Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Have we thought it out?

Drilling for Gas in the Marcellus Gas Shale: Have we considered all the factors involved with a large-scale natural gas drilling boom in our region, or are we going to just go ahead and do it?  Here’s a thoughtful consideration about the possible consequences of such a massive environmental undertaking in our region.   

"Gasland". NOW on PBS "Will the boom in natural gas drilling contaminate America's water supply? | In the debate over energy resources, natural gas is often considered a "lesser-of-evils". While it does release some greenhouse gases, natural gas burns cleaner than coal and oil, and is in plentiful supply—parts of the U.S. sit above some of the largest natural gas reserves on Earth. But a new boom in natural gas drilling, a process called "fracking", raises concerns about health and environmental risks. "

Environmental Compromises:

This ‘compromise’ to dill oil along the Easter coast of the US is not a compromise.  It is a give-away to the fears that we cannot solve our Climate Change and energy problems except to give into the very forces that are holding our environment hostage.  Producing more oil and burning it for energy is going to warm the planet future and probably inflict an environmental disaster when a spill occurs.  There will be oil spills. President Obama has learned the art of compromise to address environmental problems—except neither the oil companies nor Nature are inclined to compromise.  As a matter of fact, Nature never does.  Spill oil creatures die.  Put greenhouse gases into the atmosphere it warms up.   

Obama to Open Offshore Areas to Oil Drilling for First Time - WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is proposing to open vast expanses of water along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling, much of it for the first time, officials said Tuesday. (March 31, 2010) The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Climate Change How Far should We take it?

Circa the American Civil War our atmosphere contained about 250ppb (parts per billion) molecules of carbon dioxide.  Carbon Dioxide is the main contributor of greenhouse gases.  350ppb is considered the safe level by climate scientists.  Now, we are hearing that our count is 390ppb. 

Should we do something about this, or just argue how many carbon dioxide molecules can dance on the head of our future?

Q&A: Bill McKibben on CO2 and the Future - Green Inc. Blog - Bill McKibben, an environmentalist and long-time advocate for action on climate change, believes we can still reverse the growing concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration now estimates at 390 parts per million. (March 26, 2010) The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia 

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Forced Energy Choices

Are natural gas and nuclear power going to be our energy future? They probably will be, but not because they are our best energy solutions. Despite all the controversy about how we should power our existence as our population grows and our planet warms up, at the end of the day we’ll be scared into bad energy solutions.

Our best energy solutions are conservation and renewable energy sources like wind and solar. They could compete for our baseload energy needs if our government subsidized, stimulated, and greased the political wheels for battery storage research like our government does for nuclear, oil, and gas production. If we approached our future energy needs according to the most prudent solutions for our precarious future—climate change, pollution, and health concerns—we could have a bright future for everyone.

Instead, we’re probably going to focus on natural gas (because there’s lots of it underground) and nuclear (because of a perceived desperation). I say perceived desperation because nuclear power, given enough power plants, can provide baseload power without contributing to greenhouse gases. And many groups, as well as the President, are heralding this power source as our savior. Endless power from a whiz-bang source.

But it’s a dangerous gamble. Simply saying that nuclear power is dangerous and equating it with falling wind turbine blades or solar power bugaboos is misleading. In truth, nuclear power is dangerous in a way that is factors beyond the dangers of any other power source. Radiation from a nuclear power plant gone bad, for whatever reason, has the potential to mess up chromosomes—ours and other life forms unlucky enough to get in the way. Putting back together a broken and radiated Humpty-Dumpty is beyond anything our best and brightest can handle.

And though an ocean of natural gas lies at our feet here in the Northeast (and not the Mideast), it still emits greenhouse gases when burned. Fracturing chemicals and poisoned wells aside, this energy source won’t bring us a secure future because we cannot be energy independent from the laws of thermodynamics. When we use it on a grand scale that we now use oil and gasoline, our atmosphere will warm to the tipping point.

However, as I have said, we’ll probably go with nuclear and gas because they’re convenient. We won’t upset the economic, political, and corporate system already ensconced—even though, like our banking and health systems, they are driving us out of existence. Wind and solar get dismissed as minimal players in our energy future not because they cannot take on the job (given the backing that other energy sources have received), but because we don’t have the will to change direction. To say we must bend to the political, cultural, corporate, and economic realities and go with these imperfect energy sources shows how little we actually comprehend our present environmental reality.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Climate Change Changes:

Weather should be the daily reporting of what our atmosphere is throwing at us. But, increasingly we are getting a wide perspective on what’s going on. Climate change studies come in almost daily, from various experts, various countries, various disciplines.  Climate Change in not a conspiracy, it’s connecting the dos on major changes coming quickly to our climate.     

NASA: “It is nearly certain that a new record 12-month global temperature will be set in 2010″ « Climate Progress Must-read draft paper: "We conclude that global temperature continued to rise rapidly in the past decade" and "that there has been no reduction in the global warming trend of 0.15-0.20°C/decade that began in the late 1970s." Climate Progress

And also, check this out: Monarch butterflies making trek north from Mexico in lowest numbers in decades | Local New... Monarch butterflies, hit hard by strong storms at their winter home in Mexico, have dwindled to their lowest population levels in decades as they begin to return to Texas on their springtime flight back to the United States and Canada. (March 19, 2010)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Earth Day: The Real Meaning

A year doesn’t go by where there isn’t at least one article about the real meaning behind each approaching holiday. Meaning, every Christmas there’s a story about the true meaning of December 25th, something besides massive shopping. Or, the Fourth of July, which is about our country’s founding values, and not smuggling fireworks into a state that forbids them. Thanksgiving is about giving thanks, not really about terrorizing the turkey population.

So, what is Earth Day, April 22nd, really about? Sure, it’s a celebration: Earth Day: “Earth Day is a day designed to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth's environment. It is on 22 April. It was founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisconsin) as an environmental teach-in in 1970 and is celebrated in many countries every year. The first Earth Day was in 1970.” - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

As you can see, Earth Day is not really meant as a celebration. What Earth Day is really about is a reminder. It reminds us that we (meaning most of humanity) are disinclined to acknowledge that we are running the planet. Of course, we aren’t running the planet in the sense that now we have co-opted the laws of physics and biology and chemistry. We are running planet in the sense that there are over six billion of us whose every action now determines the environmental health of the planet. We are no longer bystanders, simply one of the innumerable species struggling to survive on a harsh planet. Our every action, like the power of the sun, is one of the driving forces that determine what species survive, which natural resources remain intact, the quality of our air, and how much land will be above or below water.

Earth Day, like other holidays, should remind us to revisit the purpose of the holiday in the first place. Obviously, we really need reminding that we have to change how we think about our planet.

Maybe a fitting metaphor will help remind us of why we observe Earth Day. You and your companions are in a row boat floating casually down the Niagara River towards the falls. You look around and all seems calm and serene, birds in the air, motor boats buzzing by, people waving from the shore. But you’re not a fool. You know where you are. You can hear, because you know enough to listen for it, the sounds of water roaring up ahead. You say to your companions that they should either turn the boat around and head away from the falls, or head to shore—quickly.

But, your friends aren’t from around these parts. They think the roar they hear is the traffic on the adjacent highway. The people frantically waving on the shore are simply being friendly. Everything looks fine and dandy to them. But you know it’s not. A few nuts have survived going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, but you’re not up to it. For you, the falls are a tipping point. Everything might look OK to those unfamiliar with the power of the falls, but you know better. Once over the falls in a row boat, your life will be different—and not in a good way. There will be no going back.

Scientist say that many such tipping points are approaching if we don’t change our direction—climate change, the loss of biodiversity, ocean fishing stocks crashing, pollution, and much more. Your friends and neighbors may think that all looks good and our way of life is going along just swell. But you know better. Earth Day is your chance to get your companions to listen to the roar of the falls.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

In these Extraordinary Times:

Another reason to acknowledging that we are living at a precarious time for our environment is that most of the large fishing stocks in the oceans are failing. “WWF - Poorly managed fishing” Man has fished the oceans for a long time, but only recently has the amount of fish taken from the ocean meant a possible collapse of our ocean’s fish.  Cod fishing off the Canadian coast has crashed and the bluefin Tuna populations are threatened (with no solution imminent) and the fishing collapse issue is not getting better. 

Oftentimes, as with human nature, these collapses occur so slowly in our own particular lifetimes, we don’t see how extraordinary fast they are occurring on an environmental scale.  Near the end of fishing collapse those born recently might think the numbers of fish normal and a few more fish gone hardly worth noticing.  But, this inability or refusal to see environmental issues on a longer time scale than our own individual lives means that (like the boiling frog metaphor) we plunge our environmental into collapse without even knowing it.  That’s why we must change our attitude towards our environment, and force ourselves to see what’s really going on.  

The End of the Line is making waves for fish stocks recovery | "The End of the Line began life as a ground-breaking book by the environment journalist Charles Clover in 2004. It was an impassioned description of the wanton destruction being wreaked on fish stocks by industrial fishing round the world. It left me feeling both angry and despondent. Now it's been turned into a film of the same title, and it's a must-see. "

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spring Cleaning: Donate that old Bike

When you’re sprucing up this spring, thinking you might have to finally get rid of that old bike that you don’t ride anymore think of donating your bike to R Community Bikes: Rochester, New York. 

I stopped over there yesterday and it was a beehive of activity.  Volunteers fixing bikes, giving away bikes, cleaning, stacking bike stuff, a quick pizza break and then back to work—this in the name of recycling bikes so that others can ride. Even when a bike is really, really messed up, they take them, the salvageable parts stripped and reused, the frame taken to a metal recycler, nothing left but rubber from unusable tires. 

When they find a place to recycle rubber, it’s going to be a contained recycling system.  Consider supporting this invaluable Rochester-area recycling and transportation with your volunteering and donations.  Stop over a get a tour of this great operation that give to others transportation. 

R Community Bikes: Rochester, New York "R Community Bikes is a grassroots, 501(c)3 organization that collects and repairs used bicycles for distribution, free of charge, to Rochester, NY's most needy children and adults. Our mission is meeting the basic transportation needs of those in the community who depend on bikes for recreation as well as for transport to work, school, rehabilitation programs, and training sessions. For this segment of the population, both quality of life and the ability to participate in our community are greatly enhanced when our mission is achieved. R Community Bikes also provides a venue for the Rochester bicycling community to conduct educational programs relative to bicycle safety and maintenance. We are open to the public on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9:30 am to 1:00 pm at our warehouse at 226 Hudson Ave. (at the intersection with Woodbury Street). In addition, on Wednesdays in the summer we conduct bike repairs at St. Joseph's House of Hospitality at 402 South Avenue. "

Monday, March 15, 2010

Strange Days Ahead

Doesn’t it seem odd to you here in the Rochester, NY region to read about a critical indication of Climate Change in our area only being reported across the ocean at the BBC? “Climate change 'makes birds shrink' in North America” (3/12/2010). Along with a loony media in rapture over their invention called climategate, the public’s disinclination to focus on the most potentially disastrous environmental change of our age, and our irrational denial of the obvious fact that our planet is warming up, we have to search the globe to discover what changes will occur here. In the face of a real threat to our existence, strange days are indeed ahead: more warming, more denial.

Just so you know, the list of possible Climate Change alterations in our local environment continues to grow: Rochester-area Climate Change. Here’s the most recent list of possible Climate Change scenarios for our area: threatened North American birds populations; changes to the St. Lawrence River Ecosystem; invasive species move from the southern area into our area; extreme heat and declining air quality; our weather getting whacky(think big snowstorms in Washington, DC); dropping water levels in Lake Huron and Michigan bring drier weather; Great Superior could be windier; Great Lakes might be different; changes to our National Parks; increasing numbers of sewer overflows; drop in Great Lakes water levels; and compounding factors in the Great Lakes region. You might want to think of these very real possibilities the next time you drive that gas-guzzler, switch on a light, or turn up your house’s thermostat.

As Earth Day (April 22) approaches, I suspect that fewer people will turn out for local environment events because in the media other issues loom larger and the Climate Change deniers get stronger. Here’s an example of the tempest in the teapot: Scientists Taking Steps to Defend Work on Climate - (3/20/2010) “For months, climate scientists have taken a vicious beating in the media and on the Internet, accused of hiding data, covering up errors and suppressing alternate views. Their response until now has been largely to assert the legitimacy of the vast body of climate science and to mock their critics as cranks and know-nothings.”

All this rage over Climate Change denial in the press gives me the impression that the media assumes that the ‘environmental movement’ is getting weaker. At one time the labor movement was stronger than it is now. The women suffrage movement got women the right to vote, but has gotten weaker, unable to break the ‘glass ceiling’ of equal pay. Conventional thinking seems to saying that movements move in waves, a reflection of the way human’s interests ebb and flow. Sometimes the public likes hats with plumes in them (which, by the way almost decimated the Florida Everglades of their herons), and sometimes they don’t. Movements just come and go. C'est la vie. People are now getting tired of all this greeny stuff and Chicken Little on Climate Change.

But calling concerns about our environment a ‘movement’ is a merely an artifact of how we use language to make an argument. If you can convince the public that our environment is merely a ‘movement’, then you can equate the environmental movement with our penchant for suddenly seizing on ideas for a time and then just as suddenly becoming un-enthralled with them. But that would be like an aeronautic engineer becoming bored with gravity. Can you really envision this: One day this engineer decides his continual concern over gravity is really just keeping him back from creating a truly spectacular airplane design—and so he just designs gravity out of his plans. Would you fly in this contraption?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Transportation mega leap:

I had heard for some years that Google was considering including bicycle routes on Google Maps and now it has come to be.  To those who have not thought about transportation, except to jump into their gas-guzzler even for short distances, this added feature to Google search engine doesn’t seem like much of a news item. 

But, it is. 

Proven by many communities (check out Streetfilms: Contra-Flow Biking in Boulder) who begin to accommodate bicycle traffic, our communities become cleaner, safer and a better place to live when walking and bicycle are encouraged.  Being able to quickly route the best way from here to there will a bicycle map increases the probability that commuters and the rest of the public will consider taking that trip on a bicycle and helping our communities to be more sustainable.  Or course, much more than an online map will be required to reverse our tendency to create an environment for vehicular traffic instead of an environment where the public feels comfortable walking and bicycling to their destination, but this step by Google is a step in the sustainable direction.  

Official Google Blog: Biking directions added to Google Maps "Whenever I meet someone who finds out that I work on the directions team for Google Maps, the first question I'm asked is often "So when's Google Maps going to add biking directions?" We're big biking fans too, so we've been itching to give you a concrete answer. I don't want to keep the good news a secret any longer, so the answer is: right now! Today we've added biking directions and extensive bike trail data to Google Maps for the U.S. "

How’s your drinking water?

One of the great things about drinking municipal water instead on bottled water is that you get an annual description of your water quality and statistics.  You have a pretty good idea of your water quality.  And, if you have questions, concerns, or complaints you have the power to address your water quality concerns.  If you live in the City of Rochester, you got your 2009 Water Quality Report and you can review past water quality reports here:  

City of Rochester | Water Quality Annual Reports "The City of Rochester is proud to supply its residents with clean, high quality water. The Bureau of Water annually produces a Water Quality Report that provides residents with information on the quality of drinking water, news on the water system, details on the source of drinking water and its treatment and test results. " -from City of Rochester

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

More indictments on why the Copenhagen Climate Change talks failed.

This time the environmentalists turn on themselves.  Serious charges though they are, the ultimate question in the fallout from the climate science email, the Himalayan glaciers, is the drumbeat: What are we going to do about Climate Change? The answer is not ‘nothing.’ 

There’s not only overwhelming and compelling evidence that the planet is warming up and nearing tipping points from which there is not turning back to a climate we grew up in, making wholesale changing to curb Climate Change is reasonable assumption that a reasonable people should adopt.

If you rapidly change the human population to 6 billion people, who drive millions of greenhouse gas emitting gas into the atmosphere, and create an extinction event equal to the five other great extinction events, only a lot quicker, then it is a reasonable assumption that we have to change our collective behavior towards the planet to ensure our way of live. 

Pointing fingers about every little fact, every indictment, the blame game, and creating a stalemate in the face of a true environmental crisis won’t due.  We had better start doing something about Climate Change quickly, or we’ll be doing a whole lot more fruitless squabbling as we rearrange the chairs on the Titanic of Climate Change.

The Wrong Kind of Green "Why did America's leading environmental groups jet to Copenhagen and lobby for policies that will lead to the faster death of the rainforests--and runaway global warming? Why are their lobbyists on Capitol Hill dismissing the only real solutions to climate change as "unworkable" and "unrealistic," as though they were just another sooty tentacle of Big Coal? " - The Nation | Unconventional Wisdom Since 1865

Check out the interview with the author: The Real Climategate: Conservation Groups Align with World's Worst Polluters "Major environmental groups are coming under criticism from within their own ranks for taking positions that some say are antithetical to their stated missions of saving the planet. " - A daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 800 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the U.S.

Monday, March 08, 2010

More Climate Changes here:

The list of possible environmental changes due to Climate Change in our region grows.  The more we understand and study Climate Change and its implications the more we understand that warmers summers and warmer winters aren’t going to be the only consequences of New York’s Climate Change.  Doing the things we have to do to stop Climate Change, which is within our powers (like ‘cooling it’ on burning greenhouse gases), is going to be a whole lot more tolerable than adapting or changing to Climate Change here.

Invasive Plants Move North Fall foliage is the veritable trademark of the Northeast. Families flock from around the world to take in the natural splendor. Imagine autumn in New England without its distinctive palette - choked out by a dense labyrinth of invasive vines. This nightmare may become a reality in the near future if current climate trends continue, increasing the threat of invasive plant species to the Northeast Region.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Green Warning Signs

Recently, we’ve noticed several signs that our environment is undergoing dramatic changes. Some of the most salient signs are the mercury-ridden fish in all of our streams, the collapse of the Copenhagen Climate talks, the release of methane gases from the Arctic Ocean, and a great resistance to greener transportation and energy. In that vein, the auto show I attended recently revealed little interest or efforts in adapting our vehicles to the reality that the automobile and its infrastructure greatly affect the health of our environment. I thought after all that talk about electric cars and fuel efficiency I’d see a new day at the shows. But there were the same old sexy cars and trucks—except now they cost more, still had lousy gas efficiency ratings, and have far more driver-distracting gadgets than ever before.

Not all the signs are bad. Bald Eagles have been increasing in New York State since 1970 and many Brownfields are getting cleaned up. We got a few bucks (compared to other regions) for high speed rail, and some federal funds to clean up the Great Lakes. However without an accurate model of what a sustainable environment is, it is difficult to know how good these signs actually are. For example, are the animal and plant populations recovering quickly enough to establish themselves, or are they being sustained artificially? And we may be spending a lot of money and creating jobs for Brownfield cleanups, but have we located all the Brownfields, and do we know what poisons they are leaching and what environmental and health problems they are responsible for? I doubt it. A story gets out that something is being done and the public becomes complacent, mollified that things are going well. But Signs indicate that that they aren’t.

For some reason, we (Homo sapiens) tend to have an unreasonable reaction to many warning signs. Perhaps we see signs like those little numbers on a roulette wheel. Sometimes the wheel stops at your number, sometime it doesn’t. Maybe, just maybe, that great big wheel of chance won’t nail us. Maybe this is a sign that Climate Change is true or maybe it’s a sign that it’s just another case of these climate scientists fudging the data: “Climate scientists have long warned that global warming could unlock vast stores of the greenhouse gas methane that are frozen into the Arctic permafrost, setting off potentially significant increases in global warming.” (3/4/10 NYT).

Maybe this story about fish contaminated with mercury doesn’t really mean much because they didn’t really test all the streams: “100 Percent of Fish in U.S. Streams Found Contaminated with Mercury” (3/4/10 – Natural Maybe we just won’t eat fish from streams or any fish at all.

What’s certain about environmental signs is that even when catastrophe occurs, like Hurricane Katrina, even when every fish still alive is contaminated, even when many of the predictions of Climate Change are not only coming to pass—but far more quickly than predicted—we ignore them. However, as many a hapless driver who has strayed into a construction zone will tell you, you can only ignore the warning signs up to a point.

Friday, March 05, 2010

One of those Climate Change predictions:

One of the things that a good theory about what is going on in the world is that it will predict future events.  This is opposed to a lot of ideas about the way many people think the world works—more often than not those which present a hypothesis that is incapable of predicting anything solid.

For example, those ideas that the world was going to end in say, 2000, met with complete failure because it didn’t happen. That crazy theory was not based on science.  This is instructive as we move towards serious environmental problems.  If we don’t have a view of reality that is correct and predictable, we’re going to cook the next generation.

More and more the predictions of Climate Change are occurring and doing so swiftly. Arctic ice melting and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increasing are happening and they are predicted in the Climate Change model. 

Another prediction is methane gas being release from the ocean floor, which if it happens rapidly could release a global warming gas far more potent than carbon dioxide.  And, now there are indications that this is occurring:

Study Says Undersea Release of Methane Is Under Way - Climate scientists have long warned that global warming could unlock vast stores of the greenhouse gas methane that are frozen into the Arctic permafrost, setting off potentially significant increases in global warming. (March 4, 2010) The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Bird deaths and wind turbines:

For all the talk and clamor about wind turbines causing thousands of bird deaths, it should be remembered that bird death due to other human factors kill a lot more birds,  Cars, cats allowed to roam neighborhood and glass windows probably cause far more bird deaths that wind turbines ever will. 

Check this out: “Estimates are that between 100 million and 1 billion individual birds are killed annually by collisions with windows in the United States alone.” –from   Window Glass: Silent Bird Killer? | Cool Green Science: The Conservation Blog of The Nature Conservancy "Birds just do not get the concept of “glass.” We’ve all surely had the experience of having a bird fly into a window at our home, office or school, usually with unfortunate consequences for the bird. But have you ever stopped to think about how widespread this phenomenon is and how many birds it might be killing annually? " The Nature Conservancy - Protecting Nature, Preserving Life

Monday, March 01, 2010

Pesticide Drift:

We have a law in Monroe County called the 48 Hour Neighborhood Notification Law that was implemented to avoid pesticide and herbicide drift, but is it being complied with?

Last time we checked, it wasn’t much:  Lawn care law largely ignored — "Many Monroe County homeowners are not complying with the county's new pesticide neighbor notification law, officials say. Under the law, homeowners who apply weed-killers and insecticides to lawn and garden areas larger than 100 square feet must post small signs informing neighbors that chemicals have been applied. In addition, the law requires retailers to post signs next to pesticides explaining the law to their customers." (April 15, 2006) Daily Messenger

On a large scale, how is pesticide drift being addressed nation wide?  'Pesticide Drift' Eluding Efforts To Combat It : NPR The Environmental Protection Agency is considering a petition from farm worker and public health advocates to ban pesticide spraying near schools, hospitals and child care centers. Part of the evidence they cite comes from California, the nation's largest agricultural producer, and a state where pesticides carried from the fields by winds sicken hundreds of people each year. (February 25, 2010) NPR : National Public Radio : News & Analysis, World, US, Music & Arts : NPR