Friday, June 25, 2021

When Blue Skies are 'Too Blue': Reprint

The Pandemic has given all of us some time to reflect and in doing so, some interesting questions have popped up. Now 10 weeks into researching and writing a book on nutrition and human health, I noticed the extremely blue skies during a slightly volatile winter.  The sky was just "too blue" for early March and it made me wary.  Blue skies belong in deserts not East Coast rural farmland. Was I finally losing my perspective after a year at home or is this nagging feeling that something is wrong worth looking into?

I suppose I started noticing the sky after my granddaughter was born. Always fascinated by clouds and stars myself, I hoped that she would come to Grammie's and sit on the back stoop and imagine what the clouds were.  But as i dreamt of those days, I got a funny feeling that might never be possible.  I hadn't seen actual CLOUDS in a while--you know, the kind that move across the sky and blot out the sun for a few brief moments only to travel on as quickly as they had come. Regardless of what the weather predicted, the skies here were overcast or completely clear.  The few times that the fluffy, white variety made an appearance, they were low on the horizon and never high up in the sky.  What had happened to the clouds that I knew as a child?  What did that mean for the long summer ahead?  What did it mean for the environment that depended on them? 

I had stopped listening to the panicked news reports of greenhouse gases causing global warming a long time ago.  I did not doubt there was something out there that was wrong with the environment but I knew carbon dioxide gas was not the cause of the heat wave that would hit every July nor did it keep my car windows from icing over for several months in the winter. 

 My education as a kid had been a good one.  As a child of the Space Race when the term STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) was first coined, a good understanding of science was one thing I had been given.  Following that with a college education that included physical science, sociology, psychology, microbiology and human growth and development, I knew the mass of a carbon dioxide atom  was not large enough to hold heat for very long.  To further punctuate the misguided nature of greenhouse gases, conduction of heat required sustained contact between molecules  and gas molecules did not touch each other often enough or long enough to do that.    As a farmer/ gardener, I had experienced the difference between soil temperature and air temperature every March.  Planting could start when soil temperatures reached 55 degrees even when air temperatures were much lower.  The sun warmed the Earth, not carbon based gases.

But if greenhouse gases weren't destroying the clouds as computer models said so, what was causing this phenomenon.  More importantly, why did no one realize that without clouds, the suns rays would not be reflected back into space where such radiation could do little harm. 

Surely, science had not become that ingrained into computers that people did not realize that clouds had a vitally important role in redistributing moisture and minerals around the globe.  As beautiful as they are, clouds perform a major cleaning process in the environment by taking high concentrations of mineral compounds (gaseous) and with water as a kind of glue, returning them to farmland and vegetation far away from where cities produce the nasty smog.  

As I was pondering the science that was so simply taught to me in elementary school, I wondered if people understood why greenhouse gas theory was wrong and why blue skies were not a good thing to have.  It had been fifty years since the Clean Air Act of 1970 was passed, had they been taught something different than what I had been taught? 

I gave one more look into the bright blue and cold Spring sky and realized this was a concept I needed to research further.  What had happened to the clouds? And sadly, why was noone concerned about their disappearance? 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Questions Every Person Should Ask About Environmental Policy

This article is posted to complement the release of the author's first book, 

Air Pollution's the Answer! NOW Available on digital and print platforms.

The ability to ask questions and, more importantly, the need to ask them is a kind of intuition that comes with age, not just individually but culturally.  As we carry phones that are capable of answering our every unknown, the idea that the human race does not know how to ask a question will have readers clicking the next page as quickly as a finger tap.  But, had a few more questions been asked and fewer judgements been made, what is now called Environmental Policy may not have even needed to be an issue. 

Education, as defined by something more than the ability to read a public notice or write your name, has only been around for a century or so and was never intended to create a world of college graduates.  Recognizing that people were easily victimized without a basic education, new settlements and poorer communities saw to the opening of a school as soon as was physically possible.  Only when conformity became a workforce necessity did government finally get into the education debate.  The ability to think independently and ask questions did not work well in the days following the industrial revolution. Employers needed workers with common knowledge and common beliefs.  In 1917, the Smith-Hughes Act would be the first in a long line of education bills that would standardized what American workers needed to know and value.   While those skills have turned the country into a great economic power, they have also contributed to a country divided by misinformation, political grandstanding and distrust.  Climate change is a direct response to a society that was taught to conform not to think. 

In some respects, the country has regressed into a different kind of illiteracy. With the advent of the computer, it has become the god to which all questions are asked.  It tells us what is fact and as long as the computer says so, the information is never questioned.

Before an answer can be found for climate change, the public must question its faith in the computer and the value of its information.  People must ask questions and expect more than copied and pasted answers.  Here are three questions about environmental policy that can, and should, be asked. 

Why is infrastructure always the answer? 

The Great Depression was a horrible time in this country, both financially and environmentally.  The steps taken by Presidents Roosevelt and Truman had never been done before but put the country to work while giving it something people didn't know they needed.  The goal of infrastructure, then and now, is two-fold: to put people to work and to build something that is not necessarily needed. How does the conversation change when someone asks a different question?  What do we have to show for all this infrastructure? 

 As FDR and Truman laid out the plan to put people to work, we can only imagine the discussions. 

FDR to Adviser:  And who will be responsible for the upkeep on all these CCC projects?

Advisers: Once the economy is back to "normal" there will be more than enough tax revenue to keep things in good shape, Mr. President.  What we are doing here is top-of-the-line.  These improvements will last for decades and bring huge amounts of revenue into the states. They will be so proud of what we have given them that they will be happy to keep them like new!

FDR: Well then, since that problem has been solved, Let's get on with it!

Of course, that isn't how things worked in the end. Every locality and state is grappling with the cost of maintaining parks, highways, drainage projects and utilities that it neither asked for nor had any experience in managing.  Yet, the practice of hiring cheap labor to do back-breaking work is an institution the American workforce may never overcome. 

Environmentally, what is it that is needed here?  For most, if not all of its history, the United States as chosen to go bigger rather than better.  More land, more  jobs and more people have been the goals. Environmentally, those areas which were the most successful are now hurting the most from its environmental cost.  Should Americans trust the rhetoric like the illiterate public it once was or should it ask a lot more questions of our elected representatives, expect them to have a basic education in something other than economics and the law and require the infrastructure to be compliant with the environment not the other way around? 

In the eighty-five years since WWII ended, has the goal been to grow the economy or build something just because it could be built.  Hard and inflexible substances such as steel and concrete go against the environment which is constantly changing.  How will the environment respond when we again try to mold it to human expectations?

Why is the principle of global warming called "greenhouse gases"?

Did you know that the man who is credited with developing "greenhouse gas theory" did not invent the greenhouse, nor does it appear that he ever owned one?  So why would a person who had no experience with a greenhouse decide to call his work on radiation "greenhouse gases"?  Moreover, what would make him draw such sweeping conclusions that are now used to predict the end of Earth as we know it? That is a good question and one that the computer and internet never seem to address. 

Much like now, greenhouses in the mid 1800s had one purpose and only one purpose, to grow plants when the weather did not allow it to be done outdoors.  For the average person, it did not matter how it worked but that lemon trees could be grown in the dead of winter as a cure for scurvy and that orchids and other fresh flowers were always available to decorate the homes of the wealthy.  Additionally, medicinal herbs were grown as birth control, laxatives and immune boosters long before today's natural food trend became big business.

But, to the scientific community, particularly those who studied sunlight, the greenhouse presented a puzzle to be solved.  Anyone who tried to explain how the greenhouse worked named their theory "greenhouse something". Just like the company who markets the candle in the image above to get customers to buy this product over others, the word "greenhouse" was used as an attention getting device. The competition in the scientific world was great, even then, and the use of such a word had just as much weight as the brand Apple had in the 1970s. Multiple scientists worked on similar findings which became the basis of our knowledge of heat instead of climate.   It is only because of the internet and people believing what is on it that greenhouse gas theory has morphed into something that is different than the study of sunlight.  Just because one scientist concluded that three gases held heat does not mean they are causing the planet to warm up and die.  Climate change is real but if carbon dioxide, ozone, and water vapor had really been to blame, the planet Earth would have died eons ago. 

Could Green Energy and its policies be responsible for shifts in climate?

Once the idea of carbon-based gases is thrown out as a cause, what could possibly be to blame?  Yes, human population has tripled in the last fifty years but there is no indication that population alone would cause such changes.  Even without people, the number of animals producing carbon dioxide far out number mere humans.  Could it be that, instead of finding the answer, leaders are reacting to fear rather than fact.  Is it that fear that is causing climate change?

How many times have harmful treatments been used as ways to “cure” a problem?Dunking and stoning of women seen as witches was common to cleanse their souls.  Cutting off hands to stop stealing or blinding because a man looked at the wrong woman did not stop either behavior.  It might be the use of leeches that fits this scenario the best.  Common two centuries ago, using leeches to drain bad blood out often continued until the patient could not restore itself and died.  Could it be that modern science by going after and removing gases is using the same concept on the atmosphere? 

Discussions of what needs to be done to ward off climate change have become unbelievably scary. Reducing carbon dioxide would jeopardize our food supply, turn our landscaping and yards to dirt even with rain and lead to massive starvation. 

As Americans are we willing to let this happen all because we trust computer models more than practical knowledge gained by asking questions?  I hope not. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The Emotional Toll of Patience: Could Gun Violence Be Linked to Bad Customer Service?

It has been 48 hours since I asked an online customer service rep to address a problem with the company's website. The details are not really important but suffice it to say that this is not that different from a half dozen or more other interactions I have had in the last year or so. Since resolution of my problem does not seem likely to come anytime soon, my choices are to write about it or take it out on those around me.  My family is ever so grateful I have elected to spout off in writing, 

 The question so many in America fail to ask is what happens when someone does not have a more socially acceptable outlet through which to vent a growing level of frustration? Do we as a public even understand how frustrating our economy is?  Is violence a "gun" problem or a "lifestyle" problem?  It might be time to look at violence in this country as something more than a second amendment right.

Unapologetic Stubbornness

From the President all the way down to the fast food worker who cannot seem to get your order straight, there is an unapologetic stubbornness that makes it difficult to not feel angry. Patience may be a virtue but it looks like procrastination when addressing a problem.  The first amendment gives citizens the right to express an opinion--not to assume that opinion is more valuable than others and not for other viewpoints to be sidelined because it isn't profitable. With politicians taking a stand of division, why would businesses, medical staff, and even families feel the need to solve a problem rather than to dig in their heels and wait  until the other party gives in.  if a coin has two sides then more than likely a problem has two sides as well. How many times have worker's been killed on the job because of a simple issue that was not handled well? How many times did a shooting take place at a family gathering because an old wound had never healed?  Is it worth being right if it causes someone's death?

 Accountability Avoidance

 Have you ever noticed that customer service personnel are willing to help as long as it means putting the blame on someone/thing else?  The Internet company encourages buying a new router even though they know the problem is over booking customers. The drug company that treats side effects with yet another drug. Then there is the return policy for a company who says to throw merchandise away instead of sending it back.  Don't customers just pay for that waste in the end?  Another example is using blanket "terms of use" clauses to add surcharges and unauthorized services to a medical or repair bill. "You signed the agreement, ma'am."  Who wouldn't feel betrayed when treated poorly by licensed and trusted companies?

Poor Training/ Lack of Skills

Of all that is written here, the lack of training and skills for those in customer service positions is concerning.  Given a script to follow instead of training and knowledge about what they are talking about, service representatives have to be in the position of being harasses by people who just want answers.  Companies do not seem to understand that, even if the situation is resolved, the lack of confidence in these representatives leaves an impression of poor quality. There is no substitute for good communication and it cannot be faked with a script provided by the legal department.  This goes for email blitzes as well as mail ads.  The cost to business is high when customer servie is poor. 

 Artificial Jobs Stimulation

Since Truman used jobs and infrastructure to provide work for families during the Great Depression, this political move has been the go-to battle cry for everything from high immigration to climate change.  As long as government promotes jobs as the answer to all ills, there will never been enough jobs to quell the country's irrational fear of less than full employment. Rather than support a knowledgeable and skilled workforce that is well paid, the country seems to prefer a world of inefficiency, poor quality imports, and low paying wages.  Is there any real difference between one burger joint and another?  Do we really need another brand of green beans in the grocery store? Do workers really want to pay a third of their wages to support a for-profit medical community that seems to rely on one more drug or test?   

How much does all of this contribute to the level of public anxiety when a full time job does not provide enough money to cover the bare essentials?  People resorted to gun violence in the 1800s when businesses pitted one group of workers against another. Do leaders really think the American people are not as frustrated now as they were then?  Even back then, people understood that when life was secure and relatively free of frustration, gun violence became a thing of the past.  That did not come from police presence, gun controls or community patience, it came from creating a lifestyle that worked for everyone. 

As long as the media and politicians stir the pot with emotional rhetoric and support for its one-size-fits-all practice of adding jobs to the economy, the violence in this country will continue.  No amount of mental health care, gun control or patience will hide the insecurity and frustration that many Americans feel toward what is happening in daily life.  Past solutions may have worked in the past, but this is not the past and it shouldn't be treated as if it were. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Removing the Bandage: Why America Cannot Move On From its Past

 There are some things that just come with age.

One of those well-developed, hard-learned lessons is knowing when to let go of the past. It is regrettably a level of maturity that Americans have yet to attain. 

As Memorial Day begins a string of "national" holidays that will take residents into the religious season, the sad reality of these special days is that, to many, they have little or no meaning. For a country that claims the level of patriotism it does, how can its citizens not understand the significance of days that speak of its history? What is it that makes Americans avoid the good, bad and ugly of its past while expecting accountability from its government and those who had nothing to do with the events or their outcome? 

Like a wound that is allowed to fester instead of heal, America continues to pick at the scab with deliberate purpose to keep the healing process one that is slow and painful.  As long as Americans choose to nurse their wounds instead of moving past them, this land will never develop a national personality that embraces all races, religions and demographics. 

As children, each of us can remember a time when a skinned-up knee or bad cut seemed to defy healing. Bandages were decorated with colorful characters and patterns to make the reality of the damage less frightful. Even disguised by friendly images, the covering grew more dirty and sticky until the chances of infection became more dangerous than the wound itself.  This is how America deals with its history. 

In real life, bandages need to be removed every so often so that sunlight and air can allow them to heal.  That doesn't happen in this country.   What is it that keeps America from ripping off the bandage, tending to the wound so that it heals and proudly displaying the scar as a time when something was learned about life? Here the prognosis is always one of permanent damage and long and expensive recovery. 

In the same way children fight to keep the bandage on, Americans avoid learning from their past for one reason--FEAR! Fear of what might be under the bandage, fear of what it might take to treat it and fear of how big the scar might be on the face of a nation that is still young, vibrant and at the top of its game.

The difficulty in bringing this country together within a single purpose has always been the same--a population of people who came here because it appeared free of rules and oppression.  Difficult, if not impossible to manage, any country founded by those focused on individual opportunities, freedom of choice and non-conformity in thought will experience growing pains. Nowhere in the narrative of this country's "melting pot" image is a desire for individual accountability and social responsibility mentioned. Even after 230 years, America has the mindset of a teenager whose citizens have yet to learn they cannot have the benefits of adulthood and the a child-like view of responsibility at the same time.   By removing the bandage, accepting conditions as they are and letting the wound heal, Americans give up leverage over government officials who are only concerned about winning the next election.

The Founding Fathers understood that the Constitution needed to focus on the collective, not the individual. The document specifically opens with a pledge to create "a more perfect Union." It then explains the government's place in order to "establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty"--not for some but for all.  It would only take three and a half years for strong individuals to require the Bill of Rights be added to elevate personal freedoms over the welfare of a new country.  

Who is to blame for American reluctance to mature and move on?  The answers are many.  

First there are those who expect government to solve their problems.  They are members of every political party, race and religion. They can be found in every income bracket and age range. Some vote but some do not. Some serve their country in the military while others fight for social justice. With a mindset that claims historical events impact opportunity, people cry "foul" when they are unable to meet their goals simply and quickly. They have not yet reached a level of maturity that government's provisions for opportunity are not equivalent to insuring success.  At one time or another, all Americans have found themselves in this place if they are honest with themselves.

Leaders that focus on the Bill of Rights and not the original Constitution make up the next group.  From the President down to the most respected citizen in an unincorporated town of less than 100 people, their tendency is to take the path of least resistance. Give those who protest  what they want rather than stand up to do what is best for all.  Like a parent that is tired of dealing with a fussy child, they reward immaturity by giving in to the temper tantrums of small segments of the country. Such leadership wins votes but causes discord because the majority is left to overcome the obstacles which now make the job harder. As happens with the small child, the tantrums only get bigger and more difficult to control with the child learning a very hard lesson as it ages.

Finally, it is the rich and famous who feel it is their place to enlighten the country by explaining what should benefit the whole. Former presidents and first ladies, talk-show hosts and entertainers, and even royalty from another country feel it is within their right to tell working America what is important. They are even paid millions of dollars by advertisers or campaign donors to objectify causes and people in need.  When was the last time these people purchased clothes from a thrift store because it was a way to stay within a budget, rather than accept government assistance?  In the world of celebrity causes, there is little respect for those who live responsible, socially aware and respectful lives. Good people are pushed aside to make room for those who pick at the nation's scabs so that their wound is validated rather than cured. 

There is no room in the America of the future for pot-stirrers and co-dependents who weaken society instead of strengthening it. It is time to agree to disagree and respect the opinions and differences of others rather than profiting from them.

On this Memorial Day, every American has the ability to look at a hurtful past and deal with it on an individual level. Protestors, elected officials and those who create pod-casts as if they were sermons delivered from a pulpit cannot stop an individual from coming to terms with history.  The country that was founded on individual thought and choice is going to need to be the example for those who feel they hold influence over those who live here.  When individuals decide to come together there will be no stopping this country from becoming something that will benefit us all.