J500 Media and the Environment

My Green Thumb Just Got Weedy by alyv


I’ve always lamented my lack of a green thumb. Even as I write this blog, my latest botanical victim is wilting on my desk, clinging on the last moments of its short, neglected life.

Whatever thumb-less hand I’ve played in the demise of plants over the years, another, more sinister villain lies in waiting, creeping ever closer to the brink of a mass vegetation massacre.

I’m talking, naturally, about weeds.

“But weeds have been around forever!” you say, and I can’t argue with you there. I may not have the back pain resulting from hours spent releasing the roots of tomatoes and begonias from the fists of weeds, but I know they’re a problem.

The new, bigger threat? It’s about to get worse.

As global warming continues to heat the earth, the harsher conditions will make it harder for our favorites to thrive, opening the rows to the infestation of weeds.

Weeds are what scientists call “generalists.” Generalists can generally thrive anywhere, under any conditions, at any time (think rats). Their success relies mostly on the fact that generalists have greater genetic diversity, allowing them to adapt more quickly to changes in environment than more specialized, and valued, organisms.

According to several studies on weed/crop competition, weeds grow faster and easier as carbon dioxide increases. That means as temperatures and CO2 in the atmosphere continue to rise, the amount of weeds will grow too.weed

I don’t have a garden, for obvious reasons. But if I did, I know the last thing my plants should have to worry about are weeds encroaching on their plotted right to life. So for my future garden, and the successful gardens already out there, I pledge to use my car less, rev the engine a little softer, drive a little slower.

Who knows. Maybe a greener life will be just what I need to get this thumb of mine to change tint.

All weeds are a problem, even cheesy TV shows about illegal ones.


Thanks to Diptesh Chatterjee and S. Paul Davis for the pictures.

Thanks to You Tube for the video.


Climate Change is Forever by jseverin

Climate change really is inconvenient. Despite all of the scientific study being poured into this issue, the impacts remain difficult to predict. And although its effects may not be noticeable for decades, the window of time we have left to address it could be very small. Meanwhile, our US leaders are elected for 2- or 4-year terms. Oftentimes, this leads to a focus on short term solutions that keep constituents satisfied. Sounds like a major conflict.

When asked about this balance between short and long term policy consideration, Congressman Dennis Moore notes that “in the short term, we need to utilize the tools we already have available – implementing energy efficiency measures, encouraging responsible behaviors and investing in the research and development of technologies that will ultimately aid in us achieving our long-term goals .”

However, it is sometimes difficult for me to believe that our government is going to make a difference on this issue. I may even agree with Wall Street Journal editorialist Joe Rago who seems to think Congress is stretching out the discussion on carbon emission controls in order to maintain credibility with environmentalists while putting off a decision that could have serious economic impacts.

To some degree, I don’t blame them. We have no idea if potentially costly programs put in place today will really make a difference 50 years from now. But that shouldn’t stop us from giving it a try and hoping that our collective efforts will help us turn the corner on climate change. All we have to lose – and gain – is a more sustainable future for ourselves and for our planet.

– Jeff

Coal is good for Kansas? by jseverin

I have never attended a city council meeting. I have never participated in a protest (although I’ve signed a few online petitions in my time). And until recently, I have never written my state senator or representative. You could say I am apolitical. I guess I’ve always chosen education over activism to address the issues that are most important to me.

But as the battle to build coal fired plants in Holcomb, KS, raged on this spring, I felt it my civic duty to write my legislators. I knew their minds were already made up to vote for a veto override (even though they both sat through our local “Focus the Nation” event just three months ago listening to arguments against the legislation), but I fired away my messages anyway.

I was pleased to get a detailed response from my state representative, Tom Sloan. But it left more questions than answers. Here’s just a snippet of his reasoning for supporting new coal, and the queries left in its trail:

“Simply saying no to coal-fired electric generation does not result in the construction of renewable generation units.”

Maybe not, but doesn’t saying yes squelch the need for any other source of energy in our state for the time being, and put an end to opportunities for renewable development?

“The coal-fired plants would serve as anchors and financial supporters of the high voltage electric transmission lines necessary to move wind energy west to the California market and south and east to urban centers.”

When did Kansas get in the business of exporting power to the rest of the nation anyway? I thought we were an agricultural state.

“Emission standards for carbon releases from power plants, other commercial enterprises (e.g., ethanol plants), motor vehicles, etc. should be established. Currently no standards exist at the federal or state levels because scientists and policy-makers have not yet reached consensus on what levels are relevant and attainable.

Now you’re talking. So shouldn’t we give current debates at the national level time to work themselves out before we jump headfirst into increasing carbon emissions that will soon be regulated?

“Wind energy will and should be part of the energy mix serving Kansas and the nation/world. The proposed Holcomb plants will be the lowest emitting plants in the nation and will be the first plants to have carbon capture and mitigation investments as part of their business plan”.

This one totally lost me. If wind should and will be part of the mix, why do we need to add more coal? In a state where 75% of the energy produced is from coal, and most of the remainder comes from nuclear power, I’d say we have a long way to go to make wind even part of the mix. Cleaner or not, coal definitely needs to make room for it’s renewable cousins.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. I don’t doubt Representative Sloan’s sincere interest and appreciate his effort to education himself on the issue, but for me the logic just doesn’t add up. It looks more like new coal would limit our opportunities, not broaden our horizons, and make shooting for the stars even more difficult than it already is.

“Ad Astra” statue atop of the Kansas capitol. Source: flickr.com


A Stuck in the Mud State by denzylj

In America, the leading cause of death is lethargy and bad dietary habits. Americans are obese and diabetic and what we should be doing is looking at healthier living. Cycling is free. All people have to do is get out their cars and start riding their bikes.” This startling and somewhat provocative statement was told to me in an interview with a Lawrence resident. Why, doesn’t he know the love affair Americans have with their cars, cynics might say. The latter sentiment though, is one constantly posed by an American friend, ironically during our frequent trips in his car.

But the man prescribing cycling being the solution to all evils, is someone eminently qualified to advocating a lifestyle change. He’s 52-year-old Michael Hajdu, a cardiologist, and yes he comes with a bias – he loves cycling and has spent the past 27 years of his life riding around the country. As a matter of fact, Dr Hajdu serves on the Lawrence Bicycle Advisory Committee – a group of enthusiasts who work with the City Commission and the community on cycling matters. Of course, the good doctor is not saying people should strive for such marathon feats as navigating their way around the country, but merely to become attuned to cycling, as something that’s fun and recreational.

Eric Fansworth
, writing in the Lawrence Sustainability Network, shares some personal hints for getting started. It’s not rocket science, just the ability and willingness to get going. What Farnsworth and Hajdu don’t dwell on are the obvious environmental benefits, like reducing carbon emissions. This article by Sarah B. Hood, picks up where Fansworth and Hajdu left off by addressing pollution concerns.
On a bicycle you take up little space, burn no gasoline and produce no waste, and a bike can travel 1,600 kilometres (960 miles) on the equivalent energy of a gallon of gas.”

That’s all well and good if you have a bicycle friendly city, something that Lawrence is not. Cycling along 23rd Street, the pedestrian and bicycle trails end abruptly at different intervals. It occurs along many other streets and often there just aren’t any trails at all. It’s a situation that Dr Hajdu knows all too well. He doesn’t have kind words for city administrators, adding that other states have taken the lead in erecting trails for cyclists.

If the elements are not the obstacle, the trails (or lack thereof) are, along with negative attitudes to cyclists

I found that being on the (Lawrence Bicycle Advisory) committee, that we are fighting an insurmountable battle because the entire society is so entrenched in the belief that cars are the only way to get around. And the city is limited in putting any effort into changing things. It’s conservative and a stuck in the mud state. It’s not known for innovation. Missouri is not exactly the bastion of forward thinking, but it has bicycle trails from one part of the state to the other,” Dr Hajdu said.

With such a dim outlook, it doesn’t appear that Lawrence, or the state of Kansas is on course to make the state more bicycle friendly. The Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) might disagree though. According to a report, it has administered “$66 million in federal funds since 1991 for trails and other transportation features,” that supports bicycle and pedestrian traffic. KDOT’s Comprehensive Transportation Program comes to an end next year and although the groundwork for future planning has begun, cycling enthusiasts would be keen to see how the plan will address their needs. On paper, there’s a projected annual need of $15 million a year for the next 20 years to cater for trails. It’s hard to gauge whether that amount is sufficient and whether there will be a genuine commitment from the state for improved safety, mobility and access for cyclists.

There may yet be some forward thinking in the long-term vision, but the hope of cycling enthusiasts is that like some of the trails, the plans don’t come to a dead end.


All Hail Helmet Hair by jseverin

Like most kids, I grew up riding my bike around town for exercise, entertainment, or an excuse to get out of the house. If I really wanted to go somewhere, I’d hop in the car. Now pushing 30, I’m still pretty dependent on the automobile, but I’m finding a new use for that bike. In order to reduce my environmental impact and save a few dollars at the gas pump, I’ve been trying to wean myself from motorized transport. I started out by biking just on errands but quickly became an occasional commuter with the goal of riding at least once or twice a week.

According to US Census Bureau data, I’m joining the 1.3% of Lawrencians who enjoy a good ride on their way to and from work. That’s right, just 1.3%. Although that’s more than any other community in Kansas, it seems like we could be doing better in a state that is as flat as a pancake.

So why aren’t there more riders out there? The financial, environmental, and health benefits of riding speak for themselves. There are plenty of flat (or mostly flat) bike routes throughout the city. And, while I admit that at first I was intimidated by cyclists in their brightly colored shirts and spandex, I’ve discovered that there is plenty of room on the road for the average Joe in a suit and tie. Even the few drawbacks (I occasionally arrive at work with a case of helmet hair and a little sweat on my back) can easily be solved by packing a clean shirt and a can of pomade. There are really no good excuses not to give it a try.

flickr/Bike Portland

Why not dust off the bike that has been hanging in the garage and hop on? Take a few tips from local bikers or one of the many great online resources and join others who are making 2008 the Year of the Bike. Just remember to keep an extra stick of deodorant in your desk drawer at work.

– Jeff