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

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

What’s Next in Mitigating Climate Change?

Earthrise by Bill Anders, Dec. 24, 1968

Republican U.S. presidents don’t like international climate agreements.

George W. Bush withdrew the United States from the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty we ratified, and yesterday Donald J. Trump notified the United Nations of our intent to withdraw from the global climate agreement signed in Paris when the mandatory one-year waiting period finishes the day after the 2020 general election.

The two Republicans said the agreements would hurt or restrict the U.S. economy.

If Democrats re-take the White House in 2020, there is a lesson to be learned from these agreements. A broader consensus is required for international agreements to be sustained over time. They can’t be subject to the vagaries of U.S. politics.

What then?

The answer is in engagement — in society, with friends and family, and with government. We can no longer survive alone in the context of these networks.

The sooner we realize it the more likely will we be to better implement solutions to the climate crisis. We can’t rely on government alone as its strengths wax and wane with political tides. We must use broader societal tides to our advantage, eroding recalcitrant shorelines when we can, and flowing back to the sea when we can’t.

From Act II, Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare:

JULIET
O, swear not by the moon, th’ inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circle orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.

ROMEO
What shall I swear by?

JULIET
Do not swear at all.
Or, if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self,
Which is the god of my idolatry,
And I’ll believe thee.

ROMEO
If my heart’s dear love—

JULIET
Well, do not swear. Although I joy in thee,
I have no joy of this contract tonight.
It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden,
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say “It lightens.” Sweet, good night.
This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath,
May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.
Good night, good night! As sweet repose and rest
Come to thy heart as that within my breast.

So it is, and so it should be. Now back to figuring next steps as Republicans ditch the work leading to near consensus on how to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Categories
Environment

Church for Liberals

Greta Thunberg in Iowa City, Iowa Oct. 4, 2019. Photo Credit: Greta Thunberg Twitter feed.

Was yesterday’s gathering of a couple thousand people to support school strikers for climate action the equivalent of Evangelical Christian mega-churches?

Maybe.

Drawn to Iowa City by the arrival of 16 year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, people attended the event for a variety of reasons. Mostly they seemed interested in environmental action as well as in Thunberg and her celebrity. Such feelings fall at the intersection of an impulse to do something, political activism, and the real need to prevent human-caused climate change from getting worse.

By all accounts the event was positive, although I did not attend. I’ve been to mega-church revivals, one replete with Johnny Cash performing. It’s not who I am. Iowa City is the bastion of our state’s liberal elites, a group that includes many friends, but has proven ineffective in implementing the kinds of change needed to address our most significant shared environmental problems.

The presidential campaign of John Kerry, spouse of Teresa Heinz Kerry, scion of the Heinz ketchup family, gave rise to notions of liberal elites. Together the couple wrote a book titled This Moment on Earth: Today’s New Environmentalists and their Vision for the Future. While it was a New York Times bestseller, it did little to move the needle on climate action. It reinforced the idea that Kerry was of the East Coast liberal elite. Kerry’s campaign contributed to coalescence of a reactionary cult that eschewed all things liberal.

I don’t hear my liberal friends talking about this very much. In some ways, Kerry faded into the background in a male-dominated cultural environment that brought us Barack Obama, then Donald J. Trump.

R.F. Latta made a point on social media yesterday. “What liberals don’t understand about GOP reluctance to stand up to Trump is that conservatives fear the floodgates of culture change will burst open if they do and that will end of their way of life forever.” A similar sentiment is found in Lyz Lenz’ recent book God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America in which she describes the male-dominated nature of white Evangelical churches. Rejection of Hillary Clinton as president was related to her female gender. Lenz wrote the 2016 election was an assertion of male power. Liberals must endeavor to understand the fears of conservative, evangelical Christians and others if we hope to avert the worst outcomes of the climate crisis.

Iowa City is home to Democrat Jean Lloyd-Jones, who along with Republican Maggie Tinsman, founded an organization called 50-50 in 2020, a “campaign school for women.” The organization has “a 10-year campaign with the goal of electing women to fill half the seats in the Iowa Legislature and half of Iowa’s Congressional delegation, and a woman Governor by 2020 – the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in this country.” The organization serves as an alternative to the churches of liberalism and conservatism. Jean and Maggie have kept the issue of moving women to a more prominent role in politics at the forefront of media attention. As Greta Thunberg’s visit to Iowa City fades into memory we need something similar for environmental issues.

We have some top drawer environmental activists in our area. I’m thinking of State Senators Rob Hogg and Joe Bolkcom, Mike Carberry, and members of the non-partisan 100 Grannies for a Livable Future. All of them would like nothing better than to bridge partisan divides to work on sustainable climate action. Without addressing conservative fears about liberalism, I don’t see how that can happen.

Yesterday’s climate strike was positive in many respects. The climate crisis will impact everyone so solutions must also include everyone. Otherwise, we could find ourselves kneeling at the altar of celebrity with nothing to show for it.

Categories
Environment Writing

Glorious Summer of 2019

Cherry Tomatoes

If August was a tough month, this summer has been one of the best in recent years.

Moderate local temperatures with reasonable relative humidity, rain enough to help the garden grow, and friends meeting the challenge of growing flowers and vegetables in a changing climate, all helped us feel comfortable.

July was notable for being the hottest month for the planet since record-keeping began, according to the U.S. government. Regional variation made Iowa tolerable, perhaps a harbinger of the impact of humans living on the planet continues its steady deterioration of our biome.

Despite favorable weather it was hard to get off the starting blocks in August on scores of projects needing attention.

It will soon be time to turn the page.

For the time being I’m eating cherry tomatoes and enjoying the last weeks of this glorious summer.

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

Categories
Environment Politics

Algae and the Politics of Denial

Algae Bloom in Lake Erie, Oct. 5, 2011. Photo Credit – NASA Earth Observatory

During his July 8 speech on the environment, the president mentioned his administration’s fight with “toxic algae” in Florida 50 miles from his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Bruce Hrobak, a bait and tackle shop owner in Port St. Lucie, Fla. gave a testimonial at the event about the great job he thought the federal government did to help his business which was “devastated by toxic algae from Lake Okeechobee.” His praise was about more than the government.

“You jumping into this environment brings my heart to warmth, knowing that what you’re doing is going — is the truth,” Hrobak said. “It’s going wonderfully. My business in 2018 was so horrible, we — I own two stores — we closed several days a week because of, you know, the algae and people being frightened, if they were afraid to touch the water and everything. I have a marine mechanic — I just wanted to say really quickly — has a bad infection in his arm from the marine algae and stuff.”

Mr. Hrobak gushed about the attention his problem had received and mentioned his wife was yelling at him less because business was better this year. People laughed and applauded. Rhetorically anyway, Trump halted advance of the red tide.

Iowans are familiar with the problems of algal blooms. The nutrient-rich soup that comprises our lakes and streams has been a hindrance to public recreation. We’ve restricted access to public beaches and educated kayakers, swimmers and boaters about the dangers of exposure to blue-green algae and the microcystins they produce. Iowa’s response to the problem amounts to shrugging our shoulders.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources doesn’t plan to follow new federal recommendations for beach water quality that could lead to more public warnings about toxins in the water, according to a June 20 Cedar Rapids Gazette article by Erin Jordan.

Instead of adopting federal standards for algal contamination, an Iowa Department of Natural Resources spokesperson told the Gazette, “The group does not agree with the formula and science used to develop the eight micrograms per liter for cyanotoxins microcystins standard.”

Arguing with science is the new normal for government doing what it wants. The other new normal is the president asserting he has addressed a problem when in fact he is ignoring it.

Mother Jones reported July 12 on a toxic algae problem not being adequately addressed by the administration:

In June, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projected a Massachusetts-sized dead zone would alight upon the Gulf of Mexico, driven by a vast algae bloom fed by fertilizer runoff from the upper Midwest. As the bloom decays, it sucks oxygen out of the water. As a result, as NOAA puts it, “habitats that would normally be teeming with life become, essentially, biological deserts.”

And on Thursday, NOAA predicted that Lake Erie, which provides drinking water to 11 million people, will also experience a massive harmful algae bloom, starting in late July. The bloom is fed largely by phosphorus runoff in the Maumee River basin in Ohio, where the land is dominated by corn and soybean farms as well as massive indoor hog farms. Phosphorus is a key nutrient for plant growth, and farmers apply it to fields in the form of fertilizer (which comes mainly from phosphate mines in Florida) and hog manure.

People argue in social media that algae blooms are a naturally occurring phenomenon, that they are nothing to worry about. While that is partly true, they do occur naturally, they are fed to grow very large by agricultural runoff. For political reasons, government won’t connect the dots and take action on the much larger issue of nutrient runoff.

“Science is a fundamental part of the country that we are,” Neil deGrasse Tyson said. “But in this the 21st century, when it comes time to make decisions about science, it seems to me people have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not… When you have people who don’t know much about science standing in denial of it and rising to power, that is a recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy.”

The president is addressing red algae in his back yard. What has he done about blue-green algae for the rest of us? He denied us a solution and distracted us from the problem. This while his minions in the audience for the speech stood and applauded.

We’ve go to do something better.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Categories
Environment Garden

Heat is Here

July 18, 2019

I stood outside in early morning darkness where there was a refreshing yet decidedly warm breeze.

The overnight low was 80 degrees Fahrenheit. I’m not sure if that’s warm enough to hinder apple production but scientists believe at some point failure to cool adequately at night does impact taste and texture.

They don’t fully understand the impact of climate change on apple production. For the home fruit grower it’s one more thing for concern.

The breeze dissipated with arriving sun. The forecast is clear and hot with ambient temperatures rising to the mid-nineties. We’re getting used to the heat, especially after the 2012 drought.

After sunup I went to an apple tree, picked one and ate it. The sugars are beginning to form but it is still a “green” apple.

Tonight begins the two-day festival in the small city near which we live. The ambient temperature is expected to peak around 6 p.m. when things are just getting going. Tomorrow is the parade through town when it’s pushing 90 degrees. I’m not sure it is a good idea to attend this year so am skipping the famous hay bale toss tonight and will re-evaluate the parade in the morning. A friend from across the lakes in Big Grove Township is running for sheriff so I want to be there to support him.

It’s blazing hot! We have an air conditioner and refrigerator with an ice maker that both work. There are also three bushels of vegetables that need processing. There will be plenty of inside work to keep me busy now that the heat is here.

Categories
Environment

Living in the Anthropocene

Lake Macbride State Park Trail, July 1, 2019

The combination of advancing age and a world heated by human-made global warming has me looking for ways to cope.

When temperatures are forecast above 90 degrees Fahrenheit with high humidity I get my outside work done early then head into the house. I keep the thermostat at 83 degrees so as not to use too much electricity, but to take the edge off the hot, humid days. I manage to sustain my sanity.

I used to work outside in blistering weather until beginning to black out. It is a concession to age that I refrain from scheduling work to spite such conditions. Mother Nature always wins.

If the political failure to address global warming takes us all out, I can live with that. The extinction of humans would be fair if everyone goes together. Such fatalism serves no useful purpose if there is still a chance to slow greenhouse gas emissions and eliminate the use of fossil fuels that power our economy. What choice do we really have but to go on living? Part of that has to be political advocacy.

If we are individuals in the Anthropocene, we are doomed already. One has to wonder what Ayn Rand would have to say about the prospect of an end to humanity. One supposes as long as government doesn’t tax individuals and corporations she’d be okay with it. Although, she too signed up for Medicare and Social Security.

2019 has been a time of personal rebuilding. I made it across a career finish line and it took time for life to settle. I signed up for Medicare, then Social Security, and have begun to take better care of myself and effect repairs around the house. I spend a significant amount of time at home where reading, writing, gardening, yard work and cooking take a majority of my time. Something will be next.

I know what part of it is. The 2020 general election looms large in our efforts to engage the government in addressing the climate crisis. How to impact the election is complicated. In part I plan to band together with like-minded citizens and work for candidates, Democratic candidates for the most part. Everything from president down to township trustee requires positive change. There is more than politics.

It starts with taking care of ourselves but cannot end with the individual. That’s the outlook that brought us to today. What we know is government’s reduction of taxes and deregulation of business have played out in front of us. They fail to address the core issue: our survival in a turbulent world. What seems important is answering the question what role should government play in our lives? Finding a new answer is essential while living in the Anthropocene.