Switch to Renewable Energy

Storm Coming (NASA)

GR–Ode to concerned scientists: They see the danger, they blow the horns and clang the bells, and they wait. But the ramparts remain empty. They turn to their family and friends, but dreamlike their voices are too soft and none respond.

“Fifteen thousand scientists have issued a dire warning to humanity about impending collapse but virtually no-one takes notice. Ultimately, our global systems, which are designed for perpetual growth, need to be fundamentally restructured to avoid the worst-case outcome.

“For a moment, the most important news in the entire world flashed across the media like a shooting star in the night sky. Then it was gone. In November, over fifteen thousand scientists from 184 countries issued a dire warning to humanity. Because of our overconsumption of the world’s resources, they declared, we are facing “widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss.” They warned that time is running out: “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.”

“This is not the first such notice. Twenty-five years ago, in 1992, 1,700 scientists (including the majority of living Nobel laureates) sent a similarly worded warning to governmental leaders around the world. In ringing tones, they called for a recognition of the earth’s fragility and a new ethic arising from the realization that “we all have but one lifeboat.”

“This second warning contains a series of charts showing how utterly the world’s leaders ignored what they were told twenty-five years earlier. Whether it’s CO2 emissions, temperature change, ocean dead zones, freshwater resources, vertebrate species, or total forest cover, the grim charts virtually all point in the same dismal direction, indicating continued momentum toward doomsday. The chart for marine catch shows something even scarier: in 1996, the catch peaked at 130 million tonnes and in spite of massively increased industrial fishing, it’s been declining ever since—a harbinger of the kind of overshoot that unsustainable exploitation threatens across the board.” –Jeremy Lent (What Will It Really Take to Avoid Collapse?).

How Many of You Switched to Renewable Energy?

In recent posts, I described the warnings of impending disaster. I didn’t expect to have an impact, and I wasn’t wrong. As Jeremy Lint points out in the article above, the media avoidance of unappetizing topics is too complete. And of course, our leaders in power avoid the subject in their subservience to wealth. My first hint that good advice for avoiding collapse would be futile was the minimal response to my discovery of the simple and inexpensive means for everyone to switch their homes from fossil fuel energy to renewable energy. Like Pangloss, I’ve remained hopeful. But I read that book, and now I’ve turned to a more practical concern; the post-anthropocene survivors, the weeds, have absorbed my attention. Today’s weed is Shepherdspurse, a foreign but familiar little mustard that feeds butterflies and yields medicines for us humans.

Plants of the Post Anthropocene: 5. Barnyard Grass

Weed No. 5. Barnyard Grass (Echinochloa crus-galli)

Farmers detest this European grass for its ready invasion of most crops. The plant can also invade and destroy native grassland vegetation in areas disturbed by grazing livestock. Otherwise, Barnyard Grass serves as a colonizer and successional species that is steadily replaced by longer-lived species. In one research study, other species replaced it in about 10 years.

In the arid climate of central Arizona, the plant survives along moist stream banks and in bare spots in and beside watered lawns and gardens. The plant is easy to control by mowing or withholding water. However, if you allow a few clumps to grow, you will get to enjoy watching the acrobatics of Lesser Goldfinches that relish Barnyard Grass seeds. The small birds hang (often upside down) on drooping seed tops steadily removing mature seeds until all are gone. The birds must drop some seeds, however, as new plants appear in the same spots every spring.

Barnyard Grass (Echinochloa crus-galli). This strong summer annual matures at ½ to 6 feet tall and often spreads from its base to form large clumps. The leaves are 4 to 20 inches long and ¼ to ¾ inches wide. Flowering occurs along the top 3 to 10 inches of the stem. Flowering branches are 1 to 2 ¼ inches long with short green or purple spikelets 1/8 inch long with bristles up to 1 ½ inches long. A single plant can produce 40,000 of the pale yellow shiny seeds. A. Spikelet spread open. B. Two spikelets with short and long awns. C. Grain. Image used with permission of the University of Arizona Press.

Plants of the Post Anthropocene: 4. Barestem Larkspur

Weed No. 4. Barestem Larkspur (Delphinium scaposum)

This is the most widespread of nine native Larkspur species in Arizona. Commercial seed packages often contain several of the species. Larkspur spreads across disturbed areas and flowers spring through summer. Plants are drought tolerant. New shoots from the plant’s root system form persistent colonies. My colonies have usually lasted only a year or two. I suspect that supplemental watering that benefits other flowers rotted the roots and prevented patch persistence and spread.

The plant’s foliage poisons cattle, but the flowers are fabulous insect magnets. Butterflies, bees, flies, and moths of many species like the nectar. Around my house, it’s the most popular flower for bumblebees including the big shiny black carpenters.

Larkspur (mostly at left) blends well with the Black-Oil Sunflowers that volunteer in places where I feed birds. (Photo: GR)

Barestem Larkspur (Delphinium scaposum). This gray-green perennial reproduces from seed and from clusters of dark woody roots. The stems reach ½ to 2 ½ feet high. Flowers are vivid royal blue with long basal spurs. A. Seed pod (3/8 to ¾ inches long). B. Seed (1/8 inch). (Drawing used with permission of the University of Arizona Press.)

Plants of the Post Anthropocene: 3. Annual Yellow Sweetclover

Weed No. 3. Annual Yellow Sweetclover (Melilotus indicus)

This Mediterranean and Middle Eastern clover is probably present in Dewey-Humboldt, but I haven’t yet spotted it. Annual and sometimes biennial, the plant flowers from fall to spring in moist sites including lawns, gardens, streamsides, and farms.

Sweetclover feeds bees and other pollinators, but is poisonous to some mammals. According to the Encyclopedia of Life, it can repel bed bugs and clear constipation. I haven’t read the source for these uses, but as the climate warms and humidity increases, repelling bedbugs might become an essential benefit. Worth a try.

Annual Yellow Sweetclover. The tiny yellow flowers droop as they age. By Eigene Arbeit, Selbst Fotografiert. Reproduced with permission (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Annual Yellow (Indian) Sweetclover (Melilotus indicus). This erect annual has spikelike inflorescences and small drooping flowers. The round seedpod is about 1/12 inch long and holds 1 or 2 seeds. Seeds are eggshaped, 1/16 inch long, dark greenish brown, and have a rough surface. The compound leaves are ½ to 1¼ inches long and have three leaflets. They have small teeth above the middle and a dull red bar beside the midrib. Their tips are indented or blunt. A. Seedling. B. Pealike flower. C. Seed. (Parker 1972. Used with permission of the University of Arizona Press.)