Planet Earth Weekly

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations


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The Carbon Footprint of Eating Beef

Carbon footprint of beef

The Carbon Footprint of eating beef.

“Livestock production takes up more than half the agricultural land used by grazing and producing crops for feed.”

By Linn Smith

First of all, I would like to say I’m not a vegetarian, but I go great lengths of time without eating meat. I grew up on a farm in the Midwest where we farmed the land, milked dairy cows, grew our own food (which was frozen and canned) and raised our own chickens and beef cows (which ended up on the table.) I say “we” because my brother and I were in the fields from the time we were old enough to reach the pedals on the tractors, plus in the dairy barn after school.

As a preteen I came to the conclusion I would eat meat, but I wouldn’t eat a cow I knew or had named and bottle fed from a baby. These were the Black Angus steers we raised for beef. My mom, in order to get me to eat, would tell me she bought the meat on the table at the store. I know, this makes little sense, but it usually worked to some degree. I just didn’t eat much meat as a child.

Global warming

Eating beef and the global impact

Today, I do eat some meat, maybe a couple of times a week and some weeks none. But with climate change and growth in world population, I realize I have a responsibility to cut back eating meat even more.

At first I didn’t understand the huge impact raising beef was having on our planet, but now, unless you are a hunter and survive on meat from the wilderness (I have friends that do), then we need to understand the impact that raising and processing animals to put on our table has on climate change.

Carbon footprint of meat

Why reduce your meat intake?

The Impacts of Cattle Production

Raising cattle can be a multifaceted process and varies from ranch to ranch, but here are a few of the negative impacts on the environment and ecosystem of our planet:

1. Agricultural land usage: Livestock production takes up more than half the agricultural land used by grazing and producing crops for feed. According to The Bloomberg, in the United States in 2018, 654 million acres were for pasture or range usage, while 391.5 million acres were used to grow crops. The crops grown are used for animal feed, ethanol and other practices. Between pastures and cropland used to produce feed, 41% of the land revolves around livestock.

2. Deforestation due to raising livestock: Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has increased in the past several years and cattle ranching accounts for 80% of current deforestation rates according to an article by Yale University, “Cattle Ranching in the Amazon Region.” Even though there are better programs through technology to monitor deforestation in the Amazon, restrictions and laws are not always enforced.

According to Evergreen State University in Washington, deforestation for human purposes represents 20% of global CO2 emissions, more than the entire transit sector. To prevent this there needs to be zero deforestation and suppliers and buyers need to be held accountable for the buying and selling practices of cattle raised in South America and the resulting deforestation.

The global impact of eating beef

Climate Change

3. Impact on freshwater systems: 1800 gallons of water or more per pound of beef is needed to produce the meat that reaches the cooler in your nearby grocery store. That’s a significant amount of water! If human and animal consumption of fresh water is greater than the restoration of fresh water from rain, freshwater will be depleted. Agriculture, for use in feeding animals and humans, uses approximately 70% of our fresh water!

4. Pollution due to fertilizers: Fertilizers and pesticides are used on crops to feed the cattle. These chemicals are either excreted by the animal into the ground and waterways, or end up being deposited in the animal fat which, again, ends up in the cooler at your local grocery store and consumed by you.

Global Warming

The global impact of eating beef.

5. Processing and transportation of meat: With the massive land usage and food and water it takes to raise cattle, also comes the huge energy impact to our environment in the processing and packaging of meat and the transportation to get it on the shelf.

Greenhouses Gases and Eating Beef

Experts estimate that 14% of all greenhouse gases come from cattle production and the processing of meat. You can look at the current push towards meat from plants as a fad, or you can view it as a way to help save our planet. The choice is yours.

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Environmental Impact of Beef

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Heat Waves and Global Warming Combine to Produce Record High Temperatures

Sustainable living

It’s our responsibility to change.

“New record high temperatures will be set for the planet”

By Dr. John J. Hidore

Defining Heat Waves

At the time of this writing the northern hemisphere is experiencing widespread heat waves. When it seems unusually warm someplace there is a tendency to describe it as a heat wave. The reason is simple. Normal high temperatures vary greatly from place to place. So what would be defined as a heat wave in one location would not be appropriate for another location, perhaps one not even too far away. Perhaps an adequate definition might be, “A heat wave is an unusually warm or hot period lasting for days or perhaps weeks.” We associate them with summer but by this definition they can actually occur at any season.

At least one country makes a clear definition of a heat wave and that is Pakistan. India defines heat waves and uses different temperatures in different parts of the country to establish what constitutes a heat wave. In the plains regions temperatures above 40degrees C (104degrees F) constitute a heat wave. They also define a severe heatwave for this region as experiencing temperatures over 46degreesC (114.8degrees F).

Drought in India

Indian drought causes famine.

Indian Heat Wave of 2016: Prolonged and Widespread Extreme High Temperatures

India experienced unusually high temperatures this year. Temperatures were above normal most of the spring. Normally, the hottest months of the year are April, May, and June, before the summer monsoon rains begin. In May a severe heat wave alert was issued for several states. A severe heat wave is one in which temperatures of at least 117°F (47.2°C) occur. In the city of Philodi, in western India, unofficial temperatures reached 124°F (51°C). This is the highest temperature on record in India. Temperatures averaged above 104degrees F (40°C) over large areas. Some urban high temperatures were:

New Delhi 47 °C (117 ºF)
Churu 50 °C (122 ºF)
Philodi 51.°C (124 ºF)

The impact on the country was immense. More than 300 million people were adversely affected. Crops failed or were below average in 13 states in the last growing season. Thousands of farmers abandoned their farms. In places, the asphalt on the streets partially melted. At Bikaner, the streets were being sprinkled with water to reduce the heat. Some 17,000 villages had, or were facing water shortages. Several Indian states shut down schools to reduce risk to students. Heatstroke was a widespread problem and many deaths were reported across the region .Fortunately, the government responded in a variety of ways to reduce the suffering and mortality.

Indian drought

Global warming raises temperatures around the world.

Asian heat waves of 2015

This year a May heat wave in India claimed at least 2,500 lives. Heat waves are fairly frequent in India, but this was the greatest loss of life from a heat wave in over 30 years. Extremely high temperatures were reached in cities scattered over the country. Power outages were wide spread as a result of high demand for air conditioning. The city of Khammam recorded the highest temperature ever recorded there at 48o C (118.4 degrees F). Other high temperatures that were recorded were:

Allahabad 47.8 degrees C (118.0 degrees F)
Delhi 45.5 degrees C (113.9 degrees F)
Hyderabad 46 degrees C (115 degrees F)
Jharsuguda 45.4 degrees C (113.7 degrees F)

In June the deadliest heat wave known to have occurred in Pakistan took place in the southern part of the country near Karachi. The death toll is unknown for certain but may have reached more than 1000. It followed by several weeks the severe heat wave that struck India. The heat wave struck during the month of Ramadan which made the impact of the event more severe than it might have been. Unfortunately, city services were not in condition to cope with the heat.

Fossil Fuels

Coal and Oil Formation

2003–A deadly heat wave in Europe

Perhaps the most deadly heat wave of the 21st Century was that which occurred in Europe in August of 2003. Temperatures in France reached as much as 40°C (104oF) and remained exceptionally high for two weeks resulting in nearly 15,000 deaths in that country alone. The death toll over Europe reached 35,000 at least and may have been as high as 50,000. A large contributing factor in the high death toll was warmer nighttime temperatures. Nighttime temperatures were much warmer than normal. As a result people without air conditioning could not cool down during the night. The heat stress accumulated over time. Extreme heat waves also can devastate agriculture. In Europe in the heat wave of 2003 temperatures averaged 5.5°C (10°F) above normal. In Italy corn yields dropped 36% below average. In France fruit yields fell 25% and wine production 10%. Heat also affects the rate of plant pollination.

As the planet warms it can be expected that: (1) there will be more severe heat waves. and (2) they will become hotter, more frequent, last longer, and occur in more varied places. New record high temperatures will be set for the planet. As cities grow larger in area and population they will experience increasing heat waves.

Heat Waves


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The Salton Sea: The Accidental Lake

Dead fish line the shores because of high salinity and lack of oxygen

“The Salton Sea was man-made…by accident.”

By Linn Smith

The Salton Sea controversy was generated most recently by the signing of the Colorado Drought Contingency Agreement, which was mandated to be signed by all states bordering the Colorado River by the end of March 2019. These states were mandated to water cuts by the agreement in an attempt to prevent further dropping of water levels.

The Hoover Dam

Why the water cuts? If Lake Mead continues dropping and reaches below 1,050 ft, the Hoover Dam will stop generating power to millions of people. If it continues dropping below 895 ft. it will become a “dead pool”, where water can no longer be piped out to states along the river border. It is today only 40% full at approximately 1,082 ft, thus the federal intervention demand on cutbacks of water usage from all Colorado River border states.

The Imperial Irrigation District, the largest holder of water rights in California, was in line to sign the agreement, but only if the Colorado Contingency Agreement granted water to revive the troubled Salton Sea before signing. California signed anyway and the Salton Sea wasn’t included in the agreement.

The Salton Sea

Old structures fall apart on what was once the shoreline.

History of the Salton Sea

The Salton Sea has a lengthy history and has not been sustainable since its beginning. Sustainability is an avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain ecological balance. The Salton Sea doesn’t meet this definition.

The Salton Sea was man-made…by accident. From 1905 to 1907, water poured out of a poorly built system of irrigation ditches meant to divert water from the Colorado River to the dry, arid farm land in Southern California. The water flooded the Salton basin, developing a 400 sq mile lake named the Salton Sea, California’s largest lake. Nicknamed the Salton Riviera in the 1950’s, the lake developed into a tourist destination, with resorts popping up around its edge. The Dept.of Fish and Game stocked it with many types of fish and boaters, yacht clubs and celebrities flocked to its shores.

The Salton Sea

The shoreline has been lost to evaporation and lack of water feeding into it.

The Decline of the Salton Sea

The decline of the Salton Sea began around 1976 with tropical storms, rising salinity due to no fresh water supply to counter evaporation, toxic agricultural runoff and a receding shoreline. Housing prices plummeted! Today, the main attraction is a wildlife refuge on the lake’s shore.

With the recent Colorado Drought Contingency agreement, the Imperial Valley District tried to demand its water rights for the declining sea, stating it has become a health hazard with toxic blowing sand due to agricultural run off, dying fish and abandoned buildings on a shoreline that no longer exists. California signed the Contingency Agreement without the support of the Imperial Valley District, its largest holder of water rights. According to the Washington Post, “The Metropolitan Water District, which serves Los Angeles, essentially wrote Imperial out of the drought plan to prevent delays in implementing it by taking on Imperial’s pledged water contributions to Lake Mead.”

In Support of Hoover Dam and Lake Mead

Was the Salton Sea ever sustainable? We can either support our communities who depend on the Colorado River for electricity and agriculture, or revitalize a dying sea that can’t survive and has little purpose today. With climate change everyone has to give for the greater good and for the survival of future generations.

The Salton Sea


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Climate Change: The Shift in Politics and Public Opinion

“If the Green New Deal isn’t a quick fix, it is creating a conversation.”

By Linn Smith

Renewable energy

Support sustainable energy

The term Green New Deal, has currently been brought to public attention by Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasii Cortez. But the term was originally used in the early 2000’s by Van Jones to outline his vision for a program that would birth a “just and green” economy, as written in his book, The Green Collar.

Climate change

Support renewable resources

The Changing Public Opinion on Climate Change

Public opinion is changing in support of climate legislation, politicians can no longer put it on the back burner. Seventy per cent of Americans have real concern for our changing climate and have some knowledge of what’s coming down the pipeline in our future. Most people have also experienced some form of extreme weather conditions in the past several years.

climate change

Support Renewables

The Green New Deal

If the Green New Deal isn’t a quick fix, it is creating a conversation and parts of the proposal are gaining support from both Democrats and Republicans.” An article on climate change in the recent issue of Time Magazine states, “The outcome of the debate will go a long way towards determining if humanity can avoid the most catastrophic consequences of a rapidly warming world….the science is damning and the clock is ticking!”

The Green New Deal


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Renewable Energy: Hatch, New Mexico

“The systems are best for high and dry climates, which makes Hatch an optimal location.”

As a resident of New Mexico for 6 years, I have long known the value of Hatch green chili…the Best in the West! But the past several years I have traveled Hwy 26, a lonely stretch of road through seemingly baron land just west of Hatch, passing massive wind and solar fields.

Solar Power

According to VillageofHatch.org here is the data on the impressive energy produced by these solar fields, plus pictures I was able to snap along my route recently:

“The Hatch Solar Energy Center consists of 84 Amonix 60-kW systems on 41 acres of land. The platform and panels are each 50 feet wide and 55 feet high tall. Each panel is made up of three different photovoltaic materials in a single cell so they extract more energy from the range of wavelengths in sunlight. Dual-axis tracking systems maximize energy production throughout the day by allowing the CPV systems to follow the sun. The systems are best for high and dry climates, which makes Hatch an optimal location. The systems require no water in power production, use land better, and produce more energy per acre than any other solar technology— equivalent of planting 3,500 trees every year it operates.”

Wind Power

The Macho Spring windfarm is nearby.

Wind Turbines

Along my route I also passed a train carrying at least 30 wind turbine blades…the trip was a visual feast for my “build it green” eyes!

And, while you’re on the drive, stop at Sparky’s in Hatch and get some green chili lemonade, it’s a treat your taste buds won’t soon forget!

Happy Trails!

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Renewable Energy


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Record Heat Waves Plague the Planet

There will be more severe heat waves. They will become hotter, more frequent, last longer and occur in more varied places.

By Dr. John J. Hidore
February 12, 2019——Heat wave is a general term. When it seems unusually warm someplace there is often a tendency to describe the weather as a heat wave. As it turns out it is very hard to define a heat wave. The reason is simple. Normal summer high temperatures vary greatly from place to place. What would be defined as a heat wave in one location would not be appropriate for another location, perhaps not even too far away. An adequate definition might be, “A heat wave is an unusually warm or hot period lasting for days or perhaps weeks.” We associate them with summer but by this definition they can actually occur at any season.

climate change

The exchange of energy is causing rapid arctic melting.

At least one country makes a clear definition of a heat wave and that is Pakistan. India also defines heat waves and uses different temperatures in different parts of the country to establish what constitutes a heat wave. In the plains regions of the Unites States, temperatures above 40degreesC (104 degreesF) constitute a heat wave. They also define a severe heat wave for this region as experiencing temperatures over 46 degreesC (114.8 degreesF).

Distribution of the 2018 Heat Waves

In 2018 the northern hemisphere experienced major heat waves. Heat waves occurred over most of the northern hemisphere as well as Australia. Europe experienced a major heat wave in the spring and summer. These extreme heat waves were largely a function of climate change, particularly of global warming.

Indian drought

Millions effected by the drought

Global warming also increases the probability of higher extreme temperatures during a heat wave. Such was the case in 2018. All-time highs were recorded in North America and Europe. At one location in Finland that is north of the Arctic circle, a temperature of 33.3°C (92°F) was recorded. Undoubtedly extreme highs were recorded in many other areas as well. Qurayyat, in Oman, experienced a 24 hour period when the temperature did not drop below 42.6°C. This was the highest minimum daily temperature ever recorded.

The Impact of the Heat Waves

The impacts of the heat waves were many and varied. They included:
A. Increased mortality: Japan, Algeria, and Canada recorded fatalities attributed to the heat.
B. Droughts and agricultural losses. In parts of Europe precipitation amounts fell to as little as 20% of normal.
C. The closing of nuclear power plants due to a shortage of water for cooling.
D. Frequent and severe wild fires. Severe wild fires occurred on every continent except Antarctica.
E. In 2016 and 2017 there was major bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. In all probability 2018 will turn out to be the same
F. In the summer at one point the combined concentration of greenhouse gasses reached 500 ppm, approximately 100 ppm above the average for this time.

The Deadly Heat Wave of Europe in 2003

Some heat waves have become deadly. Perhaps the most deadly heat wave of the 21st Century was that which occurred in Europe in August of 2003. Temperatures in France reached as much as 40°C (104 DegreesF) and remained exceptionally high for two weeks resulting in nearly 15,000 deaths in that country alone. The death toll over Europe reached approximately 35,000 and may have been as high as 50,000.

Climate Change

The earth’s overall temperatures are increasing every year.

A large contributing factor in the high death toll was warmer than normal nighttime temperatures. As a result people without air conditioning could not cool down during the night. The heat stress accumulated over time. Extreme heat waves also can devastate agriculture. In Europe, in the heat wave of 2003, temperatures averaged 5.5°C (10°F) above normal. In Italy corn yields dropped 36% below average. In France fruit yields fell 25% and wine production 10%. Heat also affects the rate of plant pollination.

Asian heat waves of 2015

That year a May heat wave in India claimed at least 2,500 lives. Heat waves are fairly frequent in India but this was the greatest loss of life from a heat wave in over 30 years. Extremely high temperatures were reached in cities scattered over the country. Power outages were wide spread as a result of high demand for air conditioning. The city of Khammam recorded the highest temperature ever recorded there at 48 degrees C (118.4 degreesF). Other high temperatures that were recorded were:

Allahabad 47.8 degrees C (118.0 degrees F)
Delhi 45.5 degrees C (113.9 degrees F)
Hyderabad 46 degrees C (115 degrees F)
Jharsuguda 45.4 degrees C (113.7 degrees F)

In June the deadliest heat wave known to have occurred in Pakistan took place in the southern part of the country near Karachi. The death toll is unknown for certain but may have reached more than 1000. The heat wave struck during the month of Ramadan which made the impact of the event more severe than it might have been. Unfortunately, city services were not in condition to cope with the heat.

As the planet warms it can be expected that: (1) there will be more severe heat waves. They will become hotter, more frequent, last longer and occur in more varied places. As cities grow larger in area and population they will experience increasing heat waves. (2) new record high temperatures will be set more frequently on the planet.

Heat Wave


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The Colorado River: The Redistribution of Water

The Colorado River

The Colorado River is over allocated.

The Colorado River: “It is incumbent for us to safeguard, protect what we have left.”

By Linn Smith
February 6, 2019—The Colorado River has been over allotted from the beginning, as the Law of the River, a compact made in 1922 between the 7 Colorado River Basin states for the river usage, was made during a time of high precipitation. Today the population of states along the river has increased and the river has decreased due to over use and climate change.

Since the development of the compact, California has been using the surplus water that other states haven’t used in the lower basin states that include Arizona and Nevada.

With population growth both Arizona and Nevada are claiming their water allotments and the Upper Basin states have accused CAP, Central Arizona Project, of manipulating its share of water to keep Lake Mead low enough that the upper basin is required to send extra water, but high enough to avoid mandatory cutbacks in lower basin consumption.

#theoceancleanup

Big Solutions for the ocean cleanup

Colorado River: Lower Basin States

The lower basin states and Mexico depend, at least partially, on the water they get from Lake Mead and if the situation called “dead pool” develops, the level of the lake’s surface would fall below the gates of the dam that release the water. In this situation the lower basin states and Mexico would not receive water. To avoid this situation cutbacks are required. In the book “Dead Pool” by James Lawrence Powell, Powell states, “At present, Lake Powell is less than half full. Bathtub rings ten stories tall encircle its blue water; boat ramps and marinas lie stranded and useless. To refill it would require surplus water-but there is no surplus water: burgeoning populations and thirsty crops consume every drop of the Colorado River. Add to this picture the looming effects of global warming and drought, and the scenario becomes bleaker still.” This book was written in 2011. Today Lake Mead stands at 1079 ft, four ft away from the mandatory federal shortage declaration that would mandate cutbacks.

In an attempt to resolve the issue the Federal Government put a deadline on lower basin states to resolve the issues over water rights. The past several weeks have shown an attempt towards resolution. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation expects an agreement on the drought plan by the end of January, 2019.

Colorado River

Depletion of water for crop irrigation

The Arizona Drought Plan

The drought plan requires Arizona to find a way to reduce its use of Colorado River water by up to 700,000 acre-feet — more than twice Nevada’s yearly allocation under the drought plan. An acre-foot is the volume of water needed to cover one acre of surface to a depth of one foot.

Arizona, the only state that required legislation to take less water from the river, was forced this month to either pass legislation by the end of January 2019 or let the federal government impose water restrictions, which could have meant less water than if state imposed. In Arizona the recent legislation resulted in negotiations between major water users, who agreed to reduce their water usage in exchange for cash or access to groundwater in the future.

Farmers in Pinal County, Az, who have the lowest priority to water rights, will receive restitution which includes $9 million to drill wells and build infrastructure to change from dependency on river water to groundwater. The farmers, who reluctantly supported the agreement, said it would require them to fallow as much as 40 percent of the county’s farmland.

“We inherited as human beings a pristine land with pristine water, and we messed it up as human beings ourselves,” said Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, a Democrat who represents the Navajo reservation in northeastern Arizona and voted to join the drought plan. “It is incumbent for us to safeguard, protect what we have left.”

See also: https://planetearth5.com/?s=the+colorado+river
https://planetearth5.com/2018/09/11/the-law-of-the-river-the-over-allotment-of-the-colorado-river/


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Climate Change has been at the Root of Major Famines

Drought in India

Indian drought causes famine.

“The demand and supply of food has been in a delicate balance for the human species throughout history.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore

October 30, 2018—–The term famine produces an image of starvation and suffering in the minds of most people. In general a famine is a lack of food sufficient to produce malnutrition in large numbers of people over a wide area. The United Nations considers several conditions for a regional food shortage to be considered a famine. They are:

1. At least 20% of families in the area face extreme food shortages that they cannot cope with.
2. Acute malnutrition in children exceeds 20%.
3. The death rate exceeds two persons for each 10,000 people per day.

The Role of Climate Change in Historic Famines

There are many causes of famine, including climate changes, war, and political policies. One of the major ones is drought. Most of the catastrophic famines in historic times have been precipitated by drought. Drought can affect the quality and quantity of crop yields and the food supply for domestic animals. In the case of severe drought there may be a substantial loss of domestic animals due to lack of food. The loss of milk products or meat itself can precipitate the effects of the drought.

The demand and supply of food has been in a delicate balance for the human species throughout history. When the food supply has increased there has been a gain in population, and when food has been in short supply there has been some sort of trauma inflicted on the populace. Starvation results from insufficient food intake. During the long period of the hunting and gathering societies, starvation was probably often near at hand for individuals, family groups and tribes.

Indian drought

Millions effected by the drought

Agriculture and Famine

The development of agriculture allowed the world population to expand rapidly and greatly. At the same time, the basis for the supply of food, namely agriculture, became more directly dependent upon the weather. Famine as a phenomenon did not become a part of human experience until after agriculture began. However, as agriculture expanded so did the frequency of famines. The number of times that famine has spread on the continents is enormous. Nearly all histories of peoples and nations record famines.

Great famines have occurred throughout the Asian continent. India, China, Russia and the countries of the Middle East have all suffered from famine, many times which were drought related. An example is the famine described as occurring during the time of Abraham (about 2247 B.C). Another massive famine occurred in Egypt prior to the exodus of the Israelites. Drought and famine are endemic in India and China. The oldest record of famine in India goes back to 400 B.C. and in China to 108 B.C. Since the time of the earliest known famine there have been nearly continuous episodes of drought and famine in many parts of Asia or Africa.

Indian drought

Global warming raises temperatures around the world.

The Impact of Drought in Developing Countries

Drought has a much greater impact on people in developing countries than it does in industrial societies. The primary reason for this is that in the developing countries there is more dependence on agriculture as a way of life. When crops fail, or there isn’t enough forage for livestock, there is an immediate effect on the populace.

A very positive aspect of famine is that they are becoming fewer and less extensive due to the ability of the global economy to move large quantities of food from place to place.

Climate change and famine


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The USA National Phenology Network: Taking the Pulse of our Planet

Phenology

Climate change affects all life.

“Phenology is nature’s calendar. It’s the study of plant and animal life cycle events.”

By Linn Smith
June 14, 2018—–I learned about Phenology when visiting Biosphere 2 several months ago. Upon entering I asked the question, “But where is Biosphere 1?” “It’s our Planet Earth!” our guide answered. (I knew little before entering!) On the grounds of Biosphere 2 is the Biosphere Village Phenology garden.

Climate Change

Birds depend on insects to feed their young.

What is Phenology?

Phenology is nature’s calendar. It’s the study of plant and animal life cycle events, such as leafing and flowering of plants, emergence of insects, and bird migration. Many of these events are sensitive to climate change. Birds build their nest to coincide with insects coming to life after a long winter. The insects are the necessary food for the baby birds and, as the climate warms and winters shorten, this nesting time period will change.

Phenology

What is it?

Monitoring animal and plant life, or Phenology, can help scientists predict which populations are in danger of extinction. It can also help manage invasive species, help predict human health problems, such as allergies, and predict optimum times to plant and harvest crops.

The Biosphere Phenology Garden

“The garden at the Biosphere is part of a nationwide effort to help scientists track impacts of climatic variation and change on the natural world. We are monitoring the timing and occurrence of seasonal events of this garden and reporting the observations to USA-NPN’s national data base.” (USA National Phenology Network)

Phenology

It helps us understand our changing environment.

How You Can Help!

And this is how you can get involved! Citizen Scientists were developed so all can participate in monitoring nature and recording the data. The USA National Phenology Network brings together citizens, government agencies, educators, students and nonprofit organizations to monitor the impacts of climatic variation and change on plants and animals across the U.S. The network harnesses the power of people and the Internet to share information and provide data to researchers.

USA-NPN invites anyone interested to volunteer as an observer so that they can better understand environmental trends and adaptation to climate change. Your own yard can serve as a phenology garden where you observe plants and report your findings. You can track the phenology of plants and animals through Nature’s Notebook, which is an online monitoring system, contributing to a national database that can be used by scientists and resource managers.

Phenology

It can help us understand why nature is changing.

Citizen Scientists at Work

“Cathie Bird finds being outdoors healing and inspiring. She goes outside nearly every day to see what other species are up to, and after she heard about Nature’s Notebook, she decided to record what she observes for the benefit of science. She feels “being an observer has connected me even more deeply with life in my neighborhood” and has “enriched my lifelong commitment to cultivate a deeper relationship with Earth.

Chris Nielsen started using Nature’s Notebook to observe native plants in the Northwest several years ago. Chris not only monitors plants at his home, but also at the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden in Shoreline, WA. What does Chris recommend for getting started with Nature’s Notebook? Don’t take on too many plants! Start out with just a few then take on more as you get comfortable with the program.”

Now is the time to step up to the plate and help out…..the time was actually yesterday, but as the old saying goes, better late than never! Find out more information at: https://www.usanpn.org/natures_notebook

Phenology, You can help!

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The Effect of Climate Change on the Saguaros of the Sonoran Desert

saguaro pic by Linn Smith

Saguaro of the Sonoran Desert

“Saguaros have evolved to rely on the summer monsoons and winter rains that prevail here.”

By Linn Smith
March 4, 2018—-Each morning I ride along the dirt paths in southwest Arizona, my dog in tow, and wonder at the giant Saguaros, towering, as if royalty of the desert. What do I know about these gigantic, human like plants? I know I am truly humbled by their presence. The beauty against the mountains, the size, the human like features of arms lifting to a blue sky above, their age and, while the world moves forward, these mammoth cactuses have survived the elements of a dry arid life in the Southwest…all part of my fascination!

But what about the survival of the Saguaros? What is the future of these majestic desert plants? With climate change comes a hotter, drier desert and with a hotter, drier desert comes a greater risk of fires and drought, making it difficult for the Saguaro to propagate according to the narrow margin of time allotted for seed dispersion that coincides with the monsoons.

And also….there’s Buffelgrass!

Saguaros

Buffelgrass competes with Saguaros for nutrients

Buffelgrass: A Giant Threat to a Giant Cactus

Buffelgrass is native to Africa and was transported to the desert of Arizona to prevent erosion and for cattle forage in the 1940’s. Many volunteers work tirelessly digging up the invasive grass, which competes with the Saguaros for food and water. The grass not only competes for the nutrients and water among the Saguaros, it is also fire-resistant, as the roots are able to survive a fire, allowing the Buffelgrass to endure the elements of nature and return healthier than ever.

Buffelgrass is highly flammable and burns very hot, much hotter than the Saguaros can survive. It changes a fire-resistant desert into a flammable grassland and, as climate changes and fires increase, so does the Buffelgrass. A healthy ecosystem is able to resist changes of climate due to global warming, but the buffelgrass creates an unhealthy environment for the Saguaros of the Sonoran Desert. When it fills in the bare areas between the Saguaros, the grass acts like fodder for fire caused by lightning strikes.

Climatecental.org states, “Like many such imports, which seemed like a good idea at the time, this one (Buffelgrass) has gone out of control. Approximately 2,000 acres of Saguaro National Park are currently covered with buffelgrass, and can spread at a rate of up to 35 percent per year. There’s no way for one park or its visitors to hold back global warming, but while park employees attack the fire-loving buffelgrass with herbicides, volunteers show up for communal buffelgrass pulls. It’s a difficult battle, but after great effort and thousands upon thousands of buffelgrass clumps yanked from the ground, mostly by volunteers, some land is declared free of the unwanted grass.”
The staff at Saguaro National Park states it like this, “The math of climate change is simple: Hotter summers mean a greater likelihood of fire. Warmer winters mean less chance for buffelgrass to die back in a hard freeze. It all adds up to long odds for the saguaros. If we start seeing buffelgrass come through and we have larger fires, really you can start calling us Buffelgrass National Park. The cacti are not going to survive that.”

Saguaro

Saguaros of the Southwest

The Saguaros and Monsoon Rains

The Saguaros only habitat on earth are the deserts of the southwest. Andy L. Fisher, chief of interpretation for Saguaro National Park says, “Even — or especially — in the desert, water is life. Saguaros have evolved to rely on the summer monsoons and winter rains that prevail here. Their adaptations to this regional weather cycle are so specific that the species is found in the Sonoran Desert and nowhere else on Earth. The saguaros have got it dialed in. They know exactly when they need to put up the fruit to put out the seeds, to get the seeds carried by the animals, to get seeds deposited just in time for the first monsoon rains.” If the monsoons fail to bring the needed rains within their usual timespan, these cactuses could soon become extinct, along with the many other species of plants throughout our planet dependent on timely conditions for survival.

Saguaro Population Regeneration

A seventy-five year study of the Saguaro cactus by the National Parks Conservation Association titled, “Saguaro Mortality and Population Regeneration in the Cactus Forest of Saguaro National Park: Seventy-Five Years and Counting,” created maps showing the percent of population change of the Saguaros according to sections. The study shows that only 12 of the 64 four-hectare (one hectare equals approximately 2.5 acres} plots had a population increase over the past 75 years in which the Saguaro was studied. The other 52 plots decreased in Saguaro population. Other studies document the same degree of regeneration.

Weiss, Castro, and Overpeck , who headed the study, contrasted the drought of the 2000s with the drought of the 1950s and point out the following. “Temperatures during the drought of the 2000s have been generally higher than during the 1950s drought due to climate change. They note that the higher temperatures increase the evapotranspiration especially in the foresummer prior to the monsoons. Hence, we suspect drought, not reproductive potential, is primarily responsible for the lack of regeneration in this population in the current era.”

The observations made during the past 75 years of this study suggest that the success of the Saguaro’s regeneration in the 21st century will depend on a combination of factors including climate and fire associated with the invasive non-native buffelgrass. Climate change may benefit some species, such as Buffelgrass, and cause extinction of others….the Saguaro, which is at risk of disappearing in the future!

If you are in the Southwest or just visiting and would like to spend a day for a worthy cause….digging Buffelgrass, contact the Desert Museum: https://www.desertmuseum.org/buffelgrass/volunteer.php

One last note, don’t try to poach a Saguaro to sell or relocate to your yard, as many are microchipped!

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