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So Beautiful, So Scary, It’s the Future

Fall is in its glory, with beautiful weather days, clouds, pumpkins and leaf colors surrounding us here in Chicago.

Revel in this loveliness, dear readers, because Climate Change is with us everywhere always. Last Saturday, I attended a seminar at the Chicago Botanic Garden. The subject? A scientific study of which trees we should be planting because they are well suited to….future heat levels in the Chicago region. Here’s some winners: American Hornbeam [Carpinus caroliniana] ‘Firespire’, Kentucky Coffeetree [Gymnocladus dioicus] ‘Top Hat’, Miyabe Maple [Acer miyabei] ‘State Street’. Here’s a loser: White oak. My heart weeps to think this tree may be gone from Chicago by 2050. As I write, the biggest hurricane EVER is looming down on wonderful Manzanillo, Mexico, which we once had the pleasure of visiting, bringing with it 12″ of rain across the American Gulf Coast. 2015 is the hottest year on record. The oceans are already three degrees warmer than the 20th century average (and it takes a lot of heat to heat up an entire ocean), and drought will mean MILLIONS will be starving in Africa. India and Pakistan hit 118 degrees last spring, leaving no water supply. Thousands of people died. Did we even KNOW THAT? (Pet peeve: TV weather reports never show international maps, as if no one lives in foreign countries. Even Canada doesn’t show up on the TV news.) But 25 “red” states are suing the Federal government for trying to reduce emissions via regulations to be published by the EPA today. It’s a disingenuous ploy to seem like they are saving coal mining jobs since most states** are preparing plans to do the right thing, climate wise, and meet the regulations thru their own cap-and-trade programs. (**Hard-core Governors that are suing the Feds without creating their own air quality plans are Texas, Louisiana, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma.) I’m grateful to live in Chicago, which seems fairly insulated from the big environmental disasters. But the “hot” news from elsewhere makes me want to either pull the blankets over my head and hide OR do something pro-active. I live in a big house (actually, two houses), own three cars (none battery powered), and own numerous gas-driven tractors, lawnmowers, chain saws and leaf blowers. Which means that I’m more responsible in thought (admission: I think electricity is the best invention ever) and deed for bleaching the coral animals than the average guy, although not anywhere as bad as the Koch brothers, the Tennessee Valley Authority (yes, the Federal government’s own power plants), or Exxon Mobil. Their coal companies power my house and their refineries power my vehicles. Moi? Mea culpa. Here’s a great Forbes article that explains the big polluters and the trade-offs we make. No matter how many (heat tolerant) trees I plant, it’s time for me to say “no” to gasoline and coal. Maybe one less person will starve or one more coral will live because I didn’t blow the leaves away quite so fast or (gasp) raked and composted the leaves. Less air conditioning and “cleaner” cars. Ya think?## Sounds like I’m singing the blues today.  

News Briefs from around the World…

In case you missed these stories…

. TWIGITECTURE: my new favorite word and my new favorite garden idea. Gotta have my own nest! Check out this NYTimes story by Penelope Green. People are soooo creative…



. Conserving water is very important, especially when Illinois is in drought and, despite a lot of rain this year, Lake Michigan is 19″ below where it should be. I live in Lake Forest, which borders Lake Michigan, where we have a daytime “sprinkling ban” by which half the town (even-numbered houses) gets to irrigate between midnight-10 am or 8 pm-midnight on one day, and then the other half of homes gets to irrigate the next night. We don’t have automatic sprinklers at our house because I think they waste more water than they save, and my plants don’t need equal amounts of water. Thus I hand-water–in the morning. Usually. Maybe on an even day. (So arrest me.)

But, according to the NYTimes, the water-parched City of PHOENIX, AZ doesn’t have such restrictions. “There is no limit to how many times someone can wash a car or water flowers in a yard…that’s just myopic”, says Phoenix’s Policy Advisor for Sustainability. Instead, it uses strategies such as “graywater” from bathrooms and washing machines to irrigate, or uses treated wastewater to cool a nuclear power plant and a man-made wetland. Water use is a factor in zoning decisions. While Phoenix does not, other cities such as Mesa, Las Vegas, and Tucson give rebates for residents who remove grass and xeriscape, harvest rainwater, or use graywater for landscaping. Some towns regulate homeowners’ trees, shrubs and flower choices. The article does not say how much residents pay per gallon of water, but these strategies appear to be working: in 1990, Phoenix residents used 250 gallons of water/day. Now they use 123. H’mmm…

1-P1050277 los angeles

. NYC aims to make recycling mandatory by 2016. Wow, good! That means 1.2 million tons of food waste will be made into COMPOST!

. CHINA is moving 250 million (yes, you read it right) farmers off their land and into high-rise apartment buildings in newly-made “cities”. The hope is to create 250 million CONSUMERS. Can you say, “worldwide social, moral, cultural, and economic DISASTER”?

. NYC has released its Climate Change report which predicts that 800,000 people will live in the 100-year flood plain by 2050, more than double the current 398,000 currently at risk. The number of days with temperatures above 90 degrees is expected to jump from 22 to 48/year by 2050. See current information at:

. LOURDES, FRANCE is under flood water. They are hoping for a miracle.##



A Few News Briefs…

Having grown up in Weston, Connecticut, there are a few East Coast preferences that I will never shake. One is the New York Times. I read it assiduously. So from time to time I’ll post some news and/or links that gardeners, conservationists, environmentalists (yes there is a diff between conservationists and environmentalists), land use planners, and whoever else is reading this blog might be interested in. And please, comment or write a follow up article…this blog is not supposed to be just the Queen Bee sounding off. It is here to exchange information, questions, and great commentary (emphasis on “great”).

Here are some snippets:

  • Sally Jewell is the new 51st Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Who, you ask? Sally Jewell, 57 (young!) former CEO of REI, an outfitting store that is hard not to like. Jewell has no political experience, but she is a mountain climber so that bodes well for running an agency in Washington DC with 70,000 (!) employees, an $11B budget, and stewardship of 20% of the land in the U.S.. Why are you, a mere backyard gardener or landscape professional, interested in Interior? Because the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 2012 designated the country’s newest National Wildlife Refuge, called “Hackmatack”, in McHenry County and overlapping towards Lake Geneva, WI.. You are also interested because Interior administers the Endangered Species Act (thanks to Tricky Dick Nixon, 1973). Also, Interior regulates the private leasing of our national lands for oil wells and the like (pipelines). And it sells Duck Stamps (thanks to Herbert Hoover, 1929) to duck hunters, which raised $700 million for wetland conservation in 2013. Interior makes a difference in each of our lives.
  • Columbus, Indiana, is an “unlikely trove of midcentury modernism”. Oh, how I want to make a road trip here and see not only 70 examples of great architecture, but great landscape architecture. For example, you can tour the 1957 house designed by Eero Saarinaan and Kevin Roche [oooh, a fuchsia conversation pit!] but the gardens designed by landscape architect Dan Kiley. Alas, the Monet water lilies that was in this house was sold in 2008 for $40 million. Did any of you happen to purchase it?
  • A future post will cover the gardening impact of 400 ppm CO2 levels. We know we must plant trees and more trees, but should we be burying the dead ones instead of chipping, burning, or letting them lie on the ground to disintegrate? The latter options are ways to accelerate the release of more carbon. What do you think?

Anywho, this NYTimes article explains that average worldwide warming has now been proved to be 5 degrees, warmer over land (such as Chicago) and even higher at the Poles (15 degrees). Actually, a 2008 article about weeds loving CO2 (REQUIRED READING!) says that the average city condition NOW compared to the suburban temperature is exactly what is predicted worldwide…. This is what I know. There is no question that Santa is shaving his beard cause he’s too hot: the NYTimes reports that in 2010, only four ships carrying 110,000 tons of cargo made the northern passage between Asia and Europe. In 2012, 46 did, carrying 1.3 million tons. Less ice? Scary.##