Archive for Environment

I got yer trickle-down right here, pal. Those melty glaciers in the Antarctic and Greenland? Well:

The Gulf Stream that helps to keep Britain from freezing over in winter is slowing down faster now than at any time in the past millennium according to a study suggesting that major changes are taking place to the ocean currents of the North Atlantic.

Scientists believe that the huge volumes of freshwater flowing into the North Atlantic from the rapidly melting ice cap of Greenland have slowed down the ocean “engine” that drives the Gulf Stream from the Caribbean towards north-west Europe, bringing heat equivalent to the output of a million power stations.

Scientists say the change has largely taken place since 1970. According to Stefan Rahmstorf at Potsdam’s Institute for Climate Impact Research, this could be … bad:

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Mar
08

And the loser is…

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By Steve Jurvetson from Menlo Park, USA (Google Power) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Remember Solyndra, that failed solar tech startup the GOP tried to hang around President Obama’s neck like an albatross? Mitt Romney campaigned in front of the closed Solyndra factory in 2012, trying to deflect attention from his vulture capitalist record at Bain Capital. See, the problem was that Big Gummint was perturbing the economic gods with clean energy subsidies, “stifling free market competition by picking economic winners and losers.”

Yesterday, I concluded a post noting that it is some kind of article of faith on the right that “government shouldn’t pick winners and losers.” Rather than call them hypocrites this fine Sunday morning, let’s just say they apply that principle somewhat unevenly.

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Categories : Energy, National
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Feb
14

Climate change gets biblical

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[from yesterday]

Two stories this morning bookend the ongoing saga of climate change: sea level rise and drought. Biblical plagues almost.

Rolling Stone’s Jeff Goodell visits the Norfolk naval station to see the impact of sea level rise on naval operations. Large tides and heavy rains already leave some areas underwater. A storm had moved through the area the night before, leaving trucks at the main refueling depot axle-deep in seawater:

“Military readiness is already being impacted by sea-level rise,” says Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, who mentions that with all the flooding, it’s becoming difficult to sell a house in some parts of Norfolk. If the melting of Greenland and West Antarctica continues to accelerate at current rates, scientists say Norfolk could see more than seven feet of sea-level rise by 2100. In 25 years, operations at most of these bases are likely to be severely compromised. Within 50 years, most of them could be goners. If the region gets slammed by a big hurricane, the reckoning could come even sooner.”

Already, employees have a hard time getting to the base when the roads flood. The state of Virginia is in charge of 300 miles of flood-prone roads in the Norfolk area. However, addressing that threat is not a priority for climate deniers in the legislature.

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Categories : Global Warming
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Image public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Oil rigs in the “Graveyard of the Atlantic“? Someone tell the president April 1st isn’t for two months yet:

(Bloomberg) — The Obama administration proposed opening to offshore drilling an area from Virginia to Georgia in a policy shift sought by energy companies but opposed by environmentalists worried about resorts such as the Outer Banks or Myrtle Beach.

The offshore plan for 2017-2022 marks the second time President Barack Obama has recommended unlocking areas in the U.S. Atlantic for oil drilling, and it drew a swift retort from allies who say the payoff doesn’t justify the risk of a spill along the populated coast. The agency said Atlantic leases won’t be auctioned for at least six years and drilling wouldn’t start for several more years.

Well, that’s a relief. Plus, you know, with the Gulf Stream and all, a massive oil spill 50 miles offshore of the Outer Banks might never reach Cape Hatteras.

“Offshore oil spills don’t respect state boundaries,” said Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts. “A spill in North Carolina could affect Massachusetts.”

Heads up, Nantucket.

The proposal is still preliminary, officials suggested:

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told reporters the proposal was a “balanced” approach, but she stressed that it was only a draft.

“It is not final, we’re in the early stages of what is a multi-year process,” Jewell said, cautioning that some regions listed in it “may be narrowed or taken out entirely.”

That caveat and the timing make the announcement a mite suspect. Days ago, the Obama administration had Alaska livid over its request “to designate parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a wilderness area” off-limits to oil drilling. The request left Sen. Lisa Murkowski fuming. Something about decisions on federal land made Outside being a violation of state sovereignty. Other Alaska legislators were similarly put out:

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker was “outraged” at the timing of the announcement, which comes amid low oil prices and declining production “despite having more than 40 billion barrels of untapped resources, mostly in federal areas where oil and gas activity is blocked or restricted,” the joint statement said.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, called the plan “callously planned and politically motivated” in the same statement.

On the heels of the Alaska announcement, the Atlantic drilling proposal is generating predictable howls from East Coast environmentalists:

“This proposal sells out the southeast fisheries, tourism, and coastal way of life,” says Sierra Weaver, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “This is an area that has never been drilled for oil production. These are places and communities that rely on natural resources like clean air and clean water for the quality of life and the lifestyle that they know.”

The White House surely knew its twin decisions would raise firestorms from both the left and right.

A head fake in advance of a Keystone pipeline veto? Or a sop?

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Dec
28

2015: Imagine greater

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“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”
— Ursula Le Guin, accepting the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, 2014 National Book Awards

So much of what bloggers write about is serendipity. Sometimes focusing fiercely on a single topic and searching out components to flesh out an idea, or else grazing the Net at random for articles that spark one, or sometimes just happening upon ideas floating around that connect in ways that say something about the zeitgeist.

This morning I ran across this post on Raw Story featuring Ursula Le Guin’s speech at the National Book Awards ceremony in November:


I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries — the realists of a larger reality. …

Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art — the art of words.

I have had a long career and a good one. In good company. Now here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want — and should demand — our fair share of the proceeds. But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.

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Fracking continues to gain in unpopularity. During the recent election, candidates and campaigners told me one sure way to flip voters from the opposition — especially rural voters — was to inform them the Republican supported fracking.

There’s trouble at t’drill in Bakersfield, CA. “Errors were made.” (video at KNTV link):

State officials allowed oil and gas companies to pump nearly three billion gallons of waste water into underground aquifers that could have been used for drinking water or irrigation.

Those aquifers are supposed to be off-limits to that kind of activity, protected by the EPA.

Nah. Never happen where you live, right?

“This is something that is going to slowly contaminate everything we know around here,” said fourth- generation Kern County almond grower Tom Frantz, who lives down the road from several of the injection wells in question.

According to state records, as many as 40 water supply wells, including domestic drinking wells, are located within one mile of a single well that’s been injecting into non-exempt aquifers.

Kern County community organizer Juan Flores told reporters, “No one from this community will drink from the water from out of their well. The people are worried. They’re scared.”

But there’s nothing to see here, little people:

The trade association that represents many of California’s oil and gas companies says the water-injection is a “paperwork issue.” In a statement issued to NBC Bay Area, Western States Petroleum Association spokesman Tupper Hull said “there has never been a bona vide claim or evidence presented that the paperwork confusion resulted in any contamination of drinking supplies near the disputed injection wells.”

However, state officials tested 8 water supply wells within a one-mile radius of some of those wells.
Four water samples came back with higher than allowable levels of nitrate, arsenic, and thallium.
Those same chemicals are used by the oil and gas industry in the hydraulic fracturing process and can be found in oil recovery waste-water.

“We are still comparing the testing of what was the injection water to what is the tested water that came out of these wells to find out if they were background levels or whether that’s the result of oil and gas operation, but so far it’s looking like it’s background,” said James Marshall from the California Department of Conservation.

Marshall acknowledged that those chemicals could have come from oil extraction, and not necessarily wastewater disposal.

I know, right? What a relief.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : Environment, Water
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Nov
02

7.7 square miles and 70 mm IMAX

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(Yesterday was a bit busy. Just getting around to posting this.)

Interstellar, the new Christopher Nolan science-fiction film starring Matthew McConaughey, may come uncomfortably close to science fact:

McConaughey’s character, known only as Cooper, is a farmer in a world that has become desperately short of food. Human activity has degraded the soil so badly that they’re forced to live in a giant dustbowl and crops are all but impossible to grow.

Although soil degradation is nothing new, Interstellar is proving strangely prescient, as its release coincides with a new UN report showing the trend has reached alarming levels, with 7.7 square miles of agricultural land being lost every day because it has become too salty. Climate change is making the situation worse because warmer temperatures require more irrigation and increase the speed at which the water evaporates, the report warns.

Now if we could only get people to suspend their disbelief and think about climate change for 2h 49m outside a theater.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Sep
21

But not a drop to drink?

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As the People’s Climate March begins in New York later today, California struggles with record drought. It’s not just the hippies worried about climate change, and not just here.

The UK must prepare for “the worst droughts in modern times” experts will warn this week at a major international conference to discuss the growing global water crisis.

Britain is looking at ways of reconfiguring its water infrastructure — expanding reservoirs, imposing tougher water extraction licenses, considering more desalination plants. “In the past we have planned for our water resources to cope with the worst situation on record but records are only 100 years long,” explains Trevor Bishop, the Environment Agency’s deputy director. “We may get a situation that is worse than that – with climate change that is perfectly possible.”

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Sep
18

Changing everything

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Naomi Klein appeared last night on All In with Chris Hayes to discuss her new book, “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate.” The logical extension of her earlier work, Klein called last night for a reevaluation of “the values that govern our society.” She writes, “our economic system and our planetary system are now at war … there are policies that can lower emissions quickly, and successful models all over the world for doing so. The biggest problem is that we have governments that don’t believe in governing.”
I haven’t read it yet, but I wanted to comment on the backlash we are sure to see.

Klein believes trying to address climate alone — as the environmental movement has — gets the issue wrong. As the Guardian put it, “[I]t’s about capitalism – not carbon – the extreme anti-regulatory version that has seized global economies since the 1980s and has set us on a course of destruction and deepening inequality.” Klein told Chris Hayes, “It’s not the end of the world. It’s just the end of that highly individualistic, zero-sum game kind of thinking.”

This, of course, will set lots of hair on fire on the right. In fact, Hayes led off the segment with a few choice quotes from some spokesmen on the right who believe climate change is a left-wing conspiracy. Then there is Rush Limbaugh: “That’s what global warming is. It’s merely a platform to advance communism.”

Please. I was born during the second Red Scare. I was a tot when they launched Sputnik. I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. That was half a century ago.

A quarter of a century after that, the Berlin Wall fell and American conservatives declared that Saint Ronald of Reagan had slain the Evil Empire and won the Cold War. And a quarter of a century after that, they’re still looking for commies in woodpiles and for Reds under their beds before they cower beneath the sheets.

Last year, even Forbes gave communism all the relevance of a Renaissance festival.

Not even the Chinese are communists anymore. Have you seen Shanghai lately? China has about cornered the free market in glass-and-steel skyscrapers and the cranes and concrete to build them. They sure as hell cornered a chunk of investment by Republican donors.

It took most of the 1990s, but with the former Soviet Pacific fleet rusting away at the docks in Vladivostok, even the Pentagon figured out communism wasn’t the Red Menace anymore. It took Russia less than a decade after the Wall fell to revert to the oligarchy it was before the Bolshevik Revolution – peasants and plutocrats. Which is where we’re headed, if you haven’t noticed.

If conservatives’ would-be leaders are so worried about the U.S. emulating the Roosskies, they might want to stop licking the boots of our domestic plutocrats. They might want to get their heads out of their anti-communism and join the rest of us in addressing the challenges of the twenty-first century.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Sep
16

Astro-fracking North Carolina

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Courtesy of its GOP-led legislature, the great state of North Carolina is exploring fracking Triassic Basin shale deposits in the center of the state. Gov. Pat McCrory this summer lifted the moratorium on the practice in place since 2012. The bill he signed also made revealing the chemical components of fracking fluids a misdemeanor (an earlier draft made it a felony). A friend already has a T-shirt listing fracking chemicals on the back. The front reads, “This T-shirt is illegal in North Carolina.”

The Mining and Energy Commission is taking public comment on fracking in the state, naturally. Last week, they held their last public meeting in the mountains at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee. About 550 people attended. Opponents, mostly, and a few astroturf fracking supporters.

Few pro-fracking supporters made themselves visible. People favoring the drilling technology were booed and hissed at during previous fracking hearings. There were some, however. Three or four from America’s Energy Forum and N.C. Energy Forum, groups that receive financial support from American Petroleum Institute. And there was Winston-Salem resident Christian Bradshaw, who said he made the three-hour trip to support “energy-creating jobs” for North Carolina.

According to news reports (and friends who were there), about 18 men arrived wearing “Shale Yes” T-shirts, but seemed unaware of what fracking is. At least one had come from a Winston-Salem homeless shelter because “he had been told it would help the environment.” As a friend described it, once the Army veteran realized he’d been duped, he couldn’t believe he’d sold out for a sandwich.


“The energy industry keeps claiming that there is support for fracking in WNC. What they fail to mention is that they have to bus the clueless ‘supporters’ in,” said Betsy Ashby, who helped organize Jackson County Coalition Against Fracking.

One of the men apologized to Ashby, saying “I didn’t know they were trying to do this to me.” Another indicated he had just done it for the money.

“They’re being exploited seven ways to Sunday,” Ashby told reporters.

Whether the issue is women’s health, school funding, Medicaid expansion, or preserving voting rights and the environment — the Moral Monday Movement’s fusion agenda — that’s pretty much how it goes. Among the tens of thousands of Moral Monday protesters, a thousand were willing to be arrested to oppose the NCGOP’s radical agenda. The Koch brothers, Art Pope, and the rest of the Midas cult have to buy support. Boy howdy, can they afford to. And even then, they are exploiting people.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo. h/t Ashevegas)

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