Gretchen and I missed the great lineup of local Earth Day events last weekend because we were visiting our family in Shawano. Events there included programs at the Navarino Nature Center, but my ever-practical son-in-law suggested we avoid the carbon emissions of two cars driving to Navarino and instead get close to the earth at hand.
So we spent an afternoon on our hands and knees in the soft, moist, fragrant earth pulling quack grass, which had invaded the ample strawberry patch – a patch that brightens my breakfast toast with jam. It was a tedious task, trying as best we could to disentangle the roots that had intertwined with those of the strawberry plants. But the sandy soil on the flat land near the confluence of the Wolf and Red rivers made the task doable and we enjoyed the earth’s springtime renewal.
Sandhill cranes called in the distance, the farmer next door was spreading manure in preparation for planting, and a calf bleated for its mother among the cattle grazing in a field nearby.
Elsewhere on Earth Day weekend, representatives of some 175 countries signed the Paris Agreement on climate change. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held his granddaughter on his lap as he signed for the United States. As a grandparent, I appreciated the reminder that we express concern for the generations to come by our actions to deal with the changing climate caused by our and preceding generations.
One of my most ardent critics, also a grandparent, sent me pictures of his family outing planting trees on a reclaimed frac sand mine. He was pround that his little grandson (a “happy little Republican,” as he put it) had planted his first tree.
I responded how nice it was and added, “On that we can agree.”
And I could agree with his assertion that frac sand mining has contributed to the dramatic increase in oil and natural gas production that has made America less reliant on the MIddle East for energy. But I would add the caveat that it will make us great only insofar as it is used as a bridge from highly polluting coal to more benign energy sources such as wind and solar. So I guess we are not in complete agreement yet.
Iowa’s Earth Day was fresh off the announcement by Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy Company that it planned to invest $3.6 billion in a giant wind energy project that would further enhance Iowa’s green energy future.
The company’s announcement quoted Republican Gov. Terry Brandstad saying, “Wind XI puts Iowa on track to be the first state in the nation to generate more than 40 percent of its energy needs from wind power – far ahead of any other state ... Every wind turbine you see in Iowa means income for farmers, revenue for counties and jobs for Iowa families.”
Contrast that, if you will, with Wisconsin’s miniscule-by-comparison investment in wind energy, only one-third of the approximately 10 percent of electricity generated by renewables in the state.
Branstad and Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority said the proposed plan is the largest economic development project in the state’s history. “The development of additional renewable generation puts MidAmerican Energy and the state of Iowa in a strong position to comply with carbon emissions limits and other regulatory requirements,” the release said.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin is among the states fighting President Obama’s Clean Power Plan to significantly reduce carbon emissions even as the state falls behind states like Iowa in achieving those goals. Laws passed in recent years make wind energy development difficult in Wisconsin.
I hope that on some future Earth Day Wisconsin will be celebrating progress similar to Iowa’s in developing clean energy. I had that thought while on my knees weeding quack grass – an earthy-day prayer, you might say.
Speaking of energy, I offer a toast to one of the most energetic and honest journalists I’ve had the pleasure and privilege to work with. Randy Erickson, who has been such a capable steward of these community newspapers, is moving on to other responsibilities for the La Crosse Tribune. Gretchen and I hired Randy as a young reporter shortly after we bought the Onalaska Community Life in 1990. He has served his communities well. We value his friendship and admire his contributions to hometown journalism. Here’s to you, Randy. Skol.