Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Tar Sands Photo Album

A few days ago, I posted about the Tar Sands pipeline that President Obama is going to decide whether or not to permit.  Today, I thought I'd share some pictures to give you an idea of what's involved.

My Father's boreal forests
Almost one-third of the world's forest area are the massive sub-arctic boreal forests of Canada, Scandinavia and Russia. 

The Lungs of our Father's Planet
The sub-arctic forests are so massive that they absorb huge amounts of carbon, and provide an irreplaceable source of oxygen.  But with the warming climate, the number of days with extremely cold temperatures has decreased, allowing better survival for tree-damaging insects such as the spruce-bark beetle.

But to some, the forest is simply in the way...
You can't get at the tar sands with all those life-sustaining trees in the way. The first step is to cut them down.

This used to be a rich ecosystem...
Here is an aerial shot of the results.

And here's what we're after...
With the trees gone, men can dig up the tarry substance under the soil, the results of eons of decay of plant matter -- carbon stored beneath he surface.  But it takes a lot of energy to turn it into oil, resulting in much greater emissions of CO2 than conventional oil.

To get it, we're clearing a massive area of God's boreal forest...
The area to be cleared is larger than the states of North Carolina or New York.

And when we're done, here what our Father's forest looks like...
Not a living thing remains on the blackened landscape.

Here's my Father's pristine northern river
The Athabasca River runs right through the tar sands region, and its water is diverted to process the mined tar sands so they can be shipped by pipeline.

Toxic water is stored in tailing ponds along the Athabasca
It takes centuries for the heavy metals in these tailing ponds to settle to the bottom.

Here's what the Athabsca's pristine waters look like afterward
The tailing ponds contain much, but not all the contaminants from processing bitumen for shipping through pipelines.

Here's what those toxins do to our Father's creatures in the river
Most pictures of tumorous and deformed aquatic life in the Athabasca are too nauseating for polite company.

Here's the route of the proposed pipeline bringing all that bitumen to the Gulf
A small pipeline already runs to the Midwest.  The new one will enable production and emissions to triple, and will take it to Houston, where the oil can be shipped abroad.

Here are some who care about our Father's world, being arrested
So far, more than 250 people who care about stewardship of the creation have been arrested at the White House this week. (Note: The final tally was 1,252 arrested.) They are demanding that our government protect the creation and withhold  permits for the pipeline.

Here is a congressman from our Father's state of Texas
Rep. Joe Barton has rejected the warnings issued by the National Academy of Science about severe global consequences from human-caused climate change.  The rest of the Texas delegation regularly votes with him against measures to protect God's creation.

Here is a Texas longhorn, emaciated from the crippling drought
So far this year, the drought, now predicted as a regular part of the new Texas climate, has cause $5.8 billion in agricultural losses, complete with the destruction of entire herds of cattle, and a USDA disaster classification in 215 Texas counties.

Some impacts are felt far from home
The increased heat and changed weather patterns has devastated the Horn of Africa.  We have watched in horror as failed rains have led to mass starvation in Somalia.  Climate models predict further drying and crop failures in the increasingly hot world of the next several decades.

Here's the man whom God can use to stop this
For the tar sands pipeline to be built, President Obama alone has to sign the permit.  He knows the scientific facts.  But he also knows the political facts:  Oil lobbies are already advertising heavily, equating the pipeline with prosperity and energy security.  But there is no prosperity and security in a world ravaged by reckless disruption of the systems our Father created to sustain His creatures.  Only short-term profits for a few wealthy and powerful people.

But this place belongs to our Father, not to them or anyone else.  And we belong to Him as well.  That's why we will be at the White House to ask the president to do the right thing.  Maybe you will join us?  Click here to find out how!

See you in Washington!

J. Elwood

Monday, August 22, 2011

Help Us Stop the Tar Sands Pipeline!

Yesterday marked the first day of a two-week series of protests at the White House.  Here at the Clothesline Report, we’re following it closely, because three of us Elwood men will be there in about a week adding our voices to an effort to stop a terrible threat to our Father’s world.

What could be so bad as to make you travel to Washington and engage in civil disobedience, you’re wondering?

President Obama must decide this year whether or not to permit a huge pipeline splitting our entire country, from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico, to carry “diluted bitumen,” a black gunk steamed out of Canadian “tar sands,” to be refined into oil by Gulf Coast refineries.  Powerful business interests are spending uncounted millions funding political campaigns, lobbying and advertising for the project, and they stand to reap unbelievable profits.
Protesters at the White House yesterday, before arrests
But North America and the rest of the world will suffer unimaginable losses if the project is permitted to go ahead.

And the oil money isn’t being wasted.  Hillary Clinton seems to have been won over.  The majority in Congress has long since drunk the tar sands Kool-Aid.  And now, the White House seems to be leaning their way too.  They’ve got the power and the money pulling for them.  We protesters have the facts … and we have our bodies.

The facts?  We don’t know of a single climate scientist who doesn’t regard the Alberta tar sands as anything other than a global-scale disaster.  According to the director emeritus of the Woods Hole Research Center, “the tar sands project is the exact antithesis of what the world needs.”  And NASA’s lead climate scientist has warned that if the pipeline is approved, “it’s essentially game over” for the climate.   More on that below.

Priest being handcuffed yesterday and led to jail
Our bodies?  So far, 162 peaceful protesters have been arrested; those bodies carted off in DC police vans.  This won’t stop for two more weeks, so I suspect that a lot more will see the inside of the Washington correctional system.

So, what’s so bad about the tar sands?   

Tar sands are pretty much the heavy gunk they sound like, and making liquid fuels from them requires huge amounts of energy for steam injection and refining. Canada is currently producing about one million barrels of oil a day from the tar sands, and that is projected to triple over the next two decades, if the pipeline gets built.  That means a huge increase in the amount of CO2 and toxins, far above the impact of traditional crude oil.

This used to be a virgin boreal forest in Alberta. Runoff water is toxic.
Studies vary, but no one disagrees that oil from tar sands results in huge increases in CO2 emissions compared with conventional petroleum.  Consultants for the oil companies say that it’s “only” 15% worse, while scientists’ estimates range from 36% worse to more than 200%.  Depending on whose numbers are most accurate (DON’T bet on the oilmen for transparent disclosure!), it would be like buying a Prius for the carbon benefits of 50 mpg efficiency, and then finding that you’re actually getting worse efficiency than a Hummer.

Getting oil out of the tar sands takes a whole lot.  Here’s a smattering of what you have to do:

First, lease (almost for free) from Canada 54,000 square miles of untouched boreal forests (the size of North Carolina) used by indigenous peoples, and cut down every single tree;
Then, dig deep open pit mines and scoop out the tar sands using massive earth-moving equipment;
Then, divert scarce western water to the tar sands, water which becomes contaminated with toxins through the process;
Then, use copious amounts of clean-burning natural gas to convert the water to steam, to be injected into the gunk to separate the bitumen from the clay;
Then, pump the resulting sludge into a 36” pipe to run all the way across the U.S. to the Gulf Coast;
On the way, bypass Midwestern refineries which could refine the stuff for domestic consumption, but instead cut through Native American lands, and over the crucial Oglala Aquifer to the Gulf of Mexico;
And upon arrival, refine it into petroleum products at refineries substantially owned by the Saudis, for shipping anywhere in the world they choose.

Machinery of destruction
All it needs is for President Obama to authorize the massive pipeline.  And because it’s such a terrible idea, you’d think that he would never allow it, right?

Wrong.  Money talks.  The money and power that’s persuaded a majority in Congress to repeat the silly claim that climate scientists are all lying to us, that same money has the President’s ear as well.  He wants to be reelected, and he knows the power of the oil and coal lobbies.

But Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have shown us that money and power don’t control everything.  Sometimes, peaceful protesters taking to the streets can have a dramatic impact.
That’s why we’re going to Washington.  We’ll be at the White House on September 1.

Won’t you come with us?

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.
J. Elwood

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Gov. Perry Listens to Dad

And that’s why he’s not worried.

“As my dad says, it’ll rain,” declared the governor in reassuring tones, after touring devastated Texas farms last week.  “It always does.”

Now it’s a good thing to listen to your dad, especially in areas where he’s an expert.  Perry’s father was a west Texas rancher.  We assume that means he is an expert at ranching.  But we were unable to find any record of expertise in climate science. 
Cookies and biscuits baking on a car seat in Texas
Texas, however, is positively crowded with expert climatologists.  For starters, we’ve got the U.S. Drought Monitor, which tells us that 99.7% of Texas today is in drought, and 98% is in the grip of either “severe, extreme or exceptional drought.”  The state is on track to break the annual record for most days above 100 degrees.  Local TV stations regularly shoot footage of steaks broiling or cookies baking on car dashboards.

You won’t find much argument: Texas is extraordinarily hot and dry.

94% of Texas rangeland is now classified by the Monitor in “poor to very poor condition.” Farmers have lost 30 percent or more of their crops in 2011. The loss led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to declare a natural disaster in 213 Texas counties.  Texas farm losses now exceed $5.2 billion, according to Texas A&M.

Yacht on Austin's Lake Travis appears stranded on the prairie
But Texas’s atmospheric scientists have much worse news:  Droughts are already becoming the new normal for Texas, and Dust Bowl conditions will only get worse in the next few decades.  And it is in large part due to increased carbon emissions, a fact that oil-rich Texas will have a hard time confronting.

“Texas is going to get hotter and drier,” said Malcolm Cleaveland, a professor at the University of Arkansas who led a research team in 2007 looking into climate trends for Texas. Indeed, rainfall modeling shows that rising temperatures and more arid conditions over the last few decades are likely to increase in the next four decades.

Texas’ own climate scientists from Texas A&M, University of Texas, Rice and Texas Tech (see the list below) have warned that by 2050, Texas will likely have become a desert, largely as a result of unchecked greenhouse gas emissions.

98% of Texas in severe, extreme or exceptional drought
The governor's response?  “It’s all one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight.”

So do I have this right? The man who wants to be president is listening to dad, the rancher, for his climate science advice?

In case you have a few minutes… 

…Here’s a partial list of Texans who Gov. Perry’s not listening to:

Jay Banner, professor, Jackson School of Geosciences and director, Environmental Science Institute, The University of Texas at Austin
Donald Blankenship, senior research scientist, Jackson School of Geosciences, The University of Texas at Austin
Kenneth Bowman, atmospheric sciences department head, Texas A&M University
Sarah D. Brooks, associate professor of atmospheric sciences, Texas A&M University
Ginny Catania, assistant professor, Earth Surface and Hydrologic Processes, The University of Texas at Austin
Ping Chang, professor of atmospheric sciences and oceanography, Texas A&M University, and director, Texas Center for Climate Studies
Don Collins, professor and director of environmental programs in geosciences, Texas A&M University
Don Conlee, instructional associate professor of atmospheric sciences, Texas A&M University
Kerry Cook, professor, Climate Systems Science, The University of Texas at Austin
Andrew Dessler, professor of atmospheric sciences, Texas A&M University
Robert Dickinson, professor of geological sciences, The University of Texas at Austin
André Droxler, professor of earth science and director of the Center for the Study of Environment and Society, Rice University
Robert Duce, distinguished professor emeritus, Departments of Oceanography and Atmospheric Sciences, Texas A&M University
Craig Epifanio, associate professor of atmospheric sciences, Texas A&M University
Rong Fu, professor, Jackson School of Geosciences, The University of Texas at Austin
Charles Jackson, research scientist, Institute for Geophysics, The University of Texas at Austin
Rob Korty, assistant professor of atmospheric sciences, Texas A&M University
Katharine Hayhoe, associate professor and director, Climate Science Center, The University of Texas at Austin
Mark Lemmon, professor of planetary sciences, Texas A&M University
Shaima L. Nasiri, assistant professor of atmospheric sciences, Texas A&M University
John Nielsen-Gammon, professor, Texas A&M University and Texas State Climatologist
Gerald North, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Sciences and Oceanography, Texas A&M University
Richard Orville, professor and director, Cooperative Institute for Applied Meteorological Studies, Texas A&M University
R. Lee Panetta, professor of atmospheric sciences and mathematics, Texas A&M University
Jud Partin, postdoctoral fellow, Institute for Geophysics, The University of Texas at Austin
Terry Quinn, research professor and Director, Institute for Geophysics, The University of Texas at Austin
R. Saravanan, professor, Texas A&M University
Gunnar W. Schade, assistant professor, Texas A&M University
Courtney Schumacher, associate professor, Texas A&M University
Russ Schumacher, assistant professor, Texas A&M University
Istvan Szunyogh, associate professor, Texas A&M University
Fred Taylor, senior research scientist, Institute for Geophysics, The University of Texas at Austin
Michael Tobis, research science associate, Institute for Geophysics, The University of Texas at Austin
Ned Vizy, research science associate, Institute for Geophysics, The University of Texas at Austin
Thomas Wilheit, research professor, Texas A&M University
Ping Yang, professor and holder of the David Bullock Harris Chair in Geosciences, Texas A&M University
Renyi Zhang, Professor, director of the Center for Atmospheric Chemistry and the Environment, and Holder of the Harold J. Haynes Chair in Geosciences, Texas A&M University

Dad must be a really persuasive guy!

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

"The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice." Proverbs 12:15

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Wretch Like Me: Ray Anderson, Penitent Plunderer

Most of my favorite revolutionaries share one remarkable trait: They realize that the ills they labor against are deeply rooted in their own hearts.  Paul of Tarsus, pillar of early Christianity, honestly believed that he was “the worst of sinners.”  Reformer Martin Luther could hardly stay out of the confessional from hour to hour, although he inspired his followers to lives of selflessness and devotion.

And John Newton, the slave-ship captain best known for writing “Amazing Grace” spoke of spending his latter days in the fearsome company of 20,000 African ghosts, whom he had ushered into slavery or death.  When he sang of grace that saved “a wretch like me,” he was describing himself above all others.

And last week, we read of the passing of another penitent visionary, American industrial pioneer Ray C. Anderson, CEO of carpeting giant Interface, Inc.  Anderson became known as “the greenest CEO in America.”  But he didn’t begin thinking about his impact in the earth till after his 60th birthday.

Ray C. Anderson: I was a plunderer
"I never gave one thought to what we were doing to the earth," recalled Anderson after his awakening in 1994.  “I realized that I was a plunderer and it was not a legacy I wanted to leave behind."

Newton, a wretch; Anderson, a plunderer.  Two men whose lives would be used dramatically for good.

Here’s how the L.A. Times summarized Anderson’s epiphany regarding his industrial empire:
“Interface made carpet tiles from petroleum products; the nylon in the carpets came from oil; the electricity that ran its plants came from fossil fuels; the finished tiles were transported on diesel-powered trucks; the entire enterprise, he would later say, was so oil-dependent that ‘you could think of it as an extension of the petrochemical industry.’ What he had failed to see were his company's harmful byproducts: pollution and waste, including millions of tons of used carpeting that would clog landfills for thousands of years.”

18th century traders like Newton were amassing wealth by plundering Africa of its sons and daughters. Anderson discovered that business leaders like him were doing the same by plundering the earth and imperiling billions of souls. He called the moment of realization like "a spear in the chest."

And so, late in life, Anderson set out to change things.  He bet the company (literally, they say) on the value of sustainable manufacturing, overcoming anger, fierce resistance and defensiveness from many of his key executives.  He became a tireless spokesman for sustainable operations, influencing small and large companies including mammoths Wal-Mart, Dow Chemical and General Motors.

So far, his bet has paid off.  At one plant in Georgia, Interface used to send six tons of carpet trimmings to the landfill every day. By 1997, it was sending none.  In Maine, a plant reduced carbon monoxide emissions by 99.7%.  The company now uses solar and wind power in the place of fossil fuels, and is planting trees to offset the pollution caused by trucks transporting its carpet. The company has even found a way to make carpet out of corn.

Interface measures GHG emissions. They're down 36% from 1996 levels.
"If we're successful,” Anderson told his team, “we'll spend the rest of our days harvesting yesteryear's carpets and other petrochemically-derived products and recycling them into new materials, and converting sunlight into energy, with zero scrap going to the landfill and zero emissions into the ecosystem. We'll be doing well ... by doing good."

Well, Ray Anderson, you may well have been a plunderer, as the slaver John Newton was a wretch.  But you ended your days very, very well.  We thank God for your life and example, and pray that many other business leaders will take up the mantle you have left us.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Peek Inside the Sausage Factory

Sausages and laws – the old saying goes – share one thing in common: you’d rather not know how either were made.

And while I don’t pretend to have the political savvy to know what’s really going on in Congress in these dark days, a torturous read through one House bill has been enough to cost me my appetite for days.

This particular bill is called H.R. 2584, the House bill making appropriations for the Department of the Interior next year.  What, you ask, could be more boring? 

Don't protect! If it hurts our donors...
Well, Interior also covers the Environmental Protection Agency.  And this trigger-happy Congress has the EPA in its crosshairs.  It’s a given that funding will be cut.  That’s happening wherever powerful lobbies aren’t spending heavily to protect their pork.  But the political payoffs really show up in clauses that specifically forbid the EPA to act to protect our Father’s world and its people.

Take Section 428, for instance.  Here, our congressmen forbid the EPA from protecting the American people from greenhouse gases that come from livestock production, including dangerous heat-trapping methane and nitrous oxide.  These gases are 25-300 more climate-warming than CO2.

Or how about Section 429?  This one forbids the EPA from even measuring the amount of greenhouse gases from livestock manure systems.  Score a couple for big agribusiness donors.

Not a war.  Just "Clean Coal" doing its work.
But wait!  There are many more goodies for polluters in here.  Stream buffers to limit coal-mine water pollution are done away with in Sec. 432.  Coordination with the Army Corps of Engineers to protect Americans from strip-mining pollution is killed in Sec. 433. Then comes Sec. 434, which kills efforts to control fossil fuel combustion waste.   It’s closely followed by Sec. 436, which shackles the EPA’s ability to limit how much hot water coal and nuclear plants can discharge back into rivers.  Ch-ching!  Ch-ching!  Payback upon payback for those deserving people who brought you “Clean Coal.”

Actually, those sections are small potatoes.  Here’s the real polluter’s jackpot:  Section 431 forbids the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from any power plant at all if the reason is related to climate change.  What do you think the children of those congressmen will think about that when they come of age?  A law to specifically assure that nothing will be done to rescue their futures from climate change?  Somehow, coal-fired electric company campaign donors come before their own children.

Congress wants to decide these lawsuits
And as I reported several days ago, they couldn’t even resist going after kids in general.  Sec. 431 makes a shameless attempt to prejudge the lawsuits filed by Kids v. Global Warming against states that have refused to take action to protect their futures by limiting greenhouse gas emissions.  The politicians don’t mention the kids by name, but you can’t miss who they’re going after.  This section effectively tells young people who are seeking justice in court after hitting brick walls in the legislature: “Even if you prove your case to the judges, we won’t let it hurt the polluters who fund our campaigns.”

Last of all, if it weren’t so blatantly menacing, I’d find this final provision almost funny:  Section 426 requires the President of the United States to make a list of every single Federal program that has anything to do with climate change, together with all related expenditures, and report back within 120 days.  In other words: “If we failed to stamp out all knowledge and research about climate change this session, we’ll have the roadmap to finish you off next year.”

Have you lost your appetite for sausages yet?  Me too.  In my case, my congressman, sent to Washington from New Jersey’s 5th District, supports every one of these special interest payoffs.  And all of them will only hurt his constituents back home in Jersey.  But who’s watching such mundane matters?

Who’s watching?  The pollution lobbyists, that’s who.  And I think they’re getting their money’s worth from this Congress, don’t you?

Thanks for reading.  Don’t forget to tell your representative that gutting the EPA isn’t the way to do justice, or represent you.  And may God bless you.

J. Elwood

Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless!  Isaiah 10:2-3

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Outlook for Dallas is Sunny …

Today, 109 and sunny.  Tomorrow, 106 and sunny.  Monday, 106 and sunny. Tuesday, 109 and sunny. And Wednesday, 108 and … well, you know.
Those are numbers 36 through 40 of the ongoing string of days above 100 degrees.  Chance of rain is zero.

I am praying for Dallas, and for the rest of Texas.  I am praying for the poor, who cannot afford air conditioning and electric bills.  I am praying for roofers, sweltering on burning rooftops.  I am praying for farm workers, thrown out of work by the drought that the U.S. Drought Monitor calls “disastrous.”

But I am not praying for rain and cool weather.

That would be like drinking a six-pack, and then praying not to have a hangover.

There is no point in conducting ourselves in ways that force nature to respond with increasingly extreme weather on everyone, and then praying for relief – for us – from that same weather, without changing our conduct.  Of course, there is blame to go around for the damage done to God’s earth by the carbon binge our country has been leading for many decades.  Texas is not unique in its conduct.  But the most unjust outcome would be for Texas and the U.S.  to find relief, while the global climate catastrophe strikes the world’s most vulnerable.  Here’s why:

The average American emits 17.5 tons of climate-warming CO2 per year.  That’s as much as two Britons, three Swiss, four Mexicans, five Turks or seven Brazilians.   Texans are probably, on average, greater greenhouse gas polluters than the average American, but it would be splitting hairs to try to prove that point.  But for whatever reason, Texas has sent to Congress politicians deeply committed to maintaining our oil & coal carbon orgy.  The Texas congressional delegation always votes against environmental protection when it comes to climate change.

Meanwhile, it takes 19 Pakistanis to generate as much global warming pollution as one American.  But Pakistan’s very survival is fundamentally challenged by the melting of glaciers that serve as its only source of water for drinking or irrigation.  And it takes 55 Pacific islanders on Kiribati to equal one American in carbon pollution, but the Kiribati homeland is already being abandoned in the face of rising sea levels from warming oceans and polar ice melt.

Sadly, it’s impossible to meaningfully care for the people of those two countries –and billions of others similarly exposed – while American oil-state politicians continue to suppress and ignore the warnings of climate science.

2011 Texas  drought: The worst in 114 years of measurement
That’s why I’m not praying for rain in Texas.  Here’s how I’m praying: 

Father of Mercy, give us the humility to listen to wisdom, including the findings of wise researchers.  Defender of the Poor, give us the grace to bear the consequences of our own conduct, if your most vulnerable children must also bear them.  Friend of Sinners, grant us the repentance and simplicity to reorder our lives to restore and heal an injured world. Lover of Children, give us hearts to care for the world we are leaving your little ones, even if it means we must change our lifestyles today. Redeemer of Mankind, awaken our hearts to care for the powerless, the poor, the migrant, and the fatherless, even if it costs us dearly.  In the name of Him who became poor, that we might become rich.  Amen.
Oh, and while we're praying, we might just ask for the wisdom to think carefully who we’re sending to the world’s most powerful government as our representatives.

Thanks for reading, and may God show us all His mercy.

J. Elwood

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Texas Gets a Glimpse of its Sizzling Future

It’s a blistering 110 degrees in Dallas today.

Ho hum…  That makes 34 days straight in DFW above 100.  The record heat wave and drought in Texas make for some curious news.  A reservoir in West Texas has turned blood-red, with dead fish floating in the last pools of steaming water.  “Exploding pavement” is cropping up everywhere, as extreme heat causes pavement to buckle and shatter.  And railroad rails are buckling in the heat, slowing train traffic by 20 miles per hour.

Blood-red reservoirs have attracted apocalyptic allusions
So, summer’s hot in Texas, you say.  Tell me something I don’t know.

Okay, how about this: Texas’ State Climatologist is warning that this is the beginning of the “new normal” for Texas, and that it’s going to get much worse.

Really, no kidding. Much worse.  Since 2000, John Nielsen-Gammon has been Professor of Meteorology at Texas A&M University and the Texas State Climatologist. Together with a large number of Texas climate scientists, he’s written a book called The Impact of Global Warming on Texas, and you can get it online (here).  Writing in 2008, he called 2000-2008 “the warmest period on record” for the state.  He is projecting a further 2-degree increase in Texas temperatures in 2020-2039, and close to a 4-degree increase in 2040-2059.

That would make today’s 110 degrees a pleasantly cool day, for whoever’s still living there.

Cow nosing for blade of grass in Manor, TX
But sadly, heat’s not all you get in Texas these days.  Texas is in the throes of a crippling drought.  The U.S. Drought Monitor calls Texas “disastrously hot,” exacerbating “exceptionally dry conditions.” Amarillo broke records for consecutive 100+ degree days two weeks back, and it’s not letting up.  Tyler is on course to double the previous triple-digit record of 20 straight days, which it also surpassed two weeks ago.

And the result?  The U.S. Drought Monitor tells us that 91% of Texas pastureland is now “poor to very poor.”  59% of Texas’ cotton crop is also “poor to very poor.”  Texas farmers are getting killed by this thing.

When it’s “abnormally dry” in Texas, the Drought Monitor tells us that soil moisture content is 20-31%.  Today, Texas soil has 0-2% moisture almost all over the state.  That's about like talcum powder.

Every week, the Drought Monitor maps the  U.S. with color-coded drought conditions:  from white (no drought), through progressively worse yellow, beige and tan, to red (severe drought) and finally dark brown (exceptional drought).  In recent months, Texas has been almost entirely dark brown.  Dark brown means:  “Exceptional and widespread crop/pasture losses; shortages of water in reservoirs, streams, and wells creating water emergencies.”

The Brown State: Texas brown is "exceptional drought" w/ major crop losses
So Texas is blisteringly hot, and disastrously dry.  And the leading Texan climate scientists are warning that this is child’s play compared with what's to come in the new age of climate change.  You’d think that their politicians would be leading the charge to prevent this outcome, wouldn’t you?

Well, in fact, in April, Gov. Rick Perry did issue a proclamation calling on Texans to pray for rain.  But even devout Christian climate activists might consider this to be a suspect strategy for mitigating the effects of greenhouse gases.  And for good reason:  it hasn’t worked so far, as the drought has only strengthened its grip on the Lone Star state.

Total loss: Garfield, TX farm lost all its corn, milo & cotton
What’s more, in Congress, the Texas delegation consistently ranks among the most anti-climate-science group of legislators of any in the House.  For example, almost 75% of them voted to specifically prevent FEMA from planning with other agencies on how to respond to natural disasters caused by climate change.  And in the ongoing House debates over the EPA, a similar Texas majority supports amendment after amendment to strip the agency of powers to protect us from the effects of greenhouse gas concentrations, mercury pollution and other environmental threats.

So if you’re a person of faith in Texas today, pray (indeed!) for rain and relief.  But when you’re finished talking, listen carefully for the answer.  In my experience, God usually changes praying people to become His active instruments in the world.

It may be time in Texas to pray for our Father’s world  to be released from the grip of environmental torment.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Giants of Good Hand Farm

I believe that planting a tree is an act of faith.  And even love.

Here at Good Hand Farm, we thank God frequently for two massive Sugar maples that shade our home during these long summer days.  And in addition to summer cooing, they readily welcome the sun’s warming rays through their leafless winter canopies.

Maple shade: The farmhouse is cool at noon.
While we thank Him for creating these spectacular trees, we also thank Him for an unknown man – or woman –around 200 years ago, who had the faith to plant these giants. For a couple of decades, they protected them from deer and drought, with little or no payback in syrup or shade.  Two centuries later, our home is pleasant in the summer because of their faith in unseen blessings to come.

Of course, trees also absorb CO2.  But the math isn’t all that compelling, taken in isolation.  A 25-year-old maple absorbs 2.4 lbs. of CO2 per year.  Let’s say that on average, our ancient giants have accounted for 10 lbs. per year, or one ton each since they were planted in about 1800.  That sounds great, but the average American generates about 20 tons of CO2 per year.  These giants are working hard, but they can never keep up with the effects of our carbon binge.

But let’s not write off the trees too fast.  Unlike almost everyone we know, we hardly ever run the AC at our house.  The first rays of the summer sun hit our roof around noon, and we capture the nighttime breeze as much as possible.  The maples are contributing to sustainable living, even without the magic of photosynthesis.

Dying maple now threatens motorists & wires
Today, however, the searing summer heat that regularly grips the Northeast is killing off Sugar maples by the thousands (millions?).   In fact, we’re losing another one this summer.  We have to take it down before it falls on the electric lines along the road.   Early this spring, we had to cut down an ancient apple tree before it did the same.

The fact is – whatever the cause – trees die.  That’s why we plant so many around here.  Seven tall poplars planted ten years ago give us a gentle rustle on breezy days.  An oak tree from 2004 is just beginning to cast afternoon shade on the house.  A Colorado spruce from 2005 adds that distinctive powder blue to our roadside.
Two Norway spruces have stood sentry in our southern yard since 2006. Four Fraser firs are just reaching waist height here and there.  Four Red maples are casting bits of dark shade after four years in the ground.  Four young Red oaks are clinging to life in their protective cages in the pasture, despite our horses’ craving for their leaves.  The world’s largest weed, the Weeping willow, now shelters our chickens from the summer’s heat, after only four years.  And this spring, we planted a young Sycamore for eventual morning shade on our southern roof.

New Oaks (l), Spruces (c), Poplars and Maples (r) replace inevitable losses
Most fun of all, however, is our seedling nursery.  Every fall, we collect acorns from favorite trees when visiting parks, forests and campuses.  And in the spring, we dig up the sprouted seedlings and plant them in pots, to be tended for transplanting.  For now, our chicken yard has been pressed into service as a tree nursery, although the chickens are not always the best arborists.  But soon, we hope to have young oaks lining our farm lane, pasture and roadside.

Oak seedlings to be set out this fall
So, if you come by Good Hand Farm, ask us for an oak seedling.  We’d be glad for you to find a home for a new tree.  In a century or two, someone just might thank God for your faith.  And your love.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

“For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor.  Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” Gospel of John 4:37

More images of Good Hand Farm Trees

Colorado spruce (l) and Fraser fir (r) with solar panels beyond.
The oak nursery:  Little trees for you to raise?
Midday Willow shade for our layers and their rooster
Gain and loss: old applewood pile, and new Sycamore.