Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

President Obama’s failure on climate change

July 27, 2016

President Obama was elected in 2008 based on promises to, among other things, do something about global warming.  My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey called my attention to an article highlighting his refusal to act.  Here’s an excerpt:

climatechange91740d8c51000401415d83d7d5ded446Obama has sufficient scientific resources at his command to know exactly what we are doing and failing to do. He came into office with control of both houses of Congress and a clear mandate to act on the climate crisis, with scientists the world over sounding all the necessary alarms.

But in pursuing an “all-of-the-above” energy policy, highlighted by the figurative explosion of fracking and the literal explosions of oil trains and deep sea drilling rigs, Obama has turned the US into the No. 1 producer of fossil fuels in the world.

The value of federal government subsidies for fossil-fuel exploration and production increased by 45 percent under his watch, even as he turned what were once climate “treaty” talks into a subterfuge for global inaction. This, from the guy who ran against “Drill, Baby Drill!”

Source: Truthout

True, Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency has enacted regulations classifying greenhouse gasses as pollutants, which are intended to close down aging coal-fired electric power plants.  He has obtained subsidies to promote renewable energy.  And he has set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to be accomplished by future administrations.

But this has been offset by his promotion of the domestic oil and gas industry and his opposition to enforceable international climate treaties.

The problem is that there is no immediate political payoff from trying to slow down global warming.  The climate change that is manifesting itself right now—record-breaking temperatures, floods and droughts—is the result of decisions made or not made 30 or 40 years ago.

What is done—or not done—today about climate change will not change the present situation.  It will only help people 30 or 40 years from now.  There is little political incentive to do that.

Neither democratic government nor free-enterprise economic systems, assuming that this is what we have, would respond to the immediate concerns and wishes of the public, but not to warnings about future problems.  Not that socialist dictatorships have a better record!

The only answer, as I see it, is for climate change activists to do what Naomi Klein describes in her book, This Changes Everything, which is to join up with those who are fighting fossil fuel companies on other grounds—protection of property rights, Indian treaties, public health and the environment, and the authority of local government.


President Obama’s Lethal Climate Legacy by Zhiwa Woodbury for Truthout.

The Ecology of Freedom: introduction

April 11, 2016

THE ECOLOGY OF FREEDOM: the emergence and dissolution of hierarchy by Murray Bookchin (1982, 1991, 2005).  Introduction

I am coming to realize that  Murray Bookchin, whose name I first heard a year or so ago, was one of the great thinkers of our time.

murraybookchin.ecologyoffreedom512T99r4GjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_His book, The Ecology of Freedom, is a profound work that is worth studying closely.  I intend to do this by reviewing the book chapter by chapter, partly to stimulate interest in his ideas but more to clarify my own thinking.

His basic idea is that human domination of nature and human domination of other human beings are part of the same thing.  This sounds simple.  What he does in this book is to describe the history of how this has played out in all its cultural, political, economic and religious aspects, and map paths to a better future.

My basic political principles are the ideas of American freedom and democracy that I was taught as a small boy.  My ideals have changed little in more than 70 years, but my ideas of how the world works have changed a lot, especially in the past 10 or 20 years.

State socialism based on command economies haven’t worked.  A tiny group of masterminds, even if they have good intentions, are not qualified to make decisions for the rest of us.  The kind of capitalism we have now doesn’t work either.  So I am interested in learning about alternatives.

Born in 1921 to Russian Jewish immigrants, Bookchin was a labor organizer in the 1930s and 1940s and a participant in the anti-nuclear and radical Green movements in the 1960s and 1970s.  As a young man, he was a Communist.  He later became a Trotskyite, then an anarchist, and, in this book, espoused a philosophy he called social ecology or libertarian socialism.

The Ecology of Freedom begins with introductions to the 2005, 1991 and original 1982 editions, in which he expresses his disappointment with the environmental movement’s failure to live up to its original promise because of the failure to develop an adequate political philosophy.

One current of the environmental movement became a mere lifestyle option, based on consumer choice.  The Deep Ecology movement and part of the population control movement decided that human beings as such, rather than oppressive governments or exploitative corporations, were the problem.

Many self-described environmentalists identified being anti-rational, anti-science and anti-technology with being in harmony with nature, which was one of the teachings of fascism.

ecological-crisis-quotes-2All these things, Bookchin wrote, indirectly helped prop up the status quo.  Environmentalists did accomplish important practical victories in individual situations, for which they deserve praise.  But they did not change the overall direction of society because of the lack of a unifying vision, which he called “social ecology”.

That vision is a symbiotic relationship among human beings, and between human beings and the rest of nature.  This doesn’t mean passivity, or abandonment of the human-made environment to wilderness, he wrote; it means to work with natural processes and with human nature rather than trying to override them.

This seems to me very much like the Unitarian Universalist Seventh Principle, which is “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”


NEXT: chapter one: the concept of social ecology

chapter two: the outlook of organic society

chapter three: the emergence of hierarchy

chapter four: epistemologies of rule

chapter five: the legacy of domination

chapter six: justice—equal and exact

chapter seven: the legacy of freedom

chapter eight: from saints to sellers

chapter nine: two images of technology

chapter ten: the social matrix of technology

chapter eleven: the ambiguities of freedom

chapter twelve: an ecological society




The Ecology of Freedom by Murray Bookchin – the complete book in PDF form.

Society and Ecology by Murray Bookchin.

Social Ecology Versus Deep Ecology: A Challenge for the Ecology Movement by Murray Bookchin (1987)

Libertarian Municipalism by Murray Bookchin (1991)

What Is Social Ecology? by Murray Bookchin (1993)

Bookchin Breaks with Anarchism by Janet Biehl.

Murray Bookchin: The Man Who Brought Radical Ecology and Assembly Democracy to the Left by Janet Biehl

Remembering Murray Bookchin by David Rosen for Counterpunch.

A Fukushima on the Hudson?

April 4, 2016


NY-DN874_NYINDI_16U_20150414182440Ellen Cantarow and Alison Rose Levy wrote an alarming and plausible article for TomDispatch about the likelihood of a Fukushima-type accident at the Indian Point nuclear power plant outside New York City.

The Indian Point plant has a terrible safety record, even by industry standards.  There is an ongoing leak of tritium (radioactive) water, whose source has not been identified, into local groundwater and the Hudson River.  There is a known danger of flooding, which could cause a meltdown of the reactor core, but management of Entergy, the owner of Indian Point, has declined to install a $200,000 flood detector.

Now a high-pressure natural gas pipeline is planned by an energy company called Spectra, would carry fracked gas within 150 feet of Indian Point.  Accidents in gas pipelines are on the rise, according to a study by the National Transportation Safety Board, due to gas companies cutting corners on safety.

How much risk should the nearly 20 million people who live in the vicinity of Indian Point assume?


Houses built of plastic bottles filled with sand

December 12, 2015


In Africa and Latin America, plastic bottles filled with sand are a cheap and effective building material.  You just stack the sand-filled plastic bottles on their sides and bind them together with cement or even mud.

The result is a building material that is cheaper and stronger than brick, fire resistant and even bulletproof.  The technique was developed by the German firm Ecotech Environmental Solutions working in Nigeria.

It goes to show that one person’s trash can be someone else’s natural resource.


Source: Plastic-Bottle Homes Are Popping Up Around the World by David McNair for TakePart.

‘Despite all our accomplishments …’

November 26, 2015


And also to those who farm the land.

Source: The Grey Enigma.

Hat tip to The Tin Foil Hat Society.

Our American food

October 31, 2015

Hat tip to Hal Bauer

The passing scene – August 26, 2015

August 26, 2015

Coal Dethroned by Laura Gottesdiener for TomDispatch.

In Appalachia, the coal industry is in collapse, but the mountains aren’t coming back.

Donald Trump – Man of War by David Cay Johnston for the National Memo.  (Hat tip to Avedon’s Sideshow)

21 Questions for Donald Trump by David Cay Johnston for the National Memo.

Donald Trump’s history includes business ties with known Mafia figures and employment of illegal immigrants from Poland.

The Secret History of Jaywalking: The Disturbing Reason It Was Outlawed – And Why We Should Lift the Ban by Ravi Mangla on AlterNet.

Should Prison Sentences Be Based on Crimes That Haven’t Been Committed Yet? by Anna Maria Barry-Jester, Ben Casselman and Dana Goldstein for FiveThirtyEight.  (Hat tip to naked capitalism)

California’s depleted underground aquifers

August 21, 2015

CMy1PeAUkAA1MiLSource: Reveal | Twitter

Hat tip to naked capitalism

This photo shows the huge subsidence of a tract of land in California because of the exhaustion of underground water reservoirs beneath.   It would be interesting to see how much more the land has subsided since this photo was taken.

In the current drought, Californians are increasing their draw on underground aquifers as a substitute for the water they are not getting from rivers fed by melting snow.  This cannot go on forever.

And, as Stein’s Law says, if something cannot go on forever, someday it will stop.


The passing scene – August 18, 2015

August 18, 2015

Peculiarities of Russian National Character by Dmitry Orlov for ClubOrlov.

Expansion of Russia Under the Czars.

Dmitry Orlov provided good insight into Russian history and how Russians deal with enemies and invaders.  But he neglected Russian expansionism.   It wasn’t by successful defense that the Russian Tsars acquired one-sixth of the world’s land surface, the largest empire in history except for the short-lived Mongol Empire.

Orlov mentioned President Putin’s offer to European nations to join his Eurasian Economic Union instead of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.  I’m glad that no important European leaders are interested in Putin’s EEU, but Russia and its partners, as exporters of energy and raw materials, would complement Europe’s manufacturing industry, and I presume that Putin’s proposed agreement doesn’t involve special privileges for multinational corporations.

Permaculture and the Myth of Overpopulation by Lisa DePiano for the Permaculture Research Institute.

Environmental degradation is due more to the behavior of rich people than to the number of poor people, and it is due more to unjust systems than to large families.   Lisa DePiano rightly says that people of good will should focus on self-determination, including reproductive rights, and not talk about human population as if it is a problem in wildlife management.

Why Bill Clinton’s Apology and Barack Obama’s Prison Drive-By Token Clemencies Are Election-Year Posturing by Bruce A. Dixon for the Black Agenda Report.

Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, through their ability to relate to African-Americans on the emotional level, have won their votes even though their policies promoted mass incarceration of black people..


It may be too late to stop or slow global warming

August 16, 2015

Click on Climate Change for a transcript.

Global warming may have attained such momentum that human action will not be able to reverse it or even slow it down by very much.

As glaciers and the Arctic ice cap melt, less sunlight is reflected back into space, and the warmer the planet gets.   As storms and drought devastate the land, forests and plant life are destroyed and less carbon dioxide is absorbed.  Some scientists think catastrophic global warming is irreversible.

Anyhow, the U.S. government’s economic strategy is based on fossil fuels—hydrofracking for natural gas and deep ocean drilling and Arctic drilling for natural gas.  The Russian Federation’s economic strategy is based on oil and gas exports, and China doesn’t appear to be ready to burn less coal.

A reversal of course isn’t politically feasible and, at this point, could come too late to do any good.


President Obama’s modest Clean Power Plan

August 5, 2015

President Obama’s Clean Power Plan is a step in the right direction, which he advocates with his usual eloquence and which is blindly opposed by most of the Republican leaders.  Sadly it is insufficient to significantly mitigate global warming.

Source: Mother Jones

Source: Mother Jones

The plan is intended to reduce the burning of coal in electric power plants.  This is a good thing because, of all the possible sources of energy, coal is the most destructive to the environment, to the health and safety of workers and to public health, and is the worst contributor to greenhouse gasses.

Even so, under the plan, the United States would still be burning a lot of coal by 2030.  The chart at right is by Kevin Drum of Mother Jones, and it shows that the reduction of power plant emissions from 2005 to 2030 will be less than half.

The plan is intended to reduceincrease the use of renewable energy, which is a good thing.  Sadly it also is based on an energy strategy of fracking for natural gas and of Arctic and other ocean drilling for oil.  This is in the context of a national economic strategy based on exporting raw materials rather than reviving manufacturing.

Obama’s plan is intended to increase energy efficiency, which is a good thing.  The drawback is that making energy use more efficient makes it cheaper, and making it cheaper encourages people to use more.

The goals of the plan are to be achieved after Obama leaves office, so its success depends on whether his successors carry through with it.

I hate to think that Obama’s plan is the best that is economically and politically feasible, but maybe it is.  Too bad for future generations that we couldn’t do more.


Here’s a 2-Minute Video Explaining Obama’s New Plan to Fight Global Warming by Tim McDonnell for Mother Jones.

Why Obama’s epic climate change plan isn’t such a big deal by Michael Grunwald for Politico.

Hidden in Obama’s new climate plan, a whack at red states by Michael Grunwald for Politico.

Obama climate change plan: The clean power plan is supposed to be bold, but it isn’t by Eric Holthaus for Slate.

The Last Defining Court Battle of Obama’s Presidency by Rebecca Leber for The New Republic.   The whole thing could be overturned by Chief Justice Roberts’ Supreme Court.

Birth rates and the global balance of power

July 31, 2015
A forecast and not a fact

A forecast and a possibility but not a certainty


Also a possibility but not a certainty

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.


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


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


Are ‘neonic’ pesticides killing America’s bees?

July 19, 2015


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.


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.


World’s groundwater reservoirs running dry

July 15, 2015

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.


The battle for Seneca Lake

July 10, 2015

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.


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]


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.