UW-River Falls Lands Grant To Study ‘Detergent For The Atmosphere’

The increasing level of awareness about enacting proper policies to combat global warming, and educating the citizenry about environmental concerns is producing some good results. We can agree policy moves are not taking place fast enough to meet the changes that are being noted globally, but with more efforts made at informing younger generations, who will be leaders someday, it is hoped that more robust changes can occur.

I was delighted to learn, therefore, that three University of Wisconsin-River Falls students are using their summer months as part of a National Science Foundation grant to study the effect of pinenes, molecules released by conifer trees, and other vegetation into the atmosphere. Why this matters, (and like you, I am learning as I blog), is that pinenes are oxidized by other molecules in the atmosphere and during the process produce an important molecule that acts as a detergent for the atmosphere. 

University of Wisconsin River Falls Chemistry and biotechnology Professor Stacey Stoffregen, left, with research students Lilianna Rolands, Makayla Mobeck, and Trinity Olguin.

There are many reasons to smile about this project and applaud the effort.

First, science matters greatly, and grant writing and securing funding is tough work. So to land the $459,686 three-year grant for the project is truly noteworthy.

Getting fresh young minds involved with research not only looks good for their future resumes, but also matters to the climate change dilemma, that now impacts the entire globe. Who knows what findings or new questions these students might land upon which move and shape another researcher perhaps in some other nation that will then spur on a finding that has far-reaching implications.

That is the beauty of research! That is what excites me about this news.

And of course, the research branches out at UW-River Falls beyond these women as additional students will continue the research project for the next two summers.  Their contributions will supplement the growing understanding of atmospheric processes.

There are many news headlines that make up each of our days, and sadly, too many of them are the kind that can only be labeled as just awful. So it pleases me that there is a truly uplifting and hopeful story, coming from Wisconsin about young people and scientific research.

Madison To Cement Away Median Flowers, Shrubs

If we listen to Madison Mayor Conway-Rhodes there is a continual theme of working on projects which increase tourism, conventions, and special events so to add dollars to the city coffers.  That, in and of itself, is always a thrust of any leader in the city. With such intentions, however, it would then be assumed efforts would be made to continually enhance the aesthetics of the city—not degrade them. 


Well, actually, wrong.


It was really troubling to read on the front page of the Wisconsin State Journal today the following news story.

Due to budget constraints, Madison intends to soon convert nearly half of the planting beds with perennials that enliven medians of major streets to turf or colored, stamped concrete.

The city’s operating budget cuts funding for maintenance of 208 planting beds in medians from $165,000 in 2021 to $86,422 this year. To lower costs, the city is moving to take 110 beds out of contracted maintenance and covert 89 of those beds to turf or concrete.

The city intends to convert 62 planting beds to grass, mostly in locations where they’re now surrounded by turf that requires some mowing, such as around Northport Drive and Packers Avenue on the North Side. It will convert 27 beds, mostly in high-traffic areas or narrow medians, like those on East Washington Avenue and John Nolen Drive near the Monona Terrace underpass, to colored, stamped concrete. (‘Look daddy..look..there is colored cement!!’ I assume this is the mayor claiming to be working on equity issues.) Another 21 beds will require new maintenance from the Parks Division and funding in the 2023 operating budget.

Shrubs will be removed but not trees.

Seriously, what is happening to logic in our city government?

Madison is known for its love of trees and flowers, concern about runoff water, and care for the environment. So to have the city government convert medians to drab harsh cement while pretending there are no options in the operating budget that might be adjusted so as not to anger the entire city is rather remarkable.

Yet, here we are.

I suspect many a call and email will land on the desks of city alders as this topic will make for many a disgruntled resident. The mayor, too, must be mindful that her term in office is coming up for renewal.

Or not.

And so it goes.

Climate Change Catastrophes Abound

There is one line of data that simply stuns the mind and almost deflates the spirit.

Six of the largest 10 wildfires in Californian history have happened since 2020. And the 2021 forest fire season is not yet over.

It was surreal when reports from Greenville, a Gold Rush-era town. was completely gone, devastated, and leveled with nothing more standing than a news reporter conveying to the world the horror all about.

We know some of the side effects of wildfires from the Western states or ones raging in Canada. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has issued several air quality advisories over the past weeks for wide swaths of the state due to fine particle pollution at levels found to be unhealthy for residents.

This morning I awoke to the stark images from the Greek island of Evia, where more than 2,000 people were forced to evacuate as raging wildfires continued to spread, wiping out homes, reducing once-picturesque landscapes to ashes, and destroying entire villages.

Photos showed devastated residents standing under amber skies amid searing heat as they waited to be rescued from the island, which is Greece’s largest by area and population after Crete.

The news regarding the heatwave in the past 10 days in Greenland is also alarming. It has led to the region’s biggest melting event so far in the 2021 season, with researchers calculating that enough ice seeped into the ocean to cover all of Florida with two inches of water.

“It’s becoming more and more common to see these large melt events,” Lauren Andrews, a glaciologist with NASA’s Global Modeling and Assimilation Office. That’s because we generally have a warmer climate.”

It was reported today humans have already heated the planet by roughly 1.1 degrees Celsius, or 2 degrees Fahrenheit, since the 19th century, largely by burning coal, oil, and gas for energy. But that’s only the beginning, according to a report issued this morning by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of scientists convened by the United Nations. Even if nations started sharply cutting emissions today, total global warming is likely to rise around 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next two decades, a hotter future that is now essentially locked in.

The news reports of tragedy and the data compiled in scientific reports seem unable to move the dial when it comes to how the average person reacts. The folks from my parent’s generation might term this careless attitude as whistling past the graveyard.

In this nation that can be explained in large part by one major political party ignoring reality for partisan reasons. There is no running from the facts, however. We can not plead ignorance from data that shows we have over the many decades made more changes to the climate than during the entire prior history of humanity.

We proved to have the ability and ingenuity to industrialize and so we must now ask if we globally have the brains–and the will–to meet the challenge to curb and bend the destruction of the planet from its warming.

Meanwhile, the news of climate change will showcase gripping and powerfully sad images and accounts of our collective failure.

WI Supreme Court Rules On DNR Authority, From Hancock To Kewaunee County

I still recall the woman, in the 1990s, holding the jar of cloudy and unappealing looking water taken from her kitchen tap in Kewaunee County prior to driving to the Madison office of her state assemblyman. What she made clear in the office of Representative Lary Swoboda was the harmful impact the water might have on her children. Her desire for an answer to clean water came to mind, again, as the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled this past week about the power a state agency does have to impact state regulations.

In what can only be called a truly tremendous victory for science, the environment, and the authority of experts in state agencies to craft rules that work for all residents, the Court strongly affirmed the Department of Natural Resources has the authority to place permit restrictions on large livestock farms and high-capacity wells in order to protect the state’s water.

The plight of homeowners in Kewaunee County has long made for state headlines. Over the years county residents banded together and asked the DNR to review its approval of a large farming operation’s permit because it did not require groundwater monitoring or set limits on the number of animals. It was reported that about half the private wells in the town where the farm is located are contaminated.

The Court decision, written by Justice Jill Karofsky, for the majority found the DNR “had the explicit authority” to impose both permit conditions in order to “assure compliance” with limitations on discharged waste and groundwater protection standards.

Such concerns and complaints about groundwater were not new to me when working in Swoboda’s office. I was born in the Central Sands area of the state. The clean water of Waushara County was eyed by bottled water giant Perrier for a high-capacity pumping station on state land surrounding Mecan Springs. I add, to underscore the dread among locals about the proposal, that location was one of Wisconsin’s most renowned trout streams.

A decade ago there was much concern regarding manure runoff from a proposed nearly 5,000 cow farm that would have resided close to Coloma in the western part of the county. In addition to runoff issues, it was the estimate from the corporation that water usage at the facility was estimated to be about 52.5 million gallons per year that brought a united front of opposition.

The desire for stronger state regulations concerning Richfield Dairy brought many locals to meetings and in heated conversations with state lawmakers. It was, then, in that light a broader court contest emerged regarding the DNR’s approval of eight high-capacity well applications made by farmers in the Central Sands region between 2014 and 2015.

This past week Justice Rebecca Dallet wrote in the court’s majority opinion that the state Legislature “has granted the DNR the broad but explicit authority to consider the environmental effects of a proposed high capacity well.”

Pine Lake in Hancock, in Waushara County, 2016. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel files.

I fondly recall biking to this lake as a teenager, and though not knowing how to swim, loving to wade about and cool off. As an adult, it became clear that the groundwater concerns from locals were not just irrational fears, as the picture demonstrates. Over the years I heard first-hand the accounts of new homeowners needing to go deeper when digging a well. My dad’s second well, located near our garden plot, went dry when I was a young adult.

While the past two years have allowed for Hancock lakes to be very full, that does not diminish the data about the groundwater and the impact of high capacity wells in the area. The need to better regulate the permits is a necessity, given that such wells can withdraw more than 100,000 gallons of water a day from the ground.

Dad and Lary have both passed away, but I just know how pleased they would be with the Court’s rulings. Dad served 40 years as a Hancock Town Supervisor, trying to press in his low-key style the need to be mindful of natural resources. Lary, who served for 24 years in the Assembly, had wished for a more forceful ability to constrain farm runoffs into local streams.

The Supreme Court has now made it clear that Wisconsin’s waterways belong to the state’s residents.  

And so it goes.

Donald Trump’s Attack On Birds–Yes, You Read That Correctly

It will not surprise my readers the Donald Trump Administration has now even become determined to undermine regulations that were designed to support birds.  Before we get into the weeds on this issue, or should I say nests, let me give a brief backstory.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), passed in 1918, outlawed the “taking, possessing, importing, exporting, transporting, selling, purchasing or bartering” any migratory bird, as well as parts, eggs and nests of such protected birds unless granted a federal permit.  For the sake of this post let me also add that the MBTA also issued oversight and accountability for companies whose operations may harm or endanger protected bird species.

But now the Trump administration wants to roll back some of the protections that have for many decades been considered sacrosanct.   Under one of the proposed rule changes comes the phrasing that even with a first fast reading causes concern.  The rules protecting migratory birds now will  “only extend to conduct intentionally injuring birds”.

Companies that injure or kill formerly protected birds unintentionally would now not be liable for any penalty. This includes such activities as energy production and generation, from waste pits to towers to oil spills and wind turbines.

Today in my mail came the following Lexington column from the latest edition of The Economist.  Because this article is protected behind a paywall, but I want my readers to be much more aware of this topic, I have scanned it and post it below.

The issue regarding birds is one that I just find galling.  Call something a fetus and the entire judiciary can be turned inside out by the executive and legislative branches to protect it.  But another living creature without such a handle can be hosed off of road bridges and the culprit can claim it was not intentional.

The lack of regard for biodiversity and the lusty way this Administration has worked 24/7 to upend regulations and reverse the science behind those regs is maddening.  Not so long ago a man in my local community was reaching out for others to assist with the annual bird count, with the data being used to help track avian populations as the climate crisis worsens—oh–now I ticked off those rubes who can not grasp the science generated data to support that claim.

But such counts matter as it can be proved that since the 1970s America has suffered a loss in the bird population by about 1 million.  Such a sobering statistic can also be used to underscore the destructive and pathetic manner in which this White House undertakes its role in the nation regarding a policy that impacts our feathered friends.

Read the great writing and bitter truth in this weeks’s Lexington, and be prepared to be pissed-off.



Green Bay Packers Proved Lack Of Concern About Animals

I know it is early in the year to write a blog post about the Green Bay Packers, since I do not follow football.  Or care about the wins, or losses, of the team.  But there was a photo from Thursday night’s pre-season game which caused me to make sure it was not an older image from years ago.  I made the effort as I could not believe anyone in the Packer organization, in 2019, could be so obtuse regarding releasing balloons filled with helium, given the damage they do to animals.

But the photo was indeed from this week.  It was stunning to see!


Birds, turtles and other animals commonly mistake balloons for food, which can harm or even kill them.  When the pieces of latex are mistaken for food and ingested, they can get lodged in the digestive tract, inhibiting animal’s ability to eat and causing a slow and painful death by starvation.

There is also the fact that helium is a finite resource, and to waste it on a football game seems most irresponsible.  It would be nice if football organizations cared as much for the animals in our woods and fish in our lakes as they do about their profits.  It would be nice if Packer fans alerted the ones in the sky box seats that the balloons made Green Bay look backwards.

And so it goes.

Trump Wrong About Forest Fires

The lack of cogent thinking from Donald Trump showcased itself this week–and yes it is only Tuesday– when he decided to know something about forest fires.  

No one would mistake President Trump for an expert on climate change or water policy, but a tweet he issued late Sunday about California’s wildfires deserves some sort of award for most glaring misstatements about those two issues in the smallest number of words.

Trump blamed the fires on “bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized.” He complained that water needed for firefighting is being “diverted into the Pacific Ocean.”

What he overlooked, plainly, is the increasing agreement among experts that intensifying climate change has contributed to the intensity of the wildfire season. California’s woodlands have been getting drier and hotter. As my colleagues Rong-Gong Lin II and Javier Panzar reported over the weekend, “California has been getting hotter for some time, but July was in a league of its own.”

Let’s take Trump’s misconceptions in order. The likeliest explanation for his take on water is that he’s confused by the demands for more irrigation water he’s hearing from Republican officeholders in the Central Valley. They’re the people who grouse about water being “wasted” by being diverted to the ocean, rather than into their fields.

Their demands have nothing to do with the availability of water for firefighting. Fire agencies haven’t been complaining about a lack of water, especially water “diverted” to the Pacific. Major reservoirs are near the worst fire zones; the Carr fire is near Lake Shasta and Whiskeytown Lake and the Mendocino Complex fire is near Clear Lake. All are at or near their historical levels.

“There have been no issues getting water from them,” Scott McLean, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, told me.

Cal Fire, which is managing the wildfire battle, has deployed some 200 water tenders to the fire zone and is dispatching air tankers as flying conditions permit.

“The idea that there isn’t enough water is the craziest thing in the world,” says Peter Gleick, president emeritus of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security in Oakland. “There’s absolutely no shortage.”

The availability of water isn’t necessarily a governing factor in fighting wildfires, which aren’t battled like tenement blazes in the urban center. The battle is dictated by topography, the construction of physical fire breaks, and the use of fire retardant dropped from airborne vessels.

What About Those Rising Seas?

A topic we need to contend with as climate change moves forward.

Retreating from the coasts, in concept or practice, is not popular. Why would people abandon their community, the thinking goes, unless no better alternatives remained? To emergency responders, retreat is a form of flood mitigation. To environmental advocates, it’s ecological restoration. To resilience planners, it’s adaptation to climate change. Everyone agrees, however, that retreat sounds like defeat.