Living in Society

Leaning into August

Final squash harvest July 30, 2021.

After covering at Blog for Iowa in July I’m ready to turn attention back to this space. July was a tough month in a pandemic that won’t go away. Whatever illusions of safety, comfort and autonomy we may have had are torn away by the ugliness modern society manifests these days. We need to get back to a kinder way of living, yet politics, the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, interpersonal rudeness, and economic uncertainty weigh heavily on us.

The extended drought is taking a toll. We need rain, not so much for the crops, but to lift our spirits. To let us know we’ll get through this spell. Yesterday was my first outdoors work shift since high temperatures arrived. It feels normal to work outside for several hours without also feeling like I’ll pass out. There was an air quality advisory because of smoke drift from the Western wildfires, yet temperatures in the 70s were welcome. I made a day of yard and garden work without obvious ill effect.

There are some bright spots. July began with helping our daughter relocate to the Chicago area. In August we plan a visit, something that was difficult when she lived in Florida. We can plan and work on things together again. I hope to bring tomatoes when we visit.

The garden has been the best, producing more food than ever before. My ongoing integration of the garden into the kitchen makes it a useful harvest, both feeding established meal plans and enabling culinary experimentation like this yellow tomato sauce pizza I made for dinner last night.

Yellow tomato pizza sauce reading for toppings.

We are also financially secure due largely to long-range planning and contributions to Social Security during more than 50 years in the workforce. Social Security has enough money to make it through 2034 at the present. I expect to lobby the Congress to fix it in the coming years.

Here’s to August! The time of high summer, sweet corn, tomatoes and vacations. I don’t know about readers, but I’m ready for it.


76th Anniversary of the Atomic Bombings

B-61 Nuclear Bombs

World War II veterans were still living when our family moved back to Iowa in 1993. In each conversation with one of them, I asked about the Aug. 6, 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan and the Nagasaki bombing three days later. To a person, they felt the bombings were warranted, agreeing with President Harry Truman’s decision to drop them. As they aged and died a couple changed their minds.

We have come to accept what President Ronald Reagan and Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev said in Geneva, Switzerland 36 years ago, “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Since then, the U.S. rushed to undo arms control measures. Under President George W. Bush we withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Under President Trump, we withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran Deal), the New START Treaty, and the Open Skies Treaty. Hard work of arms control, and compliance with Article VI of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, seemed to have been abandoned.

On the 76th anniversary of the atomic bombings we are heartened by the June 16 meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The leaders released a joint statement, “Today, we reaffirm the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” They pledged to launch a bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue to lay the groundwork for future arms control. We can only hope this time it sticks.

~ First published in the Solon Economist on July 29, 2021.

Environment Sustainability

The False Hope of Biomass

Regeneration of a Montana forest after a fire.

“Earlier this year, the European Union was celebrated in headlines across the world when renewable energy surpassed the use of fossil fuels on the continent for the first time in history,” wrote Majlie de Puy Kamp for CNN.

The European Union pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and approved burning biomass as an alternative to coal, categorizing it as a renewable fuel. They found wood pellets were a suitable, renewable fuel to produce electricity and searched the globe for enough of them.

“The American South emerged as Europe’s primary source of biomass imports,” de Puy Kamp wrote.

Enter companies like Enviva, the world’s largest producer of wood pellets, with four wood pellet manufacturing plants in North Carolina.

The world’s leading authority on climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, explicitly recognizes bioenergy as a renewable energy source that is critical to our low-carbon future. The IPCC also concludes that sustainable forest management is critical to prevent forest conversion to non-forest uses.

We need bioenergy both to replace fossil fuels and to keep forests as forests.

Enviva website.

Not so fast!

The IPCC states in its guidelines “do not automatically consider or assume biomass used for energy as ‘carbon neutral,’ even in cases where the biomass is thought to be produced sustainably.”

As I wrote in 2015, while the carbon cycle of renewable fuels can eliminate putting fossilized carbon into the atmosphere, and reduces emissions of particulate matter, the amount of CO2 released when burning biomass is about the same as with burning coal. What makes burning wood pellets and other biomass “sustainable” is we would leave more fossilized carbon in the ground.

Burning stuff to release energy that is made into electricity remains problematic in terms of emissions. While windmills, solar panels and hydroelectric generators are not without issues, these forms of electricity generation better serve our future energy needs as we work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

As we contemplate the EU’s path to reducing reliance on fossil fuels, there is another issue that gets lost. The quest for wood pellets has greater impact on marginalized communities near forests that are being harvested for fuel. Read de Puy Kamp’s article for more information about these climate justice issues.

“I can’t think of anything that harms nature more than cutting down trees and burning them,” said William Moomaw, professor emeritus of international environmental policy at Tufts University.

While the EU may meet an arbitrary goal of reducing its carbon footprint, by using wood pellets to generate electricity the achievement is more paperwork drill than actual reduction of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Do better Europeans!

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Living in Society

Needed Rain Fell

Fresh from the garden cauliflower.

A gentle rain fell through the night and continues this morning. We need rain to assuage the drought. When it rains, garden-watering is more thorough and much appreciated. A benefit was not having to water the garden by hand last night.

In unexpected ways my trip to Florida was life changing. The driving was uneventful and easy. It was easier for me because our daughter led our convoy and all I had to concern myself about was fuel and keeping the rental truck between the highway lines. We spaced overnight breaks so we weren’t exhausted when we arrived each night. We splurged on food, using delivery services like Door Dash, Grub Hub and Uber Eats. We took care of ourselves. Like a vacation, the time was golden even though we didn’t do anything special besides be together.

I hadn’t visited her in Florida since 2013. I missed visiting at a place she lived for five years, the only residence of hers I hadn’t seen. The seven day trip was the most time we spent together in a long time. What’s changed is now that she’s closer–a mere day trip away–we can make plans that the 1,290-mile distance between us made impossible.

Something else changed.

There is a renewed urgency to get things done, to focus on what’s most important. I want to cross things off my to-do list. During the first part of the coronavirus pandemic I seldom looked at or maintained a to-do list. The trip changed all that.

I don’t know how this will turn out yet I’m hopeful. Hopeful we can spend more time together. Hopeful to find more meaning in quotidian affairs. Hopeful to get things done that are worth doing. I didn’t expect that, but it’s welcome.

It was drizzling rain when I went to the garden. I picked three head of broccoli, a head of cauliflower, four bell peppers, a cucumber, a zucchini and a handful of cherry tomatoes. Every day is like that. Rain is important to a healthy, abundant garden. The future is a slate wiped clean by the trip from Florida. For now, we have enough rain.


The Climate Crisis is Accelerating – Now What?

Ronne Ice Shelf in Antarctica Nov. 4, 2017. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

What can we do when confronted with the climate crisis? The answer is everything. If climate change is developing faster than human solutions, what then?

During the last few months we have been assaulted with news about the climate crisis getting worse. Lake Mead is at its lowest level since the Hoover Dam was built, threatening downstream communities with loss of needed water. People are dropping dead on the street in the Pacific Northwest which is experiencing record high temperatures. President Biden called a White House meeting with Republican and Democratic Western Governors about the continued heat wave and wild fires it caused. Above the Arctic Circle in Siberia, ground temperatures approach 120 degrees, melting the permafrost. 2020 was the hottest year in recorded history for Antarctica, causing a record 1,600 square mile iceberg to calve off the Ronne ice shelf into the Weddell Sea. Drought continues in Iowa, the worst in 20 years. This is what I mean by being assaulted.

Professor Julia K. Steinberger offers a toolkit for would-be climate activists in info graphic format here. It is pretty cool and accessible. It offers things a person can do to address the climate crisis. It is something, not everything. It is not enough.

The next step in taking effective action to address global climate change is to understand where we are. According to Bill McKibben in the New Yorker, we’re not in a good place.

“The earth won’t simply keel over and die like a human being might, but it is now changing in substantial ways in real time,” McKibben wrote. “If you’re used to thinking that the earth changes in the course of geological epochs, and that fundamental shifts require thousands or millions of years, think again.”

“The speed with which this happens is remarkable,” he said. “And it is dramatically outpacing the speed at which humans—our governments, our economies, our habits, our mind-sets—seem able to adapt.”

In a piece in the New York Times, Farhad Manjoo opined, “Democrats have a year to save the planet.”

We’d better get going.

While we need to do everything possible to avert the worst effects of the climate crisis, the longest, most complicated journey begins with a single step. Click on the links in this post. Read the articles. Discuss them with friends. Figure out how you can contribute to solutions to the climate crisis.

“Become active as a citizen of our democracy, regardless of party,” recommended Al Gore on CNN.

This is about the future of humanity. We all have a stake.

~ First published on Blog for Iowa

Living in Society Sustainability

A World Without Nuclear Weapons

B-61 Nuclear Bombs

While it got scant notice in the U.S. press, the joint statement after the Geneva, Switzerland meeting between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin was significant:

We, President of the United States of America Joseph R. Biden and President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, note the United States and Russia have demonstrated that, even in periods of tension, they are able to make progress on our shared goals of ensuring predictability in the strategic sphere, reducing the risk of armed conflicts and the threat of nuclear war.

The recent extension of the New START Treaty exemplifies our commitment to nuclear arms control. Today, we reaffirm the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.

Consistent with these goals, the United States and Russia will embark together on an integrated bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue in the near future that will be deliberate and robust. Through this Dialogue, we seek to lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures.

The White House, June 16, 2021.

The joint statement echoed what President Ronald Reagan and Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev said 36 years earlier in Geneva, “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

“The complete abolition of nuclear weapons is the only way to be safe from their threat,” president of Physicians for Social Responsibility of Los Angeles Robert Dodge, M.D. wrote in Common Dreams.

The United States and Russia possess far more nuclear weapons than the rest of the nuclear states combined, enough to destroy life as we know it on Earth many times over. The two states working toward strategic stability is essential to compliance with Article VI of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. During the previous U.S. administration, future compliance with the NPT came into doubt. President Biden is getting the U.S. back on the right track.

That’s not to say it will be easy. As Dodge points out, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons went into force January 22 this year. Currently it has been signed by 86 nations and been ratified by 54. Neither Russia nor the U.S. have joined the treaty and the prospects of them doing so near term are dim.

All nine nuclear states must take a step back from the brink of nuclear annihilation. The Geneva statement on strategic stability suggests it is possible to do so.

To learn more about the U.S. grassroots organizing effort to produce the safer, healthier and more just world that is possible without nuclear weapons, visit the Back from the Brink website.

~ First Published on Blog for Iowa


Safe Food for a Healthy Tomorrow

Belgian Lettuce Harvest

The United Nations General Assembly declared June 7 World Food Safety Day. There is not much recognition of the event in the United States where there are programs to ensure safe food in the national production and distribution system.

Food safety is a shared responsibility between governments, producers and consumers. Everyone has a role to play from farm to table to ensure the food we consume is safe and healthy. Through the World Food Safety Day, WHO works to mainstream food safety in the public agenda and reduce the burden of foodborne diseases globally. Food safety is everyone’s business.

World Health Organization website.

In the United States, food safety is less of a problem until we get to large-scale agricultural operations. Even then, when there is an issue, such as the e.coli outbreak in lettuce from Arizona and California farms in 2018, news media and government are quick to take action to prevent spread of foodborne disease. Potentially bad lettuce was pulled from store shelves within hours of recognition of the outbreak.

I have little worry about the safety of food harvested from our garden or sourced locally. I learned enough about food safety to make sure meals cooked at home are safe. We have control of everything from garden to plate, making the risk of infection exceedingly small.

As vegetarians we have few worries about chicken, turkey, beef and pork. The world would be a better place if consumption of those proteins were reduced. As far as seafood is concerned, with imminent depletion of fisheries I don’t understand why anyone would eat any type of seafood. It would be good to give ocean life a rest so it can restore itself, if that’s still possible. The dairy industry is highly regulated in the United States. I use some dairy in our household and have had no issue with contamination or spoilage. I understand a large percentage of the population relies on fishing for subsistence, livestock as a main protein, and dairy products.

In an affluent country government has standards to ensure a safe food supply chain. Consumers are informed about the risks of foodborne disease. This may be why World Food Safety Day gets little attention here. Food safety should be the background hum in modern society, something we take for granted. For the most part, in the United States it is. That’s part of our American privilege.

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.


Climate Change Response

Bridge over calm, polluted water, April 6, 2021.

In March I wrote Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks about the climate crisis as follows:

I hope you will support the efforts of the Biden administration to act to mitigate the effects of our changing climate. Naturally I’m curious about your views on how you might address the effects of climate change while in the U.S. Congress. The approach of the Biden administration regarding mitigation of climate change is such there should be many areas in which to work with them without supporting an overarching environmental bill. I look forward to hearing your policy stances and how you can help address climate change while you are in the Congress. Thank you for your public service.

Here is her unedited response. It is not what I expected.

Received April 19, 2021 via email.

Introducing Myself, Again

Leftover seedlings

This is the text of an email sent this morning to the small group of Climate Reality Leadership Corps participants I am mentoring this spring. Every time I introduce myself, it seems like I am re-inventing who I am. Eventually all the stories will add up.

Welcome to the spring 2021 Climate Reality Leadership Corps training. I am Paul Deaton and will be your mentor. We’re looking forward to your participation!

Before I get too far, if you received this email and no longer plan to participate in the training just hit reply and let me know. As of last night’s mentor training, more than 4,700 people had RSVP’d for the training. There are 300 mentors.

I will be your mentor for both the training and as you begin to perform acts of leadership after the training. I use the pronouns he/him. I was born in Iowa and now live in a rural, Eastern part of the state.

I participated in the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 and have been working on environmental issues, in addition to a career, ever since. I completed a career in transportation and logistics in 2009 and fully retired during the coronavirus pandemic. I attended the 2013 Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Chicago and was a mentor at the 2015 Cedar Rapids, Iowa training. For me, Climate Reality has been a portal to diverse climate action all over the planet. I learned a lot and am here to help you do the same.

In retirement I spend more time writing. I started a blog in 2007 and am currently working on a book-length project. I am an avid gardener and last night I had to put a space heater in my small, portable greenhouse because of a frost warning. I start most of my own seedlings and spend a lot of time in my kitchen garden.

During my career I spent time in Texas, which is where everyone in our small group lives. One consulting project was near Sweetwater where I stayed on a 5,000 acre cotton farm during the rattlesnake roundup. (All the motel space was booked). I learned Texas is a large, diverse state. I look forward to getting to know you and other group members.

I plan to follow the lead of the Climate Reality staff as a mentor. I’m here to help as much or as little as you want. The Climate Reality staff continues to release information about the training and will up until the first day. As they do, I’m reading it and asking questions to prepare for our experience. One of the main things I will do is host the small group sessions via Zoom after each of four streamed general sessions. I want to assure you everyone’s voice is welcome to be heard during our small group meeting.

If you have questions, email is the best way to reach me. As the training takes shape, I may send an additional group email with any update. Staff will be emailing a lot, so I will keep mine to a minimum.

I hope you are as excited as I am for the training. Let me know how I can help.