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Photo: Erika Thompson via StyleBluePrint.
This Texas woman really loves bees. “Bees need advocates,” she says.

If you were to search this blog on words like “bees,” “Honeyland,” and “beekeepers,” you would see that I have a friendly attitude to bees. Besides the fact that they set such a good example for industry and cooperation, there’s this: no bees, no food.

Today’s post is about a woman who really, really loves bees.

Travis M. Andrews writes at the Washington Post, “The bees drip from Erika Thompson’s bare hand, as if she’s holding a scoop of melting ice cream. But she’s not worried. Just a simple flick of the wrist, and the gentle insects rush into their new home.

“This scene’s out of a recent TikTok from Thompson, an Austin-area beekeeper who has amassed an enormous social media following by documenting her work of ethical bee removal. In this particular video, she explains that she was asked to safely remove a colony of bees that have been living in a backyard shed for two years. At one point, she lifts up a section of wooden flooring to expose hundreds of bees crawling over one another. A delighted grin spreads across her face.

“And like a fly to honey, viewers flocked to the TikTok. It’s been viewed more than 60 million times. …

“Thompson simply love bees. Really loves them. The 35-year-old’s backyard is filled with about 50 hives. … Growing up, Thompson so admired Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey that she would pretend to be them, stringing binoculars around her neck and setting up her stuffed animals like creatures in the wild. Then, she’d head outside.

‘I spent a lot of time in my backyard on nights and weekends, trying to collect bugs and put them in jars … to keep them and care for them,’ she said. ‘It’s something I’ve been into my entire life.’

“About a decade ago, she took a beekeeping class out of curiosity. The University of Texas graduate didn’t expect it to become a living. She worked as a communications director at a nonprofit and didn’t even know if she could keep bees in her central Austin home. But she found herself learning more and more about bees and eventually keeping her own hive.

“She soon launched Texas Beeworks, spending nights, weekends and even some lunch breaks helping others keep bees and driving around with hives in the back of her hatchback. Two years ago, she made it full-time, making her feel like ‘the luckiest person in the world.’ …

“Thompson began making the videos to document her process for clients who, unsurprisingly, usually choose to be absent during a removal. Last year, when the pandemic began, several speaking opportunities she had lined up went by the wayside. With a little more time on her hands, she started a TikTok account. …

” ‘Most of the time when I tell people I’m a beekeeper, they say, “Oh, you’re a bookkeeper?” ‘ Thompson said. ‘I don’t know what has really captivated people, because for me, it’s just so normal. Maybe it’s people seeing something that they’ve never seen before and maybe that they didn’t know was possible.’

“Plus there’s an awful lot to admire about bees, she added, ‘from the way they work together as a superorganism and nobody thinks of herself as an individual but does everything for the good of the colony to the way they build the hive and forage and raise their young.’ …

“Though she didn’t expect her videos to become so popular, she hopes they can help continue changing our attitude by correcting misconception about bees, perhaps the largest one being that ‘all kinds want to sting you all the time.’

“For one, there are more than 20,000 species of bees, all of which have different temperaments. Plus, Thompson said, ‘Most bees, and most honeybees, are docile and do not want to sting you.’ ”

More at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: Regeneration International.

We are told we have to give up meat if we want to fight global warming, but I know that livestock farmers are not going to give up farming. Some are experimenting with techniques to have less harmful effects on the planet — for example, using methane from farm waste to power their farms. But, as Earle keeps reminding me, methane is also a greenhouse gas, and it’s better to put a greenhouse gas into the soil, not the air. It’s called sequestration.

In today’s article, we learn about a Texas farmer who is improving the quality of his land by avoiding herbicides and letting the cows stomp down weeds and brush. At the same time, he is practicing sequestration.

Henry Fountatin writes at the New York Times, “Adam Isaacs stood surrounded by cattle in an old pasture that had been overgrazed for years. Now it was a jumble of weeds.

“ ‘Most people would want to get out here and start spraying it’ with herbicides, he said. ‘My family used to do that. It doesn’t work.’

“Instead, Mr. Isaacs, a fourth-generation rancher on this rolling land in the northeast corner of the Texas Panhandle, will put his animals to work on the pasture, using portable electrified fencing to confine them to a small area so that they can’t help but trample some of the weeds as they graze.

“ ‘We let cattle stomp a lot of the stuff down,’ he said. That adds organic matter to the soil and exposes it to oxygen, which will help grasses and other more desirable plants take over. Eventually, through continued careful management of grazing, the pasture will be healthy again.

‘These cows are my land management tool,’ Mr. Isaacs said. ‘It’s a lot easier to work with nature than against it.’

“His goal is to turn these 5,000 acres into something closer to the lush mixed-grass prairie that thrived throughout this part of the Southern Great Plains for millenniums and served as grazing lands for millions of bison.

“Mr. Isaacs, 27, runs a cow-calf operation, with several hundred cows and a dozen or so bulls that produce calves that he sells to the beef industry after they are weaned. Improving his land will benefit his business, through better grazing for his animals, less soil and nutrient loss through erosion, and improved retention of water in a region where rainfall averages only about 18 inches a year.

“But the healthier ranchland can also aid the planet by sequestering more carbon, in the form of roots and other plant tissues that used carbon dioxide from the air in their growth. Storing this organic matter in the soil will keep the carbon from re-entering the atmosphere as carbon dioxide or methane, two major contributors to global warming. …

“Soil sequestration has gained favor as a tool to fight climate change. Done on a large enough scale, proponents say, it can play a significant role in limiting global warming.

“But many scientists say that claim is overblown, that soils cannot store nearly enough carbon, over a long enough time, to have a large effect. And measuring carbon in soil is problematic, they say.

“The soil-improving practices that ranchers like Mr. Isaacs follow are referred to as regenerative grazing, part of a broader movement known as regenerative agriculture.

“There are no clear-cut definitions of the terms, but regenerative farming techniques include minimal or no tilling of soil, rotating crops, planting crops to cover and benefit the soil after the main crop is harvested, and greater use of compost rather than chemical fertilizers.

“Regenerative grazing means closely managing where and for how long animals forage, unlike a more conventional approach in which animals are left to graze the same pasture more or less continuously. Ranchers also rely more on their animals’ manure to help keep their pastures healthy.

“These practices are spreading among farmers and ranchers in the United States, spurred by environmental concerns about what industrialized farming and meat production have done to the land and about agriculture’s contribution to global warming. In the United States, agriculture accounts for about 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Agribusiness companies and large food producers are launching initiatives to encourage regenerative practices, part of efforts to appeal to consumers concerned about climate change and sustainability.

“[The] administration, in its initial moves to combat climate change, has cited agriculture as a ‘linchpin’ of its strategy. One idea is to allocate $1 billion to pay farmers $20 for each ton of carbon they trap in the soil.

“Proponents of regenerative agriculture have sometimes made extravagant claims about its potential as a tool to fight global warming. Among them is Allan Savory, a farmer originally from Zimbabwe and a leader in the movement, who in an often-cited 2013 TED Talk said that it could ‘reverse’ climate change.

Some research has suggested that widespread implementation of regenerative practices worldwide could have a significant effect, storing as much as 8 billion metric tons of carbon per year over the long term, or nearly as much as current annual emissions from burning of fossil fuels.

“While there is broad agreement that regenerative techniques can improve soil health and bring other benefits, some analyses have found that the potential carbon-sequestration numbers are vastly overstated. …

“ ‘It’s really great to see the private sector and the U.S. government getting serious about reducing agricultural emissions,’ said Richard Waite, a senior researcher at the World Resources Institute, an environmental research organization in Washington. But for carbon sequestration in soils, the institute’s analysis suggests that ‘mitigation opportunities are on the smaller side.’

“Focusing on carbon sequestration through soil also risks drawing attention from other important ways to reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint, Mr. Waite said, including improving productivity, reducing deforestation and shifting food consumption to more climate-friendly diets.”

My gut feeling is that we should use as many techniques as possible to reduce carbon emissions — that every little bit helps. Read more at the New York Times, here, and me know what you think.

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Photo: Reuters Marketplace/UK World Online Report.
Endangered Green Sea Turtles are placed in bins and kiddie pools to help them warm up gradually.

Sometimes a crisis can bring out the best in human nature. Consider all the people making food for health-care workers in the pandemic or the volunteers manning pantries for 2020’s many unemployed.

This morning, as I was reading about the failure of the Texas electric grid, I learned that one supermarket, having suddenly lost power, couldn’t operate cash registers and let customers go home without paying.

Meanwhile, Texas nature lovers, despite hardships of their own, are rescuing sea turtles from the extreme cold. Many thanks to Hannah for pointing me to the story.

Raechel Allen reports at Slate, “An unprecedented winter storm provoked massive disruption in Texas this week: Millions lost power, hundreds were displaced from homes. [And] because of the temperature, thousands and thousands of sea turtles cannot move.

“An endangered species, these sea turtles usually live off the waters of South Padre Island, which is off the southern coast of Texas. Over the past week, they’ve been loaded into dinner cruise boats and minivans. The rescue center at the nonprofit Sea Turtle Inc. is used to rehabilitating injured sea turtles and responding to minor cold snaps but cannot hold all the turtles — so they’re also filling up a convention center. … Slate spoke to Wendy Knight, Sea Turtle Inc.’s executive director. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Rachael Allen: Can you walk me through what’s been going on this week with the turtles?
Wendy Knight: We are in the midst of the single largest cold-stun event in history. We have approximately 4,800 cold-stunned, federally protected, endangered sea turtles. … On Sunday things really started to hype up and we had local boat owners go out and find hundreds of floating sea turtles.

“What does it mean for a sea turtle to be cold-stunned?
“Sea turtles are cold-blooded so they need the temperature of water to regulate their own body temperature. … If the water gets below a certain temperature, the turtles are no longer able to sustain their own body temperature. Usually, they don’t think about all of their instincts — moving their flippers to swim, eating, diving to the bottom of the ocean, lifting their head up to draw breath. In a cold-stun event, they’re still aware they need to do those things, but because their body is frozen, or cold-stunned, it’s is not reacting to the instinct message. As a result they’re not able to swim, so the turtle floats to the top of the water and because their body is not responding by lifting their head to breathe, they drown in the ocean. I’m sure as we get farther away from the stun event, there will be perished turtles found, regardless of our best efforts.

“How did your team rescue thousands of turtles?
“This is a nesting beach where thousands and thousands of hatchlings are born each season, so everybody is keenly aware that we’re sharing space with sea turtles. We have almost 500 registered volunteers, plus all the city employees, who participate in training at the beginning of cold-stun season. That plan was executed here, just on a much bigger scale.

It’s important to remember that when all this was happening these hundreds of community members didn’t have power of their own. They hadn’t had electricity or running water in days. …

“They had their own personal tragedy happening. And despite that, they took time away to serve an animal that can’t serve itself.

“I can’t explain what it’s like to stand in a convention center that’s probably a football field and a half, and see 4,200 sea turtles laying tip to toe as far as the eye can see. And that’s not even all of them — that’s the overflow. … Nothing happens when they’re stunned — no bodily functions. It’s like a catatonic state. The best thing you can do is to let them rest. As things go along, they will start to wake up, but there are consequences that can come from cold stuns that require antibiotics and IV therapy, like pneumonia. We’ll watch them all closely, and as they recover and become more alert, we’ll start releasing them incrementally back into the Gulf of Mexico.”

I shouldn’t overlook the fact that there are people who volunteer year-round. Which is just to say that it doesn’t always take a crisis to bring out the best in human nature. More at Slate, here.

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Photo: Robert W. Hart / Dallas News contributor
Ron Olsen, who launched the rock art trail, holds one of the hundreds of painted rocks at Parr Park in Grapevine, Texas.

People like to paint rocks. It’s an art that’s simultaneously permanent and impermanent. In New Shoreham, for example, the beloved Painted Rock is like a mural or community bulletin board (there’s a real bulletin board, too, online). I’ve blogged about it often, including in 2015, here.

In the summer, you need to photograph your artwork quickly because the rock gets painted over faster than you can say Jack Robinson. But an archaeologist would find all the layers still underneath, and the rock itself has probably been there since the last Ice Age.

Similarly, there are small, smooth rocks people paint for sale, for charity, or for gifts. In a May post I wrote about local kids painting rocks during the pandemic and raising money for medical workers.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post has a story on another pandemic-inspired rock project, one featuring thousands of painted rocks from around the country.

Cathy Free reports, “Chris Penny figures that his mail carrier must have spectacular biceps by now.

“Most every day for the past seven months, when the carrier arrives at Penny’s home in Grapevine, Tex., he unloads a few heavy bins and hauls them one by one up the driveway to Penny’s front porch.

“The boxes are filled with packages containing painted rocks, most of them intricate works of art, handmade and mailed from people all over the country. Since the beginning of the pandemic, people have been sending them to Penny so that he and his family can place them along the Parr Park Rock Art Trail — a mile-long public walking path that has become a wonderland of more than 4,000 art rocks. …

‘These aren’t just any rocks — they’re works of art,’ said Penny, 44. …

“The rocks — painted to resemble everything from the Beatles to Mickey Mouse to a face mask — started arriving at Penny’s house ever since he bought a bunch on eBay after noticing a dozen painted rocks scattered along a nature trail in Parr Park. Penny said he knew right away that he wanted to flood the trail with them and make it a destination.

“Penny learned that the colorful rocks he’d stumbled upon were painted by [Grapevine photographer and RV dealer] Ron Olsen and his three grown children in March, after Olsen returned from a trip to Iceland and discovered that Grapevine, a city of around 46,000 people, had practically become a ghost town due to the nationwide coronavirus shutdown. …

“Soon, he and Penny decided to join forces to transform the trail into an artsy attraction for anyone in Grapevine and beyond who wanted to escape the stress of covid-19 for a while.

“ ‘We wanted to make it a getaway for people and give parents something safe to do outdoors with their children,’ said Olsen, 62. …

“Penny, who runs the nonprofit Broken Crayon, focused on helping women and children living in poverty in the United States and Ghana, said the project has provided his family with something fun and positive to do close to home during the pandemic.

“In the early days in March, after he’d painted several dozen rocks with his daughters and bought dozens more online, Penny posted on Facebook, asking anyone who would like to contribute to the project to mail him their rocks and he’d pay for the shipping. …

“Penny said he’s contributed almost $10,000 of his own money for shipping costs (rocks are heavy), although many people now pay to ship their rock masterpieces on their own. …

“All along the nature trail, visitors will now find painted owls, unicorns, tigers and humpback whales, along with the emblems of favorite sports teams, salutes to fallen soldiers and paintings of beloved cartoon characters and classic cars. Somebody even mailed Penny a giant tic-tac-toe board. …

“Penny’s favorite part of the project is that every rock tells a story. ‘Some people have painted rocks in memory of family members who have died, and others have painted memories of high school, like a favorite teacher or a favorite song,’ he said. ‘One woman painted a rock to honor her daughter because she’s serving with the military in Afghanistan and she misses her.’ …

“Whether a rock is painted by a professional artist or a 2-year-old doesn’t matter, Penny said. ‘When it comes down to it, there’s really no such thing as a bad rock,’ he said.”

Check out photos of some beautiful rocks at the Washington Post, here.

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What goes ’round, comes ’round, they say. In this story from the Washington Post “Optimist” newsletter, a drugstore cashier helped out a customer, and when the customer devised a way to acknowledge the favor, she learned that lots of people loved the cashier.

Cathy Free reports, “Real estate agent Rina Liou realized she had a problem as soon as she reached into her purse for her wallet at a Houston [Walgreens].

“She had stopped at the store to buy lightbulbs for an open house that would start in less than 30 minutes, but she had left her wallet at home. …

“ ‘I was pretty flustered,’ said Liou, 35. ‘I didn’t know what to do.’

“Liou, feeling a bit of panic, wondered how potential buyers would react when they couldn’t turn on the lights at the townhouse she was showing on that day, Sept. 7, she said. But then Walgreens checker Rita Jackson Burns spoke up:

‘I’m a little short on funds because I only have $20 in my checking account, but I’ll go ahead and pay for this for you,’ Liou recalled her saying.

“Then Burns pulled out her personal debit card. When she rang up the lightbulbs, Burns said she was relieved to see that they were on sale, costing $12.41.

“ ‘I was a little embarrassed that I only had $20 in the bank because I’d just paid my bills,’ Burns recalled. … ‘I wanted to help, because I know that if I were in a bind, I’d hope that somebody else would do the same,’ Burns said.

“Liou thanked Burns profusely and told her that she’d return later that afternoon to pay her back. She kept that promise. ‘She gave me $15, plus $30 extra, and told me to put it in my bank account,”’ said Burns, 58. …

“A few days later, Liou decided to take her gratitude one step further: She posted about her experience on her neighborhood’s Nextdoor page, and dozens of people chimed in, wondering how they could show their appreciation for Burns. Then Houston’s KHOU-11 television learned about Burns’s kind deed, and things really took off.

“Burns has worked at the Walgreens on Stella Link Road for 38 years and knows all of the regular customers, she said. Many of those people, including Michelle Suh, wanted to recognize her decades of service behind the cash register.

“Suh decided to organize a GoFundMe campaign called ‘Gratitude for Ms. Rita’ to reward Burns’s contributions as an essential worker during the coronavirus pandemic.

“ ‘Ms. Rita is a neighbor in the truest sense of the word,’ Suh wrote. ‘Until Walgreens and our country pays our essential workers more, let’s step up to make sure Ms. Rita has more than $20 in her account. … She has given us so much kindness, and we would love to show her how much she means to us,’ Suh added.

“The fundraiser has reached more than $11,000, and thankful customers have left dozens of comments.

“ ‘Ms. Rita, your smile and kind words greeted us every time we walked into the store,’ wrote Sandi Mercado, who donated $25. ‘On a bad day, you made us forget our troubles for a few minutes. On a good day, you shared in our laughter. … If you ever wondered if people notice your kindness … they do. We do.’ …

“ ‘The world needs more kind people like you,’ added Emilie Mavligit, who donated $10.

“Burns said she is stunned by the generosity. … She is the main provider for her husband, Robert Burns, a retired steel cutter, and their adult son, Jarrell.

“ ‘I’m going to save some of the money for a rainy day, but I’d like to donate a portion of it to help children in some way and show them what can happen if you help others,’ she said.”

More at the Washington Post, here.

Photo: Rina Liou via KHOU-11

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Photo: Ann Hermes/ Christian Science Monitor
Christopher Scott, left, and Steven Phillips, who spent a combined 37 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, were finally exonerated and are determined to pay it forward.

When I worked at the Fed magazine, I solicited a couple articles from the Innocence Project, which has a branch in New England. I continue to be impressed with the complicated, difficult work they do to exonerate men and women who’ve been wrongly convicted and sent to prison.

Today’s article is about two unjustly imprisoned men who got eventually got exonerated and decided to help others.

Henry Gass writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “The busiest P.O. box in North Texas may be in a drab, beige hallway in the post office of this Dallas suburb. [It’s] full of letters, mostly handwritten and postmarked from prisons across the country, addressed to what may be the most unusual detective agency in America. …

“The man who empties the box is Christopher Scott. Broad-shouldered and barrel-chested, he dresses sharp, talks in the gritty patois of the South Dallas neighborhood he grew up in, and uses his bright smile sparingly.

“Under normal circumstances, he probably wouldn’t know Steven Phillips, and they most likely wouldn’t be best friends or partners in a detective agency. They’re from different backgrounds and different generations. While Mr. Scott navigated urban streets as a youth, Mr. Phillips grew up in the country, in the Ozarks. …

“Yet for all their differences, these two men – one white and one African American – have forged a common bond around a common purpose: trying to get people out of prison who should never have been there in the first place. Their Dallas-based nonprofit, House of Renewed Hope, also campaigns for criminal justice reforms and raises public awareness about how the system often fails.

“But it is the tantalizing prospect of uncovering new information that might, just might, free other innocent men that drives Mr. Scott and Mr. Phillips the most. They spend their days meeting clients in prison, tracking down and interviewing family members, friends, and potential eyewitnesses. They meet with prosecutors and activists, lawyers and experts. …

“The two men spent a combined 37 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, crimes for which they were eventually exonerated. That’s why they read every letter they receive. They know there are others like them behind bars. …

“ ‘We was wronged,’ [Scott] says. ‘If you don’t want to see this happen to a lot of other people, there’s things that we can do, because we’ve been a part of that system before.’ …

“One April night in 1997 he was riding around his neighborhood with a friend, Claude Simmons. On their way home, he noticed a heavy police presence in the area and a helicopter flying overhead. A familiar nervousness crept in. …

‘So I’m scared, but I’m not too scared,’ he recalls. ‘In my head I’m thinking the law, the justice system, is going to get it together and figure it out.’

“Instead, he was identified by the wife of the slain man as one of the attackers. She had been sexually assaulted and her husband shot dead during a home invasion. No physical evidence linked him to the crime, and her testimony was crucial in convicting Mr. Scott in a trial that lasted only four hours. An all-white jury sentenced him to life.

“In prison. … he read three books a week, including law tomes, looking for ways to prove his innocence. He compared notes and exchanged tips with other guys in Coffield filing innocence claims in courts.

“His break came when a group of law students at the University of Texas at Arlington discovered that two other men, one of whom was in prison for aggravated robbery, had committed the murder for which Mr. Scott had been convicted. The prisoner confessed, and in 2009 his accomplice was arrested in Houston.

“After Mr. Scott passed a six-hour polygraph test, he was exonerated; Mr. Simmons was also exonerated. The two men were brought before a judge in Dallas and declared innocent. …

“ ‘I was like, “Dude, I asked for this 13 years ago, and they didn’t give it to me.” But I was happy. I knew I was going free. It was over.’

“When Mr. Scott got out, Mr. Phillips was waiting for him. He was in the courtroom for the exoneration hearing. Afterward he introduced himself and told him to call if he ever needed anything. Mr. Scott was wary at first – with everything he’d been through, he says, he didn’t trust white people – but after a few days living with his mother he did call.

“Mr. Phillips let him stay at an apartment he owned, lent him some money, and even bought him a cheap car.

“A year later, after going to regular meetings with other exonerees, Mr. Scott set up the House of Renewed Hope using some of his compensation money from the state. … He asked Mr. Phillips and Johnnie Lindsey, another exoneree, to be co-founders. …

“He’s getting close with one case. House of Renewed Hope has teamed up with the Innocence Project of Texas to try to exonerate Leslie Davis, a man who served 28 years in prison for aggravated robbery. His conviction was based largely off testimony from a Dallas police officer who claimed he’d eavesdropped on Mr. Davis confessing to the crime while hiding in some bushes.

“Some other Dallas officers gave similar testimony around that time in the early- and mid-90s, earning the nickname the ‘Bushmen’ with some county prosecutors, and it later came to light that several of them had been disciplined internally for dishonesty.

“ ‘That’s something that should have been disclosed to the defense and was not,’ says Mr. Ware of the Innocence Project of Texas.

“Mr. Davis was released on parole several months ago, but he is still trying to clear his name. ‘It’s close,’ says Mr. Scott. ‘We just need a little more information.’ ” More here.

 

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As costs come down, solar and wind energy are being embraced in interesting places. Stereotypes about Texas and Big Oil will have to go.

Matthew Rozsa reports at Salon, “The notion that Texas might become a hub for renewable energy innovation isn’t that new. As Forbes noted earlier this month, Texas — which produces 37 percent of America’s crude oil and 28 percent of its natural gas — has more than 10,000 wind turbines, allowing it to produce more power from wind than the combined power produced by 25 other states from all energy sources.

“Similarly, The Wall Street Journal reported [in 2015] that Texas expects more than 10,000 megawatts of solar-generating capacity to be installed across the state by 2029, which is almost the size of all the operational solar farms in the United States today.”

Rozsa quotes Texans who were interviewed by Voice of America in October:

“ ‘A lot of wind companies have evolved to include solar and wind because solar has become so cheap. It is quite competitive with not only wind, but with fossil [fuel] generation,’ said Andy Bowman, chairman of Pioneer Green Energy.

“This point of view was echoed by Jennifer Ronk, a renewable energy expert at the Houston Advanced Research Center. ‘There is a lot of research being done, a lot of development being done,’ she argued. … ‘I think there is a mix of solutions that are going to be the optimal outcome.’ ”

I’m pretty sure that cost factors will ensure the continuation of renewable-energy research — if only at the state level.

Photo: Getty/Spencer Platt
Turbines at a wind farm in Colorado City, Texas, Jan. 21, 2016.

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Photo: Isabelle de Pommereau
Anja Reefschläger has taken Ahmad Madarati and other refugees under her wing since they arrived near her Berlin home last year.

The Christian Science Monitor always has great stories about good works around the globe, and this one on ordinary Germans who are volunteering to help refugees get settled is no exception.

Isabelle de Pommereau writes, “ ‘Frau Anja.’ Hearing this name for a Berlin volunteer who teaches refugees German – and has become a second mother to many of them – brings a smile to Ahmad Madarati’s long, sad face.

“Mr. Madarati, who fled war-torn Aleppo, Syria, and Anja Reefschläger met on a freezing November morning last year. …

“Today, Madarati works practically gratis at a youth center in Berlin, helping young people build furniture. And in a few weeks, he is set to move out of the so-called Treskowallee camp into a house. The house is next to Reefschläger’s, and she is the one who persuaded the owner to rent it out to Syrians.”

Ordinary Americans are also showing kindness and warm hearts, even when state government refuses to participate.

In Texas, for example, when the governor refused to sign on to the federal effort to resettle Syrians, ordinary Texans and nonprofits stepped up to the plate.

Jim Malewitz writes at the Texas Tribune, “Texas’ top elected officials have not exactly welcomed refugees over the past year. [In September] Gov. Greg Abbott followed through on his threat to end cooperation with the nation’s refugee resettlement program because federal officials refused to ‘unconditionally approve’ a Texas plan requiring extra vetting of applicants. Such a move will not keep refugees from coming here, but it eliminates the state government’s role.

“But everyday Texans seem to be more willing to help refugees from Syria and elsewhere start new lives in the Lone Star State. Nonprofits that resettle refugees say volunteer turnout has increased — in some cases dramatically — since Texas Republicans first suggested they threatened security.” More. See also an article in the Nonprofit Quarterly, here, for details on the critical role of nonprofits and volunteers in Texas at this point in time.

I have personal knowledge of the many volunteers reaching out to refugees in Providence via the Providence Granola Project (how about giving their yummy products as holiday gifts?), the Refugee Dream Center, Genesis Center, and Dorcas International. The Diocese of Providence is also at the forefront of service as an official resettlement agency, like Dorcas.

You know what else? I just heard of a woman in my town who is selling her house and moving to “wherever she’s needed.” She wants to use her years of language-teaching skills to help refugees.

[10/15/16 Update: Read about the outpouring of support for refugees in Lowell, Mass., here.]

Photo: Marjorie Kamys Cotera
A group gathered at Wooldridge Park in Austin on Nov. 22, 2015, to show support for refugees.

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The website “The Dodo: For the Love of Animals” recently posted about a man who built a little choo-choo train to give dogs rides.

Stephen Messenger writes, “Eugene Bostick may have officially retired about 15 years ago, but in some ways that was when his most impactful work began. Not long after, he embarked on a new career path of sorts — as a train conductor for rescued stray dogs. …

“Over the years, Bostick has taken in countless abandoned dogs. But more than just keeping them safe, he’s found an adorable way to keep them happy, too.

“While the rescued dogs have plenty of room to run and play on Bostick’s farm, the retiree thought it would nice to be able to take them on little trips to other places as well. That’s about the time he was inspired to build a canine-specific form of transportation just for them.

” ‘One day I was out and I seen this guy with a tractor who attached these carts to pull rocks. I thought, “Dang, that would do for a dog train,” ‘said Bostick. ‘I’m a pretty good welder, so I took these plastic barrels with holes cut in them, and put wheels under them and tied them together.’ And with that, the dog train was born. …

“The dog train has come to attract a fair share of attention among locals who occasionally stop to ask if they can take a few pictures. But for Bostick, it’s all about bringing a bit of joy to a handful of dogs who had been through so much before finding themselves as his cheerful passengers.”

Bostick tells Messenger, “Whenever they hear me hooking the tractor up to it, man, they get so excited, they all come running and jump in on their own. They’re ready to go.”

More.

Photo: Tiffany Johnson/Facebook

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In a move that will benefit the environment, farmers are placing increased emphasis on the quality of their soil and cutting back on ploughing. It took a kind of soil evangelist to create the revolution.

Erica Goode has the story at the NY Times.

“Gabe Brown is in such demand as a speaker that for every invitation he accepts, he turns down 10 more. …

“Mr. Brown, a balding North Dakota farmer who favors baseball caps and red-striped polo shirts, is not talking about disruptive technology start-ups, political causes, or the latest self-help fad.

“He is talking about farming, specifically soil-conservation farming, a movement that promotes leaving fields untilled, ‘green manures’ and other soil-enhancing methods with an almost evangelistic fervor.

“Such farming methods, which mimic the biology of virgin land, can revive degenerated earth, minimize erosion, encourage plant growth and increase farmers’ profits, their proponents say. And by using them, Mr. Brown told more than 250 farmers and ranchers who gathered at the hotel for the first Southern Soil Health Conference, he has produced crops that thrive on his 5,000-acre farm outside of Bismarck, N.D., even during droughts or flooding.

“He no longer needs to use nitrogen fertilizer or fungicide, he said, and he produces yields that are above the county average with less labor and lower costs. ‘Nature can heal if we give her the chance,’ Mr. Brown said.” More here.

Sounds like wisdom that even a backyard farmer could embrace.

Photo: Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times
“My goal is to improve my soil so I can grow a better crop so I can make more money,” [says Texas farmer Terry] McAlister, who farms 6,000 acres of drought-stricken cropland. 

 

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Here’s a good one from the radio show Living on Earth (LOE).

“At Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas, an environmental science professor teaches sustainability by example, transforming an empty dumpster into a tiny apartment where he’s lived for a year. Professor Jeff Wilson tells [LOE] host Steve Curwood about life in his micro home and his long-term goals for Project Dumpster.

CURWOOD: “Dr. Jeff Wilson, aka Professor Dumpster, is teaching sustainability by downsizing his living quarters to the dimensions of a dumpster – a clean dumpster, mind you. Jeff Wilson joins me now from his steel abode on the campus of Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas, where he’s Dean of the University College and teaches environmental science. Welcome to Living on Earth, Jeff, or, do you prefer, ‘Professor Dumpster?’

WILSON: “I’ll take Professor Dumpster and you’re at my disposal.

CURWOOD: [LAUGHS] “Right now you’re in your dumpster. What kind of headroom do you have?

WILSON: “Well, it’s a standard 10 cubic yard dumpster, which means it’s six foot by six foot at the base. And this one’s actually quite tall; it’s about seven feet…. I’ve got a wooden false floor, so the actual height of standing room is about 6’2” right now. I’ve got a window unit air conditioner. I have a few tapestries hanging on the wall. I have a twin bed and then a very small bookshelf on the corner with various things like an Oscar the Grouch mug …

“The main point of this entire experiment is to test if one can have a pretty good life on a whole lot less. … A lot of people asked why we used a dumpster instead of a tiny house or instead of even a container, and the reason we did that were some of the awareness and educational aspects of this project around addressing waste. And dumpsters, you know, are these magical boxes that we put our waste into and come back a few days later … and everything’s disappeared. So we want to highlight some of those subjects as well. …

“One of the things we’re interested in is the increased interactions with the community and the environment when you’re in a smaller home like this, sort of what that might do for one’s sort of quality-of-life and sense of experience and just the overall magic that is brought into the everyday. If you want to call it dumpster magic.”

Find the rest of the interview transcript, plus the audio version and pictures, here.

Photo: Jeff Wilson
Egress from the the professor’s dumpster home can be challenging. 

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Around the country, generous people have been “paying it forward”– doing a good deed for someone else that was done for them.

Only in this case, it’s more backward than forward because it involves paying for whatever the person behind you at the drive-thru has ordered. It’s become surprisingly widespread, according to Kate Murphy, writing at the NY Times today.

“If you place an order at the Chick-fil-A drive-through off Highway 46 in New Braunfels, Tex., it’s not unusual for the driver of the car in front of you to pay for your meal in the time it took you to holler into the intercom and pull around for pickup. …

“You could chalk it up to Southern hospitality or small town charm. But it’s just as likely the preceding car will pick up your tab at a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through in Detroit or a McDonald’s drive-through in Fargo, N.D. Drive-through generosity is happening across America and parts of Canada, sometimes resulting in unbroken chains of hundreds of cars paying in turn for the person behind them.

“Perhaps the largest outbreak of drive-through generosity occurred last December at a Tim Hortons in Winnipeg, Manitoba, when 228 consecutive cars paid it forward. A string of 67 cars paid it forward in April at a Chick-fil-A in Houston. And then a Heav’nly Donuts location in Amesbury, Mass., had a good-will train of 55 cars last July.” More.

I love the idea, but I think I missed something. Do you give the order taker an extra $20 and get the change when you pick up your meal at the next window? Or does the cost of the stranger’s meal have to go on your credit or debit card?

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Drive-thru food outlet

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I took modern dance in high school. The teacher was said to have studied with Isadora Duncan, and she certainly liked that flowing kind of movement.

Miss Hinney once challenged us to choreograph a dance about an abstract topic. Page and I chose Lavoisier’s discovery of oxygen, for which we used music from the Firebird Suite. We were not allowed to act it out as if we were Lavoisier, rather we had to interpret the chemical reaction using dance. It was impossible, so we were naturally very proud when we pulled it off.

Since then I have felt a great respect for the inventiveness of choreographers.

Here is one who sounds pretty cool. Allison Orr has closely observed garbage men in Austin, Texas, and has made their movements into a dance. More recently she worked with employees of the power company.

Robert Faires at the Austin Chronicle describes “The Trash Project, her award-winning, phenomenally popular collaboration with the city’s Solid Waste Services Department (now Resource Recovery) that made dancers of sanitation workers and the machines they operate. … Now, the Forklift Danceworks artistic director is at it again, albeit with a different city department, Austin Energy, whose employees are the focus for PowerUP. …

“For Orr, who’s made a career of making dances from the movements of people who aren’t trained in the art form – firefighters, gondoliers, roller skaters, orchestra conductors, Elvis impersonators, traffic cops, et al. – the personal stories of her subjects have become as important as their moves. She talks at length to the people with whom she collaborates on a dance and weaves recorded excerpts from interviews into the performance as the subjects are moving,” The latest Production, PowerUP was performed in September at the Travis County Exposition Center. More.

Photo: John Anderson
Power company choreography.

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As long as no one is hurt and there is not too much damage, hail is a rather wondrous phenomenon.

I was in Central Falls a few years ago to interview someone, and suddenly the whole world changed. I pulled my car over and just submitted to the racket as hail stones clattered against the roof. Nothing to do but wait.

There is something leveling about hail. People’s differences fade in the face of Nature showing who’s boss.

Dale Lezon had a hail story in the Houston Chronicle this week: “Residents in Hitchcock and Santa Fe woke up to broken roofs, shattered windows and dented cars after softball-sized hail battered the communities late Tuesday night.”

I especially liked the picture.

Photo: Brett Coomer / Houston Chronicle via AP
Christine Hubbard shows off hail stones she collected Wednesday, April 3, 2013, in Hitchcock, Texas.

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