Storms passing by

This is the season of storms. Afternoon, the clouds that have been building during the hot day are ready to release some energy. They roll with the wind across the hills and let loose rain. They bring wind. Thunder and lightning accompany them.

The other day we watched a storm come in. The sky turned dark, then darker. My wife was out on a hike. The storm got closer. We could see rain falling on the hills in the distance. We felt a few drops. We stayed in the sun. We were on the edge of it. But it was coming. We knew that.

I texted my wife. I told her I hoped she was close. She checked the radar. She was close. We knew were going to get a whopper. We watched it come toward us. The wind picked up. Those few drops kept falling on us.

My wife came back. And the storm moved on. We stayed on the edge of it. We stayed in the sun. The rain passed over the hills. And then it got calm again. We were wrong about getting that whopper.

But we will get another chance. Many of them. The storms will come again. They will bring heavy rain. That is the theme now. We get few times of slow and steady rain. We get downpours, with pounding rain and erosion, then the sun comes out. The weather is more intense in general, and these summer storms show it.

We had no storms today. It stayed clear enough, although it was cooler than it has been. Crows across the field are mobbing something, calling and calling, raising a ruckus. Katydids buzz. The air is still. I wouldn’t mind a storm. Bring on the thunder. That dusty road of ours could use some dampening. Tomorrow, perhaps. I will be here.

Climate March Montpelier

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Before things got started at the Montpelier People’s Climate March

Yesterday was the People’s Climate March. The big event was in Washington, of course, but Vermont had its own sister rally. My children and I, along with a friend of my daughter’s, went down to be a part of it.

We got there early to a busy city. There were baseball and basketball games at the high school, as well as a bike race through the capital. We were an hour early so we wandered a bit before finding a spot on the lawn to watch and to listen. There was no march, even though State Street was closed, so it was more a rally.

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A sampling of attendees and signs at the Montpelier Climate March

The crowd was decent-sized but I admit it seemed small after the Women’s March in January. Partly, I think, people are just not as fired up as they were the day after the inauguration. Plus, the Science March just happened last weekend and I imagine many people simply could not attend both. It was a beautiful day. It was a good day to do any number of things. And, frankly, climate change is a fuzzy thing. That is why it has gained less traction than so many other causes. The science is clear but the everyday impact on individuals? Not so much.

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The energy was pretty positive, despite the somber topic. Speakers had the same message: this stuff matters and is real, our current administration is working to make it worse, and we all need to keep fighting to make real change. There were adults and kids, teens and gray-beards. The crowd was pretty white, to be expected in Vermont.

I felt like it mattered just to show up. I wanted to show my kids that showing up is important and that there are other people out there who also care. Climate change does feel like a problem that isn’t getting addressed enough, and, like so many other people, it feels difficult to address on a personal level. But again, just being there to listen and to be around others who understand the gravity of it all seems to help.

It did give me some energy to stay positive and, maybe, to take some action. I mean, if this kid can rally for it, so can I.

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Too Hot

I love how there are still scientists out there who will not commit to saying that climate change is at least part of the cause of our recent severe weather. July was the hottest on record of any month since such records have been kept, and the last 12 months were the warmest such stretch. This isn’t a new thing here people. How many times do we get to hear “last month was the warmest on record” before enough of us wise up to the problem. The New York times reported this today, interviewing Jake Crouch, “a climatologist at the agency’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.” They wrote “Asked whether the July heat record was linked to rising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, Mr. Crouch said he could not draw that conclusion.” I get the impression that scientists are afraid to draw the obvious conclusion not because they are scientists but because they are afraid.

At least three scientists, James Hanson, Makiko Sato and Reto Reudy, have been willing to state that climate change is making a difference is out weather. In their report, Perception of Climate Change, they write:

“Climate dice,” describing the chance of unusually warm or cool seasons, have become more and more “loaded” in the past 30 y, coincident with rapid global warming. The distribution of seasonal mean temperature anomalies has shifted toward higher temperatures and the range of anomalies has increased. An important change is the emergence of a category of summertime extremely hot outliers, more than three standard deviations (3σ) warmer than the climatology of the 1951–1980 base period. This hot extreme, which covered much less than 1% of Earth’s surface during the base period, now typically covers about 10% of the land area. It follows that we can state, with a high degree of confidence, that extreme anomalies such as those in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 and Moscow in 2010 were a consequence of global warming because their likelihood in the absence of global warming was exceedingly small. 

Note the last sentence. They took some heat for this. There are plenty of people who, mysteriously, continue to look (or not look) at the science and fail to see the problem for what it is. I am a bit mystified by what anyone has to gain by perpetuating the “hoax” of global warming. What scientist wants to be wrong? Why claim something isn’t true? In the science community a falsehood will get found out eventually. It’s not like this is a good thing. That is why it is a problem. Sure, you can call global warming a theory and say it isn’t proven. You wouldn’t be wrong. But you can say gravity is a theory, too. Go ahead and tell people that isn’t real.

Anyway, it has been to hot around here this summer. When we get rain, we get a big storm blasting through. Eighty degrees is now a normal daily temperature. That used to be hot, and plenty uncommon for me. We now use an air conditioner at night too often. What gives with that here? It is not just because we are getting older and can’t stand the same old heat. It ain’t the same old heat. Somebody needs to put in a lake at our house.

Call it controversial. Call it a theory. Call it a debate. Heck, call it Fred. It is not going away. It is hot and the weather is crazy. At some point human caused climate change will be a matter of general knowledge in the United States. We’ll catch up to the rest of the world eventually. In the meantime I am going to go make some cool drinks.

 

UPDATE: Here is another Times article that offers some perspective on the “new normal” with this gem: “it is increasingly clear that we already live in the era of human-induced climate change, with a growing frequency of weather and climate extremes like heat waves, droughts, floods and fires.” That cool drink is going to come in handy.

Eating Around Here

I made dinner tonight and let me tell you it was good stuff.  It was simple, really, but a simple pleasure.  I scrambled up eggs and cheese and we ate it with greens. The greens were as simple as the eggs–leeks, garlic, peppers and kale with some salt and butter.  The combination was tasty, tastier than I thought it would be.  It felt good to eat food so wholesome and healthy.  And it felt good to know that almost everything came from right around here.

The leeks and kale came from our farm share. Our last pick up was Tuesday and we got a lot. We used some of it tonight. The peppers came from our garden–the last of them to be picked. The butter was Cabot butter, so also fairly local. The cheese in the eggs was also Cabot, and the eggs came from Maple Meadow Farm in Salisbury (the eggs could be more local, I admit, but this wasn’t bad). The olive oil traveled far to get to us, as did the salt, but those are hard to get from local sources.

The one thing that was questionable was garlic. That came from a farm somewhere, but that’s all I know. Our farm share did not include garlic several times in a row–they didn’t have a great year. I missed the farmer’s market last Saturday–I couldn’t get there until too late. And our local market, which often has good local produce, didn’t have any local garlic, so I bought what was there, even though I hate not to know the source of my food. Part of the reason we had no garlic was that the garlic I bought at the farmer’s market a couple weeks ago I planted in the ground. I want to make sure I have plenty next year, so I planted all the cloves and hope for them to burst out of the ground in spring. That would make things local, eh?

So our meal had only a few food miles. It is simply crazy that our food system means we can get cheap food that is transported hundreds or thousands or miles. How is it that we can spend 87 calories to get one calorie and not pay more for that one calorie than we do? How is it that we are OK with the poor quality of those strawberries or winter tomatoes when we buy them, out of season? We ship food all over the place so we can eat whatever we want whenever we want it. So we get poor quality food and we burn up all kinds of oil to get it and we pump CO2 into the atmosphere like mad (literally) when we could could have better food at less real cost if we ate locally. So I try to do that.

Having a garden helps. Taking part in a community supported agriculture program helps. Living in Vermont helps, as local food is available much of the year because people care about it. And canning and freezing helps, too, as that means we can spread the harvest out over the cold months. I am new to canning but thanks to my parents giving me a tutorial, I have canned my second batch of jam. I have pesto and pumpkin and soup in the freezer and will freeze more. I could do better and, with some experience and over time, I will. Pulling pesto out of the freezer in January is just about the best thing ever.

Keeping my food miles down is important. I don’t want my food traveling more in a year than I do. It is one thing I, and collectively we, can do to make a difference to abate global warming. Eating locally can make a big difference in limiting carbon emissions, since we all need to eat. One day we will be forced to eat more locally, since oil will get expensive and raspberries from temperate climes won’t be cheap to ship in the winter. Plus, food usually tastes better if it hasn’t traveled half way around the world. And it has more in it, so it is healthier. Sure, if we eat locally we don’t get to have anything we want whenever we want it, but waiting for things makes them sweeter, sometimes literally. And I can wait for a little sweetness.

(This post is part of Blog Action Day).

What Am I Doing?

This summer I read an article in Orion Magazine that has really stuck with me.  It was Forget Shorter Showers by Derrick Jensen.  Here is an excerpt:

An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.

He goes on to talk about water (more than 90% is used by industry and agriculture), energy (individual consumption is 25% or less) and waste (municipal waste accounts for only 3% of the total).  The message that I took away was not that what we do doesn’t make a difference.  It does, and we need to do it.  But if we want to make the kind of change required to address climate change, then tackling it by recycling and carpooling won’t cut it.  We need change on a bigger scale.

The basis of our economy, of any capitalist economy, is that we need to grow and grow, endlessly.  A business is seen as a failure if it fails to grow.  Making a profit isn’t good enough.  We ask that businesses make more profit every month/quarter/year.  The GDP needs to grow, employment needs to grow, sales need to grow, new home starts need to grow.  We can never have enough.  That is the problem.  I love to get a raise, but when I’m told I can’t have one this year I make do.  My home doesn’t need to get bigger every year.  I don’t need to gain weight.  In many spheres of our lives, we know that growing is not always good–it comes with a price that often we don’t want to pay.

So why is it that we need to keep growing, in the big picture, in our economy?  The idea is so ubiquitous that it isn’t even questioned.  We hear regular reports on the news about “the economy,” as if any of us really know what that is.  The “economy” isn’t growing so things must be bad.  No, people are out of work, so things are bad.  People are out of work because we constantly depend on growth.  When growth turns into shrinkage, people lose jobs.  We don’t work with a sustainable model where our economy is flexible enough to accommodate fluctuation.  Or at least our values aren’t there.

We need to deal with climate change, but with a mindset that we need to keep growing, it is difficult to talk about shrinking carbon emissions.  I keep hearing talk of the search for some technological silver bullet that will allow us to keep up the same habits and yield lower carbon emissions.  It’s not going to happen.  We need to make major changes to how we think about our economy, agriculture, transportation, everything.  Changing light bulbs isn’t enough.  Changing systems is what we need.

This morning I heard the mayor of Pittsburgh, Luke Ravenstahl, noting how the city has been trying to change its image from dirty and industrial to “green.”  The very next sentence in the story noted that the city has this huge supply of bottled water ready for those coming to Pittsburgh for the G-20 summit.  Excuse me?  You just said you are going for a green image and you are offering bottled water for a summit where world poverty, which commonly involves issues of access to fresh water, will be a major topic of discussion?  Um, bottled water has too many issues to list.  Am I the only one to see the irony here?

After seeing the film The Age of Stupid the other night (moving and powerful and a must see for anyone who isn’t a climate change denier), and continuing to ponder Jensen’s article, I have been thinking about what the heck I might do.  I have made personal change.  That is necessary both to send a message to others that one is serious and to actually make a bit, however small, of difference.  I have changed light bulbs and I use the clothesline whenever I do the laundry.  I try to limit waste.  I compost.  I grow some of the food we eat.  I also, however, have been writing to my congressional representatives.  I at least need to do that.  If I want us to make big changes, I have to let some of the people in a position to make those changes know what I think.

What else might I do?  I am not all that sure.  That is one of the problems here.  We all need to stand up, to get involved, to cry for something bigger than tax incentives for solar panels we can’t afford even with incentives.  We need to get out there and take action now.  Climate change is a problem that won’t wait for us.  I’ll start by writing.  I will write on October 15 about climate change for Blog Action Day.  You should, too, if you have your own blog.  And I’ll talk to people.  I need to do more and I will figure out my place in the solution to this problem as I go.  I’m getting started.  We all need to.

Dropping Electricity Use

For a while we were pretty consistent with our electric bill.  We had a bump here or there, a jump in usage that we usually could not definitively explain, but we averaged 400 kilowatt hours per month.   Before we moved to this house two and a half years ago, I paid attention to how much our bill lowered  my checking account balance, but I paid little attention to how much electricity we used.  Not that we wasted electricity–we did what we could to minimize usage.  I just didn’t pay attention to the actual number.

Now I do pay attention.  Our last electric bill posted only 296 kilowatt hours of electricity.  I was pretty happy with that, especially since it was for most of March.  We use more electricity in the winter and March, in these parts, is definitely winter.  In the winter we keep lights on longer.  The heating system, although it is propane, kicks in and uses electricity.  We don’t use the clothesline but rely on the electric dryer.  We bake with our electric oven more.  We make coffee or tea more often.  We just use a lot more energy in the darker days of the year.

So I was proud that we managed to use less than 300 kilowatt hours for the month.  We haven’t changed our life dramatically, but we have made some changes.  The light bulb thing, although it has been drilled into us all so much we are becoming numb to it, makes a huge difference.  Incandescent bulbs waste a lot of energy–you can feel it in the form of heat.  Any incandescent bulb we fave feels to me like it is just spitting electricity into the air.  I feel the heat and I feel energy being wasted.  So we have changed most of our bulbs.  Why not all of them?  We have a bunch of those candle flame shaped fixtures and those bulbs are hard to find in a compact fluorescent version.  But we are slowly getting there.

Every time we change out a couple of light bulbs it seems to make a difference.  The other big difference has been turning down the dryer.  We used to always dry everything on the highest setting.  Once we turned it down to the medium heat setting we could see a difference on our electric bill right away.  We do wash lots of clothes.  We have a couple of small children in the house.  Once we can start using the clothesline again (soon!) we will use even less electricity.

We don’t have cable box on our television that sucks energy 24/7, and now that Vermont has switched to digital–and we still don’t have a converter box–we can’t watch any television at all.  We watch DVD’s but not as often as we might now that the weather is warmer and we are spending more time outside.  We will start grilling soon and use the stove less.  I am hoping that on one of these bills we be able to get it down under 200 kilowatt hours.  That may be tight but it is possible, I am sure.

I am glad we don’t have a 5,000 square foot home.  That would make our challenge even harder.  I still see people who leave light on all the time, even when they are not home.  That just seems like kind of a Duh!  I try to avoid the Duhs.  Next month–going for 280.