Bare Bones Biology 238 – Reflux

Congratulations to The Eagle and to Gunnar Schade for publishing an accurate, straightforward, and conservative op-ed describing facts and opinions related to fracking (posted below and at )

Facts, by definition, are realities that we cannot change. Opinions, we can change. That means we cannot improve our lives by trying to change an unchangeable set of facts. It does not mean there is nothing we can do to improve our lives. It does mean we should study the facts and use the facts to help us decide what will work and what will not work to improve our lives, and then argue our opinions about the options that are actually available to us.

Bare Bones Biology was created for just this reason: to clarify relationships among facts about biology, and opinions about biology so that we can make the wisest possible short-term choices that cause the least possible long-term harm to ourselves.
We cannot change facts, but we can change our opinions about how to deal with the facts. For example, we cannot change what fracking is doing to the air that everyone in the community must breath. That’s a fact of Life. We can change what we choose to do about fracking. That’s an available human choice.

In making that choice, another fact of Life should be considered. That is, what goes around, comes around. It is a fact that all the substances of Life (the atoms and molecules) recycle in the Biosystem. The fact is, if we put poisonous substances into the air, water and soil, then at least most of us must breathe, drink and/or eat poisonous substances.

We all know it’s true, what goes around comes around in the Biosystem. We don’t like to deal with it (, but that doesn’t change the fact. The modern “systems” expert Fritjof Capra ( knows it is true, even though he may think of it more like a business plan than a law of nature. Hundreds of thousands of people during the green revolution came to understand how our earth system functions to provide for our needs, and they embraced the Ecosystem (note, system) as their family of origin. Farther back in time, earlier cultures understood the dangers of fouling our own nest; for example, lessons we have learned in Ladakh ( and other places are now being applied to problems in many modern communities, even Houston (

Do we need more examples? It’s a fact of life. In the real world, what goes around comes back around to affect our future welfare, the up side and the down side of our welfare, and we can’t change the facts of Life. What we can do is choose how we respond to them.

Of course, we also know that some people do not agree. For example the Eagle also published an opinion entitled: “Fracking Bans in Cities Hurt Everyone.” We know that is not a fact because I am someone and I have been very greatly harmed, physically, emotionally, financially, and permanently by oil and gas development in the Brazos Valley, as have many other people. So the idea that we all benefit from fracking is not a fact. It is an opinion. Furthermore, the author of that letter makes some rather extravagant claims that he does not support with data or references. In my opinion he cannot support some of these claims. So it seems that we have an argument between two sets of statements, each of which is supported by some facts and some opinions, with or without supporting evidence.

141104-FirstFriday-ASC_2633RSsIt seems to me foolish to argue opinions against facts. We can’t change the facts anyhow; it’s a non-discussable issue, a waste of our time that could be used to do something that actually would work to maintain or improve the common welfare. We do know that fracking is toxic to the “commons.” The commons is the air we all must breathe, the water we all must drink, and the soil in which our food grows. That’s a fact. The poisons we throw into the commons will go around and come back to bite us in the end.

If our real goal is to benefit everyone in our community, it should not be difficult to make a list of the most useful facts that limit our options. We could consult unaffiliated, well-informed experts. We then could post this list on the wall in city offices, and stop trying to change facts, admit to the reality of natural law, and begin to rationally discuss our opinions, considering both the up side and the down side of the options that remain to us, under three headings: 1) What is best for everyone now; 2) What is best for the welfare of the entire community. That would of course include people outside the cities who provide services of various kinds. 3) What is best for the future welfare of the children born into this community.

Obviously such a discussion is not an either/or debate that someone wins and someone else loses, and that’s a good thing, because either/or arguments do not lead to win-win solutions. Discussion is not the easiest answer to any problem because discussing real, fact-based issues is difficult. But such an effort, carried out with good will, could genuinely bring us one step closer, at least in BCS, to Peace on Earth and the welfare of all our citizens.

This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of FactFictionFancy and KEOS FM, 89.1 in Bryan, Texas.

A copy of this podcast can be downloaded at:





Copy of op-ed:

Posted: Saturday, December 20, 2014 12:00 am


Special to The Eagle

While the shale boom is heralded as a new energy era and an economic windfall for all, the reality often looks much more mundane. Rarely in the mainstream news are there stories about the people directly affected by fracking operations near their homes, or the rapid degradation of air quality in those parts of the nation where fracking is dotting the landscape.

As geoscientists from across the world gathered two weeks ago in San Francisco for the annual American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, there were several sessions on the air quality impacts of oil and gas extraction, especially as related to the “boom.”

And the news is bleak: Ongoing air quality measurements have shown for several years now that numerous hydrocarbons attributable to oil and gas industry emissions are tens to thousands of times higher in shale areas than what is considered clean air. The widespread hydrocarbon pollution creates secondary ozone pollution, even in winter, thus affecting people far removed from extraction areas, possibly erasing two decades of ozone air quality improvements. Air toxics emissions include known and suspected carcinogens such as benzene and formaldehyde, and neurotoxins such as xylenes.

The industry’s large well numbers per area with onsite pipes, valves, tanks, compressors and other equipment, together leak an enormous amount of gas and vapors into the air. Nevertheless, regulators treat each well as a minor emitter, and permits to drill are obtained easily.

In addition, Texas regulators allow onsite gas flaring with little oversight, which together with flaring in the Bakken shale has catapulted the U.S. into the top five flaring nations in the world, wasting more than 240 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year, emitting yet unquantified amounts of soot and formaldehyde. Living downwind of one or more well sites, especially when flaring, thus means intermittent to constant nuisances from air pollutants. Associated public health effects are becoming better documented and are consistent in shale areas, including headaches, nose bleeds, and eye, skin and respiratory tract irritations.

Through front groups such as Energy in Depth, the industry is denying responsibility and shedding doubt on the health effects. But the air quality data show otherwise. At Texas Commission on Environmental Quality monitoring stations in the Barnett shale area and since 2013 also downwind of the Eagle Ford, the widespread hydrocarbon pollution is well documented. In addition, the commission’s data bases contain numerous incidences of individual measurements taken near industrial sites in the Eagle Ford showing outlandishly high pollutant concentrations.

We have analyzed the Floresville monitor (the only current air quality monitor in the Eagle Ford region) data in detail, showing on average roughly 10 times above “normal” levels of hydrocarbons many miles downwind the shale area, with regular pollution plumes at much higher levels. Tracing these plumes suggests that, at times, acutely toxic concentration levels can exist at fence-lines of individual facilities. Independent air quality measurements and the commission’s own data thus contradict repeated statements by its leadership that there are no air quality levels of concern in the shale areas.

Is it thus surprising that residents in Denton and other Texas cities are objecting to wells inside their city limits, in their neighborhoods?

As the city of College Station is pondering changes to its oil and gas ordinance, it needs to consider the impacts of air pollution on the health and welfare of its residents. Despite new federal regulations taking effect on Jan. 1, the industry as a whole has not operated responsibly in the past, and we should not expect that it will do better — especially in Texas, where lax enforcement of the rules and a lack of deterring fines are commonplace. It is up to local communities to put in place and enforce rules protective not only of the air we breathe, but the associated property values and quality of life.

As College Station is impacted ever more directly through fracking sites in the surrounding county — and soon inside the city limits — its leadership has the opportunity to pass a stronger ordinance that addresses various air quality and other environmental concerns, such as via appropriate setbacks, and continuous air quality monitoring paid by the operators, including public availability of the data. The latter falls under the widely accepted “polluter pays” principle and can instill best practices by the operator.

No clear scientific guidance exists yet for the former, i.e. the allowable proximity of a facility to a residence. Toxicological evaluations of existing air quality measurements in shale areas, however, suggest that people living within 2,600 feet of well sites have a significantly elevated risk of cancer and other ailments from their exposure.

Since there is also legal precedent in other Texas city ordinances, it would be prudent to select at least a 1,500 feet setback to limit resident exposure during the inevitable times of poor pollutant dilution under unfavorable wind conditions.

Such setbacks, alongside other rules the ordinance does contain, may allow for responsible oil and gas extraction inside city limits.
• Gunnar W. Schade lives in College Station. He receives funding from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s Air Quality Research Program, though unrelated to the topic of this column.

Bare Bones Biology 237 – I Don’t Cook

And before you start telling me how to cook – didn’t say I don’t know how. My mama did her job, and then I went through my own cooking phase, but now I’m just primarily interested in the simplest way to eat healthy. Next year that will include the garden. So I’m thinking about seeds. They must be non-GMO (and I’ll talk about that some other day). Organically grown and harvested is also a plus because it nurtures our earth system.

The last time I was back in civilization, I think it was in a health food store in Santa Fe, I found the Whole Seed Catalog, from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds ( I brought that catalog back up home with me in the cab of the truck, and in the back of the pickup I brought a bucket full of food scraps, coffee filters, and that sort of thing that were left over from eating organically in the big city, where you can buy organically grown non-GMO food all ready to cook or eat.

141214-Bitsy-ASC_3222RLScards copyLast week I was able to get into the canyon – all is well, gorgeous as usual – and I dumped all those scraps on top of my compost heap. The compost heap has been growing for the last couple of years, mostly using weeds from the yard, some egg shells from the neighbor’s chickens, and of course the coffee filters, but I had not yet added any dirt to it, nor the juicy kinds of things that bears, for example, might like to eat. Actually, I’ve seen no sign of bear this year, but elk were stomping in the front yard while I was gone, and it appears that a really big bull elk is resident. I hope he stays on my property so nobody will shoot him.

Anyhow, I dumped the entire bucket of organic food leavings on top of the compost pile and covered over the whole thing with dirt from last year’s garden, and some dirt also from where gophers had been digging, because it’s easier to shovel than the frozen surface soil. I noticed last year that gopher-hole dirt is very low in organic material, but so is nearly all the dirt out here, except that we bought last year when the project began ( And of course, that’s the point. Every year our soil will be better ( able to support the veggies, and so now it’s time to buy the vegetiable seeds, and that’s why I mentioned cooking in the above. The plants that I grow need to suit the equipment I have for cooking.

No fires, no generator, nothing that burns, because of course the whole point of being in the canyon is to have clean air for my chemically sensitive lungs to breath. So that’s it, a a pot and a solar “oven,” a spoon, a knife, a cup and a little water-heating coil for early morning hot drink, and a few solar panels.

We said before that nothing beats organically grown, non-GMO food for healthy eating, mostly because we don’t want to eat man-made chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, plastics, and other things that may come in our water supply such as hormones and medicines that people throw down the drain. And then use the water to irrigate the plants. Not a good idea. What goes around comes around in the Biosystem. If you wouldn’t want to feed it to your children – don’t run it down the drain.

This year, we will plant some local heirloom seeds, such as blue corn from the reservation and native flowers that we order from a local organization called There are many sources ( And just a few heirloom veggies from Whole Seeds, that I’ll list below. First we will decide what will cook in one pot on a sunny day, and that will be things like carrots, tomatoes etc. And then we will look for plants with the shortest growing seasons that do well in high-desert climate. Also some nice leafy vegetables that we can eat raw.

Then we will consider the health of the soil – it will want legumes with the corn and squash – the three sisters. And then of course we must consider the health of our community beyond the soil in our own garden, to include the air and water, and the organisms: plants, animals and people.

This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of and KEOS FM, 89.1, in Bryan, Texas. A copy of the podcast may be downloaded here:

Seeds ordered so far:

Bolita half runner bean – “one of the original varieties brought by the Spanish as they settled New Mexico.”
Parisienne Carrot – Round carrot might do better in shallow soil that has gophers
Bushel Basket Gourd – I like the fun idea of growing a gourd big enough to store things in.
Russian Red Kale – Because it’s nice to pick kale out of the garden and eat on the go for snacks, and might do well here.
Glacier Tomato – 55 days and reliable in cool area.

SOURCE List for Seed and Plants for the Upland Southwest

Bare Bones Biology 236 – We

We got home to our Winter Palace yesterday, after a fairly challenging 1000 miles with heavy load on old pickup. We dropped the reins, so to speak and left the whole thing out in the snowy driveway, came into the house, turned up the heat, walked through to the big picture window that displays our higher level Biosystem in its winter glory, and then we sat in the lean-back chair and fell asleep.

141209-Moving-ASC_3017RSs copyI don’t know about Bitsy, but I woke up thinking about Sponge-Bob Square Pants, which I have never seen, but I imagine to be composed of one of those two-sided dish-washing sponges made of blue plastic.

Sponge-Bob does not live here, because Sponge-Bob does not live. He is a figment of a fertile imagination. Life is hard to imagine, but it is defined by its ability to do metabolic processes to recycle materials, to release energy from food to stay alive, and to reproduce it’s own kind. Probably Sponge-Bob only requires a pen and paintbrush in the hands of an artist to stay alive in our imagination, but real living things are real and alive whether or not we can imagine them.

Real sponges that are alive are made of living cells each of which can perform the metabolic miracle. So are we. So are the trees outside our window, and the little chipmunks that dash about in the summer and the sunflowers they like to eat and the chickadee that sat on my front step and looked me square in the face this morning. We all together are Life.

141210-Winter Palace-ASC_3035sReal live sponges can do something even better than we can. If you take apart their cells, completely apart but don’t kill the cells, and put them in a dish of water, all the little microscopic sponge cells know how to come back together to make a sponge again.

Sponge Bob can’t do that. He isn’t real, nor a cell, nor an organism. He makes money for the corposystem, but he’s not alive just like the corposystem is not alive. No cells, no metabolism; no reproduction of their kind.

We humans can do metabolism and reproduce our kind, and also the cells of which we are made can do metabolism and reproduce their kind, but if you take a cell apart it cannot come back together, and if you take a person’s cells all apart leaving only the living cells, the person cannot reconstitute himself.

A person can do without a few parts, arms, fingers, that kind of thing, but not without the important metabolic functions that recycle the oxygen and nitrogen and carbon and water and other materials, and use the energy from food to do the work and maintain the balance of staying alive and reproducing our kind.

We can do without a few parts, but we can’t reconstitute, because we have evolved to be so unitary that all our cells together add up to — One person, indivisible.

141210-Winter Palace-ASC_3037sI thought about these things – I often think about strange things — and then I looked out the window at the trees and grasses and the chickadees and other birds and me and Bitsy and – well, you already know, we all make up the living Earth Biosystem.

Similar to humans, the Life of the Biosystem can do without a few of its parts (species), but it cannot do without the important metabolic functions that recycle the air and water and soil and food and maintain the balance of resources that is necessary for Life to stay alive. Because the living Biosystem has evolved to become so unitary that all its species and all their cells together add up to — one system, indivisible.

So what happens if the bits and pieces of the Biosystem, the different species that make up the whole, are taken apart, reorganized, redesigned to suit our human imagination?

It would be a really good idea to know the answer to that question — before we decide for sure that we want to do it.

But nobody does know.

And just look what happened last time we decided that we know more than Mother Nature knows about what she needs to stay alive and balanced.

This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of FactFictionFancy and KEOS radio, 89.1 FM in Bryan, Texas.

A podcast of this program can be downloaded here:

Bare Bones Biology 235 – Compost

Today I leave home and again and head for the hills, where the air is clean and my body rejoices in being alive.


Of course, I came home for the election which is my contribution to the welfare of the community – and some good things are happening in the State, as well as at the University that I don’t have time here to talk about, but while I was gone, apparently the entire University library changed over from journals to computers. Well, I have a computer, and if I don’t forget how to make the connections and they don’t change the system again, I can now once again rejoice in reading my journals.

I would look up compost (
bare-bones-biology-234-soil/) except I doubt the journals have as much good practical information as you can find for yourself on the web. Composting is the art, science and craft of piling up organic waste from this year – I mean the leftovers from your living, like food and garden plants and leaves and whatever is Non-GMO and otherwise clean of man-made chemicals and pile it all up and let it decay. Add some dirt, or better some good rich compost from the years before, stir it from time to time, and let nature do her work.

It’s not hard at all, it’s nature’s way. The most important part of nature’s work – I mean the most important part if we want to nurture Life – is the process of death, decay and revival of living things, and as is true of all living processes, it’s the cycle of Life. So if you do a good job with the composting of last year’s living things, and then put them on the garden to nourish next year’s living things, and if you carefully select your plants and give them what they need to be healthy, then next year they will help you to live healthy.

In Life, what goes around comes around.

141128-Sette-ASC_2872RLSs copyHowever, my compost is not decaying well at all. It’s cold in the mountains. That’s one thing. The little micro-organisms that live in compost are probably cold. Another problem I can see is that I’ve used too much of big old stiff weeds that will take a long time for the micro-organisms to break down, but they can decay trees, if they have time enough, so I expect it might need another year to get a good start, and then it probably needs to be watered and I should add more of coffee grounds. Food scraps tend to attract bigger organisms that I don’t want wandering through my yard (like bears, rats, raccoons) so maybe I’ll move it farther away and put it in a metal barrel. Then I would probably have to punch some holes to let in air for the combustion process.

The micro-organisms need air, just as we do, because they are are doing the same sort of digestion process in the compost as we do in our digestive system. Nearly all organisms on earth today get energy from eating and digesting organic materials. That is, substances that are made of things like carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and nucleic acids. We do this in our digestive systems, and, in the body of the Earth, if it is healthy, the same thing happens. Plants and animals die and fall to the forest floor, or wherever they live, and all the organisms that are part of the soil, they eat the dead organisms, and the result is good soil, out of which new life grows.

That is the cycle of how we stay alive. We eat plants, micro-organisms eat our organic wastes to make soil, water and air — the plants eat the soil, air and water to make more food for us. The sun gives energy to the plants to keep the whole cycle going. It is the cycle of the whole, healthy Earth.

The best way for us to be healthy is to participate in this cycle –


This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of FactFictionFancy and KEOS Radio, 89.1, in Bryan, Texas.

A copy of the podcast can be downloaded here:

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