Tag Archives: Earth

Venus Crescent

We went to a spot with a clear southwest view hoping to see comet Leonard. The conditions weren’t quite favorable. Instead, we admired the alignment of Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus. I pointed my camera on full zoom to Venus. It is currently rounding its orbit and passing us between the Sun and Earth. See the orbit diagram below.

We are seeing mostly the shadowed side of Venus. A thin crescent reflects off its surface. In the early days of January it will be almost directly between us and the Sun and not visible in the glare. It will emerge in the early morning hours by mid-January. It will remain our morning companion until October. This thinning crescent remains as our last view of 2021. The crescent will reverse next month.

Canon PowerShot SX60 HS | ISO 800 | 1/400 s
© Dominic Ford 2011–2021

Climate Strike | Local Edition

There was a large turnout for our local Climate Strike. See photos of the many international strikes. Our march gathered at city hall. Led by high school and college students, and followed by everyone else, we marched several blocks to an open area in the center of town.

We were joined by our local group of activists 100 Grannies. They can always be counted on for support of good causes.

The strike started off with a few minutes of silence out of respect for those who are suffering because of climate change. In particular, the residents of the Gulf coast were noted for the recent very heavy rains from storm Imelda. Speakers followed who urged us all to be active, vote for the best candidates, and demand current officials to take action to protect Earth.

Did You Get Enough to Eat?

Ah, the holidays… From Thanksgiving until after New Year’s, it’s like the feast that never ends.

Turkey and ham, oysters and smoked salmon, potatoes and green beans, casseroles and fruit salads, pies and cream puffs. Not to mention all the cheese, crackers, cookies, and nut bars that seem too small to count. We taste and nibble, take more than we intend, fill ourselves, then fill our trash cans with food waste. When clearing the table and scraping plates from one holiday meal, we dump enough food to nourish several other people.

But what about the rest of the year? Did you get too much to eat to even finish it? Did some go to waste in your cupboard, your fridge, on the counter before you even had a chance to fix it? What left your plate or serving dishes for the trash can? How many times did you find forgotten leftovers and bid them adieu?

In the U.S. we waste a shocking amount of food at all points in the farm-to-fork chain. At the consumer level, you may waste more than you know. The National Geographic says, “Spills, spoilage, table scraps, and other losses from the typical American family of four add up to 1,160 pounds of uneaten food annually.” Doing the math, that means in that average household, there are 24 pounds of waste per person per month. This doesn’t include food loss at the producer’s end of the chain.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC,)

In households, fresh products make up most of the wasted food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that a typical American throws out 40 percent of fresh fish, 23 percent of eggs, and 20 percent of milk. Citrus fruits and cherries top the list for fruits, and sweet potatoes, onions, and greens are commonly wasted vegetables.(12)

Much of household waste is due to overpurchasing, food spoilage, and plate waste. About 2/3 of household waste is due to food spoilage from not being used in time, whereas the other 1/3 is caused by people cooking or serving too much.(13)

It can be hard to visualize the consequences of wasted or lost food. modernfarmer.com says

The environmental toll for throwing away so much uneaten food is also costly. Of the millions of tons that we waste in America each year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates 96 percent ends up in landfills. And currently, food waste is the number one material taking up landfill space, more than paper or plastic. This produces methane gas, one of the most harmful atmospheric pollutants.

In case you didn’t get that, let me repeat: food waste is the number one material going into landfills, creating methane gas. Methane gas is a greenhouse gas, trapping heat in the atmosphere and contributing to climate change.

If that weren’t enough, production of food we don’t eat requires tremendous resources including petroleum, chemicals for fertilizers and pesticides, and fresh water for irrigation. Again from the NRDC, wasteful production and use of food requires 25% of all freshwater used in the U.S. and 4% of total U.S. oil consumption. It costs $750 million per year just to dispose of the food and creates 33 million tons of landfill waste (leading to greenhouse gas emissions).

There is no way to soften this: producing and landfilling wasted food is environmentally hazardous.

What can you do to help? These tips from NRDC give great ideas for using your food dollars more effectively, and reducing resources used for producing, delivering, and landfilling unused foods.
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Or for much simpler tips, consider these created during World War I. Nearly 100 years ago in the depths of the war, we recognized that wasted food was wasted resources, which could otherwise be used to support freedom from tyranny. We are fighting a different kind of tyranny now, that of environmental change. This tyrant, too, must be defeated, and we have a role in that fight.

Buttons | Campaigns and Special Events

button0Hmmm…I wonder what’s in this box. There’s a little mildew on the edges. Better clean that up……. Oh! My old campaign buttons! Wow…these bring back some memories.

Back in the late ’60s, I was about to graduate from college. The country was in the throes of the Viet Nam War. I was unlucky in the draft lottery with the number 75. Many of you know what that meant. Deferments were harder to get. Some were eliminated. But, I got through college and was headed for a teaching job. That was still a deferred occupation. That didn’t stop me from protesting the war and collecting more buttons.

Come below for more of my buttons and treasures.

Venus … Meet Mr. Moon

by Jim and Melanie

The view to our west on October 7 about 45 min after sundown was beautiful. The new Moon and Venus were aligned perfectly. Here is a little more zoomed view of the Moon. Isn’t the subtle Earthshine nice?

One thing is for sure. The closure of the government offices is not going to keep us from seeing views like these. That is a good thing.


A familiar sight, cattails edge ponds and wetlands and fill damp ditches across almost the entire U.S. and most of Canada. When I was a kid visiting my Michigan grandparents, I loved seeing the stalks rising like spears from the fringe of their small lake. Red-winged blackbirds often perched atop them, whistling and scolding. They’ve always held some romance for me, but there’s some cool ecological science behind them, too.

This cattail grows in a low, marshy place near my home in a storm water control area. A small pond with a variety of wildlife is a few hundred feet away from this.

Cattails grow tall on long, jointless stems, with the whole plant up to nine feet tall. The alternating leaves are slender. The distinctive brown club at the top of the stem is actually tightly set, tiny female flowers. Depending on species, the flower structure can be up to 12 inches long.

Their root structure is made up of rhizomes, which can interconnect densely in a colony of plants.

According to voyageurcountry.com,

… the flowers are very prolific, one stalk will produce an estimated 220,000 seeds. Even with this number of seeds, cattails colonize by sending up clones from the creeping rhizomes. It has been recorded that a cattail marsh can travel up to 17 feet in a year with prime conditions through the cloning process. Colonization can happen quickly, as one new seed produces a plant, that new shoot in it’s first year will send out a rhizomes for ten feet in all directions and can produce 100 clones in that first growing season.

Cattails are hardy as well as prolific. This handbook on waterfowl management says seeds remain viable in the seed bank for up to 100 years. Because it reproduces so successfully, it easily can crowd out other native species, reducing biodiversity. Controlling its spread requires active management, cutting and/or burning it out, or poisoning it through its root system.

This colony has been growing within the storm water control area for 3 or 4 years. After another couple of years, it could threaten to crowd out other species.

The good news is that fast propagation may be a bonus rather than a curse. There are TWO big benefits provided by cattail stands. One is water treatment: cattails are being used by communities for waste water treatment, among other remediation. And the other is in development of biofuels.

Water Treatment
Natural wetlands with cattails help control flooding, but they offer another important benefit, as well. Purification of waste water has been done in the U.S. at least since 1986. Now approximately 500 communities use plant colonies to treat sewage. They can also be used to treat livestock manure and other industrial wastewater. Cattail plants are able to remove toxins including mercury, nitrates, and pesticides, and they deal effectively with bacterial contaminants.

This interesting article by Dr. Isobel Heathcote provides some detail on how wetland sewage treatment works. She outlines advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages include positive aesthetics, habitat creation, and improved cost-efficiency in treatment. Disadvantages may include limited life expectancy of the created wetland, poor phosphorous removal, susceptibility to climate and disease, and the potential for a toxic-waste wetland remaining at the end of its life. Regardless, treating wastewater this way can be more effective than conventional treatments.

The cattail rhizome, the thick horizontal stems that grow just beneath the soil and help it spread so easily, is very starchy. With starch content between 40-60%, the rhizomes offer a potential source of ethanol that could produce more than 10 times per acre as compared to corn. Technologies for processing are still in development but show great promise.

Best yet, the biofuel and water treatment properties may be able to be combined. Blue Planet Green Living includes the following:

Blume suggests one of those “the-problem-is-the-solution” remedies in Alcohol Can Be a Gas. “’How about using the roads to provide the fuel for the cars that use them?” Water gathers around roadsides, allowing runoff filled with toxins like herbicides, oil and antifreeze to be carried for miles downstream. “If each county were to cultivate a 5-foot wide strip of cattail on each side of only 1000 miles of county-maintained roads, boom mowers could shred and harvest up to three crops of cattail per year, producing in theory up to 61 billion gallons of fuel (40% of the U.S gasoline consumption — without using a single acre of farmland while also thoroughly detoxifying road runoff water. Planting energy crops in the nation’s unused median strips along divided highways would generate additional billions of gallons.”

Food Source
Natural beauty combined with resilience, habitat for wildlife, biofuel combined with water remediation. What more could we ask of this common plant? Besides all that, cattails are a perfect survival food. All year long parts of the plant can be used. Cobs in spring, pollen in summer, roots in fall and winter, the only inedible part is the leaves. This page from Sacred Earth tells much more about using the cattail as food.

My childhood, romantic notions of cattails aside, there are many benefits to cattails. Still, I love to see them when we walk in our neighborhood. But knowing the rest adds to their attraction.

Cosmic Distance Ladder – Part 1

How I See It

(Parts part 2part 3, and part 4.)

Many great articles and news stories are written on the subjects of Astronomy and Cosmology. They reveal the wonders and beauty of the universe stretching out to enormous distances in all directions we look.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of those stories is the sense of scale being described within them. This blog series is meant for readers who love these offerings, but have little or no formal background study in astronomy. Yet, they want to know more about it.

This Cosmic Distance Ladder series will take you a few rungs at a time over the next posts. This is the first of 4 parts of the series Cosmic Distance Ladder. Here are links to part 2part 3, and part 4. Each rung of the ladder describes the methods used by astronomers to measure…

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Melting Permafrost | Links to Greenhouse Gases

For the full post on this important topic…

How I See It

Permafrost covers 24% of exposed land of the Northern Hemisphere.

From a NASA press release of 6-10-2013

Permafrost (perennially frozen) soils underlie much of the Arctic. Each summer, the top layers of these soils thaw. The thawed layer varies in depth from about 4 inches (10 cm) in the coldest tundra regions to several yards, or meters, in the southern boreal forests. This active soil layer at the surface provides the precarious foothold on which Arctic vegetation survives. The Arctic’s extremely cold, wet conditions prevent dead plants and animals from decomposing, so each year another layer gets added to the reservoirs of organic carbon sequestered just beneath the topsoil.

Over hundreds of millennia, Arctic permafrost soils have accumulated vast stores of organic carbon – an estimated 1,400 to 1,850 petagrams of it (a petagram is 2.2 trillion pounds, or 1 billion metric tons). That’s about half of all the…

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