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.