July 30, 2012

Are surging seas for real?

Unfortunately, yes. I have watched the level of the James River in Virginia rise in the nine years we have lived here. It is most likely exaggerated by erosion of the shoreline and the beach has disappeared in one stretch nearest our home.

The Surging Seas, a sea level analysis by Climate Central has some impressive data and predictions. Check it out and see for yourself.

What shade of green is Dominion Virginia Power?

Not even pale green, unfortunately.

Virginia is one of only nine states with ZERO commercial wind or solar power. The Virginia General Assembly opted to "encourage" utilities to invest in renewable energy. And voluntary efforts, especially if they cut into corporate profits, just don't come to fruition.

Dominion Virginia Power, the state's largest electricity provider, is currently receiving a $76 million renewable energy bonus, even though they haven't developed any new renewable energy since the program was created. To get this reward, Dominion opted to buy an estimated $1-2 million worth of cheap energy credits from decades-old facilities in other states, most of which burn landfill gas or wood.

Many of their customers bought into Dominion's "Green Power Program" and bought RECs (renewable energy credits), thinking that they were supporting renewable energy from within Virginia.

Dominion's "Green Power Program" is simply not enough. Even worse, Dominion's 15 year plan has no new wind or solar energy for Virginia.

What can YOU do? Check out the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Or call 1-866-366-4357 and tell the Dominion representative that you are withdrawing from the program until 100% of the money generated by the program supports new Virginia wind and solar projects.

July 29, 2012

A variant of El Niño?

Just when I discovered "derecho," the word for the super wind storm and thought I was beginning to understand the difference between El Nino and La Nina, ScienceDaily adds another new word to my environmental vocabulary.

El Nino emerges once every two to seven years in the equatorial Pacific, causing weather changes globally. But in the past ten years, it has changed its face. It is increasingly taking the form of Modoki, 'similar but different' as it was baptised by the Japanese team who first discovered this less tumultuous cousin that provokes droughts in India and Australia.

This El Niño variant is centred in the central pacific, unlike its eastern relative. In Modoki episodes, scientists have observed low levels of chlorophyll in the center of the Pacific basin. Why is this important? Less aquatic nutrients for sealife for one thing.

Another is a a factor in climate change. Under 'normal' conditions above the Pacific, the trade winds blow strongly from east to west. When a classic El Niño episode occurs, the trade winds experience a huge drop in force.

But when Modoki occurs, the trade winds hardly drop in force. This could affect our hurricane season. Another result scientists found was colder, richer waters to the east, along the South-American coastline. This cold water rising from the deep is rich in the nutrients that support new life in the region's seas. That's good news for the fishing industry.

Ticks may not come out in the washer

I missed this 2007 article fromScienceDaily about ticks. After yardwork, our clothes have been going directly into the washer, and now I see that may not be sufficient. Clean clothes may not be tick-free clothes.

An entomologist (bug guru) decided to find out how tough ticks are after he found a Lone Star tick on the agitator after the wash. So he bagged up nymphs from two species—the lone star tick (now in the news for causing delayed allergy to meat) and the deer tick, (the creature that transmits Lyme disease—and put them in the washing machine.

He used a combination of water temperature settings and detergent types to wash the ticks. The majority of lone star ticks survived all the water-detergent combinations with no obvious side effects. Most of the deer ticks lived through the cold and warm water settings as well. But when one type of detergent was used with a hot water setting, only 25 percent of the deer ticks survived.

When it came time to dry, all the ticks of both species died after an hour of tumbling around at high heat. But when the dryer was set to "no heat," about one-third of the deer ticks and more than half of the lone star ticks survived.

Guess I will be using a higher heat setting now and hotter water.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing and drying clothes at high temperatures after spending time in areas known to harbor ticks.

So now YOU know!

Greenland ice melt is troubling

In only four days in July, the top layer of ice in Greenland melted. The photos from NASA confounded them at first. They thought it was a technical problem in their sensors.

Nope. It's climate change. And don't tell me it is only a natural cycle. That much ice melt in only four days is NOT natural anything.

July 27, 2012

What do you know about the Coalfields Expressway?

Mountaintop mining
I pride myself on knowing at least a little about all things environmental. But yesterday I first heard about the proposed Coalfields Expressway in southwestern Virginia through an email from the Virginia Chapter of Sierra Club. I realize that I live about as far away from this part of Virginia as possible. But Appalachia has always appealed to me even though I haven't driven through this area in quite a few years.

If you have also been unaware, the Coalfields Expressway is a proposed 116 mile long four-lane limited access highway that begins (or ends) in southwest Virginia and extends into West Virginia. It promises to be an economic lifeline for this area in which coal mining jobs have diminished greatly during the last decade.

About 50 miles of this highway will be in Virginia and 65 miles in West Virginia. VDOT has partnered with Alpha Natural Resources to develop the Virginia portion of this expressway. This public-private partnership for a $4.2 billion road could be a good thing. The coalsynergy partnership brings down the public side of the cost to $2.1 billion. It is one way to “reclaim” mining sites.

But the Virginia Chapter of Sierra Club states otherwise: “Coal companies proposed and drew the route of the Coalfields Expressway to increase their profits, not serve the public. Small towns will be bypassed, more than 12 miles of streams will be buried, and hundreds of acres of privately held land will be condemned and handed over for King Coal's profit. All to build an expensive and unnecessary road that cannot deliver the economic miracle its political cheerleaders promise. Those same politicians receive major contributions from the companies set to benefit most from this $2 billion project."

The issue is that it may be built entirely along the ridgelines, many of which have been strip mined, and spare the populated valleys. But it is being marketed as a way to bring back the economy of these towns in sparsely populated Wise, Dickinson and Buchanan counties,coincidentally Virginia's largest natural gas producers. Strip or surface mines mined areas are prevalent throughout this area, generally located near or on mountaintops. Fault lines exist in the area as well.

Bridges for this expressway will be the tallest in Virginia at around 250 feet high. But the road could take 10-15 years to complete. Construction began in 1999 in West Virginia and 2002 in Virginia and it is progressing slowly as funds become available.

I sifted through the lengthy but thorough Coalfields Expressway Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and read that “A recently completed study (by the Annapolis consulting group Hill & Associates) estimates that all of Virginia’s coal reserves worth mining will be depleted by 2026, and that efforts to find more coal in central Appalachia will probably prove unsuccessful.” Yet, VDOT’s expressway project moves forward as a “congestion relief project”  and to improve the area’s economic development potential.

To appreciate the vast difference of opinion in past estimates . . . 
  • The U.S. Department of Energy estimated that 1.609 million tons of recoverable coal currently exist in Virginia and that reserves would be depleted in 36 years. 
  • The Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research, however, predicts 50 years. 
  • Also from the EIS: “Coal mining operations have damaged groundwater supplies in the area, and lack of reliable and safe drinking water remains a problem for residents in outlying and remote areas.” Yet coal mining has long served as the cornerstone of this region’s economy. Employment in the coal industry, however, has dropped by more than 50 percent over the past decade.
Environmental justice is a phrase that rarely hits the public. It refers to public policy that could negatively impact human health and the environment in low income or minority populated areas. Hmm.

Buying refurbished computers

At this time of year, many college students are in the market for a NEW computer and many want to be eco-friendly. Might a "refurbished" computer be greener and fit the bill? Refurbished is not always the same as "used" or beat up.

Visit the computer “outlet” stores. Apple, Dell, Sony and other computer manufacturers offer refurbished machines through an online “outlet” store.They usually offer fairly broad definitions of where the machines have been and what they’ve been through. The big box stores might  also offer refurbished machines, but most experts recommend dealing directly with the manufacturers, if only for peace of mind.

You should save 10-30 %.

Drilling offshore Virginia?

I have seen too many oil spills in my lifetime to trust offshore drilling off Virginia's coast. I know, I know, the "Drill baby, drill" folks say that means jillions of lost jobs in Virginia.

Maybe they are referring to the thousands of jobs created by the BP oil spill just a few years ago? Or perhaps they mean the thousands of man hours spent cleaning the beaches in Santa Barbara, California after the big oil tanker spill there. I got tar balls on my feet not only from that one, but a later one off Palm Beach, Florida. Do Virginia Beach vacationers really want that experience?

In my former posting, I referred to the lack of guarantees from corporations. The Chesapeake Bay is too near and dear to my heart to threaten it further. I just re-watched the 2009 Frontline special "Poisoned Waters" last night and was amazed that the dire state of the Chesapeake just three years ago has improved so much, thanks to a renewed effort by the EPA and the bay states to face the music. And we still have so far to go before I'll allow my grandsons to wade in the James River without a quick shower shortly after.

Voluntary efforts to cut back on pollution just don't work. Regulation and enforcement do. But in recent years the word "regulation" makes a lot of folks red in the face. But who other than government will force polluters to regulate their waste. The Eastern Shore chicken farms certainly were not doing it on their own. The Baltimore sewage treatment plant wasn't improving their discharged water with less regulation. Farmers were not putting up fences to keep their cows out of streams without an incentive. Chemical plants on the James River discharged kepone and allowed a giant fish kill before regulations.

So don't yell and scream "Drill baby, drill" and expect me to not get red in the face. This political season has hardly begun and I'm sickened by the lies and distortions from both sides of the aisle. But that Shell Oil ship that narrowly missed running aground off Alaska last week confirmed that my fears are not imagined. Human error, whether related to profits or not, scares me more than relying on foreign oil.

So what's the answer? Pursuing a portfolio of renewable energy options to satisfy Virginia's need for power through 2035 would create tens of thousands of jobs, according to an April George Mason university study.

No fracking guarantees?

Mistakes will happen. Or **it will happen.
Our largest companies remind us every day. The recent review of the Fukushima nuclear energy plant stated that it "could and should have been foreseen and prevented." The BP spill in the Gulf was also the result of shoddy oversight and lax regulation. Recalls of food and cars and toys occur every day.
And now Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. has become the first major insurance company to say it won't cover damage related to fracking--hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.
There are rich shale deposits with natural gas and oil in parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, West Virginia and elsewhere. But drinking water is not so far from those shale deposits.The Pennsylvania town Dimock has been in the news for its water contamination problems, even though the EPA could find nothing wrong. So Nationwide said risks involved in fracking operations "are too great to ignore" both to landowners who lease land for shale gas drilling and contractors involved in fracking operations.
The gas industry's response was, "It is hard to fathom the rationale for this decision. It would seem Nationwide is not on job creation's side."
If only they could see that regulation and oversight can create jobs too.

July 26, 2012

Derecho is the buzz word of the month

Climate change is nothing. What about vocabulary change?

The new word in our vocabulary in 2012 is DERECHO, meaning a super strong straight-line widespread windstorm. Many of us in Virginia heard this word for the first time in early July AFTER hiding in our pantry for a short time when the TV news told us to "take cover." A few downed trees later, we asked neighbors, "Did you ever hear this word derecho before?" Then we read about the 700 mile trail of destruction this recent storm had caused.

Two nights ago, we experienced another doozy of a thunderstorm, complete with wind gusts that brought a few more big pines down in our neighborhood and scattered power outages.

As a boater, I am a bit freaked out by these big storms that just "pop up" without much warning. At least the Weather Channel and Jim Cantrell warn us of hurricanes days in advance.

We keep our eyes glued to the many weather apps we've downloaded when we are on the water. Guess that habit needs to be developed on land as well.

This "Welcome to the rest of your life" video hits the nail on the head. The last few months indeed have been eye-openers.

Recycling gone wild

I simply put our recyclables on the curb, but some folks go the extra mile.

Click here to see the world's largest building made of recycled beer bottles:
http://inhabitat.com/the-morrow-royal-pavilion-in-las-vegas-is-the-worlds-largest-building-made-of-recycled-beer-bottles/  Not surprisingly, it is in Las Vegas and the building blocks (made out of glass bottles and that hard-to-dispose fly ash from coal burning electric plants) are called "Greenstone."

Or here to see a creative vertical green building in Saigon:

July 3, 2012

Do you have a "healthy" lawn?

Healthy lawns are labor-intensive, but they are not putting greens. Homeowners do not have the choice of replacing the hard clay subsurface that lies under most of our turf. Many frustrated folks replace their lawns almost every fall after common Bermuda and weeds choke out their tall fescue—especially if they mow their lawns too short. Vigorously developed roots and healthy grass elude them too if they do not water deeply.

Our local golf course at Two Rivers at Governor's Land will require 6800 tons of sand and 2800 tons of gravel and a lot of digging to rebuild their greens subsurface and bunkers, where Kingsmill-type sand was chosen for its playability, less propensity for plugged lies, maintenance requirements and price.

Then there are the fungus diseases such as dollar spot that attack during the hot humid spells we have experienced lately. Many homeowners wait to apply fungicides until they see the damage instead of applying it as a prevention.

Voles are another bane to golf courses as well as homeowners, but that’s a topic worthy of an entire future posting.


See Virginia Tech’s recommended cool and warm season grasses for homeowners in 2012 and other turf guidelines such as summer care for cool season grasses. You can easily spend an hour or two reading these helpful reports.

How green is golf?

Two Rivers Country Club Board members at the greens renovation groundbreaking
The court of public opinion has been tough on golf courses even though they offer about 1.7 million acres of open green spaces in the U.S. The stereotype of golf courses being water and chemical guzzlers is no longer true for many courses these days. Golf course superintendents now take many positive actions for the environment, and save on irrigation costs as well. Many are reducing nitrogen fertilizer applications in the rough and asking members to give up a little of that "wall to wall green."

The average American golf course requires up to 50 million gallons of water per year, as well as 18 pounds of pesticides per acre. Compare that to 2.7 pounds of pesticides per acre, per year for agriculture. Then there is all that fertilizer!

According to World Watch magazine, the world’s golf courses use an estimated 2.5 billion gallons of water a day for irrigation. Audubon International estimates that courses with improved irrigation methods save almost 2 million gallons of water each per year.

Golfers who want to help boost the demand for eco-friendly courses and become better stewards of the links can sign the “Green Golfer Challenge”. It is supported jointly by the USGA, Professional Golfers’ Association and Audubon International.

It is not easy being green—either the color or the environmental impact—for golf course greens, especially in 100 degrees of heat stress. Many courses have renovated their greens in recent years and Two Rivers Country Club at Governor’s Land in James City County, Virginia just began their greens and bunkers renovation. Temporary greens will allow members to continue playing while the top 15 inches are removed to install a better-draining subsurface under the new root zone.

Greens comprise a mere three percent of most golf courses. But half of golfers’ strokes occur on the greens. So it’s a big deal to rebuild them to USGA specifications.

Par for the course — The years have taken a toll on the greens on this Tom Fazio designed Two Rivers golf course. Other area courses even had to close during late summer of 2011 as their greens “failed.” Newer grass varieties that are deep rooted and drought resistant can hold up to hotter summers and require less irrigation and fertilization.

Reminiscent of James Bond, “007 creeping bentgrass” is a promising grass variety that many golf courses with conditions similar to our area are now using on their greens.

Two Rivers Golf Course Maintenance Director Brent Graham is assessing it to discover how it reacts to our intense heat, high humidity and water quality before making a final decision.  The greens have been here since the course opened in 1992, and Brent has been here for 8 years.

See Virginia Tech’s recommended cool and warm season grasses for homeowners in 2012 and other turf guidelines .

Can I recycle old golf clubs?

Don't let your old golf clubs sit idle in the corner of your garage. Or worse yet, end up in a landfill.

One choice is to donate them to your local Goodwill or Freecycle. Google "Freecycle" and the name of your town.

Another  option is the First Tee program that has introduced the game of golf and its inherent values to more than six million young people. You can donate your clubs to this worthy program . Check it out by clicking here.

Here is a great website that offers their Top 25 ways to recycle golf clubs.

IF YOU ARE CREATIVE: Check out these golf club art ideas

Jeff Diamond has cleverly recycled golf clubs into this unique and rather attractive lamp.

Chigger attacks

Chiggers,  tiny mites, plague all who venture outdoors this summer. Even when I stay on our neighborhood trails and wear long pants, I end up with chigger bites that itch for days and leave a nasty red mark for weeks. These critters, as well as tics, are uncanny in finding the most unmentionable places on your body. Frisky chiggers can travel from your shoe to your waistband in only 15 minutes

Contrary to popular belief, chiggers do not suck blood or burrow under the skin. So put that nail polish away. They eat skin cells that they dissolve with digestive enzymes.

Stinky stuff keeps chiggers away as well as DEET. Some Gulf Coast Native Americans slathered themselves with alligator grease! If you are short on that in your medicine cabinet, a smelly alternative repellent (that I remember from Girl Scout days) is sulphur powder (available at Jamestown Feed & Seed). Just put some in an old sock and shake it around your ankles before going outside. Then store that sock in a plastic bag, or maybe two. It's smelly stuff, but it works.

The bag says that it will kill chiggers in your lawn too. Or maybe they just move to your neighbor's fresher-smelling yard!