Thursday, March 31, 2011

Monitoring our environment directly:

 

One of the things I tried to accomplish when I first began RochesterEnvironment.com 12 years ago was to compile a list of places where individuals could monitor the health of our environment. Eventually, I will build up that list again because everyone should have a chance to see objective data on the state of our environment themselves.

There are no end of opinions, studies, and other indirect data about our environment, but the internet can offer more. Sometimes, instruments to measure environmental factors, such as instruments that measure the temperature of water bodies and the decline in glaciers, can be directly hooked up to the Internet for individuals to look at the date themselves.

Check out this news site by Google to mine the data out there about our environment and get primary data yourself:

Google Earth Engine "Google Earth Engine brings together the world's satellite imagery—trillions of scientific measurements dating back more than 25 years—and makes it available online with tools for scientists, independent researchers, and nations to mine this massive warehouse of data to detect changes, map trends and quantify differences on the earth's surface. "

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Are you informed about our environment?

 

To monitor and save our environment we need to save the news. It may seem like there is a lot of news out there on TV, radio, the Internet, blogs, and social media. But there isn’t.

There are a lot of words, but there isn’t much in the way of independent and investigative news that we need to assess our environment. We cannot possibly make informed choices on environmental issues, like whether we should scrap nuclear power and go another direction, until we know all the facts—not just a pundit’s view.

Consider the plight of today’s news and find out ways to change it so the majority of the public can make informed choices on our environment.

Save the News "Our vision is for every community to have access to in-depth investigative reporting, quality local news and critical watchdog journalism that empower citizens, hold our leaders accountable and represent the diversity of our nation. "

Monday, March 28, 2011

Politics and Environment:

 

Somehow, and I haven’t a clue as to how to do it, we must remove politics from the science of our environment. There’s no way we can go forward and become a sustainable society when we have a powerful political party that doesn’t believe in the very forces that run our planet.

How could have so many well-educated American put so many scientifically illiterates in office at a time when Climate Change and many other environmental issues are upon us? This dismal scenario of the blind leading the aware cannot stand.

An Anti-Science Mania Takes Over the GOP "More than half of the incoming Republican caucus denies the validity of climate change science. Some 74 percent of Republicans in the U.S. Senate now take that stance, as do 53 percent of GOP in the House. " (March 21, 2011) Truthout | Fearless, Independent News and Opinion

How will Climate Change affect our area’s water cycles?

 

Though it is hard to predict precisely how our region’s water cycles will be affected by Climate Change here are some scientifically suggested scenarios: “A study in Monroe County, NY (Coon 2005) assessing trends from 1965 to 2005 noted an increase in temperature, precipitation, and 7-day low-flows in rural streams.” And “There is evidence from historical data and regional climate modeling to suggest that the intensity of sub-daily rainfall events will increase in a warming climate.”

Read on: New York State Water Resources Institute - Climate Change An Overview of Possible Changes in Regional Climate and Hydrology "On average, New York State receives about 40 in of precipitation per year. About 50% of this evaporates away, leaving another 50% to enter streams and rivers or to replenish withdrawn groundwater. Rainfall is relatively even over most of the year with the exception of lower amounts in the winter months. However, most evaporation and transpiration occurs between May and October when plants are active, making streamflows lower and soils dryer during summer and early fall (see Figure 1 for an illustration of typical monthly rainfall amounts and streamflows). In addition to the lack of plant transpiration, spring streamflows may be further elevated by the contribution of melting snow. This section reviews both current trends and future projections for these different hydrologic processes. "

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Another Earth Day approaching for Rochester, NY and we still don’t get it

 

The whole point, I would argue, of Earth day is to remind folks that we are creatures still dependent on a healthy environment—no matter how important we think other things are. In this regard, there are many Earth Day events coming up in Rochester, NY, and I hope you’ll get out and attend one of them. Find out who’s doing what and why. Check RochesterEnvironment.com Calendar to get a complete listing of all Earth Day events in our area.

This year, like many past years, much is being done to attract a wide diversity of folks because we all have a direct link to our environment. But it’s not easy. Many, far too many, wouldn’t dream of attending an Earth Day event. It’s not on their radar. It’s not their ‘thing’ as we used to say in the sixties. Or they’re too busy, they don’t think they care, they don’t believe our environment is in trouble, or they think they do know all about it and think it’s all out of their hands. It’s not.

Believe it or not, it’s not somehow written into the great scheme of things that we have to drive ourselves and every other living thing on this planet into extinction. We can and must do something to stop the steady march into the collapse that pollution and our other environmental issues portend.

But the proportionally small numbers of folks who attend to our environment through their advocacy, jobs, official roles, or interests are not enough. Because our planet is warming (our atmosphere is over 390ppm CO2 when it should be lower than 350ppm CO2) and we are losing species at a rate consistent with the five other major extinction events (except this time we are the cause), the work of a few will not make the wholesale changes needed to put us on a sustainable path.

This past year’s BP Oil Spill, the Massey mine accident, and the present Japanese nuclear disaster must remind even the most indifferent soul that the things that man does to our environment don’t always go as planned. And when things do go wrong, many, many lives get disrupted or worse. Through our neglect, our hubris, and our rush for unfettered riches, we have put our existence and our environment on such a precarious path that the slightest error in technology or judgment wreaks unimaginable havoc. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Unlike what transpires in the entertainment world, there will be no superheroes to solve our serious environmental problems. In those make-believe worlds, disasters seem to boil down to simple heroic efforts to save humanity from evil, from aliens, from whatever. Well, our environmental problems are an entirely different sort of disaster than those conjured up by Hollywood. In most cases, environmental catastrophes are years, decades, maybe even centuries in the making. They take so long to occur, accumulating bit by bit, that we don’t see the collapse happening until it’s way too late to fix it. There’s no way you can ratchet down our atmosphere’s temperature when we pass a tipping point. We have to prevent disasters, instead of thinking we can do whatever we want and can then fix them in the nick of time.

The conundrum for the environmental community is how to make every day Earth Day. For what we don’t get is that little if nothing will remain of our lives, our hopes, and our dreams when our environment collapses. You cannot marginalize, sideline, or forget about the very ground under your feet. We, everyone, have a moral obligation to the generations that follow us to leave them a healthy environment--and we are not anywhere near accomplishing that.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Why do hunters rule Wildlife Issues?

 

This notice by the DEC on deer management (see below) raises an interesting question that I suspect no one questions. Why do hunters have such a disproportional say in how our wildlife is managed in our state? Wildlife have a function in our environment other than something to shoot.

Our environment has been shaped and is shaped by the creatures that have and do inhabit our environment. Although, recently not so much. Mankind has so overtaken the role of top predator that it is assumed throughout the public that we don’t need a thriving balance of animals in our environment—except to harvest.

However much monies hunters and fisherman contribute to the dollars needed to preserve and protect our wildlife, should they who shoot our wildlife be the soul arbitrators of the rules pertaining to the conservation of wildlife? I don’t have an answer to this question, but we have set up the funding for our conservation of wildlife that it is so heavily paid for by stamps and licenses to hunters that they and the New York State of Environmental Conservation have come to believe that it must be only the hunter’s interests by which we judge how wildlife is controlled in our state.

As I say, it’s just something I’ve been thinking about and I don’t know the answer, but the question is intriguing to me.

"Update on Deer management in our area: Deer Management Plan Update. DEC continues to refine strategies and recommendations in development of a five-year deer management plan for New York State. We anticipate that the plan will be available for public review and comment by late May or early June. This time-frame will allow us to conclude a summary assessment of the pilot antler restriction program in the southern Catskills and address the future of mandatory antler restrictions in the pilot area and elsewhere in the deer management plan. Recently, several erroneous claims have circulated in some New York hunting blogs, online forums and news articles, implying that DEC intends to shut down the pilot antler restriction program regardless of hunter interests. These claims have no base. DEC does not have pre-determined intentions for the pilot antler restriction program but will use results of the summary assessment to help determine the future of the program. Review preliminary information about the deer management plan and a description of the antler restriction issue in New York. " New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Nuclear power is dangerous

 

Nuclear power is dangerous regardless of all the babble from the lobbyists in Washington.  Is our wasteful energy way of life worth the kind of exceptional fallout from a nuclear power disaster that we are forever promised won’t go wrong? 

When we don’t dramatically increase renewable energy like wind power and solar and don’t change our lust for energy, we allow this dangerous energy source to put ourselves and our environment in peril.  This should not have happened, but it did:

U.S. Rushes Freshwater To Japan Nuclear Plant : NPR "U.S. naval barges loaded with freshwater sped toward Japan's overheated nuclear plant on Saturday to help workers struggling to stem a worrying rise in radioactivity and remove dangerously contaminated water from the facility. Workers at the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi plant have been using seawater in a frantic bid to stabilize reactors overheating since a tsunami knocked out the complex's crucial cooling system March 11, but fears are mounting about the corrosive nature of the salt in the water. " March 26, 2011)  Environment : NPR

Friday, March 25, 2011

High Speed Rail and our environment on the rails:

 

It’s too bad that yet again the tragedy of our economy is being used as an opportunity to gut our environmental monitoring (the massive cuts in the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency (not to mention the attacks on public broadcasting, which is one of our last hopes of getting objective and what is left of investigative environmental reporting) and now our hopes for high speed rail are on the rails. High speed rail across New York State will move folks out of their vehicles (and off the gas lines to come) into a more efficient and environmentally friendly mode of travel across our state.

Instead of a viable future where we curb greenhouse gases that are causing Climate Change and reduce particulates in our air from burning fossil fuels, it looks like we will continue to spend billions on roads and bridges that support a transportation system that is unsustainable. Though gasoline driven vehicular transportation is too expensive in every sense of the word, our present financial uproar will favor those with an interest in keeping the status quo, rather than everyone else and our environment.

We can use this attack against high speed rail (and we can add the attacks against off-shore wind projects) to use as markers, or points, where major steps were taken to reduce our collective chance of survival in a world that is warming up and our environment falling down.

Congressman Reed asks government to abandon high speed rail - Canandaigua, NY - MPNnow Rochester, N.Y. — Congressman Tom Reed, R-Corning, is urging Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to abandon plans for a high speed rail line for New York State. “In times of national financial crisis, we simply cannot support this expenditure of precious tax dollars on a project that will not be financially viable in the long-term,” Reed wrote in a letter to LaHood that was co-signed by Congresswoman Ann Marie Berkley. (March 25, 2011) Home - Canandaigua, NY - MPNnow [more on Transportation in our area]

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Our forests and Climate Change:

 

How will our region’s forest change because of Climate Change?  This principle, that Climate Change will change everything, must be kept in mind as we seek to preserve and protect our environment, including our forests.  While we are trying to keep our forests healthy, in the ways that we always have, we will also have to do so while Climate Change is occurring. 

Preserving species, halting invasive species, controlling forest fires, harvesting trees, and much more will have to be accomplished and goals adjusted because our forests will never be the same.  Regardless of what we do, our forests will be changing to adjust to Climate Change. 

If we began addressing Climate Change (change how we get energy and change to public transportation), we would have a much better chance of saving our forests. 

Expanding Forests in the Northern Latitudes "According to a recent United Nations report, forested areas in Europe, North America, the Caucasus, and Central Asia have grown steadily over the past two decades. While tropical areas have steadily lost their forests to excessive logging and increased agriculture, northern areas have seen increases caused by conservation efforts. However, the long-term health and stability of northern forest lands may be imperiled by the effects of climate change. " (March 23, 2011) Environmental News Network -- Know Your Environment

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Reassessing our energy options:

 

In a time of a nuclear power issue in Japan, and a heighten awareness of nuclear power in the US; it is time to question all our energy assumptions.  Minor adjustments, as in tweaking the system here with more regulations and better responses there for more emergency measures, is not enough.  We need to look at our energy options wholesale and ask some important questions: 

How much energy do we need?  Do we need so much energy that we are willing to put our environment at the kind of risk nuclear power puts us in?  Do we dislike wind power so much that we are willing to jeopardize our future with fossil fuels and dangerous energy like nuclear? 

Do we have time, in the light of rapidly increasing Climate Change, to appease every concern over wind tower and solar panel placement before we move to a clean, renewable energy system?  Doesn’t it seem strange that we have so honed our need for more energy that we must constantly check our land, water, and air to make sure they haven’t been contaminated by our power sources? 

Assemblywoman wants iodine pills distributed within 30 miles of Indian Point| ALBANY – State Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera (D-Bronx) wants radiation-blocking iodine pills to be made available to all New Yorkers within 30 miles of the Indian Point nuclear power plants immediately. The lawmaker, who is a member of the Assembly Health Committee, called Friday for the pills one week after the earthquake, tsunami and resultant nuclear power plant crisis in Japan. (March 19-20) New York State News on the Net!

We are betting that oil, gas, coal, and nuclear power will not compromise our own future and our children’s future because we won’t step back and question how we get our energy. 

Does even the remote possibility of a nuclear issue in our area urge us to rethink our energy options? 

Time and time again, when disasters reveal how little control we have over our present energy sources, we simply make a few adjustments and go on.  Is this a rationale way to address our energy needs when we know how much of an impact fossil fuels and nuclear power have on our environment?  What is certain is that our issues with our energy options won’t go away because we make a few minor changes and forget all about them until the next disaster.

As interest in nuclear power grows, concerns remain - Albany Metro, NY Local News "Laura Haight’s first job out of college was with a now-defunct group called the Sierra Club Radioactive Waste Campaign. The group opposed nuclear power, largely because of unanswered questions over how to safely dispose of the radioactive waste generated by nuclear power plants. That was more than 20 years ago, when the controversy over nuclear power and where to put the waste was at its height. " (March 13, 2011)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The public doesn’t fully appreciate the bargain they are making with the devils of pollution, radiation, and Climate Change.

 

Why should the energy we use cost us so many lives and heat our planet to the boiling point? Remember also, in the long term many of the fossil fuels kill thousands over the years from particulates in the air and increasing ground-level ozone.

Charting the Human Cost of Different Types of Energy - ProPublicaSince this time last year, we’ve seen a deadly mine disaster [1], the worst oil spill in U.S. history [2], and now a nuclear crisis in Japan [3]. That got us wondering—how does one compare or quantify the human cost of different sources of energy? As it turns out, a Swiss research organization, the Paul Sherrer Institute, has been doing just that. Using data from the institute, we pulled together a few visualizations. March 18, 2011) ProPublica

Despite the attempt by environmentalist and renewable energy companies, this assumption that we have to use dirty and dangerous energy to survive continues without so much as a mention that it does not have to be this way.

The Sierra Club, for example, presents an entirely different scenario for our future than an acceptance and assumption that millions must die so we can have energy:

“We can build an unprecedented coalition of workers, non-profits and businesses to retrofit our inefficient buildings, construct new low-carbon structures, modernize our energy grid, push for laws requiring energy utilities to provide greater percentages of electricity from renewable sources, and allow companies and consumers to earn money from saving energy or generating clean power.” Clean Energy Solutions - Sierra Club

Why is it that rather than change our ways, will accept without question the dismal scenario that we can only have oil, coal, and nuclear power and all that comes with them for our future energy needs?

They say that wind and solar, which is just a small percent of our energy mix (1% wind, 1% solar), cannot do the job. But, they’ve hardly been given these renewable a chance because wind farms are constantly being fought for aesthetic reasons and solar dismissed because we don’t get enough sunshine in Rochester, NY—even though our airport just put up many of them and will reduce energy costs?

They say that renewable energy cannot survive without giant subsidies from the government even though we give billions of tax breaks to oil companies.

They say that when the wind does blow we cannot get energy and when the sun isn’t shining we cannot get power, when we know that battery storage (maybe even warming water, which is a form of energy storage) can change this equation. Also, because wind and solar power can be localized, these renewable energy sources can often be onsite instead of being put on the grid and losing much of their power in long transmission lines.

Despite the many disaster associated with our present form of energy supplies we will not move to renewable energy, we will fight every attempt to construct wind farms, we will fight subsidies for any renewable energy sources, and we will embrace a plan for our future that means putting our environment and our health at the very edge of survival.

Large majority says nuclear energy is safe | Rochester Business Journal New York business news and information More than eight in 10 respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll say nuclear power is safe. And more than half think it is very safe. The poll was conducted as the Japanese government declared an emergency at one of the country’s nuclear power plants and ordered thousands evacuated after Friday’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami shut down its reactors. Emergency workers were forced to leave the nuclear power plant when radiation levels soared. (March 19, 2011) Home | Rochester Business Journal New York business news and information

Besides the overwhelming amount of money thrust into the media’s hands to support oil, coal, and nuclear to reinforce that these energy forms are safe and clean, there are probably a zillion psychological reasons why we hold to such a dismal future of death and destruction. We are used to the way things are. We don’t like change. We can’t imagine doing with less energy, when we want even more. We don’t believe in Climate Change because our media isn’t constantly reminding us that Climate Change is happening. We believe that in life there is a certain amount of risk and danger we have to accept because that is the way it has always has been.

But if we don’t change our ways, we really will be more than just inconvenienced with occasional nuclear fallout, sporadic oil spills, or periodic mine disasters. Oil, coal, and nuclear power are factoring into our very ability to survive because they are warming the planet or so potentially dangerous, as in nuclear power, that our ecologies will be disrupted for centuries. Climate Change and nuclear radiation will present an inconvenience us on a scale never before experienced by humanity.

Our officials say there is only a ‘slim’ change of a nuclear disaster here in the Rochester, NY region. But there shouldn’t be any.

Officials: Slim chance of nuclear leak at Ginna - Greece, NY - Greece Post Webster, N.Y. — With the unfolding nuclear disaster in Japan, northeastern Monroe County residents are reminded of the nuclear energy in their own backyard. The Ginna Nuclear Power Plant is just miles from the county border, putting Webster and Penfield residents within a 10-mile emergency zone if tragedy were to strike the plant. Although scientists have found a fault line running beneath Lake Ontario, plant officials say the Ontario plant is not in danger of being damaged by the magnitude of quakes that shook Japan last week. On Wednesday, a 4.7-magnitude quake struck about 300 miles away in Canada — near the same spot that a quake rumbled last June, shaking Rochester. Scientists have also found a fault line running through Lake Ontario. (March 18, 2011) Homepage - Greece, NY - Greece Post

Friday, March 18, 2011

Useful information by the NYS Health Department about radiation from nuclear power plants.

 

But we wouldn’t need this kind of stuff if we moved full force towards renewable energy.  If we stopped blocking major wind project, including the Great Lakes Off-Shore Wind project (GLOW), if we made permitting easy for solar and wind construction, if we increase funding for battery storage (oil industry gets billions of subsidies); and if we conserved energy (absolutely no one anywhere is suggesting that folks cut back on using energy);  we wouldn’t have to live with the constant fear and vigilance that living next to nuclear plants mean. 

We shouldn’t have to live this way; there are other options, but we act as if nuclear power points were a fact and fixture of nature.  They are not.  They are putting us in jeopardy because of Murphy’s Law :

“It is found that anything that can go wrong at sea generally does go wrong sooner or later, so it is not to be wondered that owners prefer the safe to the scientific.... Sufficient stress can hardly be laid on the advantages of simplicity. The human factor cannot be safely neglected in planning machinery. If attention is to be obtained, the engine must be such that the engineer will be disposed to attend to it” Murphy's law - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

You shouldn’t have to take iodine pills just to live in your own home near an energy facility.   

OK, here what you need to know because we live near a nuclear plant:

State Health Department Addresses Questions on Radiation Impact from Japan Nuclear Plants "ALBANY, N.Y. (March 17, 2011) - In the wake of last Friday's major earthquake and ensuing tsunami that damaged several nuclear power plants in Japan, State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, M.D., M.P.H., is reassuring New Yorkers today that no U.S. states are expected to experience harmful levels of radiation. In addition, the New York State Department of Health (DOH) is providing the following information to address concerns about health and safety related to radiation. What is the expected impact in the United States? A number of federal agencies, including the Department of Energy (DOE), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) are continually monitoring radiation levels of air, drinking water, milk and precipitation across the country. This nationwide monitoring network, RadNet, will alert the agencies to any changes in radiation levels. Additional monitoring sites in Hawaii, Alaska and Guam have also been added in the wake of the evolving situation in Japan. At this time, no U.S. states are expected to experience harmful levels of radiation. DOH also conducts routine air monitoring for radioactivity and will be able to detect any changes in radiation levels in New York State. " (March 17, 2011) New York State Department of Health

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Energy options and the big lie

 

Do we really have no “workable alternatives” to coal, oil, and nuclear power for our energy needs”? While the tragedy of nuclear power rages on in Japan, the media and our politicians are avoiding the recent catastrophes from each of the major power sources.

Three of the world’s chief sources of large-scale energy production — coal, oil and nuclear power — have all experienced eye-popping accidents in just the past year. The Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion in West Virginia, the Deepwater Horizon blowout and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the unfolding nuclear crisis in Japan have dramatized the dangers of conventional power generation at a time when the world has no workable alternatives able to operate at sufficient scale. (March 13, 2011) “U.S. Nuclear Industry Faces New Uncertainty” New York Times

This dependency on coal, oil, and nuclear power, though widely held as gospel, it is merely an assumption—not a fact. There are other major workable alternatives to coal and oil: renewable energy from wind, solar, and wave power with battery backup and conservation thrown into the mix.

To state emphatically and assume that our only real options for energy are only those tied with dangerous technologies and those which pollute and warm our atmosphere is disingenuous and false. We are not. We have merely allowed those with the most money and political clout to force their assumptions on us. Solar and wind power can do the job. Renewable energy in the form of solar and wind in combination of conservation measures and increased battery storage capacity have long been mentioned as an alternative to our energy needs. But those in power, those in government and corporations, don’t want to hear it.

We have been failed by an economic and corporate power structure bent on preserving their interests, instead of ours. We subsidize the oil industry with tax incentives and we place innumerable barriers on wind and solar production. Wind power in our region is fought desperately by shoreline property owners for aesthetic reasons and the media never mentions Climate Change and renewable energy options during these outbursts.

While we are at it: We should also question the question itself: Do we need all this energy? We need a healthy environment—no, ifs, ands, or buts. But we can reassess our energy dependency. We can conserve. We already accept more than 30,000 highway deaths in the U.S. because we won’t move to safer alternatives to the personal vehicle and consider alternative transportation options like public transportation, bicycling, and walking. But should we continue to accept the catastrophes like what is occurring in Japan as a fact of life? It’s not. A fact of life is that our environment is crucial and without a healthy environment every else cannot happen.

However much we continue to link our fate to these very dangerous and powerfully backed energy options, there is a higher force. That force is Nature, the laws of physics, which as it seems we have not learned very well. We cannot produce coal and oil and nuclear power safely and in such a way that they don’t pollute and warm up our planet. This is the fact that our media should be addressing, not that coal, oil, and nuclear power are our only options we have. Despite all evidence to the contrary, despite all the damage to our environment, all the misery that these energy forms have wrought, coal, oil, and nuclear, we continue believe falsely that technicians can handle dirty and dangerous energy.

With the tragedy in Japan, we must stop and question all our assumptions about energy. How much do we need? How much can we conserve? How much it will take to put us on a renewable path for clean and safe energy?

We’ve been hearing that now, when nuclear power is reeling under the force of this tragedy, that this is not the time to question the viability of nuclear power or determine our energy policy. Well.., when would one try and question nuclear power and our energy policy? When the public, with their short attention span on catastrophes, forget the all the hubris and lies about the safety and cleanness of our present energy equation?

There are other options that won’t lead us to destruction and we must entertain them. The longer renewable energy options are ignored and nothing but the prevailing emphasis on oil coal and nuclear reign it will be harder and harder to move to a renewable energy position because there are forces (climate Change and pollution) that cannot be undone.

The big lie is that we are stuck with coal, oil, and nuclear whether we like them or not.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Will Japan’s nuclear power disaster mean more solar power in Rochester region?

 

One has to wonder if the one-in-a-million disaster scenario occurring in Japan with their nuclear plants and the major earthquake will wake up area communities to the dangers of nuclear power.

Second Explosion at Reactor as Technicians Try to Contain Damage - NYTimes.com TOKYO — A second explosion rocked a troubled nuclear power plant Monday, blowing the roof off a containment building but not harming the reactor inside, while cooling systems failed at a third reactor, Japanese officials said. (March 14, 2011) The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia

Though we here don’t have a major earthquake fault running through Rochester, we are not immune to the other environmental and health issues which are always a concern with nuclear power. Nuclear power, which to many people may seem like a real solution to our energy needs and curbing greenhouse gases, is not benign or cheap. Our media fails to focus on the real and present danger nuclear power presents.

Environmental Thoughts - Rochester, NY: No nuclear problems in the local media: When you watch the local news everyday as I do, a curious fact surfaces. Despite all the news about hydrofracking and the turbulence of wind power in our area, one rarely hears a peep about nuclear energy. I can understand why a lot of groups would want to suppress news about local nuclear power issues (because it becomes a convenient default energy source when they fight renewable energy and say they care about Climate Change), but I don’t understand why our local press doesn’t monitor what is going on with nuclear power more closely. Maybe, they are afraid they’ll sound like Chicken Little by raising the specter of Chernobyl at even the mentioning of a nuclear problem—I don’t really know the reason.

At present there is no great rush to get solar power going in our area. (This is not a non sequitur to the Japan nuclear disaster.) These incidents are related because when we don’t encourage safe renewable energy, we must use dangerous and polluting energy. As far as I know, there are little financial incentives to employ solar power in our region. But we should be asking: What incentives or barriers do we put on the safest energy source possible? Here’s an example of what other communities practice on encouraging safe energy:

Permit fees for solar panels vary across San Luis Obispo County - Local - SanLuisObispo.com Sierra Club, which conducted the survey, wants local governments to charge only enough to cover costs | A survey of local governments in San Luis Obispo County by the Sierra Club shows a wide variation in permit fees charged to businesses to install solar power. Volunteers with the club surveyed all seven municipalities as well as the county to determine how much the fees would be to install 131 kilowatts of photovoltaic panels on the roof of a business. They determined that the fee would range from $273 in Atascadero to $31,548 in Morro Bay.  (March 8, 2011)  San Luis Obispo County News, Sports, Weather, Business News | The Tribune

We may feel secure that our nuclear plants are not threatened by what’s going in Japan. But how many warnings must we get that the nuclear power leaves no margin of human error, no mercy for the unexpected forces of Nature, a business that tends not be as forthcoming about all the problems if faces as it should, and a media disinclined to pro-actively check to see if our local nuclear power is as safe as we assume?

NRC sees no radiation danger here from Japanese nuclear plants WASHINGTON DC - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is coordinating with the Department of Energy and other federal agencies in providing whatever assistance the Japanese government requests as they respond to conditions at several nuclear power plant sites following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The NRC has sent two boiling-water reactor experts to Japan as part of a U.S. Agency for International Development team. March 14, 2011) New York State News on the Net!

Before we settle down and become satisfied that nothing like what is going on in Japan could happen here, check out some of my past essays on regional nuclear power issues that have not been well covered locally:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Rochester’s environment, hydrofracking, and the elephant

 

A critical mass of local interest foreshadows some great debates in the Rochester, NY region on hydrofracking. Check the Rochester Environment.com Calendar for up and coming hydrofracking events. Rochester is not strictly speaking in the Marcellus Gas Shale. But Hemlock Lake is--where we get a lot of our drinking water. And, the Genesee River runs through it.

Whatever your position, hydrofracking is a hot topic and getting hotter. In the upcoming months, you’re going to see many events cropping up about hydrofracking, including private showings and discussions of the film “Gasland.”

"The largest domestic natural gas drilling boom in history has swept across the United States. The Halliburton-developed drilling technology of "fracking" or hydraulic fracturing has unlocked a "Saudia Arabia of natural gas" just beneath us. But is fracking safe?” Gasland: A film by Josh Fox

Rochester area environmental groups and individuals are concerned about the possible health effects of ‘secret’ hydrofracking fluids. This presents a conundrum because we don’t know what chemicals are being used to blast through near-by shale deposits or in what amounts to determine local health. What would seem to be a reasonable request by a region’s community to find out what these potentially harmful chemicals are is in truth being treated as a suspicious attempt to crack industry’s special formulas and rob them of their livelihood.

So, discovering the information we need to know before determining the possible health effects of hydrofracking in our area is not going to happen. The fracking business is mum. Those seeking such corporate secrets are going to have to stop worrying their pretty little heads. We must trust that this industry will always follow environmental laws, never allow our drinking water to catch on fire, and are cetain that all their spent fracking fluid will do no harm to our rivers or waste water treatment plants.

But wait, there’s more: There are also concerns about increased truck traffic on our exhausted roads and bridges that this deluge of natural gas drilling will bring. Then there’s the fact that many Rochester-area residents have homes and cottages in the affected regions. I’ve only scratched the surface of how deeply controversial this issue is becoming within our region, but you can get a sense of the other issues here: Natural Gas Hydro-Fracking in Shale - Citizens Campaign for the Environment

Yet, despite all the clamor over hydrofracking, there is little concern about the elephant in the room: how drilling for more fossil fuel will increase the effects of Climate Change. No kidding, the most important environmental issue of our times, our planet’s atmosphere warming up because of human activity (like drilling for natural gas), has been side-stepped because of a variety of neat excuses. Those who argue that natural gas burns cleaner and isn’t as bad as coal and oil as an energy source are probably correct—as far as they go. And, those who argue that natural gas is a transitional energy must show that renewable energy and conservation are part of the deal. But meanwhile, Climate Change is ramping up and it’s doing so every day:

Ice sheets melting faster than earlier estimates The vast ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are melting faster than previously estimated and that melting is accelerating, according to a new report that verifies 18 years of melting via two independent techniques. Left unchecked, the extra water dumped into the oceans could push average global sea level six inches higher by 2050, the report finds. That would mark the ice sheets - defined as expanses of deep, long-term ice larger than 20,000 square miles - as the largest contributors to sea level rise, outstripping melting from Earth's other frozen reservoirs, namely mountain glaciers. (March 9, 2011) Washington Post

Somehow, we’ve put aside the fact that natural gas is a greenhouse gas. I guess, besides the Climate-Change-denier syndrome tearing across our country, Climate Change is perceived as irrelevant to this discussion.

Talking about and including Climate Change in every discussion about energy production should be the way we adults address environmental issues. In the 1700’s, we couldn’t say that slaves had as much intelligence and potential as the white man, even though it was the truth. It took a lot of fighting and unimaginable sacrifice and heroism just to expose the obvious: people of all colors are the same and have the same rights. Please. People are people.

Why do we have to continually thrash out our energy problems without addressing the most important issue? Climate Change isn’t something you can get over. We may want more energy, but we cannot survive in a Venus-like atmosphere.

Hence, it doesn’t matter if natural gas is cleaner and isn’t as potent a greenhouse gas emitter as coal or oil. We are already past what climate scientists figure is a safe concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere; we need to back up. Levels of carbon dioxide are over 390ppm and soaring. We need to go back to an atmosphere of at most 350ppm of carbon dioxide. Fixating on natural gas won’t get us there. It’s the wrong conversation.

The right conversation should be about renewable energy like solar and wind, not whether hydrofracking will affect our drinking water. At long last, we shouldn’t even be considering drilling for gas—even if the drilling process is cleaner than a surgeon’s scalpel.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Jobs vs. our environment:

 

This strange route to get more jobs in Pennsylvania by streamlining (gutting) their environmental staff and regulations is more bad ideology over science.  Yes, we need jobs.  But, this proposal in Pennsylvania for “cuts in environmental protection and permitting as one way to save money” is not the rational way to create more jobs. 

The right way should be to create more jobs by increasing our environmental protection and monitoring all that is going on.  We could create a zillion new jobs by removing all protecting agencies—this is not rocket science. 

We could remove all police and let everyone do everything.  We could even remove governors and all state representative and let corporations and anyone really just go hog wild. 

If your goal is to only create jobs and nothing else; let our environment warm up and get polluted; that’s not hard to do. 

What’s hard is to not let a political party with a maniacal agenda and corporations (who only care about giving their shareholders return on their investments) to run free over our ability to have a democracy and a healthy environment.  

Why do we let these people into our government who are not acting in our best interest? 

Trust me, no matter how much lipstick you put on a pig it’s still a pig: ““Regulatory Reform: Friction-free processes for government interaction with job creators are critical to maintain economic momentum and competitiveness...”  Read on:

PA Environment Gets the Axe – Environmental Permitting To Be Streamlined - ProPublica "A budget proposal [1] released today by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett emphasizes jobs creation and looks to cuts in environmental protection and permitting as one way to save money. It will take some time to wade through the 1,184-page document—we’ll post a more complete story tomorrow. But a quick glance shows that the Department of Environmental Protection will face reduced funding across the board, including in its water safety and water treatment programs. " (March 8, 2011) ProPublica

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Find out how Rochesterians are thinking about our environment:

 

This poll by the Rochester Business Journal offers some insight as to how area folks are thinking about hydrofracking, but it also is a measure of how convinced folks are about Climate Change. 

Even if drilled with no contamination to our drinking water, burning natural gas for decades to come is still burning fossil fuels and adding greenhouse gases to our atmosphere. 

Those who argue for hydrofracking and don’t consider Climate Change are another measure that many don’t ‘get it’ on Climate Change. 

If we aren’t basing our energy decision on Climate Change, we are not facing reality.  

Majority favors hydraulic fracking if it is ruled safe | Rochester Business Journal New York business news and information The majority of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll favor use of high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus shale, a formation extending deep underground from Ohio and West Virginia into southern New York. By 57 percent to 43 percent, readers favor the process, with 31 percent endorsing the condition that the state Department of Environmental Conservation conduct a comprehensive review and analysis to determine its safety.  (March 4, 2011) Home | Rochester Business Journal New York business news and information [more on Energy

What actions by Rochesterians will work for our environment:

 

Many ideas about curbing greenhouse gases in our region go unheeded.  Attempts to get folks to buy more energy efficient fuel vehicles are dismissed and the car companies say it’s too expensive.  Trying to get the public to bicycle or walk for those short distances from their home (6.5) that constitutes most of our travels just get ignored. 

Transportation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), accounts for 27% of greenhouse gas emission, which is a major factor in human-cause Climate Change. 

So, you’d think folks would consider that when they climb in their car to go to the corner store.  But, they don’t.  Climate Change and the long-term affect of how it will affect our environment has no more affect on many people’s behavior that last year’s birds nest. 

But changing gas prices will.  After a certain point, $3.50 a gallon, $4.00 a gallon, or $5.00 a gallon people will think twice about using their car when they could use a bicycle or walk.  Or, if the gas prices get too dear, many will buy a house closer to their work. 

Or, maybe if things get really tight many will start voting for politicians who promise a strong public transportation system. 

It’s too bad we have to wait for oil prices to climb through the roof before folks start doing the sensible thing and move away from using fossil fuel.  Yet, in American the price of a thing seems to have far more effect than its reasonableness.

Prices at Rochester-area gas pumps skyrocket | Democrat and Chronicle | democratandchronicle.com Less money in your pockets and fewer thoughtless trips around town. That's what a 16-cent rise in gasoline prices this week will mean for many people, as the average price of regular in the Rochester area hit $3.59 a gallon. "The general rule of thumb when it comes to rising gas prices is drivers start to change their behaviors once it hits around $3.50," said Shaun Seufert, a spokesman for the AAA of Western & Central New York, which monitors prices. At the $3.50 mark, consumers tend to consolidate trips, search out the best price and, if they have a choice of vehicles, rely on the one that uses less gas, he said.  (March 5, 2011)  Democrat and Chronicle | Rochester news, community, entertainment, yellow pages and classifieds. Serving Rochester, New York | democratandchronicle.com

Why Rochesterians don’t believe in Climate Change

 

Corporate%20Profit%20RobotEnvironmentalists, in their efforts to develop strategies that will work, entertain many notions about why most American don’t believe in Climate Change. Some say that it’s about denial: The dire consequences of Climate Change are so overwhelming that many Americans deal with it by not dealing with it. Go on a vacation, switch channels, or go see a new flick. The will not to believe.

Others think Climate Change avoidance continues despite all evidence that it’s as true as gravity because of corporate influence peddling. This view is that the new ruling by the Supreme Court, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and the proliferation of corporate money in our politics rules. That’s pretty scary considering that corporations have only one true value—making sure that they make a profit for their shareholders. To get a sense of the gravity and preponderance of this pernicious influence in our alleged democracy check out:

Citizens United vs FEC “The movie explores the history of the American corporation and corporate political spending, the appropriate roles of citizens and for-profit corporations in a democracy and the toxic impact the Citizens United decision has already had on our political process. It ends with a call to amend the U.S. Constitution to confirm that people—not corporations—make the decisions in a democracy.” The Story of Citizens United v. FEC: Why Democracy Only Works When People Are in Charge

Then there’s a new study by the University of Michigan that suggests one’s political party affiliations are the greatest factor in whether or not you believe in Climate Change:

“In the United States an individual’s partisan affiliation is the most important determinant of their views on the existence of global warming, with Democrats significantly more likely than Republicans to believe that the Earth is warming” Climate Compared: Public Opinion on Climate Change in the United States and Canada | Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy

This study is amazing when you think about it, as it demonstrates how powerful partisan beliefs affect our powers of reason.  Why would the science of Climate Change, the physics of how our planet’s long-term weather works, be believed by members of one political party more than another?  The answer might seem obvious to you, but it might be worth considering for a few minutes since Climate Change will affect the rest of our existence.  The planet is warming up due to man’s behavior and a sizable part of our population just doesn’t buy it because their political party doesn’t like it?  "Curiouser and curiouser."

Who knows why a majority of Americans refuse to recognize Climate Change and have no intention of doing anything about it. Whatever the reason, some solution must be found. Maybe some Americans are just waiting for that ole American spirit to kick in: When Hitler invaded Poland and Great Britain went to war (Sunday 3rd September 1939), Americans refused to join believing for a variety of reasons that it wasn’t our war. And so the refusal to think we were a part of this war (despite Lend-Lease) went on until the attack on Pearl Harbor. Then, on December 7th, 1941 Americans joined the war. We pulled together a vast military machinery from (almost) scratch and went on to win the war.

Perhaps this is what many American are thinking will happen with Climate Change. We’ll have a great silent debate amongst ourselves for years and years, and then, when we cannot avoid it anymore, we’ll charge in.

But by the time Americans reach this point of absolute certainty, many tipping points will have passed, and what we will be able to do will be limited—maybe even impossible. Alice (of Wonderland fame) liked to do many impossible things before breakfast; we in the real world won’t have our fantasies to save us. When animals go extinct and our atmosphere heats up, we will be limited by the laws of physics—not by how much fire power we can muster.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Will the media be able to do their job anymore?

 

When major news media does a series of investigative stories that concern our environment, it demonstrates what mainstream media should be doing all the time. 

But, the times have changed and it is difficult for any news agency to do a long-term investigation that may butt up against power and tell truth about a type of industry that is thriving and powerful. 

Drilling for natural gas by hydrofracking could be an economic boon and a salvation for our domestic security because it offers a major energy source that isn’t on foreign soil. 

So, unless we have a strong media to question the environmental components and political background of this issue, we must make environmental decisions without full and accurate information.  This series of stories (see below) by the New York Times demonstrates the kind of information our region needs to get a full picture of what hydrofracking will entail. 

But in the Great Recession, as the media changes, I predict we will see less of these in-depth investigative stories not more.   Money is tight.  Only the largest media and economically sound media can do this kind of work, and they are dwindling.  How will we as a society keep ourselves informed, which means pro-activity monitoring our environment, as the media is changing? 

Check out this important series by the NYT and encourage them and all media to do more:

Drilling Down - Series - The New York Times "Articles in the Drilling Down series from The New York Times examine the risks of natural-gas drilling and efforts to regulate this rapidly growing industry. " The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Pretty loony study:

 

When you think about this study, where American are asked if they think our lead environmental agency should address air quality and Climate Change, you have to wonder what else is being studied. 

How about: Take a poll to find out whether Americans believe in gravity; Take a poll to find out if Americans think that only the very rich should have a decent living and the rest not so much; or, Take a poll and ask Americans if they think our air will get clean and our climate will stabilize and everything we dump or have dumped into our waters will just go away? 

This study (see below) is loony because no one in their right mind would think that removing the regulatory body on our environment will result in corporations acting responsibly and our environment remaining healthy. 

This is a poll to see if those who only care about their ideology, which doesn’t include Climate Change and environmental problems, can get away with pulling out all the stop gates on anyone, any business, doing anything they want in a world that is in serious environmental trouble.   Check out this film, and forget about loony polls: Call of Life.    

Poll, commissioned by ALA, shows support for EPA FARMINGDALE - A recent poll of over 1,000 conservative, moderate, and liberal registered voters responded that they highly value air quality and support the EPA moving forward with air pollution standards as well as moving forward with regulating climate change causing emissions. The same poll showed that “reducing regulations on businesses” was less important than clean air and water. (March 2, 2011) New York State News on the Net!

Staying informed on Climate Change locally:

 

As some political parties and many media do not really believe in Climate Change, because it disturbs their world view or their pocket book, it’s going to happen anyway, and it’s going to happen also in our region. 

So, how are you going to keep yourself informed in these bewildering times where ”the will not to believe” in science and physics rule our media and politics?  One place, of course, is RochesterEnvironment.com, and another is here:

Changing Climate "The OSU Climate Change Outreach Team is a partnership among multiple departments within The Ohio State University. The team’s goal is to help localize the climate change issue by bringing related research and resources to residents of Ohio and the Great Lakes region. "

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Tax Millionaires on Bikes.

 

One of the more cruel ideas coming out of today’s politics is this recent idea to force bicyclers to license their bikes and pay a yearly fee.  (See below)  Just like going after public union workers in Wisconsin, a segment of our political desperados are using the tactics of disaster capitalism to achieve their unsustainable world view.  

Political desperados take advantage of the economic turmoil they created.  The Great Recession was not caused by the unions but they are offered up to the altars of politician opportunism to pay with their livelihood because those who caused The Great Recession are insulated by wealth, power, and a great penchant for irrational cruelty. 

So, the cruel logic of these political desperados when state budgets tank is to go after your neighbors who have worked all their lives and their unions, which have radically changed your standard of living and gave the middle class a living wage.  

Unions, collective bargaining by workers, is the only barrier against those who would make children work, who would trash our environment if not forced by regulations not to, and who would put the god almighty dollar before all else.  Now, cruel politicians want to go after bicycles, which are for many the only viable transportation option in this region who cannot earn enough to ride the bus.

Owning a vehicle is out of the range of many who are desperate to work and survive in our area, and so they must depend on bicycles that have the same legal rights to be on our streets as cars. 

Many in this region are working hard to make bicycles a viable transportation option in our region by creating bicycle boulevards, bike lanes, and other measures to make our streets safer and environmentally friendly.   Bicycles do not emit greenhouse gases into our atmosphere and contribute to Climate Change—but vehicles do contribute 27% of those gases as stated by the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Already, in a depraved measure to give the rich several more years of a major tax break, the rich are insulated from the terror and turmoil most Americans are suffering in this Great Recession. 

Now, some politicians want to see just how far they can take their cruel advantage and political opportunities to whip up anger and hatred against those who did not cause the Great Recession.   They want to tax those whose only way to get around town is by bicycle. 

If only the millionaires rode their bicycles to work, this would be a great tax idea.  As it stands, requiring a license fee for bicycles owners is depraved indeed.   

License Plates...For Your Bike?? Two bills recently introduced in the state Assembly would require that all bikes in the state be registered each year and sport a license plate. AP) - It’s like your car’s license plate, but for your bike. Two bills recently introduced in the state Assembly would require that all bikes in the state be registered each year and sport a license plate. Assemblyman Michael DenDekker introduced the measures. (March 1, 2011) ROCHESTER'S NEWS LEADER NEWSRADIO 1180 WHAM