Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Aral Sea disaster: the Chernobyl of the East

September 2, 2019

Click on Caspian Report for more videos.

Oldest mountain chain ‘turned into rubble’

April 19, 2019

Hat tip to Lambert Strether.

“We took the oldest mountain chain in the world and turned it into rubble.”

Tarence Ray and Tom Sexton, known as The Trillbillies, or the Trillbilly Workers Party, are musicians and activists based in Whitesburg, Kentucky.

They talk about how mountaintop removal, a method of extracting coal in use since strip mining was outlawed about 30 years ago, completely destroys the land and makes it useless for any other purpose.

It has gone on under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, they said.

They said that since the coal industry started using mountaintop removal, coal production has increased 400 percent, but coal industry jobs have continued to decline.

LINKS

Whitesburg-based Trillbilly Workers’s Party podcast takes a left-wing view of Appalachian life by Cheryl Truman for the Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader.

The Trillbilly Workers Party by Lia Russell for Scalawag.  Free Listening on SoundCloud.

Get Real: What liberals like Paul Krugman still don’t understand about rural America by the Trillbillies’ Tarence Ray for The Baffler.

AOC on elitism and the environment

March 27, 2019

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gave a great speech about the Green New Deal and the environment, which is captured in the video above.

What a great speech!  It’s eloquent, to the point and well worth a listen.

It was in response to a Republican congressman from Wisconsin, who said environmentalism was elitist.  Rep. Sean Duffy introduced an environmental amendment to a bill dealing with homelessness just so he could speak against it.

The U.S. Senate yesterday voted 57-0 to refuse to take up a Green New Deal resolution backed by Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey.  But there’s a select committee in the House of Representatives that is studying the issue.  The Green New Deal debate has just started.

LINKS

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s speech perfectly explains why liberals go wild for her by Chris Cilizza for CNN.

AOC flips out after Republican calls Green New Deal ‘elitist’ by Ben Feuerherd for the New York Post.

Inside Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Unlikely Rise by Margaret Adler for Time magazine [Added 3/28/2019]

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The needed radicalism of the Green New Deal

March 22, 2019

The Green New Deal resolution of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Edward Markey is more radical and far-reaching than Franklin D. Roosevelt’s original New Deal.

The non-binding resolution calls for a mass mobilization of American government and society against catastrophic climate change, on a scale as great or even greater than mobilization to fight World War Two.

The mobilization Ocasio-Cortez and Markey call for would mean a closing down or drastic shrinkage of industries that depend on fossil fuels.  This would be a threat not only to the profits of powerful vested interests, but to the livelihoods of millions of good, hard-working people.   

That is why the Green New Deal is also a deal.  It includes social reform and a job creation program  to get buy-in from working people and minorities, who might otherwise

There are two problems with the resolution.  One is that it is too radical to gain political acceptance anytime soon.  The other is that, radical as it is, its proposals may not be enough to deal with the crisis.

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If you read my previous post or the text of the resolution, you’ll see that it is largely a wish list of the environmental and labor movements for the past 20 or so years.  Getting these movements on the same page would be a big accomplishment, because they haven’t always been friends.

The environmental movement has sometimes worked to the benefit of the well-to-do, such as subsidies for electric cars and solar panels, while putting the burden of change on the less-well-off, with higher gasoline and fuel prices.  The labor movement has sometimes accepted the argument that it is necessary to sacrifice health, safety and the environment just to protect jobs.

Working people have good reason to be suspicious of promises that, if they give up what they have, they’ll be given something else just as good or better.  This was the promise of NAFTA and the other trade agreements under the Clinton administration and after—that the loss of grungy industrial jobs will be offset by new bright, shiny high-tech jobs.  This didn’t happen.

An expression that occurs repeatedly in the resolution is “vulnerable and frontline communities.”  This refers to the communities left behind by de-industrialization and globalization during the past 30 years.  It also refers to the communities that will bear the brunt of climate change—usually poorer, often minorities, such as the people left stranded in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrine.  The resolution promises they won’t be left behind this time.

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Why plastic bags don’t go in the recycling bin

February 23, 2019

American labor and the environmental movement

October 5, 2018

Down through the years, corporate polluters have told their employees they have a choice of working under toxic conditions or not having any jobs at all.

All too often workers accepted this tradeoff, and treated environmentalists as their enemies.  It is a kind of Stockholm syndrome—hostages identifying with their captors.

Environmentalists for their part have often neglected workers.  Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) and Barry Commoner’s Science and Survival (1967) warned the public of the danger of pesticides, but had little to say about the danger to workers who manufactured these pesticides.

Few workers understood the dangers of the chemicals to which they were exposed.  Few environmentalists knew the extent of worker exposure to dangerous chemicals.

The great accomplishment of Tony Mazzocchi, whose life story is told in Les Leopold’s The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Laborwas to bring environmentalists and workers together.

He never criticized environmentalists as being privileged people who failed to understand the realities of workers’ lives.  Instead he tried to bring the environmental movement and the labor movement together.

He had Commoner give eye-opening talks to members of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers’ union on the medical effects of chemicals they worked with.

Mazzocchi helped organize the coalition of labor unions and environmentalists that is credited for enactment of the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) Act of 1970.

The OSHA law gave the Secretary of Labor the power to set health and safety standards and to enforce them through workplace inspections.  It gave unions and other interested groups the right to petition for new or stronger standards, and the right to call for inspections in the face of “imminent danger.”  It required employers to provide a work environment free from hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.

But as he soon found, having these legal rights was one thing, and getting the federal government to enforce them was another.   As I read accounts in the book of how the government tolerated blatant hazards, I remember my experience in reporting on business in the 1980s.  Small business owners complained of being put to great expense to fix problems that seemed picayune both them and to me.

At the same time big corporations continued to endanger the lives and health of their employees in blatant ways, and, as Les Leopold reported, the government inspectors weren’t interested.

Tony Mazzocchi said more is needed—a workers’ “right to know” what chemicals they are being exposed to and their properties, and a “right to act” to protect themselves.  The ultimate goal, he said, should be to eliminate hazardous chemicals altogether.

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Tony Mazzocchi, a working-class hero

October 4, 2018

Organized labor in the United States has been in decline for decades.  If labor unions are to make a comeback, they should learn from the example of Tony Mazzocchi (1926-2002) who was vice-president and then secretary-treasurer of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union

Mazzocchi sought an alliance between the labor movement and the environmental movement and the peace movement, which have all too often regarded each other as antagonists.  President Nixon credited him with inspiring the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

He was a friend of Karen Silkwood, the whistle-blower who revealed the toxic working conditions at the Kerr-McGee

He fought for equal rights for African-Americans and pay equity for women before these were headline issues.

He thought the labor movement made a big mistake in its unconditional loyalty to the Democratic Party, whose leadership has taken workers’ support for granted, and in the years prior to his death in 2002 was trying to create institutions to give labor an independent voice.

I confess that I knew nothing about him until my e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey sent me a copy of THE MAN WHO HATED WORK and Loved Labor: the Life and Times of Tony Mazzocchi by Les Leopold (2007).

This book is well-written and thoroughly researched.  Although Les Leopold was a friend and protegé of Mazzocchi’s, he depicts his mistakes and failings as well as his successes.

Mazzocchi really did hate work as it is organized in American industry, and he didn’t think anybody ought to have to work under existing conditions.

He believed that no wage-earner need work for more than 20 hours a day, and that workers should have the final say in how work is organized.

I read somewhere that the average chemical worker lives less than 10 years beyond his retirement date.  In contrast, I spent my work life on newspapers, and I have enjoyed 20 years of a pleasant retirement and may well enjoy four or five or even more to come.

This is not because I exercised or ate a healthy diet, but because I had a job that didn’t kill me.  Workers in the oil, chemical and nuclear industries have as much right to live out their natural life span as I do.

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Global warming and local freezing

November 13, 2017

Double click to enlarge

Source: The Real News Network

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Where have all the flying bugs gone?

October 23, 2017

I can remember when the first thing attendants did when I stopped at a gas station was to clean all the splattered bugs off my windshield.

It’s been years since this service was offered, or was necessary.   Now a study shows that the abundance of flying insects in German nature reserves has decreased 75 percent in a little over 27 years.

There’s no reason to doubt this is worldwide.  It fits in with other information about a decline in the European butterfly population and the honeybee “colony collapse disorder” problem in the United States.

It’s nice to have fewer bug splats and mosquito bites, but we humans depend on insects to pollinate our crops.  Insects also are food for birds, frogs and other creatures.

The German scientists ruled out climate change as the reason for the insect decline.   There’s no proof that it is due to pesticides or other agricultural practices, but these are obvious suspects.

Growing crops without using pesticides on an industrial scale would be a lot more work and expense, but it seems to me that the extra work and expense would be worth it.

Unfortunately, sur current economic system is set up to prioritize elimination of jobs over optimizing human well-being.  We should not have to accept this as a law of nature.   We should have a system that does not prevent us from saving ourselves from disaster.

LINKS

More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in flying insect biomass in protected areas by Caspar A. Hallman, Martin Borg, Eelke Jonjejens, Herik Siepal, Nick Holland, Heinz Schwan, Werner Stenmanns, Andreas Müller, Hubert Sumser, Thomas Hörren, Dave Goulson and Hans de Kroon for PLOS one.

Warning of ‘ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect numbers by Damien Carrington for The Guardian.

Bugocalypse: Environmental Collapse Continues by Ian Welsh.

Trump and the coming climate refugee crisis

December 23, 2016

climaterefugeesmap

Click on this for a larger version of the map.

Donald Trump, along with many other Americans, is reluctant to admit refugees from foreign wars.   In Europe, there’s a backlash against admitting refugees.

Of course there might be fewer refugees if the United States and other governments hadn’t destroyed or tried to destroy functioning governments in Iraq, Libya and Syria.   A decade ago, Syria was a country that took in refugees, not a country from which refugees fled.

But within the next 10 years or so, the number of war refugees might be overtaken by the number of climate refugees—families fleeing drought, floods and hurricanes caused by global warming.

Think of the people fleeing New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, or people fleeing the Dust Bowl region in the 1980s.   Think of the crisis in Germany over hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria, Iraq and other war-torn countries in the Middle East.

Now imagine this on a global scale and magnified 10-fold or 100-fold.

Most of the world’s governments, including the USA and China, have been slow to respond to the need to slow down climate change.  But President-elect Donald Trump is committed to policies that will actively make things worse!

Unless something important changes, a global climate refugee crisis is inevitable.

I can’t predict when the climate refugee crisis will hit—whether during the Trump administration or later.

I can predict that when it does, the United States will be the world’s scapegoat for everything bad that happens.

We Americans will deserve the blame for a lot of  it.  We will get the blame for all of it.

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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.

LINK

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.”

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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

epilogue

LINKS

MURRAY BOOKCHIN’S COLLECTED WORKS

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

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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?

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Houses built of plastic bottles filled with sand

December 12, 2015

plastichouse-main

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.

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

‘Despite all our accomplishments …’

November 26, 2015

unnamed-file

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.

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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..

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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.

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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.

LINKS

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

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

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.

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.