Human Consumption and our Planet’s Future

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Pixabay: Peter H

Human consumption is not just about food. It’s about clean water, clean air, energy sources, minerals, rock, sand, lithium, rubber, wood, all the ingredients that provide us with our homes, furniture, cars, clothing, tech devices, electricity, heating and cooling our homes, means of running our cars, sports equipment, entertainment, and other creature comforts. The increase in population and need for homes mean more natural land is being paved over for homes and agriculture.


To take one example, we are buying more clothing and discarding it sooner. The clothing industry accounts for 20% of our water pollution and remains only behind the fossil fuel industry in that regard. Every year the world consumes over 80 billion clothing items. In 2013 over 15 million tons of textile waste was produced according to the EPA. When clothing ends up in landfills. chemicals, such as dye, leach into the ground. When unsold clothes are burned, CO2 escapes—as much as 1.2 billion tons per a World Resources Institute report.


Amazon trees are being felled to make way for agriculture, reducing oxygen produced by them, and an environment for wild life. We buy knick-knacks, souvenirs, toys galore, decor for every holiday, political swag, gadgets for special uses or plain silliness—remember that awful fish on a board to hang on your wall that wagged its tail and talked or sang. When the last parent passes on, their belongings don’t. They are hauled to the dump by the truckloads.(Advice to the elderly is to clean out the attic so your loved ones are spared such trips.)


Plastic has been my bugaboo as it takes eons to degrade and is killing ocean life including the plankton that produce more oxygen than the Amazon forest. Containers for goods are next to unavoidable. We once used glass, but glass requires sand, of which there is not an infinite amount, and too much removal from some sites have had a negative impact. Cardboard originates from trees. Face it, we’re consuming at a faster rate than Mama Nature can provide.

I’m as guilty as the next person, seeking the perfect lemon squeezer, the foam pillow designed to prop my ipad in bed, plastic storage boxes to park stuff in my attic. Now, I’m determined to turn over a new leaf. I’m saving plastic containers and bags for reuse rather than buying those convenient seal plastic bags. I reuse unsoiled tinfoil. My hubby thinks I’m nuts but gets in trouble when he balls it up, thinking it’s fun. I’m encouraged by efforts to manufacture a biodegradable plastic or plastic-like material to use in containers, millennials who are eschewing abundant wardrobes. Like most of us I’ve spent most of my life accumulating. Now it’s time to stop and begin shedding. Unfortunately, most of the young don’t want our family heirlooms of china, crystal, and silver.

As a footnote, I highly recommend David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet on Netflix. In fact, it should be required in our schools and for adlults to be allowed to vote. I plan to devote my next blog to its message. The documentary not only is a stark commentary on human’s impact on the planet, it includes ways we can avoid disaster.

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

While the major sources of pollution are as follows below, collectively individuals can make a difference. In fact, much of the methane coming from agriculture are from cows so eating less beef would make a difference. Less consumption would reduce industry’s contribution. Driving electric vehicles, and installing solar panels  would reduce the next two categories. We can do nothing about volcanic eruption, but deforestation and desertification cause dust storms, which are harmful to human health. This is often due to overuse or overgrazing of land. Further, forest fires eliminate trees that absorb carbon dioxide. As individuals we can advocate for practices that reduce overuse of land and means of reducing chances of forest fires by reducing brush and other means. In general pressuring our government to act responsibly in regard to climate change will help.

  • Agriculture
  • Industry
  • Vehicles
  • Electricity
  • Natural disasters

Other ways humans can reduce their carbon footprint are

Eliminate Food Waste: The carbon footprint of U.S. food waste is greater than that of the airline industry, 37% of which happens in our homes. Don’t grocery shop hungry lest you buy more than you can consume before spoilage. Finding a method of keeping track of which food items  and leftovers are oldest, and moving them to the front of your refrigerator shelves can help along with general awareness. I hate waste, and one trick that works for me is in deciding what’s for dinner I don’t think what sounds good or what I’m hungry for, I think about what I can make with what I have. My Eloise surprises usually turn out well.

Ditch your grass: There is an estimated 40 to 50 million acres of grass in the US, which consumes 3 trillion gallons of water each year, 3 billion gallons of gas to run lawn and garden equipment, the equivalent of 6 million gas powered cars running for a year. Water is precious, and we are running out. Climate change seems to affect the distribution of rain with floods in some areas and drought in others. We love our artificial grass. Always green, no weeding, mowing, or fertilizing.

Help preserve our forests:  One small way of maintaining our national forests is to have a tree planted in honor of a deceased loved one instead of sending flowers. My favorite site (https://thetreesremember.com) allows some choice of which forest and includes a lovely packet. Have a friend or relative that has everything, but you want to remember with a gift, planting a tree in their honor may be a nice surprise.

Weatherize your home: Update your insulation, secure leaky windows and/or block leaks with window coverings. Whatever your energy source for heating and cooling, reduction of energy use leaves more renewable energy available for others. Consider a heat pump the next time you need to replace your furnace or AC. Ditch or reduce use of your fireplace.

Fly less often: When you do fly, try to use airlines that are working to reduce their use of fossil fuels and pledge to carbon capture the amount they admit. United was among the first with their plan. Others, who include Alaska, American, Atlas, Delta, FedEx, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, United and UPS are calling for government assistance with laws and policies.

Data is from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/2022/02/22/climate-change-actions-carbon-footprint/

PS: I recommend reading Under the Sky We Make by Kimberly NIcholas

It is interesting that indigenous people from time memorial and all over the globe take better care of where they live than most industrialized countries. It may well be an ingrained belief in the latter case that Earth’s resources are there for the pickings, while the indigenous take only what’s necessary to support their needs. For short, it’s exploitation vs. regeneration.

Tick Tock Goes the Clock

I don’t mean the one you set to fall back because of DST, although there seems to be as much fuss in the media over DST as over protecting our climate future. I mean the clock that is worrying COP27 attendees and Earth’s youth modeled by Greta Thunberg. Countries made reasonable pledges at COP26 to stop Earth from warming more than 1.5 degrees as a goal with 2 degrees as a maximum to keep this planet livable. Unfortunately, very few countries have achieved their goals. Our own US has been heating 68% faster than the average world-wide increase.

Unfortunately, nighttime temperature has been rising faster than that of daytime. This means less respite for those who do not have AC. In general, the heating of the climate does not affect everyone equitably. In particular, increasing energy costs for heating and cooling impact lower income families most. Further, corporations tend to plant their most polluting factories in low-income areas. Worldwide, the wealthier countries contribute most of the pollution, while poorer nations take the brunt of the consequences.

To the credit of our government is the plan to help native American tribes whose habitats are threatened by paying some of the cost to relocate to higher ground. This doesn’t cool the climate  furnace, but is a bone to help those most affected. To the credit of some super wealthy a few are using their fortunes to try to make a difference. Michael Bloomberg is launching an effort to phase out coal in 25 countries.

Regarding individual human contributions to Earth’s fever, transportation tops the list with flying the worst. Fortunately, some airlines are working to offset the pollution. Commuting to work is second. The number of electric cars is increasing, and California is requiring Lyft, Uber, and taxi vehicles to be electric by 2035, more than a decade away.

The temperature of the top mile of our oceans has increased to a point that it’s expected to continue increasing through 2100 on its own. Since our oceans have been absorbing the excess heat for decades, it’s not surprising.

Climatologists have been saying—now screaming— that we’re running out of time. The public has finally recognized how desperate is the need to contain climate change, but it won’t happen by wishful thinking. Individuals must take steps to reduce carbon footprints and urge their government representatives to get on board.

The Good, the Bad, and the So-So

I ALWAYS LIKE BAD NEWS FIRST:

  • The top mile of the ocean is warmer than ever, and will not be contained without bold action. The temperature of the ocean affects our weather. .
  • Gas is leaking benzene to the tune of the same amount as 60,000 fossil fueled cars in California, which is where the research was done. It is difficult to think gas appliances and gas installation is very different across the U.S.
  • The Space Station had to duck to avoid  junk that humans have left drifting in the atmosphere. I find this depressing. Isn’t it enough that we have trashed our oceans and more?

INTERESTING, BUT NOT EXCITING

Interesting but I find myself indifferent:

  • New minerals are being found to exist likely only at the high pressure of Earth’s core.  Two minerals with similar molecular are daveomite and bridgmanite are such. Since similar minerals often combine, it may be that there is a third new mineral close to Earth’s inner core. Heat plays a factor for two parents to give birth.
  • An Earth-sized habitable planet has been found to exist. Habitable is of course defined as habitable to humans. I imagine this is most welcome to those who want their descendants to have an alternative to Earth if climate change makes Earth undesirable.
  • Lava may be bubbling under the surface of Mars.

NOW FOR THE GOOD STUFF

  • Cosmic wonders. I’m sure everyone’s seen some amazing photos from the Webb telescope, but don’t underplay the Hubble. Now there’s a video of Hubble’s contributions.
  • There’s active work on making Bio fuel from dead plants to fly airplanes. Corn stalks in particular are being looked at. Corn is such a common vegetable, and yet only one ear grows on a single stalk. I recall my parents used cobs to heat a cook stove before they had electricity. I guess it’s about time we did as well.
  • Video games have been discovered to be positive for development of children’s cognitive skills. I’ve also read recently that people who spend time on their computers rather than watching television are less likely to get dementia.. Exercise, of course, is also key to mental health as well as physical health.
  • A coral reef has miraculously recovered after keeping fishing away from the reef. I heard this on NPR while driving and didn’t catch the entire show, but the moderator asked about how practical this was given the fishing industry and the unspoken need of humans for food. The response was that there are example that both corals and fish thrive when the balance is right.

WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE TOPICS?

. Climate warming is actually ocean warming

Are gas stoves as responsible for pollution as cars?

Dodging space junk

New MInerals

Place for Our Descendents?

Marsquakes?

         Amazing Hubble Video

 Fuel from dead wood and plants?

.Maybe you don’t need to worry about video games

 Coral recovery & Relation between fish and coral

Elephants, Camels, and Bananas. Oh My

Take a trip to the John Day fossil Monument Center in Eastern Oregon to learn about our country’s ancient past. Fossils fascinate me, but I never thought about how they how they became preserved. It turns out that this region of Oregon was subject to volcanic activity, frequent in geologic time. On a recent trip there I was surprised to learn how tropical is its past, and that elephants, camels, and dinosaurs once there roamed, while banana trees bore fruit. Because volcanos violently poured out so much lava which mixed with mud–called lahars—animals and plants in its wake were killed but preserved .Then Mother Nature began over again in the resultant new ground. The resulting fossils were so numerous, investigating scientists have supplied museums all over the world. Many samples can be seen in the Visitor Center.

In addition, an area in the park called the Painted Hills is amazingly beautiful.  Stripes of rust red and pale-yellow circle the hills. It turns out that the climate prior to a lava flow determines the color. If it was wet, the rust from iron ore provided the red stripes. If it was dry, the lava dried to the pale-yellow. Odd, since we also visited lava caves in Northern California. Peaked hills of black and deep cavities of black block-shaped, but evidently the vegetation or other influenced the final color after centuries. Other places were green. The drive from a hotel in Prineville, Oregon was most interesting geologically. It’s a trip I highly recommend for nature lovers.

On the way we stopped at the Lava Beds National Monument in Northern California not far South of the border between California and Oregon. There were a myriad of caves of varying difficulty to walk through mostly because of the need to duck, and to get down into the caves. One interesting piece of history was that these caves were cleverly utilized to hold off settlers that wanted to take over the Modoc territory. Despite being outnumbered, the caves made it possible to hold off the invading settlers until the US army was sent in, and they were held off for over 6 months until the Modoc leader, Captain Jack surrendered,and the Modocs had to move to the Klamath reservation. Man’s inhumanity to man throughout history and going on today is hard to stomach.

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Elephant Seals Are Helping Scientists and the Human Race

My husband and I love going to Ana Nuevo on the Northern California Coast. It is a sandy hike to a spot that could be an exclusive lounge for fat, lazy elephant seals. You can almost imagine them smoking specialty cigars and ordering scotch on the rocks. Some look as if they’re dead to the world but raise a fin now and then. Then there are the frisky pups that are scooting up and down the beach. Seals move awkwardly on land, dragging their stomachs forward with their fins. However, in the water they are highly mobile, and a female may travel as much as 9,000 miles per year. Some from Ana Nuevo have swum to Japan. This ability inspired scientists who study Earth’s oceans at great expense to harness elephant seals. One research apparatus called a rosette costs $40,000/day to run.

Scientists are interested in temperature, salinity, depth, and movement of currents, and despite sophisticated equipment the results are limited considering the desire to  map our vast ocean systems. Such mapping is important to understand consequences and predictions of climate change and weather, in particular, severe storms. Now, elephant seals with tags on their heads cheaply transmit ocean conditions data to satellites.  It is a most clever idea, but I wonder who has the job of attaching a bonnet to a humongous seal.

Scientist Mike Fedak says it’s impossible to collect the data any other way, although other marine animals are also utilized. He described utilization of his first seal, he called Mrs. Nasty, as like having magic binoculars. Over time the head tags have vastly improved in terms of miniaturization, energy efficiency, information compression, and hardiness. Biologists must love what they are learning about marine lives underwater.

A large part of the problem in understanding our ocean water is that the situation is not static. At our poles water freezes and melts on a regular basis, but not the same amount from year to year. As water freezes it discards its salt becoming lighter, sinking, and absorbing oxygen, thus impacting ocean currents. Scientists call it bottom water and understanding it in the Antarctic is absolutely critical to understanding global climate.

Source: Fall 2022 issue of Sierra magazine

Is There a Solar Storm a’Comin’?

Our sun is like a planet on fire. NOAA says our sun is acting scary. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration detected unusual recent activity. On September 18th three flares exploded from the sun. Fortunately, they were directed away from our Earth, but there is one large sunspot positioned to head our way should it explode. Imagine a pan of gently boiling caramel candy for English Toffee that occasionally pops a bubble of steam and syrup. The next few days will be critical, but a 24 to 48 hour warning is predicted before disaster strikes. Earth won’t be hit by fire, but radio transmission will be interfered with, and possible problems with internet activity, and power grids may occur. The ramifications would be significant.

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What’s a Heat Pump? Why is It More Efficient than a furnace/regular AC?

The idea of a heat pump—there are several types— is that it doesn’t generate heat for your home, but uses electricity to transfer heat into your home or in the case of air conditioning transfer heat outside.

There are three main types:air-to-air, water source, and geothermal, which respectively gather heat from air, water, or ground outside your home and concentrate it for comfort inside. 

We recently installed a heat pump (air to air) when our AC died. The timing of installation was fortunate as it was well completed during an amazingly wonderful pleasant summer in the bay area before last week’s Sahara desert-like weather that challenged California’s energy grid. If we live long enough, the heat pump’s efficiency will pay for its extra cost.

Putin’s perfidy may have an unintended consequence of helping stem climate change. Poland is turning to heat pumps to avoid being beholden to Russia’s natural gas, also their own use of energy from coal. Let’s hope the rest of Europe follows. Germany seems determined to also wean itself from Russia’s gas.

We are living in a strange new world.

The World Wide Webb

The Webb telescope in my opinion has been the most ambitious and important project NASA has ever ventured. Despite delays and cost increases, it has been finally successful, wildly successful, in fact. Because of its long journey the telescope’s component parts— indeed features of a telescope—had to be folded to fit together during its long journey. There were around a 100 critical points where things could have gone wrong. Lots of nail biting for NASA scientists. There were a few minor hiccups, but overall it was a smooth and well-executed trip.

Once settled, the engineers and scientists themselves could settle into what the Webb would reveal about outer space. The views well surpassed expectations as the pictures above depict in particular the amount of detail about Jupiter including its rings, tiny satellites, and even galaxies in one image. However, it’s not a matter of a robot pushing camera buttons. The infrared images had to be translated into photos for the human eye. A specialist in image processing accomplished the task. Despite not being an astronomer, she was fascinated with processing images from our skies.   By the way, the white spot is a perpetual storm so big it could swallow Earth. 

Not only is the quality of what scientists are seeing better than expected, they are not fitting the expected models. Instead of small galaxies with no particular structures, they are discovering large, bright, well shaped galaxies. Now scientists have the task of explaining the difference. One difference is the older age of the galaxies. Perhaps it’s a matter of underestimating the beauty and wisdom of old age.

Our Capacity for Worry is Finite

Researchers have found the human brain is like a swimming pool or perhaps better a water jug. The capacity for worry is limited. This has an effect on human efforts to combat climate change. Further, humans tend to favor filling their worry jugs with what is troubling them in the short term rather than the long term even if the long term concern is far more consequential.

Further, the capacity of humans to act is also finite. We can be content to take only a few actions when many are required to address a particular problem. Doing something assuages concern with a bandaid and can allow us to relax. Further, too much worry without action can lean to emotional numbing. All of this has consequences in promoting public concern over climate change according to the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions. I seem to be into song titles lately as “Don’t worry, be happy” comes to my mind.

This center warns against too much emotional appeal by balancing such appeals with analytical facts to appeal to more than one part of our brains. Environmental Nazis like me need to acnknowledge that most people have other pressing concerns, but we can mention relatively easy ways to contribute to climate solutions.

I am thrilled that the Senate persisted to pass a significant bill to address climate change. Bill Gates in a letter to the NYTimes praised the incentives to corporations to act, suggesting that the carrot is better than the stick. Industry can proceed with confidence that doing the right thing is compatible with operating at a profit, and that the public will be with the program in the long run. He believes and I agree that this is a turning point to further action. I only hope it snowballs.

When Will We Ever Learn?

While matter can never be created or destroyed it can be moved, and today due to climate change we have simultaneously droughts in some areas and floods in others.  

Lakes in Trouble:

Lake Mead: is he largest reservoir in the US. It supplies water to millions in seven states, tribal lands, and northern Mexico. It has dropped 158 ft since the late 1980s—likely the worst drop in the Western US in 12 centuries. NASA calls it a stark illustration of climate change.

Salt Lake: It is at its lowest level since the depth began to be measured in the 1800s. Its loss could amount to an economic loss of up to 2 billion per year. The death of the lake’s flies and brine shrimp threaten 10 million migratory birds. The lake contains arsenic and as it dries, the arsenic is picked up by the wind and blown into the atmosphere for people to breathe.

Lake Powell:  Utah water experts describe its condition as dire. It is not only an important water source, it is critical for hydroelectricity production at Glen Canyon Dam.

Many lakes in California are in trouble including Mendocino and Oroville.where a hydroelectric plant has been shut down.

11 Rivers in Trouble:

Most of them—except as noted— affect states among California, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, and northern Mexico. 

Colorado River: This river is in the most serious crisis, and is a water source for 40 million people from Colorado to northern Mexico. The impact of its drying up is huge. Farmers are already going out of business that once depended on water from tributaries. In addition, Rio Grande River,Sacramento River,Pecos River,John Day River (Oregon),North Fork River,Canadian River,Arkansas River, Brazos River,Red River (Reaches as far as Louisiana), and Gascanado ( Reaches as far as Missouri) are among those whose futures as a water source are threatened.

Aquifers: NASA uses satellites to measure underground  resources. Rain, of course contributes to aquifers, but nearly all global aquifers are being drained at a higher rate than water coming in.

Glaciers: Glaciers contain a tremendous amount of clean water, but if they break off and join with salt water they are lost. The Thwaites glacier in the Antarctic could last as little as 3 to 5 years. Scientists call it the Doomsday glacier as it is like a cork holding back much more ice. Its demise would raise sea levels by as much as two feet, meaning destruction of islands and shorelines.

Since 3/4 of Earth’s clean water is in the form of ice, ways are being studied to tow icebergs to sites for melting and transporting for human use, none of which are inexpensive—less costly than desalinization—but we can’t postpone action while the green grass grows— around our homes and swimming pools.

What does this mean for humanity?

While clean water supplies and subsequent food sources are diminishing, human population is growing.

Our food, even potato chips, depends on non-salt water to grow. Already, there are countries with starving populations. The humane among us want to help by supporting organizations that will provide food, but when are we going to understand that a finite Earth has limits? That our actions and lifestyle have significant impacts on the livability of our planet? That we are all in this together?