Category Archives: environmental news

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

This place is for the birds

HIGH ISLAND, Texas — I’m officially mad at myself.

My wife, sons and I lived on the Texas Gulf Coast for nearly 11 years and we never visited this place. It’s the Smith Oaks Rookery on High Island, about 40 or so miles from Beaumont.

It also is one of the premier “birding” sites on Earth. That’s right. One of the best in the world! People come from all across the world to see this place.

My wife and I visited this oasis with friends; a couple of our friends visited briefly with a visitor from Maine, who happened the know the species of a particular bird that caught our eye. She’d never been to Smith Oaks, but knew the bird’s identity.

The rookery stood in the path of Hurricane Harvey this past summer. It suffered some damage. The fresh water turned brackish because of the storm surge that swept ashore from the Gulf of Mexico.

On this day, though, it was full of birds. Herons, spoonbills, cormorants, egrets. They were everywhere. This happens to be the nesting period. Birds were building nests. Some were tending to and feeding young birds.

What a wonderful sight to see!

If you look at the picture I posted with this brief item, you’ll notice an alligator at the water’s edge. The beast looked to be about a 10-footer. He was one of two prehistoric creatures we saw lounging in the 70-degree sunshine.

The rookery is sponsored by the Houston Audoban Society. You pay a small fee to enter it. I’ll just say this right here: It is money well spent.

I need to ask myself now: Why in the world did we never visit this place when we lived just down the road?

I suppose it isn’t that uncommon to take for granted nature’s treasures that sit just beyond our doorstep. So, we had to drive here all the way from the other corner of this huge state to take in a natural wonder.

Earth to POTUS: No ‘siege’ at EPA

Someone needs to explain to the president of the United States — in language a second-grader might understand — what a conflict of interest looks like.

It usually involves taking advantage of someone with a vested stake in a public policy, such as, oh, living for virtually free in a condo provided by a lobbyist whose interests might benefit from certain policies.

Such is the case with Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Pruitt, who rents a condo for $50 per night from an oil company lobbyist. The lobbyist is trying to curry favor with EPA on policies that would benefit the oil company.

Does one think that’s a conflict of interest? Yes! But if the answer is “no,” they need to look up the definition of the term.

Donald Trump says Pruitt is “totally under siege” by what he calls the “fake news media.”

Mr. President … ready my lips. No one is denying that the Pruitts are renting this condo from the lobbyist. The EPA director has offered some lame excuse that he pays that dirt-cheap rate only when he is staying there. How in the name of government ethics does that make it all right?

Pruitt was a bad choice to lead the EPA from the beginning, given his penchant for rolling back rules designed to, um, protect the environment. That he’s been revealed as someone who likes living high off the generosity of a lobbyist only makes matters worse.

So, Mr. President, stop with the “fake news” canard. It ain’t fake, sir. It’s true.

Hit the road, Mr. EPA Director

I’ll now join the chorus of those who want to see EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt tossed out of office. He should be shown the door and told to avoid letting it hit him in the backside as he hits the road.

The man was a terrible selection to lead an agency whose mission is to “protect” the environment. The former Oklahoma attorney general made a lot of noise suing the Obama administration, seeking to overturn regulations designed to do the very thing that the EPA is charged to do. The Environmental Protection Agency is now better named the “Environmental Destruction Agency.”

Now he’s in some serious trouble ethically. He and his wife rented a condo from an oil company lobbyist. They got into the place dirt cheap. Meanwhile, the lobbyist was trying to persuade the EPA to roll back regs the oil company the lobbyist was representing wanted rolled back.

Gosh! Do you think there might be a conflict of interest here? I do. So might the president of the United States. At least two Republican members of Congress have called on Pruitt to quit.

Here’s my favorite: Donald Trump has issued a tepid endorsement of Pruitt. And you know how those endorsements usually end up. Trump endorsed former White House strategist Stephen Bannon: gone. He did the same thing for former national security adviser H.R. McMaster: gone.

Trump’s statements of support are worth, oh, just about nothing. Which makes them worth just as much as damn near anything the president says in public, out loud, on the record.

Pruitt is a lousy choice to lead the EPA, even without this latest matter involving a serious breach of ethics.

Get him out of there, Mr. President.

EPA boss joins the ethical fray

Oh, my. The Donald J. Trump administration simply is the gift that keeps on giving.

The treasury secretary and his wife get dinged because of their spendy lifestyle; the president himself is under scrutiny over allegations that he might be violating the “emoluments clause” of the U.S. Constitution, the one that says he cannot profit personally while in office; the health secretary quits because of spendthrift habits.

Now the director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, is being examined because he rents an apartment from the energy lobbyist.

Sheesh, man!

It’s bad enough that Pruitt has turned environmental protection into a sort of code for environmental destruction because of his penchant for rolling back Obama-era environmental regulations. Now there are accusations that he’s a sort of grifter, living off the good graces of people and interests with a direct tie to the policies the EPA is supposed to implement.

I’ve long thought that Pruitt was a bad fit an agency charged with protecting the environment. As Oklahoma attorney general, he made it his mission to sue the federal government constantly over rules and regulations intended to preserve and protect the only planet on which we live.

Then this guy disputes openly whether climate change is even occurring, let alone arguing that it isn’t likely caused by human beings, which of course runs counter to scientific analysis handed down over many years of study and research.

On top of all that … there are concerns about the EPA boss’s spending habits. He employs a huge security detail. CNN.com is reporting that “sources” suggest the rash of negative publicity is undermining him terribly and that his “goose is cooked.”

Hmm. We’ll  see about that.

I do not expect, in the event Pruitt joins the long list of Trump officials to hit the road, that Donald Trump is going to find a competent replacement. It’s just the new normal the president has established.

Ugghh!

All this daylight is worth keeping year ’round

I like Daylight Saving Time. I like it so much I believe I now want the government to keep it year ’round.

Let me stipulate that I understand the laws of the cosmos, which is that half the year brings more darkness than light. It all has to do with the position of Earth in relation to the sun, how Earth tilts on its axis, providing the Northern Hemisphere with more daylight between the vernal and autumnal equinoxes (from March to September).

But still …

I also will stipulate that I don’t mind the switching back and forth between Daylight Saving and Standard times.

However, I do like the notion of keeping DST on the books all year long. My wife and I enjoy the late-in-the-day sunshine that motivates us to run our errands well into the early and mid evening.

Given that we’re retired now and we don’t have to be anywhere early in the day — which means we can sleep in a little if we so desire — that gives us more time later in the day to do this or that chore outdoors.

What’s more, my environmentalist tendency reminds me that we returned to DST during an energy crisis; the government thought it was important to preserve energy by enacting the Daylight Saving Time as a hedge against burning too much electricity — you know, to power the lights.

I wonder if Texas might consider joining some other states that have gone to DST permanently. Well … legislators? Are you game?

It’s dark, drizzly, dreary … but our spirits shine brightly!

The temperature won’t rise much above 40 degrees Fahrenheit today.

The clouds won’t lift and the sun will set somewhere on the other side of them.

It’s been dark and drizzly all day.

And the spirits of Texas Panhandle residents haven’t been this bright and cheery since, oh, I don’t know when.

It hasn’t rained much today. I don’t know what the National Weather Service rain gauge will read at the end of the day. My wife, Toby the Puppy and I are living within spittin’ distance of the NWS station next to Rick Husband-Amarillo International Airport. That means whatever the NWS reports will mirror what we will have received at our RV park.

One of the local TV weather forecasters was described by his news anchor colleague as being “giddy” about the rain that has fallen over the region. Amarillo hasn’t yet gotten much of it; more rain is forecast during the night and again Wednesday morning and into the afternoon.

The irony is weird, man! Our spirits have soared as the sky has darkened, bringing badly needed moisture to a region that has been rain- and snow-starved during the entire winter of 2017-18.

Dare we expect to make up our precipitation deficit any time soon? Umm. No. We’ll simply accept what we get with extreme gratitude.

We’ve needed some reason to smile around here. The rain has delivered it.

Praying for sun gives way to praying for rain

There once was a time — long ago! — when rain drove me nuts. It made me stir-crazy. I suffered cabin fever because it rained constantly in my hometown of Portland, Ore.

I took a couple of years away from home to serve in the U.S. Army; my hitch took me to Vietnam, where it also rains a good bit of the time.

I got married not long after I returned home. My wife, sons and I eventually moved to Texas; our first stop was in Beaumont, which also gets a good bit of rain. Then my wife and I moved to Amarillo, where, um, it doesn’t rain so much.

We are now in the midst of a drought. It’s been months on end since we had any measurable moisture.

I no longer pray for sunshine. I now pray for rain. I am doing so this evening. The weather forecasters are telling us we can expect some rain tomorrow.

I hope they’re right. Oh, brother, I want them to be correct.

I’ve written on this subject before.

This isn't the Dust Bowl, but …

Forgive me if I’m repeating myself. Still, it bears repeating. The Texas Panhandle doesn’t get a lot of rain annually, only about 20 inches — give or take. This year we’ve got to go some if we’re going to reach our annual average.

The region is quite dependent on agriculture, which quite naturally requires water. Those dry land farmers who don’t pump groundwater to irrigate their crops rely exclusively on the sky to bring rainfall to them. Five-plus months of no measurable “precip” has deprived them of their income — and their ability to produce food that ends up on our dinner tables.

My outlook about rain has changed dramatically since my boyhood. I griped so much about the rain I drove my parents — chiefly my dad — to near madness.

With all of that said, I think I’ll wait — and hope — that the Texas Panhandle gets wet.