Category Archives: Environment

Humanity and the wilds

In her “Wars of Light and Shadow” series, Janny Wurts talks about the “free wilds”, areas protected from human encroachment where the mysteries of the planet run wild.  I am a fervent believer, perhaps to a self-ascribed theory, that once the wilds disappear from the world that humanity will be irrevocably lost.

While out camping/hiking this weekend, this message once again struck home.  Hiking up part of western Mount Tam provides gorgeous vistas of the ocean while hiking over open hills, through chaparral, and even more impressive, coastal redwood forests.  Of the many forests I have been through, to take a word from Elizabeth Moon’s “The Deed of Paksenarrion” this time, there have been different senses of “taig” or oneness with living things.  In the cold forests of the north, there is a sense of not caring about humanity.  There one is alone with nothing but themselves and a sense of endless time where seasons have marched past with impunity long before the coming of man.  In central and coastal California, the forests are much more warm feeling.  There the tread of man seems something more readily accepted, even if not entirely welcome.

This in turn leads to a second observation.  In the forests farther south, Monterey on down, a fair number of people seem bothered when greeted, whereas the farther north traveled, I feel that the more welcome a quick hello becomes.  Perhaps this is because collectively we feel more in need of a human presence when the taig of the forest is cooler toward human encroachment that we seek comfort from passing individuals, whereas when the forest is more welcoming individuals become cooler.

Perhaps farther south the forests are closer to civilization and our “civilized” sides come out.  But when one is farther from “civilization” the old rules that kept humanity alive through the dark winters restores itself.  More a passing thought on the human condition and the forest.  But I have been there and sensed the uniqueness of these forests, which provides the imperative that they are individual and should be protected.

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Bobby Jindal and the two-faces of the modern Republican Party

Today on NPR I was listening to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal talking about how the Federal Government hadn’t done enough to protect Louisiana’s coastline.  Since this seems to be a continuing trend of Republicans and conservatives, I thought I would do my homework about what Bobby Jindal’s stance was about drilling, oil, energy, and the Feds.

To make sure that I heard things correctly, I pulled up several other sources to verify that I heard this staunch anti-big-government Republican say that the Feds had not responded quickly or adequately enough.  From Reuters: “The U.S. Coast Guard and BP failed to take decisions quickly enough and delayed supplying necessary clean-up equipment even as oil washes onto the state’s fragile marshland, said Governor Bobby Jindal.”

In his 2009 GOP response to Obama’s speech: “… we need urgent action to keep energy prices down” including “increase[d] drilling for oil and gas here at home.”  He also believes that “Democratic leaders in Washington – they place their hope in federal government.  We [the Republicans] place our hope in you, the American people. …. We oppose the National Democratic view that says the way to strengthen our country is to increase dependence on government.”

Digging even a little bit farther back, shows that he was a sponsor of the “Deep Ocean Energy Resources Act (HR 4761)” which was a bill to eliminate the moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling.  That’s correct, Governor  (then-Representative) Jindal supported offshore drilling.  The same type of offshore drilling that is now polluting Louisiana coastlines.

Now he is crying out for the US Army Corps of Engineers to build a series of sand berms across the coastline to protect it from oil and hurricanes.  Note: That is the US Army, not the Louisiana National Guard.  (Yes, that is a cheap shot, because the Army Corps of Engineers has jurisdiction, not the Louisiana National Guard… but it helps prove the point.)

Other prominent Louisiana politicians also have their hands in dirty oil money, primarily Republicans, with one Democratic standout: Representative Charlie Melancon.

For once I wish that the same people who beg for federal assistance would put their money where their mouth is: If you don’t want government assistance, then stop asking for it when things go wrong.  Research done by the Tax Foundation also supports this.  For every $1.00 of tax money sent to the feds, Louisiana received $1.45 back.  

So, I would like to put out a proposal to the Republican party: Why don’t you make full disclosure over just how much federal money you have turned down, how many ear-marked bills you culled for your own district, and put the money where your mouth is.  You ask for offshore drilling and little regulation, and you’ve gotten it.  I just wonder how many people affected by the spill were there chanting “Drill, Baby, Drill” during the last presidential election…

South Dakota supports Astrology

A rather interesting excerpt from proposed legislation in South Dakota (emphasis added).  I’ll just let this one stand on its own….

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, by the House of Representatives of the Eighty fifth Legislature of the State of South Dakota, the Senate concurring therein, that the South Dakota Legislature urges that instruction in the public schools relating to global warming 14 include the following:

(1) That global warming is a scientific theory rather than a proven fact;

(2) That there are a variety of climatological, meteorological, astrological, thermological, cosmological, and ecological dynamics that can effect world weather phenomena and 18 that the significance and interrelativity of these factors is largely speculative; and

(3) That the debate on global warming has subsumed political and philosophical 20 viewpoints which have complicated and prejudiced the scientific investigation of 21 global warming phenomena; and …

Nuclear revival in the US?

Yesterday, the NY Times had an article about US funding for 2 new nuclear plants in Georgia (the state, not the country).  I am cautiously optimistic about this project, while at the same time dreading it.  I have long been a supporter of nuclear energy, since the science behind radiation is much more well understood than the interactions related to climate change.  However, I believe that supporters need to be clear in what nuclear energy is, and is not.

In so much as it is used to replace or prevent construction of coal burning (or probably natural gas as well) power plants, this is a good idea.  However, nuclear energy is not emissions free.  Concrete is associated with large quantities of CO2 emissions, and uranium mining has its own environmental drawbacks based on how it is performed.  More importantly, there is no federal repository for nuclear waste.  Instead it is collecting at the individual nuclear power plant sites across the US.

Regarding overall CO2 emissions, I am a fan of nuclear because it can provide low emissions baseload power.  That is, they can run essentially 24/7.  They are highly reliable as well, and are not intermittent (nor do they have the associated problems with intermittent).  Perhaps one day, in a few decades, other alternatives might be cost effective and reliable, such as storage, but until then, we need something that can reduce baseload emissions in a (fairly) clean manner.  And, I believe, that nuclear power is the best way forward…. for now.

Bin Laden, Climate Change, and Extremism

A new Bin Laden tape strikes out against the US… on its environmental platform?

He comes out against industrialized countries for not halting climate change, and then goes into the usual blame game.  This time however, his intent was “to inflict harm on the US economy” by encouraging nations to switch away from the greenback to other currencies.

While undoubtedly true, it is also hard to deny that those “other currencies” also come from the largest polluter (China), and one of the top exporters of GHG emitting fuels in the world (Russia), so it’s not really an accurate portrayal of the world.  Not to mention the hypocrisy of Bin Laden (with the size of the Bin Laden family construction business) coming out against climate change, when I am fairly certain most of the ardent followers of Bin Laden probably don’t believe in climate change (not that I know this for certain, religious-types tend towards lack of trust in science).

However, the more important part of the announcement is the shift towards environmental topics.  I believe it indicates that Bin Laden’s core ideology is losing strength, support, and relevance due to his isolation in Afghanistan/Pakistan.  This is an attempt to expand his reach and scope, despite the fact that a great deal of existing environmental damage is due to overpopulation and poor management of existing resources.

It is interesting to see Al Qaeda/Bin Laden adopt an environmental plank to their platform, however, ultimately the logic fails.  Shifting from the greenback to another currency will do little to nothing to affect or impact climate change.  Instead it merely promotes the misunderstanding and self-gratification, based on a slender kernel of truth, that extremists so largely operate under.

North Dakota, Minnesota, and carbon taxes

North Dakota has announced its intention to sue Minnesota over a proposed electrical generation carbon tax.

This should prove an interesting case for the courts.

Now, why would North Dakota be angry about Minnesota introducing an electrical generation carbon tax?  Because it exports electricity to Minnesota, which is its only sizable neighbor.  It also uses coal almost exclusively for its power generation.  Cheap, dirty coal.  Now, for those who are proponents of coal, as a nationally produced resource, I agree that it contributes to energy security from that angle.  However, the environmental costs of coal mining and coal-burning are well-known and documented.  In the US, a recent example in 2008 was the sludge that broke free of a dam in Tennessee.  The costs so far are approaching $1,000 million.

In some research I did a number of years back, preliminary carbon cost adder estimates to impact a state using primarily coal-fired power were in the $250+ per ton of emissions.  That is around 20 times what carbon is trading for in European markets, and about 2.5 times greater than most estimates I’ve even heard bandied about for a “high” carbon tax.  Needless to say, I do not think North Dakota faces a serious threat.  Now, Americans for Prosperity claims that it is “a significant carbon dioxide tax” while the reported amount from Scientific American is $3 – $34, hardly a “significant” level.  (In California, which pays MUCH higher rates for electricity, $50 per ton is about what it takes to shift the market away from fossil-fired power plants).  Additionally, retail sales have grown in Minnesota year over year (data reported as recent as 2007 – excel file), which would place an increase in demand, somewhat, if not entirely counteracting the effects of a carbon tax.

What strikes me as truly funny about the entire situation, is that North Dakota is considered “the Saudi Arabia of wind.” California has been discussing building the transmission necessary to get wind from Wyoming to California, yet North Dakota can’t get their energy across a single state line?  That thought aside, there is already transmission running from North Dakota to Minnesota… you’d just need to tie in the wind generation and ramp down the coal-fired plants a bit.

In all, I find North Dakota’s reluctance odd.  They have a neighbor willing to buy energy, have bountiful wind resources, yet they do not want to sell clean energy (apparently since they are against the tax that would also disadvantage generators of fossil-fuels regardless of location) to a state that wants to purchase it.  If that is not a perfect case of starting to internalize an externality (Wikipedia definition) and then letting the free-market resolve the situation, I don’t know what is.

US Hope for Copenhagen

As I have written in several previous articles (key one here), US leadership is key in the ongoing climate talks in Copenhagen.  Today, to my great surprise and astonishment, I was flipping through the headlines and noticed this on the NY Times: “U.S. Offer of Long-Term Aid Pushes Climate Talks Forward“.  At long, long, last, the US is starting to move back to the heady days of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and action on reducing CFCs released into the atmosphere (or more formally, the Montreal Protocol).

Yes, the funding is tied to countries such as China improving their emissions reporting.  Yes, the US is not raising the $100 billion / year by itself. 

However, if done right, this flow of aid could drastically reduce the impacts of increasing emissions from countries as their economies develop.  Emissions that will impact American citizens.  To even go out on a broad limb, it could help reduce potential terrorist attacks by decreasing motivation for people to become radicalized.

More importantly, it moves to counter the increasing influence of China across the G-77 (Group of 77), where Chinese wealth and influence has been spreading, often counter to the desires of the US and Europe in countries such as Sudan.

If this will be enough to break the deadlock, or more importantly have any long-term consequences for reducing the impacts of climate change, will be seen.  However, it is a step in the right direction.