Be an environmental activist through backyard choices

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Image courtesy of Pixabay

Courtesy of Kansas Reflector

I like to think of myself as an environmental advocate: someone who believes that climate change is a dangerous and evolving threat. I am angry that our government is not doing more to promote sustainability and alternative energies.

But I take some weak positions there with “believe” and “anger”. What about an action on my part?

The best I can muster is to minimize the harm I do to the environment on a regular basis. I choose a car that has good gas mileage. I run our laundry at night to avoid peak periods. I scold my son and daughter for not recycling.

These changes allow me to remain in my comfortable place of privileged consumption. These tiny actions minimize my outsized environmental impact in the first world.

Two Kansas podcasts this week offer similar ways to start healing our environment rather than limiting the daily damage we cause.

Together, the podcasts offer two happy coincidences. First, their timing is exceptional. Both episodes, released on back-to-back days on different podcast channels, overlap by considering how backyard gardens with native plants can encourage monarch butterflies.

The second coincidence is looking at the strikingly beautiful monarch butterfly. Its marathon pattern of migration from Canada to Mexico over generations of reproduction is a natural wonder. Added to this is the precision of their migration (the butterflies orient themselves by the angle of the sun in the sky).

Here are the two podcasts that magically overlapped to discuss how our backyard gardens can be more than a place for annual bags of red mulch to be dumped:

  1. Wildflowers and Native Plants from The Flatlander Podcast, April 22nd
  2. Monarch Watch from the Uncovering Kansas podcast, April 23

The connection to Kansas for the monarch butterfly comes from its migration path through our state and also from the Kansas-based non-profit organization that has been committed to their conservation for 30 years.

Monarch Watch founder and director Chip Taylor connects the butterfly to today’s biggest environmental issues on Uncovering Kansas.

“Monarchs are important because they are symbolic of how we run the planet and the impact we have on the planet,” says Taylor. “The fact that the monarch population is declining is worrying because this is one of the most amazing natural phenomena on the planet. We must be careful.

“And the monarchs tell us we’re not careful.”

Across eight countries, Monarch Watch has created more than 38,000 waystations: places where monarchs can find their coveted milkweed plant.

Taylor explains that choosing a native milkweed plant is critical. Blindly buying any ancient milkweed could mean inadvertently harming monarchs with pesticides.

“People who buy spurge — especially tropical spurge — in big stores,” Taylor said. “And they take these plants home to grow some monarch caterpillars on. Two or three bites from that foliage if it’s been treated with these neonicotinoid pesticides, these butterflies will curl up and squirm at the bottom of the pot.”

The guest on this week’s Flatlander podcast also asks listeners to be mindful of what they’re planting. Brad Guhr, educator at Dyck Arboretum of the Plains in Hesston, explains why we should choose native plants.

Guhr says native plants should give back to the environment in which they are planted as much as they take. (That sounds like a tall order for all of us.) He agrees with Taylor that it’s often difficult to find such plants at national hardware and retail chains.

Finding the right plant, however, can create a thriving natural environment.

“The more diversity you get at that plant level, the more diversity you’re going to get at that animal level, higher up,” says Guhr. “And I think that’s where another level of pleasure comes into play. Wanting to see the wildlife that is drawn to a landscape.”

Of course, this kind of thoughtfulness about which plants we choose goes against the weekend warrior mentality of perpetuating the stereotypical suburban backyard. It’s so tempting to race through the Home Depot nursery and select a plant that could survive in an empty plant bed at home. We just want to spend a few hours just making our garden “look cute”. Both guests plead for more mindfulness.

Finally, even Guhr’s interview turns to the monarch.

“You can be sure that I will be talking about the monarch butterfly and all the lessons it brings,” says Guhr. “Especially as it becomes more endangered and we see these tendencies of its reduction in our environment, it’s easy to sound the alarm and try to highlight all the different reasons that the monarch is providing for us.”

Taylor sees the symbolic value of the monarch as stimulating the curiosity and action of those around him.

“That’s a platform we have,” says Taylor. “The monarch butterfly is iconic. It is appreciated by many people. And it gives us an opportunity to talk about a change that is taking place.”

Smart, lazy or crazy, Putin will soon lose power

When Experts Attack, April 21, 2022

In his interview with host Jon Niccum, Valery Dzutsati, Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Kansas, draws a parallel between the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and the Russo-Japanese War in 1904. Detailed connections like this provide what the Title promises The podcast promises: Experts attack. Dzutsaki says that the 1904 war led to the First Russian Revolution against the contemporary rulers of Russia. Will this happen again? Dzutsati predicts the end of Putin’s power in the next five years.

Chris Courtwright

This guy in Hutch, April 21, 2022

Chris Courtwright provides a behind-the-scenes look at how the Kansas Legislative Research Department prepares financial forecasts. While that sounds dry, Courtwright’s voice rings out with the righteous conviction of a dedicated numbers man. The shaky breakdown of the economy and taxes helps listeners understand:

  1. The history of the food tax (he seems confused that there hasn’t been a cut).
  2. Kansas tax revenue diversification (protects against tax revenue collapses during downturns.
  3. The money in our state coffers (“I’m telling you, there’s more money in the Kansas coffers than ever before”).

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