I can’t believe it is almost 11


Today I went to a workshop on how to incorporate special lessons into the regular curriculum to add enrichment for gifted and talented children.  The materials were good.  I will use them, but think most would be fine for everyone.  Years ago when I taught English I never told the students, but I taught them all more or less as if it were an Advanced Placement class.  This strategy resulted in high test scores on the state test.  Everyone complains about teaching to the test.  If you teach well, students will do well.

It’s late; this day went by way too fast and here I am blogging and still need to grind coffee for morning among a few other things.  Three kids,including my grandson, are spending the night.  They have the iMAC on, the TV on, and are drawing, all at the same time.  They are 8 and 10.

In the midst of all this activity, I came across the following information:

-The Sacramento River is so low salmon smolts cannot make it to the sea so the state is transporting them in trucks.

-Three-fourths of the US corn crop is bioengineered to include  genes from the natural toxin Bt to make it resistant to corn rootworms, which are now becoming resistant to Bt.

-Lake Mead–the water supply for Las Vegas–is so low they are going to have to move the intake pipes.

-One-third of the natural gas produced in North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation is burned off and lost.  The flares from this can be seen in space and produces greenhouse gases equivalent to one million cars.

-Atmospheric carbon dioxide is the highest it has been in at least 800,000 years. s

-Solar power in Italy and Germany is now as cheap as power from fossil fuels.

-At night rangers close the roads through northern California’s parks to prevent poachers from cutting the valuable burls out of the redwoods with chain saws.

-The use of public transportation in the US is at a 57 year high.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

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Northern Arizona

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Eastern New Mexico

 

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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.