My bride is easily the better half

My wife of twenty-seven years gets annoyed with me when she hears me describe her this way, but she is easily the better half of our marriage. She gets annoyed as she detests being the center of attention and does not like being put on any pedestal. Since it is her birthday this weekend (“I don’t celebrate those anymore” she says,” but I will accept presents”), I wanted to share with you how lucky I am to have her by my side.

Some of you have heard me describe my wife as the person in the last verse of “Danny”s Song” written by Kenny Loggins, but made famous by Anne Murray.

Love a girl who holds the world in a paper cup, drink it up, love her and she’ll bring you luck.

And, if you find she helps your mind, you better take her home, yea, don’t you live alone, try to earn what lovers’ own.

When our daughter asks what these lines mean, I tell her that her mom is someone who does not have any airs. She is the kind of person who can drink wine out of a paper cup and not care what people think. She is the kind of person that will listen to your troubles and ease your mind.  So, as the song says, if you find someone who will ease your mind, you better take her (or him) home. The final line of “try to earn what lovers’ own” is what it is all about. It is not about possession folks, although we have some. It is about relationships. That is what truly wealthy people have.

My wife collects relationships. She is a great listener and people will tell her their troubles. Sometimes, they tell her too many, too often and it wears her out. She tries her darndest not to let other people’s’ problems become hers, but she is so empathetic it is hard for her. That is where I come in. I try to encourage her to limit exposure to some who will truly suck the life out of her. They are kind of like Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh.

People like audiences and my wife is an excellent one. I was sharing this with one of my colleagues, who is more introverted than extroverted. She said your wife and I are a lot alike. You would think my wife is extroverted when you meet her, but she would rather ask you questions and let you talk, rather than talk about herself.  My colleague said, “I would much rather get someone else talking than talk about myself.” My wife can be extroverted at times with the right audience (and sometimes with enough wine in paper cups), but for the most part she would rather listen. And, if I ever threw her a surprise party, I would likely be in the dog house for a long while.

I have also referenced Gordon Lightfoot’s song “Rainy Day People,” in describing my wife. As the song goes, “rainy day people always seem to know when it’s time to call.” My wife has a sense when she has not talked to someone in a while, be it my mom, a friend, her sister or one of our other close relatives. She truly brightens their day, as I have talked to some afterwards. They do the same when they call her, except if it is an Eeyore with a problem in need of a lengthy audience. I say that somewhat in jest, as she does get a lot out of these relationships. Yet, that is my litmus test with her. I say “are you getting something from this relationship? If not, then maybe you need to alter its terms.” She has had a few major Eeyores in her life where she needed to provide some distance for her own sanity.

My wife is also a wonderful wife and mother. She is there for me and our family of three, two boys and a girl. I enjoy watching her interact with our children. It is truly a joy, as she will let them talk. Our kids tell us (and her mostly) things most kids probably do not tell their parents. We would have never told our parents some of those things. But, we both say we would rather they tell us than not. We know when a problem exists. And, kids are exposed to so many more bad influences than we ever were growing up. We also have tried to have a house where our children’s friends are welcome. It does make it chaotic and messy at times, but we would not trade those moments for the world. And, for future parents, the greatest sound in the world is to hear your children laughing, in general, but especially with their friends. 

Let me close with something I should have said earlier. We also have made many mistakes and do get mad at each other. For younger couples starting out, you will get mad at each other. That happens. You need to work through any conflicts. Marriage is hard work. Try to keep your sense of humor and try not to stay angry too long. Talk it through when you have cooled down. Try never to say something in anger you will regret later. And, we have made parenting mistakes and will likely make some in the future.  We have hopefully learned from most of them. While we don’t have many rules, we have two big ones – treat each other like you want to be treated and try to have dinner together. This last one may not seem important, but it is huge. We even linger around the table more chatting about events of the day, funny stories, etc.

So, for my lovely bride happy birthday, sweetie. You are the best. We aren’t perfect, but we are doing alright.

The Louisiana governor was supposed to be the smart one

Louisiana should be very proud of one of its native sons. His name is Zack Kopplin and he is a 19-year-old college student. He has the backing of 78 Nobel Laureates in science from around the globe to help repeal a law signed in 2008 by Governor Bobby Jindal. You may recognize Jindal’s name as he is the one who made the following quote a few months at the Republican National Committee – “We need to stop being the stupid party. We must stop insulting the intelligence of voters. It is time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults.” What does this law do that caused a 19-year-old to be the intelligent adult in the room?

The Louisiana Science Education Act 473, signed on July 25, 2008 by Governor Jindal provides for public school science teachers to also teach creationism and intelligent design concepts along with information that runs counter to the unbiased scientific data showing global warming is occurring. Kopplin was a sophomore in high school at the time and realized then that someone needed to fight this law. When no one did, he entered the fray. With the support from State Senator Karen Carter Peterson, a bill has been submitted that will repeal Act 473 and let science teachers teach the classes, as deemed appropriate by scientists.

Numerous science publications have lent their support to Kopplin. Alan Leshner, the Executive Publisher of “Science” magazine has sent a letter to the Speaker of the House condemning Act 473 and asking for its repeal.  He notes the Act is “the latest effort to insert religious, unscientific views into the classroom.” For Kopplin’s efforts, in addition to the support, he has heard some backlash. One less than astute observer said his actions personally caused “Hurricane Katrina” which actually occurred a few years before the Act was passed. And, I always like to add the following when I read stuff like this – if someone believes this kind of causal relationship, then ask that person why the last two GOP national conventions were delayed one day by a hurricane, one of which was in Minnesota. Maybe God is sending a message to limit our exposure to the GOP messages.

I am very disappointed in Governor Jindal on this. This previous action does not lend to his personal credibility and reflect poorly on his accurate words spoken at the RNC meeting. You see, he was supposed to be the smart one. It is also disturbing that a double major from an Ivy League school, Brown University, would sign such a bill. Plus, one of his majors was in Biology. He should have vetoed the bill and told his legislature to get real. Instead, he threw his science acumen and scientific method out the window and signed a law that puts religious beliefs into a science classroom.

I am sorry, but this is a prima facie evidence that the GOP has gone to the dogs. We need the leaders of that party to stand up to those who are doing inane things. It is hard enough to compete in the world, but why would a company want to relocate to Louisiana where students have been taught in this manner? Our country prides itself on innovation, but this kind of law lessens our ability to be innovative when Evangelical legislators dumb down our classrooms. Governor, you have the opportunity to make amends. You have wasted almost five years of valuable classroom time. It is time to be adult like your 19-year-old resident and Senator Peterson and repeal this bill.

Otherwise, you will hasten the demise of your party you are trying to save. You are right with your most recent speech to the RNC. The party has become every bit of what you describe in the above quotes. But, apparently, you are cut from the same cloth.  I will share with you what I shared with a GOP legislator yesterday. You need to look at all potential legislation from an Independent’s view. If you don’t, you are destined to look foolish with some of the inane laws you are thinking about and unfortunately have passed. Stop being inane and be relevant. Our country needs relevant politicians and laws.

Water is the New Oil

Let’s get down to basics. Our planet has two vital resources  – air and water. We cannot live without them, but we continue to be pretty poor stewards of both. With the advent of man-influenced global warming, one of the key outcomes is we will have more severe droughts in drought-stricken areas. The models are showing global warming is occurring at a faster pace than predicted several years ago. Yet, even without global warming, we must be better stewards with our resources, water in particular. In the book “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization” by Steven Solomon, he devotes an entire chapter looking to the future. The chapter is called “Water: The New Oil.”

First, some context. This book is one of the best history books I have ever read. Solomon discusses how civilizations came into power and then fell by their ability or inability to manager water resources. Water serves several purposes besides drinking water – farming, sewage maintenance, transport and energy. Getting water into cities and out of them with sewage are vital to their health and wealth.  The latter can be equally important due to the bouts of cholera and dysentery that occur when sewage intermixes with the drinking water supply.

A few examples might help. There are three things that occurred in US history which significantly aided our rise to power in the world. The first was the Erie Canal which connected New York with the Great Lakes. The second is the Panama Canal which gave the US control over two oceans. The third is the numerous dams and water shed protections which gave us energy as well as secured drinking and farming water. Teddy Roosevelt’s greatest contribution is he was the most prolific water oriented US president in our history.

Yet, we have a major problem. We are not protecting our water supply like we need to. There are an increasing number of fights over water, where people downstream argue with people diverting more gallons to their communities upstream. Also, with the worsening droughts, there is insufficient rain to replenish the water. This problem is not restricted to the US. Saudi Arabia is rich with oil, but very poor with water. Its water sheds are in danger of drying out in the reasonably near future. In the US, Texas has numerous cities where the water aquifers are dried out. Water has to be trucked in from elsewhere. The national and international agencies that measure the impact of global warming, say the extreme droughts in Texas are exacerbated by man-influenced global warming.

Water is more critical now than ever before. Water is the new oil. We straighten out rivers allowing water to run off too quickly. We let run off occur from developments that increase silt in the water by washing the sand, dirt and clay into the water. With the rising seas, we let seawater run into fresh water lagoons that were used for farming. We Americans over water our lawns to make them green, when the indigenous grass and shrubs would be OK with a healthy brown color. We cut down on the water flow downstream by damming up a river upstream. We get energy, but there needs to be a more judicious way to let the water flow and still provide the energy.

And, we use water for energy purposes besides the hydro-powered electricity the dams create. In some energy solutions, the water can flow back into the water supply as tepid water. For example, with coal-fired, nuclear powered, and natural gas-powered plants, the water is used to create steam from the heated source. The steam turns the turbine which causes the electromagnetic generator to turn and create the power. Once the water re-forms from the steam, it can be released back into its source. Yes, there are other environmental impacts, but the water can flow back to the source.

Fracking to get the natural gas is a totally different matter. The major concern I have over fracking is not just the chemically laden water, the mercury, arsenic and methane that leaks into the air, the earthquakes that are causally linked to deep ground water disposal and the environmental infrastructure defamation, it is the water cannot and must not be reused. There are two problems. You cannot let the chemically laden water to get back into the water supply. It is harmful to humans and animals. Yet, water finds a way and it poisons the water sources. In the movie “Gasland” there is story of a woman who freezes and saves all the dead animals she finds near rivers and streams adjacent to fracking sites. She has hundreds of them.

The bigger concern is the use of the water in the first place. As noted, we cannot reuse the water. Yet, to frack a well, it is estimated by industry that it takes 4 to 6 million gallons per frack. The average well is fracked ten to twelve times, but let’s ten for ease of the math. So, the average well is fracked with 40 to 60 million gallons of water. In Utah, they built 2,000 wells in close proximity. If you multiply this out, that is 80 to 120 billion gallons of water. In my home state of NC, they are talking about fracking 10,000 wells. That translates into 400 to 600 billion gallons of water. Using an unscientific term, that is a bucketload of water.

My question is this where you want to use your water? Given the above problems that fracking causes, is this where you want to use your water? You may say I am blowing smoke, but farmers and frackers fought over water in Kansas and Colorado this summer. I would add that Texas is a leader in fracking and they have an extreme drought issue with some cities out of water. I am not linking the two causally as I don’t know for sure, but that is one hell of a correlation, meaning one occurrence happens at the same time as another.

Is this where you want to use your water? I don’t. Fracking is bad enough news without this issue. But, this makes it a slam dunk. The developer makes money, gives a stipend to the landowner and then leaves the clean up to the state. The state residents are the ones who will suffer from the water shortage and other issues.

Water is one of our two dearest resources. Water is the new oil. We cannot soil it and then immediately drink it. We cannot flush it away and not reuse it. We must find ways to conserve it, distribute it equitably and be judicious with its use. We need to innovate on ideas like the flushless toilet competition that is underway. In desert areas, find inventive ways to get rid of sewage. In a major county in California, they are significantly filtering sewage run off water to make new drinking water. And, I mean signficantly filtering it with multiple steps. We need to use more indigenous plants. We need to conserve our water use.

And, we need to use renewable energy sources that do not demand the use of water. Solar and wind energy processes continue to get more scalable, but we need to factor the overall cost of eco-energy versus fossil fuel energy, which must include the cost on the environment, health of our people, and use of water. Fossil fuel produced energy may be cheaper without these other factors, but we need to move away from them in a concerted way. Our lives depend on it.

Memo to Boehner and Reid – Make a Move

Date: April 7, 2013

To: Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Leader Harry Reid

From: A Concerned Parent in America

Cc: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Dianne Feinstein, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden

Subject: Better Gun Control – Make a Move

I have been beating on this drum well before Sandy Hook, but we cannot let what happened there go without acting responsibly. I applaud Governor Malloy and the bi-partisan legislature in Connecticut for doing the right thing and passing universal background checks and restriction on magazines. I also applaud the governor and legislature in Colorado for similar action. And, hats off to those states who already have tighter requirements.

Tonight, I watched with millions of Americans the parents and loved ones of the twenty-six Sandy Hook victims tell their story on 60 Minutes and beg you to act. It is time to make a move. The ball is in your court and I will hold you two personally responsible along with Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor for your failure to act.

You see, the problem is worse than the shooting tragedies at Sandy Hook, Aurora, Arizona, Virginia Tech, et al. The problem we are fighting happens everyday. It is when one teen shoots and kills another teen or child. It is when someone feels “dissed” in a public setting and has access to a gun in his car (gender intended as very few women are this irresponsible). You mix guns with testosterone and alcohol or drugs and only bad things happen.

You see, the US leads the top 23 wealthiest countries in gun deaths and teen/ children gun deaths by far. It is not even close. Even gun countries like Canada have much fewer gun deaths than we have. You see, we have the Second Amendment and the NRA. I am not advocating taking anyone’s Second Amendment rights away, but we need to understand the context of when the constitution was written. In my mind, no one outside of the military or police should own an assault weapon. And, for those of you who wonder What Would Jesus Do? I can assure you that Jesus would not own a gun, much less an Uzi or AK47. If a minister tells you otherwise, then you should strongly question his understanding of the bible.

This is not a fishing license. We need universal background checks on every purchase. I think we need training as well, but let’s start there. I also believe we can limit the magazines. That will also save lives. I think we should get rid of the assault weapons, but I am going to make it easier for you and say do those first two things – universal background checks and limits on magazine. The police are telling you to do this – we should listen to them rather than the NRA. The NRA does not speak for Americans and they don’t even speak for most gun owners. So, say thank you for your input NRA, but we are going to do this.

Make a move. It is time. The significant majority of Americans want this. It is up to you. And, for those who feel they may not get re-elected, I have two final comments.

First, stop worrying about keeping your job and do your job.

Second, if someone uses this as a campaign issue, you look them in the eye and say, I voted to save lives. What would you have had me do? Next question.

Speaker Boehner and Senator Reid, it is your ball to play. Make a move. Americans want this. I want this as a parent. And, as an Independent voter having laid out this problem, I am less concerned with what the NRA thinks. When the next shooting happens (and it almost did in Central Florida a month ago, except for an alert fellow student), it will be in your lap to reconcile that tragedy with the failure to act now. Acting will not stop gun deaths. It cannot in our free society. But, it can make a difference.

So, make a move. Make a difference. It is time.

A Mixed Bag of Observations

There are so many good bloggers who make us think. You are the best. Rather than infringe on their words, I wanted to highlight a few comments for general reaction and refer to others, where appropriate. In no particular order:

Pope Francis – Very Early Returns

I have shared my concerns in earlier posts, “Mea Maxima Culpa: When Piety Trumps Criminality” the most recent one, about the need for the Catholic Church leadership to make a major structural change. This was before the previous pope retired. These are initial impressions and the proof is in his actions, but Pope Francis seems to be doing things which are a breath of fresh air. His ministry has been to care for the poor, but he continues that outreach as pope. Getting out of the pope-mobile to greet people is yet another example. And, just this morning he commented on the fundamental role women play in “passing on the faith.”  Plus, he has a welcoming smile and countenance – by themselves, that does not make him a great, compassionate leader, but he seems to very approachable, which is counter to his predecessor. The other thing I like is he is unnerving to those who want a formal, distant leadership favoring a status quo. They should be unnerved. And, I hope he continues down this path forward. The church needs him to, whether these status quo advocates understand the message or not.

Everything is Not a Debate

My friend Hugh on www.hughcurtler.wordpress.com wrote recently about our tendency of making a debate out of everything. He correctly asserts that when an issue is pretty much decided, there need not be an other side to the issue presented as if the issue remains open. On Friday night’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” the conservative author, Steve Moore, was on the panel and the last guest who joined the panel was a young student from Louisiana named Zack Kopplin. While Moore has written numerous books, he is one of my least favorite guests as he often causes a shouting match to occur because of his inability to listen to arguments and his bent to argue with less relevant points that don’t define an issue. Kopplin has been advocating against a Louisiana law just signed by Governor Bobby Jindal to require creationism be taught as a counter argument to evolution in public schools. This articulate young man has 80 Nobel Science Prize winners on his side arguing the case.

The panel got on a discussion of climate change and fossil fuels. Like Hugh has noted, the scientists overwhelmingly (around 97%) conclude global warming is a crisis and is man-influenced and we need to do something about. Moore kept arguing that there is still a debate that many scientists say it is not and we should have a discussion about it. He used tired old arguments that don’t mean much. Maher had the best one-liner after listening to him and said “correct me, but you are not a scientist, are you?” After this discussion ebbed and flowed, Kopplin noted the need to act now and that in failing to do so, we are not being responsible stewards of the earth. When Moore kept on about needing debate over the existence of global warming, Kopplin repeated Maher’s line “you are not a scientist.”

I will echo Hugh’s post and say again what I have said many times before. The GOP is the only formal body in the world that not does believe global warming is occurring. They only do so because the fossil fuel industry who funds them says to tell people it is not. This industry has a vested interest in furthering debate as it permits them to get more revenue out of the ground at our expense. There is no longer a debate on this. The debate should be crafting a formal plan to accelerate the move away from fossil fuels. I wrote a post last spring about the Cartaret Islanders petitioning other bigger islands to let them move there. Why? They openly talk about how global warming is causing the ocean to consume their island. These islanders know more about global warming than 74% of GOP congressmen in the US who formally deny its existence and the islanders are acting while they still can before the ocean sweeps them away.

Kudos to Connecticut and Colorado

Between Barney of www.mountainperspective.wordpress.com and Amaya at www.thebrabblerabble.wordpress.com, there has been good discussion around the need for better gun control. Now, 90% of Americans support background checks for all gun purchases. This should be a no-brainer. No one is taking anyone’s right to buy a gun away. No one is taking anyone’s guns away. People are just saying, this is a serious purchase and such a serious purchase deserves a seriousness of purpose through background check. I like one person’s idea of requiring training like you would with a driver’s license, but I can only dream about that.

With that as context, kudos to Connecticut for their bi-partisan call to action that has led to the passage of better gun control laws in that state. No law is perfect, but this one was text-book in how it came about. Both sides saw it was very important for the state to act after Sandy Hook, debated the issue and came away with a workable law.  Living in NC with our GOP led legislature and some of their inane discussions and laws, I envy Connecticut and its adult debate. Colorado should be commended as well, as it came out of the gate earlier after the theatre shooting in the summer and in a state where many have weapons, came up with sensible gun laws.

My big question is are you watching this in Washington? A note to the GOP – the NRA does not speak for Americans and they do not even speak for most gun owners. A note to the few Democrats who are sheepish. If you help pass sensible gun laws and this becomes a campaign issue, remember the following words – “I voted to save lives. What would you rather I do? Next question.” As Barney, Amaya and I have noted, the problem is what happens every day. The mass shootings are tragic, but that is not the bigger problem. We lead the civilized world (the wealthiest 23 countries)  by far in gun deaths and children gun deaths. We need to act like parents and do the right thing. If you cannot think like a parent, then act like an adult and do the right thing. Pass better gun laws starting with universal background checks.

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Thanks to all the posts and blogs from those mentioned above and those not. Thanks to the many commenters as well. These blogs attract a very good group of thoughtful commenters who aid the debate. I also appreciate your comments as well. I would love to hear what you think of these issues.

The Best Teammate Ever

With the NCAA basketball tourney in high gear and the NBA playoffs nearing, I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight the best team player of any sport. With all due respect to my hockey friends, he is not Henri Richard of the famous Montreal Canadiens, who some would argue could lay such claim. The best teammate ever happens to have been quite successful as a college and pro basketball player, so it is apropos to mention him here and now.

His college team won two national championships, his pro team won eleven NBA championships and his Olympic team won the Gold Medal, as well. Who is he? He is not Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Larry Bird, although he is appearing in two commercials during the NCAA tournament with the latter three around the kids pre-school desk and the guy who usually does this funny banter with kids. His name is Bill Russell and he is remembered as the legendary center for the Boston Celtics and University of San Francisco.

Bill’s teams were good for two primary reasons. First and foremost, he was on the team. He had personal achievements winning the Most Valuable Player award five times and was a twelve time all-star. He is in the Hall of Fame and was voted one of the 50 Best NBA Players of all time. Yet, by his own admission, Wilt Chamberlain was a better basketball player. Wilt, though, did not win that many championships or have near the same amount of team success.

Second, his team won because Russell understood the concept of team play better than anyone. You see Russell’s forte was not scoring, although he did do some of that averaging 15 points a game as a pro. His forte was doing those things on the court which involved effort and intellect as much as skill. He was a voracious rebounder averaging an unheard of today 22.5 rebound per game. Rebounding requires calculation of where the shot was taken and where a missed shot might carom or bounce. Most basketball shots taken from one side of the basketball court, when missed, will carom to the other side. Then, it requires a huge amount of effort to get to the best position where the missed shot might go and use your body to block out an opponent, another lost art in the US.

By rebounding well, the opponent gets fewer shots and your team gets more shots. An explanation of basketball success doesn’t get any easier than that. Yet, he also was one of the best shot blockers the game has ever known. Shotblocking is timing as well as skill, but he made it a craft. But, the one thing he did that is rarely done when you watch the tournament games today, is Russell blocked the shot to a teammate. This normally started a fast break which has a higher chance of scoring than a set play. He was known to have said, “If I block it out-of-bounds, it may look more theatrical, but we still don’t have the ball.” When you watch the Final Four and the NBA playoffs, see how many times the blocker just blocks it out-of-bounds.

The third thing he did well in addition to the shot blocking was play good defense. Offense is more fun to play. Defense requires an effort. Offense is what the fans want to see, but defense wins championships. The shot blocking was his signature trait, but he also did other things to make his team defend the goal  better. He worked hard to disrupt the other teams’ offense through disrupting passes and shots.

The final thing he did well is his passing. He knew his teammates could shoot better than he did, so he would get them the ball passing out of the post position. Plus, by having his teammates involved, he knew they would pick up their defense. Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said this the other day, “I know I am not supposed to say this, but when a player is scoring and involved in the offense, he usually plays better defense as a result.” Having been around basketball for years, I have never heard a coach utter those words, yet I think Russell knew this intuitively.

Russell actually was a player coach his last three seasons as a Boston Celtics and his team won each year. But, when he kept coaching after he retired, his teams did not win like before. The key reason was Bill Russell was not playing. He brought all of the above to the court – intellect, effort, skill and energy. But he brought one other thing. His desire to win. Before almost every big game, Russell could be heard in the locker restroom throwing up. His teammates knew that if Russell was throwing up because he was nervous, they were going to win. And, they did.

One final thought about Bill Russell, which I also admire him for, is his activism. He was very intelligent and he knew that African-Americans were continuing to be maltreated in the 1960s. He joined together with Jim Brown, the superb NFL football star, and others to make a statement because their athletic prowess and notoriety gave them a platform to be heard. They did what people like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan have not done because of fear of lost endorsements. They stood up for African-Americans who were being disenfranchised and said this is not right.They convinced Muhammad Ali to take part as well. This needs to be done today, but the players and stars of the same ilk will not stand up for causes like these men did.

I think his activism shows what kind of man and teammate Bill Russell is and was. In today’s me first world where statistics mean more than they should with fantasy leagues and big contracts, winning year-in, year-out with energy and effort, seems to be a lost art. And, with fourteen championships to his teams’ credit, win they did. Maybe that is why we may never see another Bill Russell. The team has to be bigger than the player.

Wind for Schools

Since my friend Hugh Curtler has been speaking poetically about Don Quixote’s author Miguel Cervantes this week (see www.hughcurtler.wordpress.com), it dovetails nicely with some research I have been doing on the burgeoning wind energy industry in this country. Since I shared with Hugh that I have been known to chase a windmill or two being accused of channeling my inner Don Quixote, I thought it was timely to share an initiative I uncovered about “Wind for Schools.” For more on the subject of wind energy, please check out an earlier blog called “Blowing in the Wind” I wrote on January 25 of this year.

Wind for Schools is an initiative I learned about from Appalachian State University, a state school located in Boone, North Carolina. They participate in an initiative that is now in 11 states including North Carolina – Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Virginia –  which impacts 120 schools. In short, the initiative places wind turbines on school campuses to provide electricity for the schools, as well as teach the children more about alternative energy, in particular, wind energy. The initiative is sponsored by the Department of Energy and National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

In NC, the Appalachian State led initiative installed four wind turbines in the mountains at Alleghany High, Avery High, Watauga High and North Wilkes Middle Schools in 2011. On the Coast of NC, they installed five wind turbines at JP Knapp, Cape Hatteras Secondary and First Flight Schools as well as College of the Albemarle – Dare and College of the Albemarle – Edenton. Looking at a NC wind turbine map, these nine installations add to an ever-growing number of wind turbines around the state. Like solar energy, the wind turbines, need not be huge developments, although that is more efficacious. They can be small 1 to 3 kiloWatt electricity producers that can power a building or enterprise, such as an auto repair, dry dock storage, consulting, and eco-energy businesses, e.g.

And, they create jobs, not just directly in the wind turbine construction, power creation and maintenance, but in jobs to truck and install the component parts. Looking on the web, you can find large-scale companies and small-scale companies geared up around an aspect of the wind development process. In Raleigh, Underwriter Laboratories advertises a need for Wind Turbine Certification Services jobs, e.g. I noted in my earlier post that there are 75,000 US  jobs today associated around the wind energy industry and, if we continue to invest in the industry there could be 500,000 by 2030. These jobs pay well and tend to be done by local residents trained to do the tasks.

Finally, people support the movement to wind, solar and alternatives forms of energy. Truth be told, part of the huge group of naysayers are the fossil fuel based energy companies who want to promote current forms of energy exploration by downplaying how far these cleaner industries have come. The fossil fuel industry is so effective at it, many still believe these alternative energy industries are fledgling. While some cleaner industries still need some financial support, they continue to get more scalable as long term energy solutions on an annual, and even monthly, basis.

Per a survey in 2010 by Public Policy Polling (information@publicpolicypolling.com) of western North Carolina residents (where our mountains exist), 85% of the residents want more investment in wind energy, 82% want more solar energy, and 50% want more hydro-electric energy. Only 38% want more natural gas-powered energy and only 34% want more nuclear energy. Going further, 60% want less coal and 35% want less nuclear powered energy.

I have written several posts about solar energy heating up, pun intended. These projects can be big or small and are making a difference with California leading the way with over 1 gigaWatt of solar energy. If California were a country, it would be in the top ten in solar energy production in the world. In NC, our state is the 5th most prolific solar energy powered state and will soon move up to 4th. Wind energy need not be any different. Where the wind blows in abundance, these elegant wind turbines can power a great deal. And, when I see a number of wind turbines like you see in western New York state just off the interstate near Corning, I take pride that we are making the right steps. When I see fracking sites or oil derricks, I see just the opposite – environment degradation. Per the above survey, the western NC residents, agree with 83% having a positive image of the wind turbines in the mountains.

In my view, this is the future state. Solar and wind energy are key energy solutions. As for wind, we need to embrace it, fund it until it is not needed to make it scalable and let it truly take flight, again pun intended.  Teaching kids about wind energy with active projects is a wonderful investment and is laudable. More power to those who created this teaching/ investment model and folks like Appalachian State University for helping execute it. The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.

The Deaths of Honeybees and the Precautionary Principle

There was a story by Michael Vines of the New York Times this weekend entitled “Soaring honeybee deaths renew alarm.” I first learned of this story about a year ago on “Real Time with Bill Maher” regarding the major decline in honeybee populations. Apparently since 2005, there has been a major colony collapse epidemic where beekeepers are losing 40% to 50% of their bee populations. For some the number is as high as 80% loss. A more normative number is under 10%. While conclusive evidence is not known, per Vines’ article researchers say “there is growing evidence that a powerful new class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, incorporated into the plants themselves, could be an important factor.”

“The pesticide industry disputes that. But, its representatives also say they are open to further studies to clarify what, if anything, is happening.” This may sound all well and good, but this is a very common stalling tactic which allows industry to keep doing what they are doing for years on end, until the evidence is so overwhelming, they need to cease the detrimental action. At that time, it is too late for many, in this case the bees. But, we also need to remember, that bees cross-pollinate many things. If the bee population dies off, it is not just the loss of honey we are talking about. The Department of Agriculture says “a quarter of the US diet, including apples, cherries, watermelons, and onions, depends on pollination by honeybees.”

Vines notes that “many beekeepers suspect the biggest culprit is the growing soup of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides used to control pests.” Since, beekeepers usually have their bees close to plants they want to feed the bees, they have a better sense of what is different about the surrounding areas. Plus, it may be multiple things precipitated by global warming, where more droughts are occurring in some areas.

But, let me stop at this point and reference a post I made last year called “The Precautionary Principle.”  This issue of what is causing the demise of bees is similar to all other potentially toxic actions where we as a country take a contrary view on how we must investigate links between potentially detrimental actions which may be causing toxic results. I will repeat some of that post below, but encourage you to read the entire post written on June 8, 2012, as it applies to all man-made threats to the environment and people.

The Precautionary Principle (excerpts from June 8, 2012)

We are at a crossroads in our country and on our planet. We must all become better stewards with the environment and address these issues today and in the future. The business side of energy retrieval and production along side the development of mass-produced products made out of or enhanced by petro-chemicals have placed our planet in a precarious position. For the longest time, these industries have been able to delay addressing issues citing the data is not conclusive or shows causality. Proof or true causality oftentimes takes thirty years or more. In the interim, the data can show a high correlation that an activity is leading to a problem. For those who did not take statistics, correlation means things rise and fall together.

In the US, we place the burden of proof on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and like agencies who govern other areas of commerce. Other countries have a variation of the EPA.  In some countries that burden resides with the developer to show that something is not toxic or harmful to others. Several scientists and concerned citizens got together at Wingspread in Canada to discuss these issues. One of the tenets of that meeting can be summed up by a statement made by Bradford Hill, a medical statistician and inventor of the randomized clinical trial, back in 1965:

“All scientific work is incomplete – whether it be observational or experimental. All scientific work is liable to be upset or modified by advancing knowledge. That does not confer upon us a freedom to ignore the knowledge we already have or postpone the action that it appears to demand at a given time.”

In short, we should not wait to do something later if the evidence is telling us something is amiss now. With toxic chemicals, for example, if you wait to fully prove something is bad, the damage is already done. Especially when you are dealing with children who are still developing and breathe in more than adults.

The group at Wingspread developed the following Precautionary Principle

“When an activity raises threat of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context, the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.”

The process of applying the Precautionary Principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action,” noted Dr. Sandra Steingraber in her book “Living Downstream – An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment.” In this book and her second book called “Raising Elijah” she notes industry has tended to stiff arm science to continue to conduct practices that are harmful to the environment and people. The democratic process she references is hard to conduct, when so much money is at stake.

The dilemma we face as a planet is there is a lot of money to be had in developing energy and chemical products from fossil fuels. As a result, the industry supports a lot of politicians with a lot of money and lobbying efforts. Yet, we must diminish our reliance on fossil fuels, we must understand the impact of petro-chemicals on our environment and people and we must put the burden of proof that an activity is not harmful on the purveyor of that activity beforehand and throughout. In the meantime, if anyone says we should do away with the EPA, for you, me and our children, tell them that is the dumbest idea you have ever heard and would be poor stewardship of our planet. Please help advocate the Precautionary Principle as well.