Categories
Environment

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.
Categories
Environment

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.

Categories
Environment

Solar Arrays and Politicians

Sunset in Colorado Springs on July 11, 2011

Earth Day is coming and politicians have been reviewing Iowa’s solar electricity generation capacity. State Rep. Ras Smith posted about his trip to a solar array in Decorah. Iowa Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg, Senator Joni Ernst, and Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks attended the dedication of a solar array in Wapello last week. The support for solar was bipartisan.

It’s no surprise. Solar arrays require no fuel except free sunlight. It is becoming the lowest cost option to generate electricity. Solar importantly avoids most liabilities of burning fossil fuels like coal and natural gas.

The message I hope these politicians take away from such appearances is government action is required to reduce carbon emissions in Iowa and elsewhere. Replacing coal and natural gas generating capacity with solar arrays is a way to do that.

We can install solar arrays on our homes, contributing to reduction of air pollution. Government regulation of our air and water quality is more important than individual action when it comes to reducing use of fossil fuels.

Focus on individual actions diverts our attention from what’s most important: what only government can address. Let’s remind our politicians we need government action this Earth Day.

~ Published in Little Village on April 13, 2021

Categories
Environment

Earth Day 2021

Woman Writing Letter

Earth Day is upon us. We should do something to note the occasion. Things like plant a tree or garden, or get together with neighbors to volunteer in our community come immediately to mind. I want to do those and more.

An individual can do a lot to improve the environment. We are past the point of relying solely on individual actions to address environmental problems.

The non-profit Conservation Coalition recently posted video of Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks. She said, “We don’t talk about very simple things that we can do that will allow us to both clean our environment, have a better environment, let people enjoy nature, but then also will be very productive and low cost going into the future.”

Individuals can do more. However, reducing acid rain, to which she referred in the video, was accomplished neither by an individual, nor was it low cost. Acid rain was addressed by George H.W. Bush signing the 1990 Clean Air Act.

We need more environmental accountability driven by the Congress, specifically by Chuck Grassley, Joni Ernst and Miller-Meeks. Focus on individual actions diverts our attention from what’s most important: the issues only government can address. We need focus on government action this Earth Day.

~ Published by the Cedar Rapids Gazette on April 13, 2021

Categories
Environment

Environment

1970 Earth Day Button

Where does society stand as Earth Day approaches? On shaky ground.

The Iowa legislature was unable to pass a revised bottle bill this year. Grocers and other retailers have wanted out of the responsibility to accept recycled cans and bottles since the beginning in 1978. If the legislature passes anything, it would be to relieve them of this duty once and for all. That’s how we roll in Iowa under Republican rule.

The problem with any of the states that has a bottle bill is not the amount of deposit, recycler handling fees, or the decision which containers are covered. It is that even with the best programs too much plastic, glass and metal finds its way into the waste stream. For Pete’s sake, it’s raining microplastics and the ocean is inundated with the stuff. Bottle bills create a diversion from the problem of regulating manufacturers, they assert that consumers are responsible for this form of pollution. Blaming consumers is an old sawhorse originating in the industry-backed Crying Indian campaign of 1971. If you are of a certain age, you’ll recognize this commercial.

Iowa is a state that does not care about the quality of our water except to comply with public drinking water standards. We have more livestock than people here and between manure runoff, field drainage tile, and surface runoff, our list of impaired waters is very high. Just this month, Iowa Department of Natural Resources approved a cattle feedlot in the watershed of a pristine trout stream.

“IDNR’s refusal to disapprove the plan submitted by Supreme Beef shows the sad state of affairs in Iowa when it comes to animal feeding operations. State laws and the DNR both prioritize new concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) over protecting our streams, rivers, and lakes,” Iowa Environmental Council attorney Michael Schmidt said in a statement.

Perry Beeman, Iowa Capitol Dispatch, April 5, 2021.

There are two main components to environmental protection. Personal actions and government regulation of polluters. The largest corporations would like to see a focus on individual action because they seek to divert our attention from their corporate behaviors and what it would cost for them to improve. Elected officials? They mostly would like to avoid controversy with the electorate that put them in office. I eat a vegetarian diet, so I avoid most hog, cattle and chicken products. It’s not doing the job of environmental protection from livestock pollution.

Earth Day has become a celebration of Spring where individuals do things: clean up litter, plant a garden, or go on a bicycle ride. While personal action to improve the environment remains important, what matters more is corporate accountability, something a small group of industrialists is working hard to get us to avoid. Like the Crying Indian advertisement, they seek to distract us.

On Earth Day 2021, we must focus on holding corporate polluters accountable. That means working with elected officials to get something done to protect the environment. We’ll have to be persistent, though. In Iowa our federal elected officials don’t want to hear about holding their financial backers accountable. Even with our Republican office holders, one hopes repetition can lead to belief. Not contacting them about the environment is exactly what corporate interests want us to do.

Categories
Sustainability

In the Mississippi Basin

Snow melting March 2, 2021.

Snow melt began running in the ditch yesterday as late winter progresses in Big Grove. I doubt we will get more snow. It’s been pretty dry for the last nine days. The dry, cold weather combined with a substantial snow melt is a cause for concern.

What fraction of the snow melt leaves our property is bound for the state park lake a little more than a hundred yards away, then to the Iowa River which is a tributary to the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi River’s drainage basin is the third largest in the world, exceeded in area only by the Amazon’s and the Congo’s. It stretches over 1.2 million square miles and encompasses 31 states and slices of two Canadian provinces.

Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert.

In 1966 I kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings as an eighth grade project. Late winter, beginning in February that year, an ice jam hit the Quad-Cities area, resulting in flooding.

Unprecedented in size and steadily growing larger, a seven-mile-long “glacier” of ice is, like a giant cork, plugging the main channel of the Mississippi River from Credit Island to Buffalo.

Quad-City Times, Feb. 20, 1966.

My comparison of the ice jam was with the 1965 Mississippi River flood, one of the worst in Iowa history.

The great flood of 1965 on the Mississippi River, along the eastern border of the State, exceeded any flood known in 139 years. It caused damages probably in excess of ten millions of dollars in the State of Iowa. … The underlying cause of the flood was an abnormally cold winter which prevented the melting of an excessive snow cover in the upper reaches of the basin. Heavy rains late in March followed by rapid melting triggered the runoff which caused the floods.

The 1965 Mississippi River Flood in Iowa by Harlan H. Schwob and Richard E. Myers, United States Geological Survey, October 1965,

We are in that scenario — a cold winter which prevented snow melt the first two months of the year — at least until now. If the weather remains dry, the Mississippi may not flood downstream. If we get rain, there could be record flooding. Here’s hoping rain holds off until the snow melts. I say this despite the drought parts of Iowa have experienced this winter.

The 1965 and 1966 flooding formed my outlook about floods and how they happen. It is important to note the City of Davenport chose to do nothing to prevent the levee from flooding after these floods. City officials said it was to preserve the look of the levee, which later became the home of a jazz festival celebrating native son Bix Beiderbecke. Annual flooding and the damage it caused was acceptable in favor of aesthetics. At the time of the decision, the Quad-Cities was under economic pressure because businesses were curtailing manufacturing there. The economic boost of Bix made a difference, they said.

I visited the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers near Saint Louis with an eighth grade classmate some years ago. It’s a lot of water, as far as one can see. The idea there is an engineering solution to tame the Mississippi basin seemed preposterous when standing at water level and seeing the vast mixing of the two differently colored rivers. I doubt it can be done, especially with the unpredictable nature of climate change and how it is changing the hydrology of the Mississippi basin. The massive engineering projects to control the river in the Mississippi delta have made it a kind of hybrid human-nature phenomenon as Kolbert describes in her book.

A lot has happened (since 1989) to complicate the meaning of “control,” not to mention “nature.” The Louisiana delta is now referred to by hydrologists as a “coupled human and natural system,” or for short, CHANS. It’s an ugly term — another nomenclature hairball — but there’s no simple way to talk about the tangle we’ve created.

Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert

The river will eventual prevail in the Mississippi delta, despite humans’ best efforts, it’s easy to predict.

Each spring I think of our connection to the river and our place in the Mississippi basin. Ours may be a small role, yet it serves as another way we are connected to the rest of the world. As I contemplate working outdoors today, it is difficult to forget how powerless humans are against what’s left of the natural world.

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

New START Treaty Extended

B-61 Nuclear Bombs

We received news on Tuesday afternoon the New START Treaty was extended.

“A week ago, the United States and Russia ‘exchanged diplomatic papers’ in order to extend the New START treaty for 5 years,” wrote Physicians for Social Responsibility in a Feb. 2 email.  “Biden and Putin got this done in time — before New START was set to expire this Friday, Feb 5.”

Recent Republican administrations have not favored arms control treaties. In fact, the George W. Bush and Donald Trump administrations exited existing agreements. U.S. Admiral Charles Richard recently wrote in the U.S. Naval Institute journal Proceedings, the potential for nuclear war remains present.

“There is a real possibility that a regional crisis with Russia or China could escalate quickly to a conflict involving nuclear weapons, if they perceived a conventional loss would threaten the regime or state,” the four-star admiral wrote.

There’s nothing new in the Richard’s statement. While our relations with Russia and China require scrutiny, not only with regard to nuclear weapons, but with every facet of their complexity, a few things remain clear about the course the United States should be taking to prevent the detonation of nuclear weapons which may escalate into a full on war. In their new book, The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power From Truman to Trump, William J. Parry and Tom Z. Collina outline a framework that includes these items:

The president should not have sole authority to launch a nuclear weapons attack. The U.S. Constitution gives Congress sole authority to declare war. They should be engaged with any decision to launch nuclear weapons against another state or non-state actor. There is no need for the “nuclear football” that has been shadowing the president since the Kennedy administration.

We should never rush into nuclear war. Experience has shown us time is required to gather all the information needed to verify an attack is in progress. There is simply no need for the president to decide to retaliate based on sketchy or incomplete information in a matter of a few minutes. Launch on warning should be prohibited.

First use of nuclear weapons should be prohibited. Given U.S. conventional force superiority, there is little reason to use nuclear weapons.

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles with nuclear warheads, positioned in silos to launch on warning are obsolete. If the U.S. were attacked with a large-scale nuclear missile launch, ICBMs in silos would be the among the first targets. They are part of the so-called nuclear triad which includes submarines and bombers ready to launch a nuclear attack or counter attack. If there were a nuclear attack on the U.S., submarines and bombers would comprise our primary retaliatory response. ICBMs are obsolete sitting ducks.

Strategic missile defense systems don’t work, despite billions of dollars spent developing them. Russia sees U.S. missile defense systems as a threat to their ability to retaliate in the event of a U.S. nuclear attack. U.S. missile defense systems, by their existence, block advancement of arms control negotiations between the world’s two owners of 90 percent of nuclear armaments.

The bigger picture is nuclear states should take seriously Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and work toward elimination of nuclear weapons. For those nuclear states which haven’t joined the treaty, they should. Countries should reduce and eliminate spending on weapons of mass destruction.

While I don’t agree with the Biden administration’s military spending priorities, I’m glad to receive the news they extended New START for five more years. Now build upon it.

Categories
Environment

Warm January

Open water on the driveway, Jan. 31, 2021.

This winter is shaping up to be a scary one. There has not been a substantial cold snap where the ambient temperature remains below zero for a week or more. We need that to suppress the insects living in the ground that feed on our plant life in the garden and yard when it gets warmer. Cold weather is also the best time to prune fruit trees.

It’s no surprise it’s getting warmer.

Atmospheric CO2 concentration hit 413.95 ppm at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii in December 2020. In my birth year of 1951 the global average was 311.80. There is a direct correlation between atmospheric CO2 and planetary warming. Our best hope is it’s not too late to mitigate rising CO2 levels.

According to NASA, 2020 tied 2016 as the warmest year on record in global average surface temperature. According to this chart, the rise in global surface temperature is in an accelerating upward trend since the baseline period of 1951-1980.

In the general election of 2020, Americans took a necessary step toward climate action by electing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the president and vice president willing to examine and understand the science of climate change and take action. Because Biden served as Barack Obama’s vice president, he knows what to do. It would have been better to elect a stronger majority in the legislative branch of the federal government, yet we didn’t. The majority we have will serve as we can’t wait two years to increase the majority of science believers in the midterms.

The United States rejoined the Paris Agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Like the election, it’s a beginning step. The Paris Agreement is flawed, yet it is difficult to see how the world makes progress toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions without the kind of cooperation it envisioned. Our country simply must be part of the discussion.

As a single citizen, or a small family, it is difficult to see how to help. We can and should reduce our personal carbon footprint, especially by doing things that don’t require a lot of capital: use less hot water, set the furnace thermostat lower, run the air conditioner at a higher temperature, use less gasoline and natural gas, eschew air travel and long automobile trips. The coronavirus pandemic kept many of us at home and that had a direct impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Eventually we will learn to live with the coronavirus and when we do, the need to control emissions will remain.

These are scary times. One view is there is nothing to be done about all this. The apocalypse is coming and the best we can do is mitigate its impact on us as individuals. It’s a vision of doomsday preppers, isolated and remote enclaves of the wealthy, and an attitude of preserving self as the catastrophe hits. I reject this view. We are stronger together and together we should remain in mitigating the impact of climate change.

It also seems important to focus on the big picture. Political leadership is required to make progress. For some of us, such leaders won’t be as bold as we want or feel is needed. We can’t relent on our politics.

Iowa has had its recent climate-related difficulties, floods in 1993 and 2008, tornadoes, straight line wind, a derecho, and drought. At the same time row crop yields were decreased due to climate change, as in the 2012 drought, a new, diverse agriculture remains possible because of our growing conditions. Gardeners like me contribute to resolving climate change by growing more of our own food. The process would be scalable if the importance of growing more local food were more generally accepted. We do what we can with local resources and conditions. We could do more.

Scary as it is, we can’t get depressed. It is human nature to be hopeful and hope is one of our most powerful attributes. It is important to be realistic about where we stand on mitigating the effects of greenhouse gases. For the next years, the picture isn’t going to be pretty. We can’t give up. We must persist in the effort to make our communal lives better. That’s what I plan to do.

Categories
Sustainability

Prairie Burn

Prairie reconstruction after prescribed burn.

Back on my bicycle Monday with a 10-mile ride. Feeling my legs and lungs working as I climbed hills in low gear was affirming.

Today I’m going to take time to breathe.