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.

‘Running out of everything.’ Michiana doctors, nurses say COVID is pushing them to the limit

I wanted to share this article from the South Bend Tribune with testimony from our frontline medical workers in the N-Central Indiana region. It is short & direct, please read it.

Our family recently had a little medical scare and had to make a quick visit to the ER (everyone is fine now). We are very grateful that we were seen quickly and able to get the attention we needed.

The woman in front of us had a 1 year old that hadn’t been able to keep any food down for 48 hrs. On any given day, in addition to those with COVID-19 issues, we may find ourselves needing medical services.

We are all lamenting the disruption of our holiday routines, but we can be creative and make do without in-person family gatherings this year. We have technology. Our healthcare workers do not even have time for a lunch break, much less a holiday vacation.

I was updating my daughters yesterday on the COVID situation, the promise of a vaccine, expectations for the winter, etc. My daughter’s birthday is not until the end of next month. She said, “I already know I won’t be able to have my friends over. But that’s okay, because we have our family.”

Far too much will be asked of a few of us. But we can all help. Let’s consider all we can do to avoid any points of exposure that aren’t absolutely necessary, and find ways to stand in solidarity with our frontline workers during this trying time.

(UPDATE: here’s a note showing that contact tracers in Indiana and Michigan do not have sufficient staff do trace all cases)

Amber Hodges 1.jpg
(photo from the SBT article)

Marshall County: we need your help assessing community health priorities

The St. Joseph Health System does a survey every 3 years to assess the community health needs of the region. The results are only useful if we, the public, provide good data about our own needs.

Having had a few glimpses of the design, implementation, and analysis of this process for one 3-yr-cycle already, I will say I’m an enthusiastic supporter. This level of rigor is rare for social agencies/non-profits, and it’s sorely needed.

You are participate in the survey here (English & Spanish copies are available). The deadline is approaching soon. Thank you!

late season invasives spraying

And so begins the Midwest’s Season of Gray & Brown. Most of the green in the landscape is gone, the pretty leaves have flown off the trees (yes, now even the oaks are reluctantly letting go).

Most, but not all.

Many of the invasive species in our area (which I’ve written about them previously) maintain their leaves longer into the fall. Perniciously, they also emerge extra early in the spring. As Michigan State U. extension says:

All of these honeysuckles are especially successful in dominating natural areas because of their ability to leaf out extremely early in the spring and remain green well into the fall. This means they have a leg up in these settings, essentially shading and out-competing native plants. These honeysuckles can eventually form dense thickets where little else can grow, including tree regeneration.

Land stewards can use this to our advantage, however. For a few weeks, it becomes very easy to spot populations of autumn olive and bush honeysuckle. “Wait… when did that population show up!?? Sigh…”

Not only are they green and visible, they are still photosynthesizing, unlike most of the other (dormant) plants. We can thus target them with herbicide from a backpack sprayer, and the plants move the chemical into their vascular system. On cold days this the plants are mostly shut down, but there are several warm days (~50 deg F or higher) where this is an effective strategy.

Even a single person with a backpack sprayer can make a lot of progress in a short time.

Blue dye is mixed with the herbicide to help the steward visualize where the chemical is applied.

One of the reasons this is effective is that it can be a great way to reduce collateral damage from overspray. Just “nuking” a wide swath around a single invasive plant is counter productive, because we are trying to get native species to occupy the same root space.

For example, in the photo below, the invasive Autumn Olive shrub is on the left, green and photosynthesizing. The location is a roadside ditch that has a substantial population of high quality native prairie wildflowers. On the right are the withered remnants of the leaves of the Prairie Dock. This perennial wildflower has abandoned this tissue for the year and survives overwinter as roots and buds, so it’s of little consequences if a few drops of herbicide land on the shriveled remains.

I was also hitting some invasive Poison Hemlock in the ditches, which is an increasing problem in the region. Then I came across the following:

There are some native Asters growing in and around the Hemlock. I could spray one without hitting the other. I skipped this one, knowing I could come back next spring and cut the flowering stalk of the Hemlock plant, interrupting it’s biennial lifecycle and giving the Aster the chance to spread.

These photos are all from Nov. 6. We’ve had a pretty hard freeze since then, so conditions have changed already. But there were still some goldenrods blooming, and insects foraging. The “growing season” is a simplification we use to make sense of our rhythms, but the reality is that many plants and creatures often live, move and have their being even in the cold. That’s a resilience we can aspire to!

1 Gigawatt

Since our first solar energy system came online in Sep. 2018, our total solar production has now exceeded 1.00 Gigawatt-hour (GWh) of electricity! Yes, that’s 1 million killowatt-hours (kWh), the units we are used to reading on our electric bills.

>> This has displaced more than 1.7 million lbs of CO2e (carbon dioxide-equivalent), in addition to other pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, lead, and others.

>> This is enough energy to power 111 Hoosier households for a year, or drive around the world 133 times in an electric vehicle, or power a single light bulb for 11,415 years!

And that’s not all!

A new report out covering solar installations at K-12 schools shows that Indiana is #5 in that nation for total solar capacity! 41 MW have been installed so far, or 6 watts per capita. Good work, Hoosiers.