Tag: Environment

Even Trump Can’t Destroy the Environment

Angry Donald Trump photoThe assault on the environment has begun in earnest. The effort to debunk and de-emphasize the global warming catastrophe looming just over the horizon is already moving into high gear.

A litany of all the steps Trump has already taken to reverse the minimal progress the U.S. has made on global warming during the eight years of the Obama administration would take up too much space. But here are some of the most disturbing highlights. In one week in office, he has:

  • named several cabinet nominees — including the centrally positioned Environmental Protection Agency — who are ostriches on the climate if not outright deniers;
  • overseen the removal from several government Web sites, including that of the White House, of any mention of global warming and climate change;
  • issued gag orders for the National Park Service and its employees to prevent them from talking about global warming’s impact;
  • signed executive orders resurrecting the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline projects, two of the largest environmental-disaster-in-waiting monuments to our ability to ignore truth at the expense of exorbitant corporate profits; and,
  • decreed that EPA studies will now be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by Trump’s team, some of whom are known climate deniers.

Trump, in short, is proving to be — as promised — his own climate disaster.

But it’s important for those of us who are focused on the global warming problem to keep one thing in mind: the rest of the world is, broadly speaking, more concerned about the immediate impact of global warming than is the United States. This is true both at the level of the population and at the level of government. Just because the United States has a brief memory lapse and forgets the importance of the issue, doesn’t mean the problem just runs amok. Other nations — notably China, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK (if May doesn’t screw it up) and in fact most of the EU as well as Australia and New Zealand — will step into the leadership vacuum created by our temporary amnesia. Then, when we finally rid ourselves of this aberration and right the ship, we’ll see how it feels to be a second-rate nation playing catch-up with a world that has moved beyond us. And perhaps that loss of innocence, of that belief in America as the great power and leader in the world, of the claim of American Exceptionalism which has never been more than a patriotic slogan, is just what is needed to further the cause of world peace.

And, as a bit of an aside, it’s not going to be all that easy for Trump to reverse the progress we’ve made on global warming. Many, many American businesses have already recognized the significance of the issue and have made major investments in clean energy technologies, weaning themselves off fossil fuels, and building new infrastructure for a green future. They are going to push back against a man who appears at least to listen to other successful businessmen more than any other audience other than Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway and Ivanka Trump. He’s going to get an earful on global warming on his own golf courses.

 

One of the Biggest Ideas of 2013: The End of Growth

pizzoStephen Pizzo, retired journalist and astute observer of politics and society, has decided to focus his writing energy in 2013 on the truth that unbridled growth is a sustainable economic principle.

Pizzo, in his first column of the new year, points out that none of the political machinations that have gone on the past few years in DC, make any sense when viewed in the context of the new era of limits into which capitalism entered many years ago.

“Capitalism was a wildly successful scheme. It worked extraordinarily well for a couple of hundred years. But now is not then, and never will be again,” Pizzo says. “Now we enter into the age of limits. A time when the key ingredient of free market capitalism will no longer function; constant, year-on-year, month-on-month, quarter-on-quarter growth.

 Western democracies, founded on capitalism, have taken completely unthinking advantage of finite resources and then used those resources not only to create materialist societies, but also to pollute the air, land, and water on which all species on earth depend.

environment_limitsThe result: a completely unsustainable economic model. I believe that the economic transformation which the Western world is currently experiencing is the natural outgrowth of those ill-advised practices. Furthermore, I believe that even though we may already have passed the point of no return on the environment, we can begin to mitigate some of its more dire effects by radical behavioral modifications. Of those changes, none outside environmental influences is nearly as important as adjusting our economic model to thrive within the limits imposed by nature.

While I personally find environmental issues to be more interesting and significant than economic modeling, I applaud Pizzo for his decision to focus on the limits on growth this year.

Hang on, folks! It’s going to be a bumpy, adventuresome ride.

Wind Plus Solar Plus Storage = 99.9% of Grid Needs, Affordably

I was greatly encouraged today to read the news of a new study in Delaware that suggests that it would be affordable to combine wind and solar with storage to replace substantially all of the nation’s power grid.

The finding is contained in new  research by the University of Delaware and Delaware Technical Community College and reported in Science Daily.

According to the report, “Unlike other studies, the model focused on minimizing costs instead of the traditional approach of matching generation to electricity use. The researchers found that generating more electricity than needed during average hours — in order to meet needs on high-demand but low-wind power hours — would be cheaper than storing excess power for later high demand.”

 

Despite Sandy, Global Climate Change is MIA in Campaigns

Fifty years from now, it won’t matter a whit who won the 2012 Presidential election in the United States. The entire human race will be focused instead on minimizing the loss of human life to as few tens of millions as possible as global climate change overcomes rumors of its mythical nature and wipes out huge portions of the planet.

Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney has so much as mentioned climate change during the campaign. The President has taken some modest steps toward environmental cleanup but he’s far, far short of the kinds of drastic measures that are now clearly called for. Romney’s site does not, as far as I can tell, even mention climate change. You can use their search box to locate the topic and a bunch of links come up but as far as I can tell, not one of them is on topic.

Climate change is real. Superstorms like Sandy will seem like child’s play in 20 years or less. The new storms will be bigger, more powerful and more frequent. And that will be the least of our problems.

What will it take for our national leadership to recognize the problem and force the kind of change on us that we need to make if we expect humanity to survive even somewhat unchanged? If “Frankenstorm” can’t do it, what will?

The most articulate description of the dilemma we face and the choices we will be forced to make comes in a well-done amateur video called “The Worst That Could Happen.”

You should stop now and watch it. Regardless of your beliefs about climate change (aka global warming in one of the worst misnomers in history), this movie will persuade you that action is preferable to inaction.

It’s already too late to avoid some of the most devastating consequences of our actions. Perhaps extinction of the human species can be avoided. But not if our leaders continue to whistle past the rapidly melting graveyard.

Turn Your Jeans Into a Pollution Vacuum?

It’s hard to believe this kind of story is real, but if it’s true, it could radically change the way we deal with air pollution in coming years. And none too soon.

According to this article in The WEEK, scientists have figured out a way to wash clothes and apply an invisible and odorless layer of a nanoparticle that sucks a specific type of air pollutant right ouf your surroundings. They claim that one person wearing clothes laced with this nanostuff could pull out of the air the rough equivalent of a car’s pollution for an entire day (5g of nitrogen dioxide).

They’re hoping to have this miraculous-sounding stuff on the market in two years or so. This kind of advance is one of the reasons that technophiles like me sometimes get a bit too Polyannaish when it comes to expecting technology to evolve to solve the problems earlier technologies have created.

But we can’t always be wrong. Right?

 

Climate Change Math is Terrifying and Convincing

Bill McKibben is one of the brightest men on the planet. So when he writes an article, published in this week's Rolling Stone, titled "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math", he gets my attention. And he deserves yours.

The sub-title of the article is "Three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe – and that make clear who the real enemy is." Here are his three numbers:

2 degrees Celsius, the amount of temperature increase the world's nations have "agreed" to as a limit. Period. Not over some period of time, but forever. The problem, McKibben writes, is that before starting the two-degree clock, we raised the temp by 0.8 degrees and the results have been far more disastrous than predicted. Scientists broadly think a number closer to one degree is about as high as we dare go without risking planetary chaos and destruction.

565 Gigatons. That's how much carbon dioxide we can dump into the air over the next 40 or so years and have any chance of even staying below 2 degrees.

2,795 Gigatons. That's the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies and company-like countries.IOW, it's the fossil fuel we're currently planning to burn. It doesn't take a math degree to see that this number is five times higher than 565.

Oil companies — already the most incredibly profitable and richest industry in the history of man — base their asset valuation largely on these untapped but proven reserves. If they announced plans not to burn 80% of it in the interest of a little objective like saving humanity, their value would plummet. And you can figure out the likelihood of that happening, right?

We need economic policy that raises the cost of producing carbon-based fuels as expensive as the damage doing so will do. This will take one of three things:
  1. A massive outpouring of altruism on the part of the oil producers.
  2. A government (actually multiple governments) of such vision and courage to bite the economic and political bullet of making it happen through regulation and taxation.
  3. An outraged public that will force one or both of the above.
Guess which is most likely to happen before it's too late?

Yep.

Apple Opts Out of Green Program? Really? Come On, People!

Apple is making one of the dumbest moves of its foot-shooting history these days. And it's going to cost it not only sales but cred.

The company has decided to pull 39 computer products out of the highly regarded EPEAT program designed to encourage computer makers to build products that are more recyclable and environmentally sensitive.  It does not appear to have a sound strategic reason for this idiotic move. Rather, it appears that the company — in an oversight that the expert micro-managing Steve Jobs would never have missed or, probably, permitted — designed its new laptops badly. Then, rather than face a virtual censure of its product by the EPEAT forces, it decided simply to yank all of its support for the group.

The City of San Francisco reacted swiftly by encouraging all departments to top buying Macs. Companies and governmental agencies all over the country who are committed to following EPEAT guidelines in their purchasing will have to do the same.

Smooth move, Tim Cook. Let's see you handle this hot potato.

James Hansen’s Plan for Reversing Climate Change

In an emotionally charged but (IMNSHO) fact-based opinion piece in the New York Times today, NASA exec James Hansen suggests that a gradually accelerating tax on carbon fuel producers that is distributed directly back to citizens could reverse global climate change before it finally imperils civilization.

Hansen, who’s a lightning rod for the folks on the “business-can-do-no-wrong-so-leave-them-alone” side of the political divide, has been at the forefront of the nearly unanimous group of world scientists warning us about the perils of climate change for decades. In today’s piece, he continues to paint a cataclysmically depressing picture of where things will go if we keep following our present human course. The trouble is, his picture is realistic.

Of particular focus in Hansen’s most recent piece is the tar sands extraction being pursued by Canada. President Obama said in a recent interview that the Canadians were going to go ahead with this incredibly terrible idea for producing the dirtiest large-scale fuel source known to man, regardless of whether the U.S. allows them to run a pipeline to the Gulf of Mexico. Never mind that that course of action is all but impossible for Canada to follow if we don’t allow the pipeline. Hansen points out that this sludge “contain[s] twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history.”

So his idea — which may not be new for all I know but it’s the first I’ve read of it — is simplicity itself. “We should impose a gradually rising carbon fee, collected from fossil fuel companies, then distribute 100 percent of the collections to all Americans on a per-capita basis every month. The government would not get a penny.” He says that computer models based on this notion show that it would stimulate the economy without growing the government, give most Americans more than they are paying in increased fossil fuel costs, and result in savings six times greater than that projected for the Canadian tar sands project. I think he’s probably underestimating the degree to which the government would grow (we’ll need a new bureaucracy to manage and distribute the funds, right? Can’t trust oil companies to cut all the checks to all the right folks for all the right amounts.)

This seems like an idea that conservatives and liberals alike would support. So of course it won’t happen.

But we clearly must do something or we’re leaving our grandchildren and great-grandchildren in a horrific mess that may well end human civilization.

Is the British Company to Blame or Was it These Americans?

Wow. Over on Gizmodo.com, a piece on the parody film by UCB Comedy drew a comment from a Brit which, if it is accurate, should cause us to rethink in large part our reaction to the Gulf Oil Disaster of 2010. The writer claims that the real blame for the accident and the resulting crisis belongs to two American companies, Transocean and Cameron. Among his key points:

  • "The American press initially referred to the accident in terms of it being Transocean’s rig, and only switched to using BP’s name when the extent of the oil spill became apparent." (This one we know is true.)
  • "Survivors of the rig fire have claimed they were held incommunicado by Transocean heavies and lawyers on a boat until they signed forms absolving Transocean of any blame or causing any harm. They weren’t even allowed to let their families know they were alive until they signed that form." (Stories on this point are mixed. At least two survivors have told stories that support this allegation while Transocean has publicly denied any such behavior.)
  • "[C]onsider American responsibilities and actions regarding the Union Carbide disaster at Bhopal, India. In the first decade after the cyanide gas was released, 25,000 deaths were attributed to the accident and 300,000 were made sick and/or homeless. That was in 1984 and today most of the victims are still waiting for compensation or even a meaningful apology." (Undeniably true but only tangentially relevant.)

He makes several other interesting observations in the process.

Now, I'm not endorsing his position. But if they are true, they should at least give us pause to rethink the assessment of blame and liability here. It does not appear to me that TO is blameless (and may even deserve the major burden) and its executives have behaved every bit as badly as Tony Hayward of BP by all accounts. But of course ultimately, contracts between and among the various players govern the outcome and I have to believe BP has accepted responsibility because it is legally obligated to do so under those contracts.

Still, TO ought to get slammed if half of this guy's allegations are valid.