Saturday, December 29, 2012

Holding the Media accountable on Climate Change


OldMediaOf course ‘the media’ is not a single entity, but a bewildering mishmash of local print, digital editions, blogs, social media, and even email lists at the state, national and international levels. But despite the vast increase in the way news is being shaped today, many still believe that eventually the Truth will percolate up through this democratization of news. But for the public to navigate rapidity in a changing world the news must quickly tend towards an accurate model of reality or, like one of your senses, you’re in trouble. It’s why people get eye glasses.

How the media has handled the three-decade-old issue of human-caused Climate Change is like (using the eye-glasses analogy) wearing an old set of glasses even though your eyes are aging. You’re going to bump into things. We are bumping into extreme weather, longer growing seasons, and the migration of flora and fauna right under our feet, but are unable to see them as Climate Change through the lens of a media ill-adapted to seeing the long-term (in human time) and controversial (in political terms) physics of Climate Change.

A new report “Emerging Consensus Shows Climate Change Already Having Major Effects on Ecosystems and Species ” put out by the US Geological Society in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation and Arizona State University highlights how the media (and I think I can throw most ‘media’ into this gross generalization here) is ill-adapted to handle Climate Change. This report was released on December 18, 2012, which is long enough back to note that it has received little media attention. And even those media that do mention the report tend not to explain its importance.

It’s instructive, before mentioning the details of what’s in the report, to understand why it was written. This report is part of the federal obligation to report to the President and Congress on what has been learned thus far about Climate Change under the Global Change Research Act of 1990.

Federal law requires that the U.S. Global Change Research Program submit an assessment of climate change and its impacts to the President and the Congress once every four years. Technical reports, articles and books – such as this report -- underpin the corresponding chapters of the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment, due out in 2013. This technical report is available at the USGCRP website, as are other completed technical reports. Additional lead authors of this report include Shawn Carter, USGS: F. Stuart Chapin III, University of Alaska, Fairbanks; Peter Kareiva, The Nature Conservancy; and Mary Ruckelshaus, Natural Capital Project.

This report is an advanced release which will be part of this year’s Our Changing Planet (OCP), a series of official reports from 1991-2012 that include how these branches of government understand and will respond to Climate Change: Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of the Interior, Department of State, Department of Transportation, Department of Human Services, NASA, National Science Foundation, The Smithsonian Institution, US Agency for International Development, United States Department of Agriculture, and The Environmental Protection Agency.

The report says, among other things, that our “Biodiversity and ecosystems are already more stressed than at any comparable period of human history. “ If you cannot read the whole report, you should at least read these two pages (S-1 & S-2) Key Findings. When read and thought about objectively they provide a great insight into the nature of Climate Change and the level of human response needed. Clearly and officially, anything short of a massive effort to adapt to and mitigate Climate Change is irresponsible.

This report and the series of reports by our government and to our government on what is actually happening to our environment and what our government plans to do (despite all the hue and cry in the media) about Climate Change is not the usual stuff. These reports are not opinion polls, blog posts, local investigative reports, environmental action group reports, nor the studies of an international body not responsible to our government. They are official reports demanded by our own government so it can see Climate Change clearly. Astonishingly, the gulf between these official reports and what the media is reporting on our environment is wide indeed.

The media tends to report on polls of what the US population thinks of Climate Change at any one time, forever putting their finger to the wind to assess their journalistic objectivity. If they mention these reports at all, they tend to not connect the dots between what is stated and predicted in these official reports.

Why on an issue of physics, where we are all equal and subject to the same rules, is there such a deep chasm between what our government is telling itself about Climate Change and what our media is telling our citizens? Climate Change is like no other issue humanity has ever faced. Our media must change their role in our lives to reflect a world that is warming, no matter how unpleasant and inconvenient that may be to their subscribers.

That media which continues to spew doubt and inaction on a matter our government already understands as a clear and present danger should be held accountable. Accountable in the sense that you discard those old eyeglasses that no longer serve you well.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Towards a healthy environment yard by yard in a time of Climate Change

One of the assumptions that are used in Climate Change studies is that our present environment is healthy and should be used as a baseline for preserving into the future.

My guess is that this assumption is wrong and that our present environment is not healthy because of development in the New World since the arrival of the Europeans, where massive alterations to our environment—the destruction of wetlands, pollution, massive loss of biodiversity, and many more environmental issues—have put our environment in extreme stress.

One way to try and restore the abundance, resiliency, and healthiness of our present environment is to try—yard by yard—to restore our environment to a time before massive development. Of course, this will be impossible to achieve completely. But our environment 500 years ago is a more accurate example of a healthy environment than the present environment, which is challenged enough without the specter of Climate Change.

We really need a longer scope of our environmental past before we can project healthy environmental solutions for our future.

Nature knew what it was doing for four billion years. Human development in the past 500 years was not done so with environmental health in mind.

Here’s an example of how yard-by-yard might happen:

In Midwest, Bringing Back Native Prairies Yard by Yard Across the U.S. Midwest, homeowners are restoring their yards and former farmland to the native prairie that existed in pre-settlement days. The benefits can be substantial — maintenance that uses less water and no fertilizer, and an ecosystem that supports wildflowers and wildlife. David Read is a big guy, six-foot-two, but the grass behind him inches above the crown of his khaki fisherman’s hat. He gestures off toward his house across a swishing, dancing expanse of stems, leaves, and early-autumn wildflowers, and smiles. “We wanted to sit on our back porch and watch grass swaying in the wind,” he says. Which is exactly what it’s doing this September day, finally. It wasn’t always so. In the 1990s when he and his wife Alisande bought this property, 38 acres in exurban Dexter, Michigan, it was fallow farmland slowly succumbing to invasive shrubs. In 2003, after retiring, they set about restoring 11 acres of it to native prairie.  (December 24, 2012) Yale 360

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sending the Great Lakes over the cliff


GreatLakeDrIt’s hard to imagine an environmental region under more pressure from Climate Change than the Great Lakes. This series of five great lakes was gouged from the receding Laurentide Ice Sheet around 13,000 years ago. In that span, this 94,250 square mile watershed that has produced a healthy, abundant, and resilient ecology is in a lot of trouble. Trouble for us: those who live near it, bathe, drink, dump, fish, boat, and get a lot of our weather (lake-effect storms) from this massive hydrological system. Indeed, it’s hard to believe that in only five hundred years we have managed to screw up a system that contains 21% of the fresh water on the planet, but there you are.

Threatening the Great Lakes are invasive species (like the Asian carp and Zebra Mussels); pollution from combined sewer overflows, micro-beads of plastics, toxic algae, agricultural runoff (phosphorus from fertilizers), and pharmaceuticals (none of our wastewater treatment plants can filter out these drugs once they’ve passed through our bodies). And like a lot of other stuff, much of it ends up in the fish. One way to measure this threat is to measure what bioaccumulates inside Great Lakes fish. Read Up to the Gills: 2009 Update on Pollution in Great Lakes Fish, by Environmental Defence.

To get a visual on what’s stressing the Great Lakes check out this map, from a great new media out of Buffalo, the Investigative Post. If you live in the Rochester, NY area, take a close look at all the red on the map. Red, in this instance, is not a good thing. We’re in trouble.

But there are two other threats to our Great Lakes that will overshadow and ramp up the negative effects of all of the above threats: Water scarcity and Climate Change.

A beautifully crafted documentary Last Call at the Oasis “Illuminating the vital role water plays in our lives, exposing the defects in the current system and depicting communities already struggling with its ill-effects…“ gives you an overview of how fresh drinking water shortages around the world will change our lives because other folks are going to want our water. The Rochester Regional Group of the Sierra Club focused on water privatization at last year’s forum: 14th Annual Environmental Forum “Our Water’s Fragile Future: Hydrofracking, Climate Change, & Privatization.” (Check out the video of the forum.) They intend to continue this educational forum this year:

15th Annual Environmental Forum: Protecting the Great Lakes Forever |Thursday, April 25 (evening), with workshops on Friday, April 26 A stop on Maude Barlow’s “The Great Lakes Need Great Friends” US Tour Location(s) TBA |Join us to hear internationally renowned speaker, Maude Barlow on tour in support of her publication, “Our Great Lakes Commons: A People’s Plan to Protect the Great Lakes Foreverr.” This report is intended to serve as a background and a call to understanding and action on a new proposal to designate the Great Lakes and its tributary waters as a lived Commons, to be shared, protected, carefully managed and enjoyed by all who live around them. Maude is also the author of the highly-acclaimed book, “Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water.” | Please email Wayne Howard at  if your organization may be interested in partnering with us to plan or co-sponsor this high profile event!

After you get your head around water scarcity, examine how Climate Change will affect the Great Lakes. Check out this expert video that explains Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region by Dr. Donald Scavia with the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments Center and the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan. To get a quick look at how Climate Change will affect our area of the Great Lakes, read this two-page summary Region Impacts on New York Communities and Ecosystems which is a part of Confronting Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2003. For later reports check out: National Climate Assessment: Midwest Technical Input Report , International Upper Great Lakes Study, Great Lakes National Parks in Peril The Threats of Climate Disruption , and On Thin Ice: Warming Winters Put America’s Hunting and Fishing Heritage at Risk.

I know, it’s a lot of stuff to absorb. Probably take you hours, maybe days to get through it all. But there’s nothing for it as we’ve been letting this slide for a long, long time. Now we are going to have to solve all the various environmental issues in the Great Lakes while at the same time protecting our waters and doing all this as everything warms up. Sadly, we keep passing critical points for taking action on Climate Change (Forget About That 2-Degree Future), and instead of things getting better, they get worse. As I write, we’re about ready to throw the Great Lakes over a cliff, as it were, because of our politically manufactured fiscal cliff (Fiscal cliff could dump sewage into Great Lakes) is being given a higher priority.

But to prioritize fiscal health over our freshwater supply is whacky. If Climate Change is a “serious problem” to 68% of Americans, then they better start proving it.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Our media is evolving, hopefully in time


I’ve been writing and posting environmental stories on the Internet since the mid-1990’s. What’s most impressed me over that time is that our environmental information has vastly increased and our environment issues more dire (especially with Fracking and Climate Change).  But US mainstream media has been totally inept at keeping the public informed on why they need to pay attention to this information. 

Mainstream media doesn’t connect the dots between Climate Change and Fracking and environmental issues like plastics in our Great Lakes.  The editors of mainstream media are still operating on the model that the public has to be pandered to with nonsense they don’t need but make them feel good—sports scores and political shenanigans.  These editors have no idea of what objective journalism means on a planet that is warming.  They still think our environment just another special interest. 

I have been watching EcoWatch for some time and I believe they are an excellent example of the new media.  They know how to write articles full of links to backup points made and connect the dots to other environmental issues that are related.  They know how to include actions that folks can do, instead of being overwhelmed by the bad news.  They provide stories from experts from all fields. They know how to connect with social media and get folks moving.  

Our media needs to become more like EcoWatch and less like mainstream media because if we don’t we are going to become blind to the kind of consequences a deteriorating environment and Climate Change bring.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Climate Change is not just another business risk


KettleFishA couple of news stories this week focused on a new study that predicts hard times for winter tourism: Report: Climate Impacts on the Winter Tourism Economy in the United States. Last year’s warm Northeast winter must have given the winter tourism industry the jitters, which is odd because many Climate Change studies have been predicting warmer winters and less snowfall in the Northeast for quite some time:

  • “Outdoor recreation regions and communities dependent on natural resources may be negatively affected by higher temperatures and reduced snowfall or snowpack as the result of climate change. Communities in the Adirondacks region that depend on tourism associated with cold-water fisheries (e.g., trout) or wintertime snow-based activities (e.g., skiing and snowmobiling) may be particularly vulnerable.” (Page 68, Report 11-18 Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID) funded by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (2011))
  • “Communities whose economies depend on skiing and snowmobiling will be negatively affected by higher temperatures and reduced snowpack. Communities that depend on tourism associated with coldwater fisheries such as trout could be particularly vulnerable, although there could be increases in warmer water fish species that could help offset these losses.’ (Page 26, New York State Climate Action Council Climate Action Plan Interim Report New York State Climate Action Council Interim Report 11-9-10)
  • “Other activities are likely to be harmed by even small increases in warming, such as snow- and ice-dependent activities including skiing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing.” (Page 88, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States | The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP)  2009)

What’s tragic about this present focus on a billions-of-dollar a year industry, which includes skiing, skating, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and all the ancillary business associated with them, is that it’s probably too late to save them. Because of the lag-time associated with Climate Change, where the emissions of greenhouse gases stay in our atmosphere and oceans for many, many years, saving these winter businesses should have started long ago. That stored heat, as physics demands, must play out.

This explains the urgency behind the failed Climate Talks at Doha, Qatar last week. The efforts to keep global temperature at or below 2 degrees Celsius ended with only the extension of the Kyoto Protocol that the US didn’t even sign on to, and little more.

A series of reports released during the Doha talks said the world faced the prospect of 4 degrees Celsius (7.2F) of warming, rather than the 2 degree (3.6F) limit that nations adopted in 2010 as a maximum to avoid dangerous changes. (December 9, 2012) Reuters )

This high emissions scenario means that because we are not looking into the near future, but only at our immediate self-interests, it will be too late to stop the inevitable consequences of Climate Change. Like the Northeast winter industries, there will be a lot job losses, failed businesses, not to mention an accelerated warming that will ripple through all levels of our environment because we failed to act in time.

Some shrug this dreary scenario off by a slavish devotion to economics as it is practiced today. “Climate change is like any other business risk – it will create opportunities for some, misfortune for others.” (from Warmer winters threaten Northeast's smaller ski areas) Under a system of economics that only understands the environment as an externality, this is called creative destruction. Creative destruction is economics’ way of saying that you should be thankful to the drunk driver who ran over and paralyzed you because otherwise you wouldn’t have written that book about your experiences and made millions. (True, perhaps, but hopelessly depraved.)

What the idea that ‘Climate Change is just another business risk’ misses is…, well, everything. Climate Change isn’t just another risk; it’s a different kettle of fish altogether. When the whale oil industry, which slaughtered millions of the ocean’s keystone species for their oil to light our lamps, died at the beginning of the Civil War, the other kind of oil (from the ground) took off and now rules the world. Nice for fossil fuels: bad for the whale oil industry. But Climate Change isn’t like the switch from whale oil to petroleum. Climate Change, like a Biblical flood, will take everything in its path—animals, plants, businesses, water, air, agriculture, and our future. There’s no business model for that. There’s not even a nifty economic term for it. The 4 degree Celsius rise in global temperature by the end of this century that we are headed for is ‘uninhabitable’—a term that doesn’t ever appear in economics textbooks.

Keeping our global temperature at or below 2 degrees Celsius is the hard reality we are up against. Nothing short of it will do. Even creating cap and trade schemes, which pays bankers nicely, probably won’t work. Read Storms of My Grandchildren's Opa 13 December 2012 James Hansen. Or listen to this great podcast from Climate One: James Hansen Receives the Stephen Schneider Climate Science Communication Award. Dr. Hansen nails it.

No amount of denial, foot dragging, small efforts, despair, rationalization, dismissals, blame, or wild business-speak ideas will get the global temperatures back to the Holocene, where we thrived.

In the end of one of the articles I was reading this week on the possible collapse of the winter tourism industries, a commenter lamented, “Every week now, there’s at least one article on Climate Change. How about some real news?” Ya gotta laugh. Inept as many mainstream media outlets are today on covering Climate Change, they won’t be covering this issue less. More awakenings, like the winter tourism industry, are in the pipeline for the future.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Negative Climate Change positive feedback loops


NoArticYou have to appreciate the fantastic dissonance this week caused by the juxtapositioning of the ho-hum Doha Climate talks and the rapid melting of the Arctic. On the one hand you have a major Climate talk failing to deliver action (yet again) on Climate Change. And, on the other, you have a major feature of our planet disappearing before the very eyes of our satellites because of our inaction. This dysfunctional absurdity of ours got me thinking about positive feedback loops.

A positive feedback loop occurs when stuff happens in sync with the stuff that’s already happening, increasing the likelihood that the stuff will happen even more. Scientist use these ‘loops’ to explain the phenomenon of accelerated anthropogenic warming that is melting Arctic ice, which in turn will warm our planet’s atmosphere even more because the reflective surface of ice —the albedo effect--will soon be replaced by dark ocean, which absorbs heat.

How did we get to this bottleneck in our history where our actions have actually threatened our environment and we cannot find it in ourselves to solve this problem? Perhaps, like the natural mechanisms that cause Climate Change, we ourselves create positive feedback loops in our own systems that cause us to become less aware of our human-caused planetary threat.

Oh, I forgot, there’s another critical part of the positive feedback loop, the Butterfly Effect. A slight disturbance in the initial stages of a system can turn out to be quite dramatic later on. For example, in our artificially-crafted economic models we chose not to include environmental resources or damages (externalities). Centuries ago, there seemed to be no limit to the amount of food and water provided by Nature and no limit to the amount of stuff we could throw into our land, water, and air without it coming back to bite us. But now we know that to be complete and utter nonsense. Our environment that evolved over many billions of years is extremely sensitive to every perturbation—the emitting of heat trapping gases being but one of them. This small oversight has created an environmental juggernaut, and our notions of exceptionalism (see below) won’t let us entertain a carbon tax.

Our media, the system tasked with informing us about what’s going on, has created another positive feedback loop together with our own interesting butterfly effect. The ‘butterfly’ is our disinclination to hear stuff we don’t want to hear. If you only listen to a media that only presents you with a world that panders to your beliefs and desires, then you not only miss stuff, but fail to interpret events in a rational way. For example, if you only listen to FOX News, you’ll think all the evidence from around the world that our atmosphere is warming is a ‘commie plot’ or a hoax. You’ll tend to think the real deciding factor ruling our existence is not the laws of Nature, but clever talking points from a well-paid pundit.

Politics in the United States is well on its way to producing a positive feedback loop where it becomes more likely that we’ll do less about solving Climate Change the more obvious is becomes that we need to do more. American Exceptionalism, the butterfly in this case, cannot allow us to entertain the idea that other nations, especially the developing nations, want to have the same standard of living we enjoy, but if they do it in the same way we did (burning fossil fuels and polluting our environment) there will be no habitable environment for anyone. At this year’s climate talks the developing nations are trying to say that they want a chance to grow and are willing to do that without doing what we did and all they need is some help. And we’ve created a system where we cannot hear them.

The difference between the positive feedback loops created by our artificial creations and those produced in nature is that we can decide to stop our man-made ‘loops’.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Climate Change talks in Doha, Qatar: ya gotta laugh


NotMyFaultOne of the more startling moments in Plastic Ocean comes when Captain Moore (the book’s author) reveals the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to world leaders and they tell him to prove that it’s doing any harm. Ya gotta laugh. That’s like discovering a bomb in the nation’s capitol and having the police dismiss you because they don’t think bombs do any damage. Another amazing point in the book is learning that chemical companies in the US have to pull their products off the market only if their studies prove their product’s toxicity, which means these companies have zero incentive to do their own studies. How their products radiate out into our environment is anyone’s guess.

This all comes to mind as I review this week’s amazing environmental news. There’s a study that proves our Great Lakes are filled with plastic bits. Besides making pseudo food for birds and fish that provides no nourishment but fills them up, plastic bits have a nasty habit of attracting and accumulating toxins. Another story deals with the dropping lake levels this year, but fails to mention Climate Change being a factor in determining lakes levels, even though one of the studies used for the article includes just that. Then there’s a story about how difficult it is to rid our drinking water of pharmaceuticals because our wastewater treatment plants were not designed to remove the myriad drugs that fill our Great Lakes. And, pharmaceuticals are not even the half of it; our Great Lakes are filled with Chemical Pollutants.

Ok, what that says to me is that we have some potentially significant public health issues before us. So you have to wonder why Governor Cuomo is keeping the Fracking process moving along that will finalize the regulations so drilling permits can be issued in New York State, instead of waiting until the health review is completed. (I know, this Fracking debacle is all very bewildering: Check this great summary: DEC to take public comments on fracking regs from December 12). The skinny is Fracking takes a lot of our precious fresh water (most which comes from the Great Lakes) and we really ought to find out if we have enough fresh clean water to spare for an industry that has hijacked our state’s energy program—especially during anticipated droughts in our region because of Climate Change.

That brings us to Climate Change itself. If you’ve only been listening to mainstream media, you probably haven’t heard much about this year’s Doha Climate Change Conference. You can watch the proceedings yourself, unfiltered by pundits with their own loony agendas, by going here: UNFCCC Webcast. If you do, you can get a free book that you can download or read online Climate, Development and Equity about equality and Climate Change. Because, when you come right down to it, Climate Change is about giving everyone, everywhere, and for all time, an equal chance at living while addressing a world-wide warming.

How are those talks going? Just about everyone thinks the Doha Climate Change Conference is going to fail, except UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres. Anticipating that, the folks over at have sent an open letter to the world leaders to get off their duff. It’s quite a conundrum because the more Climate Change takes hold, with melting glaciers and more extreme weather, the less likely we’ll get even modest gains at our increasingly ineffective climate talks because as time passes the solutions become costlier --while most of the world, who don’t enjoy our standard of living, dig their heels in deeper into the fossil fuels gig to get where we got—even though it’s warming the planet.

All this intractable implacability sounds eerily familiar as I watched Spielberg’s Lincoln. It’s the scene where Lincoln asks the couple if they would encourage their senator to pass the thirteenth amendment if Lincoln could win the war without it. No, they said, they’d just as soon have slavery and no more war. Humans. Ya gottoa laugh. We all want our cake and eat it too, but we cannot.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fracking tail wags NYS energy policy

DogWagAngry and impatient as the Fracking industry may be with New York State, we have a moment to examine whether our media has properly characterized the Fracking issue. Fracking cannot proceed without the completion of the SGEIS report and that report cannot proceed until the health impact analysis review is complete; so we have a little time. We should use it wisely.
Mainstream media presents the Fracking issue as if two opposing groups in our state are fighting about our energy future, a debate that is only concerned about reaping the harvest of this new drilling process from within the larger context of a US Fracking boom. But that is not correct. I suggest that our energy policy in New York has been hijacked by a single-mindedness about Fracking solving our energy and security issues. New York State already has an energy policy, which is going to go into effect soon—and it doesn’t even include Fracking.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s The New York Energy Highway blueprint gets hidden behind all the media preoccupation about Fracking. In it Cuomo addresses our state’s future energy needs while addressing Climate Change. The Blueprint updates our electric grid to a smart grid, increases renewable energy (provided federal help doesn’t pull away), includes programs to help citizens conserve energy, provides a lot of jobs, and limits greenhouse gas emissions.  Tragically, if the federal tax extension for wind is allowed to expire this year Cuomo’s plan will languish.
The federal government has not resolved extension of key supports for some of these advanced technologies, which may affect the ability of some projects to advance. (Blueprint , Page 67)
So, why is the Fracking tail wagging the energy dog? Why hasn’t mainstream media focused on educating the public about the importance of saving energy and helping renewable energy as this plan calls for-- instead of Fracking?  Why is Cuomo’s new energy plan invisible to the media and the public, while Fracking, which we don’t need, looms?  Why is the Fracking industry’s hysteria about lives and livelihoods in New York State allowed to go unchallenged, when actually we have a plan that addresses all these issues?  Why are we talking about Climate Change, our energy future, and Fracking in the reverse order of their importance?

Maybe we should have a real debate about this issue. Some think we’ve been having that debate for the last four years. But as Gandhi was once asked what he thought about western civilization, I think a debate on energy as our state adapts to Climate Change would be a ‘good idea.’ Instead, everyone has been slinging mud at each other from their silos under the guise of ‘science’, when the bigger issue of sustainability in a warming world has been avoided altogether.

You cannot come away from Ken Burn’s ‘The Dust Bowl’, about mankind’s greatest environmental disaster, without wondering why the Midwest farmers thought they could solve their calamity by working harder at doing the same thing that was destroying their environment and their livelihood. Somehow we have to stop using more fossil fuels as a solution to Climate Change. Somehow we have to stop a single industry from being our future’s decider.

We here in the twenty-first century should seriously consider the further use of fossil fuels in the context of Climate Change. Not as a singular issue about an industry enjoying disproportionate attention in our media because of its wealth, tax advantages, and ability to promise a cheap solution to a world-wide disaster they are in part responsible for.

If we continue business as usual in this debate on Fracking in New York State, we will end up as the other states have: benefitting a few at the cost of the many, and the many to come. However, if we stop doing what is destroying our chances for a future, New York State could be a beacon of hope in a world mad over quick, cheap, impossible solutions to a very complex problem called Climate Change--rather than just another Fracking victim.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

NYS Fracking, the rush job

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has a drop-dead date of Nov. 29 to complete new regulations for Fracking—or, god forbid, we will have go through the review process all over again. Billions of dollars and jobs will be lost if this ‘new boom’ is delayed. At least this is the way the situation is framed in the media.

DOH: fracking review coming One day after saying they could not "speculate" on when a key health review on hydrofracking in New York would commence, the state health department has now announced three university experts have been chosen and will review the data. The state’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Nirav Shah, was tasked with hiring outside experts to review health impact data on fracking as the Cuomo Administration continues to study whether fracking will be permitted in New York. (November 16, 2012) North Country Public Radio

But rather than focus on the horse-race to Frack NYS, it would be far more helpful for our media to rule out the dangers this controversial method of drilling natural gas might have on our state’s environment and health.  Objective reporting on the Fracking issue is not a mid-point between the pro-Fracking and anti-Fracking groups.  Objective reporting should present to the public a full description of the present health of our environment, and then assess whether New York State should even consider this idea.  The measure for objectivity should be our environmental and public health, not corporate profits.

FinishLineAl least two phenomena blind many into thinking that this Fracking issue is being once again clogged up and emotionally overcharged by environmentalist: The shifting baseline syndrome and externalities. Both of which mainstream media seem loathe to give serious consideration.

The shifting baseline syndrome prevents us from appreciating the environmental problems that have accumulated over the past couple of centuries due to our short lifetime experiences. Because we haven’t personally witnessed the accumulated degradation of our air quality from burning fossil fuels and centuries of dumping our waste into our rivers, we tend to forget how many environmental challenges our state has already endured and continues to endure.

One gaping loophole in our economic system called externalities blinds us from recognizing the true value of a healthy environment. We’ve created an economic system that ignores environmental costs. It’s why many are blind to anything but the possibility of great financial gain and indifferent to the loss to our environment incurred as industry operates.

Some will leverage these blind spots to promote a very limited view of the relationship between environmentalists and scientists. It is the view that environmentalists are the children and scientists are the adults. That encourages the public to think those who are concerned about our environment are a great big uninformed drag on our economy. And, it allows the press to frame Fracking as just another race coming to just another finish line.

The decision on Fracking should not be just another race. One way or the other, it will transform our existence. We shouldn’t be panting and sweating over November 29th. We should be asking our leaders to lead. Our leader, Governor Cuomo, should be basing his decision on Fracking on our long-term environmental and public health.

Instead of allowing November 29th to become a pivotal point on the most important decision he will ever make as governor, why not just hold off on Fracking for ten years? During this decade, New Yorkers can see for themselves how Fracking will play out in the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale. If it’s safe, the Fracking industry will have a chance to prove that.

During this time the governor can show leadership by proving that renewable energy backed up by battery storage, getting the public to practice energy conservation, and creating a smart grid, can solve our energy needs. The governor just stated “We will lead on climate change”. Let him prove that by not giving in to the fossil fuel industry and the mad rush to create unsustainable jobs.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

US Elections too close for comfort on adapting to Climate Change

survivalIncreasingly more strident and more saturated with money-induced hysteria, the thriller that is the US election process is over for 2012. One side won, the other side lost. There were other sides, like the Green Party, but they really didn’t get a chance to engage in our political process. Also, there were critical issues, like Climate Change and corporate personhood, but they were silenced out.

Millions heave a sigh of relief that the Climate Change denier party was not installed into the executive office. That prospect threatened to reverse what little forward motion there has been on our country’s addressing Climate Change, potentially redacting all US official participation in this world-wide warming. Was Hurricane Sandy, with its horrific destruction, the wildcard that won the election for the candidate who at least acknowledged Climate Change? Unclear.

Before we jump for joy, we don’t know how tenacious Obama‘s Climate Change plans will be in his second term, but let me offer a proposal. I suggest that we free Climate Change from the four-year, win-or-lose political issue it portends to be for too many dangerous years ahead, then institutionalize it into our collective zeitgeist, as we finally accepted the immortal declaration “All men are created equal." No one questions this most cherished value of ours—anymore.

If we must endure four-score and seven years of political strife that questions the proposition that Climate Change is forever upon us, we will act far too late. Democracy is messy though more often than not it allows wisdom to bubble up. But this often comes at a terrific cost of time and lives. We’ve already used up our wait-and-see budget on Climate Change. We must act now in concert with the rest of the world.

How would we accomplish untangling Climate Change from US elections? There are precedents. Rather than a militia or irregular army as first intended, we adopted a standing army. Those who had been denied the vote were eventually granted that right with Constitutional amendments.

Another scientific study released this week notes that those climate models that predict the warmest climate are probably the most accurate. Let science be our final arbitrator of the facts and the Precautionary Principle our guide through this climate bottleneck. President Obama can hasten this process by using the bully pulpit to frame Climate Change as a national challenge—which, of course, it is. When freed from the tyranny of greed, our democracy can evolve and adapt to this self-inflicted catastrophe.

Climate Change cannot be undone in our lifetime -- there’s too much of our greenhouse gas in our water and air-- but we can undo the monetary clout of the Climate Change deniers. We must remove the tax subsidies we give the fossil fuel industries and keep the wind tax credits that are about to expire at the end of this year. We must demand our media change how they cover Climate Change. (Read this excellent article to see how that can be done: A Convenient Excuse. (11/05/2012 The Phoenix). We must unravel Citizens United so that zillions of corporate dollars that are polluting our political process are removed. If our next election puts a Climate Change denier back into office, we will burn.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Frankenstorm slams into US elections


HurricaneSandyNo doubt you and your loved ones have been inconvenienced (or worse) by this week’s Hurricane Sandy—the Frankenstorm. Its unprecedented ferocity wreaked bloody havoc on our lives. Probably a lot more when we get a chance to evaluate everything. Yet remarkably this “once in a century” storm (closely following the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, another “once in a century” storm) has been stomping steadily towards us for a long time, just as predicted by Climate Change theory. Our present trajectory-- business as usual—ensures more of them.

Mainstream media anticipated this storm’s potential for damage and helped keep many from harm’s way, but there was little connecting the dots on this extreme weather event and Climate Change.

As ‘Frankenstorm’ Barrels Towards East Coast, Newspaper Coverage Ignores Connection To Climate Change Media have dubbed the hurricane barreling toward the mid-Atlantic and northeast a “Frankenstorm.” But despite the hysteria surrounding Hurricane Sandy, not one major newspaper has reported the scientifically established link that carbon pollution fuels more extreme weather. In the last week, Sandy has been mentioned in at least 94 stories in major newspapers. Yet a Nexis search found that zero of these stories mentioned “climate change,” “global warming,” or even “extreme weather.”  (October 26, 2012) Think Progress Climate Progress [more on Climate Change in our area]

But you can’t keep a big storm down. Hurricane Sandy has left many of our politicians stunned—not just by the damage to their constituency’s lives, property and infrastructure, but to their own political prospects. And that makes news!

Romney is reeling as he has to endure the backlash from his absurd position on privatizing disasters.

ROMNEY: “We cannot — we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.” Mitt Romney: Federal Disaster Relief For Tornado And Flood Victims Is ‘Immoral,’ ‘Makes No Sense At All’ (June 14, 2011) ThinkProgress.

As The New Yorker notes Romney Has a Christie Problem and a FEMA Problem. The Romney statement about FEMA highlights the absurdity of Climate Change denial. At the end of a disaster, it will be your government who rescues you, keeps you safe, and makes sure your city gets put back together again. With Climate Change the buck does stops at the government and no amount of rhetorical gymnastics is going make the privatization of disasters recovery a rational prospect. Rent-a-cop doesn’t just have the same clout as the National Guard.

Governor Cuomo, allegedly running for president in 2016, happened upon some artful doublespeak on Climate Change and the hurricane this week. According to this San Francisco Chronicle article ‘Climate change is a reality…we are vulnerable’, Cuomo said: “It’s a longer conversation, but I think part of learning from this is the recognition that climate change is a reality, extreme weather is a reality, it is a reality that we are vulnerable”. However, in the same conversation, Cuomo also said: “People will debate whether or not there is climate change…,That’s a whole political debate that I don’t want to get into.” Cuomo: Helicopter Survey of Sandy Damage "Disturbing" (October 31, 2012) WXXI News. But sadly, Climate Change demands leadership not equivocation. The catastrophes caused by extreme weather due to Climate Change cannot be accomplished by a leader who doesn’t lead. (Maybe the reason why Cuomo even considers the idea of Fracking New York is because he doesn’t understand Climate Change. Hmmm…)

Not to be unsullied, Hurricane Sandy has thrown some pie in President Obama’s face also—making his Climate Silence position dodgy.

Revealed: the day Obama chose a strategy of silence on climate change Sandy has blown climate change back on the agenda – and many believe the White House was wrong when it decided in 2009 that climate change was not a winning political message The invitation to the White House in the spring of 2009 struck Barack Obama's allies in the environmental movement as a big moment: a clear sign that climate change was on his radar and that the president was eager to get to work. The event was indeed a turning point, but not the one campaigners expected. Instead, it marked a strategic decision by the White House to downplay climate change – avoiding the very word – a decision some campaigners on the guest list say produced the strange absence of climate change from the 2012 campaign, until hurricane Sandy blew it right back on the political agenda. (November 1, 2012) The Guardian

Climate Silence was a bad political strategy for both Mitt and Obama and it may not be so kind to Cuomo either—because nature (physics) cares not for politics. Yet, we might sympathize with their frustration at the public: It’s probably an American cultural anomaly that the burden of proof for Climate Change be placed on those claiming that increasing greenhouse gases results in planetary warming and an increase in extreme weather events. Wouldn’t it make more sense for those who continually deny Climate Change to prove that millions and millions of tons of fossil fuel emissions were going somewhere else than our atmosphere and our oceans and warming all that up?

Anyway, that’s what we do: blame the victims and the whistle blowers. Doubt in something as inconvenient as Climate Change persists. Granted, there is a lot of science missing from a problem we have been avoiding for a long time and disinclined to fund. To get a sense of the deep quagmire caused by this dearth of information and the moral problem of “wait until there’s proof” read the excellent article in Two Views of a Storm in Climate Context (October 30, 2012) in DotEarth that questions the link between Hurricane Sandy and Climate Change, and be sure to read all the exchanges with Dan Miller.

Climate Change is a problem that took a long time to develop and it will take a long time to address. Politicians must balance between the practical problem of getting votes and the need for strong leadership on this issue. This great human-caused warming presents a political quagmire of biblical proportions that will probably take a century or more to work itself out—but we don’t have that long. The reason that it is so important for the public to understand climate change is that while the argument between scientists goes on about the exact relationship between Climate Change and any particular storm or extreme event, the public will get impatient. Any politician promising not to increase their taxes and affording the public the lure of climate denial will always have an advantage over another politician who understands the threat and only promises more taxes to fortify the government’s role in adapting to and mitigating Climate Change. Should our leaders simply pander to the prevailing political wind, a wind that will ensure more Climate Change?

Not in the real world. While Climate Silence may work politically at times, it will not work when a Frankenstorm hits just before an election. A disaster is nature’s way of giving your political strategizing a reality check. But if the public continually throws out leaders trying to address the long, tedious, and expensive problem of Climate Change, we will not be prepared for those Frankenstorms coming at us even if those politicians win.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The trouble with Climate Silence

The 2012 presidential debates are over and Climate Silence ruled. Didn’t hear about Climate Silence? That’s because the two candidates for the most powerful job in the world kept their mouths shut about the most important issue in the world—accelerated anthropomorphic Climate Change.

On one level it’s understandable how the two candidates, starving for more billons to feed the mainstream media machine, would be reluctant to talk about an issue so riddled with fake doubt by those whose ideology doesn’t match reality. “Climate of Doubt”, a major investigative report by PBS’s Frontline, gets to the heart of the matter, though sadly it aired just after the last debate.
On another level, it’s incredible that the American public would allow the politicalization of a scientific issue. You cannot just vote Climate Change away, or gravity for that matter.

ClimateSilenceBut it seems we are hell-bent on doing just that. For me, the most poignant moment in “Climate of Doubt” came when a Republican senator just ousted from office by his stance on the science behind Climate Change said at a senate hearing (and I paraphrase) “What do you do when your child is sick and 98 doctors tell you a procedure will save him, while 2 tell you not to do it?”

 It looks like we are going with the 2% of scientists who don’t back Climate Change—even though that’s not in the 100%’s best interest. Not only that, we are increasing oil production in our own country where soon we may be producing more oil than any other country—even more than Saudi Arabia. At the same time, we are going to eliminate the production tax credit for renewable energy at the end of this year.

One of my heroes, world-renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough,  whose1980’s program “Life on Earth” first woke me to the deep resilience, persistence, and interdependency that exists in the four billion years of life on this planet, highlights the Climate Silence problem in the US.  Viewed from the perspective of an expert on the biological machinations of our planet who is also independent from the dysfunctional American press, Attenborough says:

US politicians duck climate change because of cost The naturalist warned it would take a terrible example of extreme weather to wake people up to global warming. One of the world's leading naturalists has accused US politicians of ducking the issue of climate change because of the economic cost of tackling it and warned that it would take a terrible example of extreme weather to wake people up to the dangers of global warming. Speaking just days after the subject of climate change failed to get a mention in the US presidential debates for the first time in 24 years, Sir David Attenborough told the Guardian: "[It] does worry me that most powerful nation in the world, North America, denies what the rest of us can see very clearly [on climate change]. I don't know what you do about that. It's easier to deny." (October 26, 2012) The Guardian

The candidates debated and their handlers calculated that they need not debate Climate Change. And they are right, the American public goes mum. We have this strange capacity to marvel at our own self-destructive behavior then proceed regardless. Nevertheless, you cannot have a sensible and useful debate if you structure the debates in such way that only a few (the Green Party was forced out) are allowed to participate. Critical issues like Climate Change, which are going to have to be dealt with by all branches of government, have been pre-agreed not to be discussed. That’s not a debate; it is a dangerous delusion—a game where only a few can play and the outcome affects everyone. It’s like the spats of old between Feudal-era kings that forced peasants to war with each other, creating untold misery upon those who have been excluded from the decision-making process.

Yet, there are instances when we the people finally rise and face the facts and change our behavior—a Pearl Harbor moment. For Climate Change, this moment of clarity may come if the Arctic melts soon. That’s when our planet’s air conditioner becomes our planet’s fireplace.

A North Pole Without Ice Scientists say this year’s record declines in Arctic sea ice extent and volume are powerful evidence that the giant cap of ice at the top of the planet is on a trajectory to largely disappear in summer within a decade or two, with profound global consequences. (August 30, 2012) Environment 360

My suggestion (though, admittedly, if you’re not going to listen to climate scientists why listen to me?) is that while humanity kicks this hot little can down the road a little further, experts might poke a new bullet point into the numerous Climate Change studies. Right after the point where a study says we should pour a lot of bucks into educating the public about this scientific phenomenon, include a bullet about combating the folks thwarting our collective action to save ourselves. Sure, it would be costly. The 1% has a lot of money to convince the 99% to sacrifice the 100%’s planet for the 1%’s whims. Even so, a planet that isn’t continually passing warming tipping points is a very handy thing to have.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The great 2012 non-accomplishment for Rochester, NY area media - Fracking

Every year Rochester City Newspaper puts out its Best of Rochester Series attempting to highlight some incredible local accomplishments.  It’s a good idea to pause once a year and see what amazing things a community so gifted with universities, technology, and artists can do.  However, somewhat buried in this report is the acknowledgement of the most important, but ignored, story of 2012: Local News Story Ignored in 2012 - Fracking.  This incredible non-accomplishment is worth contemplating for a moment. 

Try to suspend for a moment your awareness of the controversies surrounding Fracking (slang for hydraulic fracturing) and focus on its newsworthiness. Try channeling Walter Cronkite -- consider what should be editorial objectivity on an issue as contentious as Fracking—not your opinion. 

Note: I’m not going to pummel you with my opinion on Fracking—at least right now.  Although I do beg your patience on this one caveat:  If your opinion on Fracking in New York State is that you just don’t care, then you are either too ignorant of the subject to know what you are saying, or just too craven.  If for example, you had called up an airline company and tried to book a flight out of an American city on the evening of September 11, 2001 and started crabbing at the attendant because she said there were no flights, we can forgive the attendant for hanging up on you. Sometimes some opinions are just too ridiculous to consider.  We’ll put aside sheer lunacy for the moment.

To be for or against Fracking in New York State based on your beliefs or your sense of priorities is one thing; to be uninformed about this issue because the Rochester region’s local media has ignored it is quite another.  No objective position on the imminent lifting of the moratorium on Fracking in New York State would rationally conclude that it wasn’t important, wasn’t worth adequately informing all our state’s communities, including Monroe County.  You might like the idea of Fracking, you might not, but you wouldn’t say that it doesn’t concern us and that we shouldn’t pay attention to it.

Objectively then, without pandering to either side on the Fracking issue in our region, here are some of the reasons why Fracking should garner continual front-page attention in our local media (as it often does in the southern tier of our state, the purported ‘sacrifice zone’), complete with comprehensive investigations, not tomorrow, but now, immediately.  Waiting for the consequences of Fracking to play themselves out in our county will be too late. Every reasonable person in Monroe County should want the answers to these questions before any Fracking begins:

  • In Monroe County we need to know how much gas Fracking companies might possibly drill for in our area.  Our county lies above the Utica Shale, which is one of the shales included in the Revised Draft SGEIS on the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program that will shape the legal framework for Fracking in our state.  As this report--Assessment of Undiscovered Oil and Gas Resources of the Ordovician Utica Shale of the Appalachian Basin Province, 2012--recently completed by the U.S. Geological Survey suggests there are “38 trillion cubic feet of gas, and 208 million barrels of natural gas liquids” in parts of the Utica Shale but no word of gas amounts directly under our region.  “We don’t know because we haven’t test-drilled.” Is not an adequate answer.
  • Even if it becomes certain that our region won’t be Fracked, it is uncertain if our county will engage in ancillary Fracking activities (Fracking waste disposal in our waste water treatment plants, landfills, or along county roads and properties).  Because the Fracking industry enjoys special exemptions, including the so-called "Halliburton Loophole" sidestepping the Clean Water Act and other restrictions, our region’s public needs to know what environmental and public health risks might be on our horizon.
  • Whether we Frack in this region or just engage in ancillary Fracking activities, we need to know how our public roads and bridges might be impacted by the high-volume, heavy trucking this industry requires.  Will our tax burden on our local infrastructure increase as a result of New York State’s decision to Frack?
  • We need to know if there is any possibility that Hemlock Lake, which exists in the Marcellus Shale and provides our region with much of our clean fresh drinking water, might be threatened.
  • In the light of studies on Climate Change and how that will affect our water cycle, including an increase in late summer and early fall droughts, we need to know how much of our fresh water might eventually be required—even if Fracking or its ancillary activities is not practiced in our region.
  • We need to know, given reports about the massive release of methane gas in the Fracking process, Fracking’s relationship to Climate Change. 
  • In order to make a responsible decision on whether to Frack in New York State, our region, along with all the other regions of our state, needs to know the chemical composition of fluids used in the Fracking process.
  • We need to know what potential jobs will become available and what possible effect Fracking will have on our local economy, both short and long term. 
  • We need to know what the exact state of our water quality—in our rivers, streams, and near-by lakes--before Fracking begins to establish a water-quality baseline so we can adequately assess the damage and assign responsibility when an accident occurs. 

I can think of many more important questions concerning Fracking and our region—including insurance related issues—but the above list alone reveals how much we don’t know about an industry that will change our state forevermore. Our local media has been dismissive at best and misleading at worst on an issue that will affect our region if Fracking is adopted in New York State.   

Granted, there is a media crisis out there.  Don’t take my word for it; look around, the media has indeed changed.  This week’s story about Newsweek’s move to drop print and go totally digital to save its investigative reporters highlights the crisis.

In short, there are fewer investigative stories (a news reporter surfing over to the NYS DEC site to find out what the DEC chief says about Fracking doesn’t count) being spread by more and more aggregative news-collecting web sites and applications and no money left for print media—because advertisers are giving up on that. But consider this; one of the most frightening things that the present media collapse portends are the nearly insurmountable hurdles, the almost impenetrable walls, our particular online news sources have created.  The new news environment has become an insularity of self-absorbed silos.  You can now live your life completely involved in sports or movies and not have a clue about Climate Change, Fracking, or who’s running for president.  Walter Cronkite is gone.  We’re on our own.

Even so, the whole point for the existence of local news, news pertaining to your community, should include stuff you need to know about. You need to know if your government is solvent, whether your leaders are committing crimes and betraying your trust.  Despite the local fascination with sports, construction delays, dog love and the innumerable festivals that engage our city, you need to know if there is a rash of diseases coming our way.  You need to know if your water is clean, if your air is breathable, and whether or not your environment is sustainable—able to be there for your kids.  Some stuff is just interesting, some other stuff is critical to know.  There’s a difference. 

If our local media has failed to adequately report on Fracking, one of the most important stories that will affect every single one of us in the Rochester, NY region, we have to question the reason for their continued existence.  If our local media editors are lying low on Fracking because they think they’re being ‘objective’, we must ask: in what sense they are using the word?  Going mum just as a major change comes to our region is not objectivity in any useful sense.  Why continue the delusion that watching local news is actually informing us of things we need to know if they are not actually doing that?  Why put yourself through all that reading and tube-gazing when at the end of the day you cannot drink the water?  What reasons can local media editors provide to explain this incredible dearth of information on Fracking?  Are they being paid by the fossil fuel industry to shut up?  Or are they merely afraid of boring the bejesus out of their paid subscribers and potential ad consumers? 

A very dangerous argument has crept into the Fracking issue in NYS, and the blame can be put squarely on local media.  The Fracking people believe that they have waited long enough for Governor Cuomo to decide on Fracking.  They really want the money promised them by Fracking leases on their land.  In fact, no they really haven’t waited all that long.  We are missing a lot of important information about our environment as it relates to Fracking and we as rational folks just as soon we get all the info we need.  We the people really don’t need to be hasty on this matter, and we really need to take the time to look before we jump. 

We the people should be able to depend on news that informs us of important stuff.  Distracted news gathering, with the media desperate for funding, is going to be a great challenge for an industry that used to compete with each other for real news, investigative journalism.  Throughout this media transformation, we still have to keep our eye on the ball.  We cannot depend on media the way we used to.  If you are only attending to a media that blinds you on critical issues, you, ultimately, are responsible.  If your local media is blinding you on important matters, stop consuming it, go find out what you need to know, even if the answer is not what you want to hear. 

The acceptance of Fracking in New York State would have a tremendous impact on our future.  The local media’s failure to cover this issue in full is an outrage.  I view this failure of local media on the issue of Fracking in New York State, and possibly our county, as a tragic microcosm of how our local media has failed to adequately inform us on most environmental issues, especially their failure to connect the dots between Climate Change and probable consequences of Climate Change in our region.  Also, the failure of local media to even mention a Fracking rally and a petition delivery to Monroe County legislature questions our media’s competency and integrity on a matter so critical to our region’s environment and public health: Are our local media editors pandering to the fossil fuel industry, their subscribers, or both?

Finally, some would say if you are ‘pro’ Fracking or ‘anti’ Fracking you cannot be objective on Fracking. I say that is the wrong heuristic because the focus of our attention should be on the health of our environment, not on the health of a particular industry. Our media needs to change their notion of ‘objectivity’ when it comes to environmental issues, especially as Climate Change becomes the lens through which we should view all environmental issues. Fracking, because it involves drilling for natural gas, will impact Climate Change. We are supposed to be informed about important issues by our media, not blinded by them.  If our local media is avoiding and failing to inform us on something as important as Fracking, do they deserve our trust? 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Some Fracking/Brownfield questions before New York State takes the plunge


Doesn’t the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation have enough to do cleaning up Brownfields without the specter of Fracking?

Shouldn’t these basic questions be considered before New York State even considers Fracking:

  • How many Brownfields does NYS have now?
  • How many Brownfields are getting cleaned up?
  • Shouldn’t we get the existing Brownfields cleaned up before we start Fracking?
  • How many personnel does the DEC have on cleaning up Brownfields and how many will they need to monitor Fracking wells?
  • Why should we the people of New York State trust the Fracking industry with its bad record of environmental performance to run a clean environmental operation when our state already has a large burden of Brownfields as an albatross around our necks?
  • Wouldn’t it make a lot more environmental sense to clean up the abuses of past industries in our state and watch how the Fracking industry treats Pennsylvania before we Frack New York State?

I know, many folks think we gotta get jobs from Fracking because we are desperate—but we are not. Up renewable energy and wait to Frack makes a lot more sense than appeasing the Fracking industry and drilling lease holders. Fracking New York State is not like putting up wind farms and solar panels, which you can take down if that isn’t working out. Fracking, once adopted by New York State, is forever.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Cuomo ‘in a very lonely place” on Fracking


A candidate for New York State Senate accused ‘celebrity’ opposition to Fracking in New York State that puts Governor Cuomo “in a very lonely place”.

I think Cuomo is “in a very lonely place” because he is truly agonizing whether or not Fracking is a responsible thing to do. 

He’s agonizing because the fossil fuel industry is hounding him about the leases they’ve already bought up and want a return on their money—despite what this might do to NYS’s environment. 

He’s agonizing because our state, the Empire State, and a leader since Teddy Roosevelt and FDR in environmental stewardship and does not want NYS to devolve to a resource curse.

Cuomo is agonizing because he knows how easy it is for a politician to promise instant fossil fuel jobs (even though they will continue to warm our planet) when renewable energy would provide better long-term jobs and help our environment. 

Cuomo is agonizing because his public, the New York State citizenry, is not giving him a clear signal they understand the complexity of this Fracking New York State issue and are willing to demonstrate that conviction.   

One way the public can demonstrate their commitment to a Frack-free New York, is to have a major county, Monroe County, put a ban on all Fracking related activities. 

Folks in Monroe County can demonstrate that online here:   Monroe County, show Cuomo the way!  

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Become the Media! and do a Hail Mary pass around corporate media

Last Tuesday, over 4, 000 petition signatures to ban all Fracking and related activities were delivered to Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks and members of the Monroe County Legislature.  But presumably that wasn’t enough because the press didn’t even show up.  Alas, our mainstream media (which continually barrages us with countless ads and news that isn’t news) did not show up for this local event against Fracking either: Cobbs Hill rally against fracking (October 3, 2012) indymedia Rochester, NY.

Hummm… I thought the press was supposed to give the public a full airing of major issues in our communities.  I know the Communications Act of 1934 has been ripped to shreds and turned into the you-can-talk-about-anything-you-want-to-the-publc-even-hate-radio Telecommunications_Act_of_1996, but still I thought there would be some vestige of the First Amendment and a desire to act in the public interest.  Call me stupid, but tearing up our countryside, threatening our water, jeopardizing our right to self-determination, and potentially transforming the Empire State into a Resource Curse sounds like an issue of interest to the public to me. 

Apparently, I was wrong.  I looked around the legislature and not a commercial reporter could I see.  I looked under my seat.  I looked down the rows of our county representatives, thinking maybe one of our intrepid reporters tripped and fell while trying to interview one of Those Who Represent The People, but not an investigative soul did I see. I looked down the four flights of stairs from our room and no “Wait! I’m coming” from the press did I hear. What was wrong?  What was I missing?  Maybe it was because we here in Monroe County aren’t ‘sweet’ enough.  Huh? Let me explain.

The reason why the press didn’t show up for the release of 4,000 signatures could be that Monroe County is an “Unsweet Spot”.  I know, you think I’m toying with you now.  But, wait.  I’m completely serious.  The just released USGS Releases First Assessment of Shale Gas Resources in the Utica Shale: 38 trillion cubic feet says that the part of the Utica Shale that doesn’t include Monroe County is a ‘Sweet Spot’ and quite a nice place to Frack—in fact ‘sweet’.  But although we here in Monroe County are still in the Utica Shale (we haven’t moved, folks), we are in the ‘Unsweet Spot’ (I kid you not, this is the word they use) “The Utica Shale Oil AU is an area of about 15,000,000 acres at the mean and is divided into a sweet spot and a nonsweet spot.” (Page 5, Assessment of Undiscovered Oil and Gas Resources of the Ordovician Utica Shale of the Appalachian Basin Province, 2012)

So, the reason that the local press doesn’t show up to anti-Fracking events and continually dismisses the idea of Fracking in our Monroe County area (which, is larger in population than the state of Vermont) is because the press thinks there is no need to worry our pretty little heads over something that they think is not going to ever happen?  But wait!—again.  Sorry, for the dramatics, but this sentence on the same page as the above quote is quite a kicker: If I’m reading this study correctly, “Based on these input parameters, recovery of the resource would require at the mean about 7,000 wells to be drilled within the sweet spot and an additional 10,500 wells at the mean to be drilled in the nonsweet spot to extract this potential resource.” (Page 5 Ibid.)

Read it and weep: “an additional 10,500 wells at the mean to be drilled in the nonsweet spot to extract this potential resource.” If you are thinking that Monroe County doesn’t have to lift its finger to protect itself from Fracking, because we’ll never get Fracked, you’d better read the fine print: Hydraulic Fracturing SGEIS that says NYS is considering Fracking in the Utica and Marcellus Shale. Could it actually be the case that because we are a’ nonsweet’ spot instead of a ‘sweetspot’ we could get drilled with a lot more wells as the Fracking industry madly burrows under our region for every darn fix of fossil fuel?

Here’s the news that the local news media couldn’t bother themselves to print: Thousands Sign Petition to Ban Fracking and Related Activities On Monroe County Properties.  This is what we really should be doing: ‘Become the Media!’ instead of waiting for mainstream media to ‘get it’ on Climate Change, Fracking, and other critical environmental matters.  We have social media and web sites and email lists and we can reach the public just as well as the present-day dysfunctional media—if we change our attitudes.  Let’s not pander to the media and street-theatre for their attention, let’s BE THE MEDIA! So, let’s give that a try by demonstrating that we can get into the Monroe County Legislature next time and fork over 20,000 signatures? Be hard to ignore 20,000 signatures.  And it would prove to ourselves that we can do a Hail Mary pass around the corporate media and get our message out to the masses.  

Become the Media! And get everyone you know to sign this petition: Prohibit All Fracking Related Activities on Monroe County Properties, NY