news round up, fall edition

Indigenous fire practices once shaped the Northwest — and they might again (Crosscut) For centuries, settlers suppressed the Native burning and wildfires that enriched and protected Western ecosystems. Four experts explain why we need it back.

Our Burning Planet: Why We Must Learn to Live With Fire (Yale e360) By suppressing all wildfires and incessantly burning fossil fuels, humans have upset the role that fire has historically played in providing ecological balance. We need to rethink our view of fire and accept its presence by changing how we manage lands and plan our communities.

Imagining a Different World (Stephen Glass blog) To Save the Earth will take much energetic ecological restoration and much more. This is a time for the bold and the need for ecological restoration has never been greater. Not only do we need the technical and scientific knowledge and skills of ecological restoration, but we also for the assumptions about the world and values that infuse and inspire ecological restoration.

Our Burning Planet: Why We Must Learn to Live With Fire (Yale e360) By suppressing all wildfires and incessantly burning fossil fuels, humans have upset the role that fire has historically played in providing ecological balance. We need to rethink our view of fire and accept its presence by changing how we manage lands and plan our communities

As Miami Keeps Building, Rising Seas Deepen Its Social Divide (Yale e360) The science of what is going to happen here — higher seas, increased heat, intensifying storms — is certain. Still, the developers, real estate agents, and many buyers continue to play a long con against the rising tide, pretending that all is well in South Florida, even though some 10 percent of its land area will be under water if the ocean rises just 2 feet. The irrational exuberance of the high-end real estate sector is fed, in part, by foreign investment seeking to park excess capital in luxury, high-rise beachfront condos.

Duke Energy Receives Floating Solar Contract from Fort Bragg (Solar Industry) The U.S. Army’s Fort Bragg in North Carolina will soon be home to the largest floating solar plant in the Southeast – a 1.1 MW system as part of a Utility Energy Service Contract (UESC) awarded to Duke Energy.

Vistra to retire 6.8 GW coal, blaming ‘irreparably dysfunctional MISO market‘ (Utility Dive) The company owns seven coal-fired power plants across the Midwest, mostly within the territory of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), and would retire the majority of its plants through 2025-2027 “or sooner should economic or other conditions dictate,” the company said in a statement. Alongside those retirements, Vistra plans to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century and add nearly 1,000 MW of solar, plus one energy storage project by the end of 2022.

Op-ed: Clean energy powers thousands of Indiana homes. It also buoys the pandemic economy. (IndyStar)

Amazon unveils its Rivian-made electric delivery van with cool interior (Electrek)

New Climate Maps Show a Transformed United States (ProPublica) warming temperatures and changing rainfall will drive agriculture and temperate climates northward, while sea level rise will consume coastlines and dangerous levels of humidity will swamp the Mississippi River valley… Taken with other recent research showing that the most habitable climate in North America will shift northward and the incidence of large fires will increase across the country, this suggests that the climate crisis will profoundly interrupt the way we live and farm in the United States.

IDEM Closes Door on Ephemeral Stream Protection (Indiana Environmental Reporter) Agency announces it will no longer regulate rain-dependent streams as part of its federal water quality certification

New poll shows Hoosiers prioritize the environment over the economy, even among Republicans (IndyStar)

Op-ed: Environment, political action are priorities for Indiana voters, poll finds (IndyStar)

The Age of Electric Cars Is Dawning Ahead of Schedule (NYT)

Walmart outlines climate-friendly goal to decarbonize operations within 20 years (Yahoo! News) Walmart (WMT) is doubling-down its sustainability efforts to combat climate change, laying out a plan to be a zero-emission company across its global operations by 2040. On Monday, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said the world’s biggest retailer wants to “play an important role in transforming the world’s supply chains to be regenerative.”

Marshall County Solar Task Force wraps up its work

Rural counties throughout the Midwest are trying to figure out how to appropriately deploy renewable energy investments across the landscape. Utility-scale wind farms came first. Up until several years ago, photovoltaic (PV) solar energy was something of an expensive “luxury” in these parts. But after consistent price declines and improved technology, we’ve arrived at the point where the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency said recently, “I see solar becoming the new king of the world’s electricity markets.” The IEA’s recent report states “Solar photovoltaics are now cheaper than plants fired by coal and natural gas in most nations.”

During our solar research in 2017, we visited IMPA’s 700 kW solar park in Argos, built in 2015. It remains (until next year) the largest solar installation in North-Central Indiana. The new solar farm at Notre Dame will be 29 times larger.

This is in line with what our local utility NIPSCO found when they put an RFP out on the market for new energy. That this happened in coal-dominated Indiana sparked headlines across the country. On economic considerations alone, we have to switch sources, to say nothing of the massive human health and ecological benefits such a transition would mean.

In February of this year, the Marshall County Commissioners imposed a one-year moratorium on all PV solar installations greater than 10 acres. (For scale, our 515 kW (DC) solar installation at Ancilla College is about 1.5 acres). They felt that there were simply too many unresolved issues around large solar installations that needed careful review. The Commissioners then created a Solar Task Force that was to come up with the framework for responsible standards related to large solar farms.

a frosty sunrise shining on our first solar installation, at Moontree Studios

Myself and others were asked to be on the Task Force. We met in May, June, July and August, pulling in information from model ordinances that had already been adopted by other rural counties, and carefully considering how to balance private property rights & the public good. A few of us also participated in a regional workshop where many of these issues were discussed.

The process involved a good amount of back and forth, and I do feel that we were able to come up with reasonable standards. You can see these amendments to the ordinance at the following link (let me know if it doesn’t download):

The amendments were considered by the Plan Commission, and passed by that body on August 27th.

The ordinance then passed it’s first reading before the Commissioners on Sept. 21st. It is up for a second reading this coming Monday morning, Oct. 19th, around 9:30 AM EST. The ordinance needs to pass three readings in order to be adopted. I will be present in case any clarifications are needed about our process or the resultant amendments (see here for a fact sheet addressing many common concerns).

This current process is simply for creating a framework for responsible energy development in the county and is not about any proposed project in particular, which would have to pass through it’s own permitting & approval process.

If you’d like to reach out to the Commissioners, their contact information is here. There are certainly a lot of consequential decisions before us as a county, and I appreciate their work as public servants in trying to discern what is in the best long-term interest of our community.

The REES Theatre shows off it’s brand new PV solar installation. The final ribbon cutting on this amazing restoration project is scheduled for 2021.

yes, now we need to talk about flies

Last night was the one and only Vice Presidential debate.

It had everything we’ve come to expect: sharp barbs and side-eyes, answering questions that weren’t asked, and constantly running over the allotted time.

But there was quite a bit of buzz about a surprise guest appearance:

NPR’s headline this morning.

Yes, a fly landed on the Vice President’s head.

People on social media had many questions that night. After circumventing the plexiglass barriers and refusing to wear a mask over it’s proboscis, would the fly need to quarantine for 14 days? Would it be given equal time for answers as the other candidates? Would it prefer left-wing policies, right-winged, or be content to just have a balance of both wings? (And of course there were other questions and comments that aren’t fit to print here).

Now, before you swarm me with partisan accusations, and lest you think flies are trying to make a political point, recall that President Obama also had a run-in with a fly:

Former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg was also visited by some winged insect during the presidential primary debates. Both Mayor Pete and current Vice President Pence being Hoosiers, I thought the insect quip of the night goes to this guy:

To be honest, I was simply happy for a moment of levity in an otherwise contentious and difficult time for our nation. If nothing else, it is simple reminder that we inhabit and are sustained by a living, breathing world.

In fact, the candidates were asked directly about about the climate crisis, and discussed wildfires, hurricanes, and soil & water quality. Voters should listen to the responses that were given.

BUTpeople are talking about flies! So yes, I’m happy to quickly talk about flies before the news cycle moves on!!!

“True flies” are insects in the order Diptera. Most adult insects have two sets of wings, but in Dipterans, the 2nd set has been reduced to knubs called “halteres” which they use as sensory organs for their acrobatic flight.

Nearly 1,000,000 species of flies are though to exist, though only 1/8 of these have been formally described by scientists.

We are all pretty familiar with house flies, and perhaps fruit flies. But there are so many more! Let me share a few photos of our fly “candidates” that I’m familiar with.

(After consulting with my lizard – err, I mean, my lawyer – I need to add this note: this post does not constitute an endorsement of any Dipteran family, sub-family, genus, or species).

Candidate #1 is a “hover fly,” from the fly family Syrphidae. One species of hover fly appears in large numbers in late summer to annoyingly but harmlessly cover exposed legs and arms. They are erroneously referred to as “sweat bees” but they are usually just small hover flies.

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Yellowjacket Hover Fly (Melesia virginiensis)

This hover fly, however, is substantially larger than the commonest species, and is the size and coloration of a yellow jacket wasp. Nice trick! It’s policy positions are often painted as extreme and dangerous, but it’s actually no revolutionary. It’s harmless, really. This one fooled me for a couple seconds before I got a closer look and a photo. Not everyone is as they appear!

Candidate #2 I found at home, a Robber Fly (aka Assassin Fly) from the family Asilidae. Don’t be fooled… if you are a small house fly, or frankly anything small, you’d better watch out for this one.

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This one doesn’t mind being painted as nasty and vicious – it is. It bides its time, then always goes for the jugular. Don’t expect it to play by gentlemanly norms and standards, it will do whatever it takes to win. Say what you will, but you can’t paint it as duplicitous.

Candidate #3 is a species of Bot Fly from the family Oestridae that I found here at work.

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Hmmm… just another House Fly-looking thing, right? Small, drab, harmless, perhaps a little homely. Hey look, it even provides pollinator services by visiting flowers! I’ll just vote for this one, it’s good enough.

WRONG! This sleepy thing is actually a mammal parasite. Why do you vote for policies that harm your own people?! I’ll never get it.

(Seriously though, there is only one species in the Americas that regularly parasitizes humans, it’s in the tropical regions only).

Ok, on to Candidate #4: the Crane Fly, from the family Tipulidae. Photographed here on my garage door.

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WHAT?!!! That’s a giant 2″ mosquito! Swat it! Certainly don’t vote for it! It will suck our national coffers dry and prey on your children!

Or… not. Sure it’s big and conspicuous. You may find one flying around in your house. But they can’t hurt you, at all. Once your pulse recovers to a normal speed, you might even appreciate it’s elegance. The other day when I went for a run, the lawn was filled with many hundreds of these rising up out of the grass.

Don’t judge everything by its appearance. Crane flies are pretty slow, ungainly fliers. Just catch it in a big plastic bag and let it outside.

You may be asking… what is the meaning of all these flies? Were they planted (or on plants?) Are they tiny government surveillance drones? Were they intentionally infected with COVID-19 and released into the room? Is it all a metaphor, a harbinger of the feast or famine to come in these Last Days?

Really, I’m just an ecologist from rural Indiana. I’m not being paid off by “Big Diptera.” Please trust me when I say this post is not meant to be a Rorschach-test with hidden messages about candidates, it’s just an opportunity that came along in an unexpected moment.

Truly, I made it up on the fly.