Let’s roll

A recent op-ed by Mark Reynolds of Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) is titled “To solve climate change, the passengers must now fly the plane”.  It does a good job creating a metaphor but I think there is one area that could use an adjustment.  Here is a portion of it:

When it comes to climate change, most Americans are like the passengers on a jetliner wanting to arrive safely at their destination but thinking there’s no need to be involved with the actual flying of the plane. The “people in charge,” surely, have things under control.

Lately, however, the plane has experienced a rough ride:

  • On Christmas Day, the temperature at Santa’s workshop – a.k.a. the North Pole – approached the melting point of 32 degrees Fahrenheit, about 40 degrees above average for that time of year.
  • With 2016 hitting another high mark for average global temperature, 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have occurred in the current century.
  • Floods, like the disasters that struck Louisiana and North Carolina last year, are happening as a result of unprecedented rainfall measured in feet rather than inches.
  • As we start the new year, 37 million people across Africa are without food because of crop failures caused by droughts and floods exacerbated by climate change.

All this turbulence is prompting some of the passengers to rise from their seats, walk to the cockpit and check with the pilot. Upon opening the door, however, they are shocked to see no one seated at the controls.  For a number of years, President Obama did his best to keep the plane aloft with executive orders to address climate change, chiefly the Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions at power plants. But the 44th president has donned his parachute and exited the plane, leaving the pilot’s seat disturbingly empty.

So, how do we avoid crashing into a mountainside?

It’s time for the passengers to start flying the plane, and by passengers, we mean citizens.  This entails setting aside cynicism about our government and engaging with people in Congress who represent us in Washington. Government will respond to the will of the people, provided the people tell the government what we want.

If we take a look at the facts, our current president has tweeted that Climate change “was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive”, is a “Hoax”, is an “expensive hoax” and is “bullshit”.  He even tweeted “Not only are wind farms disgusting looking, but even worse they are bad for people’s health”.  Trump made campaign promises to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, has approved fossil fuel projects, has made staff appointments of outspoken climate change deniers, and placed restrictions on how scientific agencies can communicate to citizens.  The really sad thing is that with majority party control, making progress to address climate change presents a huge opportunity where the current elected officials could be heroes by following the CCL recommended and widely supported plan that would initiate significant job creation and shift the U.S. economy while moving towards clean energy. 

So back to the metaphor above.  I agree we are all passengers on the plane, the only problem is that from our seats we can hear that the captain is indeed still at the controls, we can tell he is there by his constant chirping over the PA system.  When we try to go have an honest dialogue, we learn that he has a likeminded flight crew, numerous DHS agents, and a legion of unconditional followers who will not hesitate to verbally abuse or attack the majority with a factual view of science.  As we listen to the chirps continue, we realize that a thin skinned unapologetic egocentric madman is at the controls; bullying anyone who asks tough questions or has an opposing view.  Relying on hope that someone close to him will get through to him and shift his mindset is not enough.  As passengers, we need to take action to prevent a crash landing that few will walk away from.  We can no longer afford to sit in our seats and listen to the same rhetoric and misinformation, it is time to get up and demand action; let’s roll.

Mark sums it up well by reminding us what Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart once said, “We aren’t passengers on spaceship Earth, we’re the crew. We aren’t residents on this planet, we’re citizens. The difference in both cases is responsibility.”

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The Onion tribute: Using sex to sell climate science

Despite an overwhelming majority of countries, religions, companies, and scientists publicly stating that they are in favor of immediate action to help mitigate man made influences on climate change there are still pockets of powerful and influential people in the U.S. who oppose it.  Concerned about delays in action, Yale University commissioned the Paddleford Warren Research Trust (PWRT) to identify the demographics of this group and determine what could influence them to get on board.  PWRT found that the majority of those who did not believe in man-made global warming were white males between the ages of 45 and 65.  In researching that demographic they learned that the primary influencers of their climate science opinions were females like Sarah Palin, Megyn Kelly, Maria Bartiromo, Tomi Lahren, and other outspoken female climate science skeptics.

Yale University took this information and has partnered with other academic institutes and is in the preliminary phases of implementing a plan to bring more influential women to the scientific side of the discussion.  Wesley Thibodaux from the Peoples Grant Institute (PGI) is overseeing the financial help his organization is providing.  In an interview, Thibodaux stated “with no disrespect to the women in science today, we need to bring more overt sexuality to the table when it comes to discussing climate science.  Sex sells and action is long overdue”.  The grant process includes many common initiatives to get more women in science but in reviewing the grant application there are areas where it differs significantly.  The application asks for a headshot and video of the applicant talking sternly about anything climate science related.  It outlines the awards that an applicant can receive which include wardrobe vouchers, makeovers, and even plastic surgery.  Thibodaux defends this by saying “look at the TV today, big oil is spending money on $2300 shoes, tight white designer dresses, and requesting low camera angles for their legion of ladies to continue persuading inaction on combatting climate change, it is time to sex up science and get these dirty old men back to reality”.  He concedes that it is unclear whether this campaign will have any impact on climate change but says that his team can definitely influence public opinion, “what is the alternative, to wait for these old men to die, we simply do not have enough time for that”.

In a follow up with Yale University, they confirmed that they are partnering with the PGI and adding scholarships to the mix for “qualified female candidates”.  Yale stated that this process is no different than what is commonly done for athletics and is an important step in bringing science to the forefront.  Yale Human Behavior and Psychology professor, Dr. Kirk Frederic (PhD) adds “Studies have shown the providing old white men exposure to an attractive female with opinions makes them more likely to adopt those opinions as their own.  When it comes to scientific fact, it takes a little longer exposure but the same holds true”.  PGI holds up Kait Parker as one of their successes and a reason to continue to expand the program quickly and Thibodaux (PGI) is no stranger to the concept, his late father is a former music video producer from the 1980’s that brought Tawny Kitaen to the Whitesnake videos and produced Van Halen’s Hot for Teacher video which according to Thibodaux Sr. “increased young men’s school attendance at a critical time in their development”.

 

The following blog post was satirical in nature and some characters appearing in this work are fictitious.

This is not a drill

At my church our value and mission statement talks about how we ‘welcome without exception’.  This past weekend this statement was put to the test.  As a congregation we voted on whether or not to become a Reconciling in Christ (RIC) community; one that explicitly welcomes people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.  This vote was a true test of our mission statement and a timely moment to find out who we are as a congregation.  In a time when there is a lot of uncertainty for minority groups and emboldened hate crimes are occurring, knowing that my local congregation passed this with 95.2% of the vote brought tearful elation.

The results of a different vote the week prior brought me confusion, concern, and disappointment.  As someone who believes that the number one priority of every nation should be moving away from fossil fuels, the whole US election cycle was a disappointment.  The debates did not have any direct climate change questions and the topic was touched on for less than 2 minutes.  It appeared as though something that is incredibly important to me had virtually no prioritization with the candidates or moderators.  I empathize with Trump voters and agree that a shakeup in Washington would be beneficial.  It would be great to see term limits for politicians and having less “Washington insiders” in leadership roles.  To me, the views documented by Trump on his own website and his treatment of humans created a scenario where the ends would never justify the means.

The president elects website indicates that he intends to open onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands for fossil fuels and “Unleash America’s $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, plus hundreds of years in clean coal reserves.”  I think it is generally understood that there is no such thing as “clean coal” and I truly cannot imagine any scenario where increasing our production and use of fossil fuels will be a long term benefit.  Despite being white, heterosexual, male, Christian, and born in the US, I am afraid of the president elect.  I can only imagine how an undocumented lesbian tree hugging minority must be feeling at the moment.

This is a critical moment in history in my opinion, one of those moments where I think about a futuristic conversation with my children and grandchildren asking me what I did to protect human rights as well as the habitability of our planet.  While I have day dreamed many times recently about moving off of the grid and completely escaping the society that seems to be gaining a voice, I realize that I need to help shape it.  I need to Testify.  One other great thing happened at church this last Sunday was a well-timed sermon that I strongly encourage you to give a listen to, you can skip to the 9:03 mark and go from there.  It is important that we as a society, as human beings with compassion, and as citizens of this planet recognize this opportunity to Testify and stand up for ourselves and others.  We need to ensure our elected leaders understand that they were actually elected to follow (the will of the people).  The wonderful and timely sermon concluded with a great rendition of Leonard Cohens’ Hallelujah which of course only added to the tears already rolling down my face.

MRC Field Trip

As a part of a Master Recycler / Composter class that I am taking we recently went on a field trip. The two most interesting stops for me were to a Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) and a sanitary landfill. Getting a first-hand look in to exactly what happens to single sort recycling and trash was very educational.

The MRF was part impressive technological marvel and part old factory line worker. On the one hand there were sophisticated conveyor belts, gears, magnets, optical lasers, and air pressure to help sort the materials. On the other hand, there was a visible shortage of employees on the line who were tasked with helping to manually sort items that do not belong or were missed by the automated systems. These jobs of watching and pulling various materials flying past on a conveyor belt are challenging to staff but very necessary to ensure a quality product is produced so that there is a market for the materials. For a good visual of how a typical MRF works, check out the last three and half minutes of this video.

The landfill had its technical aspects as well; like collecting methane gas from the breakdown of trash, liners and pumps to protect from ground water penetration, and more. But in the end it is not all that sophisticated, as it is a giant piece of land being filled with trash and covered. In the picture above I happened to take it as the hydraulic line on one of the trucks ruptured. If I had a better camera with me, I would have zoomed in to show the sad sight of a bunch of bald eagles (our national emblem) sifting through and snacking on our garbage.

My trip left me with several takeaways:

  1. As citizens of the planet, we should continue to work towards reducing consumption and voting with our dollar to buy sustainably sourced items. Not bringing something in to the system in the first place is even better than recycling it. As one of my old favorites says, you cannot run a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely.
  2. Plastic bags are a huge problem. At the MRF they are undesirable as they wrap around the equipment and cause machinery breakdowns. Do not put them in your single sort bin and do not put your recyclables in bags, put recyclables directly in your cart. At the landfill, there were three fence lines surrounding the facility filled with bags that blow around on windy days. We should all be moving beyond plastic bags for our shopping and kudos to Minneapolis for passing a law for 2017 that does just that. So, if you find yourself with a pile of plastic bags they should be brought to a local grocery store who likely has a bin for recycling them. That way they get to a facility who specializes in them and they can use them to create engineered lumber, yard furniture, etc.
  3. MRF’s do not want your shredded paper. It falls through the system and ends up contaminating the glass and other recyclables making them less marketable. Ironically and sadly, I had just shredded a pile of financial statements the week prior and had thrown them in my single sort. Fears of identity theft are warranted but we have several options to improve and keep recycled material at a high quality:
    1. Go paperless – most bills and financial information can be sent electronically which simplifies filing and saves some trees.
    2. Only shred what you need to – There is typically only a part of a page or two that really needs shredding and the rest of the information is marketing or does not have personal information that would be beneficial to a hoodlum; minimize what you shred.
    3. Take advantage of shred events – There is one near me coming up and a quick search should find options. Shredded paper is recyclable but a MRF is not equipped for it so finding a shred event is a great way to protect your identity and ensure the lifecycle of the paper is not wasted.
    4. Compost – as a last resort you can compost your shredded paper, use it as a weed barrier, etc. The caveat is you would want to avoid certain items on a vegetable garden, etc.
  4. Put the caps on your recyclables. MRF’s do not like loose caps as they fall through the system and end up in the landfill, can cause equipment problems, etc. They prefer caps be left on even when it is a plastic cap on a glass item, etc.
  5. Use common sense with recycling and if you are in doubt, check your local haulers website or call and ask them. Garden hoses, extension cords, coat hangers and items like that clog machinery and do not belong in single sort. Our MRF tour guide also mentioned that they routinely see dirty diapers coming down the conveyor belt and that the strangest item was a live turtle. Let’s try to be less lazy with our choices and if you are not certain whether a turtle is recyclable, ask someone :).
  6. Aerosols require special care to recycle. Items like spray on sun screen, hairspray, and shaving cream containers often have a mix of metals and plastic and are pressurized which can create a hazard when going to a MRF and yet they are recyclable. The best way to handle these items is to collect them a take them to your local specialty recycling center like The Recycling Zone which most counties have. One idea is to keep a bin that you put these items, alkaline batteries, fluorescent bulbs, electronics, and similar in and then take it there as needed. The great news is it is free and the workers will even come grab the stuff from your car.

There are 8 MRF’s in the MN metro area and they all offer tours as they want the public to be educated and to improve their recycling efforts so that they produce a high quality product. I encourage you to read up on your haulers website about what exactly they recycle and organize a MRF tour if so inclined.

The human disposition

My wife recently discovered a lump on my body and a closer inspection found a second one. This was a concerning discovery and I scheduled a doctor’s appointment for later that week. In the days leading up to my appointment I had some internal angst, worried about cancer and various other potential issues. This got me to thinking more about death and I recalled a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency blog I had seen detailing options for ‘dying greener’.

Conventional funerals, burials, and cremations are typically not environmentally friendly. According to the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Minnesota, cemeteries across the U.S. each year bury 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid (includes formaldehyde), 2,700 tons of copper and bronze (caskets), 30 million board feet of hardwoods (caskets), 1,600,000 tons of reinforced concrete (vaults), and 14,000 tons of steel (vaults). Flame-based cremation is typically the best of the three traditional methods but is also energy intensive and little regard is given for the release of mercury and other emissions that come from the process.

Our traditional means of human disposal is not at the top of the list of environmental concerns, but like many things it presents an opportunity to improve. Over 10 years ago The Mayo Clinic created a process called Alkaline Hydrolysis as a means of disposing of cadavers more efficiently. Today that process is becoming more mainstream with progressive funeral homes offering it as a ‘green option’. It is sometimes called bio cremation, green cremation, or flameless cremation. The process places the deceased in to a steel cylinder that is filled with 95% water and 5% alkali which are heated to 350 degrees. This makes complete decomposition, which would normally take about 25 years, only take about 2-3 hours. The end result is nothing but some soft bone fragments and possibly mercury cavity fillings remaining, everything else is dissolved in to a sterile solution. Dexter Morgan could have really benefitted from having access to this technology.

At the doctor, my lumps ended up being nothing to be overly concerned about (lipoma, a benign body fat tumor). Regardless, it is good to know that when my time comes I can be taken to the Bradshaw Celebration of Life Center in Stillwater and boiled in to dust using less energy and emitting 75% less carbon than alternatives. I also saw a video about burial pods on my nieces Facebook feed recently. That is an interesting thought as well and could transform would be cemeteries in to forests.

A watershed moment

The story of the Flint (Michigan) water crisis is one of corruption, incompetence, denial, and more importantly; grass roots heroism. In April of 2014, State Treasury officials in Flint changed their water supply to the Flint River in an effort to save money. Shortly after, residents began to complain about orange stinky water. Those concerns were quickly followed by confirmed E. coli in the city water which resulted in officials telling residents to boil their water. The city then decided to over-chlorinate the water which resulted in the water now smelling like a swimming pool and burning residents eyes while they would shower. The chlorine levels were so high that Flint had violated the Safe Drinking Water Act. The water became so corrosive that General Motors pulled out of the Flint water supply system because it was damaging automotive parts.

The orange stinky water was only the visible issue. The odorless and invisible problem of lead in the water continued to worsen. All water suppliers in the U.S. (except Flint) know enough to add a corrosion control treatment to water. This treatment helps build up a thin barrier on the inside of pipes to help avoid them from degrading. Flint, like many municipalities, has some lead pipes supplying their water so this treatment is critical to prevent the lead in the pipes from breaking down and entering the water supply. As residents in Flint began to notice strange skin rashes, children losing weight, and countless other health symptoms; Flint officials continued to say everything with the water supply was fine. If a water supply has greater than 15 parts per billion of lead, it is considered unsafe. At 5,000 ppb it is considered toxic waste. One mom in Flint who had her water tested regularly due to the health impacts of her children, had her homes water verified at 13,000ppb. You would think all of that detail and documented test results from other homes would be sufficient for officials to respond accordingly. Sadly, the mantra of everything is fine continued.

Marc Edwards, an appalled research scientist from Virginia Tech and a number of his grad students are one of the heroes in this story. He and his team descended on the city with lead water test kits and held a press conference to speak to their results. He even provided a visualization (pictured above) which shows how the Flint water quickly degraded a nail in a water bottle. Officials downplayed those results as inaccurate and continued to say all was fine. The (former) mayor even said how his family drinks the water and it is fine for everyone else to do so as well. Regardless, this began to draw broad attention. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a local pediatrician worked with others to compare lead levels in children under 5 years old who lived in Flint. She found that the percentage of kids who had elevated lead levels doubled after the change of water supply. This was a courageous data point to bring forward when the very folks who help fund her medical center would be hurt by the information. Again, state and local officials tried to debunk her numbers but after days of evaluating the data, begrudgingly agreed with the conclusion. Dr. Hanna-Attisha further outlined for residents and officials what the potential real world impacts could be for children with lead poisoning which helped open residents eyes to the seriousness of the issue. Leanne Walters and the other residents who pursued action and answers tirelessly while having to boil bottled water to be able to give their children warm baths are also heroes.

Today, Flint is back on Detroit water but much of the damage has been done and Flint is now in a declaration of emergency with federal aid on the way. Residents continue to need to use bottled water for now. A full timeline of some of the key milestones has been published here by the governor’s office and Michigan radio did a great story on the issue which you can listen to here. The fact that this happened is not the most concerning part, all people make mistakes and have poor judgement some of the time. The real concern is the persistent denial of the truth that led to serious consequences that will continue for years to come in homes, health care clinics, and courtrooms. I cannot speak to the motivations of some to blatantly lie to the EPA and others about the water being treated, the test results, etc. Often, in situations like this it seems egotistical self-preservation plays a role.

The story of Flint draws many parallels to our currently warming planet. Despite the overwhelming evidence of the human impact on global temperature and climate, a small group with loud voices continue to beat the drum saying everything is fine. Even with 2015 being the warmest year on record, they continue to try to discredit the data. Sadly, that group includes many in power and even some presidential candidates seeking more power. Making meaningful progress on reducing our reliance on fossil fuels is a much tougher battle than improving one cities drinking water, but that progress will need to evolve in the same format: an honest dialogue that prioritizes the best interests of the many.

Belated resolutions

In thinking about approaching 2016 I had random scattered thoughts for things I would like to do or change. As I prioritized the hustle and bustle of the holidays as well as the chillaxing family time, I am just articulating my thoughts now.

My thoughts on own 2016 resolutions are as follows:

  • Eliminating the use of single use plastic bottles – It is easy to grab a single use plastic chocolate milk bottle when at Kwik Trip or a plastic soda bottle from a vending machine, but transitioning to carrying a reusable water bottle with me to ail my thirst will improve my bottom line and waistline. When I need a soda, I will choose an aluminum can or to fill my reusable at the fountain machine. I can do the same at Caribou or the hockey rink when I need something warm. Part of what is driving this desire to mitigate any use of plastic bottles is my disgust over Nestle and the way water is becoming privatized. In the midst of California’s historic drought, Nestle Waters (the largest bottler of water in the world) continues to draw water from the San Bernardino National Forest and other public lands around the world. Their permit for San Bernardino expired in 1988 and yet they continue to take the water uncontested by the Forest Service. I would encourage you to take a few minutes and watch the top two videos on this page and think about how you can reduce giving in to single use plastic bottles.
  • Getting Fat II – As I mentioned in my previous post, I purchased a fat tire bike and have been riding it quite a bit. For 2016, I have decided to set an annual goal for miles ridden of 1,000. I plan to track this on my band and it will give me the flexibility to not ride on some days and ride more miles on others. I am all geared up for winter riding, night riding, and have even used my bike for one errand so far since I now have a lock.
  • Volunteering – My schedule allows time for volunteering and working on different causes. For 2016 I plan to streamline those efforts and focus more in areas where I feel I am providing a valuable impact. Sometimes my passion and persistence to help an organization in need has resulted in a one sided effort where I end up cajoling the organization in to accepting help. That is frustrating and I need to put my energy in to places that are appreciative and desiring help.
  • No plastic bags – Our family owns plenty of reusable shopping bags. For 2016 my intent is to not use a single disposable shopping bag to get items home from a store. If I forget to bring reusable bags, I will need to just carry stuff or go get the reusable bags. I have been at 90% on this effort, but my goal for 2016 is 100%.

I am certain I am missing some items I thought of previously and will likely still add some other 30 day challenges to the year.