Friday, June 20, 2008

Choir Concert Tonight

Liz, Anna and Shelagh at their last concert together, in 2005

Tonight is the 15th anniversary concert of the Leelanau Children's Choir and Youth Ensemble, at 7 pm at the Northport Community Arts Center.

Both present singers and alumni are singing, so I get to hear all three of my daughters sing together on stage once again. I have been doing double duty this week, shuttling kids back and forth to rehearsal, ironing and fixing costumes in the wings while they sing, and then putting in my regular shifts at the casino at night. Every once in a while I look up from my ironing board as I hear a familiar voice from afar and then I go out to the stage and hear yet another returning singer. The adult voices are stronger and more confident than they were in high school. A shy guy who sang like a deer in the headlights his senior year is now eating up the chance to be on stage again.

This concert is one night only, with a catered reception immediately afterwards. Tickets are $20, or $5 for students, at the door.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Bear in Leland

Richard tells me that John Henderson saw a bear in Leland this morning, in Pendergast's yard on M-22 across from Indiana Woods, just a stone's throw from Fudgie Beach. It's usual to see foxes, minks or an eagle in that location, but a bear is a little over the top. Maybe it will show up at the Wine Festival tomorrow.

I looked for it at 11:30 when I drove in to pick Anna up on the last day of school. I didn't see it -- no surprise there -- but there were fudgies on the beach and downtown was crowded with newly released school kids and resorters riding bikes and walking dogs.

We've had 4 inches of rain in the last week, not a lot compared to much of the Midwest, but enough to make the farmers happy. My sweet potatoes, which looked like produce department scraps when I planted them, have sprung a few leaves and grown a few inches. Still no seedling peanuts, although I've now replanted them for the third time.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Amtrak Wins!

HR 6003, the Passenger Rail Reinvestment and Improvement Act, passed in the House yesterday by a 311-104 margin. By a veto-proof margin. My congressman, Dave Camp, voted against the bill despite my entreaties. Maybe I helped open his mind to some possibilities anyway.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Garden --What's new

The garden is almost in, everything except that patch of reclaimed ground across the driveway. Many things are different this year, as I adapt to a changing climate and a changing family.

I'm trying out some things that we used to think were too heat loving for our area. I have planted peanuts, sweet potatoes and okra for the first time this year. I am also paying much more attention to building the soil and using green manures, planting buckwheat on the part that I won't plant until later and planting the paths in white clover instead of just letting them stay bare ground. My timing is good on that last part as we have had more than our share of rain this spring, but I was really thinking of the atmosphere, as the only method of carbon sequestration that makes any sense to me is the old fashioned method, putting carbon back into the soil.

Here in Leelanau we have lots of carbon-deprived soil to restore. While visitors think of our area as relatively pristine, when I survey my soil I'm reminded of the history of Northern Michigan. It was once primeval forests, but around the turn of the last century the penninsula was strip mined for its trees, leaving nothing but sand once the rains came. My garden soil is rare for its higher organic matter content, but if I let a patch lay bare for any time at all the peat blows away leaving a surface coating of sand.

I used to think that when I neglected my soil I was only hurting myself. Thinking of keeping the atmosphere healthier by building the soil is something new, a new motivation to do what has long been the right thing.

Liz is working up the road at Meadowlark Farm this summer, a Community Supported Agriculture truck farm. In many cases she is now helping to produce food for the same families she has known as babysitter, church member, and schoolmates. When I knew she was going to work there I changed my plans a little, focusing on trying new things as I know that she will bring home plenty of the old standbys when they come in season. Last winter we really wished we had more frozen pesto, dried sweet peppers and dried zucchini so I planted more of those.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

US House Considers Improving Amtrak

This week the US House is scheduled to consider US House Bill 6003, companion bill to the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement bill approved by the Senate earlier this year.

As fate would have it, I read this news as Liz and I were about to walk out the door and drive her back to Evanston for two days of final exams. She called our congressman's office from the road to support the bill; I struggled to use her Mac to email him the following:
I am excited to be able to ask you to support House bill 6003, the House version of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act.

Amtrak ridership was rising even before the recent surge in gas prices. For years, Amtrak has been forced to go to Congress and fight for funding every year. The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act will provide stable funding for a number of years while cooperating with local funding to expand the system to meet the greater need.

When you wrote me about this issue a few weeks ago, you mentioned the 1997 agreement that Amtrak would be self-sufficient. No other form of transportation -- not even sidewalks -- is self sufficient in the US. There are federal dollars for air transportation, highways, even harbors. So much has changed since 1997. Air travel is now overshadowed by the threat of terrorism. Automobile travel is akin to gambling that you will be able to afford that last tank of gas to get you home again. Knowing that we could count on train travel for our long distance needs means that people in our district can trade down to smaller cars without giving up the option of taking longer trips now and then.

I hope you'll support the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act.

I wanted to talk about reducing carbon emissions by using trains, but I'm not sure my congressman really gets climate change. I've been watching the news of this legislation for a while. One of the interesting parts is seeing how many different localities are interested in using the matching funds feature to resurrect rail travel in their areas. Here is a partial list:

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Climate Change Comes before the Senate

The news was All Obama All Night last night, but the US Senate spent yesterday debating a bill to address climate change. The Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act is meant to reduce US carbon emissions using the cap-and-trade strategy.
The bill calls for a cap on greenhouse-gas emissions starting in 2012, with electric utilities, refineries, and the industrial and transportation sectors required to cut their emissions 19 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and a 71 percent by 2050. Other provisions of the bill are expected to reduce greenhouse gases from additional emitters 66 percent by 2050.

For the primary industries covered, emissions cuts would be achieved through a cap-and-trade system that would let polluting entities buy and sell the right to emit carbon. About 20 percent of emissions credits would be auctioned initially; the rest would be given out free to emitters and states. The percentage of credits auctioned instead of given away would increase gradually over time. (Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have both advocated for auctioning 100% of credits from the beginning, a position widely supported by enviros.)

Some new provisions in the bill are intended to help consumers deal with any increases in energy prices. There's an $800 billion consumer tax relief package and a $911 billion allowance to local electricity and gas utilities to help them cushion consumers from price swings, invest in renewables, and promote efficiency. This would all be paid for by the revenue from auctioning emissions credits, expected to total $3.3 trillion over the life of the bill. Funds from the auction would also go to worker transition programs, block grants to local governments for energy-efficiency programs, international adaptation programs, and deficit reduction.
Negotiations between environmentalists and industry reps have been going on for a few years now, hammering out compromises on how carbon credits are to be measured, awarded, and traded. The revenue from auctioning carbon credits will be a new source of government revenue; theoretically this money will be used to fight the climate battle on other fronts, but in practice we always need to watch out for pork. It doesn't help that the program depends on another futures market at a time when the popular press is blaming such markets for high food and fuel prices.

Joseph Romm, the really smart energy and environment guy, is live blogging on the debate at Climate Progress. There's also a summary of the debate so far here.

As a casino dealer, not an energy analyst, I have concerns about any cap and trade bill that does not include a 100% auction system. When credits are "grand fathered in" it creates a system that rewards the behavior we were trying to eliminate. When the process is destined to take time and the signs point towards even a little bit of monetary value for pollution that an industry is already producing, the way to win the game is to artificially increase your emissions now so that you have more emission credits to sell later. I wonder if this sort of thinking isn't responsible for Michigan's mini boom of coal plant investing.

I don't get mad about people who "game the system". We're humans; that's what we're good at. We are also smart enough to design better systems, if we try.