Posts Tagged ‘Environment’

A happy surprise: Gov. Cuomo bans fracking

December 18, 2014

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decsion to ban hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas in New York state was made for the right reason – the Precautionary Principle.

fracking-diagramThat is, he banned fracking not because it was proven to be harmful, but that there were good reasons to think it might not be safe.

I misjudged Cuomo.  I thought he intended to approve fracking, but was postponing this unpopular decision until after the election.

With falling oil and gas prices, the economic benefits of fracking are even less than before.  The oil and gas locked underground in the Marcellus shale will not go away.  It will still be there if someday the USA is so desperate for energy that fracking is necessary.

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“This Will Have a Ripple Effect Across the Country”: State of New York Bans Fracking by Cole Stangler for In These Times.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

The passing scene: November 15, 2014

November 15, 2014

The Myth of Chinese Super-Schools by Diane Ravich for the New York Review of Books.

Diane Ravich, a foremost defender and analyst of the U.S. public school system, reviewed Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World by Yong Zhao.

Zhao, who was educated in China and now teaches at the University of Oregon, said the Chinese educational system is the best in the world for promoting rote learning, high test scores and hard-working, obedient employees.  It is the worst in the world for encouraging creativity, enterprise and self-reliance.

The United States is making a big mistake by moving to a high stakes testing system that measures rote learning.

Who won the Civil War?  These students at Texas Tech have no idea, a video from the History News Network (hat tip to Bill Harvey)

 A video interview of Texas Tech students revealed that hardly any of them knew that the North won the Civil War or that the United States won its independence from Great Britain.

After watching this video, I thought that maybe a certain amount of rote learning might not be amiss.  But my question is: Were these students never taught basic facts about the War of Independence and the Civil War?  Or were they taught them, but never made to understand why these facts were worth remembering?

Can Climate Change Cure Capitalism? by Elizabeth Kolbert of the New York Review of Books.

Elizabeth Kolbert, a foremost writer on climate change, reviewed This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein.  She wrote that Klein makes the issue too simple by blaming climate change on fossil fuel companies, and ignoring the drastic changes in everyday life that will be needed to keep the planet from overheating.

Is the U.S. China Climate Pact as Big a Deal as It Seems? by James Fallows for The Atlantic.

Without the USA and China, the world’s two biggest economic powers and two biggest polluters, nothing can be done to stop catastrophic climate change.  The current pledge by Presidents Obama and Xi may not come to anything, but it is a necessary first step.

Sunken Soviet Submarines Threaten Nuclear Catastrophe in Russia’s Arctic by Matthew Bodner for The Moscow Times (hat tip to Naked Capitalism)

Alternative tar sands pipeline is ready to go

November 12, 2014

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Source: Honor the Earth.

While the U.S. government ponders whether to allow the Keystone XL pipeline to transport tar sands oil from the Canadian province of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico, another Canadian company decided to short-circuit the process and transport tar sands oil across the upper Midwest to the great lakes.

The company, Enbridge, had applied for permits to transport the highly corrosive tar sands bitumen, but then it decided that it didn’t need permission, and decided to go ahead with the project anyway, the Washington Spectator reported.

The project is dubious because, among other reasons, of the danger of pipe leaks and spills, which would pollute streams and underground water.  Enbridge has a bad record in this respect.  Tar sands developers have been blocked by other Canadian provinces from building pipelines east and west, so they’ve chosen to go south into the United States.

The Washington Spectator reported that Enbridge already has a permit, issued in 1967, to transport oil across the border via its Alberta Clipper pipeline.   The company claimed it didn’t need a new permit to expand the pipeline and transport tar sands bitumen, and federal regulators raised no objection.  So unless state governments decide to stop the project, the Alberta Clipper is a done deal.

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Second Canadian Company Completing Tar Sands Pipeline into the U.S. by Lou DuBose for the Washington Spectator.

How Much Will Tar Sands Oil Add to Global Warming? by David Biello for Scientific American.

The case against coal

November 10, 2014

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The Funny Math in the GOP’s Energy Agenda by Colin Chilcoat for OilPrice (via Naked Capitalism)

Can Coal Ever Be Clean? by Michelle Nijhuis for National Geographic.

Paying the bill to stop climate change

October 28, 2014

This Moyers & Company broadcast was aired about a year ago.

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Naomi Klein’s THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: Capitalism vs The Climate has convinced me that, in order to maintain a habitable planet, it’s necessary to limit and maybe eliminate the burning of coal, oil and gas, and that energy companies will never do this unless they are forced to do so.

What I’m not convinced of is that it is possible to painlessly transition to some green utopia, in which everybody’s material standard of living is the same as it is now, except for a small group of plutocrats.

naomi-klein.book0coverMy house is heated with natural gas, and my gas bills lately have been low, due to an abundance of gas supplied by hydraulic fracturing (of which I disapprove).   My car runs on gasoline, and the computer on which I write this post is powered by electricity.

Over the years I’ve read books by Lester R. Brown, George Monbiot , and Al Gore making the case that with smart technology, I can heat my house with solar energy and better insulation, I can ride a streetcar that is almost as convenient as a private automobile, and that electricity can be provided by windmills, solar panels, other innovative sources of energy and a smart electrical grid that eliminates waste in the system.

I don’t have the knowledge to question their proposals on technical grounds.  I agree with Arthur C. Clarke—that the only way to test the limits of the possible is to venture a little way into the impossible.   And the alternative to trying is to accept the “long emergency” foretold by James Howard Kunstler.

But even at best, the transition will cost enormous sums of money.  Who would pay?  Naomi Klein says that rich people in rich countries should pay, especially countries that enjoy a high level of consumption based on fossil fuels.   This means first and foremost the USA.

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A liveable climate and its enemies

October 23, 2014

Here are links, with transcripts, to the complete Sept. 18, 2014 interview.

Naomi Klein on the Need for a New Economic Model to Address Ecological Crisis.

Naomi Klein on the People’s Climate March and the Global Grassroots Movement Fighting Fossil Fuels.

Naomi Klein on Motherhood, Geoengineering, Climate Debt and the Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement.

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Naomi Klein thinks that, if governments had taken action in the 1990s to curb greenhouse gas emissions to control climate change, it could have been accomplished without drastic upheavals in society or in people’s lives..

Unfortunately another movement arose at the same time, a movement to remove restrictions on corporate activity, and this movement has proved more powerful than the climate movement.   The corporate movement has produced privatization, deregulation, repeal of anti-trust laws and a strong and enforceable body of international law to block environmental regulation and subsidies of renewal energy.

naomi-klein.book0coverThe first chapter of Klein’s new book, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: Capitalism vs the Climate, is about how the real objection of climate change deniers is their realization that climate change, if real, would mean an end to free enterprise as they know it.  She said they’re right.

Our economy is based on what Klein calls extractivism—the idea that there can be unlimited economic growth based on the burning of a limited amount of coal, oil and gas.

This is a process that will someday end in and of itself, when it is no longer feasible to dig out what little fossil fuels remain.  We the people can’t afford to wait until that happens, because emissions from burning fossil fuels will have heated up the planet to the point where it is barely liveable.  But moving away from extractivism is easier said than done.

An end to extractivism would require, first of all, the repeal of international trade treaties such as NAFTA and the World Trade Organization treaty that allow corporations to challenge national laws that favor local industry or interfere with the international movement of goods and services.

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Naomi Klein’s new climate change book

October 22, 2014

Naomi KleinWe know that we are trapped within an economic system that has it backwards; it behaves as if there is no end to what is actually finite (clean water, fossil fuels and the atmospheric space to absorb their emissions) while insisting there are strict and immovable limits to what is actually quite flexible: the financial resources that human institutions manufacture, and that, if imagined differently, could build the kind of caring society that we need.

==Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything

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Naomi Klein’s brilliant new book, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: Capitalism vs the Climate, underlines two important things I had not quite realized.

The first is that the built-in financial incentives of the fossil fuel corporations, or capitalism generally, make it impossible for corporate executives to do anything on their own that would limit the greenhouse gasses that cause climate change.

The second is that many seemingly unrelated struggles against abuses by fossil fuel companies, or abuses by corporations generally, tie in with fighting climate change.

hoax-cop15When native Americans fight to have Indian treaties recognized in law, when small towns in upstate New York pass ordinances against hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, when ranchers and Indians protest the Keystone XL pipeline, when other protestors object to corporate trade treaties such as NAFTA, when Occupy Wall Street protesters advocate economic democracy—all these things help other people in danger from the increase in droughts, floods and violent storms.

I confess that I did not see these connections, or did not fully realize their significance, until I read this book.  I had thought of the question of climate change as primarily a question of how and how much I and other people are willing to reduce their material standard of living, or give up hope of increasing their material standard of living, so that future generations will have a decent planet to live on.

This is a real and important question, but it is not the only question.  As Naomi Klein points out, the well-being livelihoods of many people are threatened by continuing on the present course.   That is because the era of easily-available oil, gas and coal is long gone, and the methods of extracting them—deep water ocean drilling, tar sands, fracking, mountaintop removal—are increasingly costly, dangerous and destructive.

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The passing scene: Links & comments 10/6/14

October 6, 2014

Populist Former Senator Jim Webb Could Give Hillary Clinton Major Headaches in 2016 by Lynn Stuart Parramore for Alternet.

I’ve long admired Senator James Webb, the former Senator from Virginia.  A Vietnam veteran and Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, he switched from the Republican to the Democratic party out of disgust for the Bush administration’s subservience to Wall Street.  He has criticized the Obama administration on the same grounds.

Webb is an opponent of reckless military intervention abroad, a critic of the “war on drugs” and mass incarceration and a friend of working people.

I admire Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts for the way she stands up to Wall Street, but I agree with Webb on a broader range of issues than I do with her (for example, she goes along with the administration’s war policies).

Tech gives the rich new toys while perpetuating the criminalization of poverty by Nathaniel Mott for Pando Daily (via Naked Capitalism)

A new device allows subprime auto lenders to track the location of a debtor’s car and to disable the car if the debtor falls behind on payments.  The New York Times reported this has happened when the car is in motion.

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The passing scene: Links & comments 6/30/14

June 30, 2014

What If Banks, Not Abortion Clinics, Needed Buffer Zones? by Barbara O’Brien for Open Salon.

What if people doing business with the “too big to fail” banks had to run a gantlet of yelling protestors just to enter the bank.  Suppose the banks were vandalized, and their employees subject to harassing and threatening telephone calls.  Suppose bankers had actually been murdered.  Is there any doubt that the bank protestors would be classified as terrorists?  Yet all these things have happened with abortion clinics, and it is accepted as normal.

The Unkindest Cut by Elias Vlanton for The Washington Monthly.

Joshua Steckel, a high school guidance counselor, worked hard with students from poor families to convince them it was both possible and worthwhile to qualify for college by studying hard.   But at the end of the road, his students found that college was unaffordable.   Financial aid packages only covered part of the cost of college, and what was left was more than poor families can pay.

Antibiotic scientist must push discovery to market by Kelly Crowe for CBC News.

The emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a big threat to public health.  Yet few if any drug companies are interested in developing new antibiotics.  Profits on new antibiotics are small and risky because developing new antibiotics is difficult and expensive, regulatory approvals take time and money and antibiotics soon become obsolete as bacteria develop new resistance.

Peru now has a ‘license to kill’ environmental protestors by David Hill for The Guardian.

Under a new law, Peruvian police can escape criminal responsibility for killing civilians while on duty without having to show they are acting according to police regulations.

Big business loves desperate, overqualified, underpaid workers by David Atkins for The Washington Monthly.

Today’s South is boldly moving backwards by labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein for Reuters.

Historically Southern business leaders have sought to compete with the North by means of cheap labor.  This is still true.

Obama Admin’s TPP Trade Officials Received Hefty Bonuses From Big Banks by Lee Fang for Republic Report.

 

The passing scene: Links & comments 6/17/14

June 17, 2014

The coming ‘tsunami of debt’ and financial crisis in America by Dimitri Papadimitriou for The Guardian.

CEO Pay Continues to Rise as Typical Workers Are Paid Less by Lawrence Mishel and Alyssa Davis for the Economic Policy Institute.

The recovery of the U.S. economy is sustained by the fact that about 90 percent of the American public is borrowing money in order to be able to buy the things they need and want.  Meanwhile the average pay of CEOs continues to outpace not only the wages and salaries of blue-collar and white-collar workers, but other high-income earners.  These CEOs will be in a good position to walk away from the crash when it comes.

Big Marijuana – Lessons from Big Tobacco by Kimber P. Richter and Sharon Lee for the New England Journal of Medicine.

Proponents of legalized marijuana point out that it is less harmful and addictive than tobacco.  This is true, but tobacco itself was much less harmful and addictive before the rise of the cigarette manufacturing industry.   If marijuana is marketed commercially by big tobacco companies, there is nothing to stop them from doing to marijuana what they did to tobacco.

Schroedinger’s Kingdom: the Scottish Political Singularity Explained by Charles Stross.

Great Scot!  The Madness of Late-Stage Nationalism by Tom Gallagher for The American Interest.

On September 18, the people of Scotland will vote on whether they want to become an independent nation.  The two links above are to articles giving the background of the referendum and making cases for “yes” and “no” votes.

US Water Woes Add Power to AP Fracking Report by Tina Casey for CleanTechnica.

Fukushima’s Children Are Dying by Harvey Wasserman for EcoWatch.


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