When spring winds blow
and the frost evaporates into sunlite
the Pasque Flowers make a push
the annual awakening
for a most hopeful appearance
despite the deserts adjacent
and the tanks of chemicals
property of the new paradigm
when spring means less
less than it did under a century before
The people gathered along coordinated routes, organized and grouped by devotion. Estimates exceeded, hoping to be noticed, a representation of 1:100 assumed. Now will we dust off our eyes to trim a few watts, a few degrees, a plastic cup or trip to the store? An economy with many comforts, the first to look down at bright screens, while worlds away suffer by oil lamp, or oil military.
all photos © D. Barron
Tundra Swans on Mississippi River pools, near Brownsville, MN. (click to view photo-stitch then click again to view at 100%)
A brief visit, chased by freezing winter. Driven by a pursuit of food, open water, and protection. Over 20,000+ Tundra Swans rest in these pools, refuel on tubers, then continue the migration to Chesapeake Bay. A reassuring legacy that sacred routines manage to exist on an increasingly imbalanced and fragmented planet.
From the archive
With fifty-six percent of the lower 48 states held captive by drought (NOAA) and a farm subsidy program which values corporate interests and raw yield over quality food and sustainable practices more American citizens will soon be faced with a water shortage reality. Heavy use of modern farming practices, such as chemical dependent “No-Till” and genetically modified plants have increasingly allowed commodities farmers to plant corn and soy beans in less viable regions, such as the Great Plains regions. The ability to plant large scale commodity crops in these climates says nothing about whether or not farmers should do so.
On a recent trip through the Midwest my travel partner and I admired the Platte River in Nebraska, slowly cutting through agricultural land with sandy islands, entombed by its slow path to the Missouri river. It wasn’t until we spoke to a few long-time local residents that we realized the river was not as charming as it appeared. Once a consistently powerful waterway, stretching over a mile wide in some places, the Platte River has been overwhelmingly depleted by damaging water diversion and irrigation. Water scarcity is increasing in many regions of the United States and agricultural irrigation accounts for 80% of all U.S. consumable water use (USDA). Between 2003 and 2008, the number of wells operating in the U.S. with flow meters increased 76 percent to 107,384 wells, increasing the total amount of U.S. irrigated acres 4.6% from 52.5 million acres to 54.9 million acres (USDA 2007 Census of Agriculture). Incidentally, Nebraska exceeds all other U.S. states, including California and Texas, in total irrigated acres.
When traveling through Nebraska on a warm June day you would see the radial green fields, connected like an endless mat of pearls under the extensive arch of countless center-pivot irrigation systems. What drives the need for such agricultural engineering? As of July corn prices are over $8.00 per bushel in Northern Illinois (growers-edge.com) and the price of tillable acreage has surpassed the $10,000 per acre mark in some areas. The incentive for farmers to expand or increase production is obvious, there is simply too much profit potential to gain or lose. Most farmers were looking toward 2012 as a year to come out with record earnings, though the sustained drought and high temperatures have withered many ambitions of even a decent harvest. With so much at stake and rainfall coming up well below the average I fear that we may begin to see the irrigation practices of the Plains farmers move into regions historically fortunate with consistent precipitation.
Clearly the water intensive farming practices of the Great and High Plains are not sustainable. Given the detrimental strain that large scale farming practices are having on the waterways and aquifers of the Plains states, one would immediately begin to see a cycle of water depletion for the sake of a giant business interest, industrial commodity grain farmers. The actual strain of aquifer depletion is being reflected by an increasing need for deeper wells which, over a five year average, increased 5 feet in depth (USDA).
The growing disregard for hydrological conservation hardly comes as surprise to those familiar with the industrial agriculture model. This is the industry that has destroyed most native habitat and species, contaminated our drinking water with nitrites and Atrazine, ignored dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and crafted trade policies that have ruined sustainable farmers around the world. With millions of acres in monoculture crops and nothing allowed to exist beyond GMO “franken-plants” (inventions which cannot exist without an endless supply of petroleum based chemicals and fertilizers) the sustainable ecological loop has been destroyed. As informed citizens and inhabitants of this state, country and planet we must look beyond the rhetoric of the industrial commodity agri-giants. We need to understand what these farming practices mean for everyone, not just the powerful interests which capitalize on the precious and unquantifiable resource which is our environment. The under regulated, under restricted use of chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, GMO plants, antibiotics, petroleum intensive farming methods and abusive over-planting practices are the summation of common atrocities which demand accountability. As the profit driven monetary pressures of $8.00 corn and $10,000 per acre land prices become more common, the industrialized desire to “dominate mother nature” will unfortunately persist. What will be the engineered industrial solution to drought in our typically plentiful region and how far will the giants of agriculture go to maintain record yields and incredible profits? Keep watching, ask questions and be critical of the corporate interests. Your children and grandchildren deserve a healthy planet to live on.
Following a forgotten attempt to cap carbon emissions and several more years of silence, climate change is getting renewed attention in post-inaugural Washington..
February 21, 2013
With the inauguration stage still standing along Pennsylvania Avenue, 35,000+ protesters, including myself, marched around the White House last Sunday demanding action to address climate change. The collective, a mix of concerned parents (and their children), grandparents, clergy, scientists, tribal natives, activists, veterans, students, and just about every other demographic imaginable. Our charge to the elected leaders of this country, that climate change be addressed with the upmost urgency and that serious measures are taken to significantly reduce national, and international, carbon emissions below catastrophic levels. The specific target of Sundays rally, the Keystone XL pipeline.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Keystone XL pipeline here are a few facts. The proposed, now partially constructed, pipeline would stretch 1,962 miles across Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas carrying crude oil derived from tar sands. The pipeline would carry, including planned capacity increases, about 34,860,000 gallons of oil per day, which when used would contribute 156,322,200 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.
In the middle of the proposed pipeline path lies many environmentally sensitive areas including the Mni Wiconi water system, the Nebraska Sandhills ecosystem and the Ogallala aquifer, one of the nations most vital ground water sources. The dangers of pipeline failure are already around us, with dozens of failures occurring along exisitng pipelines each year. Most notably the largest ever inland oil spill occurring July 25, 2010 near Marshall, Michigan, when a pipeline failure resulted in nearly one million gallons of tar sands oil flowing into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.
All of these potential hazzards don’t even begin to address the catastrophes already being committed to extract oil from tar sands. Aside from the adverse health affects on the native people and wildlife, strip mining destroys thousands of square acres of pristine boreal forest, extraction depletes fresh water at a frequency up to 4 barrels of water polluted for each barrel of crude oil extracted and open reservoirs filled with toxic chemicals pose a fatal danger to birds and wildlife.
The Keystone XL pipeline, tar sands and climate change is not really a partisan issue, though the multi-billion dollar petroleum industry would prefer that you think it is. As long as the electorate keeps fighting each other, the truth is ignored, safety is compromised and corporations continue to operate with impunity, amassing billions in profits off the backs of the citizenry.
Whether you believe in science or not, why would anyone disagree that making our planet a cleaner, safer and healthier place to live is a good thing? There are better opportunities, and jobs, on the horizon. It is time for Americans to move toward responsibility, to move beyond the lies of multi-national corporations and to move away from dirty energy that harms us and our neighbors.