Happy Christmas!

What with a circus going on in the political arena and so much agony around the world, it seemed to me that at this time of year we should focus for a moment, at least, on some good news. And there is good news, at least on the environmental front — which may be the most vital front of all — starting with the Paris Accords. . I quote here from this month’s Sierra magazine skipping, for obvious reasons, the bleak news they also tend to fill their magazine with.

To begin with, there is this nice tid-bit titled “The Clean Energy Boom”:

“Renewable energy in the United States has taken off faster than a smartphone-app-start-up. In the decade between 2005 and 2014, we increased our wind power by a factor of 10 and generated 33 times more solar electricity. Wind energy — which provides about 10 times more electricity in America than solar thermal and solar photovoltaic sources combined — has been surging steadily since 2010, while growth in solar power has spiked in the last two years. And the best news, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, is that the renewable boom is expected to continue at least through this year and next.”

And that’s not all, though I would add that a plan is in the works to build the state’s largest solar collector farm about six miles South of my home in Cottonwood, Minnesota. Good news indeed.  But, wait!

“Shell Oil has abandoned plans to drill for oil in Arctic waters.”

“The Interior Department has cancelled two oil-drilling lease sales in the Arctic Ocean.”

“China has announced a cap-and-trade program aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions beginning in 2017.”

In addition, there is this exciting news item:

San Diego wants to be clean — 100 percent clean energy, to be exact — in just 20 years, under an ambitious plan unanimously passed last week by the city council. This is big news. San Diego is America’s eighth largest city, with a population of more than 1.5 million. It also has a Republican mayor, who, unlike his compatriots railing against climate action at presidential debates across the country, is making a bold plan that puts his city at the forefront of America’s clean energy future.

The plan — which got unanimous, bi-partisan support from the city council — could become a model for other cities around the country to also move to 100 percent renewables.

Already, we’ve seen that cities around the world are far ahead of national governments in taking actions toward sustainability. Whether it is banning plastic bags, setting up municipal composting systems, or shifting away from dirty coals, it is cities that paved the path for countries to make a climate accord in Paris just last week.

San Diego’s plan is ambitious but realistic. It relies on expanding the city’s vehicle fleet to 90 percent electric cars by 2035, expanding bicycles and public transit, creating more walkable neighborhoods, and better managing waste.

Let’s hope the new year brings even more good news. In the meantime, Happy Christmas to all my blogging friends!!


Bi-monthly Report

As is usually the case with this blog, I am going to summarize the Sierra Club’s bi-monthly report as included in the Sierra Magazine. It contains some bad news along with some very good news as far as human life on our planet is concerned. First the bad news:


The Baird’s sparrow is being pushed out of North Dakota and Montana and into Canada by climate change.

Rising temperatures and hybridization with non-native rainbow trout threaten Montana’s famed cutthroat trout with extinction.

May was the hottest month on record.

The West Antarctic ice sheet is in irreversible collapse according to a joint University of California, Irvine/NASA study. The ice sheet contains enough water top raise sea levels worldwide by four feet.

That last one is most disturbing, but it is countered by some good news.

One-fifth of the world electric energy production now comes from renewables.

The EPA proposes a rule to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector, including existing coal-fired power plants, by 30 percent by 2030. (You may recall that the EPA is one of the main targets of the Koch brothers!) Meanwhile, Finland (whose school system is the best in the world) aims to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the middle of the century.

Tesla motors (makers of the world’s most efficient electric cars) has surpassed Toyota as the largest auto industry employer in California. Further, their CEO, Elon Musk, has opened his company’s patents to other automakers for free in order to help widespread adoption of electric cars.

America now has more solar workers than coal miners — (for those who think the pursuit of renewable energy will cost the country jobs).

And finally, Pope Francis says that destroying the earth is a sin. (Not to mention suicidal).

Trouble In Paradise

You may have read about the “power struggle” in Oahu, Hawaii where the number of photovoltaic solar collectors, combined with other renewables, is now generating 200 megawatts of energy that the antiquated electric grid cannot handle. Or so say those who own the power companies. They worry about sudden power surges that will endanger their equipment and the appliances their customers depend upon. The problem is one that may face the rest of the nation in the future if  more and more people buy into alternative energy and the power companies must upgrade their equipment. Those companies will, of course, pass the costs along to their customers: we know they will not let it affect their bottom line. As a recent story on Yahoo News tells us:

What’s happening in Hawaii is a sign of battles to come in the rest of the United States, solar industry and electric utility executives said. The conflict is the latest variation on what was a controversial issue this year in top solar markets California and Arizona. It was a hot topic at a solar industry conference last week: how to foster the growth of rooftop solar power while easing the concerns of regulated utilities that see its rise as a threat.

The problem in Oahu is considerably more intense than it is elsewhere in this country as 40% of the homeowners on that island have rooftop collectors — as contrasted with 1.4% in California, the state with the next highest proportion of collectors in the country. But the point is that the power companies on the mainland are getting nervous about the loss of income, including increasing payouts they will suffer as more and more people generate their own electricity and sell back to the power companies the electricity they cannot use themselves.

The problem, of course, is that the power companies have the political clout to get laws passed that assure their continued profits — as was the case in Oahu where new customers will have to pay a surcharge to the power companies in order to get permission to install solar collectors in the future. The problem may be very real in Oahu where so many folks have chosen to go the way of alternative energy, but it is a small problem on this continent where so few people have made the same choice. None the less, we can still brace ourselves for the coming battles as sensible people who choose to help to save the planet, and save their electrical costs at the same time, ward off the slings and arrows of the power companies that have very full quivers.

You Gotta Love It!

(I have decided to break my pattern of daily posts — not counting the blogs I re-blog — by writing about an incident that is about to happen. I have decided to do this because writing about what is about to happen seems to be in fashion these days. If I mistake the signs and portents, I will write an apology.)

The recent story about Mitt Romney’s ready response to the immanent Supreme Court decision (due today) on Obamacare, as it is called, was most interesting. It says, in part,

No matter how the Supreme Court rules on President Obama’s health care law on Thursday, Mitt Romney already has a response to the court’s decision: Obamacare was a “bad policy” that diverted the president’s attention away from the more important issue of getting the nation’s unemployed back to work.

What we have here is a response to an event that has not yet occurred in a news story about something that is not yet news! You gotta love it! We now live in an age in which things happen before they happen (hence this blog!). We don’t even need to wait to see what happens; we can simply read about it beforehand and then go back to watching sit-coms on TV. Wonderful!

But we all know (a) what the Supreme Court will (has) decide(d) on health care. They will almost certainly rule against the “mandate” which will pretty much make the matter a dead issue. And we also know that (b) Romney will turn this (and any other issue) into an attack on Obama’s “failure” to deliver the country from an economic mess that his predecessor left behind — though the latter element of the story will be carefully ignored.

It is true that politicians have become predictable. But it is also true that the central issue in this election is not the economy — contrary to what you may have heard — but national priorities. We simply cannot continue to do “business as usual” and must begin to consider alternatives to our unmitigated thirst for “things” and our determination to live in a grand style while others around us, and the earth itself, suffer from neglect.

The good news is that we can do both at the same time: we can inject life into a tired economy by putting our efforts into renewables and clean energy (there’s a sleeping giant out there ready to be wakened) thereby putting people back to work while at the same time we help bring the earth back to life and restore our own sense of worth. Now THAT would be newsworthy!

Family Planning

It has always astonished me that people fail to realize the connection between the lack of family planning and the destruction humans are doing to the planet. In fact, as I have said in a previous blog, the exploding human population is almost certainly responsible for many (most?) of the problems we confront as we attempt to survive on this planet. And yet, we continue to ignore the problem because in the minds of many “family planning” equates to “abortion.” This is absurd.

Consider the effect expanding human populations have on the environment, as reported in a recent issue of the Sierra Club magazine.  The number of humans increases by about 220,000 per day.  We hit the 7 billion mark last October, as noted in an earlier blog. Humans emit 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually. At the present rate of human expansion, that output of carbon dioxide will double by 2062, pushing our planet beyond the 560 parts-per-million threshold — which is when the Greenland ice sheet will cave in.

There are, of course things we can do to control human population which do not involve the dreaded “A” word that makes discussion of the problem well-nigh impossible. We can support world-wide efforts to get contraceptives into the hands of women who want them but are unable to get them as things now stand — estimated to be about 215 million women world-wide. We can support efforts to increase literacy around the world so more people understand what expanding human populations mean to the survival of the planet. Literate women tend to have smaller families and drastically decreased infant-mortality rates. Literate women also have increased access to economic opportunities and are less likely to bear children before they can afford to support them. We can support sex information programs (misnamed “sex education” in this country), which will help reduce teen pregnancy, among other benefits. We can help support gender equity efforts which would increase women’s decision-making power which is essential to slowing human population growth.

There are also steps we can take that have nothing whatever to do with family planning but will also help reduce our “carbon footprint” on this planet. These things are fairly obvious, but largely ignored in our pursuit of fun and profit. We can replace oil and gas with renewables; cut our power usage by turning down the thermostat in the Winter and up in the Summer; run our cars on hydrogen — or at least buy the most fuel-efficient cars available that we can afford; we can displace coal with solar and wind energy, so-called “clean energy”; farmers can practice conservation tillage, which has already expanded to 35% of the farms in this country; and we can stop deforestation which removes trees from the earth which are essential in providing the world with oxygen.

Needless to say, these steps require some sort of sacrifice on our part and humans have not shown much of a desire in recent history to deny themselves anything. But the alternative is clear: if we continue on our present course, we will destroy the earth on which our lives depend.