Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Washington El Nino

July 27, 2015 - It's great to be sitting in my very own office, and writing to you from Washington state. We've been here for 3 months now, and feel very much as though we've wound up in paradise.  The views of Mt. St. Helen's, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood are spectacular, the Columbia River Gorge is incomparable, and Portland is a very fun town, albeit one that suffers from horrible traffic.  We're feeling very blessed these days, and humbled by our good fortune.

The weather here is quite different from what much of the country has endured.  Unlike the rain which has flooded so much of the middle and the south of the country, Washington is in the midst of a drought, along with Oregon and California, of course.  While our situation is nothing like California's, which is dire, there have been a number of wildfires this summer.  Farmers are getting by using irrigation, and the fruit crops look abundant to my inexperienced eyes.  I, for the first time, am the proud owner of 2 fruit trees, an apple and a pear.  The apple tree is pollinated by the extravagant number of apple trees in the area, and the pear tree is self-pollinating.  A Bartlett pear branch was grafted onto an Asian pear tree.

Our house was previously owned by non-gardeners, who did nothing in the way of pruning.  As a result, the fruit trees are tall and skinny, although they have a fair amount of fruit hanging from the branches.  A visiting garden consultant informs me I'll need to cut them in half, and cut back the branches., in order to encourage further branching.  With any luck, we have a lot of apple pies and fruit salad to look forward to.

It's funny about the sun way up north: it has a very direct feeling to it.  (When I say "way up north," I mean that we are as far north as the northern half of Maine - and Montreal.)  I notice that some of my bushes look a little sun-burned!  Generally, however, whatever you stick in the ground grows very well.  Roses especially like moisture and sun, and I have a number looking beautiful in my backyard.  I'll do a lot of experimenting in the coming years, and hope to learn a lot.

What about the impending El Nino?  Forecasts are for a warmer, slightly drier winter than usual.  I'm hoping the "slightly drier" part is true; we'll definitely be in need of precipitation by the winter, so "slightly" would be a good thing.  It seems like elsewhere in the country, the sporadic weather phenomenon may have already arrived.  Of course, our current drought may also be a part  of the bigger, El Nino picture.

How has the weather impacted you where you live?  Has it become increasingly volatile?  How so?  I'd love to hear from readers about the changes you're observing.  Thanks for your input.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Defense Department Leads the Way

April 8, 2015 - As petro-profit continues its downward spiral, investors are seeking out The Next Big Thing.  More and more of them say the future belongs to solar energy.  Companies like Tesla, Google, and Apple are investing in solar.  In fact, Tesla will soon announce the release of a "home battery" that will help store power generated by rooftop solar panels.  While there's a part of me that questions how well solar will work in a warming world, where warm air that holds more moisture will create more thunderstorms, I'm pleased that Americans are finally looking beyond fossil fuel.

Oddly enough, the word "Americans" now includes American conservatives.  Though they may not always feel free to spell out their support, they come pretty close in places like Florida, where Floridians for Solar Choice welcomes members from both the tea party and the Christian Coalition, as well as liberals, environmentalists and retailers.  More and more of us seem to be able to read the writing on the wall: fossil fuels' days are numbered.  This realization could go a long way in creating the political will necessary in order to do what must be done.

Speaking of investment, the numbers are out, and they tell a pretty convincing story: $270 billion was invested in renewable energy in 2014, 20% more than in 2013.  With time being of the essence, that rate of increase needs to continue to grow.  President Obama is aware of the need for very fast growth in the solar industry, and is making the most of turning this need into an opportunity.  He recently announced the inauguration of the "Solar Ready Vets" initiative.  With jobs in the solar industry being added at ten times the pace of the rest of the economy, the timing couldn't be better.  Veterans will be trained at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, along with nine other bases around the country.  The President's goal is to have 75,000  workers trained by 2020.  A significant number of them will be veterans.

Meantime, those residents of Florida I mentioned are rejoicing, and with good cause.  Duke Energy Florida has announced a major solar power project, which home- and business owners have clamored for.  Over the next ten years, Duke will build 500 megawatts of solar power, twice the state's current capacity.  Construction is slated to begin by the end of this year.  Improved energy storage technology  (i.e., batteries) contributed to Duke's decision.

Because Florida ("the Sunshine State") hasn't given much thought at all to solar power until recently, it has fallen behind other Southern states like North Carolina and Georgia.  New Jersey is also regarded as a leader in the utilization of energy from the sun.  Now that someone has finally picked up the ball, the game may soon include Gulf Power, the state's smallest investor-owned utility.  They have proposed building 120 megawatts of utility-scale power at Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach, Holley Field in Navarre, and Saufley Field in Pensacola.  This proposal is part of a joint effort among Gulf Power, the Navy, the Air Force and Heliosage, the project's developer.  The U.S. Dept. of Defense has a goal of of 25 percent renewable energy at all its facilities by the year 2025.

We're a day late and a dollar short, but at least we're in the game.



Thanks to the Tampa Bay Times, the St. George News, and New York Magazine.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

One Very Small Step for Humankind

March 25, 2015 - I recall, back in the early 1970's, the constant stream of news stories telling Americans that virtually every new product recently developed contained something that caused cancer.  Honestly, it was hard to know what to do with the information.  I think because there were so many stories - several a week, it seemed like - there was also a lot of skepticism.  All these years later, I will confess we should have demanded that the products be pulled from the shelves.  We didn't, and now we pay the price with our own lives, and the lives of our children and grandchildren.

I volunteer at the elementary school's library.  The librarian, incredibly competent and caring, is also the mother of two daughters.  Her younger child has had to be treated twice for leukemia.  The second go-round was caused by the first; yes, that's what I'm saying - the chemotherapy caused her to contract leukemia for a second time.  In all likelihood, chemicals in the environment gave it to her the first time.  Chemicals deliberately fed into her bloodstream to fight the cancer gave it to her the second time.  Miraculously, she is still with us and, for the time being, she is cancer free.  She will always be short, because the chemo has stunted her growth.  Never mind; she is bright and beautiful.

Now we are told by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), that glyphosate, a.k.a. Roundup, "probably causes cancer in human beings."  You know that Monsanto makes Roundup.  Other companies also make products containing glyphosate as the active ingredient.  Not quite so well known is that weeds have become Roundup-resistant; some farmers' fields contain weeds half of which - that's 50% - are resistant to Roundup.

Here's the part where, if you have any sense, you should be very scared: because of this resistance, more and more Roundup is being used.  Since 1996, more than 500 million pounds in addition to what was originally called for has been used in the United States.  In 2013, Monsanto requested and received approval from the EPA for increased tolerance levels IN HUMAN BEINGS for glyphosate.  In the case of Dow Chemical, super weeds will be targeted with seeds branded Enlist, which can tolerate the use of a glyphosate/2,4-D [Agent Orange] mixture.  To put it in simplest terms, there is no end in sight.

Too young to remember Agent Orange?  Allow me to explain.  Agent Orange was used on a spectacular scale as a defoliant during the Vietnam War.  Causing trees to lose their leaves ostensibly permitted the Air Force to more easily pick out and kill the Viet Cong, as North Vietnamese soldiers were called.  Decades later, men who had served in Vietnam began dying of cancers caused by the individual's exposure to Agent Orange.  Our neighbor in North Carolina died a hideously painful death from brain cancer caused by Agent Orange.

If it is not yet clear to you, then let's state it for the record: manufacturers of products containing glyphosate and 2,4-D don't give a rat's ass if you die of cancer.  They don't give a rat's ass if members of their own families die of cancer.  By that, I mean specifically their own children.  THEY DON'T CARE.  Do no expect them to care.  The only way they will care is if they cease to make obscene amounts of money by selling these products.  Join the Pesticide Action Network, and tell the EPA to stop working hand-in-hand with companies like Monsanto and Dow Chemical.  And for the love of God, eat organic foods.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Noose Tightens



CORRECTION:  I failed to mention in my last article that Australia sells and sends a great deal of coal to China every year.  My oversight – sorry!

February 24, 2015 – It’s been 43 years since the Club of Rome commissioned scientists at MIT to conduct research into the likelihood of civilization collapse.  Their results were published in a book titled The Limits to Growth.  Its primary focus was the finiteness of our planet, and its inability to support never-ending population growth and resource depletion.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne recently decided to examine the accuracy of Limit’s predictions.  Dr. Graham Turner used data provided by both the United Nations and the United States, specifically the UN’s department of economic and social affairs, Unesco, the UN’s food and agriculture organization, the UN statistical yearbook, and the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

What he and his research team learned is that, in keeping with the book’s many forecasts, resources are being depleted too rapidly, pollution is increasing at an unsustainable rate, and population – despite heroic efforts to the contrary – continues to rise.  Because resources have now reached peak output, industrial production is expected to start falling right about now.  Because chemical inputs used to enhance agricultural output will also begin their decline, food production is expected to decrease in the coming years.

Health and educational services are already in decline, which will persist and increase.  As a result, the death rate will start to rise in about the year 2020.  Global population will begin its plunge around 2030, at half a billion people per decade.  All of the aforementioned will lead to living conditions last seen in the early 1900s, no later than the year 2100.

Some maintain that decline has already started.  The global financial crisis (GFC) of 2007-08 and the very slow rate of recovery from it may turn out to have been a harbinger of things to come.  Peak oil production can only serve to exacerbate an untenable situation like that described.  Even the conservative International Energy Agency has warned that peak oil is upon us. 




With thanks to The Guardian online.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What Lies Ahead



February 15, 2015 -NASA released a report on Friday the 13th, detailing the effects of megadroughts they foresee occurring in the United States throughout the rest of this century.  I don’t think I need to tell you that the only way to mitigate these effects is by sharply reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE).  What might very well need saying is that our future and the future of humankind rests in the hands of the Chinese, and the people of India.

            Don’t misunderstand: we must all do much better, and very, very soon.  However, the population of the United States is paltry when compared with the populations of either of these two countries.  Combine that fact with the increasing demands of rising middle classes in both, and you get bad news.  Combine that bad news with the fact that China burns staggering amounts of coal, and you get, according to NASA, megadroughts in the United States.  What NASA has forecast for the rest of the world, I do not know.

            The Southwest and Central Plains are expected to suffer the most, although the rest of the country is predicted to become drier, as well.  My husband and I are moving to the Pacific Northwest later this year.  Currently, rainfall has been below normal even there; temperatures are also a bit higher.  The glaring exception to NASA’s prediction would appear, at present, to be the Northeast.  Earlier forecasts, made by other government agencies, have predicted increased rainfall for most of us.  I imagine the truth will be found somewhere in the middle.

            That said, the overriding principle that “wet will get wetter and dry will get drier” appears to be holding sway.  And, like it or not, your future, my future, everyone’s future is in the hands of the aforementioned Asian giants.  Finally, it would appear that extremes will be the new normal, rather than the moderate weather humanity has enjoyed for the last 10,000 years.  Past floods and droughts will pale in comparison with what lies ahead.

            Greenhouse gas emissions hold the key.  While it is no longer possible to simply stop global warming in its tracks, it will always be possible for us to mitigate its effects.  By the same token, continued emissions rates similar to those we now produce will lead to chaos.  How does NASA describe this?  I certainly have not read the report, but I gather they predict that people living in the most affected regions of the country will “migrate” to the eastern half of the country.  (Don’t forget that Texas will be a part of the affected region.)  This could very well lead to the complete breakdown of what passes for law and order in this country.

            I know that significant numbers of the Chinese people are extremely unhappy about air pollution in China, and that the government has achieved some minor progress in that regard.  Be aware, however, that the United States is not shipping the coal it still mines to the moon – it’s going to China.  Shame on us, shame on them.   We both need to mend our ways as quickly as humanly possible.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Book Review: This Changes Everything

January 7, 2015 – I want to tell you about a book I just read, by Naomi Klein, called This Changes Everything.  Klein’s book is about climate change, and how very close we have now come to exchanging our world for a place that’s nearly unlivable.

She begins with dogged conjecture regarding why we appear to want to change our world in such a manner.  We don’t, of course, so we engage in various degrees of climate change denial.  I’ll interject here that looking away and pretending everything will be just fine is essentially mandatory, at least from time to time, if we’re to continue living in this world without going mad.  Draconian measures are required, as all non-Republicans are now aware.  In the words of Angelica Navarro Llanos, “We need a Marshall Plan for the Earth.”  All good Republicans know what that means: the United States will get stuck with the bill.  And that terrifies them.

Except that now, China has admitted that it must do something to greatly reduce coal-burning emissions.  So have we, for that matter.  What terrifies all of us is that radically reducing fossil fuel use isn’t anywhere near enough to make things right with the world.  In the developed world, we must change everything about the way we live.  We must revive local economies.  We must end “Citizens United” corporate-style influence buying in the United States.    We must end trade deals with poor countries that allow them to believe they can enjoy a western-style standard of living, if only they will pollute their way out of poverty.  We must invest in mass transit. 

We must take back ownership of essential services like energy and water.  We must re-invent our agricultural model.  In my opinion, we must also stop spending obscene amounts of money on wars we consistently lose.  The good news, according to the author, is that in changing the way we live, we can change the world for the better.  The much better.  All manner of new jobs will be necessary, thereby helping to close the gap between rich and poor.  As a result, power will once again be more equally dispersed to the many, rather than consolidated in the hands of the rich few.  With a rejuvenated democracy, fairer policies can be enacted that will benefit rich and poor alike.

Where do we stand right now?  Based upon preliminary data collected during 2013, global carbon dioxide emissions were 61 percent higher then than in 1990.  How much time do we have to get CO2 emissions under control?  Estimates vary, from zero to ten years.  A full-blown transition to renewable energy must happen right away.  The public sphere must once again belong to all of us.  Taxes must be raised on the wealthy.  Regulations must be re-instated across the board.  These actions, while extremely threatening to an elite minority, must take place if we are to save ourselves.  There is no savior on the horizon.  We must help ourselves or accept the consequences.

As Klein herself puts it, “So we are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate.”  It’s a hell of a choice, but we’ve done this to ourselves. 


Start changing everything.  Today.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The End of Deforestation


I like Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary General.  He doesn’t just talk about doing things; he makes things happen.  I refer specifically to a new collaboration between the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).  These two organizations intend to restore at least 150 million hectares of forest by 2020 (a hectare is slightly more than 2 acres).  Their joint effort will be announced at the Secretary-General’s Climate Summit on September 23, 2014.

Restoring 150 million hectares of forest, an area about the size of Alaska, would sequester roughly 1 gigaton of carbon dioxide and/or the equivalent thereof every year, reducing the current emissions gap by 11 – 17 percent.  The target date of 2020 is ambitious, but would generate US$85 billion per year in ecosystem services that would benefit the rural poor all 
over the world.

The rate of global deforestation has slowed significantly since the beginning of the 21st century.  However, we still lose 13 million hectares a year (an area the size of Greece).  The willingness of nations rich and poor to sign onto this program is due in large part to the growing realization that forests provide services that could very nearly be termed “priceless.”  Among them are rainfall creation, carbon removal from the atmosphere, storing and purifying water, maintaining soil quality, providing rich habitat, and species maintenance.

Brazil can be cited as an outstanding example of declining deforestation.  It decreased by 70 percent between 2005 and 2013.  This has been due in large part to a moratorium agreed to by the soy and beef industries.  The country has agreed to an 80 percent reduction by 2020.  The Union of Concerned Scientists says that Brazil has “already made a very large contribution to combating climate change – more than that of any other nation on Earth.  For this … Brazil can rightfully be very proud.”  It bears pointing out that, prior to the moratorium, Brazil was the world’s leading contributor to changing climate.

Glenn Hurowitz, of the American consultancy group Climate Advisers and its activist arm, Catapult, is quoted as saying, “ … in some countries we are winning battles against the war on trees … I think it is the beginning of the end.  There are countries where forests are actually regrowing, including Europe, the US, India, China, Vietnam, and even some in Africa.”  Anti-deforestation pledges made by food giants Wilmar, Unilever, and most recently Cargill point to a paradigm shift.

May this be the beginning of a new activism on the part of participant nations and corporations.


With thanks to independent.co.uk and unep.org.