Bits ‘n’ Pieces – April 23, 2020

By Lorraine H. Marie
Reader Columnist

East, west or beyond, sooner or later events elsewhere may have a local impact, which COVID-19 has illustrated so well. A recent sampling, with Earth Day and climate change, in mind:

Crops are being grown under solar panels at an agriculture lab at University of Arizona, with some plants tripling their production. A study from University of Oregon found 90% greater production of grass grown under the panels. Where it’s ultra hot, the panels benefit because plants cool them, allowing panels to operate more efficiently. Meanwhile, soils under the panels retain up to 15% more moisture, Mother Jones has reported.

Human degradation of tropical forests indicates that by 2035 they’re likely to be sources of carbon emissions rather than carbon sinks, according to a study from Leeds University in the U.K.

The water beneath Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica is warmer than researchers expected, The WEEK reports. If nearby glaciers can’t hold back ice, and the area collapses due to melt, sea levels could rise 10 feet.

Monarch butterfly update: According to the Endangered Species Coalition, in 2019 Eastern Monarch butterfly populations were up 144% while Western Monarch populations fell 86%. The ESC has a program for planting native milkweed, which is critical for the butterflies’ survival. Other challenges faced by the insect include weather conditions and loss of habitat.

Transportation in 2017 accounted for 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., Smithsonian magazine reports. In 1973, vehicles averaged 13.4 miles per gallon. Today’s average is around 31 mpg, but miles driven between 1970 and 2018 rose 177%, leading to more climate-warming emissions.

With the car emissions rollback initiated by the Trump administration, annually there will be a trillion more tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, according to Human Rights Watch. Already air pollution causes more than 200,000 premature deaths each year in the U.S.

Barley crops for water-challenged farms: Barley uses one acre foot of water per year, as opposed to two acre feet used by corn and four acre feet used by alfalfa, according to Nature Conservancy. Uses for barley include livestock hay and malt for brewing beer.

In southwest Arizona groundwater levels have fallen 100 feet or more since the 1980s, according to a report in High Country News. Adding to the region’s water crisis is the 2014 purchase of farmland by a Saudi Arabian food company. The 10,000 acres owned by the corporation grow water-thirsty alfalfa, which is shipped to Saudi Arabia for dairy cows. The Saudi government has banned in-country alfalfa production since it has severely depleted the nation’s groundwater reserves.

A decade ago, Donald Trump signed a full-page New York Times ad urging ambitious climate action. Since then he’s said climate change is a hoax, but seems to be back-tracking. As reported in Mother Jones, 60% do not approve of his climate denial stance.

Air pollution reduces average life expectancy by three years, according to a new study published in the journal Cardiovascular Research. Cut fossil fuel emissions to zero, and a year could be gained back. If all “controllable” air pollution were cut, there would be a 20-month gain in life expectancy.

Having one less child reduces annual carbon emissions by 60 metric tons, according to a study from Lund University in Sweden and the University of British Columbia. The youthful Birthstrikers movement argues that its members refuse to have children until the climate crisis ends. Their opposition says more people boost the economy, so people should be encouraged to have babies.

Blast from the past:  Two decades before the devastating Dust Bowl, popular nature writer Gene Stratton-Porter penned a response to Henry D. Thoreau’s tree statement, “Thank heaven they cannot cut down the clouds.” Yes, they can, Stratton-Porter pointed out. When forests that preserve and distill moisture are cut; when fields replace forests, taking the shelter of trees from creeks and rivers until they evaporate; and when swamps are drained, all those acts prevent vapor from rising. And if it doesn’t rise, it cannot fall. Man is changing the forces of nature, she said, and is indeed “cutting down the clouds.”

And another blast: In 1969 Wisconsin Democratic U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson — who also served as his state’s governor — launched a movement for teach-ins about the environment. That led to the first Earth Day in 1970, which spurred participation in schools and communities. It attracted millions. The collective concern about the planet quickly led to establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act — all signed into law by Republican President Richard Nixon.

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