Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Birth rates and the global balance of power

July 31, 2015
A forecast and not a fact

A forecast and not a fact

african-v-eurpope-population-growth-economist-aug-28-2009

Also a forecast and not a fact

It is a good thing, not a bad thing, that birth rates are falling worldwide.  If things continue as they are, world population growth will level off by the end of the century.

But the fact that they are not falling at the same rate in every country changes the world balance of power, as Indians outnumber Chinese and Africans outnumber Europeans.

Bertrand Russell once wrote that if there is to be peace in the world, nations will have to negotiate limits on their populations as well as limits on their armaments.

I don’t see how that would be feasible without nations also agreeing to totalitarian Chinese-style birth regulations.  The alternative is to wait for the “demographic transition” to click in.  Help people achieve a better life, provide women with reproductive rights and knowledge and wait for population to level off as it is doing in the developed world.

LINK

India set to become world’s most populous nation by 2022 – UN by Emma Batha for Reuters.

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The top chart was published by the BBC; the second chart by The Economist.

 

Are ‘neonic’ pesticides killing America’s bees?

July 19, 2015

lossmap2015-680x464

Something is killing America’s bees.  It’s called Colony Collapse syndrome.

honeybee-masterA vendor who sells me honey at the Rochester Public Market once told me the problem is pesticides.  He has relocated his hives to places where there aren’t any pesticides in the vicinity.

Bees are important to pollinating crops, so this has a wider significance than just the honey supply.  It is true that to some extent it is possible to start new hives to replace the ones that mysteriously die, but if things go on as they are, there may be a tipping point where this is no longer possible.

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My expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack sent me links to articles that indicate the problem is a nicotine-based family of pesticides called neonicontinoids.  This seems very plausible.

Did Scientists Just Solve the Bee Collapse Mystery? by Tom Philpott for Mother Jones.

Fact Sheet: The Economic Challenge Caused by Declining Pollinator Populations from the White House.

Colony Loss 2014-2015: Preliminary Results by the Bee Informed Partnership.

Groups urge more than 100 garden retailers to stop selling pollinator-toxic pesticides by Kate Colwell for Friends of the Earth.

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World’s groundwater reservoirs running dry

July 15, 2015
groundwater

Double click to enlarge.

The following is a NASA press release.

About one third of Earth’s largest groundwater basins are being rapidly depleted by human consumption, despite having little accurate data about how much water remains in them, according to two new studies led by the University of California, Irvine (UCI), using data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites.

This means that significant segments of Earth’s population are consuming groundwater quickly without knowing when it might run out, the researchers conclude.  The findings are published … in Water Resources Research.

“Available physical and chemical measurements are simply insufficient,” said UCI professor and principal investigator Jay Famiglietti, who is also the senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.  “Given how quickly we are consuming the world’s groundwater reserves, we need a coordinated global effort to determine how much is left.”

The studies are the first to comprehensively characterize global groundwater losses with data from space, using readings generated by NASA’s twin GRACE satellites.  GRACE measures dips and bumps in Earth’s gravity, which are affected by the mass of water. In the first paper, researchers found that 13 of the planet’s 37 largest aquifers studied between 2003 and 2013 were being depleted while receiving little to no recharge.

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The battle for Seneca Lake

July 10, 2015
seneca1

View of Seneca Lake from the south

Crestwood Midstream Partners, a Texas company, wants to store methane, propane and butane in salt caverns underneath upstate New York’s beautiful Seneca Lake.

The company wants to make Seneca Lake a hub for transportation and storage of natural gas products for the whole northeast United States.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has already approved the methane part of the plan.   The New York Department of Environmental Conservation is considering whether to approve storage of propane and butane—aka liquified petroleum gas (LPG).

Ellen Cantarow, writing for TomDispatch, explains what’s wrong with this idea.

Crestwood’s plan would mean the full-scale industrialization of the lake’s shores near Watkins Glen, including a 14-acre open pit for holding brine (water supersaturated with salt) removed from the caverns upon the injection of the gas; a 60-foot flare stack (a gas combustion device); a six-track rail site capable of loading and unloading 24 rail cars every 12 hours, each bearing 30,000 gallons of LPG; and a truck depot where four to five semi-trailers would be unloaded every hour.

senecaAs many as 32 rail cars at a time would cross a 75-year-old trestle that spans one of the country’s natural wonders, the Watkins Glen gorge, its shale sides forming steep columns down which waterfalls cascade.

The plan is riddled with accidents waiting to happen. Brine seepage, for example, could at some point make the lake water non-potable. (From 1964 to 1984, when propane was stored in two of the caverns, the lake’s salinity shot up.)

That’s only the first of many potential problems including tanker truck and train accidents, explosions, the emission of toxic and carcinogenic organic compounds from compressor stations and other parts of the industrial complex, air pollution, and impacts on local bird species and animal life due to deforestation and pollution.

Salt caverns 1,000 feet or more underground have been used for gas storage since the middle of the last century and have a checkered history.

A January 2015 analysis of Crestwood’s plan, based on documents by both independent scientists and an industry geologist, found 20 serious or extremely serious incidents in American salt cavern storage facilities between 1972 and 2012.

Ten of these involved large fires and explosions; six, loss of life or serious injury; eight, the evacuation of from 30 to 2,000 residents; and 13, extremely serious or catastrophic property loss.

via Dirty Energy vs. Clean Power: The Past Battles the Future at Seneca Lake by Ellen Cantarow for TomDispatch (via Unz Review).  An excellent article, well worth reading in its entirety.

A plan to store natural gas under Seneca Lake

May 15, 2015

A plan is afoot to store natural gas in salt caverns beneath Seneca Lake, one of the world’s beauty spots, an important location for the New York wine industry and a source of fresh water for 100,000 people.

Although Gov. Andrew Cuoma has suspended hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in New York state, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has authority to allow fracked gas to be brought in for storage from Pennsylvania and other states.

Filmmaker Josh Fox and author and activist Sandra Steingraber report in the video above how the natural gas industry intends to make New York’s Finger Lakes a storage and transportation hub for gas throughout the Northeast.

They argue that this creates danger of not just of a gas explosion, but even of the collapse of the lake bottom.

LINKS

Video of the Week: We Are Seneca Lake – A Call to Action from Josh Fox and Sandra Steingraber from Josh Fox’s Gasland blog.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

We Are Seneca Lake: Josh Fox & Fracking Opponents Fight Natural Gas Storage Site in Upstate NY on Democracy Now! (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

What’s at stake in global climate change

May 15, 2015

4_5_degreesSource: xkcd.

John Michael Greer on the burden of denial

April 9, 2015

Allegedly smart phones don’t do anything to fix the rising spiral of problems besetting industrial civilization, but they make it easier for people to distract themselves from those problems for a little while longer.

John Michael Greer

John Michael Greer

That, I’d like to suggest, is also what’s driving the metastasis of television screens in the places that people used to go to enjoy a meal, a beer, or a cup of coffee and each other’s company.

These days, that latter’s too risky; somebody might mention a friend who lost his job and can’t get another one, a spouse who gets sicker with each overpriced prescription the medical industry pushes on her, a kid who didn’t come back from Afghanistan, or the like, and then it’s right back to the reality that everyone’s trying to avoid.

It’s much easier to sit there in silence staring at little colored pictures on a glass screen, from which all such troubles have been excluded.  [snip]

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Oklahoma now exceeds California in earthquakes

April 9, 2015

Oklahoma now has more earthquakes than California.

Geologists blame fracking.

Hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas involves drilling a vertical well and a horizontal tunnel through layers of shale, then setting off explosives at the end of the tunnel to fracture the shale.  Liquids are pumped into the fractures to force out the oil and gas.

Geologists say the problem is not the fracturing, but that the liquids used in fracturing lubricate existing faults and allow them to shift more easily.

LINK

A disaster waiting to happen in Oklahoma?  The link between fracking and earthquakes in an oil-rich town by Andrew Dewson for The Independent.

The Link Between Fracking and Oklahoma’s Quakes Keeps Getting Stronger by Tim McDonnell for Mother Jones.

Germany as a good example for the USA

April 8, 2015

I grew up with a stereotype of the Germans as prisoners of hierarchy, bureaucracy and rules, who would never be a match for us democratic, freedom-loving practical Americans.

But if that ever was true, our two countries have since traded places.

Were-You-Born-on-the-Wrong-Continent1Thomas Geoghegan, a Chicago labor lawyer whose writings I admire, wrote a book in 2010 entitled WERE YOU BORN ON THE WRONG CONTINENT? How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life about how Germany is an economic role model for the United States.

He still says so in his newest book, ONLY ONE THING CAN SAVE US: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement.

In Germany, Geoghegan wrote, the laws, strong labor unions, worker representatives in management make it difficult to fire anybody.  So layoffs are a last resort, not a first resort.

German management is forced to concentrate on figuring out how to get the most out of the work force, not on making workers powerless and replaceable.   The result is that German corporations invest in lifelong learning for their workers, on the justified assumption that they’re going to remain with the same employer and become permanent assets to the firm.

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California’s water and the reality principle

March 25, 2015

Drought map USASource: Business Insider.

Bertrand Russell once wrote that democracies would always triumph in the long run over dictatorships because dictators had the power to ignore unwelcome facts while democracies did not, thanks to contested elections, freedom of the press and the loyal opposition.

In short, although Russell did not use that word, democracies had a better system of feedback.

I hope this is true, but I wonder about American democracy’s ability to face reality, as I look at the lack of U.S. response to global climate change, the failure to keep the nation’s physical infrastructure in good repair, the erosion of civil liberties and the continuation of failed interventionist policies in the Middle East.

Drought-2-650x435The California water crisis is an example of what I mean.  During the past few weeks, journalists have reported that California has only a year’s supply of water in its reservoirs at current rates of use.

That’s exaggerated, because the supply can be stretched out by means of rationing and pricing schemes, but most of California, left to its natural state, would be a desert, and that is a real possibility.

California voters last year approved a bond issue to pay for long-range solutions, such as large-scale water recycling and ocean water desalinization from the ocean.  But these will take years to implement.

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The death throes of Alberta tar sands?

March 3, 2015
Alberta tar sands.  Source: The Economist

Alberta tar sands. Source: The Economist

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

The dangerous and destructive Alberta tar sands project may be in jeopardy economically because of falling oil prices, the Washington Spectator reported.

An end to the project would be good news, but the desperate struggles of the dying industry to survive by any means necessary could cause even more damage before it disappears.

Tar from tar sands is extracted by a process as environmentally destructive as strip mining and hydrofracking combined.  Tar Sands Solutions says an area of northern Alberta the size of Florida is being devastated.  Scientists say that the tar sands project in and of itself could have a measurable effect on global warming.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Extraction products a product called bitumen, a corrosive slurry that must be brought to a refinery to be converted into a useful product.  This creates a high risk of pipe breaks or leaks from tanker train accidents along the way.

As oil prices fall, the higher the volume of bitumen that must be shipped from northern Alberta to generate enough revenue to keep the project going.  Mark Dowie, writing in the Washington Spectator, says this creates an opportunity to block the project.

It is not necessary, he wrote, to stop all tar sands pipelines—the two planned for Canada’s west coast, the one planned for Canada’s east coast or the Keystone XL pipeline through the United States to the Texas Gulf Coast.  Blocking two or three would be enough to make the project economically unfeasible.

This makes sense.  But tar sands in its death throes could be even more destructive than it is now, as the owners try to ship their product by tank cars or by any other means necessary.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

President Obama vetoed a bill requiring him to approve the Keystone XL pipeline on his own.  But he still could approve it on his own authority.  Canada could ask a NAFTA tribunal to order the United States to pay penalties if he doesn’t.  Or it could wait for until a new President is elected in 2016.

I used to look upon Canada as not just a good neighbor to the United States, but as a good example.  That’s no longer true under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

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New reports on the hazards of fracking

February 25, 2015

fracking-infographic-1024x767Source: Daily Kos.

I’ve long been aware that hydraulic fracturing for natural gas is associated with earthquakes, but I had thought the main reason was the settling of the geological strata after the fracking process is complete and the fracking fluid is pumped out.

But according to a report by the U.S. Geological Survey, the main cause of fracking-induced earthquakes is the injection of the huge amounts of contaminated waste water into deep geological strata.

Large areas of the United States that used to experience few or no earthquakes have, in recent years, experienced a remarkable increase in earthquake activity that has caused considerable public concern as well as damage to structures. This rise in seismic activity, especially in the central United States, is not the result of natural processes.

Instead, the increased seismicity is due to fluid injection associated with new technologies that enable the extraction of oil and gas from previously unproductive reservoirs.  These modern extraction techniques result in large quantities of wastewater produced along with the oil and gas. The disposal of this wastewater by deep injection occasionally results in earthquakes that are large enough to be felt, and sometimes damaging. Deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes and the corresponding increase in seismic hazard in the central U.S.

via USGS Release.

Meanwhile in California the Center for Biological Diversity, a non-profit conservation organization, has found deep underground storage of oil fracking waste water has allowed toxic and cancer-causing chemicals to contaminate aquifers, underground reservoirs that can be a source of irrigation and drinking water.

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Courtney White on the age of consequences

January 28, 2015

Progress was good for my parents. They came to a strange land as poor pioneers and prospered along with Phoenix. They lived the American Dream—not the pursuit of material manifestations of success as much as their steady improvement over time.

Courtney White

Courtney White

Their lives were better than their parents’; they had more security, more opportunity, more comfort. They didn’t do without, go hungry, or stand in unemployment lines; they were well-educated, well-fed, and well-blessed with the fruits of a robust and expanding economy.

Best of all, especially for my mother, they could travel, and they saw parts of the globe that deeply impressed them. If they had second thoughts or misgivings about progress, I never heard a word. For them, the future was always bright.

I developed a different perspective. I came of age during the heyday of progress, witnessing the good, the bad, and the ugly. Impressed at first, I have now lived long enough to see that manifest destiny was not necessarily a positive force in our history.

I will likely live long enough to see evidence that America is not exceptional after all—that despite this nation’s many admirable qualities, it is subject to the same historical forces that have worn down all great nations and empires throughout the ages.

==Courtney White, The Age of Consequences

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Courtney White of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a former archeologist, Sierra Club activist and co-founder of the Quivera Coalition, which is dedicated to bringing together ranchers, conservationists, public land managers, scientists and others to improve land practices.

I’ve not read any of his books.  Probably I should.  Here are links to excerpts from The Age of Consequences, his latest.

The real path through history: An arrow of progress.

The Nervous Breakdown.

Manifest destiny was not necessarily a positive force in our history.

Thanks to Bill Elwell for the first link and for making me aware of Courtney White and his work.

 

The passing scene: January 6, 2015

January 6, 2015

2015: Grounds for Optimism by Dmitry Orlov for ClubOrlov.

Dimtry Orlov is hopeful that the world, including the USA and the rest of the English-speaking world, is starting to reject Washington’s propaganda version of reality.

Beijing chums up to Washington by Francesco Sisci for Asia Times.

Wang Yang, vice president of China, made a speech saying that the United States is the guide of the world and China is willing to join its system.  I don’t know what to make of this or how seriously to take it. [1]

Social protest rising in Ukraine as gov’t approves harsh austerity budget by Roger Annis for The New Cold War: Ukraine and Beyond [Hat tip to Bill Harvey].

Ukraine is being forced to raise taxes, cut services, raise prices and, most important, sell off its national assets at bargain prices in order to pay its debts.  Acquisition of those assets is what the struggle over Ukraine is all about.

Chain restaurants are killing us: Billionaire bankers, minimum wage toilers and the nasty truth about fast-food nation by Thomas Frank for Salon.

Thomas Frank wrote about how the fast-food industry is automating the process of processing and serving food, how the franchise system holds down wages, and how fast-food franchises are another plaything of Wall Street speculators.

Methane plume over western US illustrates climate cost of gas leaks by Joby Warrick for the Washington Post [via The Guardian]

Police union pushes for cop killings to be included in hate crimes law by Liz Goodwin for Yahoo News, with a comment on Psychopolitik.

Michael Brown case grand juror sues St. Louis County prosecutor, asking to speak out on case by Joel Currier and Michael Patrick for the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

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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

oil_industry_and_great_lakes

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.

LINK

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

ada540

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.

Should I be preparing for collapse? Should you?

June 3, 2014

I’ve been following a blogger named Dmitry Orlov for some years now. His ClubOrlov blog is listed among my Favorites on my Blogs I Like page, and some of my favorites from his writings are on my Archive of Good Stuff page.

A Russian-born American citizen who witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union, Orlov became known for a slide show called “The Collapse Gap

,” in which he compared the USSR just prior to its collapse with the contemporary USA. Both countries, as he noted, were in industrial decline, militarily over-extended and dependent on foreign credit to maintain their material standard of living. Both had economic systems that did not serve the public need, and both had governments in which the public had lost confidence.

Paradoxically, Orlov wrote, the Soviet people were better prepared for collapse than Americans. Russians were accustomed to not being able to buy things in stores and having to fend for themselves. Russian families with many generations crowded into small apartments were better able to face crises than American families, scattered across the country, isolated in suburbs and dependent on availability of cheap gasoline.

global-warming-record-temperatures-2012-537x442This all makes sense to me, but Orlov in the meantime has moved on. He no longer limits his prediction to an American political and economic crisis. Now he predicts a global collapse of civilization, based on exhaustion of fossil fuels, climate change and the inability of established institutions to respond.

In a blog post sometime back, he reviewed a book, American Exodus, by a Canadian author, Gilles Slade, about where to live in North America in 2050 after global climate change has set in.

Slade thinks that Mexico will burn up and that the U.S. Great Plains will dry up. The Ogallala Aquifer, which provides drinking water for much of a region stretching from Texas to Nebraska, will disappear. Irrigation water will no longer be available for places such as California’s Central Valley.

northwestterritoriesThe East Coast will be destroyed by rising oceans and increasingly frequent and intense hurricanes. Drought refugees from Mexico will invade the United States, and drought refugees from the U.S. will invade Canada.

Taking all these things into consideration, Slade thinks the safest place to be in North America will be Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

I haven’t read Slade’s book and don’t know the specifics of his research, but this doesn’t sound impossible to me. I can’t guess how bad things will get, or when the worst will be, but the consequences of human-made global warming are already being felt and can only get worse.

So in the light of all this, why do I continue to live my accustomed life as if nothing is wrong?

(more…)


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