’t believe what goes on in Iowa falls into a broader trend or context. Courard-Hauri made an important point about this.

And one thing I’d add is that we focus a lot on this question and if you look at surveys it’s about 20 percent of the people who actively argue that climate change is not caused by people. And the majority of people either, well the majority of people believe the climate is changing, you can see it now, it’s at that level. And then the large majority are aware and concerned and so when we spend a lot of our time focusing on that really small minority, it’s a larger minority of lay people that (sic) it is scientists obviously, but if we spend a lot of time talking about that then I think we miss the fact that most people are wondering what can we be doing, what should we be doing?

What can we be doing about the climate crisis?

A few years ago State Senator Joe Bolkcom made the best case I’ve heard on what to do: join with like-minded people around a cause.

In a society where the myth of rugged individualism persists, and the expansion of media in the form of radio, television, smart phones and computers brought with it a new form of social isolation, that is hard to do. Do it we must and it’s not just me saying it. At some point the climate crisis becomes so obvious and threatening almost everyone wants to answer Courard-Hauri’s question.

An article by Cathy Brown at Yes! magazine last week pointed out there is a climate action for every type of activist.

“Susan Clayton, a professor of psychology and environmental studies at the College of Wooster, says getting involved with a group can help lift your climate-related anxiety and depression in three ways,” Brown wrote. “Working with like-minded folks can validate your concerns, give you needed social support, and help you move from feeling helpless to empowered.”

Bolkcom’s point was similar to Clayton: groups are more effective than individuals.

The reason I’m involved with environmental groups is to work on inter-generational issues. I won’t likely be around when the worst of the climate crisis hits but people I know and love will be. As I ease into retirement it is important to allocate some time to work on the issue.

When Iowa Public Television is doing a program on the climate crisis, the concerns are mainstream. While we expect a lot from our government, politicians need nudging from voters and that is where joining with others in our communities is important. As Brown’s article suggests, there is a way to get involved for every personality.

View Iowa Press episode on climate change here.

Read Cathy Brown’s article at Yes! magazine here.

Categories
Environment

Getting Attention on Climate Change

Ed Fallon in His Garden

Ed Fallon is a friend of Blog for Iowa and we support what he does with his radio program and his advocacy against oil and natural gas pipelines in Iowa.

He caught the attention of Democrats in Cedar Rapids last weekend with a performance art piece, staged by his group Bold Iowa, in which three individuals posed in a gallows with a noose around their neck, standing on blocks of melting ice under a sign that said, “As the arctic melts the climate noose tightens.”

While many on social media and in-person viewers of the piece took a dim view of this direct action, if you know Ed at all, not thinking things through is a feature, not a bug of his work. There is no denying deterioration of the Greenland ice sheet, the Arctic, and the Antarctic ice shelves is a planetary problem that could cause environmental disruptions not seen in living human memory. Bold Iowa’s performance piece was successful in that social media was abuzz discussing its meaning and appropriateness. It was unsuccessful in that major media outlets did not appear to be covering it with the notable exception of the Cedar Rapids Gazette which ran a story on Wednesday framing the piece a racially callous because of its use of a noose, invoking for some an association with lynching in American history.

“We underestimated the way it may trigger folks who either are concerned about the rise in racism in this country, in many respects because of Donald Trump,” Fallon said in an interview with the Gazette. “And also people who were affected by a family member who maybe committed suicide by hanging. … Our focus is to get people to understand just how urgent of a situation climate change is. We really are at a point where human extinction is a possibility.”

In a July 16 email, Fallon wrote he planned to write a blog post about the incident while promoting his Fallon Forum podcast, saying,

Pascha Morgan joins (the Fallon Forum) to discuss Bold Iowa’s provocative performance art, which involved a gallows (representing the threat of extinction) and large blocks of ice (representing accelerated ice melt in the polar regions).

Bold Iowa’s action demanded that Democratic presidential candidates make human survival their first act as president. The banner above the gallows declared, “As the Arctic melts, the climate noose tightens.”

The action received some enthusiastic support. Yet despite what organizers thought was clear messaging, it also experienced some strong pushback. In addition to this week’s live on-air discussion, I’ll publish a more in-depth blog later this week, responding to criticism of the action and apologizing to people offended by the imagery.

Thursday, July 18, Fallon made a post titled An Error of Judgement on the Bold Iowa website. In it he apologized to people offended by the imagery of the noose and accepted full responsibility for what he called an error in judgement. The post also ran as an op-ed in this morning’s Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Our support for Ed Fallon’s work continues. If one reads Fallon’s book Marcher Walker Pilgrim: A Memoir from the Great March for Climate Action there is a clear sense of the haphazard way Fallon goes about planning direct action. The fact is people continue to talk about the performance art piece five days after it happened. To the extent fingers are pointing at Ed’s quirky and in this case considered yet somewhat tone-deaf approach to direct action as the problem, the performance art failed.

Listen to the Fallon Forum live Mondays, 11:00 – noon CT on La Reina KDLF 96.5 FM and 1260 AM in central Iowa. The program is also available on podcast later in the day at FallonForum.com.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa