Bits ‘n pieces from east, west and beyond

| April 24, 2020 8:32 AM

East, west or beyond, sooner or later events elsewhere may have a local impact, which COVID-19 has illustrated so well. A recent sampling, with Earth Day and climate change, in mind:

At an agriculture lab at the University of Arizona, crops are grown under solar panels, with some plants tripling their production. Panels can be mounted high enough for animals to roam underneath. A study from the University of Oregon found a 90 percent greater production of grass grown under the panels. Where it’s ultra-hot, the panels benefit, because plants cool them, allowing panels to operate more efficiently. Soils under the panels retain up to 15 percent more moisture, Mother Jones reported.

Jet contrails are signs of serious air pollution, according to a report in Earth Island Journal. At high altitude, the trails’ water-soot combination freezes and traps heat in the planet’s atmosphere. By reducing the soot from burning jet fuel, the warming effect can be reduced.

By 2035, tropical forests may become a source of carbon emissions rather than act as carbon sinks. The transformation will come as a result of human degradation, according to a study from the U.K. based-Leeds University.

Thwaite’s Glacier in Antarctica has warmer-than-expected water underneath, The Week reported. If nearby glaciers can’t hold back ice and the area collapses due to melt, sea levels could increase by 10 feet.

Monarch butterfly update, from the From Endangered Species Coalition: In 2019, Eastern Monarch butterfly populations were up 144 percent while Western Monarch populations fell 86 percent. The ESC has a program for planting native milkweed, which is critical for the butterflies’ survival. Other challenges faced by the butterfly include weather conditions and loss of habitat.

Transportation in 2017 accounted for 29 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., Smithsonian magazine said. In 1973, vehicles averaged 13.4 miles per gallon. Today’s average is around 31 mpg, but miles driven between 1970 and 2018 increased 177 percent, leading to more climate warming emissions.

With the car emissions standards rollback initiated by the Trump Administration, annually there will be a trillion more tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, warned Human Rights Watch. Air pollution already causes more than 200,000 premature deaths annually in the U.S.

Barley crops for water-challenged farms: Barley uses one acre foot of water per year, as opposed to two acre feet used by corn and four acre feet used by alfalfa, said the Nature Conservancy. Uses for barley include livestock hay and malt for brewing beer.

In southwest Arizona groundwater levels have fallen 100 feet or more since the 1980s, according to a report in High Country News. Adding to the region’s water crisis is the 2014 purchase of farmland by a Saudi Arabian food company. Their 10,000 acres grow water-thirsty alfalfa, which is shipped to Saudi Arabia for dairy cows. The Saudi government has banned in-country alfalfa production since it severely depleted their nation’s groundwater reserves.

A decade ago Donald Trump signed a full-page New York Times ad urging ambitious climate action. Since then he’s said climate change is a hoax, but seems to be backtracking, perhaps based on polls. As reported in Mother Jones, 60 percent do not approve of his climate denial stance.

Air pollution reduces average life expectancy by three years, according to a new study in the journal Cardiovascular Research. But, cut fossil fuel emissions to zero, and a year could be gained back. And, if all “controllable” air pollution were cut, there would be a 20-month gain in life expectancy.

Having one less child reduces annual carbon emissions by 60 metric tons, according to a study from Lund University in Sweden and the University of British Columbia. The youthful Birthstrikers movement says they are refusing to have children until the climate crisis ends. Their opponents argue that an increasing population boosts the economy, so people should be encouraged to procreate.

Blast from the past: Two decades before the devastating Dust Bowl, popular nature writer Gene Stratton-Porter penned a response to Henry D. Thoreau’s tree statement that “Thank heaven they cannot cut down the clouds.” Yes, they can, Stratton-Porter pointed out: When forests that preserve and distill moisture are cut, when fields replace forests, leading to the evaporation of creeks and rivers, and when swamps are drained, vapor is prevented from rising. And if it doesn’t rise, it cannot fall. Man is changing the forces of nature, she said, and is indeed “cutting down the clouds.”

And another blast: In 1969 Sen. Gaylord Nelson launched a do-it-yourself movement for teach-ins about the environment. That led to the first Earth Day in 1970, which saw participation by schools and communities. The collective concern about the planet led to establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act.