Tag Archives: wildfire

Something is Missing from the Green New Deal

The Green New Deal is the shiny new thing in the 116th Congress.  This an unalloyed good thing.  We need to be talking about the big ideas that can move this country forward instead of always arguing about small ball politics.

However, I fear that something is missing from every discussion about the contents of the Green New Deal.  Trees.  Rather, forests.  Forests?  You know, those mass groupings of trees.

What about forests?

Forests are the unsung hero of our fight against climate change.  Decidedly analog, forests do not get any of the hype afforded to electric vehicles, solar panels, wind turbines, or even god damned nuclear fusion.  Why?  It is probably because people’s eyes glaze over when someone talks about forests and stereotypes of treehugging hippies run through their minds.

However, before we can deploy enough renewable energy or replace enough automobiles with EVs forests can help us combat the coming climate apocalypse.  Trees absorb carbon dioxide and capture it in their wood fibers.  Trees help to slow down the rainfall preventing erosion, top soil runoff, and even filter rainwater as it falls from the sky through the canopy to the ground.  Trees help to cool the surrounding area.  Trees provide habitat for animals.  Unless you are the most Trumpian right wing reactionary there is no denying the enviable service record of trees.

The key is not to just save the forests that we currently have, but to recover the forests that we have lost.  I propose a nationwide effort to recover as many acres of forest covered land as possible.  There are literally tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of acres of land that were once covered with forests that could become verdant again.

In the region known as Appalachia it is estimated that more than 1.5 million acres of mountain top land has been reduced to bare earth and rubble by coal mining over the last fifty years.  Reforestation of these degraded lands is an opportunity to provide much needed jobs in the region, improve the environment, and build a legacy for future generations.  All by planting some trees.

In 2018 California saw almost 1.9 million acres burned in wildfires.  Reforestation of these lands is an opportunity to reduce the ecological impact of wildfires in that state and ameliorate some of the secondary impacts like mudslides in subsequent years.

In Colorado, as a result of the invasive mountain pine beetle, one in 14 trees in the state is dead and almost three quarters of the state’s lodgepole pine stands are impacted.  In the end the infestation and resulting tree die off may leave an area the size of Rhode Island deforested.  Reforestation is an opportunity to reverse some of this damage and restore Colorado’s forests to their majestic beauty.

These are just a few examples, but I could have chosen examples in the Pacific Northwest or northern Minnesota or Arizona.  Almost every state in the United States could benefit from reforestation.

Here is the best part.  Reforestation does not require any new technology or industries to be created.  Reforestation does not require any new government agencies to be created.  We possess the knowledge, organizations, and infrastructure to implement a nationwide reforestation plan.  We just lack the money.

Ahhhh, money.  How much money exactly?  Who knows?  How much land do you want to cover in trees?  Piedmont Land and Timber, a timber management company in Georgia, publishes a very concise breakdown of the costs to reforest an acre:

  • Herbicide application: $125/acre
  • Controlled burn: $60/acre
  • Planting @ 500 seedlings per acre: $74/acre
  • Landowner cost: $45/acre

The total to plant an acre of trees, albeit for timber production, is ~$300 according to a private company.  The largest part of that expense is the application of herbicides which could be eliminated in many cases where the goal is not to develop a stand for logging at a later date.  Regardless, I will use $300 per acre as a baseline for cost.

Let’s use the lands degraded by coal mining in Appalachia as a model.  So, we are working with ~1.5 million acres over several years.  Total cost, assuming $300 per acre, would be $450 million.  Over five years the annual cost would be $90 million.  That is about the cost of a single F-35A fighter plane per year.  Imagine what restoring 1.5 million acres of land would look like from an environmental standpoint.

The money is large when it is looked at in isolation, but it is paltry when compared with so many things in Washington D.C.  Just consider our current president’s pet border wall.  Each mile is estimated to cost $25 million dollars.  We could trade four miles of border wall per year for a restoration of Appalachian forests.  I am willing to make that trade.

Will anyone in Washington D.C. speak for the trees?

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Friday Linkage 6/29/2018

If anyone does not believe that elections matter, consider that Donald Trump—a man wholly unfit to be president who lost an election by over three million votes—will get to choose the second Supreme Court justice of his presidency.  By the end of four years of this man the United States may no longer be a country that I recognize.

On to the links…

The Dangers of Distracted Parenting—The world would be better is everyone were just a little more present in the “real.”  I cannot count how many times I have been in a bar or restaurant and seen entire tables of people staring into their phones’ screens.  It is insanity.

She Spoke out About Climate Change—and They Tried to Make Her Pay for It—Sarah Myhre is right.  Science has always been political.  There is a reason why religious authorities persecuted scientists.  Empirical observations served to undermine the authority of the religious entity because their authority was based on a flawed text interpreted over the course of generations. Nothing has really changed.

News of Scott Pruitt’s ‘quid pro quo’ Condo Deal Raises Questions about Criminal Law Violations—Does anyone actually think that Scott Pruitt or any other member of the Trump administration would actually be prosecuted for doing something criminal?  This is the most ethically and criminally compromised presidency in American history and the Republican party is allowing it to run amok with no oversight.  Do you remember when the process in which Hillary Clinton handled her emails was considered the height of impropriety?

Scott Pruitt Was So Sloppy Telling Oil Execs and Cronies He Could Get Them Hired, It’s Embarrassing—This fucking guy:

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Scott Pruitt’s “Tactical Pants” Scandal, Very Briefly Explained—It’s not nearly as much fun as his lotion runs or his attempts to buy a used mattress or his attempts to weasel a chicken franchise for his wife or…well, it is Scott Pruitt and every week brings a new scandal.

How Trump is Letting Polluters Off the Hook, in One Chart—When the EPA is run by an industry toadie more interested in finding his special lotion to keep his skin soft while he lounges in his used bed this is the result:

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Ethically compromised is one thing, but being just downright pathetic at your job is turning out to be a Trumpian trait du jour.

The Argument for Fracking as a Climate Solution Just Went Down in Flames—Methane is a bad climate actor and mismanaged wells are releasing a lot of methane.  Sorry folks, but fracked natural gas is not the bridge fuel to the future.  It’s just another fossil fuel bait and switch.

Investigators say China is Behind Illegal CFC Emissions—Maybe Donny two scoops will add this to his list of grievances with China or he will just use it as a another lever to extract payoffs from the Chinese for a project somewhere in the world.

UPS Places Order For 950 Workhorse N-GEN Electric Delivery Vans—Before we spend a lot of time and energy electrifying personal automobiles, the government should focus its efforts on converting the fleets of commercial vehicles to electric.  These are large buyers of vehicles, so one sales pitch can lead to a lot of sales, that are very sensitive to fuel cost fluctuation.

Will the Boomers Leave Us Bust?—Let me skip to the punch line: if baby boomers have to give an inch to save future generations they will fight tooth and nail to preserve that inch because they are the most self-centered generation in American history.  As the, hopefully, last baby boomer president wreaks havoc on the national and international order it is starting to look like a multi-decade fixer upper job for those of use left.

Goats Used For Colorado Wildfire Mitigation—The world just might be a better place if we spent more time thinking about goats.  Everyone else can worry about Trump today.  I am going to spend my day thinking about goats.

Friday Linkage 7/10/2015

Man, it feels like fall around here right now. It is just about perfect for a summer in Iowa. Global warming be damned.

On to the links…

All of the World’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions in one Awesome Interactive Pie Chart—This pie chart is pretty freaking amazing.

Free the Snake: Restoring America’s Greatest Salmon River—If you have watched the documentary DamNation you need to watch this short about the Snake River.

Marijuana Growing Spikes Denver Electricity Demand—This might be the one downside to marijuana legalization in Denver. It’s not really sustainable to grow something inside under artificial lights. Maybe a new generation of growers using greenhouses instead of grow rooms can change the paradigm.

How The Oil Industry Got Two Regulators Fired For Doing Their Jobs—If you think that the government can actually regulate oil and gas companies you need to realize the power that these companies wield.

How Solar Power Is Learning To Share: The Rapid Growth Of Community Solar Gardens—Community solar is kicking ass. It will probably become a talking point for right wingers because the word community is too close to communism for their brains to handle. Too bad people like it a lot. Kind of like Obamacare.

White House Plans Rooftop Solar Panel Initiative for Inner-City Neighborhoods—Solar is generally something enjoyed and employed by the relatively well-off. Solar leasing changes this to a degree, but a lot of people are left out of the benefits. Here is an effort to change that dynamic.

Solar In New York State Grew 300% From 2011-2014—Think about that growth rate for a moment. Anything that grows that fast is amazing.

Billionaire On Way To Building Largest Wind Farm In North America… And It’s Not Warren Buffett—Philip Anschutz is a name you will be familiar with if you spend any time in Colorado or Wyoming. The billionaire is now building a pair of windfarms with the capacity to generate some 3,000 megawatts of clean power. The irony is that the facilities are located in Carbon County, Wyoming.

Kenya’s New Wind Farm Will Provide Nearly One Fifth Of The Country’s Power—Granted, Kenya’s electricity demands are nothing like the U.S. or other developed Western countries, but one-fifth of a nation’s power coming from the wind is pretty sweet.

Belize Going 100% Renewables As Part Of 10 Island Challenge—How come Belize can make this kind of commitment and we in the U.S. cannot make the same kind of effort?

Alaska’s on Fire and It May Make Climate Change Even Worse—Great. Alaska is on fire and the carbon release is going to make climate change worse. Awesome.

Walmart Website Riddled with Deceptive Made in USA Claims—Walmart lies. Big surprise.

Urban Farmers: Community Food Growing around the World – In Pictures—Urban farms, like community solar, are hot right now. But these gardeners have nothing on the urban farming of Cuba. I have seen these operations in person and some are truly impressive.

Friday Linkage 7/3/2015

Damn, it’s July. Where did June go? That’s right, I spent the month trying to put as many miles on my bikes as possible and spending the rest of my time enjoying a few moments of clam between rain storms.

On to the links…

Americans Are Drinking Less Coffee Thanks to K-Cups—So, we are drinking less coffee but paying more for the privilege of brewing it a single cup at a time. How is this a good trade off?

The Surprising Environmental Reason Weed Should Be Legal—Marijuana should be legal nationwide because the war on drugs is a sham perpetuated by the prison industrial complex. It also appears that there is an environmental benefit to legalization.

Solar Power Per Capita & Wind Power Per Capita Leaders—Lichtenstein is the leader in per capita solar? Really?

Largest Solar Plant On Planet Earth — Solar Star — Comes Online—With all the hype about distributed solar—of which I am a big proponent—sometimes the scale of these utility projects gets lost. Solar Star in California has a rated capacity of 579 megawatts of funky yellow sun fueled electrical power.

How Renewables are Thriving in the US Thanks to State Policies—Government policy can advance the cause of renewables despite what right wingers might say:

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Total Plans 500-800 MW Solar Power Capacity In Bolivia—Bolivia has not ever come up in the links before that I can remember. The French energy titan Total is putting some serious money into renewables in that country.

3 Out Of 4 New Solar Homes In NSW To Include Battery Storage—The more I read and the more I think about the topic the more that I come to the conclusion that Australia seems like the perfect laboratory for the distribution of massive amounts of residential solar.

The West Is Literally On Fire, And The Impacts Could Be Widespread—As the climate changes as a result of global warming we are going to have to deal with the massive impacts of wildfires in drought stricken regions.

Californians Getting Drought Message: Water Usage Plunges—The state still has not addressed some of the agricultural usage insanity—like growing alfalfa to feed to cows or to export—but the residents of the state seem to be getting the idea that el Nino will not rescue them from drought this time.

Mark Bittman Wants You to Know the Drought Isn’t Your Fault—The drought is not our fault, but our food choices may be making things worse. Given the water situation in California there is no logical reason why cows should be residents of that state. None.

Corn Syrup’s DC Attack on Sugar Could Hit Minnesota Beet Industry—Talk about some lobby-on-lobby crime. These two subsidized industries need to get of the government welfare.

Hawaii Just Became The First State To Ban Plastic Bags At Grocery Checkouts—A big thank you to the aloha state for banning the distribution of single use plastic bags. These things are the scourge of the earth.

Friday Linkage 6/5/2015

The week just flies when you get a bike ride in for six straight days. I could get used to this life if the weather would just continue to be pleasant. Fat chance of that happening as the summer humidity is already starting to build here in Eastern Iowa.

On to the links…

Solon Farm Converts 25 Acres into Largest Hopyard in Iowa—I cannot wait to enjoy some of these local hops in a tall glass of Big Grover Brewery beer.

Research Downplaying Impending Global Warming is Overturned—If all this is looking a lot like what happened to tobacco companies in the 1990s it should because a lot of the same players are involved on the side of industry. They just shifted issues and are still getting paid to spread disinformation and lies.

The Beginning Of Wildfire Season Means More Bad News For Drought-Stricken West—No one knows how big or bad this wildfire season will be, but considering how dry California is right now there is the potential that it could be huge.

The Texas Floods Are So Big They Ended the State’s Drought—I doubt that the solution will be long lived, but it is amazing how much rain the storms in Texas brought to bear.

Disturbing Infographic Shows How Plastic is Clogging our Oceans—Hint, it’s a lot:

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New Report Suggests U.S. Can Meet Its Climate Goals Without Congressional Action—We have the tools to address the worst aspects of climate change and it does not require a functioning legislative branch of government. Imagine that.

Regulators Give Green Light to Largest Minnesota Solar Energy Project—$250 million spread over 21 sites is a lot of solar in a state more associated with hot dish and passive aggressive behavior than harvesting the sun. Is Minnesota the United States’ Germany when it comes to solar PV?

Insane Solar Jobs Boom About To Get $32 Million More Insane—Here is when things start to snowball. As jobs become realized and the sector becomes attractive to investment the ancillary jobs in R&D, program management, etc. will start to flourish. There may be hope for us yet.

Coal Industry Received More Than $73 Billion In Last 8 Years—War on coal my ass. The world spends billions every year propping up this dirty fuel.

How Renewable Energy in South Africa is Quietly Stealing a March on Coal—Coal is dead. Developing countries are trying to get out from under the long term entrapment of coal fired power and renewables are the go to source because they are not dependent on the old paradigm.

Meat Giant Hormel To Gobble Up Slightly Smaller Meat Giant Applegate Farms—“Big organic” just got even bigger as the purveyor of everyone’s favorite canned meat product is buying the maker of those ubiquitous chicken sausages that come out during grilling season.

We’re Eating Less Meat—Yet Factory Farms Are Still Growing—It’s like the Lorax. These operations just keep on biggering and biggering. Everyone needs a thneed.

It’s Raining Nitrogen In A Colorado Park. Farmers Can Help Make It Stop—Between nitrates in the water and nitrogen in the air modern farming is a very dirty business. Unsurprisingly, modern management and practices can reduce the impact significantly.

Invasive Carp Caught Farther Upstream on St. Croix River—This is a big deal for the water ecosystems of the upper Midwest and Great Lakes region because these invasive species decimate local populations of fish.

The Real Sharing Economy Doesn’t Require Apps, Just Kindness—The “sharing economy” is a buzzy term for something that people in closer knit communities have been practicing since the dawn of time. When you know your neighbors it’s a lot easier to ask someone to borrow a tool you might use once a year. Trust me, I own a pickup and I am everyone’s friend about once a year.

Friday Linkage 6/29/2012

Wildfires are abstract concepts to someone living in Iowa.  Sure, we see fields that catch fire now and again but rarely is anything more than an old barn or single farmstead truly threatened.

However, close friends in Colorado Springs were evacuated from the path of the ongoing Waldo Canyon Fire and are now homeless.  As of this morning they do not know the condition of their house or when they will be allowed to even go back to see what, if anything, remains.  Everyone in their family is safe, but there is just a pit in the bottom of your stomach when you think about the situation.

Sorry for the depressing tone, but thoughts about the wildfire have sort of consumed my waking hours lately as I tried to imagine the combination of horror, anger, and unknown.

On to the links…

Midwestern Drought Intensifies—Shades of the 1988 drought are beginning to appear as the Midwest is increasingly dry and the hot conditions of high summer are starting to bear down.  This week it was close to 100 degrees in Eastern Iowa with hot winds to match.

How Big Meat is Taking Over the Midwest—The forces of big meat, represented by the increase in confined animal feedlot operations (CAFOs), are slowly taking over the remaining pockets of livestock production that they do not own in the Midwest.  A quick drive through rural Iowa will put you in contact with the foul smell of these modern hell holes.  Don’t believe these places are hell on Earth?  Just try and walk up to one without tearing up, vomiting, or giving up because of the smell.  Now imagine eating meat that comes from one of these operations.

We Evolved to Eat Meat, But How Much is Too Much?—It is not that meat, in and of itself, is a bad thing.  It is just that Americans in general and, increasingly, the rest of the world eats too much of the stuff and it is produced in deplorable conditions.

Visualizing a Nation of Meat Eaters—A series of very interesting charts and graphs that visually display the evolution of meat consumption in the U.S.

Too Big to Chug—In America we love us some big drinks:

Think about the fact that the McDonald’s kid size drink is 5 ounces larger than the original fountain drink size for the chain in 1955.  Think that is scary?  During my son’s one year checkup, the pediatrician was asking questions about his eating habits when he said “Do you try to limit juice and soda intake?”  Huh?  Soda intake for a one year old?  Why is that even a question?

How Clean is Your Beach?—Every year, the Natural Resources Defense Council releases a report on the water quality and public notification of beaches in the United States.  Check it out to see if your favorite beach is on the list and how it did.  Is it safe to go back into the water?

Fear Accompany Fisherman in Japanese Disaster Region—Fisherman are starting to make their way back into the sea in the area near the nuclear disaster in Fukushima.  Given the reports of potentially irradiated tuna making their way to California earlier, I would think that people would be more than hesitant to wrap their fingers around some calamari from these waters.

The Curse of the Lead Bullet—The California condor’s recovery is one the greatest success stories of the modern wildlife conservation movement.  Even though the majestic bird was brought back from the precipice of extinction, threats to its long term viability remain.  One of those is the lead shot used in hunting loads.    Why are we still using a toxic metal for recreational hunting?  In Iowa this year this same issue was brought forward by the Department of Natural Resources, but our tone deaf governor chose to make some kind of misguided ideological stand in opposing the ban of lead hunting loads.  Why?

Have Sledgehammer Will Farm—Breaking up asphalt and concrete is brutal and backbreaking work, but considering how much of our landscape is covered in the materials it is almost inevitable that spaces will have to be reclaimed.  Bit by bit we can replace the hard edges of the modern world with the softer edges of a better future.

Edible Weeds in the Garden—It may be a weed, but that does mean it lacks culinary value.  Like the non-marketable cuts of meat or offal, we too often think of food in terms of very narrowly defined items.  So, don’t just pull those weeds.  Saute them!

Simple Sheet of Paper Keeps Produce Fresh Four Times Longer—This is one of those little things that you smack your head when you see it and say, “Why didn’t someone think of this earlier?”  Probably because you don’t worry about the shelf life of food when you do not think about the cost.

Unfixable Computers—We have entered an age where a computer is a disposable item.  Think about that for a moment.  I remember when computers were something of a centerpiece of a family’s home, cared for like cars, but now these items have become merely electronic waste when the time comes to make even the simplest of repairs.  It is not forward progress at all.

BioLite Stove—This thing is just cool.  The BioLite stove seems like the perfect disaster stove because it can also provide a small amount of electricity for phones or lights.  Hmmm…

Friday Linkage 9/23/2011

The first day of fall is here and the season is glorious.  Sometimes I feel that I would enjoy living in a place without the change of seasons, e.g. Hawaii, but the transition between the seasons is something that I embrace more every year.  There is something magical about unpacking the cold weather clothing or shopping for mittens with your children that makes me smile.

White House Brews its Own Beer—After being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, Sgt. Dakota Meyer had one request: to share a beer with the President.  President Obama could have agreed and shared a boring domestic or served a trendy import.  Instead, he want all local and DIY by serving a beer brewed at the White House using honey from bees living on site.  Talk about fermenting revolution.

The Perennial Plate—I stumbled upon this site when it was recommended by a friend who is both a farmer and philosopher—the joke makes sense when you read the description for episode #71.  The site presents an episode each week focusing on “socially responsible and adventurous eating.”  Dig it.

Could You Eat on $30 a Week?—The average food stamp allotment is calculated at $30 per person per week.  Sheila Steffen, a producer for CNN, is doing what many have done before: trying to live on an average food stamp allotment to highlight the struggles people go through living below the poverty line in America.  It is interesting to see how seemingly innocuous daily choices turn into major life events when the amount of money available to a person plunges.  Do I buy fresh vegetables or calories?

University of Nebraska Punts TransCanada—Welcome to the Big 10, albeit with twelve teams, and thanks for putting the interests of your state’s citizens before those of an oil company’s.  Because no pipeline is 100% proofed against leaks.

How Method Turns Plastic Pollution into Bottles—Actually taking pollution out of the ecosystem and turning it into something useful just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  Maybe the effort involved in gathering this plastic is more wasteful than just diverting plastic in the waste stream, but it seems like a worthwhile effort given the problems facing our oceans.

Clever Tunnel System Makes Chickens do the Gardening—I have wanted to start raising backyard chickens for a while, but the protests of my wife and neighbors have delayed realization of the goal.  This idea just makes me want to order a sexed run of pullets in the spring and get to building my coop.

Easy Watering Vertical Herb Garden—Now I have a project to add to my list for spring.  I think this one will pass muster with the individuals conspiring against my backyard fowl flock.

Santa Barbara Garden Reborn—An interesting photo gallery of a garden reborn following the 2008 wildfire that destroyed more than 200 homes in Santa Barbara.  There is something restorative about seeing a scorched landscape brought back to vibrant life.