Making a Difference: Kiva Loans


To honor the death of a best friend’s father, I did as she asked, made a Kiva loan.  After looking through dozens of potential individuals and groups, I loaned 100 dollars to a group of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo to help fund their poultry raising operation.  Even though it has been less than six months, they have paid back more than half, paid on time regularly.

Some loan opportunities require even less money.  People often think their efforts don’t count, they are too small to make a difference.  Everything each person does makes a difference for better or worse.  Make a difference, act, speak out, contribute however you can to make our world a better place for all of us.

Apocalyptic Planet-Part Seven: Species Vanish


We all know extinction occurs.  Nearly everyone knows different species of dinosaurs at varied times roamed the earth for millennia.  Bones of all sorts of animals and various hominids are dug up off and on.  Scientists study them, determine their age, where and how they lived.  Scientists and sometimes even average persons develop theories about why they went extinct.  Regardless of which theory a person decides is accurate, these ancient extinctions generally took thousands of years. Recent extinctions are different, e.g. carrier pigeons.  Millions existed a couple of hundreds of years ago; now they are gone.  Why?  Humans.

Various causes exist for the extinctions of ancient species.  A major cause is the climate change caused my the changing tilt of the earth’s axis.  These changes occur over thousands and thousands of years.  What is different now?  Let’s take corn.  Native Americans cultivated rainbow colors of corn in small, frequently irrigated fields.  Where is most corn grown now?  Giant fields of GMO corn grow from horizon to horizon in the Midwest.  And if Monsanto had its way, no other corn would continue to exist for long.   Iowa is a good example.  Wherever this corn is grown, native grasses and other native plants totally disappear, in part due to cultivation.  A bigger issue is herbicides–to have clean fields, nothing and I mean nothing but corn must grow there.  A farmer’s expertise as a farmer is measured my just how super clean his fields are.  The only way to get these totally weedless fields is to use herbicides.  Biodiversity is a key to environmental health.  Little biodiversity exists in giant fields of crops like corn and soybeans.  Fertilizers to obtain huge yields wash downstream and in the Midwest eventually end in the Gulf of Mexico and cause giant marine algae blooms which pulls oxygen from the water to create a dead zone where no marine animals or fish can live.

Perhaps readers have heard of the plight of monarch butterflies.  Compared to just ten years ago, the population has dropped dramatically.  What happened to them?  Roundup.  Over 100,000 tons of Roundup and other brands of glyphosate herbicides are annually applied to crops in the US.  What do monarchs eat?  Milkweed.  Since 1999, 58 per cent of the milkweed has disappeared.  Recently, monarchs experienced a 30 per cent reduction in their numbers in one year.  Are we headed toward a mass extinction?  Some scientists think so.  These scientists are not talking about tigers, elephants, and rhinos being killed at an ever increasing rate for their body parts, but rather about the less noticeable extinctions of various plants and less obvious animals like frogs.  And then there is the problem with bees.  Bees are disappearing at an ever increasing rate due to not only diseases but due to herbicides and pesticides.  Without bees to pollinate the giant fields of almonds and various fruits in California, for example, those foods won’t exist.  See a previous post for more discussion on the importance of bees.  So why care about frogs?  Scientists consider frogs and amphibians in general an indicator of the health of an ecosystem.  Certain more tropical species of frogs are especially subject to the effects of climate change and they are disappearing.

Where I live big bluestem, blue grama, buffalo grass, and other native species grew from horizon to horizon.  This is the high plains.  Root systems of some plants grow twelve feet deep.  It has not rained in over a month.  Where the native grass once grew, crops are now grown.  This time of year finds open fields. Without rain, with the recent endless high winds, dust fills the sky.  To safely return home from town Sunday, I had to turn on the car lights to see.  The dryness fuels wildfires.  Earlier this week, over one hundred homes burned down in a wildfire north of Amarillo.  Drought.

Many human inventions are wonderful and make many lives better, but for some of them, I cannot help but wonder at what cost.

 

 

Earth Day


Sometimes when you love nature, the environment, wildlife, wild places, it is easy to become extremely discouraged.  News about the dramatic increase in poaching in Africa condoned by some governments there does little to help.  Data illustrating how the United States is a hub for wildlife trafficking, the push to kill wolves, big oil’s persistence to explore and open fields in the Arctic and other more delicate environments, water waste, climate change denial, a seemingly endless lists of negatives, can make one think about giving up.  The Colorado River is under siege.  The drought ridden Southwest of which I am a part has too many people fighting over too little water. The EPA just approved a new pesticide known to kill bees which are already disappearing, posing a huge threat to our food supply (see a previous blog highlighting how our food supply depends on these same rapidly disappearing bees).  Another mountain top removal coal mine is being proposed in Kentucky and it is next to a school.  The US Army Corps of Engineers issued the permit.  I could probably spend this entire evening adding to this list of negatives.  I could give up, but I never do.  I keep looking for positives and for changes created by people who care.

 

In honor and praise for those who care and for the positives occurring, I am creating another list:

-Ralph Maughan, an Idaho native, continues to work on the saving the pristine wilderness of the River of No Return Country.  He wants to save wolves in a state where politicians have proposed a law to kill 60 per cent of the state’s wolves.  The Idaho Department of Fish and Game plans to professionally exterminate them so there will be more elk for hunters.  No, I did not make this up.  Maughan says, “the wilderness is supposed to be a place where large carnivores, like wolves, grizzly bears, and mountain lions can exist as they did before humans arrived.”  Now the agency wants to come into a proclaimed wilderness to suit their own purposes. This fight continues.

-In Hawaii many housetops and businesses now glitter with solar panels.  Isaac Moriwake’s consumer advocacy efforts support consumers who want to generate their own electricity through clean energy.  Solar panels totally cover the roof of the new parking garage at the Kapl’olani Medical Center in Oahu.  Hawaii has been able to create a clean energy framework with considerable solar success in spite of traditional utilities’ efforts against it.

-In more remote places like Nepal the WWF helped locals replace wood burning stoves with biogas burners so they would not have to cut down their forests for fuel.

-As Myanmar develops economically and joins the international stage, huge areas of prime forests and native animals are at risk.  Conservationists work with the new government to create national parks and other areas to preserve Myanmar’s rich biodiversity and to listen to local wishes as to how to preserve their valuable natural heritage.

If I wanted to stay up half the night, obviously I could add more and more to each list.  And it is easy to wonder just what can one person do.  For starters, use less water, get rid of all the junk mail that arrives–a later post will describe methods to do this–so it will not add to the landfill and the demise of trees, do not buy furniture made from slow growing tropical wood, adjust your thermostat to warmer in summer and cooler in winter, carry your own bags so you won’t have to use the plastic ones at the store, become politically vocal about conservation.  If you wonder is all this effort worth it, take a walk in the woods, along a beach, through the jungle, on a desert path; fill yourself with wonder.

 

Apocalyptic Planet-Part Five: Civilizations Fall


Whether it is my innate ambition, something my parents instilled in me, or something else unknown, I try to learn something new every day.  Craig Childs starts this chapter of his book by talking about a Phoenix landmark.  Back when I travelled to Phoenix regularly, I knew this place as Squaw Peak.  Now its name Is Piestewa Peak.  The name change is probably a good thing.  I never knew before reading this how dreadfully pejorative the word squaw is.  Basically, it means Indian bitch as well as other things related to the privates of women.  All languages seem to possess an accumulation of dreadful words geared to putting women down one way or another.  Slang words for the private parts of a man rarely mean anything pejorative, at least not that I know of.  The new name, a Hopi name, a blessing word, is a word that calls water to this place.  Not a bad idea in Phoenix or most of the Southwest for that matter.

The name Phoenix fits.  Underneath modern day Phoenix, an ancient city lays buried, a quite sophisticated city with ball courts, temples, irrigation canals.  This city existed at least a thousand years ago.  Its inhabitants grew corn, cotton, beans, and agave.  Farmers, hunters, carvers, all sorts of artisans and merchants apparently lived there.  Now they are called Hohokam taken from an O’odham word meaning “ancestors”, the “ones who have gone”.  We find forgotten cities all over the world, Palmyra, Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat.  What causes these sophisticated civilizations to fall?  If you read a bit, look further, you find common themes:  environmental decay, resource depletion, conflict, disease, social problems.  Angkor Wat fell because it could not maintain its complex irrigation network.  Ur in Iraq fell because a drought caused its port to dry up.  Usually, the demise of particular civilizations occur over time, e.g.Rome.

Childs notes that human patterns often follow animal patterns, or at least mammalian patterns.  For example, when over population occurs, behavior changes.  Parental care and cooperation become replaced with aggression, violence, competition for resources, dominant behaviors.  These types of behaviors are particularly detrimental to females and the young without whom the society (or animal population) cannot replace itself.  Generally, in animal populations, when this occurs, reproduction slows for several generations and the imbalance corrects itself.  For humans, it is not so simple.  Hohokam bones indicate mass starvation and malnutrition.  Other civilizations, e.g. the Anasazi, seem to have disappeared without a trace.

Today, most of the world’s largest cities have immense infrastructures that keep them going, miles of underground sewage tunnels, water mains, etc.  Here in the US in our oldest cities, much of what we take for granted is very old and deteriorating.  New York City and Chicago have water main systems that some experts claim are near collapse or at the very best badly in need of repair.  Doubtless such conditions exist in old cities throughout the world, most of which are much older and larger than the majority of cities in the US.  Yet, they continue to prosper.  Have we passed a point when civilization cannot fall?

Childs completes this discussion by describing his visit with his wife to Guatemala.  They visited all the best known Mayan sites, visited with natives.  His wife managed to get invited to a Mayan fire ceremony, a renewal ceremony.  History books tell us the Mayan civilization is dead, ended.  But it is not.  The Mayan culture still exists.   At least six million still live in the Central America.  What would have happened to Mayan cities if the Europeans had not brought epidemic diseases and better fire power?  We will never know, of course, but no matter how many civilizations rise and fall, change continues and humans continue to inhabit the earth.

The new question is this:  can this planet we live on sustain the ever increasing numbers of humans who inhabit it??

Apocalyptic Planet–Part One


Usually I read only one book at a time.  Lately, I am reading several, one of which is Apocalyptic Planet:  Field Guide to the Future of the Earth by Craig Childs.  Childs is a sort of combined explorer/adventurer/scientist.  He goes to places few go to see what occurs there, the wind, the flora and fauna, the weather, the climate.  The next couple of days I intend to share some of his most pithy observations and ruminations.  We will start with the desert.  He and a friend literally wandered around the most arid and hostile portion of the Sonoran Desert in northwestern Mexico.  This desert has enlarged and become more arid due to an extended drought.

Deserts come and go.  If you live in a lovely lush green landscape, wait long enough and it, too, may become a desert.  Six thousand years ago lakes, marshes, and grassland lay where the Sahara is today.  A slight orbital change in earth’s relation to the sun caused nearby oceans to heat up, changing atmospheric conditions.  Humans living there had no choice but to move.  Forty per cent of the earth’s population lives in semiarid regions.  Even a small drought changes survival chances for the people who live there.  The Sahara, the Gobi, and the Taklimakan are growing, arable farmland decreasing.  Vulnerable areas include southern Spain, Greece, Bolivia, Australia, central Asia, and our own West.  The entire American High Plains (I live in the southern part) sits on top a giant desert.  Without pivot irrigation, only grass grows here.  In the last decade many irrigation wells have dried up or gone too saline.  The giant bulges you see in places like the sand hills of Nebraska are really a sand dune sea covered with grass.  Take away a little rain and here comes the desert.

Childs and his friend carried water with them and buried them with markers in the sand so they could find them later.  As the desert grows in parts of India, women carry water farther and farther, an average of six miles a day, four gallons at a time.  In the Sahel just south of the Sahara a difference in rainfall of just an inch or two can mean the difference between survival and starvation.  Without water, there is no civilization.

What causes these changes?  Human behavior and the increase in greenhouse gases are  part of the reason.  Humans are creating enough changes that we are moving toward more deserts, not fewer.  One climate expert, Jonathan Overpeck, thinks we are seriously underestimating the severity of drought we will face in the not so distant future.  Forget five and seven year droughts and think fifty years.  Hadley cells also affect climate change.  Tomorrow I will explain Hadley cells and how they affect our weather.

SAM_1190

 

 

Northern Arizona

SAM_1302

 

 

Eastern New Mexico

 

SAM_1370

 

Texas Panhandle

Gypsies, Deserts, and Random Thoughts on a Cold Sunday Morning


In less than 15 hours, it has dropped from low 70s to 9 here on my canyon rim–one of the joys of living in the Panhandle of Texas where a mere change in wind direction can dictate the weather.  Yesterday afternoon, I was helping my daughter clean her back yard and ready the ground for planting some shrubs and a tree and now 60 degrees colder.  This type of drastic weather change has occurred repeatedly in the last few weeks.  Perhaps it has muddled my brain which keeps hopping back and forth from this to that.  First, the “this”.

Mostly, I read Latin American, American Indian, and Middle Eastern authors.  When I recently stopped by the library, I could find none of these that I had not already read so I picked up a book from a Dutch author of whom I had never previously heard, Margriet de Moor.  The book, a novel, The Duke of Egypt, tells the tale of a Gypsy man who meets this young Dutch woman.  They marry and lead a quite unusual life:  in the winter he lives with her on the family horse farm; in summer he leaves and lives with the Gypsies, wandering around Europe in their caravans.  When he is “home” with her, in the evenings he tells her tales of his Gypsy family and friends, centuries of history.  These tales shocked me:  centuries of discrimination, hangings–even Gypsy women hanged publicly for no other reason than they happened to be Gypsy in the wrong country at the wrong time, sick children whom no doctor would treat, starvation, driven from country to country.  Of course, like many people I have heard stories about Gypsies:  as a child my grandmother telling me that Gypsies stole other people’s children, a friend telling me the police said it was Gypsies when someone stole some silverware from her house, but I never really believed it.  Reading this book caused me to delve a bit more into Gypsy/Roma history only to learn even more tales of horror.  Hitler and his Nazis hated Gypsies almost as much as they hated Jews.  It is estimated that the Nazis sent at least ten per cent of the Gypsy population in Europe to the gas chamber.  On the positive side, I learned that many Gypsies were hired by people who raised horses to help them with their horse care because Gypsies were considered expert horse trainers and traders.  In addition, some hired them for their music to play for social events and festivals.

When several friends came over for dinner, I mentioned the book to them and my shock.  I wondered aloud as to why so many hated the Gypsies.  The general response was this:  Gypsies consistently live as they wish and refuse to follow the social norms of the rest of the population.  They refuse to settle down and live in one place, they enjoy life, dancing, drinking, roaming.  If you refuse to live like everyone else, the rest of the world will  punish you.

Then I moved on to the book I am reading now, Apocalyptic Planet:  Field Guide To The Future Of The Earth.  I am only on page 27 of 327, and already I have learned:  “Deserts generate most of the world’s airborne dust, contributing to a global migration of surface minerals.  Dust blowing from the southern Sahara is the single largest producer of iron for the mineral-poor soils of the Amazon in South America.  Half of this dust originates in the Bodele Depression north of Lake Chad, which produces about one hundred storms a year, each sending 40,000 tons of dust across the Atlantic to South America.”  And a bit further in the book:  much of the fertile High Plains here in the US (Kansas, eastern Colorado, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas, basically from Canada to Mexico) sit on top of a desert, e.g. the Sand Hills.  Currently, these sand hills remain stabilized by miles and miles of grass–our native short grass steppe.  It does not take much to imagine what would occur if drought continues and the grass disappears.  Once desertification occurs as it is now occurring in many places in the world, e.g. the Sahel, deserts consume.  Jonathan Overpeck, a leading climate researcher claims, “…we are significantly underestimating the severity of drought we could get in the future.”  He predicts many places now inhabited will become uninhabitable unless we initiate drastic changes in our water management.  People will be forced to move from places of little to no water to places “wherever there is no desert”.  He adds, “We are contributing enough change to the planet that we are moving toward more droughts instead of away from them.”  In the Sahel alone it is estimated that 500 million people will have to move to survive.  I think over this information and about the current drought here and look at the beautiful place where I write and live, wondering will it be habitable in one hundred years.

Now on to the “that”:  grateful I live here in the United States in spite of all our “problems”.  I could have been born in Ukraine, Syria, Central Aftican Republic, any of those places experiencing turmoil, fear, religious hatred, genocide, torture–the list goes on and on.  Instead here I am happy, relatively safe, warm in spite of the 9 degrees outside, well fed–you get the picture.

Do you like to eat? Bees and the Food Supply


SAM_1074Do you like to eat?  Do you eat almonds, apples, cherries, watermelon, blueberries, or cantaloupe?  In fact, the biggest factor limiting the world’s food supply is not war, drought, or any of the factors you commonly hear about.  The world’s food supply is limited by the amount of bees available for pollination.  In the last five years in the United States alone, approximately one million honey bee colonies died each year, about one third of our national bee herd.  Bees are in danger of extinction.  Native to Southeast Asia, honey bees were domesticated long before written history, before the building of the Egyptian pyramids.  Thousands of species of bees exist, but honey bees carry the main load of pollination for cultivated crops.

More than 740,000 acres of almonds, California’s leading agricultural export,  remain in cultivation in the Central Valley of California.  Pollination depends on bumble bees, honey bees, and wild bees.  Sadly, the wild bees are mostly extinct, killed by pesticides and habitat loss.  Now pollination depends on traveling bee keepers and their honey bees.  Today, commercial bee keepers number one fourth of what they did in 1980.  To get enough bees the almond (and cherry and apple, etc.) growers hire these bee keepers to install approximately 2 million bee hives to work the pollination.  Almonds alone require at least 1.5 million hives.  Each almond tree’s blossoms number 25,000 and at 135 or so trees per acre, that adds up to 3.5 million flowers to pollinate.  The difference between a poor harvest and a great one depends on bees.  After the bees finish their work in the Central Valley and other warmer climates, the commercial keepers take them to places like Idaho and North Dakota for the summer where they sip alfalfa, buckwheat, goldenrod, and sweet clover blossoms and produce the honey sold in groceries.

Where have all the bees gone?  What leads them toward extinction?  In 2006-2008, beehives across the world from Europe to here to Indian and Brazil nearly collapsed.  Causes vary:  foulbrood–a bacterial fungus, wasps, ants, mice, a host of viruses, nosema–bee diarrhea, and certain pesticides.  What can we do?  First, we can ban certain pesticides that are known to harm bees.  Second, we need to grow more flowers and blooming weeds (yes, I said weeds) to encourage a broader spectrum of healthy bees for pollination.  Honey bees cannot do it all alone.  The lack of sufficient flowers is the result of not only pesticides, but also the increase in lawns.  If you personally want to make a difference for bees and ultimately our food supply, let the wild flowers grow, plant more flowers and less lawn, limit pesticide use.

This morning I went out to my xeroscape garden–I have no lawn–and photographed bees.  At one catmint plant, so many busy bees made a clearly audible buzzing sound.  I witnessed at least four different kinds–species–of bees.  These SAM_1076

SAM_1081

SAM_1077

SAM_1078photographs illustrate at least several different types of flowers bees love.