Posts Tagged ‘Pollution’

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.

The case against coal

November 10, 2014


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.

Reagan was (partly) right about trees & pollution

May 21, 2014

Ronald Reagan famously said during the 1980 Presidential campaign that a lot of pollution comes from trees.  In fact, he was right, or at least partly right.

An article in the current issue of Scientific American said that some species of trees — particularly black gum, oak, poplar and willow — release high concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), similar to what comes out of smokestacks and auto tailpipes.

Sunlight turns these compounds into ozone which can cause asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses.

This is not an argument for cutting down trees or for ignoring industrial and auto emissions.  It is rather an argument for planting more birch, linden, tulip and other low-VOC species and against excessive concentrations of high-VOC trees.

Click on The Paradox of Pollution-Producing Trees: Some Greenery Can Make Smog Worse for the complete Scientific American article by Mark Fischetti.

The oceans are sick and may be dying

October 24, 2013

Ivan Macfaydan, an Australian yachtsman, sailed from Melbourne to Osaka, and then to San Francisco.  When he took a similar voyage 10 years ago, the ocean was teeming with fish and the skies with sea birds.  Now all he saw was a dead ocean and the only thing he saw was garbage.

mike062620111An interview of Macfayden by an Australian newspaper has gone viral over the Internet.  It reads like the opening chapter of a Stephen King novel.

Scientists meanwhile report that marine life in vast areas of the world’s oceans are dying off and being replaced by jellyfish, a primitive organism that can survive conditions that kill more complex creatures die.  There is a 30,000-square-mile area off southern Africa completely covered by jellyfish, a “stingy-slimy killing field” where no other animal life can survive.

Biologist Lisa-ann Gershwin in a recently-reviewed book that the warming of the oceans, fertilizer runoff from farms, plastic pollution and acidification of the oceans all create an environment that is had for fish, whales, turtles and other higher forms of life, but highly suitable for jellyfish.  Unless something changes, jellyfish will rule the seas and other forms of marine life will disappear.

What is killing the oceans?  Here are some suspects.

Surexploitation_morue_surpêcheEn1Overfishing.  Macfayden encountered a big factory factory fishing ship on his voyage.  The ship’s machinery scoop up everything in the water around them, the crew picked out the tuna, and all the other fish and marine life were dumped.  This is worse than clear-cutting of forests.  This kind of fishing depletes not only the tuna or whatever other species of fish is the target, but it destroys the food chain that the fish need to survive.

The chart at the right depicts the destruction of the Newfoundland cod fishery.  Canadian writer Jacobs wrote that in 1976, Canada’s Department of the Environment responded to the declining catch by deciding to ignore “biological factors” and lift restrictions “in the interest of the people who depend on the fishing industry.”  As the chart shows, the catch increased slightly, then crashed completely.  Since the cod went away, she wrote, fisherman have been encouraged to concentrate on shrimp, crabs and other species lower on the food chain, which jeopardizes the recovery of the cod.

PlasticsInstead of decaying, plastic objects over time disintegrate into tiny pellets that fish mistake for food.  The fish swallow them, the plastic stuff sticks in their gullets or digestive systems, and they can’t digest anything else.  They starve to death.   Unlike with overfishing, cause and effect are not obvious.  Who would have thought that when I use a plastic disposable safety razor, I am contributing to the death of the oceans?

ocean-dead-zonesDead Zones. Excess fertilizer is carried off the land by rain and carried by streams to the ocean.  In the ocean it nourishes a huge growth of algae, and the decaying algae nourish a huge growth of bacteria.  The bacteria suck all the dissolved oxygen out of the water, and the fish die.   This has created huge dead zones is coastal waters and, some suspect, in the deep ocean as well.  Who would have thought that when a farmer in the Midwest grows corn for ethanol production, he could be contributing to dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico.

Other possible causes include the radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown, the warming of the oceans due to the greenhouse effect, the acidification of the oceans from burning of coal and fossil fuels and no doubt many other things, known and unknown.

We human beings think that the world’s oceans are so vast that they are in effect limitless, and that human activity will not affect them.  We now know this is a mistake.