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Pipelines

[ 21 ] March 27, 2014 |

Sure the Keystone XL Pipeline will be a terrible thing that will not only show the world that the United States is not serious about fighting climate change, but will probably cause significant local pollution as well. Unfortunately, there are many other major pipelines in North America already doing tremendous damage to the environment.

Of course, one can then argue why Keystone matters so much, but symbols have always mattered in social movements and no one can predict what is going to grab people’s attention. Doesn’t mean the symbol isn’t important if it’s not the worst example of a situation. Media is only going to pay attention to so many things.

Salamander Size

[ 9 ] March 27, 2014 |

Well, this probably ain’t good:

Research from University of Maryland, published yesterday in the journal Global Change Biology, shows that the predictions by scientists that some animals will deal with climate chance by getting smaller is panning out among salamanders. The research team “examined museum specimens caught in the Appalachian Mountains from 1957 to 2007 and wild salamanders measured at the same sites in 2011-2012. The salamanders studied from 1980 onward were, on average, 8% smaller than their counterparts from earlier decades. The changes were most marked in the Southern Appalachians and at low elevations – settings where detailed weather records showed the climate has warmed and dried out most,” reports UMD.

“This is one of the largest and fastest rates of change ever recorded in any animal,” said Karen R. Lips, an associate professor of biology at the University of Maryland and the study’s senior author. “We don’t know exactly how or why it’s

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happening, but our data show it is clearly correlated with climate change … We don’t know if this is a genetic change or a sign that the animals are flexible enough to adjust to new conditions. If these animals are adjusting, it gives us hope that some species are going to be able to keep up with climate change.”

Sounds optimistic. Could be that they won’t be able to shrink enough to survive the carbon climate.

NLRB Rules in Favor of Northwestern Football Players

[ 160 ] March 26, 2014 |

This is a very big day for college athletes seeking the right to unionize:

The director of the National Labor Relations Board’s Chicago district ruled today that Northwestern football players do qualify as employees, and as such are entitled to form a union. This is as big as it sounds, but there is a ways to go before amateurism as we know it is ended.

Led by QB Kain Colter, the College Athletes Players Association won a surprisingly quick decision from the NLRB regional office—they filed less than two months ago, and were vociferously opposed by Northwestern and the NCAA. The group seeks fully guaranteed scholarships, better medical protections for injured players, and a fund that will allow athletes to continue their educations after they stop playing.

In the money quote from the decision, the regional director wrote, “I find that players receiving scholarships from the Employer are ‘employees.'”

You can read the opinion here (PDF). Now, this is far from the end of the road. Northwestern is going to appeal and the NCAA is going to back them up all the way. After all, the free labor they take from athletes is at stake. So who knows what is going to happen. But a couple of quick key takeaways. First is the speed of the decision. Usually, these cases are a long, drawn-out process (often a problem of the NLRB, making it an increasingly ineffective agency for workers operating in real time with house payments and such). This case began only 2 months ago. This means that for the regional director, it was an obvious and easy decision. He declared these athletes workers because they received compensation, even if did not receive a paycheck Second, this continues to chip away at the NCAA. Every time players sue or argue for rights, the NCAA cartel weakens. Every time they win or even gain a partial victory, NCAA power declines even more.

And while I absolutely do not believe this is going to happen, were such a decision lead to the decline of college athletics and the replacement of it in major sports with actual minor league football and basketball, well, good! And I say this as a fan. There’s almost no good argument to be for the current scenario unless you are a booster and donor who doesn’t actually want to give money to the university.

Of course, support for paying the largely non-white college athletic workforce falls largely along race lines, with white people loving to watch unpaid (although compensated) black labor and black people being significantly less comfortable with that. I’m sure there’s no history behind this or anything.

Dave Jamieson with more.

…..Allen West is very sad.

….This is an excellent Q&A at ESPN that answers many questions about the impact of this case. Looks good for the players.

The Pro-Coal Waste Party

[ 72 ] March 26, 2014 |

Republicans may hate national parks, but they love dumping coal waste into streams.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill that would allow coal mining companies to return to an old practice of dumping mining waste into streams.

House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, called it part of an effort to stop what Republicans call the “war on coal” and a “pro-growth jobs bill.” Triangle Republican members of Congress Renee Ellmers, Howard Coble and George Holding voted for it, as did Rep. Mike McIntyre, a Democrat. And Democratic Reps. David Price and G.K. Butterfield voted against it. The vote was 229-192.

Well, I suppose it does create some jobs to dump coal waste into streams. Of course, it would also create jobs to clean up streams. But the hippies would like that idea. So, no, let’s dump coal waste into the streams instead.

Air Pollution Deaths and the Globalized, Outsourced Economy

[ 30 ] March 26, 2014 |

The World Health Organization released a report yesterday showing that 7 million people died in 2012 from air pollution. This was 1 out of every 8 global deaths and twice previous estimates. These deaths are highly concentrated in Asia and result from two sources. First, women are dying from indoor cooking stoves in nations like India. This killed 3.3 million people in southeast Asia alone. Second, air pollution in Chinese cities is killing people left and right. That led to 2.6 million deaths in southeast Asia. The first problem is certainly very real and there are a lot of experts and NGOs working on cooking stove issues. The second is more interesting because a good bit of this comes from the outsourcing of American industrialization. Of course, Chinese industrialization is quite complicated and results from many factors, the most important of which is the Chinese state’s desire for immediate modernization at all costs. But it’s not like American consumers have no culpability here.

Americans used to die from this pollution. In late October 1948, a weather inversion hit the town of Donora, Pennsylvania. A steel and zinc-producing town for U.S. Steel southwest of Pittsburgh, Donora sat in a valley where under certain weather conditions air would stagnate. As it did so, it mixed with pollutants from the smokestacks belching pollution into the atmosphere. Normally, the pollution was bad but the winds would move it out of the valley. During periods of air stagnation though, Donora’s environmental problems, already bad, became a poisonous soup. Nearly all vegetation within a half-mile of U.S. Steel’s Donora Zinc Works was dead even before the disaster struck. On October 27, air pollution and weather patterns became a deadly combination. A thick yellowish smog hung over the town as people breathed in poisonous gases such as nitrogen dioxide, sulfuric acid, and fluorine. The smoke lasted until November 2. Despite heroic efforts by local fire and police forces, as well as the town’s eight doctors who worked night and day, twenty people in Donora died and another 7000 became sick. Nearly 800 pets also died.

That doesn’t happen here anymore. Americans rallied to pass environmental legislation, including several successive Clean Air Acts, to force companies to clean up their operations. But the response of corporations was to move abroad in order to keep on polluting. NAFTA facilitated this. The increased air pollution companies could emit meant profit. It also meant over 36,000 children visiting Ciudad Juarez emergency rooms between 1997 and 2001 because of breathing problems. Mexican federal spending on environmental protection fell by half between 1994 and 1999 at the same time that American corporations polluted the nation like never before.

Eventually much of this production moved to China, whether directly outsourced or to be exported to the United States as the U.S. stopped producing much steel. In January 2014 alone, the United States imported 3.2 million tons of Chinese steel. American corporate interests do not own these Chinese steel companies, but they do own thousands of other heavily polluting factories in the country. Recreating pollution is why companies move from the U.S. to China. They want to avoid “environmental nannies” as companies have called Natural Resource Defense Council health director Linda Greer, who frequently writes about these issues. The Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing, a leading Chinese environmental NGO, released a report in October 2012, detailing the massive pollution by apparel factories that contract with U.S. corporations like Disney. The report noted subcontractors for Ralph Lauren discharge wastewater filled with dyes and other pollutants into streams and do not use pollution reduction devices on coal boilers, thus releasing extra pollutants into the air. Chinese people are protesting the pollution but their government has little tolerance for these protests, which pleases foreign investors. A recent scientific estimate shows that in 2006, U.S. exports were responsible for 7.4 percent of Chinese sulfur dioxide, 5.7 percent of nitrogen oxide, and 4.6 percent of carbon monoxide. Earlier estimates suggested one million people die in China from air pollution each year, but we now see it is much higher. How many of these people fall thanks to outsourcing? It’s impossible to know, but the answer is some.

How many of those lives could be saved with better environmental standards on products imported to the United States? American companies may not be responsible for all or even most of the suffering of the Chinese working class from pollution, but they certainly contribute to it. Outsourcing production means that we as Americans look overseas and talk about Chinese air pollution, but we are completely unaware of our responsibility for at least part of that smog. In a globalized economy and integrated world, it’s dishonest to separate out responsibility based around what is convenient for us. We hear that ideas and capital and jobs flow around the world, but labor standards and environmental standards, well that’s just impossible. Not only is that an incorrect assertion–it is of course possible to set global standards at some level–but it also serves the interest of capital, as we see the pollution happening across the globe as something totally disconnected from our lives and something we can do nothing about it. This mentality generates profits for corporations.

Legalistic Environmentalism

[ 34 ] March 26, 2014 |

Two recent pioneers of environmental law–David Sive and Joseph Sax–died recently. Both of these deaths reminded me of the complex legacy of legalistic environmentalism. By this, I mean the reliance by environmentalists on the courts to enforce environmental law as the primary means of effective advocacy, as opposed to grassroots organizing. This strategy began in the early 1970s but really took off in the late 70s as the political system became increasingly hostile to environmentalism with the growth of conservatism and the organization of the business lobby after the Powell Memo.

By the early 1970s, environmental organizations found the legal requirements of newly passed environmental legislation useful tools to force corporations and government to rethink their impact and policies. These laws passed with widespread support, sometimes unanimous voice votes in the Senate and nearly unanimous votes in the House. The overwhelming support for these laws is why Richard Nixon deserves no liberal credit for them, but that’s another issue. The laws themselves came out of grassroots demands and an overwhelming sense by Americans before 1973 that they could have both jobs and a clean environment. The mess of the American environment before 1970 profoundly moved citizens, as air and water pollution, the decline of wildlife, and other environmental hazards were manifested every day before people’s eyes (and noses and ears).

Of course, just because legislation passed didn’t mean that polluters and natural resource managers immediately stopped what they were doing and changed course. It required lawsuits to make that happen. The Izaak Walton League for instance sued the United States Forest Service to stop clearcutting on the Monongahela National Forest, noting that the Organic Act of 1897 allowed for logging only “dead, matured or large growths of trees” that had been “marked or designated.” Clearcutting definitely doesn’t qualify under that language. When the courts found in favor of the plaintiffs, Congress came back with the National Forest Management Act of 1976, a law that explicitly allowed clearcutting, but also created public comment periods and environmental impact statements for each national forest unit. These requirements gave environmentalists the ability to challenge the USFS and BLM on all sorts of entirely legitimate grounds, especially the Endangered Species Act after the NFMA required federal agencies to manage for wildlife.

And who can blame environmentalists for using these great tools. By the 1980s, they became all the more important because the hostility of the Reagan Administration and the rising conservative movement, personified in the Sagebrush Rebellion but really affecting environmentalism everywhere, slowly closed the legislative doors to environmentalists. What’s more, economic crises, job blackmail, and capital mobility went a long ways to undermining the popular environmentalism of the 60s and early 70s. When workers fear their employers are going to move to Mexico or Taiwan if they have to put that scrubber on the smokestack or stop dumping the PCBs, they are going to be too scared to push their employer on it (even though the employer was already planning to shift operations anyway). Consolidating gains and forcing the hands of reluctant government through lawsuits became the most important strategy for environmentalists. People live Sive and Sax played important roles in this process.

So the strategy totally made sense and I don’t want to criticize it per se. Taking companies to court made a lot of sense. But it’s also worth noting that the reliance upon court cases by the 80s and 90s basically meant that there wasn’t much of an effort to mobilize people on the ground. The big green organizations focused on fundraising for their legal operations and political lobbying. The focus of environmentalism turned from the nature you and I experience every day to charismatic animals like polar bears or the Amazon rainforest, things most of us will never see. Mobilizing the populace was becoming less important. Grassroots environmentalism became politically marginalized, although locally important. By the time of the spotted owl situation in the late 80s, the ground for environmentalists to talk to working class people had already slipped away. Some environmentalists understood that their own strategy shifts exacerbated this problem, although it’s of course complicated. More to the point, what the lack of a grassroots environmentalism has done is make the movement so overly reliant upon legal and political strategies that at a time of conservative domination, where courts increasingly don’t find for greens and even Democrats in statehouses and Congress increasingly ignore them, there is no real ability for mobilization.

Of course, this is perhaps an overly simplified narrative of shifting environmentalism and one can always question the extent to which big green organizations ever could truly call out the troops. And again, they didn’t make the wrong choices by using the courts. But it’s worth noting that the shift to legal strategies as the primary arena of fighting was both entirely justifiable from a strategy perspective and also had negative repercussions that environmentalists’ struggle to deal with today.

The Palisades and Privatized Nature

[ 58 ] March 25, 2014 |

I think one of the most telling environmental issues of the decade will be the question of whether LG will be allowed to build an office building in the Palisades, the area of New Jersey just north of New York and an unspoiled viewshed for millions of people driving across the George Washington Bridge. Four New Jersey governors, including 2 Republicans, are opposing the project.

In The Rise of Silas Lapham, one way William Dean Howells paints Lapham as both a man of his Gilded Age times and something of a uncouth newcomer is his attitude toward nature. Lapham believes the natural world is for any man to use for his own personal gain, particularly when it is Lapham’s personal gain. So he paints rocks with his paint, advertising himself in places of great natural beauty.

In effect, LG’s plans to build the office tower, openly articulated by the company as claiming the view for itself and its employees, is the New Gilded Age version of Lapham’s world view. Beginning in the Progressive Era, government began claiming

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the natural world for the public. Even if the actual people were often ignored in land management over the years, it became much harder for private companies to engage in simple land grabs for private benefit.

Today, we are moving into the New Gilded Age with aplomb. As part of this, conservative forces are articulating their true beliefs about labor and nature, beliefs often subsumed behind socially responsible rhetoric for decades. Will LG be allowed to engage in a Lapham-esque appropriation of the natural world for its own business purposes? This is a very important question that may go a long ways to determine the future of public lands in the U.S.

I’m Sure This Will Be the Technological Solution That Will Finally Allow Us to Conquer Nature

[ 96 ] March 25, 2014 |

Agriculture has spent over half a century fully committed to better living through chemistry, using massive applications of industrial fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides to produce enormous harvests. In the short term, it has worked, but the long-term success of this plan is far from assured. The biggest problem is that humans may try to control nature, but they can’t control nature. To borrow a central theoretical term from my professional field of environmental history, nature has agency and it pushes back against human domination. Specifically in this case, plants develop resistance to chemicals, forcing agribusiness to create ever more powerful poisons that weeds will soon again resist.

So the new strategy is biological engineering, creating a sort of Weed Genome Project to eventually create more effective herbicides. Which I am sure will not work in the long term, but I suppose at this point agribusiness will keep doubling down on profitable chemical applications until the entire system collapses under the weight of declining petroleum supplies.

Our New Overlords Make Their Move, Show They Hate America

[ 69 ] March 25, 2014 |

The jellyfish are on the march:

But CSIRO Wealth from Oceans research scientist Lisa-Ann Gershwin says more research needs

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to be done around potentially deadly jellyfish becoming even more toxic.

She says this is more of an immediate problem than jellyfish migrating south from tropical waters.

“For a population to migrate, its whole habitat has to migrate with it, so we’re talking some time.

“We do know that warmer water does trigger some species of Irukandji to be more active and more toxic.

“It’s highly likely that smaller increase in temperature will trigger resident jellyfish to become more pesky, than to trigger far away jellyfish to migrate down.”

Great, climate change will not only make jellyfish the dominant animal in the oceans, but it will make them even more deadly, no doubt just part of a process of preparing for land-based invasions where they will unite with the robots to enslave all humans. Or maybe they will just turn their powers against America:

In 2006 jellyfish were sucked into the intakes of the nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan in Brisbane during its maiden voyage.

Whoa, they attacked Reagan? I knew jellyfish were Democrats! You’d think this alone would get McConnell and Boehner on board for some climate change legislation. Oh well, let’s just all have some nightmares tonight:

One bloom of sea tomato jellyfish travelled from Broome in August 2012 to Exmouth in May 2013 in Western Australia.

“They were so huge you could see them from space,” Dr Gershwin says.

Some jellyfish have hundreds of mouths.

Curling up in corner, weeping.

Dan Snyder’s Trolling

[ 58 ] March 25, 2014 |

Dan Snyder may be America’s biggest troll:

The owner of the Washington Redskins, who adamantly refuses to change the team’s controversial name that many believe to be a racial slur, announced Monday he was starting a new foundation to aid Native Americans called the “Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.”

“The mission of the Original Americans Foundation is to provide meaningful and measurable resources that provide genuine opportunities for Tribal communities,” Dan Snyder said in a statement. “With open arms and determined minds, we will work as partners to begin to tackle the troubling realities facing so many tribes across our country. Our efforts will address the urgent challenges plaguing Indian country based on what Tribal leaders tell us they need most.”

Snyder said he reached the decision to create the foundation after visiting 26 reservations where he learned “first-hand about the views, attitudes, and experiences of the Tribes.” The initiative has already begun providing coats and shoes to poverty stricken communities.

“The Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation will serve as a living, breathing legacy – and an ongoing reminder – of the heritage and tradition that is the Washington Redskins,” he added.

This is precisely what Native Americans need–a rich white guy donating a few coats to charity. This totally makes up for centuries of racism against Native Americans that said rich white guy openly continues.

Also, “Original Americans?” He couldn’t just say Native Americans? Borrowing First Peoples from Canada would have been fine too. Or “indigenous.”

…..Yesterday was also the 175th anniversary of the arrival of the last group of Cherokees to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. Makes Snyder’s announcement extra special.

Méliès Monday: The Doctor and the Monkey

[ 23 ] March 24, 2014 |

Georges Méliès, The Doctor and the Monkey, 1900

Texas’ Pathetic War Record

[ 147 ] March 24, 2014 |

The Texas Republic was really terrible at war.

But the idea of Texas being born from military achievement is variously true and also blown out of all proportion to reality. With the exception of the coup at San Jacinto, Texas’s early military history was a series of overlooked disasters, led by men who blundered their way into defeats. It’s also a fascinating overview of how warfare—especially when canonized—is almost invariably a series of tragedies and screw-ups.

Texas has plenty of both.

This isn’t even controversial. More than a decade ago, Texas Monthly declared the suicidal decision to defend the Alamo against vastly superior Mexican forces “a military mistake of mythic proportions” and that its “contribution to the strategy of the Texas Revolution was nil or negative.”

In its brief, 10-year existence as an independent state, Texas would launch two failed invasions—one in southern Texas and another in New Mexico. It also failed to stop two more Mexican invasions. And then the Lone Star state would fight several minor wars with itself and almost come to blows with the United States.

Of course, the ability of Texans to lead the U.S. in war since it joined the nation has never been questioned.

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