Categories
Environment

Eschewing Avocados

Avocado from Mexico.

It is my minority opinion that avocados should be avoided in the United States. Don’t buy them, don’t eat them. The fruit has become popular, and because of it, Mexican growers can’t keep up with demand. This creates a problem.

To meet surging demand in the U.S., farmers in Mexico have cut down swaths of forest in the western state of Michoacán, one of the most important ecosystems in the country. By some estimates, as many as 20,000 acres of forest — the area of more than 15,000 American football fields — are cut down each year and replaced with avocado plantations. The rapid expansion of orchards will threaten forests in Mexico for years to come.

The bad news about your avocado habit by Benji Jones, Vox, Feb. 13, 2022.

Dishes like guacamole, avocado toast and smoothies taste delicious. Refined oil from the fruit is popular among foodies and nutritionists because of its unsaturated fats. By one estimate, sports fans eat through 105 million pounds of avocados on Super Bowl Sunday. The deforestation problem is directly related to such consumer demand.

The immediate catalyst for this post was a project to reduce my cookbook collection. I found many recipes for guacamole and felt we needed a reminder to moderate consumption and address the deforestation their popularity causes. I can hear long-time readers asking, “Didn’t you cover this before?” Yes, I did in the post titled, “Can Hipsters Stomach the Truth about Avocados from Mexico?” Not much has changed.

What can consumers do about deforestation which creates high-margin avocado plantations? Solutions are complicated. Ecosystem Marketplace outlines some of the challenges here. In the meanwhile, go light on the guacamole and avocado toast, and find another oil for cooking.

It is something we can do to contribute to efforts to solve the climate crisis.

Categories
Living in Society

Radio in the Hinterlands

Field corn.

When a person lives in Iowa it is hard to avoid noticing the harvest.

74 percent of Iowa soybeans and 38 percent of corn had been harvested as of Oct. 17. We are running a few days ahead of historical averages because it has been exceedingly dry. The entire state is experiencing drought conditions. I held off burning the brush pile because there is a Red Flag Warning, which means extreme fire conditions combined with high wind and low relative humidity. Everything is parched.

As I write this post on a Saturday afternoon, the ambient temperature is 78 degrees with a high of 82 expected in a couple of hours. The average high temperature here is 61 degrees in October. For Oct. 22, it is warm. One needn’t be a scientist to understand something is going on.

On Thursday I delivered my spouse to her sister’s place in Des Moines. We had a lot to talk about as we passed fields with farmers harvesting corn and beans. Between Williamsburg and Altoona, Interstate 80 is a hinterland of row crops, wind turbines and the detritus of retail establishments grown up to service a few locals, but mostly travelers. Towns and cities are hidden from sight.

On the way back, I turned on the car radio and began searching for channels. I avoided the religious stations and settled on a couple of country music and classic rock programs to help me make it back within range of my usual ones. From the ads, it became clear that Republicans dominate rural Iowa.

Governor Kim Reynolds has a substantial campaign war chest and attorney general candidate Brenna Bird just got a major donation from the Republican Attorneys General Association to defeat incumbent Tom Miller. These two Republicans have money to burn on their campaigns. The radio ads repeated during my trip. Whether any farmers were listening while running the combines and grain wagons, I don’t know. Republican messaging filled the vacuum left by Democrats.

To be effective, radio advertising must exist and be repetitive. In the Iowa hinterlands, it is the domain of statewide candidates and big money. Tom Miller was unlikely planning to spend millions on his campaign. Republicans are trying to buy an attorney general.

Our gubernatorial candidate, Deidre DeJear, simply doesn’t have the money for radio advertising even though it is cheap. My worry is her television advertising goes dark as we enter the last two weeks of the campaign, leaving Republicans the only voices heard there as well. During the primary, another Democratic candidate for governor dropped out of the race because he couldn’t get a meeting with major Democratic donors.

As the miles fell behind me the ads repeated. Running down President Biden and associating the Democratic candidates with him because of his unpopularity. Every sentence repeated was a pack of lies. When it is the only political voice rural people hear, it’s hard to stand up to it.

The election is in 17 days. Whatever the outcome, we have to do better to dig out of the hole we dug for ourselves. It’s possible, yet without the rural areas, I’m not sure how that happens.

Categories
Environment

Environmental Round Up – It’s Getting Hotter

I’ve written about the environment on Blog for Iowa since my first post on Feb. 25, 2009. Never in the time since then has there been more happening regarding degradation of our environment. As Scott Duncan’s graphic above indicates, it is getting a lot hotter on most parts of Earth. Methane and carbon dioxide emissions are rising, the oceans are getting warmer, ice sheets at the poles are melting, and there is a general lack of political will in the United States and elsewhere to do enough reverse our course.

More than 40 percent of U.S. population lived in counties affected by climate disasters in 2021, according to Sarah Kaplan and Andrew Ba Tran of the Washington Post. In a report issued June 27, Kayrros, a firm that analyzes satellite data, said methane emissions have climbed despite the launch of the Global Methane Pledge at the U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, last fall. The firm said that “global methane emissions so far appear to be going in the wrong direction.”

“Sadly, we have taken the ocean for granted, and today we face what I would call an ocean emergency,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres told delegates at the June opening of the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal. “We must turn the tide. A healthy and productive ocean is vital to our shared future.”

Despite substantial evidence of environmental degradation that affects human life and society, President Biden’s plan to address the climate crisis fell flat in the Congress because there were not enough votes to pass it with a divided U.S. Senate.

“The reality we face implores us to act,” Al Gore said.

In Iowa we tinker around the edges of addressing the climate crisis. Decisions like the one I wrote about in 2009, which stopped Interstate Power and Light from building a coal-fired electricity generating station in Marshalltown, have been driven by economic factors rather than any concern about the environment. “You don’t like coal? Fine! We’ll use natural gas which is cheaper anyway,” they might have said. Neither the government nor industry in Iowa takes action on the climate crisis unless there is a positive, monetary effect on someone’s bottom line. Human health and well being has been a secondary consideration despite the warnings of public health officials like I was back in the day.

A lot of Iowa environmental activist bandwidth is being taken up by the fight to stop three different Carbon Capture and Storage proposals. Art Cullen cut to the chase in a July 15 editorial in the Storm Lake Times, saying, “The pipelines will get buried. The Iowa rainmakers will get theirs as we pretend that we are addressing the planet being on fire.” It is hard to give up on the fight against CO2 pipelines, even if it plays out like some of the other transportation proposals to take oil, electricity, liquefied CO2, or other commodities across county lines.

What is a climate activist to do? I would start by learning about big scale solutions and getting involved in electing candidates willing to take action on them. I reviewed The Decarbonization Imperative: Transforming the Global Economy by 2050 by Michael Lenox and Rebecca Duff here. It’s a good place to start. A couple of things seem clear. Individual action is unlikely to solve the climate crisis. Large scale solutions take technical skill to design and political will to implement.

I recommend readers become part of the solution to the climate crisis by getting involved in efforts to implement large scale environmental projects. In most cases, that begins at the ballot box with voting for candidates willing to do the work.

~ First published on Blog for Iowa

Categories
Environment

Crops in Northwest Iowa Suffer Due to Drought

Photo credit: Josie Taylor | July 6, 2022.

Ten years ago I posted about the impact of the 2012 drought on Iowa agriculture. Read the post here, yet the crux of the article was climate change was absent from public discussion of the drought. Nothing has changed since then.

Drought conditions continue to affect Iowa crops. Josie Taylor with Iowa Environmental Focus writes about how the current drought impacts crops in Northwest Iowa:

“Corn and soybean plants are continuing to suffer in some parts of Iowa from excessive heat and drought,” she wrote. “This has been seen especially in far northwest Iowa where drought conditions are worsening. Large areas of Plymouth and Woodbury counties are in extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.”

Read the entire article here.

Isn’t it time, ten years later, we acknowledged the 800-pound gorilla in the room? Climate change is real and Iowa agriculture won’t discuss solutions to it. We are running out of time to address the climate crisis before it is too late.

Learn more about The Climate Reality Project and how you can get involved in solving the climate crisis by clicking this link: https://www.climaterealityproject.org.

If Iowa agriculture won’t take action to mitigate the effects of climate change on their primary industry, the rest of us must.

~ First posted on Blog for Iowa

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.