Category Archives: environmental news

Texans were ‘watching Harvey from their boats’?

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has said the state is ready for “the next Harvey.”

Good deal, governor. I’ll need to know how the state prepares for a 50-inch deluge that falls within a 24-hour period.

But then the president of the United States weighed in with yet another patently absurd assertion about how many Texans responded to the peril that was bearing down on them.

Donald J. Trump said that Texas were “watching Harvey from their boats,” an act he said precipitated the large number of water rescues while the storm was battering the coast from the Coastal Bend, to Houston and the Golden Triangle.

Trump said this during a conference call with state officials: “Sixteen thousand people, many of them in Texas, for whatever reason that is. People went out in their boats to watch the hurricane,” Trump said. “That didn’t work out too well.”

Trump’s idiocy has prompted an angry response from first responder officials. As the Houston Chronicle reported: “I didn’t see anyone taking the approach that would reflect his comments,” Gonzalez said. “I’ll be sure to invite the president to ride out the next hurricane in a jon boat in Galveston Bay the next time one approaches,” he added.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, a fellow Republican, tweeted a message that talked about how Texans responded to help their neighbors and that they weren’t gawking at the storm aboard their boats in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Chronicle asked Abbott about Trump’s assertion, but the governor said he didn’t have “any information” on the matter.

As the paper noted: This isn’t the first time the president has made comments that seemed bizarre or ill-informed. For example, he claimed without evidence millions of people voted illegally and inflated the number of people attending his inauguration and other rallies. He wrongly claimed to have seen Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the 9/11 attacks on television.

So, let’s add this moronic assertion to the lengthy and no doubt growing list of presidential prevarications.


Waiting for the wind to become part of our energy policy

SNYDER, Texas — This picture really doesn’t do justice to the subject of this blog post, but I thought I’d show it anyway.

I snapped this shot Thursday as we sped along U.S. Highway 84 on our way to Interstate 20. I intended for it to show the seemingly endless array of wind turbines along this stretch of West Texas highway.

It begs a question I have had kicking around my noggin for some time: Where is U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry and why isn’t he using his new federal platform to carry the message of wind power to the nation?

I ask the question for what I believe is a valid reason. He served for 14 years as Texas governor and on his watch as the state’s leader, Texas became a model for alternative energy production through the use of wind turbines. Texas and California moved to the head of the line in the promotion of wind energy.

Think about that for a moment: Two states with wildly different political profiles had this one important energy-related matter in common!

You see them everywhere in West and South Texas. For as far as you can see — and even if you stand up on your tip toes — you see the turbines blowin’ in the wind. They are cranking out megawatts of electrical power. For every megawatt of wind-generated electricity, that’s a megawatt that is not necessarily produced by fossil fuels.

Wind energy is as clean as it gets. “Clean coal” is a misnomer, yet the Donald Trump administration keeps harping on its plan to “save” coal jobs by producing clean coal energy.

Those of us who live — or have lived — in West Texas also know that wind energy is the ultimate renewable energy source. Those fossil fuels? They’re finite, man! You pull the oil out of the ground, it’s gone forever. The wind keeps coming. It keeps blowing. It keeps providing “fuel” to make those turbines turning and making energy.

Rick Perry knows how this system works. If only he would use his Cabinet post as a bully pulpit to promote it to the rest of the energy industry.

His silence is quite unbecoming.

Happy Trails, Part 105: Bring on the thunder!

Years ago, when my wife and I committed to moving to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, we expressed the hope we might get to revive one of the memories we had when we lived on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Today, it happened.

My wife and I are huge fans of thunderstorms. We love the sound of thunder. We just heard a huge clap of it right overhead. Directly!

Our conclusion is that the relative humidity of the Metroplex atmosphere — compared to the dryness of the Texas Panhandle air — is going to produce the kind of explosive weather we enjoyed/endured while we lived in Beaumont.

There was one storm in particular in Beaumont that I recall. It was a doozy. What did my wife and I do? We hauled our lawn chairs to spots under our carport and sat there, just listening to the thunder and watching the lightning streak across the sky.

I know what you’re thinking: Are those people nuts?

Actually, we’re quite sane. It doesn’t take much to please either of us. Mother Nature’s tempestuous is one of the joys of life we enjoy.

Sure, we had some beauts blown in over us in Amarillo. We had to replace the roof on our house just three years after we built it because of baseball-size hail that pummeled us. And, yep, the lightning was damn loud that day, too!

We are hoping for more of that kind of thrill — perverse though it sounds — as we settle into our new digs just north of Dallas … although the hail can stay away!

This kid is going to pay for the rest of his life

A 15-year-old boy from Vancouver, Wash., decided in 2017 to toss a firecracker into a forest along a scenic Oregon hiking trail.

What happened next was stunning in its scope. The kid started a fire that roared through the Columbia River Gorge, one of America’s true scenic wonders.

Well, there’s justice. The boy has been handed a $36 million fine by a judge. He has received a sentence that he’ll never pay off, but he damn sure should be forced to contribute money for the rest of his life for restitution to the damage he caused.

The blaze became known as the Eagle Creek Fire. It torched tens of thousands of timber land along Eagle Creek, which becomes Multnomah Falls, one of the Gorge’s scenic jewels. Wind blew embers across the Columbia River and into Washington, scorching more valuable land.

The kid who started the fire won’t be identified in the media, because he is a minor. A part of me wishes to know the kid’s name, but I understand why we won’t know — at least for the foreseeable future.

The fire choked the sky with smoke and ash, which blanketed Portland about 40 miles west of where the blaze began.

I have a keen interest in this story. I grew up in Portland. I have hiked along Eagle Creek. I have peered over the top of Multnomah Falls, which cascades more than 600 feet into an estuary pool next to the mighty Columbia River.

It sickened when I heard about the fire. I ventured to Oregon this past October, but was unable to see too much damage, given that it never stopped raining while I was there; the weather restricted a lot of local sightseeing.

The fire starter’s mother said the event produced a lot of “trauma” for the boy. Good. It should have.

According to the Washington Post: “Every day I think about this terrible decision and its awful consequences,” said the boy, who was identified by the judge only by his initials, A.B. “I know I will have to live with my bad decision for the rest of my life.”

And now, he must pay.

His attorneys have said that the $36 million restitution amount is steep, arguing that such a number violated the U.S. and Oregon constitutions, believing the amount to be “cruel and unusual punishment,” according to court records. But (Hood River County Circuit Judge John A.) Olson in his opinion wrote the restitution was “clearly proportionate to the offense because it does not exceed the financial damages caused by the youth.”

I happen to agree with the judge on this one. The kid has to pay for what he did.

He’s got rocks in his noggin

Mo Brooks has emerged as one of Congress’s premier climate change deniers.

What did the Alabama Republican House member say to an environmentalist today during a congressional hearing on climate change?

Check it out, as reported by USA Today: “Every single year that we’re on Earth, you have huge tons of silt deposited by the Mississippi River, by the Amazon River, by the Nile, by every major river system — and for that matter, creek, all the way down to the smallest systems,” Brooks said. “And every time you have that soil or rock whatever it is that is deposited into the seas, that forces the sea levels to rise. Because now you’ve got less space in those oceans because the bottom is moving up.”

There’s a bit more: Brooks pointed to the White Cliffs of Dover and to California “where you have the waves crashing against the shorelines” and “you have the cliffs crash into the sea.”

“All of that displaces the water which forces it to rise, does it not?” Brooks asked.

That’s it. Rocks are filling the ocean bottom, forcing the water to rise — worldwide! That’s the Mo Brooks doctrine.

Carbon pollution? Deforestation? Other causes that might come from human activity? That’s a non-starter among climate change deniers, such as Rep. Brooks.

Such so-called “thinking” tells me that those who deny the link between the changing climate and human behavior have rocks in their heads.

Kilauea produces thrills and fright

Most of those of us who live in the 48 contiguous United States of America don’t have to worry about the forces of nature that are putting the folks of Hawaii in such peril at the moment.

Kilauea is erupting on the island of Hawaii. It’s showing no sign of letting up. It’s covering streets and highways with lava. I haven’t heard of any loss of life. The volcano has become — for years, apparently — part of people’s daily existence. It is getting worse.

My heart goes out to those in harm’s way.

I have been reading some material in the New York Times and other publications about comparisons between what is happening in Hawaii and what could happen along other volcanic mountain chains in the United States.

I was particularly struck by the speculation surrounding the Cascade Range, which traverses north and south from British Columbia, through Washington, Oregon and into California.

Of all the things one never expects to see in their lifetime, a volcanic eruption was one of them. That all changed for me in the spring of 1980, when Mount St. Helens, a peak that once stood about 9,700 above sea level in southwest Washington, exploded in spectacular fashion. The volcanic explosion occurred on May 18, 1980, killing about 70 individuals. It was the story of the decade for those of us living in the Pacific Northwest.

I was living in the city of my birth, Portland, Ore., about 50 miles south of the peak, which now stands at about 8,400 feet, given that so much of its peak was blown apart by the titanic blast.

Mount St. Helens’s eruption produced a vast crop of armchair vulcanologists who became “experts” based on what they heard, read and possibly felt in their bones about what might happen to any of the other volcanic peaks along the Cascade Range.

Mount Hood stands like a sentinel to the east of Portland. It’s a glorious peak that stands 11,250 feet along the horizon. Will it blow apart? That’s been the subject of some discussion since Mount St. Helens blew apart. If it does, I’ll tell you it will create serious damage along its southern face, which was shaped by its latest eruption, which occurred, oh, a long time ago. The mountain is considered “dormant,” as it seeps gas out of the caldera near its summit.

So, it is with some interest that many of us are watching the drama unfold in Hawaii. We’ve lived through it, too.

Drought now in ‘extreme’ mode; it’s time for prayer

Take a good, long look at this map. It comes from the Texas A&M Forest Service.

That red dot in the middle of the Panhandle surrounds Amarillo, dear reader. The red means “extreme” drought conditions. The orange around it denotes slightly less severe drought conditions.

Do you remember what we were saying in the Panhandle about a year ago? We were being deluged by heavy rain. It was pouring so much that many experts — including those at Texas A&M — were holding out hope that we could break the drought that had strangled us for far too long.

A year, as they say, is a lifetime. It’s true in politics. It’s also true as it regards our weather.

Roughly two-thirds of Texas is under a “low” drought designation. Good for them. Bad for the Panhandle as well as for the Trans-Pecos region, which you’ll notice is also shaded in the red “extreme” drought designation.

What’s the message?

We need to take great care of the water we have. We need to protect it as the treasure we all know it to be.

Oh, and since Thursday is the National Day of Prayer, it wouldn’t hurt to send a word up to the Almighty to bring us some more rain.

Celebrate Earth Day every day

Why do we choose just a single day to honor Planet Earth, to call attention to the need to provide tender loving care to the only planet upon which human beings can survive — and thrive?

But … that’s what we do. Today is Earth Day, dear reader.

It was founded on this day 48 years ago to protest the damage that massive industrialization had done to our cherished planet. So, the recognition continues.

But this Earth Day is a bit worrisome to many of us.

Why? Well, we have a government agency — the Environmental Protection Agency — that is run by someone who doesn’t seem to place as much value on the protection part of his agency’s mission as many millions of us would prefer.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt seems hell bent on wiping environmental protection regulations off the books. He has the support of the president who nominated him to this job. Frankly, Pruitt’s management so far of the EPA has been nothing short of shameful.

But I prefer instead to look beyond the bumbling bureaucrat who runs the EPA.

Each of us has a role to play in caring for the Good Earth. Therefore, I won’t waste time criticizing the government — beyond what I’ve just stated in this blog post.

Our planet’s climate is changing. Coastal lowland is at risk of being inundated. We keep cutting down millions of acres of trees to make room for more cement and steel, which depletes the atmosphere of oxygen that living creatures consume to survive. We’re burning more fossil fuels, putting even more pressure on our fragile atmosphere.

Yes, there are alternatives to pursue. How do we look for them as individuals or families? We can drive fuel-efficient motor vehicles. We can perhaps invest more in alternative forms of energy. It’s windy out there and last I heard, the wind is as clean and infinite an energy supply as I can imagine.

Then there’s water. If you thought oil and natural gas were the lifeblood of a community, try building a town or a city without water. Those who live on the High Plains of Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico know the value of water. That aquifer that flows under us is receding. What are we going to do about it?

Protecting Mother Earth isn’t just a one-day-per-year event. It ought to be at the top of our minds every day.

Check this out from the Amarillo Globe-News: “Where I work we have a program called Stewardship 365, and it’s an oil and gas company” said Amarillo Environmental Task Force member Cole Camp as he conducted a recent tour of one of the City’s recycling venues at 27th and Hayes. “So we’re working to make sure people take that mindset of being cognizant of the environment home with them. It’s not just at work. It doesn’t have to be difficult. I find it really easy to do these things. It’s just as easy for me to put my cans in my recycling bin in my garage, as it is to throw it away in the trash can. It’s just a couple of more feet. So, with a little effort, we can make a lot of progress. By using the recycling facilities here in the City and keeping the waste from going to landfill, the landfill doesn’t expand nearly as fast and the City doesn’t have to pay for methane systems. By recycling we’re reducing waste and saving money.”

Excellent advice. Happy Earth Day … today and always!

Rain is no longer an annoyance

There once was a time when I hated the rain.

I lived in a city, Portland, Ore., where it rains constantly. I grew up there. I detested the endless drizzle.

Then I got married and moved eventually to Texas. We lived first in Beaumont, along the Gulf Coast, where it rains a lot, too. There, though, the rain comes in furious bursts. Then the sun would come out. So would the humidity. Ugghh!

After a while we moved to the Texas Panhandle, where it rains a lot less. Of late, the Panhandle has received even less than that, which is to say it’s been tinder-dry here. We’ve had one day of measurable rain since October 2017.

Today, though, we received another healthy dose of measurable precipitation. More is on the way, along with some thunder and lightning, or so we are being told by the TV weather forecasters. Hey, they got this one right. I’ll accept their projections for the next day or so.

The rain we’re getting through the night and into the next day won’t do a thing to break the drought we’ve endured for the past six months. It’s a bit strange to recall that a year ago at this time the Panhandle was being drenched. The playas were filling up. Farmers were grinning from ear to ear; so were the ranchers who watched their cattle fatten up with the rich harvest of grass and grain the rain produced.

Then it stopped. We finished 2017 with nary a drop of precipitation, even though the first half of the year enabled us to nearly double our annual average rate of rain and snowfall.

Here we are today. The rain is falling. It’s coming in fits and starts.

I no longer hate the rain. It brings a sense of comfort.

Weird, eh?

Quite sure ‘Dust Bowl’ won’t return

One of the things I learned about the Dust Bowl was it was manly caused by human fallibility and ignorance.

I also learned that the Dust Bowl was centered right here on the High Plains of Texas and Oklahoma.

As dry as it has been in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles since this past autumn, I will rely on the knowledge that we have learned how to prevent a recurrence of the hideous tragedy that befell the region in the 1930s.

Ken Burns’ fabulous documentary film, “The Dust Bowl,” which aired on PBS in 2015, reminded us that the event was the worst “manmade ecological disaster” in U.S. history. How did it occur?

Human beings settled on the High Plains and began plowing up natural grassland, turning it into cultivated farm land. Many farmers relied on rainfall to irrigate their crops; they were “dry land farmers.”

They plowed up hundreds of thousands of acres of grassland, which Mother Nature put there to act as protection against wind erosion. The grass held the soil together, preventing it from blowing away in the stiff wind that howls frequently across the High Plains.

Well, then something drastic happened. It stopped raining. The region became gripped by a killer drought. Then the wind blew as it always does. What happened next has become the stuff of legend throughout the High Plains.

The dirt blew in sinister, black clouds across the vast landscape. People breathed in the dirt. They contracted “dust pneumonia.” Many of them died; the most vulnerable were the very old and the very young; obviously, the very sickly also fell victim. Many others who didn’t die vacated their farms and ranches.

Other survivors, though, stayed and powered through the misery.

The nation learned a lot from that terrible time. One of the lessons dealt with tilling the land. Farmers started by letting the grass grow back where Mother Nature intended for it to grow. They improved their tilling techniques to minimize wind erosion.

The rain would return eventually. The High Plains would rebuild. The dust settled.

We’re now gripped by another drought. The U.S. and Texas departments of agriculture consider the region to be in “severe drought” mode.

Here’s a glimmer of hope: No one really believes we are going to experience a chapter-and-verse repeat of what occurred on the High Plains more than eight decades ago. The region’s ignorance about Mother Nature’s way has long gone.

However, we’ve got those damn fires with which we must contend.

Looking more like Dust Bowl