Friday, April 30, 2010

Throwing the planet out with the ideology:

This article in the Wall Street Journal got my gall because it is indicative of how arguments on major environmental issues are framed in the corporate-driven press.  Most would probably agree that Cap and Trade has failed as a way to both keep the economy healthy and deal with Climate Change. 

But, this article has taken the political failure and the failure of Cap and Trade to address true measures to reduce anthropogenic created greenhouse gases and sneaked in a dismissive assumption that because of these failures the whole argument and science-back facts of Climate Change have failed to.   (note the word “speculative”:  “All over the globe, politicians of different ideological stripes are reconsidering the costs of slashing greenhouse gases to combat the speculative problem of global warming.”)

In the real world, the vast majority of scientists (not politicians, journalists, or corporations) do not see Climate Change as “speculative”.  Most scientists believe there is overwhelming evidence that Climate change is occurring and doing so quickly.  No mention in this article about the science of Climate Change, just the politics, which given the political and economic climate no one really wants to address—except those who are about to be traumatized by the effects of Climate Change.

Tom Switzer: World Rethinks Climate Legislation - WSJ.com Costly cap-and-trade system isn't the political winner it once was. (April 30, 2010) Business News & Financial News - The Wall Street Journal - WSJ.com

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

If Climate Change was True:

If Climate Change was true, the implications of such a dramatic global change should be reflected in at least some countries—especially those countries most vulnerable to quickly rising oceans and hurricanes.  

It is true and some countries (only 34% of American believes anthropogenic Climate Change is happening ((check out this interview: "Avatar" Director James Cameron Follows Box Office Success with Advocacy for Indigenous Struggles on Democracy Now!) are beginning to address it.  Maybe, when we finally ‘get it’ we’ll start acting.  Check out the stories of those countries who do get it and are doing something about it:

Global Ideas | Deutsche Welle Melting ice caps, catastrophic hurricanes, floods and drought plunging entire regions into a water crisis. These are the drastic images often associated with climate change. But what's actually being done on the ground to halt global warming? What kind of projects are helping to reduce emissions, inform people and spur them to change their lifestyles? Each week GLOBAL IDEAS visits a new destination and reports on a new project, so check back often.  -from Home | Deutsche Welle

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Genesee River – gauging success

Using the Genesee River as a backdrop, New York State Environmental Conservation Commissioner (NYSDEC) Pete Grannis recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. Grannis listed many of the accomplishment of the Genesee River clean up (see State Environmental Commissioner Celebrates Progress along the Genesee River - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation):

• More than $1 billion in federal, state and local funds has been invested to help replace outdated sewer systems with modern wastewater controls.

• An extensive combined-sewer-overflow abatement system, featuring deep tunnel storage and cutting-edge instrumentation, has worked to intercept and treat stormwater that previously poured straight into the river.

• Tighter regulations on industry have reduced improper discharges and better controls on construction and agricultural activities have reduced erosion and runoff.

• The formation of the Monroe County Stormwater Coalition has worked regionally to reduce stormwater pollution from various sources.

• An experiment to stock lake sturgeon in the river has thrived and grown. Trout and salmon stocking have helped make the river a popular fishing spot.

One has to be impressed that in 40 years this cash-strapped regulatory agency has done so much in so short a time. (Although one could say that it’s a sad commentary on our own character that we got the Genesee River in such a sorry polluted state in the first place.) But is it enough? Do we have we a clean river now? The commissioner admits that much remains to be done. But the larger question is whether the measure of the river’s health can even be determined by fish count and ‘normal’ oxygen levels, as the commissioner infers.

Fish can be stocked thereby masking a fish population that is not sustainable. Oxygen levels please scientists, but it must be that there is a lot more to a healthy river than what can be quantified and measured. At the end of the day, a healthy river is one that we can swim in, drink from, and where the bottom is not incubating dangerous manmade toxins in an experiment not even possible in the lab. The Genesee River may be “recovering”, but at what level? Have we made any progress in returning the river to true sustainability? To some semblance of the health it enjoyed five hundred years ago (brimming with fish, free of manmade concoctions)?

The Genesee River “clean-up” may also make us over-confident: If we can clean up our rivers after so much abuse, will it only make us more complacent towards our river in the future? In other words, do these high tech fixes for our environment (like “an extensive combined-sewer-overflow abatement system, featuring deep tunnel storage and cutting-edge instrumentation”) only encourage us to continue our wasteful ways? Food for thought around Earth Day: The real gauge of environmental success may not be our best rescue efforts, but how well we can sustain a long-term relationship with our environment so that rescue efforts are not needed.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

How are Those New Environmental Laws Doing?

If you have been following the Climate Change debates in Congress, you know well enough how hard it is to get any kind of environmental law passed. Besides dealing with economic hardships and compliance hurdles that have to be figured out when considering any new law, there are still large swaths of public officials who don’t even believe we have environmental problems, or looming catastrophes like Climate Change. “Global Warming is just a hoax” is continually piped by the uninformed ideologues, despite all evidence to the contrary.

So, it’s no wonder that those who care about our environment and read the depressing litany of environmental disasters (oil spills, melting glaciers, water shortages) get excited when a few environmental laws do get passed. Hey, they may be a drop in the bucket for a planet headed towards environmental collapse, but at least there is forward movement.

But, what about those environmental laws that do get passed? After all that haggling and foot dragging (can you think of any environmental law that was a slam dunk?), are these new laws having any effect? Have any news agency editors, as they sit around and chew over what to feed the public, asked their collective selves, “Hey, how about that new law that was passed a year or so ago, is anyone paying attention to it?” My guess is that most media editors don’t go around looking for this kind of trouble (since those who lost during a new law’s debate are probably still fuming). Why bother, when they have stacks of car crashes and the endless shenanigans of sports heroes who continually let their fans and advertisers down.

Two local laws come to mind that Rochester-area editors should consider investigating. The first is the Pesticide Neighbor Notification Law in Monroe County that requires various groups applying pesticides to provide certain types of notification to neighbors. This law became effective January 1, 2006. The second is the Open Burning Regulations that prohibits the outdoor burning of leaves, papers and other waste materials all across New York State. This one became law October 14, 2009.

Both laws are bold regulations that attempt to protect our environment and our health. But I question how many are actually complying with these hard-won laws. When I drive through the country, I often see what looks to be a barrel out in someone’s yard, spewing what looks to be smoke. They don’t look like a barbeque or a sizzling, rotating pig roast. And the last time I heard of a news organization checking on the Notification Law, it reported that this law was “largely Ignored.” (from Lawn care law largely ignored — (April 15, 2006) Democrat and Chronicle)

But, what do I know? I’m not a reporter. Maybe I’m just a cynic. Maybe it’s just hard for me to believe that both behaviors—spraying pesticides hither and yon without any warning, and burning up trash in the backyard—did come to a screeching halt just because these laws were passed. So maybe if there’s a slow day at the press, an intrepid investigative reporter (if there are still any on the payroll), might check this out. There was, after all, a point to making these laws in the first place.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Why The Invasive Species Problem will get Worse:

While we wait for the inevitable onslaught of the Asian Carp into the Great Lakes, as we waited for the Zebra Mussels two decades ago, we might reflect on the world-wide issue of Invasive Species.  Climate Change and Transportation in the modern age fuel much of the rapid spread of species that end up in areas where they have no natural enemies and wreak havoc on indigenous species.  

What can we do about this situation?  Mostly keep informed and vote for candidates who appreciate and are willing to work with other countries around the world to monitor and check the spread of invasive species.  The day where we could contain our borders (if they ever existed at all) are over.  We’re going to be very busy the rest of this century holding our own against an increasingly hostile environment because we keep failing to act on issues like Invasive Species

BBC News - Counting the cost of alien invasions Far too many governments have failed to grasp the scale of the threat from invasive species, warns UN Environment Programme's executive director Achim Steiner. In this week's Green Room, he issues a call to arms to halt the alien invasion. (April 13, 2010)

Friday, April 16, 2010

How Healthy Are We?

And how much of a factor is our environmental health a factor in our health?  Probably won’t find that out in this study—see below. 

But, maybe if you consider all things being equal, meaning if you think that smoking, obesity rates, physical activity, are probably consistent around the state, you might be able to extrapolate all those indicators and assume that then the differences between areas might have something to do with other factors, like our environment.  Meaning (again) how close do you live to air, water, or ground pollutants?  Is this something valid that can be extrapolated from these figures?  I don’t know.  I’m just groping around for meaning in the studies that are being conducted for information that would be a whole lot more useful in determining our health.

My point? Why doesn’t the New York State Health Department do a study that factors out health issues that wouldn’t be indicators of how our environment is affecting our health and factor in those that might?  Maybe, with such a study we might be able to determine just how our environment is affecting our health.  One of the new health indicators in this study—asthma—actually may be a result of air quality. Got money? Got experts? Let’s do that study.  

New Snapshots of Every County's Health Now Available "Expanded Data on Health Behaviors, Risk Factors, Other Conditions ALBANY, N.Y. (April 15, 2010) - Expanded snapshots of the health and health behaviors of adult New Yorkers, including data on rates of overweight and obesity, diabetes, physical activity and smoking, are now available for every county in New York State. The data was gathered through the State Department of Health's (DOH) Expanded Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) and are available on the Department's Web site. " -from New York State Department of Health

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Eliminating Garbage:

The New York Times editors ask:” What stands in the way of the U.S. adopting more of these advanced technologies?”  Other countries are burning or burying their garbage and mostly we bury our garbage via landfills.  And, we are deriving energy from many of our landfills by collecting the methane gases. 

But rather than try to make my own case here, I say that I completely agree with Laura Haight (who “is senior environmental associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group” in her section , “Start With Waste Reduction.” Join in the discussion at the NYT’s:

Should the U.S. Burn or Bury Its Trash? An article in The Times this week reports on the broad use of new, cleaner garbage incinerators across Europe that convert trash into heat and electricity. In Denmark, these plants have been embraced even in wealthy suburbs because they curb energy costs, reduce the use of landfills and cut carbon dioxide emissions." editors of the New York Times

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Controversial Drilling Practice Hits Roadblock in New York City by Bruce Stutz: Yale Environment 360

A Controversial Drilling Practice Hits Roadblock in New York City by Bruce Stutz: Yale Environment 360: "Hydro fracturing is a profitable method of natural gas extraction that uses large quantities of water and chemicals to free gas from underground rock formations. But New York City’s concerns that the practice would threaten its water supply have slowed a juggernaut that has been sweeping across parts of the northeastern United States."

Cleaning up our Parks

Daily Updates | Rochester, NY Environmental News Analysis |
RochesterEnvironment.com
: "Cleaning Up Our Parks:� If you joined us, one of the many groups that joined in Monroe County’s Pick Up the Parks program Saturday, you probably saw a lot of park sprucing up.� Few love our county parks as we do here in the Rochester, NY region.� This new program my Monroe County Parks is a great way to clean up the litter and for our area’s resident to demonstrate their love of their parks.� Better still would be no little at all, that everyone would not litter and go out of their way to pick up litter, so that our local environment is not blemished by litter.� �� PICK UP THE PARKS A new initiative from the Monroe County Department of Parks - April 10th, 2010�"

Climate Change Deniers:

I don’t spend a lot of time debunking Climate Change deniers because after two decade it’s obvious that there is overwhelming evidence and a reasonable assumption that over six billion humans with their cars, houses, and energy plants are putting greenhouse gases into our atmosphere at an alarming rate. Carbon Dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas in our atmosphere, was 280 parts per billion circa 1860’s now the latest figure has it at 390ppb.)  

Instead of arguing the point, I believe the most prudent reaction to Climate Change is to act on it as though it is occurring because waiting for what the deniers would like as a certainty would most likely fry us all. It is critical to realize that we are bumping up against something profoundly different in our human history (where the past is no guide) and find a way to curb our inclination to deny, stubbornly stick to our ideologies, or indulge in what we perceive as short term gains, and act positively when our environment is clearly being threatened by a present danger. 

If we cannot distinguish between a real danger and ones that our not, we shall severely limit the freedoms of future generations.  We must be able to distinguish between political, ideology, economic, and personal differences and those issues that threaten our ability to survive on this planet. However, there are others who better able to lay bare the essentials of the climate change crisis and change public opinion on the most critical environmental issue of our day. 

Check out: Weathermen, and other climate change skeptics : The New Yorker "Up in the Air " Why, with global warming, is it always one step forward, two, maybe three steps back? A year ago, it looked as if the so-called climate debate might finally be over, and the business of actually addressing the problem about to begin. In April, the Obama Administration designated CO2 a dangerous pollutant, thus taking the first critical step toward regulating carbon emissions." -from The New Yorker

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Did Spitzer Let us Down on Acid Rain Too?

Years ago RochesterEnvironment.com had a page especially devoted to Acid Rain, as it does now with other Rochester-area Environmental Issues. Slowly, however, the Acid Rain issue faded away from our local news and disappeared altogether. I took down the page irrationally thinking that if our media thought this environmental problem was over, it must be over. What was I thinking? Just when it looked liked we could solve a great big environmental problem, this story reared its ugly head from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week:

EPA Launches Blog on Acid Rain “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is hosting a month-long online discussion to expand the conversation on acid rain. Acid rain is a serious environmental problem that affects large parts of the United States and is particularly damaging to lakes, streams, and forests and the plants and animals that live in these ecosystems. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), the pollutants that form acid rain, can cause serious respiratory illnesses and premature death.” (April 8, 2010)

What gives? I thought then State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer took care of this problem. (Press Release: Adirondack Council Praises Eliot Spitzer for Job Well Done- 7/8/2003, The Adirondack Council) Since the moment he hit the ground as AG back in 1998, Mr. Spitzer tackled Acid Rain by going after Midwestern power companies whose sulfur dioxide continually waffled over to our area, acidifying our lakes and streams. Adirondack Lakes were on the verge of collapse. Though they looked pristine and beautiful, they were so acidic that fish and aquatic plants were sizzling away in an acid bath. Then, after some legislation, you could drink the water and catch fish again.

Many used to applaud Spitzer’s heroic efforts on Acid Rain and some have used the reduction of Acid Rain (without attributing much of the success to Spitzer) in our area as a model of how governments and business could finally get together and solve environmental problems like Climate Change. Yeah! Humans can actually address big problems.

But somehow, Acid Rain is back in the news and the government is hot on it: Acid Rain - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation “Acid rain is a by-product of our industrialized society. Air pollution combines with water in the atmosphere and falls to the earth as acidic rain or snow. Discussions and reports about acid rain often use the terms acid deposition or atmospheric deposition to describe this return of airborne pollutants to earth. Pollutants can be deposited from the atmosphere in rain or snow (wet deposition) or without precipitation (dry deposition).”

Good gracious. Can’t we solve anything? What went wrong? Did we take our eye off the ball?

I have a sneaking suspicion that when the media decided to trample Spitzer’s name through the mud because of what would have been in Europe a mere peccadillo, the reduction of Acid Rain, one of Spitzer’s great accomplishments for which he has been given too little appreciation, went the way of a big snooty dismissal by mainstream media too.

Mainstream media needs to grow up. They cannot continue to frame environmental issues as the quirks and idiosyncrasies of groups they don’t like because their sponsors are oftentimes the very corporations that caused problems like Acid Rain. Yes, we need jobs from corporations and yes it must be pointed out when our leaders let us down. But, to throw the baby out with the bathwater, an ideology that moronically believes that if we tarnish the leader of an environmental problem, the environmental problem will go away with its champion, is sheer unadulterated lunacy. Not to mention that as an environmental policy, it is suicidal. Spitzer didn’t let us down on Acid Rain, the media did.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Extraordinary Times:

This is what we need to get:  We living amidst a great upheaval in our planet’s environment, mostly caused by mankind.  The changes, however slowly they may seem to the ordinary observer, are happening at an alarming rate. Sticking to an ideology where dramatic changes in our environment don’t happen, or adopting an attitude that you don’t believe in Climate Change or the Loss of Biodiversity, don’t match the facts. 

A New Geologic Era "It is a new age of geological time or so some say called the Anthropocene Epoch. This is noted in the in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. (web issue March 29; print issue April 1). This is because of the dramatic recent or potential changes in the world such as climate warming and species extinction. The dawning of this new epoch may include the sixth largest mass extinction in the Earth's history. Whether the new era will be dramatic as the Jurassic with the end of the dinosaur is still to be determined. " -from Environmental News Network -- Know Your Environment 

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Public Can Help Gather Environmental Information:

Along with all the possible negative repercussions of mankind’s footprints on our environment there are some good things.  One of them is the power of the Internet and its ability to clarify just how world-wide environmental issues are. But, the Internet not only reveals environmental problems around the world, it also has the power to gather people to help our environment.  One way is to have citizens join in gathering important information, so the rest of us can make sound judgments on our actions that affect our environment. Clearly, we cannot depend on any single media, or government, or university, or business for all the information we need.  Sometime we ourselves can be a part of that process:

USGS CoreCast: Help Us Keep an Eye on Climate Change "Attention citizen scientists: We need your help watching the way the world changes! For nature, timing is everything. So how does climate change affect the timing of things like flowers blooming and animals migrating, and why is this so important? Learn more, and find out how YOU can help us by observing the world around you from USGS scientist Jake Weltzin, Director of the National Phenology Network. " --from Welcome to the USGS - U.S. Geological Survey

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Still a lot to be ironed out on nuclear power:

Nuclear power may seem like a nice way to solve our energy needs and reduce greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, but it comes with complications.  Not just ordinary complications.

Utilities Sue U.S. to Halt Nuclear Waste Fees - NYTimes.com WASHINGTON — Sixteen utilities and a trade association sued the Energy Department on Monday to halt the government’s collection of nuclear waste disposal fees, arguing that the country no longer had a disposal plan after ruling out Yucca Mountain, Nev., as a repository. (April 5, 2010) The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia

And also: New York Denies Indian Point Plant a Water Permit - NYTimes.com In a major victory for environmental advocates, New York State has ruled that outmoded cooling technology at the Indian Point nuclear power plant kills so many Hudson River fish, and consumes and contaminates so much water, that it violates the federal Clean Water Act. (April 3, 2010) The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Is Our Local Environment Collapsing?

One of the great environmental concepts of our time is the realization that environmental collapse can occur so slowly that you would hardly notice it. Unless, of course, you are looking for it. We should appreciate that in this fast-paced world, where mankind has mostly developed it to his liking, because we are more likely to forget (or not even notice) important milestones along the way to environmental degradation. If we allow only our picture of today’s environment to define our definition of a healthy environment, we could be missing important clues about the true direction our environmental is sliding.

Saturday, I attended a talk by Dr. Jared Diamond at Monroe Community College about environmental collapse. Mostly, Diamond talked about the collapse of the Easter Island society after it endured for 800 years. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Long ago Easter Island had a thriving human culture and a vast forest. Then, the last tree was chopped down in 1880. Then, the culture collapsed to a population of one hundred people. Now, the Easter Island plight is a metaphor for the delicate fragility of Earth itself and how we might be destroying it piecemeal like the Easter Islanders.

Again, this long-ago collapse occurred so slowly, through generations, that no one single generation was able to see the complete picture. At any one point along the 800 years of human culture on that remote island, things would have looked fine as the inhabitants chopped trees down for rope and rolling logs for their huge statues for which the island is now known.

Take this notion of the Easter Island collapse home. Maybe it has something to teach us here. We know that Rochester’s environment was a sustainable environment five hundred years ago. Things were humming along fine, the forest filled with birds, other wondrous creature, and the streams full of fish. (It was probably not an Eden, for the mosquitoes must have been murder.) But, since that time human population and development has profoundly altered all that. My question: Are we somewhere along the Easter Island-like collapse continuum where we cannot ‘see’ where we are headed?

Granted we still have many trees, though they are fewer of them and many are plagued by invasive diseases. We’ve got fish in our steams and lakes, but they’re infested with disease, mercury, and pollution—not to mention many fish populations are artificially maintained by yearly stocking. Our air is breathable, but filled with ozone, sooty particulates, toxins, heavy metals like lead, and warming up by Climate Change. And, we have a productive soil, though it is filled with material from old Brownfields, heavy metals, pesticides, and trash. As for our water, make sure it’s been officially treated before you drink it.

Even with all our environmental laws and restrictions and a media ready to pounce on any big toxic spill, do we really have a clear picture or our environment’s health? Or, are we merely running around plugging all the most obvious environmental holes thinking the last several years the only model we need concern ourselves with?

Friday, April 02, 2010

Will there be a Phosphorus Ban Law here?

We know that the overuse of phosphorus has causes unwanted and unhealthy algae growth, which is affecting the environmental health of the Great Lakes.  And, now one state is restricting fertilizers containing phosphorus. But, that’s only one state.  There are five Great Lakes and several states and two countries surround the Great Lakes. What good will one state restricting fertilizers containing phosphorus do for our environment? 

Our environment works as a whole, and the Great Lakes is a system of lakes, eventually flowing to Lake Ontario, through the St. Lawrence River and out to the ocean. If we are going to try and solve environmental problems, how can we solve our environmental issues by continually carving up our environment with manmade boundaries, instead of Nature’s? My point, in order to solve the phosphorus problem in the Great Lakes, won’t all the states and the US and Canada have to pass such laws? 

Phosphorus law in effect today | htrnews.com | Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter Use of compound in fertilizer for home lawns to be restricted | The phosphorus ban, signed into law last year by Gov. Jim Doyle, prohibits the use and sale of fertilizers containing phosphorus, but includes several exceptions on both the selling and application of fertilizers. (April 1, 2010)