Three Tomatoes in Alameda: The talk of climate change deniers points to a way forward

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SEEING RED In the early stages of this still-reversible climate crisis, tomatoes are now a newsworthy topic.

That composting food waste, when done right, actually moves CO2 far beneath the atmosphere suggests that, like tree-growing, there’s a warming-reversal tactic to counter the complicated news of what climate change is doing to tomatoes. Composting-driven carbon drawdown hasn’t exactly been proven, but soil is a better home for more CO2 than is our atmosphere. As for tomatoes, a key ingredient at Zachary’s deep-dish pizza served on Telegraph, their growers face some fresh complications.

In the early stages of this still-reversible climate crisis, tomatoes are now a newsworthy topic because “Climate Change Is Real” is no longer news. It’s an obsolete phrase. 

This article will explain the obsolescence. And the flow of argument will be clear except for the intervals where the “infodemic” arrives to cloud it up again.

That three separate concepts—composting, tomatoes and infodemic—have been introduced this early in the story hints that humans face a sizable problem.

Note: The “Infodemic” is from a separate news section, the Covid section, but it’s such an expanding menace that the information plague is delaying plans to steer the climate portion of the apocalypse into a U-turn.

Together the three are “almost too big to wrap our minds around” as USA Today’s Tom Krattenmaker said this week in his column “We’re Compartmentalizing Ourselves to Death.”

While all that was developing, an innocuous-looking gardening article in the Sept. 5 San Francisco Chronicle said something clarifying about tomatoes: “photosynthesis ceases at above 100 degrees F, meaning that the plants are no longer removing CO2 from the air.”

Knowledge is power, and VICE news provided some more: a clear majority now accept that human activity is causing a rise in average global temperature. That positive development is described in detail in their Oct. 26 story titled “45% of Americans Don’t Believe Humans Cause Climate Change, VICE News/Guardian Poll Shows.”

The group of believers unearthed by VICE and the Guardian can now prepare, or vote for people who will prepare, for the worsening climate crisis by enacting policies such as composting, cutting more CO2 emissions or building thousands of acres of indoor air-conditioned tomato farms to head off a food shortage.

Americans have reached the acceptance phase. Anyone still insisting the crisis “is real” lives surrounded by the shrinking portion of deniers. Alternatively, people still insisting the crisis “is real” don’t know what phrase to use as a sequel to “Climate Change is Real.”

The first word-sequence is becoming a zombie phrase ripe to be used as green-washing propaganda.  And that’s happening now, according to Laura Niesh, executive director of Oakland’s 360 Bay Area. Niesh listed multiple color-washing propaganda “junk subsidies” for the fossil-fuel industry that lobbyists in Washington, D.C., attempted to push into the infrastructure bill that hovered between life and death in Congress since August. “Gray hydrogen” is an eco-makeover phrase that means energy from burning natural gas, which now is a last-resort polluting peak-demand energy source. “Brown hydrogen” is the nature-friendly sounding guise for the kilowatts and CO2 thrown off from burning coal.

“Biomass” is a wood-shaped briquette burned in place of coal. Coincidentally, burning biomass emits more CO2 than does burning coal. But because the briquettes are cut from trees, they were classified by Trump’s EPA as a carbon-neutral energy source since trees can eventually be replaced. Biden’s EPA didn’t roll back that carbon-neutral classification, even though the most powerful biomass briquettes are cut from old-growth trees, some British Columbia reports allege.

But instead of further exploring that path of doom, Americans and the world’s climate-concerned can bolster the milestone majority VICE and the Guardian polled last month by firming up the legitimate climate-crisis terms, as defined in Hot: Living Through the Next 50 Years on Earth by Mark Hertsgaard. The first term, “global warming” now accepted by a clear majority of Americans, refers to the human-caused rising average temperatures of our atmosphere. And since water evaporates faster in higher temperatures, we have global warming-caused “climate change,” the droughts and floods deluging us in higher intensities at greater frequencies.

And if the atmosphere heats up enough, the concentrated CO2 itself may generate its own methane, if the second part of that San Francisco Chronicle tomato article is to be believed. Said article about tomatoes—the key ingredient in soon-to-shutter Oliveto Restaurant’s September “Tomato” menu—continued, “further, plants respire, as do all living creatures, and this process can continue above 100 degrees, so the plants will be removing O2 from the atmosphere, while not removing CO2, a double whammy of a negative effect.”

That’s what could happen on a more continuous scale in the near future. The present seems to be the climate catastrophe’s brief first phase, which so far is characterized by extreme weather.

And, depending on how the Glasgow climate summit agreements are met, the just-passed Congressional infrastructure bill helps us prepare for climate disasters and the House of Representatives-passed Build Back Better Act helps us stave disasters, this milestone could be a turning point.

But the headlines suggest we’re at a circling point.

MSNBC on Oct. 29 reported “Why a Senate GOP leader said, ‘We all believe climate change is real.’” The article said the Republicans’ claim was cover for supporting—in the infrastructure bill—an “all-of-the-above energy policy—a favorite of the right for many years—that would incorporate a continued reliance on polluters.” That sounds like the gray- and brown-hydrogen washing jobs described earlier by Laura Niesh.

In an effort not all the climate-concerned can understand, the professional activists last month again pointed out that oil companies knew for years that climate change was real but tried covering it up. The pointing was apparently to put the companies on the defensive, as they eyed the infrastructure bill in perpetual limbo and covertly campaigned for more oil and gas leases on U.S. public-owned land while they could. But to some outside the professional climate activist class, it looked like a stalemate.

The “Climate Change is Real” repetition can hypnotize audiences to a dulling trance, which surfaces that point from a neighboring news section. The “Infodemic” is recognized by the World Health Organization as exacerbating Covid morbidity. Far from over, this pandemic, which postponed last year’s Glasgow climate summit, still kept 11 Pacific island nations from attending this year’s summit due to Covid travel restrictions, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Small island nations are the first to witness the climate crisis’s migration phase, partly because they have the least room to relocate population swaths after every storm rebuild. Inviting them to Glasgow would have made sense in many ways. The island residents are eyes on the ground gathering empirical evidence of what we in the mainland need to prepare for. Said the Los Angeles Times, “these nations face massive environmental challenges, from rising sea levels that could erase entire villages and decimate the tourism industry, to the destruction of coral reefs.”

Of the 13 cyclones endured by Fiji in the last five years, three have been “category five” catastrophes. “After one of those storms, the country’s gross domestic product, a measure of goods and services provided, fell by 30%” the report said. But because of Covid-19 travel restrictions, only heads of state from Fiji, Palau, Papua New Guinea and Tuvalu attended the climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland. Activists were so concerned that they urged the summit be delayed a second year until we can vaccinate the island nations’ people and lift their travel restrictions.

It all seems like too much news at one time. But scholar Benjamin Toff says more people than ever are engaging in total news avoidance.

Getting news strictly through a single company’s social media platform algorithm creates what author Gustav Khun said are “saccades”—the magic image-stitching mechanisms of the human brain. Saccades, over time, enclose a person in an enveloping reality that is in fact an illusion made from a carousel of images arranged by a singular actor. It’s explained in Kuhn’s book Experiencing the Impossible: the Science of Magic that was on display in Bancroft street’s University Press bookstore before the 40-year-old shop closed permanently during pandemic lockdown.

Nonetheless, the circle climate-stalemate concept, while maddening right now, ironically points to a way forward. The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health, the legendary composting narrative written by David Montgomery and wife Anne Bikle, who met and began their gardening passion while students at Berkeley, describes gardening management in what seems to be a microcosm of future climate management. Facing this crisis may be less like a “finally” one-time event resembling an on-off switch. It may be more akin to the continuous painting of a Bay icon, which the authors described in the following passage:

“After a while, adding organic matter to the garden started to feel like painting the Golden Gate Bridge. Just as Anne thought she’d reached the end point, she’d look back at the bed where she started and discover it needed more.”

As they described in their book, the dirt pile Montgomery and Bikle built using wood chips and food scraps would climb feet into the sky, then collapse into refined carbon-sequestering soil repeatedly. With time, their garden bed attracted crows and bees, erupted with earthworms and beetles, and was frequented by hummingbirds. Such soil could be great for growing tomatoes—an ingredient East Bay’s Red Tomato Pizzeria said has nearly doubled in price the last two months.

With no global-warming cycle to look back on to anticipate what the next crisis phase—climate migration and food shortage—might look like, the climate-concerned can seek lessons from another direction. The nearest most-feasible exercise from history of an extreme cooling event—which occurred 175 miles east of Alameda County—can provide a vague glimpse. But few are likely to succumb to the fate of that group, since global warming, when it gets really severe, may generate in our atmosphere a third and by far most harmful greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide, what dentists used to call laughing gas.

The warming version of that famous Donner Pass cooling catastrophe doesn’t sound anymore mirthful. Of the many Oakland environmental nonprofits contacted for this story, Sierra Club’s Patrick Drupp, deputy legislative director of Climate and Clean Air, was the first to offer an answer to what comes after first-base “climate change is real” convincing is accomplished. “Now that a majority recognize human-caused global warming, the time to act is now,” he said. “Let’s leverage that into action” and ensure the Build Back Better Act passes the Senate and becomes law.

The BBB, which will build a network of electric car-charging stations, among many other green infrastructure endeavors, isn’t scheduled to go up for a vote until early next year. But it’s not a stalemate, because it provides a next base the climate-concerned can run towards through the supply chain-clogged holiday season.