We’ll All Melt!

“In the past two centuries, many people have hypothesized that the solar irradiance at the top of the Earth’s atmosphere varies. Recent satellite measurements confirm that such variations exist.” – Hoyt and Schatten, NASA Goddard

Their conclusion is that 71% of current climate change can be modeled from just 50% of the solar irradiation changes over the last three centuries.  Just half.

Over a time span of 1,000 years, we found that volcanic eruptions generally correspond with enhanced ice sheet melting within a year or so. . . present day ice sheets are potentially very vulnerable to volcanic eruptions.” – Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Their conclusion is that the frequent and intense eruptions in the 1990s and into this millennium could be sufficient to melt the arctic ice sheet.

Both articles go on to speculate how anthropogenic causes could affect these natural phenomena.  Why would they need to add “man made” to the entirely sufficient organic mix?  Because funding is consistently only paid for, and publication only available to, bad news due to man.  It really is that simple.

The NASA publication asserts their data has a “95% confidence level. To understand our present climate variations, we must place the anthropogenic variations in the context of natural variability from solar, volcanic, oceanic, and other sources.”

The Columbia paper, in turn, speculates that “some might suggest” diminishing ice could cause this increased vulcanism due to loss of weight on the landmass. Of course some might.

Many journalists stay up nights thinking of creative ways to force research into condemning and terrifying continuations of the terror.  I found this one: “New NASA research has found that increases in the rate at which Arctic sea ice grows in the winter may have partially slowed down the decline of the Arctic sea ice cover.”  What?  Does this mean sea ice is returning?  I do believe it does, and so the record shows.

To really understand this, recognize that 70% of sea ice is seasonal.  There has indeed been a series of “big thaws,” but those are offset by a series of “big chills” that “could slow down the extinction of sea ice for decades, or even centuries.”  Could, yes.  It could mean we’ll all die this summer when the average global temperature climbs to 90° Celsius.

You can report that I said that.

NEW Old Climate News

A wide array of regional arctic volcanoes created an explosion of energy (heat) in the arctic, from 1997 through 2008, with aftershocks continuing.

Yes, of course they knew this in 1998 and 1999. They didn’t talk about it until now, because they had to devise a way to incorporate several million tons of TNT equivalent into the “anthropogenic mix.” That’s right, it had to fit with “man made global warming.” Evidently, it took 20 years to work out their strategy, because those arctic “heat bombs” are just now being introduced to the public. This is tongue in cheek, but only partly. It is frighteningly plausible.

But even that isn’t the problem. I watched a few shows about the “catastrophic release of methane from ice bubbles in the arctic” recently. For laughs. It was presented as truth.  Claims of “whole truth and nothing but truth” were not offered.

You see, this “catastrophe” of methane is natural. normal, predictable, and well known. Bacteria produce methane when it’s too cold or if there is a conspicuous lack of oxygen. Normally, CO2 is the product of bacteria, but if it gets really cold, they use four hydrogen molecules instead of the two oxygen molecules to expel their waste as methane, CH4. It’s a balancing act. Nature uses CH4 and lots of water to produce CO2 + H2. The H2 mixes with oxygen or ozone in the air to form water.  Overall, methane lasts a total of nine or 10 years in the atmosphere.

The chemistry is important.  First, whether carbon dioxide or methane, it is 100% naturally produced.  Second, the amount of carbon is the same whether it mixes directly with oxygen or hydrogen. When warm and flowing, CO2. When cold and frozen, CH4. 

Methane always turns into CO2, because CO2 is the “normal” product.  When it can’t “burn” yet, the methane allows the bacteria to live, storing the energy in the molecule.  The natural “burn” of methane ultimately equals the alternative production of carbon dioxide, but it allows it in an exposed environment, up high in the atmosphere where more of the heat can dissipate into space when it reacts with ozone, O3. (God stuff, I tell you!  It is always beyond remarkable how it works!)

Generally, released methane determines how much O3 is in the atmosphere.  We get “ozone holes” after a lot of methane (and other reactive gases) are released quickly . . . like immediately after the hot summer of 1998. The thermal release from the volcanic activity started the melting arctic that released methane from the thawing ice.  Right now, and always, ozone is high in cold areas, where it is waiting for the methane release of cold bacterial production.  Of course there are more factors, but you get the idea.

Ozone is considered a greenhouse gas, but it is really quite different.  Ozone protects us from UV radiation while the methane is low. and reflects heat back to earth while it stays cold. (More God stuff.)

Notice that cold decreases CO2 production.  CO2 follows the temperatures.  That is no new discovery, either.  CO2 has always followed temperature.

The science is very fun and interesting, but this is past 500 words already.  How much CO2 is produced from burning natural gas (methane) in a machine, furnace, or engine?  The same amount as having it boil from the ice, which is the same amount as skipping it and producing carbon dioxide directly.  The only real, notable difference is that there is more CO2 produced when it’s warm.  That is not a catastrophe.  It is from nature, and from nature’s God.

Carbohydrates (Climate series)

Carbon is a hero.  It is great stuff.  Here it is in the short and sweet.  While this is too simple for college bio-chemistry, you can understand global warming lies a little easier once you get this stuff.  Living things take carbon out of the air, dead things give it back.  (It’s not entirely that simple, though, because living things like bacteria and fungus give it back from the dead things.)

Carbohydrates (actually, hydrated carbons) are the foundation of all plant materials, made up entirely of carbon (mostly from carbon dioxide) and water.  Plants and trees grab CO2 from the air and water from the soil to form carbohydrates.  When carbohydrates respire (breath, or mix with oxygen) the process releases carbon dioxide and water.  Glucose, for instance, the simplest carbo- breaks down like this: C6H12O6 + 6O2  -->  6CO2 + 6H2O.  It’s just a reverse situation of growing.  Exactly the same thing happens when carbohydrates burn: carbon dioxide and water.

CO2 is not a poison, it is not toxic, won’t give you lung disease or kill plants or other animals.  Like water, too much causes drowning, not “water poisoning.” Similarly, too much carbon dioxide causes asphyxiation, not “CO2 poisoning.”

The only significant (and certainly the easiest) way to reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere is to “grow them out.”  Plants sequester CO2.  Sometimes those plants are in the water.  The oceans are great and massive places to grow seaweeds and algae, so you might hear discussion of “sequestering CO2 in the oceans.”  That is what “sequestering” means in those examples: growing carbohydrates in salt water and foam that drop and mix with other stuff (like Calcium, sodium, and aluminum) to make coal, or oil, or rocks.

Low carb dieting, though, will not harm the environment.  Fats come from carbon, oxygen and hydrogen, just like carbs.  The difference is where you put the hydrogen. Carbo-(n)-hydrates (OH) are basic. Fats (H) are acids.  Put them together, H+OH --> H2O.  Protein are just fats (acids) and carbs (bases) with nitrogen attached.  Sometimes sulfur, too — that’s why some rotting proteins smell like farts while the bacteria eat them.

If you followed the 362 words above, you understand the basics of CO2 and global warming.  If you don’t understand that relationship, stay tuned. There might not be one.  But we do need trees.

Compost, Not Labor or Money

As a huge fan and practitioner of composting, it might sound strange to hear me say, “it isn’t necessary.”  What I mean is, “our participation is optional.”  And what I mean by that is, “if you spend much time or money, you waste your resources.”

Compost happens.

Once you put carbon containing stuff with air and water, it composts.  It will happen in your gutters, in the landfill, on your lawn or in your garden.  Compost “recipes” can speed things up by adding nitrogen mostly, but newspaper, cardboard, wood chips, fence posts and tree trunks all compost just fine if you aren’t in a hurry.  It just might take a while.

There is a composting method used in Scandinavian countries called Hugelskultur (with an umlaut over the first u) where trees are piled up and buried in leaves and soil in the fall.  The mixture is planted in the spring and for all following seasons while the trees rot and bacteria dig out nutrients to feed to the mounded gardens.

One highly effective compost method is to spread your organic stuff all over the ground in the fall and let winter start the process of mixing it into the bacteria and fungi rich soil, with the help of rooting animals.  By spring, earthworms will eat it, and it can be planted.

The same principle holds for mulch.  Spreading up to a foot of wood chips, bark, straw, hay, grass clippings, yard waste, leaves (especially all of the above together!) around your plants while they grow or on your garden over winter might be the best way to release the food and develop your soil.

If you have the room and resources, you can build big piles of composting stuff and gather the heat for your house, shop, or garage.  A really good square yard of compost gives off a steady 1000 btu of heat per hour all winter long while it prepares your garden soil for spring.

Cheap Land Deals

Can you own and live on 100 acres, build your house on that property for less than you currently pay for rent?  Yes, certainly, and find time you never knew existed, enjoy your “work,” and do almost anything.

The qualifications are simple: an enduring desire, adaptability, moderate intelligence, and a little faith in God’s provision.  Anything else is optional, but always useful.  Once you can save a few thousand dollars, you’re in.

The cheapest land is rarely a gorgeous “finished painting,” but rather a bare pallet, just waiting for anything and everything you want to include.

My wife and I chose our last two homes, going back over 20 years, on land where pavement refuses grow.  We would still consider a bunch of acres in a remote area if we were in our 50s.  Most states have places to buy big chunks of land for next to nothing.  We have them out here in the great Southwest, but they exist in areas of TN, KY, LA, MS, and AR, too.  Probably almost every state has them, but I haven’t checked.  The value increases as your demands shrink.  If you can “make do without,” it isn’t difficult to find 100 acres for $10,000 or less.

Sometimes the trees and water included are worth thousands of dreams, even if you only want a “get-away.”

“Doing without” means serious hardships for some people.  Living without running water, electricity, plowed roads, neighbors, nearby stores or hospitals, for instance, can plow down interest for a lot of people . . . but that is precisely why those great deals exist.  Imagine the life you could establish on 100 acres!  If you can live without TV or a cell phone, maybe.

My wife and I talk about it often.  Just 10 years ago we could have turned our lives around with such opportunity, but we just didn’t know what we didn’t know.

The biggest obstacles may vary.  Some properties, for instance, are inaccessible.  You can’t reach them.  That’s not inexpensive, that’s worthless.  Or, the property can be completely under water.  We actually looked at 5 acres in New York State that was a pond.  There were less than 200 sf of dry land along a dinky strip beside the road.  Not impossible, of course — even exciting if there was somewhere to park and store building materials.  What a great property for hydroponic and water gardening, fishing, swimming, etc., and a cool place to simply anchor a floating house.  We decided against trying — mainly because it was New York, and almost certainly more hoops than jumps left in us.

Water?  At first that issue can kill a deal, and in a very few places (like the badlands) it may prove impossible, but bear in mind that one inch of rain collected from one square yard is over 5.5 gallons.  We live in the “high desert” of Arizona, getting 15 inches of rain per year.  Every square yard of our property gets 84 gallons of rain each year.  A basic 20×40 foot roof (800 square feet) would provide 7,480 gallons of water per year —  slim pickings, but over 20 gallons of stored water per day just off the rooftop!  In the desert.

The cost of wild living is unlimited, in both directions.  It’s easy to live cheap or flamboyant, hidden or pretentious.  Withdrawn and alone or all lit up with guests and parties makes no difference to anyone else — it’s up to you.  On the extremely low side, here are some numbers to work with:

Land:  Currently, “the average house” costs somewhere around $165,000.  That generally includes about 1/4 of an acre, driveway, maybe a garage and fence, and a patch of land.  You will be plugged into the sewer (or septic) water (municipal or private well) and electric, and your street will most likely be paved and somewhat maintained.  There’s a pretty good chance of cable access, cell phone coverage, and reasonably local shopping.   On a cheap property, whatever you paid is paid.  Unlike the conventional mortgage, that’s it.  Once you plunk down $5,000 or $20,000, you’re done paying.  Better still, land taxes are usually based on “value,” and “remote” usually translates into “cheaper” at the tax office.

Food:  On a big lump of land, you can raise rabbits and chickens for almost nothing, eat eggs, vegetables and fruit you grow.  You can also hunt and fish, buying just staples like rice, flour, potatoes,  lard and oils, for about $100 per year per person.  You will most likely need that much plus an allowance for “treats.”  Farm animals are also quite possible.

Utilities: What utilities?  The rustic ideal is heat and energy from the sun, wind, your own wood, and water.  It gets very comfortable with a small windmill, a few solar panels, and/or a gas generator.

Taxes and fees: That will vary from place to place, State to State, but most of New Mexico land is known for “no code” and cheaper taxes.  Plan on $500/year and prepare to spend the overage on gasoline or another rain collection tarp and bottles.

Transportation:  One of the benefits of remote, barefoot living is you don’t have to go anywhere, but you can probably use a 30-year-old 7 cylinder 3/4 dead $250 Chevy or even a tractor for emergencies.  You probably need a tractor, and they cost between 10% of a used pickup and 5x as much as an Italian sports car.)

Building costs:  A safe and nominally comfortable lean to, yurt, or very small rustic cabin from your own timber start around $0.  Realistically, you probably need a few thousand, especially for a quick move-in and basic plumbing.  We have an old RV that cost us nothing, so we’re ahead of that game.  Ingenuity always counts double.

Other: Really, it’s more about what you want than what you need.  Children can cause added considerations too numerous to name.  (But they’re worth every one of them, and might be the very best reason to leave our current, polluted “advanced civilization”!) and a bad marriage can doom the whole idea.  My love and I both have health issues, so we had to decide that death is as viable in the middle of nowhere as it is within the speedy range of a hospital.  It happens to the rich and famous in jets over the ocean or on safari in Africa, so why not at home in our peaceful desert?

I’d like to spend a lot more time on this topic.  Some of the interest is global (the benefits of remote living coupled with high productivity and spiritual peace) much is truly architectural (what can and should be done to make homes better, more efficient and comfortable, without the terrible impact of the processed, expensive, dangerous, short-lived and ruinous “code approved building materials.”  And some of the interest falls directly on the experiences we have had and want to continue.

Good Plant Shows

What do plants talk about?  Who do they talk to?  This video sums up a lot of really good science.  Kudos!

This one is “controversial,” not because of the ideas but simply because “God has something to do with it.”  Always a hot button to skeptics.

Joys V, Compost biochemistry

Chemistry and biology, in the easiest forms.  As promised, this will be suitable for high school dropouts, or even early mornings with the first cup of coffee. 

Carbon is life.  If a substance includes carbon it is called “organic.”  If there is no carbon, the substance is inorganic.  Organic involves organisms or the products of their life processes.  Carbon dioxide, CO2, is a product of life processes.  It is what most living things breath out.

Plants and animals release carbon as CO2, but we don’t call it breathing when a plant does it because they don’t have lungs.  Every bacterium, dog, fish, tree, pansy and bird releases lots of CO2 into the atmosphere. 

Trees and plants also release O2 into the air.  Two separate processes.  For living, they “breath out” CO2, but for growing, they take carbon from the air and release O2.  As a young tree grows it provides oxygen.  When it matures the balance means no net CO2 or O2.  When it gets old, and ultimately dies, all of the carbon it stored goes back to the air it came from as it rots.  It’s a cycle.

ROT is a misleading term, left over from a few hundred years ago. Rotting sounds like something a dead tree does, or a fallen hero, but dead trees do nothing.  They don’t even fall down without help.  What happens to trees is that they get eaten, reused, recycled.  Everything organic gets eaten.  Always, always, something out there wants the carbon and the nitrogen stored in something else.  That process of being eaten results in what we call “rot.”  That ugly name is the muscle and backbone of all life on earth.  It is composting, and God and the Bible spoke of these things long before Leeuwenhoek discovered “animalcules” in his mouth.

“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of the resurrection.”  Composting is the very natural process of restoring life on earth.  As corrupt and fallible as it is, we are all part of the never-ending cycle.

With that understanding, it’s time to move on to some dangers and challenges of agriculture.  It never needs to be a crisis.

Joys of, IV – Ratios

Compost needs a few things.  Nature provides all of them: carbon and nitrogen, moisture, oxygen, warmth, and microorganisms.  Compost also enjoys movement, like being stirred or tossed periodically.

Articles and books focus heavily on the C/N ratio, or carbon to nitrogen.  Yes, ideally you start with 20 – 40 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen, but while that ratio speeds up the process, composting takes place even in a stack of damp cardboard at 500:1.  It just may take a few years. Mix in some coffee grounds, vegetable trimmings, or grass to that cardboard and speed things up.

To get close to the ideal, just mix up stuff from trees (bark, leaves, wood chips, sawdust, cardboard and paper, twigs, etc.) and stuff from plants (vegetables, grass, flowers, fruit remains and peels, stalks, vines, weeds) and mostly vegetarian animal poop (horses, rabbits, cows, sheep, chickens, turkeys, etc.; birds eat lots of rodents, small fish, insects, voles and moles, but process food differently so its okay for composting.)  If you get close to 1/2 and 1/2, great.

Too much nitrogen is rare, but if it does happen you will smell ammonia.  The cure is to add more carbon.

In fact, smell is a great tool for the composter.  If it smells like rotten eggs or poop, the compost is too wet and packed down.  It lacks air.  It needs “fluff.”  Go easy on the water for a while, and add straw or twigs, wood chips, bark, or cardboard.

The only real “compost don’t” is meat, or meat-eater poop.  Bad bacteria is the main reason.  Unwanted animals is the other.  E coli and other nasties come with the gut stuff.  It simply is not worth the risk.  Period.  Don’t do it.

Unless you are in a big hurry, composting what you have works just fine, because no matter what your ratios are, the end product has close to 10:1 carbon to nitrogen.  That’s exactly what your garden wants!  How can that be?  The result of the compost is the result of biology and chemistry  Even if you failed chemistry and biology with honors, the next lesson will make sense.  I promise.


Joys of, Part III

For novices, too much has been written about compost.  Much of it is confusing or wrong.  I will try to avoid anything unnecessary, and include everything important in around 500 words.

Compost is decaying organic stuff.  Organic stuff is anything alive or carbon containing — animals, vegetables, trees, poop, hair, fingernails, motor oil, Uncle Harry, rubber or plastics.  All can become compost, but some are much easier and some are dangerous to use.  If it still looks like a plastic bag, shines like oil, or smells like poop, it’s not yet compost, and could be dangerous or even deadly.

Start with the premium stuff — kitchen scraps, garden residues, and coffee grounds.  Put them in a bucket under your sink and transfer them to a pile in your yard every day or two. Add lawn clippings if you don’t soak your yard with ChemLawn or Sevin-like chemicals.  Add autumn leaves.  (It helps to run the lawnmower over them first to chop them up.)  Keep the pile moist, but not soaking wet.  Cover it with a tarp before big rains.  If you turn this pile over every week or so, you will have nice compost in a few weeks, but it will be great stuff within a year no matter what.

The only shortcoming to this style of composting is a fairly small batch of compost.  How much compost should you target?  A fair rule of thumb is to replace more than you remove.  How much more depends on what you start with, and what you hope to have for the following season.  If your yard and garden are in great shape, you need less than if you start with sand or clay.  You will want at least an inch of compost, so a 10 x 12 foot garden needs a minimum of 10 cubic feet of compost just to stay in shape.

How much it takes to “create” a garden (or healthy lawn) from bad dirt is also fairly simple.  20% organic matter down to at least 10″ deep is a good minimum target. That means 2″ of compost added to the top 8″ of dirt.

Depending on where you live and why you have bad dirt in the first place, you might have to add that much each year to keep the soil healthy, at least for a while.  That becomes much easier than the original dose of compost, though.  Adding mulch, turning under the spent crops, and simply growing things will help protect the soil and let the garden compost itself.  This is very important.

Mulching is the easiest compost.  Organic mulch consists of anything reasonable to compost — even compost itself.  Spread it on the surface of the garden around the plants.  It will cover the soil to protect it from radical temperature changes and pounding rains, and let the bacteria and fungi, worms and critters pull it down, chew it up, convert it, and bind it to the existing soil.

The next article will be a couple of examples of great composts and composting ideas, plus the easiest cures for composting problems.  Then it will be time to look at various other “permaculture” ideas.  There may be several more of these articles.  There’s just so much to tell!

Joys of, Part II

Now we get to meet the residents of our soils.  You might be shocked to learn there can be billions of them in a handful of good garden loam.  The residents include the worms and bugs you can see, plus more worms and bugs you cannot see with the naked eye.  There are very few of those, however, numbering in the tens of thousands in your little garden.  Next come the fungi, bacteria, and viruses.  Thousands of different kinds, millions each of most, billions of some.

Some work against each other, but the level of cooperation at the microscopic level amazes the people who get to watch on electron microscopes.  All sorts of invisible critters feed one another, trade water and minerals for sugars and other foods.  They provide transportation, purification, waste disposal, and negotiate contracts between grouchy neighbors.  They work together to keep enemies in check, or even to make friends of the enemies.  Or eat them.  And they also tend to the plants in the garden.

So many little critters live in the soil it can be overwhelming to try and sort them out. . . especially since we can’t see them.  But we don’t need to see or hear them to know they’re doing their jobs and staying in balance.  Figuring out the microbes is as simple as watching the garden.

In fact, plants are nearly helpless, even somewhat pathetic without the various microbes that feed and water them, allow them to breath, moderate the nutrients and nurse them along.  I might even suggest that tending to the microbes is the most critical critical aspect of gardening — especially over a long time and many seasons.

Like a pet, soil needs good food and water, adequate shelter, exercise, some sunshine, interaction with others, and plenty of fresh air.

This series may get deeper and more involved, but the next article simply considers the easiest and most effective ways to keep your microbes and worms happy so you can enjoy great soil, a beautiful garden, and good food for your table.  It will also address the differences between plants and trees, and ways to improve your soil for either one.