environment Politics: agriculture biodiversity denialism famine farming monocropping
leave a comment
The Port Huron Times-Herald reports on Michigan’s farmers, who are getting smacked upside the head by climate change:
Tim Boring knew it wasn’t a normal drought when the fields on his Stockbridge farm started to dry up during the summer of 2012.
Nobody escaped the magnitude of heat and dryness that year. Certainly not farmers.
“That drought impacted everyone,” said Boring, who produces corn, soybeans and wheat at his family-owned O’Brien Farms when he isn’t working his job as Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee research director. “It was certainly one of our biggest cases of severe weather lately.”
The drought wiped out a variety of crops, from corn to soybeans, and sent crop prices surging. Pictures of dried up, fractured grounds, stained corn leaves and livestock agonizing under the extreme heat were inescapable.
The dry conditions finally faded away, but not before earning the mark of the worst drought in a nearly a quarter-century, according to the Michigan State University Extension.
Severe weather events such as these, some experts and farmers worry, are on the rise.
I’ve used this letter many times in many different guises: epistodiversity! December 15:
Michigan’s farmers aren’t the only ones coming face to face with climate change’s troublesome realities. Extreme and unpredictable weather is disrupting planting schedules, making for increasingly uncertain harvests everywhere on Earth.
Coping with the accelerating climate crisis will require growers to change many of their ways. The era of massive monocropping is coming to an end; the potential for catastrophic crop failures from environmental disruptions or invasive pests is all too real, and highlights the importance of diversity in our agricultural system. A world-wide re-enactment of the Irish potato famine is a nightmarish thing to to contemplate.
There are countless viewpoints about the best strategies to prepare for a climatically-transformed future, but one thing’s absolutely certain: we’ll never successfully address the problem if we cannot admit its existence. Just like farmers in Michigan, our media figures and elected representatives must realize that the time for climate-change denial is long past.
environment Politics: corporate irresponsibility greed Keystone XL Tar Sands
leave a comment
US News And World Report’s Jeff Nesbit, on the Keystone XL:
Right now, there is an awful lot of dirty, heavy, crude oil sitting underground in vast areas of the Tars Sands region of Canada. The reserves of this very heavy crude oil – which is more expensive to refine and bring to market than any other type of oil – are big enough that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett once visited the region just to marvel at the untapped economic potential and money to be made there.
The only thing keeping much of this heavy, unrefined crude oil in Canada is cost. It’s why TransCanada and the oil industry needs the Keystone XL pipeline. It now costs $17 a barrel to ship this oil by rail. The cost would drop to $10 a barrel if it’s shipped through a pipe. That’s enough of a cost differential to matter – and potentially keep much of the oil locked up in Canada if Keystone isn’t built.
By some accounts, the Tar Sands reserves are as big as anything in Saudi Arabia or Venezuela. All by itself, financial analysts say, the Tar Sands could supply all of the United States’ energy needs for the next 30 years if 170 billion barrels of oil are recovered. It’s that big.
But should it be recovered? That’s the question that no one ever asks. TransCanada, Exxon Mobil, Suncor and every other big company looking to make trillions of dollars from the Tar Sands region just assumes that the answer is…well, yes, of course. They are already making money from the Tar Sands region. They just expect to make a lot more, with a bigger profit, if the Keystone pipeline is built.
But should it be built? That’s another question that no one ever really asks, largely because it runs counter to the history and notion of innovation that has defined America. People invent things, companies innovate, new industries are born, and economic winners enjoy the spoils of victory.
Yet it’s a question that needs to be answered sooner rather than later now that we know, with scientific certainty, that we only have a limited amount of time in this generation – and a finite budget of carbon that we can burn globally – before we tip the earth’s climate system towards an unstable and inhospitable state. The science question is settled. The economic one isn’t yet.
Kill it before it kills us! December 14:
The assertion that a transcontinental pipeline will reduce the cost of Alberta’s Tar Sands oil ignores several troublesome facts. Pipelines leak, and the crude intended for transport in the Keystone XL is a particularly toxic variety. Let it contaminate an aquifer en route, and the price goes up to include countless thousands of human lives.
More importantly, the CO2 emissions from the project would trigger runaway climate change an order of magnitude more severe than anything we’ve yet experienced. Such a planetary disaster would carry costs of Brobdingnagian proportions — damages which our trivia-obsessed political establishment seems incapable of imagining.
Let the exploitation of the Tar Sands proceed, and all of these consequences are inevitable — natural consequences of a business plan that profits from environmental destruction. We’d be better off minimizing and eventually eliminating fossil fuels from our energy economy, and leaving all that dirty crude in the ground.
environment Politics: assholes corporate irresponsibility Keystone XL Tar Sands
leave a comment
The Edmonton Journal explores the potentials of the Tar Sands:
Alberta’s oilsands reserves are a gift, blessing the province with jobs, Texas-sized bragging rights and a revenue stream most jurisdictions would envy.
But it is a gift that comes with strings.
As an ongoing Edmonton Journal series exploring the oilsands industry illustrates, some of those strings are difficult to untangle — especially persistent environmental challenges such as tailings ponds and greenhouse-gas emissions.
Let’s start with tailings, which is a problem the industry has wrestled with from the beginning, but the province only started cracking down on in 2009.
Oilsands, as the name implies, is by its very nature heavy on sand. The process of breaking the bonds between oil and sand adds a host of chemicals to the equation.
For decades, the resulting tailings ponds have been a problem with a solution promised just around the corner.
Only a single 220-hectare site has been reclaimed. In the meantime, tailings ponds have blossomed from 50 square kilometres in 2005 to 176 square kilometres in 2010.
Premier Alison Redford promised a Washington, D.C., audience that tailings ponds will disappear from the Alberta landscape in the near future.
Companies are investing in research to solve the problem and there are promising projects. A viable, affordable solution could be close.
But as of this moment, there is still, despite Redford’s statements, no magic bullet to the tailings problem.
There are parallels between the old problem of tailings and the newly appreciated problem of carbon dioxide emissions.
It’s actually a pretty good piece. December 13:
The oil industry’s sales pitch for developing the Tar Sands is full of reassurances. “There won’t be any environmental damage, and if there is, we’ll fix it.” “CO2 emissions will be trapped and sequestered.” “We need the energy to power our civilization.” “Our economy needs the stimulus.” “Nothing can possibly go wrong.”
It’d all be very soothing, if only it were true. If only these fossil fuel companies had a track record of living up to their promises. If only their history of malfeasance, mendacity, venality, incompetence and corruption didn’t give the lie to their assertions. If only our politics wasn’t dominated and controlled by the financial power of these same multinational corporations.
Our society is addicted to the ostensibly cheap energy provided by oil and coal, and the platitudes of their purveyors sound disturbingly like a heavy smoker dismissing a cardiologist’s warnings. We’d be better off overcoming our addictions.
environment Politics: assholes corporate irresponsibility idiots Republicans Senate Republicans sustainability Tea Party
leave a comment
The Dallas Morning News, on the belated introduction of fossil fuel corporations to climatic reality:
Exxon Mobil used to spend millions of dollars to lobby against efforts to tax or limit carbon emissions, and even denied the existence of man-made climate change. Now, the energy giant and several other businesses are factoring the likelihood of a carbon tax into their long-range plans.
We applaud this awakening, which research group CDP North America chronicles in a recent white paper. It brings a dramatically new dynamic to efforts to restrict carbon emissions. By CDP’s tally, at least 29 major companies — familiar names such as Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Walt Disney, Wells Fargo, General Electric and at least nine major energy companies — see a carbon tax in their future and are in the process now of building it into their business plans.
It’s (past) time for Congress to do the same.
Several factors underlie the development of this new dynamic, not the least of which is business pragmatism. Opinion polls show strong public support for the need to act on climate change. Legal victories have given the Environmental Protection Agency a stronger hand in regulating emissions. And President Barack Obama has vowed to regulate carbon emissions from coal plants, a major step toward the U.S. meeting its promise to reduce carbon emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 80 percent by 2050.
Exxon Mobil’s transformation, the first hint of which can be traced to a speech by chairman Rex Tillerson in 2009, is particularly significant. Exxon Mobil is among the nation’s most conservative companies. Its new position puts it at odds with the more conservative wing of the GOP, which denies climate change and opposes policies that would put a price on carbon.
But Exxon Mobil recognizes that fossil fuels, its lifeblood for decades, are falling out of favor around the world and that burning them probably contributes to global warming. Economists concur that establishing a price on carbon pollution would be an effective market-based incentive to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, like oil and coal, and encourage use of lower-carbon natural gas, nuclear energy and renewable energy alternatives, such as solar, wind and battery power.
When your voters are more conservative than Exxon, what are you going to do? December 12:
Republican politicians normally jump to do the bidding of their paymasters in the fossil fuel industry, so the growing readiness of big oil to embrace a tax on CO2 emissions should provide an opportunity for our profoundly dysfunctional government to move forward on policies that actually address some of our civilization’s primary contributions to global climate change. But “should” is a long way from “will.”
These lawmakers are trapped between a corporate rock and a demographic hard place; the tea-party zealots who are the majority of Republican primary voters are reflexively anti-science to the point that simply acknowledging the reality of climate change is electoral poison in many heavily gerrymandered Congressional districts. The result is certain: paralysis and gridlock in the face of crisis.
It’s long past time for our politicians to respect the laws of physics and chemistry and their implications for humanity. A carbon tax is long overdue.
environment Politics: corporate irresponsibility economics EPA irresponsibility
leave a comment
Oh, for fuck’s sake. The LA Times:
WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency plans to substantially reduce inspections and civil enforcement cases against industry over the next five years, arguing that focusing on the biggest polluters would be the most effective way to clean up air and water.
In a draft strategic plan, the EPA proposes to cut federal inspections by one-third from the 20,000 inspections it conducted in the last fiscal year, ended Sept. 30.
Moreover, it plans to initiate about 2,320 civil enforcement cases a year, compared with the 3,000 cases initiated last fiscal year, a 23% reduction.
The EPA said the shift for fiscal years 2014 to 2018 is not a retreat from enforcement but a more effective allocation of resources.
“From our work on the biggest enforcement cases, such as the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, to aggressively pursuing smaller cases that can reduce harmful health impacts and have the greatest environmental benefit, our enforcement work will continue to save lives and protect our environment,” said Alisha Johnson, an agency spokeswoman.
Representatives from industry organizations that frequently criticize the EPA, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Mining Assn., had no comment on the proposed changes.
Well, they wouldn’t, would they? Sheesh. December 11:
It’s hard to find a positive spin on the news that the EPA will be cutting back on its inspections of climate polluters. “More efficient use of resources” is pretty weak tea, at a time when the urgency of the climate crisis is no longer disputed by any reasonable person. What we need is more inspections, not fewer. What we need is more funding for the EPA, and policies in place that will enable the Agency to actually fulfill its mandate to protect our environment.
The history of medicine has shown over and over that intelligent early diagnosis saves both money and lives, and this is equally true for the planet’s health. Environmental inspections are essential for tracking pollution output, and are necessary both for predicting future outcomes and mitigating their impacts on society. Such superficially plausible thrift is a virtual guarantee of far costlier outcomes in the coming years.
environment Politics: corporate irresponsibility denialists media irresponsibility Republican obstructionism
leave a comment
The Akron Beacon Journal (OH) offers this perspective from Lee Thomas, former EPA head under Reagan:
During the 1980s, the United States and the world faced an urgent environmental challenge. Scientists warned strongly that chlorofluorocarbons, known as CFCs, were destroying the ozone layer. If not stopped, this would wreak havoc on public health — increasing cancer rates, cataracts and worse— and on ecosystems that are essential for agriculture and marine life. The scientists made clear: Humans caused this problem and human must fix it.
Under President Ronald Reagan’s leadership, we decided to act. We engaged with the business community, environmental organizations, government officials and other nations. Less than two years after the discovery of the ozone hole over the Antarctic, many countries negotiated the Montreal Protocol to phase out the use of CFCs.
Reagan was the first head of state to endorse the treaty, and the Senate ratified it unanimously.
This isn’t a history lesson: This matters right now. New international negotiations on climate just concluded this week in Warsaw, Poland. While the world still waits for true leadership, last month’s global science assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned starkly: Climate change is here, it’s getting worse, we’re causing it, and we need to act without delay.
Make no mistake: Climate change is a threat that, once distant, has moved squarely into the present. It demands immediate attention.
In the case of the ozone layer, we can learn from our success. But don’t think it was easy. Skeptical voices railed against the treaty, denying that CFCs were a problem or suggesting that adaptation was the preferred approach. Chemical and equipment manufacturers feared the costs. Those fears proved to be unfounded. Businesses soon adjusted to the new rules and identified opportunities for new products. More than a decade of economic prosperity followed the signing of the treaty, showing that American ingenuity can go a long way toward solving our nation’s challenges.
A generic article merits a generic letter. December 11:
The facts are in, and have been for a long time. Why, then, is there any significant climate change denial in America? The fault lies with an egregiously irresponsible news media and the corporate interests behind them. For decades, the fossil fuel industry has invested heavily in conservative “institutes” and “think tanks” which provide a steady supply of authoritative-sounding pundits who argue for the continued over-consumption of oil and coal. Oddly, these companies continue to make historically unprecedented profits.
While the US hasn’t been clobbered by climate chaos as much as some other nations, our lucky streak won’t go on forever. We are already seeing impacts on American agriculture and infrastructure, and the overwhelming scientific consensus (despite the naysaying of television’s unctuous talking heads) is that it’s going to get significantly worse in the coming decades. Conservative politicians’ irresponsible refusal to craft climate policy around facts rather than ideology is a grave disservice to their constituents and to the nation they claim to serve.
environment Politics: corporate irresponsibility denialists false equivalence media irresponsibility
leave a comment
Climatologist Katherine Hayhoe has noticed that our media sux donkey dick, according to the Delaware News-Journal.
As the global science of human-caused climate change improves, the public’s inadequate understanding “is definitely a worry,” a top national researcher said Monday.
“I think, for a long time, we’ve been operating under the assumption that the facts are enough,” said Katharine Hayhoe, a Texas Tech University atmospheric scientist retained by Delaware to prepare a climate change forecast.
“In terms of scientific certainty, we’re adding decimal points [to confidence], whereas in public opinion, we could be advancing by tens of percent” through outreach and better communication, said Hayhoe, a lead author for the latest National Climate Assessment. “I think that is what we have to be doing.”
Hayhoe made her remarks at an event hosted by the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean and the Environment.
A report guided heavily by Hayhoe’s research concluded in June that Delaware’s summers will grow steadily hotter on average in coming decades, with temperatures closer to those of the deep coastal southeast if emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases continue.
Time to spank some talking heads, I suppose. December 10:
Industrial civilization’s CO2 emissions are heating Earth’s atmosphere, making a far less hospitable planet for our descendants to inherit — but this news is apparently less important than the latest fleeting scandal, royal baby, or nubile starlet. Our celebrity-fixated mass media has turned us into an ADD society, perpetually distracted and unable to focus on the genuine and very serious challenges our species faces in the coming decades.
But there’s more to the story than that. For decades, “think tanks” subsidized by the fossil fuel industries have promoted climate-change denialism, supplying news outlets with unctuous and telegenic pundits who stridently reject the alarming implications of climate research in favor of false equivalence and misinformation.
The climate crisis is a civilizational emergency, but without a reformed and responsible news media competent to address science and environmental issues, the majority of our citizens will never know it — until it’s too late.
environment Politics: assholes denialists economics idiots Republicans
leave a comment
Say what you will about Maine’s Governore Paul LePage, he’s a boon to opinion columnists looking for something to mock and deplore. The Bangor Daily News:
I do agree with Gov. Paul LePage on one thing.
It is difficult to keep up with the latest official title of what is basically the warming of our planet.
In this week’s story about LePage offering up the sunny side of this well-established yet heavily disputed and debated phenomenon, he was quoted as telling an audience, “It used to be global warming, I think they call it climate change now, but there are a lot of opportunities developing.”
Actually, further up in the story, BDN reporter Mario Moretto referred to it as “global climate change” and further down a Sierra Club spokesperson called it “global climate disruption.”
Since the governor has pretty much denied its existence or at least any human involvement in it, we probably should let him ease into the idea before expecting him to latch onto the term “global climate disruption.”
Whatever you want to call it, what I know is that there will be no delicate, luxurious Maine shrimp on my table this winter … and that makes me sad.
A totally different tack from yesterday’s letter in response to the same idiocy. December 9:
Now that outright denial of climate change is all but impossible, we can expect conservative politicians and media figures to begin proclaiming that a catastrophically intensifying greenhouse effect is actually a good thing. Cue Governor LePage, who recently suggested that a melted Arctic would be economically beneficial.
And indeed, metastasizing global warming is certainly going to be a job creator. Since complicated lawsuits will multiply, environmental law specialists will be in demand everywhere. Think of all the disaster response experts required to cope with the increasing numbers of severe and devastating storms! Think of the extra training doctors will need as invasive tropical diseases become commonplace, and the oncologists, pharmacists, and funeral directors who’ll be working overtime in the long-term aftermath of the toxic spills inevitably accompanying the extraction and transport of fossil fuels.
Of course, some jobs will disappear, like those of Atlantic fishermen. The Governor sends his regrets.
environment Politics: assholes denialists economics idiots sustainability
leave a comment
The Portland Press-Herald’s Bill Nemitz has some words for Maine’s Governor LePage:
Ahoy, Governor LePage!
Not sure if you can hear me over the wind and the waves, but I can’t let another day pass without congratulating you on that epiphany you had last week before a crowd of transportation industry types:
You finally believe in global warming!
What’s more, now that you’re an ocean-is-more-than-half-full kind of guy, you’ve gone from denying that the Earth’s climate is rapidly changing to embracing it as the second coming for Maine’s frozen economy.
“Everybody looks at the negative effects of global warming, but with the ice melting, the Northern Pass has opened up – the new sea traffic is going across the north,” you told the Maine Transportation Conference on Wednesday. “So maybe, instead of being at the end of the pipeline, we’re now at the beginning of a new pipeline.”
No argument there, Big Guy. The more those Arctic waters stay open, the more Maine’s deep-water ports stand to benefit as jumping-off points for an endless parade of not-so-slow boats to China.
Well spoken, sir. December 8:
Now that denying the existence of a planetary environmental crisis is no longer viable, expect the talking heads of our media and political environment to start asserting that we must “balance” climate change mitigation with economic expansion, a stance which has the advantage of being temporarily plausible until we remember that infinite growth is impossible on a finite surface.
By asserting the fiscal returns to be expected from a melted Arctic, Governor LePage goes a step further, embracing a global catastrophe as a potential profit center. Which is, quite simply, insane.
Remember the old saw, “health is our greatest wealth?” The Earth’s health is the foundation of all human prosperity, and our planet’s resources (water, food, the environment’s ability to process our wastes) are limited. Impressive quarterly returns won’t protect our grandchildren from rising sea levels, agricultural collapses, oceanic acidification, and the other consequences of an accelerating greenhouse effect.
environment Politics: ALEC assholes corporate irresponsibility denialists heroes Republicans
leave a comment
The Topeka Capitol-Journal (KS) runs a story headlined, “Senator, farmer, rabbi speak on climate change”:
Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, joined with a rabbi and a farmer from her district Friday to urge action on climate change and blast the American Legislative Exchange Council for attempting to roll back renewal energy standards.
Friday’s news conference at the Statehouse coincided with national meetings of ALEC, a group that brings together state legislators and corporate lobbyists who write “model bills” that are then introduced in Statehouses across the country.
“ALEC denies, despite all the overwhelming scientific evidence, that climate change even exists and the legislative proposals it backs attempt to overturn good policies that are already on the books,” said Moti Rieber, a rabbi and state director of Interfaith Power & Light, a group of religious leaders concerned about environmental issues.
Bill Meierling, a spokesman for ALEC, said the organization “maintains no model policy on climate change.”
“We do have policies that support free market policies and market-based environmentalism, but nothing that pertains specifically to climate change,” Meierling said via email.
This one went pretty easily. December 7 (now putting me 13 days ahead):
It sounds like a setup line: a farmer, a rabbi and a Senator walk into a news conference. But the American Legislative Exchange Council’s interference in our nation’s politics is anything but funny. ALEC’s malign influence on the legislative process is by now reasonably well known; their “model legislation” is routinely enacted without change by lawmakers too lazy or too corrupt to do their jobs responsibly.
And there’s nothing at all to laugh about when it comes to climate change. The accelerating greenhouse effect is on track to catastrophically disrupt agriculture, infrastructure, and the other support systems of our civilization — yet ALEC, the Koch Brothers, and other ultra-conservative forces have used their financial resources to seriously hobble national or regional efforts to prepare for disastrous outcomes.
This irresponsibility to the long-term survival and prosperity of our species is driven by the most venal of motives: greed. And that’s no joke.