Surferbird News-links, 63rd Edition
Repealing the Clean Power Plan, listening to trees, California fires, forest soils and carbon dioxide loss, climate change and grass-fed beef, eco-friendly clothing, solar panel tariffs, weed-eating goats, how squirrels sort their nuts, LA's palm trees, Facebook ethics and so much more.
Welcome! Fall is in the air. The haze from distant fires has cleared this part of the Sacramento Valley. I can even see the Coastal Range, due west. Looking eastward, Sacramento's small collection of skyscrapers rise abruptly from the valley floor, looming over the wetlands, which spread about 20 miles between me and the city. If the farmer who planted those skyscraper seeds had known he or she was planting cement and steel instead of corn, downtown Sacramento might not have a skyline!
That was then. Before I finished writing this post, a fire erupted in California's Wine Country, about an hour from my apartment. Now, the Sacramento Valley sky alternates between smoky and clear. We're thankful to be safe but deeply saddened by the devastation in surrounding counties.
A simple trip to the grocery store makes these fires feel personal. For example, the meat and ice cream I purchased today are locally sourced from Sonoma county, many parts of which have burned. I couldn't help but wonder about the welfare of the farmers and animals. The landscape and people of Northern California will bear the marks of this tragedy for quite some time.
For more information about recent Northern California fires and how weather and climate could increase the likelihood of future fires, there's an excellent article in Quartz, here. In addition, Inside Climate News also has an excellent summary, here.
But another fact I learned about fires—thanks to Summit County Citizens Voice—is that they often increase sediments in rivers, which can affect water supplies. This makes communities more vulnerable to not only water shortages but also to substandard water quality.
New blog post
I was naughty. I wrote a satirical piece about the FDA's rule to ban "love" as a listed ingredient in granola. No doubt, it might offend you. But please keep in mind that the granola-love made me do it.
I have a thing for goats. But these goats are much more than a 57-year-old crone's fetish. By controlling invasive weeds, these goats help restore a local forest damaged by Hurricane Sandy—such enchanting creatures!
the clean power plan
Writing about government policies and the environment isn't my strength. Yet, it would seem odd to omit recent news about repealing the Clean Power Plan from today's post. An important point I'd like to make about it, though, is that the Clean Power Plan can't immediately be undone just because this administration got a bee in its bonnet (the polite version of that expression!).
Something else to consider, too, is that coal is already a sinking ship. Yet, repealing the Clean Power Plan won't change that. Also, attempts to undo it will get challenged in court, and most Americans want to keep it in place.
In an interview with Pacific Standard, Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, notes that if the Clean Power Plan is dismantled, the global renewable energy movement will move forward while the U.S. lags behind.
climate change and Environment
connecting with, and listening to trees, (e360.yale.edu)
Have you ever listened to a tree? If not, this interview with David George Haskell in Yale Environment 360 will acquaint you with nature's inaudible sounds. In it, Haskell discusses ideas from his first book, "The Forest Unseen," and his latest book, "The Songs of Trees." Haskell uses various techniques, including ultrasonic sensors, to listen to trees' inner voices as they respond to environmental stimuli. In fact, if you follow the link, above, you can listen to some of these sounds via SoundCloud.
But one of my favorite points from the interview is this: "There is no such thing as an individual within biology." We—plants, animals, bacteria, protists and fungi—are all connected and interdependent. And it is relationships that make life possible, not the individual. Listen to the sounds of trees, and gain a new perspective.
tropical forests release more carbon than they sequester, (insideclimatenews.org)
This is bad news. But what might surprise you is that in some areas, such as Africa and the Americas, small-scale damage to forests causes most of the carbon loss. This includes selective logging, harvesting wood for cooking and heating, drought and the increasing number of forest fires due to rising temperatures. In Asia, however, most of the carbon loss is from large-scale deforestation to satisfy the world's palm oil demand.
Yet, when scientists look at all forests across the globe, 69 percent of total carbon loss is due to small-scale activities. We can't pin all carbon loss from deforestation on palm oil production. Everything we do matters.
warming temperatures could increase carbon dioxide loss from forest soils, (insideclimatenews.org)
Forest soils store vast amounts of carbon. In fact, there's more carbon in soil than human's emit into the atmosphere. But as global temperatures rise, the microorganisms that break down this carbon—releasing carbon dioxide in the process—become more active.
Scientists previously thought this cycle would subside as soil microbes break down all the stored carbon. They recently discovered, though, that microorganisms could be evolving to break down additional carbon from minerals and wood. This could lead to even more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and further planet warming.
will california's brisltecone pines survive a warming planet?,(latimes.com)
As temperatures increase, the world's oldest trees in California's White Mountains face a new competitor—lumber pines. They've moved uphill into bristlecone territory, an area that used to be too cold for lumber pines to thrive. It will take a few thousand years, however, before scientists know how bristlecones will fare. As a point of interest, one of the bristlecones, Methuselah, is 4,768 years old!
I may be an oddball, but I think LA's palm trees look out of place. And besides, they aren't even native to California. But the bigger concern is that they're a thirsty variety of palm and don't provide much shade. This doesn't fit well with a warming planet, does it? Also, they attract rats.
So, in response, as iconic palm trees die from disease and old age, the city of Los Angeles plans to replace them with drought-tolerant shade trees.
Just for interest, I included a photo of native California fan palms to the right. I prefer this shaggy, unkempt variety to LA's leggy cousins.
food and farming
Please note: I've included different perspectives on climate change and pasture-based meat. You might want to read all four articles because they each contribute to our knowledge base in a unique way.
Even though grass-fed beef has many environmental benefits compared to grain-fed beef, a recent report out of Australia dispels the myth that pasture-based beef is climate friendly. Bottom line, we need to eat less beef overall.
Although the authors of this piece in Food Tank agree that we need to eat less meat in order to meet climate goals, they also indicate that decreasing financial support for grass-fed beef undercuts a more sustainable model. In addition, they acknowledge the need for additional research on best grazing practices for sequestering carbon. But pasture-based meat is still a much better alternative to industrial agriculture.
a history of grazing in California and the ecological benefits, (ucfoodobserver.com)
Grazing cows on California ranches encourages growth of native grasses while reducing fire risk, supporting habitats for native species, protecting water quality and preserving open space in the San Francisco Bay Area.
A Montana rancher helps restore and preserve native grasses by using sustainable grazing practices. This in turn supports other wildlife. Those of us who live in more urban settings don't often think about the importance of keeping a diverse collection of native grasses. Yet, they improve soil quality and support grassland birds in addition to being tasty sustenance for cows.
health and home
the bpa that lurks inside your kitchen, (npr.org)
This is an excellent, short summary on BPA in plastic. For those of you who don't already know, BPA is a hormone disruptor that can affect sperm quality and increase the risks for breast and prostate cancers. And BPA substitutes are probably not any safer. Although the FDA says you'd have to ingest an extremely high concentration of it to experience negative health effects, some scientists disagree.
But if you insist on using plastic, it's best to avoid heating it in the microwave or running it through the dishwasher because this increases the likelihood that BPA will leach into your food. Instead, head on over to Zero Waste Chef for excellent plastic-free tips. One of my favorite posts on her website is about how to freeze foods in glass jars. I've been washing and saving jars for the freezer and the fridge. I'll eventually post tips on my website, too!
eco-friendly clothing isn't the answer to a sustainable future, (greenbiz.com)
The fashion industry is a big polluter and uses a lot of natural resources. The answer—even for those of us who enjoy expressing ourselves creatively through fashion—is to consume less along with mending and upcycling. You can even become famous in your hometown, like me, and make a no-sew shopping bag out of well-loved T-shirts! (It's true. I'm famous at all the local grocery stores.) Also, if you haven't read the piece I wrote on cotton and climate change at Ensia, it fits with this topic, nicely, and includes solutions toward the end.
Another point to consider, however, is that even though the textile industry is beginning to recycle clothing and linens, that process has limitations because the fibers eventually becomes too weak for processing into new items. Organic cotton is a step forward, but there's only so much of it to go around. Furthermore, as Earth warms, it's uncertain we'll have enough raw cotton fiber to meet the needs of everyone on the planet. This is an excellent time to revive mending and darning!
Green Technology and Renewable energy
But we need those coal plants for security—really?, (fastcompany.com)
No, we don't need expensive coal plants to keep the lights turned on, even in emergencies. And as the author of the article notes, the Department of Energy agrees, as noted in a recent report. How could this be? This is just an attempt to revive coal, which isn't cost effective. But, if you'd like a side order of mercury with your fish, burning coal just might be the ticket!
The U.S. may soon impose tariffs on cheap, imported solar panels to protect domestic manufacturers. But this could devastate the U.S. solar industry and result in thousands of jobs lost. Those against imposing tariffs include not only environmentalists but also the solar industry, the Heritage Foundation and other conservative groups. And just for the record, the solar industry is booming.
is it wise to rely on other countries for solar panels?, (resilience.org)
In this piece at Resilience, author Kurt Cobb questions our dependence on foreign countries for essential goods, such as solar panels. Importing coffee and chocolate makes sense for obvious reasons. But these aren't necessary for survival, even for the owl. Cobb isn't suggesting we resort to tariffs, though; instead, he uncovers the vulnerability of leaving a key energy component in the hands of other countries. I concur, but how do we fix this?
Nature, Science and technology
the fascinating ways that squirrels sort nuts, (theatlantic.com)
Did you know that some squirrels sort their nuts, burying like ones together? At other times, such as when they're far away from their cache of a particular kind of nut, they'll bury mixed groups of nuts together. Party squirrels! Although this is impressive, I'm not surprised at all by squirrels' sorting abilities. I highly recommend this short, delightful read in the Atlantic: You may never look at squirrels the same way again.
ethics and facebook ads, (cleantechnica.com)
Few people choose to alter their behavior based on new information. But the author of this piece in Clean Technica is canning his Facebook account because of a recent piece published at the Guardian on Facebook and ethics. At a time when the internet is brimming with fake news, I have a problem with Facebook becoming a primary news source. What happened to legitimate journalism?
There's a link to the Guardian article in the heading, above, and I strongly urge you take a look, if you don't already know about this. Would you be willing to cancel your Facebook account based on the information in this piece? I may follow suit.
I was saddened to learn about Tom Petty's death. Thanks for the music, Tom. Rest in peace. No, that's not what I meant to say. Rather, I hope you're somewhere creating the best music ever! Laura