Categories
Home Life

Furnace Cleaning Day

Peppers and radicchio gleaned from the garden before first frost.

Early Friday morning I swept around the furnace so the technician arriving in the afternoon had a clean workspace. Most autumns we have the same company who installed our furnace in 1993 inspect and clean it before winter. It is a good idea.

The technician and I chatted outdoors near the garage door. Having chats like this is becoming a thing for me. I learned about the heating and air conditioning trade in the area: which companies worked on what brands of equipment, which were acquired by a larger company. We talked about how smaller companies maintain parts inventory with so many different brands of furnaces and air conditioners. Some companies will work only on brands in which they specialize. As our furnace ages, it will get increasingly difficult to get it serviced. There will be pressure to upgrade to new equipment. Like with anything in the economy the heating and air conditioning business is in transition.

We talked about electrification of homes and he knew few people who did not use natural gas for heating. If we are to get to a decarbonized economy, natural gas, a fossil fuel, will have to go. The conversation illustrated how far we have to go to leave fossil fuels in the ground and get to zero emissions by mid-century..

MidAmerican Energy supplies our home with natural gas for the furnace and water heater. On Oct. 12, they said, “Based on the market prices for natural gas over the last month, residential customers in MidAmerican’s service area can likely expect their total bills to increase by 46-96%.” We keep the thermostat low already, so we’re looking for ways to stay warm and run the furnace less this winter. We’re not sure what to do differently.

I recently fixed the smoke and CO detector on the lower level, replacing the one that stays plugged in with a new one with a ten-year lithium battery. If I’m still living in 2031, I need to remember to change it out. I should be testing it weekly as well.

Thursday afternoon I checked the garden. Weather forecasts were for a first frost that didn’t actually arrive by Friday morning. I gleaned jalapenos, bell peppers and a head of radicchio. The refrigerator is jammed with jalapenos wanting a dish. It will be some form of jalapeno sauce for use in cooking or maybe as salsa on tacos.

I went outside Saturday morning and frost is in the air. A month into autumn, winter will soon be here. We are ready.

Categories
Home Life

Clearing Work Space

Temporary work surface for sorting stuff.

Since we became a one-car family in August the extra garage space filled the way water seeks its own level. Garden stuff, tools and equipment were scattered in every available space. I spent a couple of hours cleaning up and organizing on Saturday. It was a mess, and now is less so.

When I began having larger garlic harvests I cut two by fours to make temporary sawhorses for a drying rack. “Temporary” because I didn’t nail them together so they could be disassembled and easily stored once the garlic cured. In my large panel storage rack I had the remnant of the four foot by eight foot by three quarter inch plywood left from making the platform for our daughter’s loft bed in college. I spread four two by fours across the span of sawhorses and put the plywood on top, finished side up. It made a sturdy table.

I used this surface to clean up the stairway where many cups, COVID-19 test kits, picture frames, and other detritus of living were camped. I also cleared the other sawhorse table near my writing table of its contents. Now I have two transitional surfaces to go through stuff. Three if I can clear the folding table I brought with me from Germany.

In a home, space tends to get used. While approaching septuagenarian status the goal is to clear that space and dispose of old printers and computers, countless electrical cords, and everything not needed for living out the rest of my days. I don’t need one hundred coffee cups. To live a life less on a life expectancy of 15.4 more years (figured using the Social Security online calculator) and more on being here now. That means stop talking about getting rid of stuff and actually do it. No more delays!

Once space was cleared, my daily task list quickly filled with activities related to the disposition of things. I’m a bit excited about the prospect of owning less. We also have plans for new space created. That is, plans other than filling it with more stuff.

Categories
Environment Sustainability

Climate Reality Global Training

I signed up to be a mentor for the Climate Reality Leadership Corps virtual, global training this month. There are more than 500 mentors this time. It’s a chance to meet new people who are taking climate action. The training is also a form of renewal.

I attended the Chicago training in 2013. Since then I mentored groups in Cedar Rapids, and twice virtually. It is a unique kind of work. It is based upon Vice President Al Gore’s slideshow, An Inconvenient Truth. Gore updates the slides continuously and presents it so attendees get a current and terrifying picture of the state of climate change on Earth. It is a crisis.

Sleep came slowly after viewing the first half of the presentation last night.

I wasn’t terrified by the terrifying information Mr. Gore presented. I witnessed the effects of climate change multiple times since moving to Big Grove. The flood in 1993 delayed progress building our home as we moved from Indiana. We experienced multiple straight line wind events that damaged the house, uprooted trees, blew down large branches, and tore through our neighborhood. In 2008 there was record flooding that filled much of the Iowa and Cedar River basins, backing up water into the Lake Macbride watershed to within 100 yards of our home. It made roads around us impassible, and devastated Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and other nearby places. In 2012 there was record drought which made life outdoors difficult and reduced corn yields significantly. On Aug. 10, 2020 there was a derecho which took down one tree and damaged several others on our property. My greenhouse lifted in the air like Dorothy’s farm house in the Wizard of Oz. Winds up to 140 miles per hour destroyed 70 percent of the tree canopy in Cedar Rapids. I know about climate change from living it.

What kept me up late was a newfound sense of hope. There was cause to re-engage in preventing the worst effects of the climate crisis and in mitigating its damage. I couldn’t sleep while the prospect of making a difference surged through me.

The Climate Reality Project rightly focuses on the change in society that most affects global warming: increased burning of fossil fuels. We must find alternative, renewable sources of energy, stop burning fossil fuels, and keep them the ground. We must find and adopt breakthrough technologies for electricity generation to use them to electrify transportation, buildings and industry. Agriculture must play its part by reducing emissions and sequestering carbon in the soil. Let’s put new technologies to work releasing energy for the economy in a way that will improve our quality of life. We must stop using the sky as if it were an open sewer.

I ask myself, how can I make a difference where I live? Personal change is part of solving the climate crisis. We must reduce our personal reliance on burning fossil fuels. Collective action is needed more and that means finding and organizing like-minded people in our area who are inspired to take climate action.

A solution is not evident today. I’m hopeful over the next eight days, along with my colleagues, we’ll discover and take a path forward. I’m okay with losing a little sleep from excitement about our collective future for now.

Categories
Living in Society

Rain, Rain, Rain

Nine deer grazing at the apple smorgasbord.

It was another day of rain on Wednesday. We need rain yet I’m getting a bit tired of being cooped up.

We ate the last of the acorn squash I grew for dinner. We are down to the yellow and red storage onions, 27 garlic heads, and about ten pounds of potatoes. There is garden gleaning to do and the first frost has not been forecast. We have a glut of apples and deer are not making enough progress eating fallen ones under the tree, even if they all know the smorgasbord is open.

I bought two boxes of packets of USDA organic gummy bears for any trick or treaters this year. I haven’t decided whether or not to turn on the front door light because of the recent outbreak of COVID-19 in the schools. I want to be ready because of supply chain issues much publicized in the media. Only regret is the gummies have gelatin, so are not a vegetarian option for the kiddos, as parents today call their children.

I wonder how my mental capacity is changing with age. I wonder if I will be able to tell it changed… probably not. I’m not ready to kick back and work on my reading pile for the rest of my days. God help me if I connect a new television to the cable. There are more gardens to grow and a house to fix up, all with the limited resources of a pensioner. I’m ready to retire, but not sure what that means in 2021.

Meanwhile it rains, rains, rains.

Categories
Living in Society

Into Autumn

Fallen apples, some partly eaten by deer and other wildlife.

It rained the last two days and Tuesday’s forecast is clear in the high sixties. After my appointment in Cedar Rapids, the plan is to work outdoors. There is the garden to glean, apples to pick, dead branches to trim, and a brush pile to build. As I age, progress on my list of tasks proceeds steadily yet more slowly.

I don’t like where the coronavirus pandemic is going. It’s not ending. In fact, there was an outbreak this month in the K-12 schools. It doesn’t appear Iowa will hit anything close to 70 percent of the population vaccinated. The delay in a vaccine for young people is part of the problem. Rejection of the science of vaccines is the rest. Iowa used to lead the nation in the quality of our education, but no longer. Living in society is being dumbed down.

Rain is typical of mid-October and this year it is welcome. I’ll wait a week or two to mow for the last time. I’ll set the deck low to produce a lot of grass clippings for the garden. After that, I’ll schedule the mower in the shop for what is becoming every other year maintenance. I don’t use my tractor for much besides mowing.

We scheduled the HVAC technician to come out and go over our furnace. It is the same shop that installed the system new, although staff changed since 1993. Once that is done, we are as ready for winter as we’ll be.

A pall hangs over everything. Partly it is the isolation caused by participating in so many things via Zoom, Google Meet, Twitch and social media. Partly people are focused on their families. Our politics is unreasonable, and there seems to be less common cause in everything. Dog eat dog, every every person for themselves is the way things are going. The insularity will not be good for society, yet I have no good alternatives.

I’m thinking about the burn pile I need to build. It’s purpose is to clean up the yard of brush from trees and bushes I planted when we arrived in Big Grove. I could have saved the trouble and not planted them. Yet what kind of place would this be without them. It would be the less and we can’t settle for that.

Based on squirrel activity the last two weeks, our backyard will be a Bur Oak forest in ten years. I hope we live to see it.

Categories
Reviews

Book Review: The Decarbonization Imperative

It’s easy to write a post on social media that says we should reduce greenhouse gas emissions then add a hashtag like #ActOnClimate. What’s harder is knowing what greenhouse gases are at work across the economy and the steps required to reduce them. The upcoming book by Michael Lenox and Rebecca Duff is here to help.

The Decarbonization Imperative: Transforming the Global Economy by 2050 takes “a deep dive into the challenge of climate change and the need to effectively reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.”

When the authors say “deep dive” that means the book doesn’t read like your parent’s latest mystery novel. It is packed with details and examples, along with questions about whether society can make the transition to a decarbonized economy effectively and in time to avert the worst effects of climate change. The authors remain positive about the prospects even if their narrative presents a bleak answer to both questions. The book welcomes a reader already engaged in how to combat climate change. It takes them beyond generalities.

“The challenge before the world is overwhelming, requiring a profound shift in so many large economic sectors over the course of a few decades. But try we must,” wrote Lenox and Duff. They present five sectors of the economy for review: Energy, Transportation, Industrials, Buildings and Agriculture.

Running throughout the book is the theme of electrification as a way of economic decarbonization. Energy, or electricity generation more specifically, is a key consideration. The other four sectors depend to varying extents upon the energy sector, according to the authors.

Lenox and Duff name all the carbon-free operating methods for generating electricity and point to solar as the one with the most promising capability to disrupt current patterns toward decarbonization of the economy. The narrative is familiar: solar technology is effective, it is currently inexpensive, and costs continue to decline. “Utility-scale solar is now competitive with fossil fuels,” wrote the authors.

Nuclear power is mentioned multiple times in the book as a potential solution to decarbonize electricity generation. Readers of this blog know my skepticism about building new nuclear power generating stations. Like many, I point to the failures at Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011). According to the nuclear regulatory commission, “Today, the Three Mile Island-2 reactor is permanently shut down and 99 percent of its fuel has been removed. The reactor coolant system is fully drained and the radioactive water decontaminated and evaporated.” The other two disasters remain ongoing.

Lenox and Duff acknowledge the high cost of current nuclear reactor technology. They also mention Bill Gates’ nuclear project. In his 2021 book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, Gates wrote, “I put several hundred million dollars into starting a company to design a next-generation nuclear plant that would generate clean electricity and very little nuclear waste.” While Lenox and Duff acknowledge new nuclear power is too expensive for economically disruptive potential by 2050, Gates’ investment is of the kind for which they advocate throughout the book. If Gates’ company resolves issues with nuclear power, as is its stated goal, it may be worth another look.

The authors emphasize no sector of the economy is without challenges in getting to decarbonization. The benefit of reading the book is its broad overview of these challenges.

There is a lot to absorb in The Decarbonization Imperative. Unless advocates are willing to do the work to understand this narrative, what’s the point? I recommend the book for its analysis by sector and for the ways each sector is connected with others. Climate advocates often focus on electricity generation and electrification of transportation yet to decarbonize the economy, all sectors must be addressed. Zero emissions will be a tough nut to crack, especially when zero means zero.

The Decarbonization Imperative: Transforming the Global Economy by 2050 by Michael Lenox and Rebecca Duff is scheduled for release from Stanford University Press on Oct. 29, 2021. Click here to go to the book’s page at Stanford University Press.

About the authors

Michael Lenox is the Tayloe Murphy Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He is the coauthor of Can Business Save the Earth? Innovating Our Way to Sustainability (Stanford, 2018) and The Strategist’s Toolkit (Darden, 2013).

Rebecca Duff is Senior Research Associate with the Batten Institute at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. She also serves as the managing director for Darden’s Business Innovation and Climate Change Initiative.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Fall is in the Air

Ash and Maple trees starting to turn, Oct. 7, 2021.

It may be a while before the first hard frost. Peppers, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, and greens continue to grow in the garden. I want one more picking of Red Delicious apples before letting the rest go to wildlife. Fall is in the air and hopefully rain will come with it. It remains exceedingly dry.

Wednesday I mulched the garlic patch so planting this year for next is finished. I won’t start onions and shallots until late December in channel trays under a grow lamp. As I look to 2022, this year has been a great one for our garden.

For now, accept it that fall is coming and with it a an eventual end of the growing season. We live on the edge between abundance and scarcity. Hopefully we’ll have enough food between the pantry and commercial shopping to last until spring. One never knows in a time of climate change.

Categories
Living in Society

Sprawl is Coming Our Way

View of Trail Ridge Estates on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021.

It was two weeks before the local newspaper published an explanation of heavy equipment activity on a 130-acre farm field off Highway 382. On Sept. 15, the Watts Group received unanimous approval of a developer’s agreement and preliminary plat from the Solon City Council. The city annexed the area and approved residential zoning this summer, according to Margaret Stevens, editor of the Solon Economist.

The population of the City of Solon grew from 2,037 in 2010 to 3,018 in the 2020 U.S. Census. The new subdivision proposed 220 parcels and 2.43 people lived in an average American household during the Census. Trail Ridge Estates, as it is called, will add population of roughly 535 people once it is built out. I expect the subdivision to be built out quickly.

The farmer who previously owned the field grew commodity crops, mostly corn and soybeans. That agricultural production won’t be missed. The challenge of building rural subdivisions like Trail Ridge Estates is they presume residents will drive for jobs, provisions, church, school and social activities. They further the culture of automobiles.

There will be a multi-use concrete pad installed for basketball and possibly pickle ball, according to the plans. There will be a fenced dog park. The subdivision has access to the state park trail from which I took the photo. Children could conceivably walk to school along the trail, but I predict busing and individual vehicles will provide most of that transportation.

I believe people will spend more time indoors and build generously-sized homes to accommodate indoor activities. Two and three car garages will be popular. The parcels could average about a half acre, which is plenty of room for a vegetable garden. Whatever sociologists call the current pattern of “nesting,” there would be lots of that going on.

The point of describing this subdivision is to say old-style urban sprawl is ongoing. While larger cities slowly work toward sustainable buildings, in rural cities, old-style, inefficient housing continues to be built. There is clearly a market for it. The amenities of a well-maintained K-12 school infrastructure, three churches, a large sports and recreation complex, and proximity to Big Ten sports, an airport, and diverse shopping make it attractive to certain types of young conservative couples. With relatively low gasoline prices ($3.09 per gallon today), commuting for work to Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, the Quad-Cities, and even to Des Moines is affordable if one can tolerate the windshield time.

The area is turning from Democratic to Republican as it grows. That’s true of Iowa’s Democratic enclaves more generally. There is a culture of civic engagement in which people do not discuss party politics, even if it is constantly in the news that comes in from Cedar Rapids, cable television, radio, and beyond. Plenty of Democrats, Republicans, and No-Party voters work side-by-side in organizations that support a variety of social engagement activities. Politics is considered something to discuss only with family and like-minded others. We’ve become insular in our politics and that reinforces a culture that gives rise to urban sprawl like Trail Ridge Estates.

Among the causes to which I dedicate my time, urban sprawl is low on my list of priorities. If farm field owners insist on growing commodity crops and livestock, then one farm more or less doesn’t matter. The better question is whether lives lived in insulated islands like this are worth living. One assumes people who pay a quarter million dollars and more for a home on half an acre would say they are. I guess that’s the reality we have to accept before social change is made.

Like many, I don’t like the build-out of the area to which we moved in 1993. It wasn’t inevitable although the growth is welcomed by the city. The three convenience stores in town do a booming business. The local grocery store has made it thus far, despite big box store competition nearby. We have a vibrant restaurant scene and there are loads of school-related activities. The Catholic and Methodist churches have little risk of consolidation. The annual town festival turns out hundreds of people to watch the parade and hay bale toss.

With the cultural life of Iowa deteriorating under Republican leadership, I know few who would seek out this new subdivision. Maybe I’m just out of touch with that segment of society. As I adjust to post-pandemic life, assuming the pandemic will eventually end, I’ll have to work harder to stay engaged with diverse people. In the meanwhile, observing new construction is an activity as old as human civilization and I’m there for it.

Observing updates in the new subdivision gives me a reason to take my daily exercise walking to town. It’s a longer walk, although sometimes I need that.

Categories
Environment

Autumn is Here

Reflection under a foot bridge on the state park trail.

This Friday a lot is going on in real life so I’ll leave this photo taken yesterday.

Once the sun comes up, it’s gleaning the garden, mowing, and a big apple harvest. Kitchen work never ends this time of year. I cleaned four half-gallon jars for apple cider vinegar making and am ready to go.

We take moments of peaceful reflection where we find them.

Categories
Sustainability

Local Food — Summer 2021

Neighborhood tomato give-away, Aug. 21, 2021.

The food system is in transition and I believe the local food movement will come along with it.

The way Americans produce and consume food, with centralized growing operations at a distance from markets, is being forced to change because of a new and different climate. I believe changes will be positive over time, although they will take adaptation which will not be pleasant. The local food movement will focus on three types of operations: specialty growers, more complex farm operations centered around key individuals or a small group, and more kitchen gardens like mine. To some extent that structure already exists.

The ongoing, long-term drought made worse by climate change is taking a toll. The water shortage is acute in the Western U.S. because there has not been enough snow melt or rain. It should be called aridification rather than drought, because the changes are likely permanent. With the continuing water crisis, reservoirs and lakes across the west are at record low levels. A reckoning is coming and it means, among other things, higher prices and disrupted food supplies.

It’s not much better in Florida, Texas and Mexico. We long recognized growing lettuce and other produce in California and Arizona, and shipping it to the Midwest and East Coast, made little sense and was expensive in multiple ways. Have you ever tasted a Florida tomato? There are better alternatives. Because vegetables are grown with shipping in mind, taste has taken a back seat.

Producing food more locally is a natural reaction to disruption in food supply. In the settler days, before we had all these fancy supply chains, it was called “making do.” More people will grow some of their own food in backyard gardens, on decks and patios, or in community gardens. Not only does the food taste better, we can control the inputs to eliminate worry about pesticides and fertilizers. In the pandemic people lost some control of external events and one way they regained it was to become more self sufficient. So many people are preserving food that it has become difficult to obtain canning jar lids.

Labor is a basic problem the local food movement cannot solve. By growing food ourselves, the labor element is removed as we each invest labor to support our garden. Labor is an assumed investment and we scale personal labor in food production to fit our ambitions and the size of our garden or farm. Produce grown like this will meet some of our nutritional needs.

53 percent of Iowa corn goes to producing ethanol. If the country moves to electric vehicles, ready or not, adaptation is coming. The simple truth is either farmers find new markets for all that corn or adapt to other crops. Expect agricultural interests to oppose elimination of ethanol. Folks have proposed some of those crop acres be devoted to different kinds of produce, the kind people eat at the dinner table. However, it’s now or never to effect mitigation of climate change. There will be no choice but to adapt and land use is only one aspect of adaptation.

Climate change is real, it is having an impact on our lives, and unless we do something to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — on a large scale — it is going to get worse. Local food production can be part of the solution.