100 days of masking to save thousands of lives

I shared a link in November that highlighted the many stressors that our local hospital system was facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been a brutal winter, it’s not over, and it remains very serious.

I shift to a lot of administrative work in the winter, and the field work that I do is often solo or with small teams, so it’s not too disruptive to my work. (It did, however, disrupt one of N. America’s most iconic long term ecological research projects). Winter and early spring is also conference and annual meeting season; these gatherings bring fresh energy and life into our discipline, and online meetings just aren’t the same. It’s very disappointing, but it’s a light burden relative to what most are facing.

As we’ve discussed here, the pandemic is highlighting many ecological features of our common life together. Whether or not we learn the lessons, time will tell.

With the new year, however, has brought the promise of several highly effective vaccines. These are very, very good news. And now our difficult task is turning vaccines into vaccinations. This depends on the boring but vital public health and healthcare infrastructure that most of us in normal times take for granted.

I had the great pleasure to take advantage of our volunteer-time-off program to assist in the vaccine rollout at the local hospital. So did one of my colleagues, Debbie Palmer, the Executive Director of the Lake Maxinkuckee Environmental Council. You can read about her experience on her blog.

But if you are reading this post, you probably can’t do much to help manufacture more vaccines, or distribute them from the factories to the states. The rollout is starting slow and even with great effort, it is going to take many months to achieve herd immunity

I was very encouraged to see our new President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Chief Medical Advisor to the President Dr. Tony Fauci gather together last night to announce our nation’s first federal plan to tackle the virus. The 15 minute address can be seen here:

A part of that plan we can all participate in is accepting the President’s challenge for all of us to mask up for 100 days. Scientists are telling us that making this behavior universal would alone save some 50,000 lives.

Read that again…

Unfortunately, masks were made into a political statement in the United States, when they are simply an evidence-based practice to reduce (not eliminate) the transmission of the virus. It does more to protect others than it does yourself.

But the simple reason we can take the time to put a piece of cloth over our faces is that we care for others. It’s not just about us, our feelings, or our comfort. We may also feel that it’s a patriotic duty, or we may want to show solidarity, to remind people that they are not alone in their struggle.

but in humility consider others better than yourselves, mask - Google  Search | Humility, Mask quotes, Cool words

Now, I’m not saying wearing a mask is some heroic act that deserves a Presidential Medal of Freedom. To the contrary, it’s a minor inconvenience compared to what so many have borne. But neither do I have much time for cynics who deride mask-wearing as holier-than-thou exterior signs of virtue. How childish! (I’d better mute myself here before continuing to write down my thoughts on that!).

There’s a sign in our Motherhouse that I love, and it states, “Please recycle. The Earth deserves our diligence.” It gets me every time. I’m not so important that I can’t spare 10 seconds to care for our planet’s community of Life. Nor am I so important that my freedom is more important than the community’s security.

(Speaking of diligence, here’s a picture of the hardest-working lumberjills I know. Let us do the work while it is still before us.)

I have verified with testing that I have antibodies from a previous, mild COVID-19 infection. This has relieved some anxiety about my own personal safety, but I will still wear a mask. (I was definitely glad I was wearing a mask when I had to take a family member to the emergency room for a non-COVID issue… it turned out I was likely infectious at the time). We still don’t know a lot about reinfection, we don’t know if the vaccines will reduce transmission or by how much.

But most importantly, there are still vulnerable people waiting for the vaccine, and waiting for economic relief. Or they live with someone who is medically vulnerable. Or they have decided not to get vaccinated yet (including a large number of healthcare workers). Or they are one hospitalization away from bankruptcy.

Those of us with some measure of protection via a previous infection, or a vaccine, and/or a low-risk workplace setting… we need to consider others. We’ve made it this far, now let’s hold the line.

This is going to feel like it’s taking forever, but it’s not forever.

100 days would bring us into April*, past the entirety of the Lenten season. During Lent we remember our mortality, our earth-iness, the brevity of life, and our reliance on our Creator, the Sustainer of the 13.8 billion year-old Cosmos. It seems like an apt practice.

(*We will likely need to rely on masks longer than this, but that’s for another post!).

Enjoying the 30,000 Sandhill Cranes migrating through Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area, Porter County, IN. Clearly no one taught them about distancing! But humans were distanced and masked on the viewing platform.

news round-up: new year edition

Well, it’s only been 1 month since I posted some reading items, but there’s a lot to share!

Here’s a view of our Silver Maple during the ice storm + slushy snow:

The Gate of Heaven Is Everywhere (Harpers) Fred Bahnson reports on one of Richard Rohr’s conferences, and speaks to the American spiritual landscape in a way that I had been unable to articulate.

Here’s a great example of using drones to teach about prescribed fire. This is educational video about specific prescribed fire techniques, produced by the Purdue University Extension. I appreciate all the work that Jarred Brooke, extension wildlife specialist, has put in to educated the public on this and many natural resource issues.

Food for thought? French bean plants show signs of intent, say scientists (The Guardian) Many botanists dispute idea of plant sentience, but study of climbing beans sows seed of doubt

I think I first found the Voyageurs Wolf Project via social media. They do some seriously top-notch science communication work, and publish results of their research in both popular and scientific journals. Take a look at this one:

This Winter Marks an Incredible ‘Superflight’ of Hungry Winter Finches (Audubon) Across the country, birders are being treated to one of the biggest irruption years of boreal birds in recent memory.

Stimulus Bill Is Laden With Climate Provisions, Including a Phasedown of Chemical Super-Pollutants (Inside Climate News) Lawmakers call it the most significant climate victory to pass Congress in a decade. It includes aid and tax credits for wind and solar, and requires phasedown of HFCs.

They Know How to Prevent Megafires. Why Won’t Anybody Listen? (ProPublica) This is a story about frustration, about watching the West burn when you fully understand why it’s burning — and understand why it did not need to be this bad.

Successful Recovery of Bald Eagle Marks Big Win (Wayne Dale News) Indiana’s Natural Resources Commission (NRC) recently removed the bald eagle from Indiana’s list of state endangered and special concern species due to evidence of successful recovery.

The Resistance: In the President’s Relentless War on Climate Science, They Fought Back (Inside Climate News) The scientists’ efforts were often unseen and sometimes unsuccessful. But over four years, they mounted a guerilla defense that kept pressure on the Trump Administration.

Two centuries of energy transitions in one animated graphic: see how U.S. energy use has changed from 1800 to today (click to see the visualization).

How Did This Poisonous Plant Become One of the American South’s Most Long-Standing Staples? // The plant’s inherent toxicity hasn’t deterred those who swear by its delicious flavor and purported medicinal properties.

what we captured with Indiana DNR’s Project Snapshot

For the 2nd year, we participated in Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Project Snapshot program. “Snapshot Indiana is a volunteer-based trail camera program designed to collect information about a variety of wildlife species on private property in Indiana. Photos collected by volunteers provide insight into trends in wildlife populations.”

The camera was placed a couple hundred yards from Moontree Studios along a game trail, recording images for 30 days and nights. Protocols for camera placement, duration, and settings were strictly followed to ensure the DNR gets high-quality data.

I’m a big fan of citizen science. There are so many opportunities for the public to get engaged with real scientific work.

view from the game trail to the camera
view from the camera to the game trail

They shared the best photos with us. What do you think?! My favorite is the Screech Owl! They are locally common birds, but don’t appear on camera often.

racoons… always abundant, fertile, and prosperous

I also enrolled as an private landowner myself and put the camera on my property.

Apparently there are lots and lots of deer. A racoon and a squirrel were also captured. Was hoping for a fox or coyote, but no luck this time.

“hey… don’t judge! have you ever tried growing these things?!”

O Holy Night

I don’t have too much to post to round out the year, but I’d like to share this arresting, haunting and deeply moving rendition of “O Holy Night”. I think the minor key is a fitting end to 2020.

Below is a photo I took of the “Great Convergence” on the evening of the winter solstice. I wish I had had a tripod and knew how to use my equipment, but this was the best I could get. You can barely make out several moons of the red gas giant Jupiter. Yellow Saturn appears to be bulging, which I’ll go ahead and assume are the rings.

“For sure, I tell you, unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it will only be a seed. If it dies, it will give much grain.” -John 12:24.

news round up: first of winter edition

The Weekly Planet: 5 Ways to Think About Biden and Climate Change (The Atlantic) He could have the best chance to fight carbon pollution of any American leader in a decade.

Why did renewables become so cheap so fast? And what can we do to use this global opportunity for green growth? (Our World in Data)

EPA Proposes Rule Limiting Indiana, Other States’ Contribution to Downwind Ozone Pollution (Indiana Environmental Reporter) Revised Cross-State Air Pollution Rule Update attempts to limit the amount of ozone pollution and ozone precursors sent to downwind states, contributing to their violation of the 2008 ozone standard.

Indiana Gets “D” for Climate Change Education Efforts, Education Department Seeks to Improve Curriculum (Indiana Environmental Reporter) Report gives state’s public school science standards to address climate change a barely passing grade, but the state is making moves to address deficiencies.

A Biden victory positions America for a 180-degree turn on climate change (Washington Post) New administration will seek to shift U.S. off fossil fuels and expand public lands protections, but face serious opposition from Senate GOP.

Artist Hubert Duprat Collaborates with Caddisfly Larvae as They Build Aquatic Cocoons from Gold and Pearls (Colossal)

Is American Healing Even Possible? (The Atlantic) In an extended interview, the Reverend William J. Barber II explains why healing the soul of the nation will take more than returning to “normal.”“Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy for you,” he preached, reading from the Book of Matthew. “I’ve come to cut—make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law—cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God.” It seems a strange place to start, but that’s the point, he said. “There has to be division for healing.”

Australia to host the latest world’s largest solar farm (Electrek) It looks as though the latest holder of the title, “world’s largest solar farm,” is set to be Newcastle Waters in Australia’s Northern Territory. The solar farm in the Outback will be capable of producing 10 gigawatts and will be so big that it will be able to be seen from space. The Newcastle Waters solar farm, which will sit on a 10,000-square-kilometer (3,861-square-mile) cattle station between Alice Springs and Darwin, will cost US $20 billion… two-thirds of the power will be exported to Singapore by high-voltage direct current undersea cables. The Newcastle Waters solar farm and Sun Cable will provide around one-fifth of Singapore’s electricity needs.

Exclusive: GM, Ford knew about climate change 50 years ago (E&E News) Scientists at two of America’s biggest automakers knew as early as the 1960s that car emissions caused climate change, a monthslong investigation by E&E News has found. The discoveries by General Motors and Ford Motor Co. preceded decades of political lobbying by the two car giants that undermined global attempts to reduce emissions while stalling U.S. efforts to make vehicles cleaner.

AEP to Switch 100% of Cars and Light-Duty Truck Fleet to Electric Vehicles by 2030. (Press Release). American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP) today announced that it will accelerate its electric vehicle purchases with the goal of replacing 100% of its 2,300 cars and light-duty trucks with EV alternatives by 2030. AEP’s total fleet is composed of nearly 8,000 vehicles, including medium- and heavy- duty vehicles. By converting medium- and heavy-duty vehicles as electric or hybrid models become available, AEP will achieve its goal of electrifying 40% of its entire on-road vehicle fleet in less than 10 years.

An Offshore Wind Farm on Lake Erie Moves Closer to Reality, but Will It Ever Be Built? (InsideClimateNews) Icebreaker would be the first freshwater wind farm in North America. But after more than a decade, it is still jumping hurdles and polarizing environmental groups.

It’s been a thousand years since Colorado has burned like this (The Phoenix) Colorado’s three largest wildfires in history have been in the past three months. Wildfires on this scale are exceedingly rare without a boost from climate change.

L.A.’s coast was once a DDT dumping ground (LA Times) Not far from Santa Catalina Island, in an ocean shared by divers and fishermen, kelp forests and whales, David Valentine decoded unusual signals underwater that gave him chills. The UC Santa Barbara scientist was supposed to be studying methane seeps that day, but with a deep-sea robot on loan and a few hours to spare, now was the chance to confirm an environmental abuse that others in the past could not. He was chasing a hunch, and sure enough, initial sonar scans pinged back a pattern of dots that popped up on the map like a trail of breadcrumbs…


“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” -Aldo Leopold

this Thursday >> Solar Energy (Virtual) Workshop: North Central Indiana

Solar energy has seemed out of reach of most Americans for years. Things are rapidly changing, though: Prices have gone down by 65% in ten years. And incentives are in place (but will phase out).

Come join the Logansport/Cass County Chamber of Commerce, Ag Technologies, Ancilla College, and the Hoosier Environmental Council, who have partnered to host a free presentation on solar energy!

Who: Homeowners, business-people, pastors & lay leaders, school administrators, municipal & county leaders

What: A presentation focused on the ideal locations for installing solar, ways to pay for solar energy systems, and opportunities to grow solar in the area and beyond.

RSVP: Please reserve tickets via the Eventbrite link!

more electric vehicle chargers coming to the Michiana area

The Indiana Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust Fund Committee recently awarded funding for 56 Level 2 electric vehicle charging stations across the state, including 11 sites in the MACOG region in northern Indiana.

The projects follow an application filed in response to a request for proposals issued by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

MACOG coordinated an application for 10 locations, which were awarded a total of $90,000, including the cities of Elkhart, Goshen, Mishawaka, Plymouth, South Bend (in partnership with the Potawatomi Zoo), and Warsaw, the Town of Culver and the Goshen Public Library. MACOG is providing a $500 match for each station.


Click here for the rest of the MACOG press release.

These are similar stations as was installed in the Peace Garden in 2017. In this case, I was able to work with MACOG and city leadership during the application process to evaluate proposed locations in downtown Plymouth. PHJC also provided cost-share funds for Plymouth’s proposal, critical to getting it across the finish line.

Even though we are still not moving fast enough to address the climate crisis, it’s always encouraging to see steps moving forward.

Sparky sips electrons at a public station in downtown Goshen, IN, looking on at the City of Goshen’s Tesla Model 3.