A climate action that worked

World-wide, thousands of people took part in the March for Science on Earth Day last Saturday.  The Guardian‘s headline declared “Global ‘March for Science’ protests call for action on climate change” as the reason for the marches.   Calls to action and defending scientists from attacks on the legitimacy of climate science, were the objectives.
First celebrated in 1970, Earth Day events are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection.  The wider goals of this demonstration are laudable, but I have two ‘howevers’ around the March for Science action.
First is the irony of the marches – significant volumes of new carbon were emitted to the atmosphere from the vehicles used by participants.
Using the average emissions factor defined by our Environment Ministry for petrol vehicles and an average distance travelled of 25km, each participant released around 6kg of new carbon dioxide.
The second ‘however’ is that actions, not more words are now needed if global warming is to not exceed 2°C.  That is the goal of the climate agreement that our government has committed to.
One of the few Earth Day events that actually achieved a reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, was the Charcoal Fire event at St Andrews Anglican Church in Pukekohe last Sunday.
This event involved burning wood to make biochar.  The char was buried, inoculated  and two peach trees planted on top.
For each person attending that event, an estimated 3kg of carbon dioxide was removed from the atmosphere and buried away for a very long time.  Plus the new trees will sequester more carbon for many years.
It may be that the Marches for Science had an impact on US politicians.  It is clear that the Pukekohe event had an impact on reducing global warming.

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How does the carbon cycle work?
The carbon cycle is the movement of carbon between the atmosphere, oceans, soils, and plants.  
One part of that cycle involves trees and plants taking carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere and converting it to carbon which becomes embedded within the tree, and to oxygen which is released back to the atmosphere.
When a plant dies naturally, much of it’s carbon is released back to the atmosphere, and becomes available to other plants to absorb and continue the cycle.
Soil contains one of nature’s largest stores of carbon which is slowly released to the atmosphere or locked away as fossil fuels.
This balance in the carbon cycle has been a feature of our environment for millennia. 
We humans upset that balance when we add new carbon to the atmosphere by tilling the soil, extracting and burning fossil fuels, and when we cut down forests.  We have been doing this for over 100 years, which is seen in the ‘hockey stick’ graph that charts rising atmospheric CO2 levels.
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A win win win climate action

Last week’s cyclone-determined weather was mild for us in Pukekohe, but severe on our east coast and catastrophic further south in the Bay of Plenty.

It is likely that a future cyclone will deal equally severe blows to us and our west coast communities.

Whilst we cannot forecast severe weather impacts for specific areas, NIWA have warned North Islanders to brace themselves for more flooding events.

And scientists are finding more linkages between our carbon emissions and extreme weather events.  Last month, Nature.com published an article on the influence of anthropogenic – aka “human caused” – climate change on extreme weather events.

Are we, individually and collectively, prepared to take a punt on future catastrophic weather events bypassing us?  The people of Edgecumbe would give a different answer to that question from those not yet seriously affected.

Those who do not consider the risks are burying their heads in ever-warming sands, for one thing is clear: extreme weather events are now part of our future.

The Insurance Council agrees.  It was reported last week, that the Insurance Council and Local Government NZ have worked together for about three years to explore changes to building consenting processes.  Their goal is to minimise property damage during severe weather events.

But Prime Minister Bill English does not agree.  He was reported last week as saying that it does not matter “too much”, what is causing the weather we have experienced over the past three weeks.  He went on to say that climate change as the cause, is something he does not want to spend time thinking about.

It is our grandchildren’s future that he dismisses so casually.

So what can we as individuals do that our government do not want to think about?

One action is to reduce our household carbon emissions.  Which means travelling less, buying only what we need, reducing waste, saving energy and more.

The Charcoal Fire - A climate action.page1.jpgAn easy-do action, is for us to take carbon out of the atmosphere.

Atmospheric carbon now exceeds 400 parts per million, and to bring that back to a level that will keep global warming below 2°C, carbon needs to be removed from the atmosphere.

At The Charcoal Fire event on Sunday 23rd April, you can learn the means to achieve that.

Making and burying biochar is a win for carbon sequestration and a win for the fertility and water holding capacity of our garden soils.

And planting fruit trees on top of that biochar is a further win for growing healthy, nutritious food.

Join us at 18 Wesley Street in Pukekohe, anytime between 8 am and 11 am this Sunday (23rd April) to learn how to make biochar as a win win win climate action.

The Charcoal Fire - A climate action.page2.jpg

This climate action helps save the world

“Flash flooding is expected across the upper North Island over the next two days” trumpeted the news headlines last Tuesday morning.

What, again?  This is the third or fourth time this autumn that gutters and drains needed to be cleared of leaves in preparation for a deluge.

There was a time, not too long ago, that such flood warnings were issued for only “1 in 100” year events.

“1 in 100” does not mean that it occurs only once every 100 years.  It means that there is a one per cent chance of such an event occurring in a single year. Statistically, a 1 in 100 year event may occur many times in one year, but the average over a number of years, will be one.

It is wishful thinking to conclude that the next 500 years will therefore, be flood-free.

Given the clear impact that our carbon emissions have on global warming, we can expect only more extreme weather.

This may be why we no longer hear warnings of 1 in 100 year events.  The climate is changing so fast, that scientists have not been able to reassess their frequency.

One thing that science is getting better at, is the attribution of extreme weather events to man-made causes.

The World Weather Attribution Project is a collaborative project with Climate Central that aims to achieve near real-time attribution of extreme weather events around the world.

This week’s deluge, which should clear the country today, was described by a NIWA meteorologist as a “tropical torrent” and a “serious situation … arising in New Zealand.”

NIWA goes on to say that April, only six days old, is shaping up to be an abnormally wet month.  Five time the monthly rainfall was expected to fall in the last couple of days, with more heavy rainfall events expected.

So the Franklin ward, and Hauraki and Thames-Coromandel districts, should expect more damage from storms like that earlier in March that was declared a medium-scale adverse event.

How many times do we need “adverse events” to be declared before we realise that we need to take serious action on climate change?

Repeatedly clearing drains and gutters only normalises the situation.

The actions we must take must be focused on the dual fronts of reducing our carbon emissions, and on clawing atmospheric carbon back from our oceans and atmosphere.

A clear and strong climate action celebrating this year’s International Earth Day is planned for St Andrews Anglican Church in Pukekohe on Sunday April 24th.   Biochar will be created and trees planted at “The Charcoal Fire” event.  Join us – bring a gold coin or one kilogram of dry wood for burning anytime between 8:00 and 11:00 am.

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The early stages of biochar production in a kontiki-style earth kiln.

Here’s three reasons to Grow Your Own Food

Glyphosate was back in the news last week.  As expected, a second European agency found that that the available scientific evidence did not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen.

On the face of it, this latest determination is contrary to that of a UN agency’s classification in March 2015, that glyphosate was “probably” a human carcinogen.

Both determinations looked at the hazard that glyphosate poses to human health and came to different conclusions.

Of the two agencies, the UN one studied only independent research.  It also explored the impact of other chemicals added to glyphosate.

These differences mean that the UN research carries more weight for me when I consider using chemical pesticides.

Instead of looking at hazard, the European Food Safety Authority looked at the risk that glyphosate poses, and also found no basis for classifying the chemical as a carcinogen.

Hazard and risk?  Are they not the same thing?

No, not really.  Hazard is about the possibility of a substance being a carcinogen.  Risk is about how likely it is that you will get cancer from being exposed to the hazard.

If you don’t expose yourself to a hazardous substance, whether nuclear waste or glyphosate, then the risk of contracting cancer is negligible.

So if you have to use this hazardous chemical, then taking precautions will reduce the risk of it undermining your, or your children’s, health.

The risk is zero when you grow your own food without using glyphosate.

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Laying out the St Andrews Communal Food garden

When it comes to the risks of eating GMOs, there are no precautions we can take despite the risks being real.

Scientists are concerned that we do not know how differently our genes will work, when we eat GMO foods.

Again, these risks posed by GMO foods are minimised when we grow our own food.

IMG_1476
The St Andrews Communal Food garden early in its development

The third reason to grow your own food, is around the need for us to take action on climate change.

Harvesting fresh produce from our own garden achieves two climate actions.  One is a reduction in green house gases emitted to the atmosphere.  The other is to increase the carbon stored in our soils compared to industrialised agriculture.

Glyphosate, GMOs and climate change, are all hazards.  All are issues of our time, consequences of a capitalist economic system focused more on corporate profits than on the health and wellbeing of people.

As hazards, there is now little that we can do individually, to undo their presence in our society.

But the risk these hazard pose can be minimised when you grow your own food.

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Just a part of the harvest from the St Andrews Communal Food garden

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A beginners Grow Your Own Food course runs at Pukekohe’s St Andrews Church hall on Wednesday evenings, starting April 5th and running for six weeks.  Interested?  Please leave your name and contact number at 09 238 7228.

Or download our brochure: Growing Your Own Food Course.page1

Not so hot as it is portrayed!

Hot Hot Hot!    2016 Hottest Year on Record.  New Zealand had its hottest ever recorded year in 2016.

These were some of the media headlines following the release of NIWA’s Annual Climate Summary last week.

Many will think that it’s great to have a hot hot hot summer.  By the pool, at the beach, hot is great!  What’s the problem?  After all, pool and beach images celebrating hot, frames many of the media reports on the conference.  So good it has to be!  Right?

Wrong!

The problem is that for New Zealand, 2016 was the hottest in a series of ever hotter years. Since 1909, annual average temperatures across the country have risen between 0.51°C and 1.20°C above normal.  And the trend is ever upwards.

This trend is reflected in many countries around the world with 2016 now also recorded as the world’s hottest year on record.

There are reasons for that record.  As NIWA says, for New Zealand, it is a combination of three factors.

nzweather-records2016One is that ocean temperatures around New Zealand were unusually warm throughout the early part of 2016.  Last year’s El Nino weather pattern was a key contributor to this.

Second was unusual atmospheric pressure patterns resulting in more northerly and nor-westerly winds that therefore, picked up heat from the warmed oceans.

Third was increased green house gases in the atmosphere that mark a long-term warming trend, aka global warming.  Over 90% of that additional heat in the atmosphere gets absorbed in to the oceans, which loops us back to reason number one.

Science has no real understanding of how much more heat the oceans can tolerate.  It is known that ice loss in the Arctic and Antarctic is causing sea level rise on top of that caused directly by the thermal expansion of our oceans.

There is another aspect to ocean warming not often spoken about.  Higher temperatures reduce the oxygen carrying capacity of water and also increases the biological oxygen demand of the micro-organisms in the water.    

So dissolved oxygen levels in our oceans are declining and with oxygen a key driver of marine ecosystems, much of our food chain is at risk.

This was recognised in a Ministry for the Environment report, “Changes to our oceans pose serious concerns“, published in October last year. Our government recognises the risks, but remedial action is not being taken.

At a global level, the response to climate change is to use “best endeavours” to keep average temperatures below 1.5°C of warming.  At the country’s average of 0.81°C we are more than half the way there.

The climate impacts on different parts of the country vary a lot.

For Pukekohe, the minimum mean temperature was up 0.9°C.  This will have implications on pest control in our horticultural areas – more pests will survive the winter cold and become a problem in the following growing season.

And the annual average temperature in Pukekohe was up 0.8°C.  This will have implications on water retention in the soil and on water consumption – more water will be required to assure us our economic future.

These are not the halcyon days of summer I remember from my youth.

Instead, there is an increasing sense of urgency for us to take actions to mitigate the prime cause of global warming – our release of new sources of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Those actions must be on three prime fronts.

First is to cease harvesting trees.   Trees remove carbon from the atmosphere, leaving less to add to global warming.

Second is to stop putting new carbon in to the atmosphere.  Fundamentally, this means no more extraction of fossil fuels.  That’s unlikely in the short term so things we can do individually to make a difference, are to significantly cut back on car journeys and air travel.

Third is to remove carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it away in our soils.

For as long as economic imperatives define the climate actions we choose to take, the first two of these will be difficult to realise.  The third action, sequestering carbon in the soil, is an easy do, one that each and every one of us can do today, tomorrow, the next day and so on, until we make that essential difference.

Time to cherish this earth, our common home

Christmas.  For most a season to share good times with friends and family, to relax and regenerate in the outdoors, and to give and receive gifts.

For many, it is a time to celebrate our faith and to recover from the many activities that celebrate the time of year – the work functions, school prize-givings, and the commercial pressures to spend, spend, spend.

For some, it is a hedonistic time of over-indulgence in food and alcohol, and the consumption of stuff that we want but do not need.

For a few, but still too many, Christmas has a downside.

A time of stress, resulting in a surge of domestic violence and disorder.  Or of grief, consequent on the annual spike in the number of road and water deaths.

The increasing number of families queuing outside the Auckland City Mission for Christmas food parcels is a sad reflection of an unequal society.  [Don’t be too sad – donate to the City Mission’s work at aucklandcitymission.org.nz or by phoning them on 09 303 9200.]

These are the human faces of Christmas.  But Christmas is not only about the human race, as the song released in 1984 by rock band Queen, ”Thank God It’s Christmas”, reminds us.

This song brings God, and the birth of Christ, back in to the focus.

In an increasingly secular society, many question or ignore that focus and so an important message gets lost in the frenzy of shopping and partying.  The consequence of our over-consumption and hedonistic disregard for the environment, is impoverishment.

Christians believe the environment was entrusted to human beings by God, who commanded us to cherish the earth. So care for God’s creation we must. Others lived here before us they argue, so we in turn must maintain it for posterity.  Whatever your view of God is, christian or secular, this is an imperative to guide us.  It is a definition of environmental sustainability.

How many will take the time to ponder the year past, the year ahead and to reflect on the climate actions needed to address the greatest threat to our existence on earth?

Actually, I meant to say, threat to our existence.  The earth will out-survive us.

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The artist’s concept depicts Kepler-186f , the first validated Earth-size planet to orbit a distant star in the habitable zone. Credits: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

And contrary to the fanciful ideas of science fiction, nor the ambitions of Elon Musk to make human life multi-planetary, there is no way that we humans are going to escape this earth before the proverbial hits the fan.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis made an impassioned plea to all christians.  He called for us to show mercy to our common home, to cherish the world in which we live, and to have compassion for the poor.

In my context, the pontiff is appealing for us to be sustainable (mercy), mitigate the causes of climate change (cherish) and for social justice (compassion).  Please do your part to make it so.  And have a cheery Christmas whilst you do it.

Blessings
John Allen

Without healthy soils, our changing climate matters less.

Today, Monday December 5th 2016, is World Soil Day.

Who knew? Who cares?

There are more than two reasons to care. First is that nearly all of our food production requires soil to grow in. Second is that we have only 60 years of food harvests left at current rates of soil degradation.

The 60-year estimate comes from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in their first Status of the World’s Soil Resources report published last year.

The FAO argue that “Without soils we cannot sustain life on earth and where soil is lost it cannot be renewed on a human timeline. The current escalating rate of soil degradation threatens the capacity of future generations to meet their needs.”

a hand full of wormsLet’s be clear what soil is. Soil is one of our three major natural resources, alongside air and water. It is so much more than the dirt that covers much of the earth’s land. Soil is made up of three main components: the minerals that come from rocks; organic matter from the residues of plants and animals; and the living micro-organisms that live in soil.

It takes nature 200 – 400 years to make a layer of soil one centimetre deep. To make it fertile, may take 3,000 years.

The FAO estimate that between 25 and 40 billion tonnes of topsoil are eroded by wind or rain every year.

Not only does this loss lower farm profitability, it is also a major driver of climate change.

Soil organic matter is exposed when forests are clear-felled and when agricultural lands are tilled. The exposure of soil organic matter to oxygen means that previously sequestered carbon joins the carbon cycle and is added to the atmosphere as a new source of carbon dioxide.

To avoid catastrophic climate change, the world needs us to stop putting new carbon in to the atmosphere. The longer it takes us to act on that need, the harder it is to avoid catastrophe.

As well as driving climate change, the loss of soil organic carbon reduces the availability of nutrients and minerals to plants and so affects the quality and safety of our food. It also leads to increased pests and diseases which, in a downward spiral, further reduces food availability.

For the sake of our climate and our food supply, the health of our soils needs to be assured. This can best be done through regenerative farming and gardening practices.

One regenerative action that anyone can take, is to add carbon, in the form of compost and biochar, to our gardens and farms.

By looking after our soil, so the soil will look after us.

This is not a time for whimsy…

The time has come,’ the Walrus said, ‘to talk of many things

This whimsical line is from the poem The Walrus and the Carpenter in Lewis Carroll’s book Through the Looking-glass. It was said after the oysters had been lured from their oyster beds with the promise of a ‘pleasant walk, a pleasant talk’. The oysters were eager for the treat and ventured to the beach. ‘Their coats were brushed, their faces washed, Their shoes were clean and neat’ is how Carroll described them.

the-walrus-and-the-carpenterMuch like the gathering of politicians at COP22 I imagine. Their time has again come, to talk of many things. A walk on the beach (180 km from Marrakesh) is not likely and my hope is that oysters are not on the menu. Otherwise Carroll’s poem looks too much like a parable.

Conference Of the Parties is what COP stands for, and this will be the 22nd such conference organised by a UN Climate Change body.

The body’s objective is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

Despite the action verb that starts their objective, the framework has set no binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions and contains no enforcement mechanisms.

In the previous twenty one conferences, has their talk been more than whimsical?

COP21 in Paris last December was lauded for the fact of its agreement but provided no solutions.

Our government ratified the Paris Agreement in October, and agreed to target an 11% emissions reduction by 2020. They seek to achieve that target by economic sophistry – a combination of purchasing carbon credits to pay for business-as-usual emissions plus the gains from new forest plantings.

As a consequence, our actual gross emissions will increase. What the world needs, is a better than 40% reduction in actual emissions.

In the absence of meaningful government-led climate actions, it falls on us, individually, to take action.

Climate actions by individuals

led-bulb-green-backgroundOne simple way that we can contribute to actually reducing carbon emissions is by replacing our old incandescent light bulbs.

A 60 watt incandescent light bulb burning for just one hour per night will cost less than 2 cents per night to run. Burn that bulb for a year and the energy cost totals $6.48.

Install an equivalent LED bulb and the energy consumed will cost just $0.76 per year. That’s a $5.75 saving every year for the next 20 years. $115 saved for a $10 investment! If the bulb burns an average of three hours per day, well, you do the maths.

For those with 100 watt bulbs, converting to LEDs will save you even more – $9.50 per year or $190 over 20 years for the same $10 investment. That capital cost will be paid for by electricity savings in just 12 months. If the bulb burns for three hours per night on average, expect to recover the purchase cost in four months.

The carbon emissions reduction is small but multiply the savings from a single replaced bulb by the number of bulbs you have and by the number of households in this country, and the impact on our national carbon emissions is significant, and greater than what our government are doing.

These are the savings from reduced electricity consumption. For every LED bulb purchased, the purchase of 15 – 20 incandescents will be avoided. So there are also capital savings to be made if those old bulbs are thrown away.

An incandescent bulb has an average lifetime of 1,000 hours. Burn it for an average of three hours per night and you will replace it every year. The equivalent LED will last at least 15 years before needing replacement.

Waste not, want not.

This was something my parents said. Throwing away a 98 cent bulb does go against my waste minimisation principles, but that cash saving of $5.75 in electricity costs is just too great to justify holding to that principle.

You might also say that the price of LED bulbs is dropping and waiting another year will mean they are cheaper. That’s likely true enough, but again, that $5.75 saving in electricity costs in the first year of replacing a bulb, means that the future cost would need to more than halve for that argument to hold.

Or you might say that you prefer the softer light from an incandescent than an LED. That was true a few years ago but today, there is so much variety in the colour output of an LED. The alternative is to get out to the rubbish dump and collect all the old incandescent bulbs that the rest of us are throwing out.

And then there are the procrastinators amongst us, those who put off the replacement of old bulbs because it’s a hassle. Far better it is, to go around the house once and replace all the bulbs than having to do it many times over the next year or two. So next time you have the step stool out to replace one bulb, replace them all and save yourself having to do it again for many many years.

This is not a time to be whimsical: how many bulbs do you have that could be replaced to save you money, and contribute to saving the planet?

The Justice of Communal Food Gardens

There are four broad aspects of sustainability that we individually and collectively need to face up to: energy, food, water and waste. This post focuses on food sustainability and adds justifications for the Anglican Diocese of Auckland’s sustainability project introduced last week – Communal Food Gardens.


Last week I introduced Communal Food Gardens as a food sustainability project that provides a number of social justice benefits as well as being an action that mitigates the effects of climate change.

Following organic growing principles, our gardens yield food that is healthy, nutritious and safe, and thus helps improve positive health outcomes in the community.

Each parish will decide for themselves how to distribute the food grown in their gardens. This can be to the workers who planted the seed and nurtured the growing plants, to the sick or elderly, or to those in greater need. The choice is the parish’s to make.

Any one of these social justice benefits is in itself, a sufficient reason to start a food garden. So what additional climate change benefits do communal food gardens bring?

First is that food grown locally means a reduction in the green house gas emissions from the transport fleet required to bring produce from the growers to the market.

Second, by adopting organic growing principles, we do not requires fossil fuels to be used to manufacture and deliver fertilisers and various poisoning ‘cides’, to the garden.

Third, by eliminating the risk of individual exposure to pesticides, herbicides and insecticides, we eliminate risks to human health.

Fourth, by eliminating the excessive use of nitrogen-based fertilisers, we eliminate the degradation of our soils and the microbial soil-based life that plants depend on.

Fifth, our gardens will not be tilled so organic materials in the soil will not be oxidised and returned to the atmosphere as climate-warming gases.

Sixth, if we do this right, we can actually remove carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil where it may remain for many years.

Seventh, the planned introduction of an integrated composting system for our kitchen and garden wastes, means a reduction in the volume of refuse going to landfill sites. This waste sustainability action will itself significantly reduce methane emissions as well as maintaining the fertility levels of our gardens.

So many benefits to a communal food garden!

Why would everyone not want to start one this spring? Why not contact me, John Allen, right now and find out how easy it is to start your own food garden. Just use the contact form below.

Introducing the new Sustainability Field Worker

Cherished Earth is a climate justice initiative of the Anglican Diocese of Auckland. This is about connecting faith with caring for creation and is the practical outworking of a commitment by the Anglican Bishops of Aotearoa,  New Zealand and Polynesia, to take action on climate change.

The initiative has its origins in 2007 when a group of lay  Anglican members formed the Diocesan Climate Change Action Group.  The goal is to help the Diocese’s churches and members move towards a more sustainable and carbon-neutral lifestyle.

Since 2007, the Action Group have conducted workshops around the Diocese and achieved the major goal of divesting the Church’s investments from fossil fuel industries.

In 2012, a part-time Sustainability Field Worker was appointed to implement a sustainability programme among the churches of the Diocese.  Yvonne Thompson provided a service that, through on-site building assessments and energy audits, assisted a number of parishes to improve the energy efficiency of buildings and so reduce costs as well as carbon emissions.

The appointment of a new Sustainability Field Worker (see the adjacent box) in 2016 sees this work continuing alongside some new sustainability and carbon emission mitigation initiatives.

The first of these initiatives is around sustainability in our food supply.  A programme establishing communal gardens or food forests in participating parishes will commence in early spring.  This will be complimented by waste minimisation actions (various composting methods) that any household can do.

A climate change mitigation initiative being developed is an on-line carbon footprint calculator designed to assist parishioners assess their personal contribution to global warming and compare that against national benchmarks.

Many more initiatives are in the gestation stage, along with an innovative means of funding them, that all go to give a practical expression of our faith in the context of caring for creation.

Please check out our progress and let us know your thoughts at our blog site  www.cherished-earth.org.nz or contact me direct using the contact form below.

Blessings
John Allen