Categories
Environment

More Weird Weather

Raindrops on the Driveway

While watering the garden it started to rain. It wasn’t much, a sprinkle really. I turned the sprayer nozzle off, pulled the mobile device out of my pocket, and looked at the weather application. The forecast was rain, maybe three tenths of an inch toward midnight. I decided to wait and went inside to prepare dinner.

We need rain for a lot of reasons, importantly for the farming community. Large farm operations can capitalize the loss of a major drought, spreading the financial loss of a period of years. Small scale farmers, like the vegetable farmers in my community, not so much. Something is afoot in this spring’s weird weather.

Jonas Morgan of Fairfield opined in the Cedar Rapids Gazette that farmers are between a rock and a hard place.

A Des Moines Register poll found that among those who make their living working Iowa’s fertile soil, 81 percent believe our climate is changing but only 18 percent accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that humans are the cause.

Why the disparity? On the one hand, farmers are experiencing firsthand that long-term weather patterns are changing, changes that threaten not only their livelihoods, but the viability of the farms they hope to leave to their children and grandchildren, as well.

On the other hand, like all of us, farmers are under the sway of their political tribe.

Jonas Morgan, Cedar Rapids Gazette, June 21, 2021.

That tells part of the story. The same farmers to which Morgan referred might accuse him of falling under the influence of his own political tribe, noting he lives in Fairfield. I used to pen opinion pieces like this, which while accurate, don’t do much to move the needle toward acceptance of the realities of the climate crisis, much less the potential to do something about it before it’s too late.

A farmer friend wrote about the weird weather in their newsletter to CSA members:

The thing that has stood out to me the most this spring has been the extreme temperature swings, both hot and cold. […]

Extreme temperature swings (either hot or cold) are generally hard on vegetable crops, and the way different crops respond can also be somewhat unpredictable. Since we had two months that included periods of both unseasonable heat and cold, I feel like things were especially unpredictable. Some of the cool season greens have been bolting (sending off shoots to flower) early, which means that we have to harvest them smaller and earlier than we had hoped. The small Napa Cabbage in the share last week is an example of that. On the other hand we have struggled in the past to grow Hakurei turnips in the spring, and they have been mysteriously doing very well with this weather.

Local Harvest CSA Newsletter, June 21, 2021.

There has not been enough rain. Last night’s rainfall is welcome, but not enough to make up for the dry spring. Weird weather is not just in Iowa.

“In Siberia the ground surface temperature is a shocking 118 degrees Fahrenheit (47.8 degrees Celsius),” wrote Eric Mack in Forbes. “That’s bad news for permafrost.”

Laptev Sea ice on the Siberian coast set a new record low this week.

I’ve written about the dry spring in Iowa and in the western United States.

It’s not just farmers between a rock and a hard place. We go on living, aware the climate has changed and is changing. Our political leaders don’t have the will to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis. The good intentions of the Biden administration seem unlikely to become reality given the current political climate in Washington, D.C.

In the meanwhile, we’ll deal with weird weather as best we know how.

Categories
Kitchen Garden Living in Society

Supporting the Food Bank

Garden signage is new this season.

I reached out to a long-time friend who manages the community food bank to ask if they would like some of my excess garden produce.

“We would be most grateful for your fresh produce!” they emailed.

I put a recurring event on my calendar to deliver something every Monday morning beginning June 7 through the end of season. I look forward to seeing her in person on Monday, for the first time since an event during the Elizabeth Warren campaign before the Iowa Caucus.

The goal of a kitchen garden is to match garden production with what a cook can use in the kitchen. Gardeners put a lot of promise in the ground and not all of it comes to fruition. When it does, though, it is time to share the bounty. What better way to do it than donate food to people who need the help of a community food bank?

I participated in a call this week where a group of white Iowans, most with grey hair like mine, were working on a political advocacy project regarding the climate crisis. Halfway through the call, I realized there was no discussion of economic justice, that the people most impacted by the climate crisis are low income, black, indigenous, and people of color. I raised the issue and was surprised by the response. The suggestion was the impact of the climate crisis on low income individuals was mostly in countries other than the United States. OMG! We have a long way to go. The moral is if we don’t raise the issue of economic justice, and its companion, climate justice, it won’t be addressed, even among climate activists.

Thursday was almost perfect, maybe a little hot with low humidity. It was the kind of day I remember from childhood, one without need of air conditioning, where the outdoors was a great place to spend purposeful time. As an aging gardener, I get most of my work done in the morning before it gets hot and humid. Even so, during peak temperatures in the high 80s, it wasn’t so bad.

In driving us to stay home more, the coronavirus pandemic provided a new perspective on daily life. We notice things that our busy lives hid from view. Things like the food bank, climate justice, and the condition of garden plants. That is a good thing.

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
Sustainability

Record Cold, They Say

Animal Tracks

The ambient temperature is six degrees below zero. The February streak of subzero days is a record according to meteorologists. The headline on the Weather Channel website is “If you think it’s cold now, just wait until Valentine’s Day and next week.”

It’s cold, but not that cold. Overall this winter seems warmer than usual. Why?

We are not in the 35 below zero range we hit a couple of years ago. That was the cold spell that caused 70-degree temperature swings, began killing our Locust tree, and caused long-stable sewer and water pipes to break around the neighborhood. It’s not that cold yet.

We are also missing a strong cold spell at or below minus 20 degrees. I follow these cold snaps to identify when I should prune the apple and pear trees. We didn’t hit one last year and thus far haven’t this year. Combine it with the fact 2020 tied for the warmest year on record and perhaps one can see why I’m skeptical regarding the hubbub about how cold it is. I just walked on the driveway and it is a quiet, refreshing, albeit cold night. The kind that sets the stage for hope and human activity.

I will attempt to get the buckets of compost from the garage to the bin in the garden. However, there is no hurry because even if I do dump them, the compost will not decay much until the temperature warms. There is also an eight inch pile of snow on top of the composter to clear.

The coronavirus pandemic was a killer as it closes its first year. Thus far 2.4 million people globally died of the coronavirus. In the United States, 485,000. In Iowa, 5,236. Every one of the deceased had a name known by others. The coronavirus is a pestilence the likes of which there is no living memory, except maybe among a decreasing number of centenarians.

One can lose track of hours and days in the pandemic. Each human interaction takes on special meaning. It’s precious because there are so few of them, and those we have are mostly through electronic media. When a human calls, it’s a big deal. We are tempted to pick up the telephone when it rings, even though it is reasonable to predict the caller is a machine wanting to ID me as a potential customer to buy an extended warranty on my 1997 Subaru.

Hopefully we’ll get enough COVID-19 vaccine in the community so everyone who wants it can get it. The vaccine is proving effective overseas where the population of anti-vaccine folks is lower than in the U.S. If the vaccines are working, and it appears they are, there is hope of ending the pandemic. In the meanwhile, we’ll stay home, keep warm, and if we have to go out we’ll do so only when it is necessary, and wear a face mask and stay socially distant. Because we have pensions, we can afford to do this. Others are not so lucky.

There is pruning to do, although not as much as last time. The Aug. 10 derecho felled a large branch on the Red Delicious apple tree, so I don’t want to stress it much more than it is. No living creature want more stress right now. One day this week I’ll put on my overshoes, a warm coat, hat and scarf, and go on walkabout to check the yard and neighborhood. I’ll take my mobile device with me in case some human calls.

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

This is Our Moment

Al Gore via Zoom, Dec. 15, 2020

After the Electoral College vote for president and vice president on Dec. 14, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly congratulated president-elect Joe Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris on their win. He noted Harris is the first female vice president-elect, a historic achievement.

In the kabuki dance that is our nation’s capitol, “(McConnell) urged Senate Republicans not to join a long-shot effort led by conservatives in the House to challenge the electoral college results when Congress formally tabulates the vote Jan. 6,” according to the Washington Post. Such an action is doomed to failure as on a straight line party vote it will fail in the U.S. House. Media outlets indicated McConnell wants to avoid such a vote in the Senate.

Former Vice President Al Gore was one of the first world renown environmental leaders to meet with president-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York after the November 2016 election. The conversation was kept private.

Yesterday, during a 45-minute webinar with members of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, Gore said, “This is our moment.” The next four years represent an opportunity to address the climate crisis, beginning with the Biden administration’s intent to rejoin the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, better known as the Paris Agreement. Gore had a long to-do list and there truly is a lot to get done to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. We all must do our part.

McConnell’s announcement and Gore’s speech are the beginning points for a long, difficult journey. Not only does Washington need to recognize scientific truths, we must return to the Obama era practice of embedding climate action in every aspect of the U.S. government. Biden is willing to do so. With the appointment of John Kerry and Gina McCarthy to new roles devoted to addressing the climate crisis, the structural framework is being built.

The Climate Reality Leadership Corps has a number of members across Iowa. The May 2015 training event in Cedar Rapids helped increase our numbers. There are two Iowa chapters of Climate Reality leaders, one in Des Moines, and another in Ames. I joined the Des Moines chapter this morning. Having organized the state for other projects, I’m not sure of the efficacy of developing this chapter, or another in Eastern Iowa, when so many other environmental groups exist in the state. Efforts to pull them together have proven difficult because there is a lack of consensus on priorities. There is also plenty of diverse work to be done. In a society where internet connectivity plays an increasing role, efforts to organize people willing to take action on the climate crisis is energy that should be used to address the climate crisis directly. It is important to be a part of this and other groups. It is more important to focus on the work.

The Sierra Club has a strong presence in Iowa and I support and will work on some of their priorities, such as regulation of companies that seek to pump water from the Jordan Aquifer and ship it out of state. There are other groups as well. In Iowa there are issues that merit our attention. I described them to some long-time friends in an email:

I don’t know what people feel about carbon sequestration as a way to impact greenhouse gas emissions, but it’s all the rage in Iowa. Because it’s all the rage, it is possible, although unlikely, something can be done on it. The danger is it supplants other, more important action that could be taken to reduce GHG emissions.

Another concern is ethanol production. We need a resilient form of agriculture that relies less on making combustible fuel from corn and other biomass. We’ve been at loggerheads for a long time over ethanol yet if we could drive a wedge into this issue in 2021 it would be a positive development.

I don’t know where the University of Iowa is on their blending of biomass with coal, but after numerous attempts, I don’t see any headway in influencing what they do. They should retire the coal plant, and if we could figure out a method or argument to persuade them, that would be a balance between barking up the same tree and a major breakthrough.

Email to Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility, Dec. 14, 2020.

The elephant in the room is the 2023 Farm Bill. Biden indicated addressing the climate crisis in it is an important priority. While Department of Agriculture secretary-designate Tom Vilsack is known for his alignment with large agricultural interests, and has been no friend to the environment, he is also a good Democratic soldier who will do what Biden asks and who deserves our support as the Farm Bill works its way through the process. Advocates for addressing the climate crisis in Iowa should monitor and devote some bandwidth to the emerging Farm Bill.

Gore waited to make his speech until after the Electoral College vote. We knew what was coming and are ready. There remains a lot to do to address the climate crisis and it will take all hands on deck. This is our moment.

Categories
Living in Society

Fall Cleanup 2020

Big Grove Township, Nov. 8, 2020

While returning from a walk in the state park I picked up four yard signs a neighbor placed in their yard. Two of the candidates are poised to win and two are not.

While crossing the street, another neighbor called out but I couldn’t hear them. They walked over to discuss Saturday’s events in the general election. They had considered leaving the country if the president were reelected. Like many in our neighborhood, they keep their politics private. Sigh of relief the president was defeated. They are good neighbors.

After my walk I drove over to a damaged street sign and removed the signs from the pole. It is hard to get the screws loosened so I brought it home to repair in the garage if I can. Leaves are mulched with the mower so the minerals can return to the soil. The smell of neighbors burning leaves permeated the neighborhood. What fall work remains in the yard is optional. Today looks to be in the 70s so it is a chance to work outdoors.

Emails began arriving from groups with which I associate after the election. This one from the Climate Reality Project is typical.

We will mobilize support like never before for federal-level climate policy, and will bolster this with continued state and local-level work, which has been so instrumental in building this movement since 2016. We will persist in fighting for climate justice, by forging partnerships and adding capacity to campaigns that address systemic ways the climate crisis hurts historically marginalized communities. And we will continue to the grow the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, ensuring we have even more voices conveying our clear message. We have the solutions at-hand, and there is no more time to waste.

Ken Berlin, President and CEO, The Climate reality Project

To work on any of the received requests, I had to get organized. Here is what I came up for post-election priorities from an email to friends:

My first Iowa work will be determining a leverage point to advocate for mitigation of the coronavirus pandemic. The virus prevents us from organizing as we are accustomed. I plan to follow State Senator Rob Hogg’s lead on this. As you likely know, experts are saying we will be challenged by the virus into 2022. This is a high priority.

I’m working on nuclear arms control issues with the Arms Control Association, and on the climate crisis with the Climate Reality Project. I’m also working with the Sierra Club on the Pattison Sand proposal to pump water from the Jordan Aquifer and ship it to arid western states. However those things dovetail with your organization will be our points of opportunity to work together.

The Biden administration will quickly become besieged with its efforts to undo the four years of the current administration, therefore I view moving the ball forward on our issues as something our folks in DC should lead. My expected local contributions include writing an op-ed for the Cedar Rapids Gazette every 4-6 weeks (arms control and social topics), organizing a group in Solon to help me work on issues including politics and political advocacy, and set the stage for a Democratic comeback in the 2022 election. Tall orders all.

I don’t see Iowans devoting much bandwidth to the TPNW (Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons) until there is an opportunity for the administration to listen and take action on the treaty. I forget who’s having the Zoom meeting that includes Rose Gottemoeller but I plan to listen in. For the time being, the U.S. government and those of the other nuclear states are ignoring the treaty. If that changes in the next couple of years I’ll get more involved.

If we don’t get organized ourselves, we will be hindered in working with others. Onward we go!

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
Sustainability

Trees Take a Hit

Apple blossoms on Sept. 17, 2020.

2020 is the year trees and shrubs planted in the mid-1990s took a hit.

While mowing for the first time after the Aug. 10 derecho I noticed an Earliblaze apple tree was in bloom. The branches with blooms had otherwise died.

The Red Delicious apple tree lost a major branch during the storm. It seems unlikely to survive, although I might be able to get a crop next year. The scar where the branch was is big. Sealing it from insect predators seems a temporary solution. I had the same experience with a Golden Delicious tree a few years ago. It’s already gone.

One of the lilac bushes suddenly lost all of its leaves. While mowing I noticed new leaves had begun to form. I presume it is next year’s leaves. It’s time to cut that bush out.

Our neighborhood continues to recover from the derecho. Chain saws run almost every day. Burn piles amass, piles of firewood lay everywhere. Although I cleaned up the fallen branches and trees this week, there is more work to be done and sadly it involves a chain saw rather than pruning shears.

Planting a tree is a long-term commitment. When we have a year like 2020 one questions the merit of decades of work when the derecho, combined with disease, mitigates that work so quickly and unexpectedly. I don’t measure my remaining time on this blue-green, turning brown sphere in decades any more. There is enough time to eat apples from new trees I planted this year.

The haze through which the sun shines originated in record-setting fires on the West Coast. The arctic also has a record number of fires. The arctic and antarctic glaciers are melting and don’t get enough snowfall to offset the loss. It is an increasingly hot planet. We are all impacted as the pollution spreads through the atmosphere.

Phase two of my tree work is taking care of many dead branches that cropped up since spring. There is time to work on it. The firewood pile is getting taller though, and isn’t finished growing yet.

Firewood pile Sept. 17, 2020
Categories
Environment

Year of Climate Disaster

Chestnuts on the ground.

If my posts about the climate crisis have been scarce this year it is because of a decision to focus time on political outcomes.

Under Republican governance needed action to protect the environment and take bold action to reduce the constant stream of inputs that warm the atmosphere and oceans seems unlikely. If anything, Republicans are taking us the wrong direction. I spend time each day working to elect Democrats in hope of a government that will take the climate crisis seriously and address the existential problem.

Weather in Iowa continues to be crazy. There was drought, a derecho, and now a few days of almost continuous rain expected to produce flash flooding. This is what the climate crisis looks like. It is not located in a misty future, it is now.

California fires have already burned 2.2 million acres, more than any year on record according to CBS News. It is only September. Half a million people are evacuating parts of Oregon due to fires there. Hurricane Laura brought devastation to the Louisiana and Texas oil patch. Record high temperatures are being set from Florida to California. If you think this is a new normal, you would be wrong. This is the beginning of a very turbulent period of extreme weather. From here it is expected to get worse.

Our current government makes no pretense about addressing the climate crisis. They are simply not going to do it, consequences be damned. That’s why it is important to change our governance and through the ballot box has been a dependable first effort. If we do elect Joe Biden president with a Democratic House and Senate, our work is only beginning. He and his potential administration must be held accountable to make needed change that positively impacts the environment.

Absentee ballots are to be mailed from county auditors in Iowa beginning Oct. 5. The period from then until Nov. 3 will be one of tracking down ballots. In addition we’ll spend time getting people to register to vote and cast their ballot. That will take most of our time and energy.

The climate crisis is urgently important. Just as a lifeguard sometimes must subdue a drowning victim to save them, so we must focus on the election. There will be time to set priorities after we win at the ballot box. If we don’t win, the priorities become much different and the climate crisis more dire.

We are stronger together and it will take all of us to turn the government around in 2020 and beyond. It is past time to act on the climate crisis.