Browsing the archives for the environment category.


Hot Enough for You?

environment, Trump Maladministration

Glacier National Park is on fire. It caught fire on Saturday, a day on which the temperature in the park reached 100 degrees F. That was the hottest day in recorded history for the park. It was partly evacuated and closed.

It’s clear that Montana is already becoming a vastly different place. In recent decades, warmer winters have helped mountain pine beetles thrive, turning mountains red with dead pines. In 1850, there were 150 glaciers in the area now known as Glacier National Park. Today there are 26. They’ve been there for 7,000 years — but in just a few decades, the glaciers of Glacier National Park will almost surely be gone. By then the park will need a new name. Glacier Memorial Park doesn’t have the same ring to it.

And, of course, the maladministration is in denial about it.

After a tour of wildfire-ravaged California on Sunday, Montana-born Ryan Zinke, President Trump’s Secretary of the Interior, proposed a more controversial cause: The reason there are too many fires is because there are too many trees.

“It doesn’t matter whether you believe or don’t believe in climate change. What is important is we manage our forests,” Zinke said, adding a shot against environmental groups that have curtailed logging on public lands. While forest management is important, Zinke’s comments made some worry that the Trump administration was hoping to use fires as an excuse to open more public lands for logging.

I suppose it’s true that if one cuts down all the forests there will be fewer wildfires. You might still have prairie fires and grass fires, however, until the dry conditions turn the entire West into a desert. So much winning!

In other environmental news, do enjoy the sight of migratory birds while you can.

 For the past 100 years, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) has, among other things, incentivized industries to avoid the intentional or unintentional slaughter of North America’s native birds, primarily using fines. But now, President Trump’s Interior Department has announced that it will no longer enforce prohibitions on “incidental takes” — the unintended, though still perhaps foreseen, killing of birds, as in open waste pits, uncovered oil spills, lit communication towers and low-visibility power lines.

It’s a bizarre, novel interpretation of the law, as the Audubon Society has pointed out, but it was well-received only by those who stand to benefit financially. The American Petroleum Institute, for instance, praised the decision for providing regulatory “certainty,” which it no doubt does for those eager for one less troublesome chore per toxic waste pit. Where companies would have previously been expected to place nets over poisonous waste pits to discourage birds from landing in their deadly waters, the Trump administration’s decision removes any penalties for failure to do so. Some firms might still bother; others probably won’t.

Whooping cranes, Texas

This is what happens when you allow industry, rather than science, to make environmental law.  Keep in mind that industry doesn’t need a lot of extra poor people around, either.

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Fight the (Fossil Fuel) Power

environment, Europe

It can’t happen here

On Sunday, May 8, Germany hit a new high in renewable energy generation. Thanks to a sunny and windy day, at one point around 1pm the country’s solar, wind, hydro and biomass plants were supplying about 55 GW of the 63 GW being consumed, or 87%.

Power prices actually went negative for several hours, meaning commercial customers were being paid to consume electricity.

The U.S. has lots of sun and wind. You’d think we’d be able to manage a shift to renewable energy. But we may never know — in our lifetime, anyway –because the fossil fuel industry owns too many politicians. And if we did go to renewable energy, it would be private and inefficient, and we’d still be price-gouged.

As near as I understand it, Germany has done a lot of work to reduce fossil fuel usage, and apparently this effort has been a huge success, a model for the world. They aren’t afraid to use government to do stuff, and they aren’t afraid to let the fossil fuel industry dwindle away.

I see also that Germany is shutting down its nuclear reactors. I’ve been running into people who are still advocating for building more nuclear reactors. And I say, um, Fukushima? And this is brushed off as some kind of technicality. Turns out Hillary is in favor of building more nuclear reactors, while Bernie is not.

I’m sorry, but we’ve been messing around with nuclear reactors since freaking World War II, and they still can’t build a foolproof reactor. The risks are too great, and as Germany is showing us, there are other ways to go about things.

At least it appears even the Republicans have stopped being outraged about the halting of the Keystone XL pipeline, or at least they’ve shut up about it lately.  Oil prices are too low to make it profitable, I understand.

—–

On a personal note, I have had a rough couple of days. The company that owns About.com has shut down a large number of the sites there, including my Buddhism site. The old articles will be online for the foreseeable future, but the site won’t be updated. I’m very sad; I’ve been writing the articles there for more than eight years. It was a big chunk of my life. Oh, well.

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The Walrus and the Power Tool

environment

The New York Times is running a long feature on the Paris climate talks. One of the points made in the article is that melting ice sheets are causing Pacific walruses to pile up on land to rest, where they tend to crush each other to death.

John Hinderaker the Power Tool calls bullshit, and says the New York Times is just lying. There’s a website called Climate Depot that debunked this already. Walruses always pile up on land and crush each other to death.

It probably won’t surprise you to know that Climate Depot is a climate-change-denying site. In fact, it proudly calls itself a “special project” of CFACT, or Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow.  According to Sourcewatch, Climate Depot is the website of 0f  “Marc Morano, a conservative global warming denier who previously served as environmental communications director for a vocal political denier of climate change, Republican Sen.James Inhofe. ” CFACT itself receives a big chunk of its funding from the ExxonMobil Foundation and foundations associated with the billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, Sourcewatch says.

Of course, it isn’t just the New York Times saying that the walrus populations are environmentally challenged. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says so, too. Yeah, Walruses do pile up on land sometimes, but nowhere near in the same numbers they’ve been doing it lately.

See also National Geographic, “Biggest Walrus Gathering Recorded as Sea Ice Shrinks.”

Bloomberg Business has an article up on the network of climate change deniers whose disinformation campaign gets in the way of addressing the crisis:

New research for the first time has put a precise count on the people and groups working to dispute the scientific consensus on climate change. A loose network of 4,556 individuals with overlapping ties to 164 organizations do the most to dispute climate change in the U.S., according to a paper published today in Nature Climate Change. ExxonMobil and the family foundations controlled by Charles and David Koch emerge as the most significant sources of funding for these skeptics. As a two-week United Nations climate summit begins today in Paris, it’s striking to notice that a similarly vast infrastructure of denial isn’t found in any other nation.

The role of ExxonMobil and the Kochs in influencing climate denial hadn’t been empirically studied before now, according to Justin Farrell, an assistant professor of sociology at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the author of the new paper. He said the flow of money from group to group and person to person is often opaque to researchers.

Whether the Power Tool is receiving money from the “infrastructure,” or whether he’s just a tool, I do not know.

Farrell said he focused on ExxonMobil and the Koch foundations because “they are reliable indicators of a much larger effort of corporate lobbying in the climate change counter-movement.” He examined Internal Revenue Service data showing which groups in the network of climate contrarians accepted funding from ExxonMobil or Koch foundations between 1993 and 2013. Recipients from those two sources tend to occupy central nodes in what he calls a “contrarian network.” Groups funded by ExxonMobil or the Kochs “have greater influence over flows of resources, communication, and the production of contrarian information,” Farrell wrote.

The actual paper is behind a pay firewall, so I can’t check to see if CFACT is listed as one of the 164 organizations in the denier network, but I suspect it is.

The above-mentioned Farrell also studied how the contrarian network influenced media, including the New York Times.

Over the 20 years under review, climate contrarianism increased the most in major media sources—more even than in presidential speeches or congressional floor statements. Farrell’s research took him through 40,785 documents from contrarian groups; 14,943 from the New York Times, Washington Times, and USA Today; 1,930 from U.S. presidents; and 7,786 from Congress.

For Robert Brulle, a sociology professor at Drexel University who has conducted research on the topic, Farrell’s research helps define how climate denial works. “Corporate funders create and support conservative think tanks,” which then pass off climate misinformation as valid. The mainstream media pick up on it, which helps shape public opinion.

“This brings up the following question,” Brulle said. “Why is the media picking up and promulgating the central themes of climate misinformation?”

Because they’re owned by corporations and because they’re a bunch of squishes who are afraid of making the Right mad at them, is why.

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The Pope’s Encyclical

environment, Religion

The first thing I noticed about Pope Francis’s Encyclical is that the following people are screaming at him to shut up:

Ross Douthat thinks Papa Francisco is an alarmist who hates modernity. He especially objects to implications that Capitalism is hurting the poor, because even poor people have toothbrushes now, or something.

Rich Lowry criticizes the Pope’s “bizarre ramblings” and “apocalyptic climate alarmism.” Oh, and the Pope doesn’t appreciate modernity. I think Douthat and Lowry may have cribbed off each other.

Michael Goodwin of the New York Post says the Pope is out of touch. Well, Goodwin would know out of touch. Goodwin says that “­archaeological researchers found plaque on the teeth of people who lived 400,000 years ago,” and this proves the Pope is wrong. And you can’t argue with that. No, really. You should just walk away from it and hope for his sake Goodwin isn’t carrying sharp objects.

Some guy named Tim Worstall at Forbes says the Pope has gone “horribly wrong with his economics.” But Worstall misses the point. As Worstall says, economists don’t think the earth’s resources are infinite. But business and industry certainly behave as if that’s exactly what they think, and that’s what the Pope was addressing.

And so on.

This is not to say I don’t have issues with the encyclical also. His Holiness is still opposed to population control measures — still nixing birth control and abortion — and he threw in what sounds to me like an utterly unnecessary dig at transgenderism.

However, I appreciate that he feels taking care of the earth is a moral and religious imperative, not just a nice sentiment for Earth Day. He understands that, yes, capitalism does hurt the poor, and “by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion.” Basically, our consumerist culture is causing depletion of earth’s resources while not providing for the basic needs of the poor, like water. Addressing this will require a real shift in our values and how we do business with each other. Yeah, pretty much.

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The Cognitive Dissonance, It Burns

environment, science

Science just dismantled a favorite climate change denialist talking point.

Over the last couple of years, the conservative movement, which loves science, has had a completely scientific-based reason for skepticism about climate change. The Earth’s temperature seemed to be rising at a slower rate than scientists had predicted. The global warming “pause,” as it was inaccurately called — it was actually “getting warmer at a slower-than-expected rate,” rather than an actual pause — served as grist for a massive flow of coverage expressing skepticism about scientific models and climate change. …

… The importance of the global-warming pause, conservatives explained, was that we needed to get the science right. “One lesson of the IPCC report is that now is the time for policy caution. Let’s see if the nonwarming trend continues, in which case the climate models will need remodeling,” explained the Journal’s editors.

But fortunately we now have an answer. A new paper released today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration finds that the apparent slowdown in warming was an artifact of mis-measurement. The Earth is not warming at a slower rate. It’s warming at the same fast pace as it did the previous decade. …

Not really a surprise, considering the last few summers have broken heat records.

Conservatives placed so much weight on the apparent existence of this pause that there’s no way they would just immediately switch over to some other justification for their same skepticism, like some kind of reflexive ideologues.

Ahem. And how does the Right respond to getting the science right?

NOAA Fiddles With Climate Data To Erase The 15-Year Global Warming ‘Hiatus’

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists have found a solution to the 15-year “pause” in global warming: They “adjusted” the hiatus in warming out of the temperature record.

To avoid dealing with the actual science, the Daily Caller went to the go-to science denial team of Bob Tisdale and Anthony Watts, who have been occupying the apparently lucrative niche of pretending to be experts on earth temperature and writing a lot of pseudo-scientific papers denying climate change. Tisdale is a man with no known scientific background who calls  himself an ““independent climate researcher.” Watts is a former broadcast weatherman who doesn’t have a college degree, although he did take some undergraduate meteorology classes, which puts him ahead of Tisdale.

A sampling of rightie blogs reveals that this is the story they’re going with — evil scientists “fiddled” with the data. Can’t trust those scientists with, you know, science. Anyway, here’s an article in the Washington Post that, in brief, explains that the old data showing a “hiatus” was flawed mostly because of issues with data reporting.

Update: Some pretentious whackjob calling himself Christopher Monckton of Brenchley today published a “report” saying there has been no global warming at all since December 1966. And he has charts to prove it! And rightie bloggers are quoting him as an expert! Lord Monckton is a certifiable looney tune. According to Sourcewatch,

Monckton has made various false claims in the past such as that he is a member of the British House of Lords.[2], a Nobel Prize winner, inventor of a cure for HIV, winner of a defamation case against George Monbiot and writer of a peer-reviewed article. He was deputy leader of the far right United Kingdom Independence Party(UKIP) before being sacked from the party in 2013.

It appears that “he has TWICE been asked by Republicans to testify about climate change before committees of the U.S. Congress,” according to this blogger.

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Why We’re Doomed, Part XXXVII

environment

Between fracking and climate change, water deprivation is becoming a real concern. So the Obama Administration through the EPA has moved to protect water resources from being irreparably depleted or polluted by greedy corporations.

Naturally, the Right is outraged.

The Obama administration announced new protections Wednesday for thousands of waterways and wetlands, pushing ahead despite a fierce counterattack from powerhouse industries like agriculture, oil and home-building — and their supporters in Congress.

On its face, the Waters of the United States rule is largely a technical document, defining which rivers, streams, lakes and marshes fall under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers. But opponents condemn it as a massive power grab by Washington, saying it will give bureaucrats carte blanche to swoop in and penalize landowners every time a cow walks through a ditch.

The Sheep who oppose whatever the right-wing echo chamber tells them to oppose would feel ill-used if their own drinking water dried up or if their grandchildren were born with three heads because of bleep knows what in the water. But in their minds if monied interests drain the aquifers and pollute the rivers to make more money for the 1 percent, that’s not “grabbing,” but if the government tries to protect resources for posterity it’s tyranny.
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Pay Attention: There’s a Drought in California

environment

Yesterday after Sunday service at the Zen Center while people were milling about with tea and cookies, I overheard someone mention the drought in California. Oh, there’s a drought in California? a young man replied, politely, with the same tone of voice one might use to say  Oh, you put pickle juice in tuna salad? Or, oh, Thanksgiving is on the 26th this year?

I’m sure lots of people not in California don’t know there’s a drought in California, but the Zen Center tends to draw an ecologically hip crowd of college-educated people who refuse to use plastic shopping bags and who compost food scraps for eventual use in some community garden. Or I assume that’s what they’re doing with the compost, although maybe they’re shipping it to poor farmers in Iowa. It occurs to me that Brooklyn could generate enough compost to cover Iowa every year, if it tried hard enough.

Yes, peeps, there’s a drought in California. Pay attention.

There’s an article in today’s New York Times that ought to be alarming the stuffing out of all of us.

As a drilling frenzy unfolds across the Central Valley, California’s agricultural heartland, the consequences of the overuse of groundwater are becoming plain to see.

In some places, water tables have dropped 50 feet or more in just a few years. With less underground water to buoy it, the land surface is sinking as much as a foot a year in spots, causing roads to buckle and bridges to crack. Shallow wells have run dry, depriving several poor communities of water.

Scientists say some of the underground water-storing formations so critical to California’s future — typically, saturated layers of sand or clay — are being permanently damaged by the excess pumping, and will never again store as much water as farmers are pulling out.

“Climate conditions have exposed our house of cards,” said Jay Famiglietti, a NASA scientist in Pasadena who studies water supplies in California and elsewhere. “The withdrawals far outstrip the replenishment. We can’t keep doing this.”

California really does supply the majority of the fruits, vegetables and grains we eat in the U.S., and while new food suppliers could be found seems to me there could be additional cost. The loss of California as a food-producing powerhouse could have wide-ranging effects, on the economy as much on in our diets.

And it’s not just California. Aquifers in the Midwest, the Great Plains especially, are running dry, also, which could affect corn and cattle production. Probably will affect them, actually. Fracking doesn’t help.  Charles Pierce wrote in 2011:

Make no mistake. You screw with the Ogallala Aquifer and you screw with this nation’s heartbeat. Twenty percent of the irrigated farmland in the United States depends upon it. Pumping the water from it is all that has kept the Dust Bowl from coming back, year after year. Any damage to it fundamentally changes the lives of the people who depend on it, their personal economies, the overall national economy, and what we can grow to feed ourselves. Absent the aquifer, and the nation’s breadbasket goes back to being a prairie, vast grasslands that the people who first crossed them referred to as a desert. You end up with dry-land corn and some dry-land wheat. And the aquifer is far easier to empty than it is to fill. The technology to fully exploit it has existed only since the 1950’s, and portions of it are already dangerously low. It won’t be fully recharged until the next Ice Age.

Let’s just say we aren’t making smart decisions about resources these days. I doubt most people know this is happening. We should be paying attention.

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Joy in Rightieville Over a Faux Climate Change Scandal

environment

Did you know there is a global warming scandal? A novelist with no known scientific background named James Delingpole writes for Breitbart that he knows for a fact that organizations like NASA and NOAA are falsifying the data people are going by to make claims of global climate change. This claim has been picked up by The Telegraph, no less, which I’ve noticed publishing science denialism propaganda in the past. And the whole right blogosphere is eating this up and crowing about the “scandal,” utterly oblivious to the flagrant hinkyness of their source.

Reading on, we learn that the scandal was “broken” by a retired accountant named Paul Homewood who has made something of a name for himself by writing inane science-denialist articles for pseudo-science websites.

In brief, wingnuts, wake us up when you’ve got scientific, peer-reviewed data. Otherwise, just keep playing in traffic. Thanks much.

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Keystone Cop-outs

Canada, Congress, disasters, natural and unnatural, environment, Obama Administration, Republican Party

Along with dynamic scoring, aka fantasy budgeting, another issue to be pushed by congressional Republicans is approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline. There’s a nice op ed in The Hill explaining why Keystone XL is not in our national interest. The main points.

It’s not much of a jobs-creator. “The pipeline company, TransCanada, told the U.S. State Department the pipeline would create 35 permanent U.S. jobs. That’s about half as many workers as it takes to run a McDonald’s.” Further, it will create fewer than 2,000 temporary constructions jobs, and if those are such great jobs why don’t we spend some money and put people to work fixing public infrastructure, hmm?

For that matter, remember when righties cheered when Gov. Chris Christie killed the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) rail tunnel that would have gone under the Hudson River and provided better connections between New Jersey and midtown Manhattan?

The project would have eased overcrowding in Penn Station by building a new rail station at 33rd Street and 7th Avenue on the West Side of Manhattan, and it would have generated 5,700 construction jobs and 44,000 permanent jobs, and increased home values in towns that would now have one-seat service to Manhattan, the study noted.

Yes it cost money, buckets of which the feds had already handed over for the project, and much of which Christie had to hand back. It would have been good for the economies of both New Jersey and New York City and added a lot of value to a lot of businesses. Not to mention lightened the aggravation factor of trying to commute into Manhattan, which half of New Jersey seems to do every day.

And keep in mind that New Jersey under Christie has had terrible job growth numbers. Under Christie, New Jersey jobs growth has been among the slowest in the nation. I’m pretty sure New Jersey beats Kansas, but not many other states. Most damning is that New Jersey has lagged way behind all its neighboring states in jobs growth, especially Delaware and New York.

But we’re talking about the Keystone XL Pipeline. Noting that a lot of the same people who applauded Christie’s killing of the tunnel project are now claiming that Keystone XL is needed to provide jobs, let’s go on to the next point.

The Keystone XL oil is not going to provide more gas for U.S. cars. The oil isn’t for us; it’s meant to be refined and shipped overseas. I think most of the people who support it have some notion that as soon as the pipeline is built all kinds of cheap gas will show up at the local Shell station. It won’t.

If something goes wrong, it could go really really awful bad wrong and cause long-term disaster. The tar sands oil is really dirty oil, the article says, and if it spills or leaks it’s even harder to clean up than most oil. The pipeline is intended to go through many critical wetlands and agricultural areas, and a leak or spill could do huge amounts of damage that no doubt would cost U.S. taxpayers dearly to clean up.

In Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, the pipeline would run within a mile of more than 3,000 wells that provide drinking and irrigation water. It would also cross 1,073 rivers, lakes and streams — from the Yellowstone River in Montana to the Platte River in Nebraska — along with tens of thousands of acres of wetlands. Pipeline blowouts are not rare events, and the transport of tar sands oil threatens all those resources. Between 1994 and late 2014, there were nearly 6,000 pipeline blowouts or other serious incidents, spilling a cumulative 100 million gallons of oil and other hazardous liquids. A spill of tar sands crude, which has proven more damaging and difficult to clean up than conventional oil, would make matters worse.

Bottom line, it’s a hugely risky project that would provide very little benefit to the United States and its citizens. Note that a many Canadians want to stop the tar sands oil extraction because it’s doing a lot of environmental damage in Canada.

A pro-pipeline article argues that absent a pipeline, the crude oil is being transferred by train, which (it argues) is even less secure than a pipeline. Also making the oil available on the world’s oil economy would stop OPEC from messing with prices. And, of course, the real long-term answer to that is to learn to be less dependent on fossil fuel, period. Between the deep ocean drilling that caused the contamination of the Gulf of Mexico that still hasn’t been cleaned up properly to the Keystone disaster-in-the-making, we’re basically tearing our planet apart trying to wring every last bit of fossil fuel out of it already. Is there anyone out there foolish enough to think this isn’t going to have to stop sometime, somewhere?

Well, yes, unfortunately. I guess there are.

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Polar Bears Are Coming to Eat You

environment

Yes, 2014 was the hottest year on record, and watch out for hungry polar bears.

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