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Showing posts from December, 2015

The Fracking Gamble

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+Gail Tverberg 's theory about the deflationary spiral of oil prices (she thinks we are locked in to a price slide that will bottom out around $20/barrel) also applies to natural gas.  The fact that Chesapeake Energy (the U.S.'s second largest natural gas producer) is headed toward junk status supports this corollary.  A lot of Chesapeake's problem stems from land speculation with the intention of drilling and fracking.  These land deals were conducted with money from bright-eyed investors who never understood the economics of fracking and are now realizing how little real value most of the shale plays held.  Chesapeake's co-founder, Aubrey McClendon, seemed to know when to leave the party, as he departed the company in 2013.

He chose the name for the company out of a liking for the Chesapeake Bay area, despite the company's Oklahoma roots.  From Oklahoma, Chesapeake Energy's gas pipelines grew toward the Chesapeake Bay like a mycelium seeking humid climes to …

The Future of Mass Transportation

One of Maryland author John Michael Greer's oddities (other than being an archdruid)
is that his preferred mode of intercity transportation is passenger rail.  In fact, he chose his adopted town, Cumberland, MD, partly because of its proximity to a working train station. The motivation for he and his wife's move to this Allegheny rust-belt arts-centric village was that we would soon enough become a more regionally-scaled economy, reverting from a global or national scale.  Underlying that conviction was the view that oil would not be abundantly cheap in the near future, driven by the occurrence of global peak oil. Rail travel would then become relatively more important.

It looks like JMG's move is now going to be validated, as we've arrived at peak oil. Although oil prices are much lower than in recent history, the price drop is driven by falling demand, which, along with a host of other commodities, shows that the world is entering a global recession. The fact that th…

Don't Wait for the Lifeboats

The Brown- and Green-tech scenarios David Holmgren postulates are only half of the picture.  When you factor in the effects of a rapid decline in worldwide oil production, the scenarios become "Lifeboats" and "Earth Steward," respectively, with Earth Steward being the lesser of four evils. Murphy's law favors the greater of the four evils, especially as we find oil production to be past peak with no viable substitute.  Assuming oil production will decline more rapidly than our ability to power down in a controlled fashion gives us the Lifeboat scenario, where civilization fragments and humans die off by half.  If you think it couldn't get any worse than that, read Revelation or Dante's Inferno or a Cormac McCarthy novel; our capacity for suffering seems almost unlimited.  Yet, it is so troubling to plan for the Lifeboat scenario, much less act on that premise, that we are loath to even consider it.

Holmgren's solution to our predicament is to accele…

Climate Refugees

Did you notice the environmental subtext in the latest Star Wars movie contrasting the despoiled, brown desert world with the overgrown blue-green planet where freedom reigns?  It strains credulity to think that life could be sustained as depicted on the desert planet, while the blue-green planet offers a multitude of niches where creatures could luxuriate.  Earth is a mix of these two worlds, but with the desert gaining more ground every year.

Included in the desert are many cityscapes that are denuded of flora, paved over, serving as commons for swarms of seemingly unconcerned occupants.  This has been our direction since the time of Nimrod and the industrial revolution magnified the devastation many times over.  David Holmgren classes the two types of environment as results of brown- and green-tech.

Maryland is on course for more land "development" in the years ahead, but forest canopy cover is required to be a minimum of 40%, meaning we won't end up like the desert …

Pushing back the Invaders

There is something of a tragedy in places where natives are driven into minority status.  Who knows what the waves of climate and resource war migrations will do to Europe in terms of cultural upheaval? The wild kingdom endures its own invasions of animals, plants, and insects, driven, as well, by climate change and human exploitation.  Often, the invasive species can be predatory, as were the settlers vs. the Native Americans and certain Islamic extremists living in the free world.

As a master gardener intern, I've been trained to side with the natives in their fight to possess territory.  This sounds like a convenient simplifying precept until you start asking for native plants at local nurseries.  Browsing through the Native Plant Guide for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, I picked four ground cover plants that I decided to shop for to get the best price from nurseries as far as 50 miles away.  It turned out that price wasn't the issue, since not a single one was available at…

Fruits and Nuts

The forest garden I intend to plant will consist of 25 black walnut trees and several compatible species.  That limits the field to only a few species which don't seem to mind the juglone (5-hydroxy-alphanapthaquinone) that black walnut roots secrete.  A recommended native plant guild for black walnut* from Maryland permaculturist Michael Judd consists of:

Goumi bush - producing a juicy, red berry in June (use 2 varieties; won't tolerate wet soil)Persimmon* - delicious Diospyros (Food of the Gods) virginiana (requires full sun; dioecious {requires a male tree}; half the height of black walnut)Paw paw - custard cream tropical fruit for making smoothies (full sun best; half the height of persimmon)Mulberry - exotic berry flavor (tolerates shade; a bit larger than paw paw tree)Currants - tart to sweet from black to pink nutritious berries (a shrub that grows well next to trees)Black raspberry - (not out-of-control like blackberries)Alpine strawberry - smaller fruit than commercial…

A Candy Store

Speaking of treasure troves, stumbling across the new Maryland online nursery has opened up a glorious new chapter in my forest gardening efforts.  Whereas, formerly, the only affordable and accessible source for me to buy native plants was the annual Master Gardener plant sale in Prince Frederick, where I would have to pay at least double the online nursery price, plants are now available online throughout the growing season and early orders are possible.  A minimum order of 25 plants is required and a minimum shipping charge of $20 applies to each order ($30 if your state doesn't adjoin Maryland).  Considering that retail nurseries charge over $150 for a young tree, and you could get 150 seedlings at this website for that price, it's a huge bargain.

This outlet is not for commercial resellers.  As the DNR website stipulates:

"Landowners who purchase seedlings from the John S. Ayton Nursery agree to:Provide a planting report upon department requestProtect plantings as mu…

Please Don't Feed the Algae

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Global warming isn't the primary cause of all environmental problems, but it still plays a hand in most.  Take the Upper Middle River outside of Baltimore where, last month, 200,000 fish were suffocated by an algae bloom that led to anaerobic conditions in the water.  The algae bloomed from a combination of warm temperature and an over-abundance of nutrients in the water.  When the weather cooled, the algae died, decaying through a chain of microbial feeding frenzies that consumed dissolved oxygen and released toxins damaging fishes' gills.  Dead fish compounded the effect of dead algae. Not to say that we will suffocate from all of the die-offs occurring around us (though the oxygen concentration in our air is falling), but this is an example of how the fate of a lesser ecosystem occupant can dramatically affect higher species.

The Maryland Department of the Environment has not identified any single pollution source as the trigger for the algae bloom, but leaves open the pos…

Insanity Checks

Now that the COP-21 Paris climate confab has devolved into muddling over short-term economic privilege instead of the physical threat of global warming, let's see how this sharpens our focus of future first-order impacts nearer to home.  Taking at face value the effects listed in the draft 2015 Maryland Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act Plan, we can assume that the worst case is now the most likely within most of our lifetimes, since Maryland's and most other parties' minuscule contributions to the solution will be of little consequence against the outpouring of fossil fuel and peat gas emissions arising from the Far and Middle East.  Here are aspects of Maryland's inescapable future environment and some checks on future decisions that could proveinsane if we follow our usual course.


Sea Level Rise over 4 feet: The U.S. Navy has new port real estate at the Solomons Recreation Center in lieu of the industrial area.  Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy can make it to their se…

Keep the Home Fires Burning

Most analyses of the greenhouse gas emissions problem hold the precept that we cannot quickly reduce our use of energy.  Hence, the introduction of technology to displace fossil fuel usage with more sustainable sources must serve as a substitute source of energy.  Oftentimes, the substitute is nearly as polluting as the original, or of dubious marginal value since it is difficult to estimate emissions from all potential sources.

Likewise, it is difficult to estimate the contribution of ecosystems to CO2 reduction.  This is why biochar is struggling to be recognized as an important, if small, part of the solution to the problem of global warming.  Biochar is made with little, if any, production of useful energy compared to incineration of biomass, which produces little, if any, biochar.  This is why the National Academy of Sciences gave biochar such short shrift in their recent study of carbon sequestration approaches. Maryland, unfortunately, adopted this study as the basis for seque…