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Tag: "environment"

Climate Change and Today’s Weather

[ 37 ] April 16, 2014 |

The evidence connecting climate change to specific weather events continues to grow, as this NASA run-down of research on the California drought demonstrates (PDF).

LIUNA

[ 29 ] April 13, 2014 |

The Laborers’ Union continues to burn every bridge with other progressive communities with a napalm air strike:

A letter distributed Friday by the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) to the districts of 27 House Democrats calls for union members to make sure their representative “feels the power and the fury of LIUNA this November.”

Their crime: signing a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry last month urging him to reject Keystone, which would carry oil sands from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

“Your member of Congress is trying to destroy job opportunities for our LIUNA brothers and sisters,” said the letter signed by Terry O’Sullivan, the general president of LIUNA.

“For every action, there is a reaction, and our reaction to this frontal assault on our way of life needs to be loud and clear. If you do not stand with us, we sure as hell will not stand with you,” O’Sullivan wrote, noting the jobs Keystone would create for union members.

While I’m sure LIUNA does not have the power to make anyone suffer, especially since most of these targeted representatives have the support of far larger unions like SEIU and AFSCME, unions it should be said who see value in not making other Democrats hate them for supporting climate change creating projects, it’s still unfortunate to say the least. As I’ve said before, I completely understand LIUNA supporting the project for their own members. What I don’t get is the aggression that represents something far more than the relatively few jobs it will get from the pipeline. This is the kind of cultural warfare the Carpenters used in the Northwest during the ancient forest campaigns in the Northwest in the 80s and 90s. The hippie enviros are an existential threat far beyond Keystone. This is about what it means to be an American, which for LIUNA is supporting any construction project regardless of social cost.

I have trouble seeing how this works out for the Laborers in the long run.

The Northwest Forest Plan

[ 5 ] April 13, 2014 |

Twenty years ago, President Clinton shepherded the creation of the Northwest Forest Plan, designed to put an end to the conflict in Pacific Northwest forests between timber companies and environmentalists over the fate of the region’s ancient forests and endangered species. I agree that it has been pretty successful all in all. I also think that the fate of timber workers and small Northwestern mill towns continues to be ignored, as it is in the linked article. It’s also worth nothing that the nation’s consumption of wood products has not fallen in the last two decades, which should lead us to wonder about how timber is produced around the world to feed the American market.

Tumbling Tumbleweeds

[ 28 ] March 29, 2014 |

I know Bob Nolan and the boys long ago taught you that tumbleweeds were a charming part of the West:

But in fact, tumbleweeds, actually Russian thistle, is a nasty invasive species that when combined with the kind of drought presently afflicting the West, become a major fire hazard. Also, When Tumbleweeds Attack does not sound like a pleasant nightmare to experience personally.

The weed can grow up to 3 feet (0.9 meter) high in summer, and when the plants dry out in winter, winds detach them from their roots and send them rolling across the landscape, spreading seeds as they go.

Rolling clusters of the tumbleweed have created havoc in the drought-stricken areas of the West.

In late January, an invasion of tumbleweeds rolled into Clovis, New Mexico, trapping Wilford Ransom, 80, and his wife, Mary, in their home.

“I looked out the window to see why it got so dark all of a sudden, and they were over 12-feet high, blocking my front and back doors,” the retiree said. “We couldn’t get out.”

A neighbor eventually tunneled through the tangled mess to the Ransoms’ garage, allowing the couple to escape.

Just one of the many under-reported stories out of the American West.

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.

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.

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.

The End of the Asian Forests

[ 23 ] March 24, 2014 |

The burning of Asian forests, particularly but not exclusively in Indonesia, continues unabated. This is usually reported on for the public health aspects of it since the smoke from Sumatra wafts over the rest of southeast Asia. That’s a huge problem, but of course there is also the destruction of the ecosystem. When I traveled in Sumatra in 1997, I saw some of this and it was mostly poor people engaging in slash and burn farming. That’s not the case anymore. Today, it’s big landowners burning land for palm oil and paper plantations. The method of clearing land is horrible because of the environmental cost to people’s lungs, but that’s not what I want to focus on here.

In the 1980s, as environmentalists rallied to save the last ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest, workers, who considered themselves environmentally responsible stewards of the land, were angry because of their lost livelihood. Of course, the companies were lying to the workers as they were already moving operations to other forests, but leave that aside for now. One point the two timber workers unions made repeatedly was that the United States was now exporting its forestry to countries with far fewer environmental restrictions on forestry than the U.S. By moving timber production to Brazil or Indonesia, we were dooming other forests while doing nothing about consumption in the United States. And that’s basically a correct analysis of the situation. That doesn’t mean that we should have cut down the last old-growth forests, in fact environmentalists were completely correct on this. But the saving of American forests in no way reduced consumption of forest products. The transformation of tropical forests into plantations for the export market is one result of this.

Exxon Valdez

[ 42 ] March 24, 2014 |

Happy 25th Anniversary to the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Those were some good times. What did biologists discover from it? That the oil industry is horrible for wildlife:

Scientists had traditionally believed that oil basically had to cover an animal or embryo to hurt it. But the evidence they saw in Alaska suggested it didn’t take much oil to do a lot of damage. And that damage could manifest in different ways.

For example, oil under rocks and in sediments contaminated clams that sea otters ate. It didn’t kill the otters outright: Wildlife biologist Dan Esler of the U.S. Geological Survey says it shortened otters’ lives and suppressed the population for 20 years.

“The understanding that lingering oil could have chronic effects on wildlife populations was a new and important finding, and one that we did not anticipate at the time that we started the research,” Esler says.

Through years of research, scientists discovered another unexpected effect, this time related to fish eggs. The clue came from pink salmon, which weren’t doing well even years after the spill. To figure out why, Rice’s team exposed pink salmon embryos to tiny amounts of oil.

“We were dosing them with oil that you couldn’t see [and] you couldn’t smell. But we were doing it for a really long time,” Rice says. “And six months later, they had abnormalities.”

Rice says it was one of the many “wows” that came from his years heading up a NOAA team researching the spill’s effects.

But hey, I’m sure everything is back to normal in the Gulf after the BP spill and that we should continue right on drilling like nothing ever happened.

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