Farmers Could Help Reduce Climate Change Impact

In Threshold, Dr. Carla Connors takes a 2-yr sabbatical from her job as a climate scientist to learn from ethnologists at the Mission Garden in Tucson who are growing heirloom seeds to test for viability in new climate conditions, while demonstrating many previous cultures’ farming practices in their Timeline Garden.

Carla investigates the potential of plants to sequester carbon from the atmosphere and deposit it into the soil. While this is a normal activity of some kinds of microbes in the plants we call legumes (barley, soy, clover), she wants to know if the ways farmers planted, grew, and harvested crops actually may be important clues to how farmers might help stem global warming.

carbon-farming-heroIts called CARBON FARMING. See this article from Modern Farmer, “Carbon Farming: Hope for a Hot Planet” by Brian Barth, March 25 2016.

Scientists now believe carbon framing could become an important and beneficial tool in fighting the rise of carbon dioxide in the air and could potentially reverse it while producing healthier food and enriching top soil.

The New Normal

Novel about Climate Change in Tucson and the Southwest
Novel about Climate Change in Tucson and the Southwest

We hear the expression “the new normal” so often that the phrase has entered the lexicon as a substitute for transformation of something previously thought to be a truth or a given. It means thinking about or doing something differently with a new set of parameters.

The New Normal is a pulse that heralds a significant change so that what is present no longer resembles what was past, and the operating instructions are still under construction.

Tucson’s New Normal” 115 degrees and more?

“Our big heat waves in Tucson won’t be 115, 117. They’ll be 130. And that means we’re going to have more than 100 days, probably pushing 150, 200  days a year above 100 degrees,” [Johnathon] Overpeck said. …What is the new normal we can expect?

“(It will not be) long before we start breaking 120 in Tucson and maybe even 125 or hotter in Phoenix. So that’s the new normal that we have to get used to,” Overpeck said. “(We’ll) probably continue to warm until about mid-century, but slowing down as we reach that point where we stabilize things. And then we’re stuck with that climate for hundreds of years.” ~ From Tucson News Now

READ THE NEW NORMAL FOR WILDFIRES IN THE WEST IN HIGH COUNTRY NEWS – Lindsey Gilpin, 8-13-16

 

Follow the Trees?

From Mt. Lemmon Homeowners Guide: http://mtlemmonhoa.org/plant-information.html
From Mt. Lemmon Homeowners Guide: http://mtlemmonhoa.org/plant-information.html

If we were really paying attention, we’d notice that trees are on their way up the mountains. With increasing drought and heat, soils evaporate more moisture. Trees are gradually found in greater abundance at higher elevations. Lower ranges where trees forested the landscape are turning to grass and woody shrubs.

In Tucson, where my novel, Threshold, takes place, a long term study dramatically revealed this “march up the mountains”.

Richard Brusca and a team of scientists found the lower ranges of mountain conifers and trees had advanced up the mountain over a 60-year period. During that time they also documented a decrease in average precipitation and a 10 degree increase in average temperatures on Mt. Lemon in the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson.

A study conducted in the ’60s established the baseline data for a companion study using the exact same transects and protocol to count the numbers of species in the study area. This allowed scientists to compare and document  changes over time.

The message? Forest communities are undergoing ecosystem change on a large scale and in a relatively short time.

 

 

GRID FAILURE: Are We Ready?

Living on the Gulf Coast I am painfully aware of what its like when the grid goes down. Moist, hot coastal air enveloped residents in Pensacola after Hurricane Ivan. In some areas of the seaside city, residents were without power for two weeks. Life came to a halt: no business could be conducted, no schools could function, only emergency services were available; finding  potable water and food became residents’ daily preoccupation.

But, what if the power grid in the U.S.A. went down? Security would be nonexistent, vulnerable people would perish from lack of cool or heat depending on the season. Markets would be down and silent. No trade could take place. The lifeblood of capitalism would be cut off.

How vulnerable is our grid? An article in the Wall Street Journal, How America Could Go Dark, reviews how substations on the grid are wide open to sabotage:

The U.S. electric system is in danger of widespread blackouts lasting days, weeks or longer through the destruction of sensitive, hard-to-replace equipment. Yet records are so spotty that no government agency can offer an accurate tally of substation attacks, whether for vandalism, theft or more nefarious purposes.

In my novel Threshold, a plot to disable the grid where hydropower is generated along the Colorado River system is discovered. It is designed to deliver a double whammy: loss of power and water. In the Southwest, that could be devastating.

The point is this: life percolates along in the face of climate change and other long-term security problems as long as citizens can turn on their lights and get water from a faucet. We are distracted by what is immediately before us : terrorism and violence and a failed political process that obfuscates the truth. Meantime, we are not paying attention to the trumpets sounding for our action.

Solutions will come at all levels of society. For example, the millions of dollars we need to secure our grid will require governments and business collaborations to make it happen. On the community level, citizens can bring pressure on officials for these reforms, and they can plan on municipal and neighborhood levels to protect people in the event of a grid failure or compromised water supply. See what Tucson is doing to promote neighborhood organizing for the latter.

Can a city make its own energy?

solar-farmThe novel Threshold explores possible outcomes in Tucson, Arizona as climate change continues to dry out and heat up the Southwest.

The National Climate Assessment targets heat, drought, and insect outbreaks among other impacts for the Southwest. Surface water supply is expected to decrease as snowpack and stream flow decrease.

Projected regional temperature increases, combined with the way cities amplify heat, will pose increased threats and costs to public health in southwestern cities, which are home to more than 90% of the region’s population. Disruptions to urban electricity and water supplies will exacerbate these health problems.

Threshold tells a story about characters caught in a spiraling heat emergency and black out that stuns the city. South Tucson, a city within the Tucson city limits, rises to become more self-reliant through a solar field and solar gardens.

Yesterday, Reuters published an interesting review about changes in solar industries, showing how big solar (large scale solar fields for example) are becoming cheaper and more efficient than roof-top solar.

Many trace the tipping point for utility-scale solar to a 2014 announcement by Austin Energy that it would buy power from a new 150 megawatt solar plant – enough to light and cool 30,000 homes – for 5 cents a kilowatt hour. At the time, it was a record low price for solar power. Since then, projects have brought the price below 4 cents a kWh.

In Tucson, the  Bright Solar program offers residents an opportunity to buy blocks of solar power from a solar field. When the grid goes down however, how can residents continue to generate power if they do not have their own home or neighborhood solar panels and battery storage?

It is important to think carefully about these new technologies and the opportunities they offer people for more democratic ownership of common resources. See the concept of Solar Commons.

As solar power becomes cheaper to generate, will everyone benefit? How can a city and utility work to make solar power available to everyone? As the solar industry develops, how can communities make sure their residents have access to new training and skills necessary for employment in the solar power industry?

In Threshold, South Tucson answers those questions and solves another challenge: the high rate of unemployed youth in their community.

 

Excessive Heat: Have We Passed a Threshold?

Threshold book coverAll across southern California and the Colorado River Lower Basin in Arizona as far south as northern Mexico, an excessive heat warning has been declared by the National Weather Service for the next 4-5 days.

Phoenix is expected to reach temps as high as 120 degrees — well above the norm for this time of year.

In my soon-to-be-released novel, Threshold, heat and evaporating water supply are two threatening conditions that impinge on characters. While the book is set in the “very near future”, the plot is contemporary and presupposes what might happen in a metropolitan city like Tucson, Arizona.

The impacts of climate change will be felt differently across a city or region depending on a person’s personal resources, both financial and social. I wrote the story in Threshold to explore what might happen, and allowed characters to tell me what they would do.

Enrique dabbed his grandmother’s face with cold water, but her breathing grew shallow. He ran to fill the tub with water. But when he turned on the faucet, no water came out. In a panic now, he returned to his grandmother. . . It took him a few seconds to comprehend what had happened.

WILL A “NEW NORMAL” SPUR INNOVATION?

The Citizen’s Guide for Resilience to Climate Extremes is a planning guide for neighborhoods to increase their resiliency and to institute climate solutions such as planting trees for shade and making walk-able, bike-able neighborhoods. It is a community-based model any city will find useful to mobilize citizen’s for climate change.

Check back to read Guest Bloggers from Tucson and the Southwestern region. 

 

Birth of a novel…

Books I read that informed Threshold.
Books I read that informed first draft of Threshold.

In terms of years spent writing as a principle activity, I am a relatively new writer. In 2003 I decided to leave working full time to begin a life as an independent businesswoman. This gave me time to write with more purpose. Up until then, I had written memoir and nonfiction pieces, attended a few writing workshops, but had not truly found my purpose nor honed a writing life.

When I made the Big Transition from working for an institution to working for myself, I had been serving the Desert Museum in Tucson as the Director of Education. This was a great privilege for me–one that brought me close to many experts and passionate defenders of the biodiversity and cultural diversity of desert communities.

At the same time, scientists were reporting increasingly disturbing forecasts about climate changes on global scale. The Tucson and Phoenix metro areas were also reexamining their water management plans. Working for myself gave me more uninterrupted time to read and to plan a book.

Writer's Cabin - Frank Water's Foundation
Writer’s Cabin – Frank Water’s Foundation

Threshold was first drafted at the Frank Waters Foundation in 2006 after I was offered an 8-week writer’s residency. The little adobe artist’s cabin on the Frank Water’s property sits at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Frank Waters’ spirit pervades the property. He is considered the grandfather of the Southwestern novel, writing and publishing fiction and nonfiction works from the late 30s to the 80s. All his books are still in print, a fact that proves the relevance of his thoughts and writing. As I wrote my story, I felt Frank’s spirit about.

Aspen grove by cabin - Frank Waters Foundation
Aspen grove by cabin – Frank Waters Foundation

Armed with an outline for a plot that spanned three novels stretching to 2100, I drafted a speculative fiction novel with an enormous cast of characters. I left the mountains with a 400-page manuscript.

This was an impossible task for a new writer of fiction. But, sometimes ignorance allows a creative mind to accomplish more than expected.

TO BE CONTINUED

What the military knows about climate change…

350 Pensacola will host a talk by Brigadier General John Adams, (U.S. Army, Retired) on April 12.  He will discuss how the U.S. military is making plans for climate change at home and abroad.

When I worked in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at the University of West Florida, I reviewed grant opportunities from the various military branches for research related to climate change. Going back to 2010 when I began serving UWF as a Senior Grant Specialist, I became aware that our own military was well “down the road” in planning for climate change. In contrast, our city and state were hard-pressed to let the words climate change leave their lips.

This disconnect is critical to American citizens working in their own communities to help plan for climate change.  Check out these sites below to see what our military is doing to prepare to mitigate climate change, and be sure to mark April 12 on your calendar. Go here for time, location, and more about General Adams’ lecture and discussion.

U.S. Military Links

Department of Defense (DoD)

Center for Climate and Security

Warming Earth, Changing Climate

Everywhere there is evidence that the Earth is warming at rates not seen in recorded history. Ice ages and temperate periods like the epoch in which we live (the Holocene) have come about over thousands of years. As human populations have increased exponentially, and as we have mined and refined carbon rich ores and deposits of oil, the concentration of greenhouse gases has increased in concert with emissions.

Warming the planet, changing the dynamics of wind and ocean currents, we are beginning to see changes in our ways of life. Agricultural changes include drought, floods, insect booms, and altered growing seasons. The ranges of tree and plant populations, and the insects and birds associated with them, are moving to higher altitudes in many places–changes that go unnoticed except by scientists and Peoples of Place (farmers, naturalists, indigenous cultures).

Without significant and coordinated actions at all levels of human government, we are likely to see major disruptions in our ways of life, and social conflict from disparities in resources to respond and survive.

Find out what your community is doing. Do you have solar companies? Other alternative energy companies? What is your state doing about carbon dioxide emissions?

SOLUTIONS ABOUND: WE NEED CITIZEN PARTICIPATION TO GET THERE

Florida Solar Energy Center

Southeastern Solar Research Center

Rocky Mountain Institute

Go to NOAA’s Vital Signs of the Planet to keep track of Earth changes.

For Sale: The Future of Gulf Coast Communities

cropped-pensacola-beach.jpgOn March 23, Pensacola citizens, ranging from age 7 to 70, traveled to New Orleans to protest the sale of 45M acres of Gulf Coastal waters and land for oil and gas exploration. 350 Pensacola rallied citizens to represent our area. Forty members of the community made the trip–nearly 20% of the 200 protesters who disrupted the sale of coastal lands at the Superdome on Wednesday.

During the protest, representatives from the oil and gas industry bid on the lands. Two chilling aspects of the experience were: 1) hearing the actual bids, some very low, for our precious resources called out during the chants from protesters; 2) observing the implacable faces of the industry representatives in the face of uninterrupted chanting and singing from protesters.

Later, as we enjoyed a beautiful day in New Orleans, I kept thinking about those faces, unmoved, like masks. I wondered what happens to people to become part of a violent process that is destructive to marine waters and impacts the health and well being of the people who live in the path of oil spills or  areas where petroleum is refined. Hilton Kelley, a Texas citizen and winner of a Goldman Environmental Prize, addressed the protesters and media about the struggle and successes of his community in Port Arthur, Texas to work with industry to protect people from harmful chemicals and spills from petroleum refining. Kelley is also a poet:

Escambia and Santa Rosa County face their own threats to ocean and estuary habitats. Florida – a state which has notoriously exploited its own natural resources – banned offshore drilling to protect its major industry: tourism. Now, however, the state legislature is opening up its fragile aquifers to fracking and oil exploration. Santa Rosa County has already approved applications from oil companies for exploration in the shared aquifer with Pensacola. Escambia County has an application from Breitburn Operating for one as of July 2015. In a parallel process, the Escambia Board of County Commissioners is making decisions about how to spend $10M in BP fines from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill which devastated Pensacola’s economy and impacted the health of marine environments locally.

As I think back about my experience on Wednesday, this chant, and the little children up front chanting with their homemade signs rang in my memory:

“The people united can never be defeated.”