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
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
Sustainability

Going Alone on Climate

F.J. Krob and Company grain elevator. Ely, Iowa.

The 2020 general election produced a poor result for battling our biggest problems: income inequality, the climate crisis, environmental degradation, racial justice, nuclear weapons proliferation, and the coronavirus pandemic — even with election of a Democratic president. All of these issues are important yet the most significant is acting on the climate crisis.

Yesterday the United States formally exited the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. While waiting for votes to be counted, Candidate Joe Biden said, “Today, the Trump Administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, a Biden Administration will rejoin it.”

German Budestag member Karl Lauterbach noted the results of the American election this morning, saying they set up gridlock in which “Biden hardly gets a law through, least of all in climate protection. Europe has to go alone.”

It’s not possible for any state to successfully go alone.

The failure of Democrats to secure a Senate majority makes the work more difficult. We know what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will do as we saw him obstruct the legislative goals of the last Democratic administration when Republicans were in both the minority and majority. While the work will be difficult, now that voting is finished, it must begin.

Wednesday morning, Jen O’Malley Dillon, Biden-Harris campaign manager, and Bob Bauer, campaign adviser for voter protection, laid out the path to 270 electoral college votes and Trump efforts to suppress vote counting. After waking up with not enough sleep and in a fog, the information was assuring. Biden won the election and once the votes are counted it should be revealed. Now what?

The clear message from this election is there is too little work being done to move toward consensus on important issues. Of my list above, there is denial that any of them are problems. As if people say, “I’ve got mine, and that’s enough.” While I can devote time to advocacy it means little if I don’t bring others along with me. By “others” I mean people who currently don’t agree with me.

The ambient temperature was 50 degrees so I donned my riding shorts, took the bicycle down from its ceiling hooks, and aired the tires to 90 psi. I rode 13.7-miles to Ely and back to get things going after missing daily exercise on Tuesday while at the polling place. The long, straight stretch of trail from the roundabout to Ely was a chance to get some thinking done. After descending the steep hill beginning at Highway 382, I entered the zone and miles passed quickly. Not sure how much thinking I did, yet the sun and wind felt good as I pedaled and rolled north. A new beginning.

While coalition building begins alone, that’s not how it will end. It’s hard to know who will join. I helped build diverse, successful coalitions before and believe we can do it again. That work begins today.

When Joe Biden said the 2020 election was about “the soul of the nation” he got it right. Who will we be as Americans? For too long our worst impulses have dominated our public life. As a nation, we are better than that.

Abraham Lincoln said in his first inaugural address, “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” What we know now is Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation a few years later. Was he being disingenuous? No, clearly not. He did what was needed to bring the Southern states, which had seceded, back into the imperfect union the United States represented since its founding. So it may be with addressing our most significant current challenges going forward.

We don’t want to upset the apple cart of public opinion as represented by the 2020 election results, but we must. It will be complicated and challenging, beginning with the idea going it alone solving society’s problems is no longer an option.

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

COP24 and What’s Next

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

Like others, I was skeptical the broad coalition to act on climate formed during and after the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris would last. This week at COP24 in Poland, three top oil producing states, the United States, Russia and Saudi Arabia, along with number nine, Kuwait, blocked acceptance of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report the conference commissioned.

The four oil producers objected to “welcoming” the report and preferred the vague language of “noting” the report. Because the conference proceeds only after reaching consensus, and they couldn’t, the report was not adopted.

“Opposition to climate action is one of the issues motivating Trump’s cozy relationship with the corrupt leaders in Russia and Saudi Arabia,” State Senator Rob Hogg tweeted Dec. 9. “This is not who we are as Americans, and we need to put a stop to it.”

“Under Trump, instead of leading the world to act on climate change, the United States joined with Russia and Saudi Arabia to stop the recognition of a scientific report about the increasingly urgent need for climate action,” he tweeted.

Absent U.S. leadership on climate I expect further dissent within the coalition that reached consensus Dec. 12, 2015 with the Paris Agreement. Our politics, led by moneyed interests, hinders efforts to do what makes sense regarding climate change. We can’t even agree on the facts about climate change. Accepting the IPCC report, or “welcoming” it to use the vernacular of the conference, should be a non-issue.

Although President Trump announced his intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the U.S. continues to be party to it. We live in a time when the truth has become unhinged from reality and it’s hard to see what path our country will take regarding our need to act on climate going forward.

What we see in Iowa is changing weather patterns enhanced and made worse by climate change. The 2012 drought was unimaginably oppressive and reduced corn and soybean yields. After local storms on Sept. 19, 2013 knocked trees down and damaged our home I wrote, “Everywhere in the farming community, people are concerned about extreme weather. Weather is always a concern for farmers, but this is different.” New research shows change in the atmosphere is reducing the nutritional content of foods we take for granted. None of this was expected. All of it hits home.

Whether people use the words climate change is less the issue. What matters more is our lives are changing, with tangible costs, and people are worried about it. Not only for the monetary damages of a storm, or for reduced crop yields, but for what it means for the future.

The aspiration of the Paris Agreement was noble, but likely unfeasible without leadership from the United States. Regretfully President Obama did not get buy-in from Republicans in government before he signed the Paris Agreement. Once he was gone, politics took over and his efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change are rapidly being rendered null.

There’s no easy solution to climate change. Was there ever? The truth before us is we must act on climate before it’s too late. Whether society is capable of doing so remains an open question. COP24 provided another setback to action.

Categories
Environment

Denial and Denali

Denali Photo Credit - Wikimedia Commons
Denali Photo Credit – Wikimedia Commons

Environmentalists are having trouble wrapping their head around a president who visited Alaska above the Arctic Circle on Wednesday to speak on the need to mitigate the causes of climate change, while at the same time on Aug. 17 approved Royal Dutch Shell’s exploration and development of oil there.

It’s not that hard because the challenge of our time is the lack of political will to take action to reduce CO2 emissions in a culture dependent upon fossil fuels. The problem is politics, not physics.

Bill McKibben expressed the sentiment concisely:

It’s no use crying Bill McKibben’s tears.

In 2014, the U.S. used 6.95 billion barrels of crude oil with 27 percent being imported, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. That’s 19.05 million barrels per day, including biofuels. Most of it is for gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, heating oil and liquefied petroleum gas. (The EIA explains how the oil was used here).

During President Obama’s administration the U.S. took substantial action to reduce dependence on imported oil. During the eight years of President George W. Bush, the country imported 28.6 billion barrels of oil or 3.574 billion barrels per year on average. In 2014, the U.S. imported 2.68 billion barrels or 25 percent less than the Bush average.

The rub is that in order to reduce imports, the Obama administration encouraged domestic production through an all of the above strategy that included hydraulic fracturing and increased exploration and discovery like Royal Dutch Shell had been doing in the Arctic in 2012. The strategy worked, and has been revitalized, but at what cost?

Doing nothing about global warming is not an option. The Obama administration has been and is doing something significant. As much as some would like to shut down the coal trains, end hydraulic fracturing and stop drilling for oil – leaving fossil fuels in the ground – it is only beginning to happen under Obama. Whoever is president in 2017, an “all of the above” strategy would mean quite different things with a Democrat or Republican in office.

Scientists understand the basic physics of global warming, and mostly have since the mid-1800s. As long as there is demand for fossil fuels, there is no reason to think exploration and discovery by oil companies will end any time soon. The problem with denial is not so much with political climate deniers. The physics will out, hopefully not too late.

A bigger problem is denial of our addiction to fossil fuels. Most continue to use them like there is no tomorrow. A reckoning is coming and it will take more than renaming that mountain to climb it.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Categories
Environment Living in Society

Walking the Walk

Ed Fallon, Sen. Joni Ernst, Miriam Kashia
Ed Fallon, Sen. Joni Ernst, Miriam Kashia

Twelve participants in the Great March for Climate Action made a reprise visit to Washington, D.C. last Wednesday.

Ed Fallon, march founder, tried to get meetings with the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency to coincide with the end of the march last September, however, key people were unavailable at the time.

The White House meeting did happen, with Dan Utech, special assistant to the president for energy and climate change; Rohan Patel, special assistant to the president and deputy director of intergovernmental affairs, and Angela Barranco, associate director for public engagement at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. My story about the meeting in the Iowa City Press Citizen is here.

Fallon was unable to attend the meeting with EPA later that day. Marchers met with Joseph Goffman,  senior counsel, assistant administrator for air and radiation and Mark Rupp, deputy associate administrator for intergovernmental relations. After the EPA meeting, marchers fanned out and met with their congressional representatives.

The Great March for Climate Action was not a stroll in the park for the core group of 35 marchers who made some or all of the way from Los Angeles to Washington. There were physical challenges including weight loss, foot and leg problems, fatigue and stress. They dealt with extreme weather events physically, notably in Nebraska where they encountered a giant hailstorm unlike any they had previously experienced. More than anyone I know, Fallon and company walked the walk, experiencing personal hardship to do so. The meetings in Washington were both a culmination and a new beginning for participants in advocating for climate action.

“Officials recognize that climate change is difficult for many people to grasp,” Fallon said. “The eight months along the march route allowed us to experience the situation directly, and this places us in a unique position of credibility.”

In addition to the White House meeting, Fallon called on Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, and Representatives Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and David Young (IA-03) to advocate for climate action. While the results of the meetings were mixed, marchers had the ear of their elected representatives. All four politicians voted for a bill to build the Keystone XL pipeline, something the marchers adamantly oppose.

Last night, Fallon posted a photo of himself and Miriam Kashia of North Liberty with Senator Joni Ernst on his Facebook page.

“Between driving, meetings and presentations, I’m behind on getting these posted,” Fallon wrote. “Our meeting with White House staff on climate change: very encouraging! Our meeting with Senator Joni Ernst: not so much.”

Having gained standing by walking the walk on climate change, it opened doors. What marchers found on the other side wasn’t all they had hoped. While they were away from Iowa, the electorate brought to power our most conservative congressional delegation in a while, notably absent Senator Tom Harkin.

In effecting progressive change there are two important parts. Electing people who represent our views and advocating for our causes with them. In 2014, progressives did not fare so well on the former, which makes the latter more difficult.

While some may not like looking at photos of Fallon and company posing with these politicians, they are doing their part for progressive change. If we don’t like the current crop of politicians, we can’t give up.

“Obviously we were all disappointed with the outcome of the last election, and there are a lot of reasons for it and I’m happy to take on some of the blame,” said President Barack Obama at the House Democratic Issue Conference on Thursday. “But one thing I’m positive about is, when we’re shy about what we care about, when we’re defensive about what we’ve accomplished, when we don’t stand up straight and proud… we need to stand up and go on offense, and not be defensive about what we believe in.”

It’s an open question whether progressives will get organized for the next election. It’s clear we won’t unless we emulate the Great March for Climate Action and walk the walk—beginning now.