Tag Archives: sustainability

Gifts from Nature: Pusilli et Magni (Great and Small), Crystal Cooper

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Photo by Crystal Cooper

It’s 4.5 billion years ago—the unstable atmosphere is comprised of noxious gases, and life is yet to begin. Barren rock exists, but most of the Earth is oceanic.  This vast ocean, a cauldron of primordial soup, is where the elements of life originated.  Algae began experimenting.  Through time, random chance, and fungal help, it creeped onto the rock and succeeded.  Our first land ancestors were born, assembling premier leaf and root-like structures to harness energy, making static life possible.  This ancestor is moss, the first land plant. 

Maximizing opportunities between air and earth for the greater good of all, moss began an atmospheric and terrestrial revolution.  Along with algae, it created an oxygenated atmosphere, making this space more habitable.  Through the weathering of rock with their root-like structures, moss cultivated soil. Growing together in tightly bound communities to conserve resources and communicate, moss also provided a physical nursery from which other plant and animal life would spring. This led to the forests and plant-covered earth we now inhabit.  A living affirmation of the fractal nature of existence, each cushion of moss sustains a micro-rainforest, complete with predators, prey, and a thriving food web. 

Today, still a master of microscopic minimalism, moss has survived history with around 22,000 current species worldwide.  Remaining small and simple has been the key to its fundamental efficiency.  To reduce requirements, moss only grows as big as necessary, keeping assimilation of raw materials easy.  Lacking the more evolved structures of higher plants, moss takes in nutrients and water directly through its tissues, which are only one cell-layer thick. This highlights just how sensitive they are, identifying them as indicators of healthy habitats.  

Moss inhabits places considered unfavorable by most plants, utilizing their small size and adaptive ability to become strikingly specialized or remain generalized. One often pictures a lush rainforest of moss flourishing on all available surfaces.  At the same time, it can persist on our barren rock outcrops, the branches of towering frozen pines, in the cracks of a sidewalk, on roofs, and even traveling on the shell of a turtle. Displaying its amphibious demeanor, moss’s main concern on land is water availability.  To sustain life in the variety of environments it does, moss exhibits the skill of desiccating, or drying up.  Halting photosynthesis, it patiently awaits the return of water and favorable conditions. 

The ancient and intimate relationship between moss, water, and the atmosphere still evolves.  This is prominently observed in the health and functioning of bogs and peatlands.  Here, Sphagnum mosses begin growing at the edge of a nearly stagnant body of water.  Many distinct properties enable the Sphagnum to create an ecosystem of its own.  The water-holding capacity of its leaves and production of humic acid result in water-logged, oxygen depleted, acidic, and nutrient-poor conditions that inhibit most plants from surviving. Over thousands of years, creeping inward on the water, the moss creates a floating mat—growing, accumulating, compressing, and storing plant matter.  This also inhibits bacterial function and decomposition.  The world’s peatlands and bogs sequester twice as much carbon as trees on the planet.  

Considering the earth’s greenhouse gas and climate crisis, the function and health of bogs and peatlands are imperative for our future.  Humans use peatlands and bogs for fuel and convert them to agricultural land.  This, along with other environmental threats, inhibits or destroys the function of these critical habitats.  When healthy, these places act as crucial carbon sink, storing carbon in the form of plant matter.  However, when function ceases they become an immense carbon source, releasing greenhouse gases back into the atmosphere.  One hectare (about 2.5 acres) of peatland can hold approximately 1,500 metric tons of carbon—and millions of hectares have been damaged. Raising awareness of our social and environmental responsibility as stewards of the earth, perhaps we can look to moss for lessons in surviving. 

A myriad of symbolic treasures can be gleaned from the life and ways of moss.  Returning to a small, simple, sensitive, and adaptable life, we might begin to heal our relationship with ourselves and nature. Moving forward in the face of our changing climate, living this way would be beneficial for all.

Humbly holding on to the rocks, fallen trees, and humic earth of our north woods, moss lives in the shade of the showy, flowering plants of spring and summer.  As those plants grow fast and tall, moss pales in their wake, remaining small, whispering the virtues of simplicity. As autumn falls across the land, leaves and tall plants browning as they perish, the small and mighty plants once again begin to shine.  Moving into winter, the enduring moss can photosynthesize at near-freezing temperatures. Blazing emerald, stark against the white snow, moss offers a colorful solace and the promise of life.

Resources:
Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer – A book I reference in this article and in my life.  A beautiful balance of science and Native American wisdom, the author paints a living awareness and importance of moss.  

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/bog/ 
Great general information on bogs/peatlands and other resources.

https://www.bogology.org – A fun, informational platform of bogs and an enthusiast’s goings-on.

Biello, David. (2009, December 08). Peat and Repeat: Can Major Carbon Sinks Be Restored by Rewetting the World’s Drained Bogs? Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/peat-and-repeat-rewetting-carbon-sinks/- A good article, though dated, for getting a general picture of the significance of bogs and peatlands around the world.

Crystal Cooper has called Marquette, MI home for a decade. She received a degree in Biology Ecology, emphasizing Botany at Northern Michigan University. Passionate about traditional ecological knowledge and sustainable, minimalistic lifestyle, Crystal’s focus is community resilience in the future of our changing climate. Reach her at crystal.coocooper@gmail.com.

Reprinted with permission from the Spring 2019 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2019. All rights reserved.

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More Info. from Steve Waller on “Wind Energy – Hot Air?”

Here’s the formula for relating turbines to trees:

A 2-megawatt turbine X 35% load factor outputs 700 kw X 8,760 hrs per year = 6,132,000 kWh per year X 650 g/kWh average intensity = 4,394 tons of CO2 / 2 tons CO2 absorbed per acre of trees = 2,196 equivalent acres of forest per 2-megawatt turbine

A single 2-megawatt turbine has the CO2 reducing effect of 2,196 acres of forest while generating $367,920 (@ $0.06 wholesale per kWh) of electricity per year.

One megawatt of turbine = roughly 1,000 equivalent forest acres. 

A higher turbine “load factor” (percent of maximum possible output actually generated) increases the forest equivalent. The newest turbines have higher load factors.

50 turbines in a wind farm (50 X 2,196) have the CO2 reducing effect of 109,840 acres of forest

Example:

Summit Lake wind farm’s 50 turbines utilize a footprint of only 560 acres (2%) of the 28,000 acres of wind farm forest. 98% of the forest remains forested.

219,700 turbine tons of CO2 + 54,880 unmodified forest tons of CO2 ((28,000 original acres – 560 turbine acres) X 2 tons CO2 per acre) = 274,580 tons of CO2 kept out of the air per year.

The wind farm increases the CO2 reduction of the original 28,000 acre Summit Lake forest from 56,000 tons of CO2 absorbed per year without the wind farm to the equivalent of 274,580 tons of CO2 absorbed per year with the wind farm.

Looks like we should REALLY encourage the Summit Wind Farm!

$ value of turbine power:

6,132,000 kWh X $0.06 wholesale (AKA “offset” price) price per kWh =

$367,920 annual wholesale value of electricity per turbine.

$367,920 X 50 turbines = $18,396,000 annual wholesale value of wind farm power.

6,132,000 kWh X $0.14 retail price per kWh = $858,480 annual retail value of electricity per turbine.

$858,480 X 50 turbines = $42,924,000 annual retail value of wind farm power.

Here are just a few of the sources I used for Wind Energy – Hot Air in the Spring 2019 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine.

https://cleantechnica.com/2018/02/21/wind-power-results-bird-deaths-overall/

https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/co2_vol_mass.php

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1530-9290.2012.00464.x

https://www.nrdc.org/experts/arjun-krishnaswami/renewable-energy-brings-economic-boost-rural-communities

https://www.factcheck.org/2018/03/wind-energys-carbon-footprint/

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140616093317.htm

https://www.awea.org/wind-101/benefits-of-wind/environmental-benefits

https://www.awea.org/wind-101/benefits-of-wind

https://www.awea.org/Awea/media/Resources/StateFactSheets/Michigan.pdf

https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/life-cycle-analysis-of-the-embodied-carbon-emissions-from-14-wind-turbines-with-rated-powers-between-50-kw-and-34-mw-2090-4541-1000211.php?aid=74577

https://www.awea.org/wind-101/benefits-of-wind/economic-development

https://www.aweablog.org/the-truth-about-wind-power/

https://www.aweablog.org/fact-check-really-causes-electricity-prices-rise/

http://www.windustry.org/how_much_do_farmers_get_paid_to_host_wind_turbines

https://www.landmarkdividend.com/wind-turbine-lease-rates/

https://cleantechnica.com/2014/05/07/wind-power/

https://www.nrdc.org/experts/arjun-krishnaswami/new-report-clean-energy-sweeps-across-rural-midwest

https://www.awea.org/Awea/media/Resources/StateFactSheets/Michigan.pdf

 

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What Is . . . . Marquette Growth?

More and more we hear about the lack of understanding of the connection between our food and where it comes from, but how many of us are actually doing something about it?

In 2012, a group of friends asked each other what they’d do for our community if they had a million dollars, and realized they all wanted to empower the community’s ability to grow food. This led to the creation of Marquette Growth. Marquette Growth is a non-profit community garden initiative aimed at providing access to free, healthy, organic, growing sites and education for the community, with a focus on getting food from farm to school.

As Vice President Scott Lawrence describes, “We heard the same reasons over and over for why people don’t take responsibility for a portion of their food—no time, space, money, or education. We realized a free educational community garden group was the answer, where people can donate time for fresh produce.”

It took months of sustained effort for group members Tyler Phillips, Jess Zerbel, Miriah Redmond and Scott Lawrence to find a place to start the program. Thankfully, Marquette Alternative High School Principal Andrew Crunkleton believed in their vision and work began on the hoop house at Graveraet, where the school was located at the time.

Lawrence also began a Kickstarter Fund in 2013, which raised $2500 to start a food forest of fruit trees and other perennials, plus annual garden beds at Vandenboom Alternative High School. Marquette Growth facilitated a full day of gardening workshops leading up to the actual planting of the trees and other perennials, which was accompanied by live music. Annual gardens were also planted, which the students help maintain.

Since then smaller sites have also been established, including at Cherry Creek Senior Living, behind the Wild Rover, Ore Dock Brewery, Sandy Knoll Elementary, Black Rocks Brewery, Teaching Family Homes and Sweet Water Café, with items such as sunflowers, a mint garden or fruit tree.

Lawrence explains, “The hoop house is open to all community members, young or old. We like the way that gardening connects all walks of life. We all eat. Why not eat the best quality food? We are happiest seeing young working next to old, poor working next to wealthy. We want to bridge the gaps of our community through growing high quality food. And get kids excited about growing their own food, or at least give them the knowledge of where their food comes from.”

At Gravaeret Elementary, students have access to hands-on agricultural education through the school garden from seed to fork. They help as much as possible in the hoop house, which is watered, planted and maintained solely by volunteers, and their garden produce is implemented in school lunch options. “Last year’s 4th graders even sold seeds and seedlings to raise funds for a field trip to MSU North Farm as part of an educational unit Marquette Growth ran in partnership with MSU Extension, Marquette Food Co-op, Transition Marquette, and the school district. Students toured the farm, seeing how the transplants used in the school garden were started, and saving seeds from these and other plants,” describes member Miriah Redmond.

Marquette Growth would like to help establish hoop houses at all of Marquette’s public schools. Once approval is obtained, the group will seek funding. Already, “hundreds of pounds of food, lots of enlightened/educated community members, and tons of new relationships have been created,” describes Lawrence. He’s passionate about the need for this initiative, explaining, “We are at the end of the food delivery routes. Major grocery stores only have enough food to support our community for two to three days. If fossil fuels seize to exist, so will our food. We need to work together to build a food sovereign community. Younger generations need to be educated on these matters to encourage them to take responsibility for a portion of their own food. Together, we can build a more resilient community. Spread the word of Marquette Growth, get people excited about growing food and bridge any gap in existence to get us all working together.”

New helpers are welcome to join Wednesday work nights at Gravaeret Elementary, as well as additional open hoop house hours, various workshops, and Facebook.com/groups/marquettegrowth. The initiative can also be supported by financial contributions through Paypal by contacting mqtgrowth@gmail.com.

Reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Spring 2016 issue.

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