Categories
Environment

Earth Day Has Been a Bust

Earthrise by Bill Anders, Dec. 24, 1968

In retrospect, Earth Day has been a bust. It turned into an annual reminder among privileged Americans to do something about environmental degradation. It became a do-nothing tradition that had little material impact on the environment.

It would have been better to pursue social justice, elimination of poverty, or equal protection under the law, right from the beginning. All paths would lead to improving the environment regardless of the starting point.

Charles C. Mann wrote about the elitist nature of Earth Day in his book The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World:

So ineradicable was the elitist mark on conservation that for decades afterward many on the left scoffed at ecological issues as right-wing distractions. As late as 1970, the radical Students for a Democratic Society protested the first Earth Day as Wall Street flimflam meant to divert public attention from class warfare and the Vietnam War; the left-wing journalist I.F. Stone called the nationwide marches a “snow job.”

The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World by Charles C. Mann, page 81.

As data from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii indicates, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere continue to increase. The latest reading was yesterday at 420.25 ppm. We may not have understood the significance of such a small part of Earth’s atmosphere on the first Earth Day, but we do now and the numbers continue to roll upward at what can be described as a steady pace. It is as if the environmental movement accomplished nothing.

Screen capture from The Keeling Curve website.

A climate crisis is happening in plain view. The folks at The Dark Mountain Project described it like this in their April newsletter:

The climate disaster unfolding around us is itself a convergence between the breakdown of ancient organic matter and modern industrial ambition, technology, greed and carelessness, a calamitous meeting of worlds. 

Email from The Dark Mountain Project, April 15, 2022.

However one describes the climate crisis, part of our problem in taking action to remediate it is we don’t have the intellectual skills to understand environmental degradation or what actions would be effective in reversing it. Likewise, current society has limited functioning methods to take action without a calamitous incident precipitating a need big enough to gain political consensus.

When in 1985 the scientific journal Nature revealed that over Antarctica, a hole in the ozone layer had formed, exposing humans to the sun’s cancer-causing ultraviolet rays, reactions were mixed.

At the time, President Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Environmental policy hadn’t been a priority for him and his advisers, who were more focused on fighting the creep of Cold War communism or federal involvement in issues they believed the states should handle. Even the revelation of the ozone hole didn’t change things–or at least not right away. In fact… Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior Donald Hodel was ridiculed in the press for reportedly saying in a meeting that an international treaty wasn’t necessary to address the damage and that Americans should just put on sunscreen and wear hats.

Reagan Administration Officials at First Dismissed the Ozone Hole. Here’s What Changed by Olivia B. Waxman. Time Magazine, April 10, 2019.

As we know now, the Montreal Protocol, the first-ever global treaty to reduce pollution and phase out chlorofluorocarbons, gained Reagan’s support and was agreed in 1987. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty unanimously the following year. Our current political environment has degraded to a point where such common-sense action is no longer possible.

Bill Anders’ Earthrise photograph reminds us of Earth’s suspension in the vast darkness of the universe. We are unique, and dependent on each other on this our only home. For complex reasons, we understand the risks of further environmental degradation and the warming of the atmosphere. We have been unwilling to take adequate action and Earth Day isn’t helping.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Garden Cycles

Red Norland seed potatoes.

“Extreme (weather) events are becoming more numerous in every season, so Iowans should anticipate more floods, droughts and heat waves,” Iowa State Climatologist Justin Glisan recently said.

Farmers and gardeners recognize this. What I didn’t realize is a third of the major natural disasters hitting Iowa since 1980 have occurred in the last five years. Tornadoes, derechos, severe thunderstorms, heat waves and drought have become commonplace. While adaptation in small garden plots like mine is possible, the scale of the problem is much bigger than any one person’s experience or ability to cope.

The last few days have been colder that usual. By that, I mean the historical average high has been 52.5 degrees and today the forecast is ten degrees colder than that. There is expected variation year over year, so it’s not time to wig out about extreme weather just yet. All the same, by now I’d have something in the ground besides garlic planted last fall if ambient temperatures were closer to normal. Adaptation serves gardeners as there is a wide range of suitable conditions for growth.

Ten days before Good Friday, I’ll cut seed potatoes for seasoning before planting. I have a notebook of previous gardening years that serves as an indoor planting guide. It is time to start Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, according to last year. Following the agenda is the kind of activity gardeners relish. It creates a sense of understanding that helps us get by in a turbulent society.

When I was working full time, there was no time to work through seasonal climatic variation in the garden. Vegetables either made it or they didn’t. Attention to earning an income in a career blinded me to what was going on around me. We each avoid unpleasantness in order to preserve the secure bubble we create and in which we live most of our lives. This type of insularity is a main reason governments take inadequate action on climate change: people are caught up in their personal world construct. The real world is too ugly to contemplate so we avoid thinking about it and in some cases enable disaster.

Even with climate change and increased frequency of extreme weather events, garden cycles remain. We work through them each year and recognize variations. Producing a harvest is always rewarding. A garden can give us grounding in reality. It’s something sorely needed in this household and in society more broadly. At present, most are oblivious to garden cycles as Earth continues to orbit the sun, grocery stores have food on shelves, and our nest seems protected from the ravages we see on media coming into our devices.

It is easy to turn away from garden cycles, yet we shouldn’t.

Categories
Social Commentary

It is Spring

Portable greenhouse, 2022.

On walkabout, garlic poked through the mulch. It is spring.

I assembled the portable greenhouse yesterday afternoon. The extra space and light will make a difference, another step toward planting the garden.

A big batch of vegetable soup simmered on the stove most of the day. We ate it for dinner and filled five quart jars. Three of them are to take as my spouse returns to her sister’s to finish packing.

My daily routine is disrupted by spring. That’s good. Like grass greening in the lawn, it is a sign of renewal. Without it, sustainability is elusive.

Opening statements at Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings with the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee were yesterday. It was as if I wandered into a retirement home occupied by committee members. My conclusion, after listening to most of them? We need younger senators. Thankfully, in Iowa we have three suitable candidates to replace Senator Chuck Grassley during the November election.

War in Ukraine continues. The Ukrainian government refused to surrender even though most of Mariupol has been bombed to ruins. The Russian war machine will rapidly wear down, yet not before more destruction. Somehow Ukrainian farmers will get a crop in the ground this spring.

This week, António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, pointed out what most should know: we are sleepwalking to climate catastrophe. The upshot is there is time to act on climate, although not for long.

Categories
Living in Society

Late Winter

Garden in Winter

Snow fell and a day later it began melting. The ground is partly snow-covered in today’s predawn darkness. With a forecast high of 30 degrees, there will be more melting in sunny areas. Eleven days remain in winter.

With President Biden’s March 8 announcement, “We’re banning all imports of Russian oil and gas and energy,” U.S. gasoline prices increased immediately. I’m planning to round up our gas cans, take them to town, and fill them. I expect prices to continue to climb because of Russia’s continuing aggression in Ukraine. The country should get completely off fossil fuels, although there has been a lack of political will to do so.

Lettuce and herbs are beginning to germinate on the heating pad. As soon as the snow melts I can build the burn pile and clear the first planting plot. As the growing season begins, I’m ready.

Nonetheless, a few more days of winter remain.

Categories
Living in Society

Sleepless Night

Is Spring Coming?

Around midnight I woke with my mind racing. There was a high-pressure fire hose full of news on Monday. It is continuing into Tuesday.

With Ukraine being eight time zones ahead, there were a lot of reports coming in via Twitter when I looked at the mobile device in bed. Much of the information was negative. The fact there is a war in Ukraine at all is negative. If Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin intended to make quick work of conquering Ukraine, he failed.

Putin put Russian nuclear forces on high alert and no one is certain what that will mean, other than creation of an opportunity for unintentional detonation of nuclear warheads. Monday President Biden said people should not fear a nuclear war. He obviously has information I don’t, yet knowing this is happening raised my personal tension a notch.

The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change released their latest report yesterday. The last sentence of the 3,675-page report says it all. “Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.”

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in West Virginia v. EPA on Monday. Justice questions centered around “major questions” which should be decided by the Congress, not by a regulatory agency. The fear is SCOTUS will severely limit the kind and amount of regulation the Environmental Protection Agency can introduce, sending any action on controlling greenhouse gas emissions back to a stalemated Congress. With a 6-3 conservative tilt, Republicans got what they wanted when President Trump appointed three justices during his term in office.

Republicans in the Iowa Legislature are making laws without regard for dissenting voices. They have a clear majority and are passing whatever laws pop into their heads. The degrading of intellectual standards among lawmakers is obvious and frustrating.

I continue to wait for dust to settle and determine personal next steps. Spring will soon be here, I’m working on income taxes, and once garden planting begins there will be a rush toward Memorial Day. Things seem a bit out of control.

Later this morning I will take a nap. Otherwise, I’m unlikely to make it until supper time. With everything going on, it is hard to sleep and unlikely there is any returning to normal. It is hard to know what the new normal will be.

Categories
Environment

Grassley on Climate Change

This response to my message to U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley has been sitting in a file folder waiting for me to write a response. Upon review, I don’t really have a response as the letter speaks for itself. Shorter Grassley: wind, ethanol and biodiesel are what I have been and am willing to work on going forward.

Dear Mr. Deaton:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me. As your senator, it is important for me to hear from you. 

I appreciate you sharing your concerns regarding climate change with me. I have long said that I acknowledge that a changing climate is a historical and scientific fact. I also recognize that most scientists say manmade emissions contribute to climate change. In addition, it is just common sense to promote the development of clean forms of energy. In fact, throughout my tenure in the Senate, I have been a leader in promoting alternative energy sources as a way of protecting our environment and increasing our energy independence. I’ve been an outspoken advocate of various forms of renewable and alternative energy, including wind, biomass, agriculture wastes, ethanol and biodiesel. As the former Chairman and Ranking member of the Finance Committee, I’ve worked for years to enact tax policies that support the growth of these alternative resources and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. We need to develop a comprehensive energy policy and review the tax incentives for all energy sources. Our goal should be that clean energy alternatives become cost-effective, viable parts of our energy mix to power our homes and businesses for the long term.

To the extent that clean, alternative forms of energy can be made more cost effective than fossil fuels, it will be a win-win situation. In the meantime, any measure that forces a shift from low-cost energy sources to higher cost alternatives will impose hardships on hard working Americans, especially those least able to afford higher prices for home heating, food, and transportation. Higher energy costs also affect jobs, particularly in the manufacturing sector.

I believe we have an obligation to future generations that our environment is both clean and safe. Additionally, I believe it makes economic sense to have a healthy environment. Throughout my tenure in the Senate, I have authored and supported legislation that promotes  renewable   energy  sources to protect the environment, support our economy, and increase our  energy  independence. I’ve been an advocate of various forms, including wind, ethanol, and biodiesel.  

As you may know, Iowa has had much success in the production of these  renewable   energy  sources. As the number one producer of corn, ethanol, and biodiesel, our state leads the nation’s  renewable  fuels industry. This cleaner-burning, homegrown  energy  supports the economy by generating 37,000 jobs and nearly $4 billion of Iowa’s GDP. In 2020, Iowa produced 3.7 billion gallons of ethanol. In regards to environmental benefits, ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent compared to conventional gasoline.

As the “father” of the Wind  Energy  Incentives Act of 1993, I sought to give this  renewable   energy  source the ability to compete with traditional, finite sources. Today, wind  energy  supports over 9,000 Iowa jobs and provides 40 percent of our state’s electricity. Like ethanol and other advanced biofuels, wind  energy  is  renewable  and does not obligate the United States to rely on unstable foreign states. Further, the U.S. Department of Energy recently released its annual wind Markets Reports. Within this report are several notable updates about Iowa. Iowa currently leads the U.S. in wind-generated electricity. At 57 percent, Iowa has become the only state where over half of our in-state generated energy comes from wind. Lastly, the wind industry supports over 116,000 U.S. jobs.  

Going forward, I believe the most effective action Congress can take to address this issue is to advance policies that increase the availability and affordability of  renewable   energy  sources. If these  energy  sources can become more competitive, market forces will drive a natural, low-cost transition in our  energy  mix that will be a win-win for American families.  

Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me. Please keep in touch. 

   Sincerely,

  Chuck Grassley
  United States Senator
Email from U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley dated Nov. 10, 2021.
Categories
Writing

Double Dipping on Carbon-Capture

Field Corn

Governor Kim Reynolds mentioned carbon-capture in her condition of the state address during a segment on renewable energy.

I am introducing new legislation that will improve access to E15 and B20 and upgrade Iowa’s fuel infrastructure to offer higher blends. And I’m proposing that we invest in carbon-capture solutions to sustain and build on our leadership position in renewable energy.

Governor Kim Reynolds Condition of the State Address, Jan. 11, 2022.

To be clear, the governor supports carbon-capture to protect Iowa’s investments in ethanol and bio-fuels. It has nothing to do with addressing the climate crisis, and everything to do with continuing to grow corn for ethanol. We are not sure if carbon-capture even works.

“The U.S. Department of Energy invested $684 million in unsuccessful carbon capture and storage demonstration projects at coal plants under the 2009 stimulus package, a U.S. Government Accountability Office audit found,” according to Karin Rives at S&P Global. “This time, the DOE has close to $1 billion from the 2021 infrastructure law earmarked for large-scale carbon capture pilot projects, as well as $2.5 billion for carbon capture demonstrations.”

If DOE spent $684 million on carbon capture and it failed to capture carbon, why would our government increase the amount to be spent? To address the climate crisis, ethanol and bio-fuels need to go out of business. Society should develop true alternative fuels that free farmer fields to grow food crops and don’t rely on release of carbon dioxide to produce ethanol.

Fool me once on carbon capture, shame on you. Fool me a second time, shame on me.

Read all of my posts on carbon-capture at this link.

Categories
Environment

Waiting for Scions

Shallot seeds germinated first this year.

Inconsistent winter weather disrupted fruit tree plans. On Wednesday snow melt began flowing in the gutters and downspout. It felt safe enough to make a trip through melting snow pack to the composter near the garden. A slushy mix returned to the end of the driveway. Weather has been weird.

It takes several days of subzero temperatures in a row to prune fruit trees. I prefer a week of ten or twenty below zero yet we haven’t had that. I also seek to harvest scions, (pencil shaped fruit tree cuttings) to graft on root stock. I would save the Red Delicious apple tree which was damaged in the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho. It served us well while it was whole. Trees need dormancy for scions to work and we haven’t had that either.

This week has been a fake spring. It’s still winter, for Pete’s sake! Yet the buds on trees look healthy, like they are ready to sprout. The lilac bushes were leafing just last month. I wouldn’t mind spring’s arrival yet I want a winter too.

At least the onions and shallots planted Jan. 6 are germinating.

We bunker in to avoid the coronavirus and wait for a deep freeze and dormancy it would bring. These days have been good for writing.

It is difficult waiting for winter and fruit tree work when what we really want is a normal spring. Today, I’d settle for a normal winter so I can harvest scions.

Categories
Writing

Swallowing the CCS Proposition

Field Corn

Two corporations plan to install Carbon Capture and Sequestration technology to collect CO2 emissions at about 40 ethanol and fertilizer plants spread across Iowa. Next, they plan to permanently bury the resulting liquefied CO2 in deep rock formations in North Dakota and Illinois. I don’t know who is swallowing this malarkey. Almost no one is.

The CO2 pipeline is planned to cross Karmen McShane’s family land in Linn County.

“It’s heartbreaking,” McShane told Gannett’s Donnelle Eller for a story. “My dad is 77. My mom needs care. And he feels powerless (to fight the pipeline).”

There is a lot of that going around.

The pace of news articles on CCS is increasing. Eller wrote about it in Monday’s Iowa City Press Citizen and followed it with another article in Tuesday’s newspaper. Erin Jordan of the Cedar Rapids Gazette has been covering CCS as well. When the regular news coverage is frequent, we should read what paid media writers have to say. That’s what I’ll be doing to see how the process unfolds over the end of year holidays. This is my seventh post on CCS.

The Iowa oligarchy of agriculture decided to do this thing, so resistance may be futile unless more people than have become engaged. If McShane is typical, the train left the station and once ground is broken for the pipeline, there will be no stopping it.

As long as Iowa focuses on ethanol, industrial agriculture using manufactured fertilizers, and monoculture row crops and livestock, the environment will get worse. It is pretty bad already if one looks at water and air quality. Implementing CCS does not address any of this and is a distraction from needed action to address Iowa’s water and air quality.

CCS is premised on a vague statement that we must decarbonize the economy. People have written books on this, and just because two companies are spending big bucks on the project, the one-off process in Iowa does not address broader concerns about reducing the amount of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere as if it were an open sewer. As far as I can tell, the sole reason for the project is to protect agricultural oligarchs’ two children: corn ethanol production and fertilizer manufacturing.

To read the rest of my coverage of carbon capture and sequestration in Iowa, click here.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Categories
Environment

Conservatives Have a Climate Caucus

On walkabout, Dec. 18, 2021.

When I wrote my Federal Elected Officials about climate change on Oct. 18, Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks was first to respond a few days later (see below). I did not know there was a Conservative Climate Caucus. She is a member and lifted the third paragraph of her response to me from the caucus website.

As long as she supports the beliefs of the caucus, there will be trouble reconciling my views with hers. In the long run, that’s okay. It is a starting point and we need to get going. We needed to get going 50 years ago.

The Conservative Climate Caucus was founded by Republican Congressman John R. Curtis (UT-03) in June this year with the following statement of beliefs:

What We Believe

The climate is changing, and decades of a global industrial era that has brought prosperity to the world has also contributed to that change.

Private sector innovation, American resources, and R&D investment have resulted in lower emissions and affordable energy, placing the United States as the global leader in reducing emissions

Climate change is a global issue and China is the greatest immediate obstacle to reducing world emissions. Solutions should reduce global emissions and not just be “feel good” policies

Practical and exportable answers can be found in innovation embraced by the free market. Americans and the rest of the world want access to cheaper, reliable, and cleaner energy

With innovative technologies, fossil fuels can and should be a major part of the global solution

Reducing emissions is the goal, not reducing energy choices

What We Do

Educate House Republicans on climate policies and legislation consistent with conservative values

Organize co-dels and staff-dels to better understand technologies and issues related to climate

Organize Member and staff briefings on conservative climate proposals

Bring Republicans to the table to fight against radical progressive climate proposals that would hurt our economy, American workers, and national security

Introduce Republican members and staff to leaders in industry, think tanks, and more

Conservative Climate Caucus website.

When it comes to hurting our economy, American workers, and national security, engagement of the federal government to address the climate crisis is essential. As long as Iowa focuses on ethanol, industrial agriculture using manufactured fertilizers, and monoculture row crops and livestock, the environment will get worse. It is pretty bad already if one looks at water and air quality. There is not much hope for the Conservative Climate Caucus as it was introduced, yet it’s what we have. It is an open question whether Democrats are up to the challenge of retiring Miller-Meeks after her first term. She is a strong campaigner and well known in the district. We have to begin somewhere, and soon. This may be it.

Email from Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Oct. 22, 2021.