Sunday, September 27, 2009

Gassing the News

A good example of how dysfunctional our present media is on our environment, specifically on natural gas drilling, can be made by a point-by-point comparison of National Public Radio’s (NPR) three-part series on natural gas and recent coverage by ProPublica on the same subject:

Rediscovering Natural Gas By Hitting Rock Bottom: (September 22, 09) Morning Edition : NPR

Who's Looking At Natural Gas Now? Big Oil: (September 23, 2009) Morning Edition : NPR

With Little Clout, Natural Gas Lobby Strikes Out: (September 24, 09) Morning Edition : NPR

Buried Secrets: Gas Drilling’s Environmental Threat from Pro Publica”

In short, while NPR wildly endorses the convenient view that natural gas is our environmental and energy salvation, ProPublica’s coverage suggests that this issue is far more complicated and sorted. NPR states that water is used for fracturing, or breaking up underground rocks for gas, and ProPublica states that unnamed manmade chemicals are being used. NPR suggests environmentalists can live with natural in the short run, and ProPublica reports wide-spread concern by environmental groups and the public. ProPublica’s coverage on gas drilling by fracturing and NPR’s don’t match in the places they should be matching—science and the facts.

But, a point-by-point analysis is missing the big point. The big point is that environmental issues are too often presented by the media with an agenda. This agenda can be, “we want to save our environment, but we don’t want to create change because change makes the public nervous. Or, “everything industry does is bad.” Or, “don’t worry your pretty little heads, the experts are on it.” Or, “everything environmental groups say is right because ‘they get it’.” Or, “somewhere between the experts, industry, and non-profit environmental groups, the truth will get hammered out and will be the better for it in the great belief that environmental matters are like a democracy.” Of course, Nature isn’t a democracy at all. Nature (for all its beauty and cruelty) is a mindless algorithm of cause and effect: garbage in, garbage out.

Granted, there are political, economic, governmental, and individual aspects in every environmental issue, but editors in the media should be ‘pushing’ only one agenda on our environment: sustainability. In other words, are we and our children’s children likely to survive? Sometimes, as one reads environmental stories on mainstream media, you get that haunting feeling that they’re all discussing different planets with different laws that will have different outcomes—all subject to their editor’s opinions.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Same Green Sheet

Evidence of a great change in attitudes and behaviors towards our environment in our country and around the world is evident. Slowly, but more rapidly than ever before, individuals, communities, and governments are adopting greener ways of doing things. This is probably not due to a sudden change of heart towards our planet, but more probably due to the mounting evidence that mankind’s activities are affecting our very ability to survive on it. Also, we cannot deny the growing realization that an economy disdainful of our environment cannot complete with other economies that set strict standards for toxic chemicals and adopt tight environmental business practices.

Most are now aware that our species "Homo sapiens" are not simply passengers on a small pale blue orb spinning through the universe; we have been promoted to third-class environmental engineers. Those vagaries of our existence—disease, climate change, even our health--that our species hitherto perceived as beyond our control (fate) are increasingly understood as well within our area of influence.

This is heartening as businesses are springing up all over helping other businesses and communities green up. Efficiency, conservation, innovation, preservation, and reclamation are in the air. And, as in any great change, there will be people and businesses trying to game the new game—heralding their green credentials when in fact they have changed but little, merely checked off a list of better operating practices without a clue about the lifecycle of their products and services or their accumulative affect on our environment.

On the whole, though, most will try to do the right thing. But doing the right thing may take a while to understand and make systemic—i.e., make the right changes, not merely creating the illusion that we are making wholesale, world-wide changes. What I mean by this is that in order to actually adopt a sustainable way of life we all need to be singing from the same sheet of music, talking the same scientific language, the unambiguous laws of Nature. Hype, rants, ideological diatribes, and green quackery won’t do the trick.

Already, in our communities there are attempts to coordinate and orchestrate green efforts. Because we have avoided the hard choices for so long, ad hoc, and piecemeal changes by dedicated individuals are not going to be enough. Planetary changes are required. Programs like Climate Smart Communities by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is an example of a volunteer effort by a governmental agency hoping to get communities all on the same page, working toward the same goals, sharing information and guided by an agency that knows what its doing, as forty-one New York communities have already signed on.” Also, around the world governments are subscribing to the Climate Registry “that sets consistent and transparent standards to calculate, verify and publicly report greenhouse gas emissions into a single registry.”

The arc of history is long and bends towards justice, may be true. (Though, the millions who have suffered under Injustice throughout history while the rest of us padded comfortably up to the future probably would not agree.) But the arc of tending towards a greener future may extend longer than we have if we don’t make the necessary changes in time. With the laws of Nature, there’s no waiting around until we get it right.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Water Issue:


Don’t miss this series by the New York Times on the long series of violations of the Clean Water Act of 1972.  Environmental issues don’t tend to go away because people are too busy or uninterested.  Many people, rather than think about the decades of inadequate enforcement of the Clean Air Act (if they think such things at all), grab bottled water and be done with it. Case closed, hand me my TV remote.  What most interesting to me is not merely the pervasiveness of the violations of this law (‘cause that’s what corporations do), but how we react to this overwhelming environmental issue—clean water.  We are not reacting to the world-wide pollution of our fresh water well. 

In fact, we’re mostly dysfunctional on how we react to gloomy environmental reports altogether: We ignore them, make excuses, look for solution that don’t address the matter, blame others, attack the whistler blowers, deny that anything wrong is going on, or dismiss environmental problem as low on our priority list.  Somehow, despite all evidence to the contrary, we think that the more we ignore it, the more it will go away.  Of course, that’s nonsense.   

Toxic Waters - Clean Water Laws Are Neglected, at a Cost in Suffering - Series - NYTimes.com This pattern is not limited to West Virginia. Almost four decades ago, Congress passed the Clean Water Act to force polluters to disclose the toxins they dump into waterways and to give regulators the power to fine or jail offenders. States have passed pollution statutes of their own. But in recent years, violations of the Clean Water Act have risen steadily across the nation, an extensive review of water pollution records by The New York Times found. (September 12, 09) Toxic Waters - Series - The New York Times

Monday, September 14, 2009

An Environmental Education

Most educational programs in our colleges and universities probably include some science courses, but probably not an environmental course as a general educational requirement. This, and an ethics requirement for business majors, is woefully lacking in an educational system trying to survive into today’s economic world. Note: I didn’t say that our institutions were not aligning ourselves with other world-class educational curriculums to produce students who will be able to complete in today’s market. We may or may not be cranking out ├╝ber breadwinners. That may not be clear until the financial dust settles around the world.

But, whether or not you believe institutions of higher education exist for people to get high-paying jobs, fit into our society, know their cultures and others, or think well on their feet with a smart gadget in their hand, you must include graduates who can (and will) rationally assess the health of their environment. In the September 2009 edition of Harpers Magazine “Dehumanized, When Math and Science Rule the School,” Mark Slouka makes the case that the humanities have suffered in our colleges as our country only focuses of what they think we need to compete. In our strivings to compete, Slouka says, we are losing what is to best to be human. I submit that we are also losing something more basic: the core of our existence. For, whatever one’s beliefs or interests, we are among the billions of biological creatures on this planet that must have clean air, water, and land.

In today’s world of 6.5 billion people a well educated person should have a firm grasp of our biological underpinnings. It may not get you a job, a mate, popularity, or allow you to be a stunning dinner speaker, but it will allow you to intelligently sift through news, environmental studies, and reports of early signs that our environmental systems are shutting down—as many argue they are. The climate is warming (despite crazy radio talk rhetoric) along with acidification of the oceans, the loss of biodiversity, and much more. A people who cannot tell (or don’t even pay attention) that things are not going well with the system that keeps them alive is a people on their way out.

So, if you missed that day in college when your professor mentioned during a math or computer class that she wasn’t opening the windows that day because of an ozone alert, you might want to attend one of the many programs on the environment in our area this fall. Check rochesterenvironment.com/calendar.htm. There are a lot of good programs going on by non-profit groups, universities, and our local governments, including a lecture series to draw attention to important environmental topics by the town of Irondequoit.

Of course, we cannot make up for decades of not putting environmental studies high on the agenda in our universities, nor demand that a sizeable (for that is what it will take) portion of humanity to take note of the vast unhealthy changes we’ve made in the last couple of centuries. We are a ‘free’ people, in pursuit of Happiness, Liberty, and just trying to get by. But Mother Nature is a demanding parent: Ignorance of her laws will have no effect on her rules. One of these programs might help your reconnect with Her.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Walking as Transportation:

I know this seems radical, characterizing walking as transportation, in the same room as bus, car, planes, etc. But, when you realize that most 'trips' in this county are 31/2 miles or less, walking is a healthy viable transportation mode. And, the better you design your urban areas, the better you make changes in your urban area so that it become convenient to walk (and have time to smell ((and buy the roses in between)) the more environmentally friendly and safer your community becomes. So, this news out of Henrietta, where they can use a lot more sidewalks is very refreshing:

Where it stands: New sidewalks in Henrietta - Canandaigua, NY - MPNnow Henrietta, N.Y. — The issue Henrietta is filled with a mix of retail areas and residential neighborhoods — which creates a flurry of traffic. Supervisor Michael Yudelson — with the help of the Town Board — is trying to make the neighborhood more “walkable,” he says. Some streets, like Beaconsfield Road, Colonnade Drive and Commons Way, don’t have sidewalks, creating a potentially unsafe situation for pedestrians. The town is looking to change that. (September 11, 09) Home - Canandaigua, NY - MPNnow [more on Transportation in our area]

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Public Meeting on Our Parks

Take the opportunity to join in the fate of our area's parks:

Is Monroe County’s fiscal crisis putting our parks at risk?

Public Meeting Monday, September 21, 2009 Nurturing natural monroe: the challenge of caring for county parks Master planning for County Parks has led to uses that threaten some parks’ long-term environmental health & beauty.

In 2010, County planners will turn their attention to Powder Mills Park. Citizens need to be ready. Nora Bredes invites you to join NYS Assemblyman Steve Englebright chair of the assembly’s Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts & Sports and NYS Assemblyman Joe morelle to discuss stewardship of our public parks September 21st 5:30 pm - 7 pm Wadham’s Lodge Powder Mills Park Park Road Pittsford, New York 14534 For more information, call Nora at 585/314-1597

Monday, September 07, 2009

Healthy Debate

Missing amidst the uproar on health care reform at the town meetings and the bug-eyed hysteria encouraged by our media is the link between our health care system and public health. Death panels, pulling the plug on our loved ones, socialism, deficits (mostly ignored during the war of choice), and even some cogent arguments that don’t embarrass us in the eyes of the world have been rung through the wringer that is called our media. It’s all as clear as mud, but politically the issues over health care reform are clear: defeating the present party on this ‘hot’ button issue offers new life to a party in search of a victory—any victory.

As decision time nears Obama, speaking soon to a joint session of Congress (bottom of the ninth, the last lap, third down and goal to go, whatever) every morbid rock has been overturned except one strangely illuminating environmental health fact: Regardless of how healthy various pockets in your population are (say, those with great health coverage) those weak links, those without the means to prevent diseases early or build up their immune systems when weak can be your conduit to a raging pandemic.

In other words, if some one close to you is--physically close like your neighbor, the one seated to you on a bench, walking by you on the street, next to you at a public meeting, seated next to you at a movie, waiting in line at a store, or a friend of a friend who has come in contact with someone with no health coverage—is vulnerable then you’re connected to the pandemic too. During this health coverage debate, during a possible resurgence in strength of the present flu pandemic, little has been made of the consequences to you who have adequate health coverage of the millions of your unfortunate neighbors who don’t.

Washing your hands, yelling at your senator or congress person, securing and plugging the holes in your own health policy, isn’t going to stop the flu virus from getting to you. When a disease passes from human to human we are all as vulnerable as the weakest link in the chain. Our public health has been compromised by a rapacious and selfish health care system that puts us all at risk.

Never mind health care costs, who’s going to win the next election, whether the president will hit one out of the park next week, or whether the government is going to squeeze its incompetent self between you or your favorite doctor. If a large part of your population is riddled with inadequate health care whose only recourse is the emergence ward when they collapse, someone in the great chain of being is going to pass a fast-spreading disease like the swine flu to you.

Even if you don’t care about those people who lose their health care or didn’t bother to get a job and get a great policy like yours, you aren’t safe. The weakest link in a pandemic provides the quickest route to you. A pandemic, like any other health problem, follows the path of least resistance. That person next to you without adequate health care is your brother.

Recycling In Rochester, New York

Got ideas, suggestions, or comments on recycling in the Rochester, NY region? How can we get more peoplet to recycle? How can we stop recycleable items from being landfilled. Should our goal be Zero Waste in our area?

Pandemic Flu, Getting Ready

We want to applaud Monroe County's getting out in front on the possible pandemic issue in our area. It may turn out to be a mild flu season this years, but it would be irresponsible not to be prepared otherwise. Think seriously of using a hand sanitizer before you hand get near your face and check out all warnings, cautions, and information from this site:

Public Health | Monroe County, NY Pandemic Flu | "Bird Flu. Pandemic Flu. These terms - confusing as they can be - are seemingly in the news daily.  Monroe County, with our partners at the local, state and federal level has been working aggressively to develop and test plans so we can be sure that we respond effectively. While we all hope we never have to face such a health emergency, I want to assure you that if our community ever does encounter Pandemic Flu, we will deal with it like we have with all other emergencies."

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Getting Up to Snuff on High Speed Rail:

National Public Radio has offered a great series on High Speed Raid across the country.  Because this mode of transportation may be coming to our area, because of the Obama’s desire to help communities with jobs and help our environment, this series of programs is especially useful.  It’s not all happy talk.  Getting High Speed Raid is complicated and involves many aspects, but other communities have done it.  Learn from them. 

Check it out: On The Fast Track? The Obama administration is pushing the development of high-speed-rail lines, claiming that ultrafast trains would ease traffic, help the environment and boost the economy. Critics question those claims — and say the United States has a long way to go to catch up with other countries' rail travel. NPR : National Public Radio : News & Analysis, World, US, Music & Arts : NPR