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
Living in Society

Turn Around

Turn around point on a two mile run.

Some days I don’t leave the Lake Macbride watershed while exercising. What we do here flows to the Iowa River and then downstream to the Gulf of Mexico.

Our personal goal is to contribute as few pollutants as possible to the watershed. We’re not the only ones who live, play and work here though.

The lake is polluted with nutrients from runoff. Evidence of surface algae and beach closings because of e. coli. contamination are standard. It didn’t used to be this way. Locals continue to use the lake for fishing, boating and other recreational activities. I stay out of the water and use the extensive trail system for bicycling, jogging, walking and soaking up Vitamin D.

Over the weekend I worked with the county Democratic party in a campaign sign distribution activity. Our home was one of five sign pick up locations throughout the county. Activity was slow. Most people continue to deal with the aftermath of the Aug. 10 derecho and with this week’s resumption of K-12 school. People are aware of the Nov. 3 election, and mostly know for whom they will vote for president, but not engaged in politics at any significant level.

I have a back up bicycle I will dig out and get ready to ride while I figure out what to do with the blown tire of my main one. The goal of exercise is to find four activities that produce a good sweat after 25-30 minutes and can be done easily from home. Bicycling and jogging I’ve written about. There is also a ski machine which serves for indoor and winter exercise. Need to come up with one more type with the ultimate goal of rotating exercise daily. I’m monitoring the condition of my feet, knees, hips and lungs as I venture into jogging for the first time since 2014. As I age I’m monitoring a lot more than that.

Next week I return to the clinic to review the newest panel of blood tests. Since my last one I’ve been exercising more, gave up beer and alcoholic drinks, and started a prescription to address elevated LDL cholesterol. I feel I’ve been doing the work. We’ll see if the results show it.

Life could be worse than living in the Macbride watershed. Whatever concerns we have about living here at least we don’t live in the COVID-infected metropolis. While I provided easy access to yard signs I wore my mask. I’ll be using my masks for a while.

Categories
Sustainability

August Heat

Garden tomato time.

This week includes days where the heat index is forecast to be over 100 degrees. Combine that with an extended lack of rain and we’re entering a drought.

After experiencing the drought of 2012 it’s easier to gauge things. This drought hasn’t reached an epic level yet.

I water the garden sparingly seeking to increase the yield of tomatoes, hot peppers and kale. The plot damaged by the derecho still has the trunk of a locust tree laying across it. During a cooler spell I’ll remove the dead wood but for now the project is on hold.

The coronavirus pandemic is far from over. University students returned to the county seat over the weekend. By Monday afternoon a noted local epidemiologist declared, “We have a COVID-19 outbreak in Iowa City.” I’m glad I paid my property taxes last week so I have no reason to return to the county seat until the outbreak has resolved. If the outbreak continues until spring I’ll pay my taxes electronically. Yesterday’s official count of U.S. deaths from the pandemic was 176,809 humans.

As if these things are not enough, yesterday chief actuary of the Social Security Administration Stephen Goss wrote a letter to Senate Democrats in which he said if payroll taxes were eliminated Jan. 1, 2021 as the administration has proposed, “We estimate that Old Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund reserves would become permanently depleted by the middle of calendar year 2023,with no ability to pay benefits thereafter.” We knew Social Security had enough revenue and reserves in the current model to be viable until 2034. The disruption in the economy is impacting everyone including us. If Social Security ends I’d better start looking for a new financial model to sustain our lives.

Last night I viewed 30 minutes of the Republican National Convention. I made a point to find and view South Carolina Senator Tim Scott’s 11-minute speech this morning. Republicans have a narrative, one that’s rooted in a different reality than what I know. Republicans and Democrats don’t agree when it comes to defining our national life. That makes it nearly impossible to address any of the issues that confront us today.

The county studied the Silurian Aquifer a few years back and determined there was plenty of water to meet our long-term needs. As long as there is water we’ll be able to grow a garden and we’ll have enough to eat.

We paid off our home mortgage a while back so the only housing expenses are utilities, upkeep and taxes. We’ll have a place to live and equity against which to borrow.

As far as transportation, clothing, communications equipment, and other necessities go, we’ll be fine. This assumes there will be social stability, although that comes into question as the rich get richer leaving less for the rest of us. Social upheaval is not only possible, it’s more likely the further apart Republican and Democratic views of society become.

That has me more concerned than this August heat.

Categories
Sustainability

The Locust Tree Will Wait

Fallen Locust Tree

After seven straight days of using the chainsaw my forearms are sore. I am taking a couple of days off to rest them before tackling the Locust Tree that fell across the garden.

The sound of chainsaws in the neighborhood is ever present since the derecho hit on Aug. 10. Piles of brush are stacked everywhere as smoke from burn piles snakes into the atmosphere.

If we don’t get some rain soon the state and county will declare a burn ban as we enter drought conditions.

These days of August are normally about tomato processing and garden prep for next year. The derecho wiped out my seedlings for a fall planting. It also changed work schedules moving chainsaw work to the top of the to-do list. Add in the coronavirus pandemic restrictions and it’s a very different summer.

The county auditor received our requests for an absentee ballot according to the Secretary of State website. The ballots are mailed in October so now we wait.

Categories
Sustainability

Masks of the Coronavirus

Doing dishes by flashlight during a power outage.

The pandemic was not blown away by the derecho.

The derecho got me out of our bubble. There were more interactions with people as I made provisioning trips and discussed recovery with neighbors. Now that power is restored it’s time to launder masks of the coronavirus pandemic.

It hackles me that we have a daily U.S. death count from the coronavirus pandemic. That it is higher than any other country, by far, is also upsetting. We got too confident (or too stupid) after successful mitigation of the Ebola virus and did away with the defense infrastructure designed to mitigate a future pandemic. Those actions combined with lack of adequate reaction once the coronavirus was identified led to the pandemic that continues to press closer to our household. Monday’s derecho complicated everything. We should likely be making more masks.

The two of us are fine after the derecho. We know how to survive a short interruption in electricity, internet service, natural gas or water. That knowledge comes from years of living in the rural county where things happen. We have a lot of clean up to do to saw up the fallen tree and process many piles of branches. That work is not urgent. I’ll find a local home for the firewood and consume everything else on our property, burning the brush and returning the minerals to the garden soil.

My calendar reminded me dill pickle fermentation was to be finished today. I took the crock to the kitchen sink and sampled one. They were just right. Next I put them in jars and into the crowded ice box. It’s on to what’s next.

Categories
Environment Sustainability

Midwest Derecho

Sunflower survived the derecho, as did we.

Without an anemometer it was difficult to know wind speed during Monday’s derecho. In Cedar Rapids wind speeds approached 100 miles per hour.

The last major storm of straight-line winds in 2013 caused more damage to our property than the derecho. Both were bad.

I watched the storm come in until it got so virulent we headed to our safe place on the lower level. The kitchen clock stopped at 12:34 p.m., Monday, Aug. 10. Electricity was restored at 10:14 a.m., Friday, Aug. 14, the longest outage since we moved here.

The weather system is called a derecho. Amy McKeever’s Aug. 12 article in National Geographic explains:

Derechos may not be as well known as hurricanes or tornadoes, but these rare storms can be just as powerful and destructive. Primarily seen in late spring and summer in the central and eastern United States, derechos produce walls of strong wind that streak across the landscape, leaving hundreds of miles of damage in their wake. On August 10, 2020, a derecho swept across the Midwest from South Dakota to Ohio, traveling 770 miles in 14 hours and knocking out power for more than a million people.

The term derecho—which means “straight ahead” in Spanish—was coined in 1888 by Gustavus Hinrichs, a physics professor at the University of Iowa who sought to distinguish these straight-moving winds from the swirling gusts of a tornado. Though the term disappeared from use shortly afterward, meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) resurrected it a hundred years later. It entered the public lexicon in 2012, when one of the most destructive derechos in history swept across roughly 700 miles from Ohio to the mid-Atlantic coast, killing 22 people and causing serious damage in metropolitan areas, including Chicago and Washington, D.C.

NOAA officially defines a derecho as “a widespread, long-lived windstorm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms.” For a swath of storms to be classified as a derecho, it must travel at least 240 miles and move at speeds of at least 58 miles an hour, though the winds are often more powerful. The August 2020 Midwest derecho had winds up to 112 miles an hour.

I have more to say about this storm and the damage it did. Suffice it for now the storm hit hard the trees I’ve grown from saplings. The Pin Oak took the brunt of the wind damage, the windward side losing several of its main branches. The Red Delicious apple tree lost a major limb, the Locust tree blew completely over demolishing the most productive part of the summer garden. Half of the pear crop shook loose from the tree dropping unusable green fruit. Among the wreckage on the ground I found a single Earliblaze apple. I hadn’t noticed we had any apples this year. I ate the apple on the spot. It was delicious (apple joke).

We survived the storm with no damage to our house. I watched the portable greenhouse shake loose four 50-pound buckets of sand, lift into the air, and tumble off into a neighbor’s yard, destroyed. Without electricity I couldn’t can the tomato harvest so I donated 25 pounds to the local food rescue operation.

We are now veterans of two major wind events and developed a process to cope with the aftermath.

Because of the long electricity outage, we became owners of a Craftsman generator which we used to keep the freezer and refrigerator running, as well as to charge devices, run computers, operate a floor fan, and heat water. We plan to keep it.

We had the septic tank pumped for additional capacity in case of an extended electrical outage. The septic service showed up just as electricity was restored.

We hired a U.S. military veteran from Alabama to help cut damaged branches from the Pin Oak. The yard is filled with fallen branches waiting for me to cut them up for firewood or for burning. A big portion of the fallen Locust tree remains on the garden. I’m not sure when I’ll get to that.

I didn’t realize it at the time but the clouds in this photo are the front edge of the derecho blowing in. It will be a while before we recover. We will recover.

Derecho Approaches Aug. 10, 2020.

Categories
Sustainability

Cleaning Up After A Derecho

Electricity expected in 3-6 days. Chain saw getting a workout. Had to buy a generator. Will be back soon.

In the meanwhile, this sunflower survived the derecho, like us.

Categories
Sustainability

75 Years After Hiroshima

Chia Fen Preserve, Aug. 3, 2020

President Harry Truman did not need to drop the atomic bomb to end World War II.

The first test explosion of an atomic bomb, called Trinity, was conducted by the U.S. Army July 16, 1945, as part of the Manhattan Project on what is now part of White Sands Missile Range.

The day after Trinity, U.S. Secretary of War Henry Stimson flew to Potsdam, Germany where President Harry Truman was meeting with Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee and Joseph Stalin to determine the fate of Germany which had surrendered unconditionally on May 8.

Truman wrote about this meeting with Stimson in his memoir:

“We were not ready to make use of this weapon against the Japanese, although we did not know as yet what effect the new weapon might have, physically or psychologically, when used against the enemy. For that reason the military advised that we go ahead with the existing military plans for the invasion of the Japanese home islands.”

A committee had been established to evaluate use of the atomic bomb once testing was successful. On June 1, 1945 the committee of government officials and scientists made their recommendation, which Truman recounts:

“It was their recommendation that the bomb be used against the enemy as soon as it could be done. They recommended further that it should be used without specific warning and against a target that would clearly show its devastating strength.”

Ultimately Truman made the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and on Aug. 6 the U.S. Air Force delivered it. On Aug. 9 the Air Force bombed Nagasaki. The Japanese surrendered Aug. 10.

Historian Gar Alperovitz, in his book The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, asked two well-known questions about Truman’s decision.

“To what degree did (the president) understand that a clarification of the officially stated demand for ‘unconditional surrender’ specifying that Japan could keep its Emperor would be likely to end the war?”

“To what degree did (the president) understand that the force of a Russian declaration of war might itself bring about an early end to the fighting?”

The book based on his research is 847 pages.

The idea that dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved tens of thousands of allied forces lives by ending the war early is a myth perpetuated by those who would absolve our country from a decision to kill tens of thousands of Japanese children and as many or more other non-combatants. Historian Howard Zinn asked, “Would we have sacrificed as many U.S. children to end the war early?” Obviously we wouldn’t.

A friend, the late Samuel Becker, was in Guam in August 1945 preparing for the invasion of Japan. I recently asked him about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The reaction in Guam was positive he said. U.S. military personnel were in favor of it because they felt it would bring a quick end to what could have been a prolonged, bloody conclusion to World War II. Before he died, Becker changed his mind. With time and reflection he found the notion that the atomic bombings saved many lives was a myth. The Japanese were already in a position to surrender.

Alperovitz said in a recent webinar that, to a person, contemporary military leaders went on the record to say there was no need to use the atomic bombs to end the war early. The war had already been won.

Truth matters and one truth is the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unnecessary. Their effects would fuel the Cold War and the idea of mutually assured destruction should they be used. This is crazy talk. Nuclear weapons must be eliminated and the only way to do that, to pierce the wall of our federal government, is citizen action demanding it.

On the 75th anniversary of Hiroshima it’s past time we took action.

~ Written for the Cedar Rapids Gazette and published Aug. 9, 2020. Used with permission of the author.

Categories
Living in Society Sustainability

Trinity 75 Years Later

Trinity Marker near Bingham, N.M.

Trinity was the code name for the first nuclear bomb detonation 75 years ago today.

The test explosion was conducted by the U.S. Army at 5:29 a.m. on July 16, 1945, as part of the Manhattan Project. It took place in the Jornada del Muerto desert about 35 miles southeast of Socorro, New Mexico, on what is now part of White Sands Missile Range.

The day after Trinity, U.S. Secretary of War Henry Stimson flew to Potsdam, Germany where President Harry Truman was meeting with Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee and Joseph Stalin to determine the fate of Germany which had surrendered unconditionally on May 8.

Truman wrote about this meeting with Stimson in his memoir:

We were not ready to make use of this weapon against the Japanese, although we did not know as yet what effect the new weapon might have, physically or psychologically, when used against the enemy. For that reason the military advised that we go ahead with the existing military plans for the invasion of the Japanese home islands.

A committee had been established to evaluate use of the atomic bomb once testing was successful. Before Trinity, on June 1, the committee of government officials and scientists made their recommendation, which Truman recounts in his memoir:

It was their recommendation that the bomb be used against the enemy as soon as it could be done. They recommended further that it should be used without specific warning and against a target that would clearly show its devastating strength.

Ultimately Truman made the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and on Aug. 6 the U.S. Air Force delivered it. Truman threatened to drop a second atomic bomb. On Aug. 9 the Air Force bombed Nagasaki. The Japanese surrendered Aug. 10.

A friend and fellow Veteran for Peace, the late Samuel Becker, was in Guam in August 1945 preparing for the invasion of Japan. I recently asked him about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He said the reaction in Guam was positive, they were in favor of it because it brought a quick end to what could have been a prolonged, bloody conclusion to World War II. In the years before he died, Sam didn’t believe it was a good idea. With time and reflection, the notion that the atomic bombings saved many lives turned out to be a myth. The Japanese were already in a position to surrender. At a Zoom call on Monday, author of the book The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb Gar Alperovitz said that to a person contemporary military leaders went on the record to say there was no need to use the atomic bombs on Japan. The war had already been won.

On July 1, 1968, states began to sign the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) which entered into force on March 5, 1970. Every state on the planet has joined the treaty with the exception of India, Israel, Pakistan, and South Sudan. India, Israel and Pakistan have nuclear weapons. The treaty has three interrelated parts: non-proliferation, disarmament, and peaceful use of nuclear energy. Article VI states, “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” 75 years after Trinity we missed the “early date” by a country mile.

Progress is measured in a meeting of the parties every five years. This year’s scheduled NPT review conference was postponed until next year because of the coronavirus pandemic. In the Trump administration nuclear arms control is not even up for discussion, except to eliminate constraints on “American freedom.” The U.S. plans to spend $1 trillion on the nuclear complex in the coming years. That will drive Russia to do likewise. FOX News personality Chris Wallace recently wrote a popular book regurgitating false myths about the history of the atomic bomb. Alperovitz debunked some of Wallace’s claims on Monday.

Also on Monday Sueichi Kido spoke about his experience as a five-year-old during the bombing of Nagasaki. People like him are called hibakusha or survivors of the atomic explosions at Hiroshima or Nagasaki in 1945. Over the years he and other hibakusha told their story many times. The hibakusha are aging and will soon all be gone. Along with them will go living memory of the effects of a nuclear weapon.

Truth matters and one truth is the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unnecessary. Atomic bombs were never needed for defense. Their existence, as demonstrated at Trinity, would fuel the Cold War and the idea of mutually assured destruction should they be used. This is crazy talk. Nuclear weapons must be eliminated and the only way to do that, to pierce the wall of our federal government, is citizen action demanding it. On the 75th anniversary of Trinity it’s past time we took action.

Categories
Environment

Toward Sustainable Pandemic Recovery

Image of Earth 7-6-15 from DSCOVR (Deep Space Climate Observatory)

The climate crisis continues in the coronavirus pandemic.

The pandemic with its economic downturn threatens years of progress addressing climate change and sustainability. It’s now or never for the environment.

Governments are expected to spend trillions of dollars in stimulus to get the economy going again. Addressing the climate crisis can’t wait. Climate solutions must be integrated with stimulus spending.

“We now have a unique opportunity to use (the economic crisis) to do things differently and build back better economies that are more sustainable, resilient and inclusive.” said Saadia Zahidi, World Economic Forum managing director.

WEF warned that “omitting sustainability criteria in recovery efforts or returning to an emissions-intensive global economy risks hampering the climate resilient low-carbon transition.”

Sustainability should be integrated into recovery efforts because the health crisis, economy, and environment are inextricably connected. There is only one chance to manage this recovery. Trillions can be spent only once. Given the scope of the climate crisis, its pressing urgency, society must choose to address the climate crisis now.

The International Energy Agency has ideas on how to do that. They developed a 174-page essay titled “Sustainable Recovery.” However, no single solution applies to global matters. We need multiple solutions implemented synchronously.

Global carbon dioxide emissions reduced by 17 percent in April as people sheltered at home, industry reduced production, and automobile use slowed. Since then, emission levels surged back. A conscious decision to integrate smart energy use into the recovery is needed. The issue has been politicized so thoroughly it seems doubtful any such action will be taken in the United States. One is being political whether they say something about climate change or not when discussing the economic recovery. We must persist in demanding a solution.

Fiona Harvey, environmental correspondent for the Guardian reported, “The world has only six months in which to change the course of the climate crisis and prevent a post-lockdown rebound in greenhouse gas emissions that would overwhelm efforts to stave off climate catastrophe.”

No one knows how long we have. It’s common sense that stimulus money could be used in a holistic way. Ideas are out there. What’s lacking is political will.

That few in our government talk about addressing the climate crisis as we “open up” the economy is part of the problem. Oil and gas interests have so infiltrated our government politicians don’t want to hear about solar or wind generated energy, even if they are the least expensive and least damaging regarding carbon dioxide emissions.

Think about it though. When has doing what makes sense gotten so politically out of fashion? Among other things, that needs to change.

Al Gore recently said, “Moving forward from COVID-19 means we have an obligation to rethink the relationships among business, markets, government and society. We must deliver a sustainable form of capitalism.”

That’s not going to happen without a change in our government.

People ask me how I plan to address the climate crisis. My answer?

It’s time to stand up for what is needed in our country right now: moral revival and transformative change. That means voting for Democrats in November.

Postscript: Since I wrote this post Joe Biden released his plan to ensure the future is “‘Made in All of America’ by all of America’s workers.” The word climate is mentioned once in a paragraph to “apply a carbon adjustment fee against countries that are failing to meet their climate and environmental obligations.” I support Biden for president and encourage readers to read his Made in America plan here. Like any plan it will be subject to modification if Biden is elected president. One modification I expect is to integrate addressing the climate crisis in the plan.

~Written for Blog for Iowa