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Tag: "environment"

The Climate Speech

[ 63 ] June 25, 2013 |

Kind of an unfortunate day for Obama’s climate change speech, not that it is his fault. I’ll distract my attention from my outrage at the overturning of a huge part of the civil rights movement for a moment to make a couple of notes.

First, Obama is absolutely correct to simply sidestep Congress here. In the long run, arguably the biggest impact of Congressional dysfunction could be that presidents regardless of party begin to ignore it and we move closer to unilateral rule. Of course, filibuster reform would help with this. Anyway, Obama still has significant power within the Executive Branch to shape policy and it is here he will leave his climate legacy.

Second, increasing carbon emissions standards on power plants is absolutely the best way to go about this, or at least it’s a very good first step. If it is a war on coal, then it is a war on coal. I know the UMWA and coal companies hate him for it, and what we really need is a clear program of green jobs in coal country to replace the jobs lost to environmental regulations, but sometimes you just have to make these hard decisions. Of course, the vast majority of coal jobs have already disappeared due to automation and industry disinvestment in Appalachia for new coal seams in Wyoming.

Third, Obama needs to take two steps he doesn’t want to take to show he is serious. First, he needs to not allow the Keystone XL Pipeline. If he lets that be built, it demonstrates that he is unwilling to do what it will actually take to slow climate change. Second, he needs to fight against coal exports to China. The Powder River Basin in Wyoming is now basically an enormous coal mine, mostly to serve an export market. West Coast cities are fighting against having their ports used for coal exports. Obama needs to step in here. I am skeptical on both counts.

Fourth, the plan really needs a more vigorous green jobs program and clean energy subsidies to replace dirty energy subsidies, but without funding from Congress, it’s hard to do too much here.

Fifth, none of this will probably make a molehill’s worth of difference in the ultimate battle against climate change. But a start is a start and you have to do something. Overall, it’s a positive speech, for whatever that’s worth.

As a sidenote, it’s also worth reading this essay by environmental justice scholar Robert Bullard on the need for historically black colleges to take climate change seriously. It’s an environmental justice issue. Unfortunately, even those affected don’t always see it that way because unlike a toxic waste dump in your backyard, you don’t notice it every day.

….Or as Pierce says, Obama’s bailing the ocean out with a thimble.

The Wonders of Nature

[ 41 ] June 22, 2013 |

Evidently, there’s a South American plant that uses gigantic spines to ensnare sheep until they starve to death, at which point decompose and fertilize the plant. I assume this will be adapted into some horror movie soon.

Unregulated Marijuana’s Plague upon Nature

[ 31 ] June 21, 2013 |

I’ve talked about this issue before a couple of times, so I’m really glad to see the New York Times report on the awful environmental impact of unregulated marijuana production in northern California.

The animal, a Pacific fisher, had been poisoned by an anticoagulant in rat poisons like d-Con. Since then, six other poisoned fishers have been found. Two endangered spotted owls tested positive. Mourad W. Gabriel, a scientist at the University of California, Davis, concluded that the contamination began when marijuana growers in deep forests spread d-Con to protect their plants from wood rats.

That news has helped growers acknowledge, reluctantly, what their antagonists in law enforcement have long maintained: like industrial logging before it, the booming business of marijuana is a threat to forests whose looming dark redwoods preside over vibrant ecosystems.

Hilltops have been leveled to make room for the crop. Bulldozers start landslides on erosion-prone mountainsides. Road and dam construction clogs some streams with dislodged soil. Others are bled dry by diversions. Little water is left for salmon whose populations have been decimated by logging.

And local and state jurisdictions’ ability to deal with the problem has been hobbled by, among other things, the drug’s murky legal status. It is approved by the state for medical uses but still illegal under federal law, leading to a patchwork of growers. Some operate within state rules, while others operate totally outside the law.

The environmental damage may not be as extensive as that caused by the 19th-century diking of the Humboldt estuary here, or 20th-century clear-cut logging, but the romantic outlaw drug has become a destructive juggernaut, experts agree.

Once again, the only way to stop these problems is to legalize and regulate marijuana, turning the enforcement mechanism away from busting people who grow to busting people who grow in antisocial and antiecological ways. Inevitably in posts like this, someone comes around in comments to talk about how our agricultural system is broken and treating marijuana like other crops within our economic system is a defeat for the little guy. Either way, big marijuana growers are capitalists engaging in a capitalist market. The question is whether they are allowed to engage in a black market capitalism with very real negative consequences for local ecosystems and wildlife populations or whether they are forced to acquiesce to our, admittedly deeply flawed, regulatory system. The only responsible answer is the latter.

The irony in all of this is that the marijuana economy originally started by people who saw the Humboldt County forests as a treasure to be saved, rejecting not only the timber industry but much about the ecologically destructive economy of the 1960s and 1970s. And then people started making real money.

Lead and Schizophrenia

[ 41 ] June 10, 2013 |

I’ve linked to articles before connecting the protection of people from lead poisoning through environmental regulations and drops in crime over the last few decades. Here is a scientific study reinforcing these connections, with lead poisoning leading to schizophrenic symptoms in mice. Interesting stuff.

More broadly, the lead-crime nexus shows the unexpected payoffs of potentially expensive environmental regulations and remediation. Protecting people from pollutants creates healthier, happier, and more productive people. It also helps make them mentally healthy and helps prevent them from committing crimes. These are huge payoffs.

Wolves

[ 41 ] June 8, 2013 |

A good comment on the federal disavowal of the wolf reintroduction program that brought wolves back from the brink of the extinction in the Lower 48:

In Idaho, hunters and trappers killed 698 wolves in the last two seasons — more than the estimated population of 683 wolves in the state at the end of 2012. In more than 80 percent of Wyoming, anyone can kill as many wolves as they wish, without a license. Hunters and trappers in Montana will each be allowed to kill up to three wolves this winter. (In Idaho, the number is 10.) Beginning this fall, hunters in Wisconsin can use dogs to track and chase wolves — a scenario that all but amounts to state-sanctioned animal fighting.

Where management has been transferred to the states, America’s wolves have fallen under an assault of legislation, bullets and traps. A conservation victory is quickly turning into a conservation tragedy. Now the Obama administration is proposing to remove virtually all remaining protections. Have we brought wolves back for the sole purpose of hunting them down?

It’s really depressing that the Obama Administration has continued this move toward state control, which is synonymous with elimination.

Good Times

[ 14 ] June 6, 2013 |

The decline of frogs and toads in the face of widespread and complex environmental change is really depressing.

But hey, at least bat and honeybee populations are super healthy!

Oil Pollution in Arkansas

[ 18 ] June 2, 2013 |

On March 29, an ExxonMobil pipeline carrying oil from Canadian tar sands ruptured in the town of Mayflower, Arkansas, northwest of Little Rock. Between 5000 and 7000 barrels of oil spilled into nearby waterways.

ExxonMobil and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality claim everything is safe for residents. But the residents’ own bodies tell them this is not true:

“I could smell that horrible smell. I got really scared,”says Sherry Appleman, who awoke to a nightmare on March 29. As the Exxon Tar Sands oil flowed through their town, residents of Mayflower reported strong odors that lead to headaches and vomiting in areas that Exxon deemed safe and not in need of evacuation. Some of residents, like Scott Crowe, were deemed safe to remain in their homes where a mere 300 yards from the rupture site. They say they haven’t heard from city officials or Exxon, but have experienced headaches, stomach pains, nausea, fainting, and have been prescribed inhalers for the first time.

Ann Jarrell reports that she stayed at home with her daughter and a 3 month old grandchild despite the smells because they were told they didn’t need to evacuate and were safe. Ann Jarrell is a beekeeper and found dead, oil-soaked bees on her porch. The state plant board agreed to evacuate her bees to a safe location, but deemed the situation safe enough for Jarell’s family. They later learned it was likely they’d been exposed to toxic chemical fumes, and are now suffering from breathing problems and have been placed on inhalers.

A local elementary school outside the evacuation zone had to send home eight students who became ill after breathing petrochemical fumes. Although Exxon had determined the air around the school safe, residents, including school officials, reported strong odors of oil in and around the building. These are just a handful of disturbing examples of illness in Mayflower after the oil spill. One Mayflower resident, despite being able to see the leak from her home, was told by Exxon that residents were merely suffering allergies. Some of the residents affected by the spill have filed a class action lawsuit.

It’s in the interest of both the company and a state who desires to serve corporations to deny any real problems are taking place. At the very least, the company should have to pay for long-term testing and be held financially responsible for any health problems that result from oil exposure. I guess this is what the class-action suit is for, but it would be better if residents didn’t have to come to this. Not surprisingly, ExxonMobil has tried to cover up the extent of the problem.

In the world of petroleum, this is an everyday event. It usually doesn’t happen in the United States, although it certainly has in the past. Normally, it is Nigerians, Venezuelans, Indonesians, and the immigrants who work the refineries in the Arabian Peninsula who suffer from direct exposure to the oil industry. But with the future of tar sands pipelines, Americans will suffer direct exposure more frequently.

Battery Recycling

[ 7 ] May 31, 2013 |

As I’ve said before, the recycling business can be pretty nasty. We say something is “recycled,” which really means “I think I did something good and now I don’t have to pay attention to my role in the consumer chain.” But the reality is that once we put stuff in those nice green bins that our sanitation workers pick up or put an old phone in a box or I dispose of a car battery in way we are told is responsible, anything can happen and often does. Here’s a good piece on the problems with battery recycling and lead contamination, in the United States and around the world.

Given the very real effects of lead contamination on populations, exposing the impoverished people near these sites to lead could even lead to a higher chance of children becoming criminals.

Furnishing Color

[ 53 ] May 30, 2013 |

There haven’t been enough forestry posts here lately and since it’s been determined that my interest in extremely obscure things that no one else in the world cares about is what’s allowing this blog to break the trend of liberal media to lose followers in recent months, here’s something especially tasty.

In 1965, the Willamette National Forest (which is the national forest in the Cascades in the mid-portion of the state west of the mountain crest) published its timber management plan. In 1965, all the United States Forest Service cared about was cutting timber, but they had to pay lip service to the idea of multiple-use, which meant pretending to care about tourism. This is what the plan said about clearcutting:

“Clearcuts break the monotony of the scene, and deciduous brush in these areas furnish fall color and spring flowers for at least 10-15 years.”

Can’t you see the beauty?

The Cost of Illegal Marijuana to Owls

[ 56 ] May 29, 2013 |

Here is more evidence that illegal marijuana plantations on national forest land leads to significant problems to wildlife:

In the West Coast marijuana-growing region known as the Emerald Triangle, scientists want to know whether the rat poison spread around illegal pot plantations is killing northern spotted owls, a threatened species.

But because it is so rare to find a spotted owl dead in the forest, they will be looking at an invasive cousin owl from the East that has been pushing spotted owls out of their territory since the 1990s.

Mourad Gabriel, a doctoral candidate at the University of California at Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, said Tuesday they are testing 84 barred owls from Northern California killed in the course of research on whether removing them allows spotted owls to reclaim lost territories. Those owls were collected primarily by the California Academy of Sciences and Green Diamond Resource Company, which grows redwood for timber.

Among the first roughly 10 barred owls tested, about half have been positive for the poison. Two spotted owls found dead in Mendocino County in Northern California also tested positive for the poisons, Gabriel said.

I’ve talked about this before in context of the rare Pacific fisher. A very good reason to legalize and regulate marijuana production is to eliminate these environmental threats to animals. Right now, you have marijuana farmers dumping whatever poisons they want on their plants with no consequence. This goes right up the food chain, into meat-eating forest mammals and birds of prey. It’s probably not widespread enough to affect fish populations on a general level, but some local studies near busted pot farms would be interesting.

Right now you have insatiable demand for a product operating completely outside the nation’s regulatory structures. This has very real consequences, including to other species.

The Mekong

[ 21 ] May 25, 2013 |

The decline of wildlife along the Mekong River, and really in all of Southeast Asia, has reached crisis levels. Between widespread development and the Chinese desire to kill every mammal in existence, there isn’t much left. On the Mekong, home of many now rare and amazing species, we are at crunch time in what is probably a losing battle. Among the fundamental problems when it comes to aquatic life is that you have to convince fishermen that not killing as many animals as possible is worth their effort. The only way to do that is cash because for poor people, every fish, every deer, every thing period, counts toward feeding their families. Of course, paying off large segments of a population has never been tried and probably would not work anyway, but without state intervention or convincing people to not kill the last of these animals, the Mekong ecosystem will be pretty well denuded of animal life.

Ag-Gag

[ 11 ] May 14, 2013 |

Pretty big environmental and agricultural news out of Tennessee. Governor Bill Haslam, who is generally terrible on everything, has vetoed a so-called “ag-gag” bill, which would have criminalized whistleblowing and undercover investigations of conditions in agricultural operations. The agricultural industry and its political hacks in state legislatures have pushed for these laws around the country in response to videos and other reports of massive and disturbing animal cruelty taking place in our food system, both in terms of the general cruelty of the animals’ living conditions, but also terrible acts of individual cruelty against animals. Whether this leads to a broader movement against these almost certainly unconstitutional laws, I don’t know, but it is certainly a good sign. The real signal will come out of North Carolina’s insane wingnut legislature, which has a bill with much the same language, but which also expands it to investigations in any industry.

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