Environmental issues are part of history

Environmental concerns and conflicts have surfaced throughout human history, from the earliest settlements to the latest headlines.  This comes as a surprise to many people because our emphasis in history has all too often been on war and politics, rather than environment, culture and development.

The evidence for a longstanding concern for environmental issues has been readily available in manuscripts, publications Continue reading

Leaf blowers and the overTech society

Leaf blower (Wikimedia).

As a beautiful autumn season comes once again to North America, leaves are falling everywhere. Some people are using rakes to clean them up. Others have gone in for the high-tech leaf-blower approach.  But why?

I once stopped to ask a group of grounds keepers at the University of the  Gothic South why they used leaf blowers. What with all the noise and pollution, weren’t rakes better? No, leaf blowers are better, they said. Get the job done quicker. OK, I said, but if you still have to work eight hours a day, for the same wage, what difference does it make? Besides, that little fossil-fuel guzzler pounding on your backs belches out 90-100 decibels.

I’d rather rake, and listen to the birds sing, and putter around in the garden. Obviously, I didn’t understand the appeal of the Great American Leaf Blower.      Continue reading

Environmentalism and racism

Was John Muir a racist? Definitely not. He was a man of his time, to be sure. But any reading of his work will reveal his humanity and generous views of all people.

Although no one really needs to come to the rescue of John Muir’s reputation, it is disturbing to see a gratuitous swipe taken at the icon of environmentalism. That’s what  Jedediah Purdy does when he claims that environmentalism has a “racist history” and that John Muir is a prime example in the Aug. 13, 2015 edition of the New Yorker.

Mr. Purdy, an environmental lawyer, writes about John Muir:

Muir, who felt fraternity with four-legged “animal people” and even plants, was at best ambivalent about human brotherhood. Describing a thousand-mile walk from the Upper Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico, he reported the laziness of “Sambos.”

Sadly, this is  a ‘whig’ caricature, which is to say, history within the present fashion.   In “Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf,”  written in 1867,  and in many other books before his death in 1914, Muir wrote with compassion about nature and about people — all kinds of people.  Anyone who read Muir seriously would know that.

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Fukushima disaster keeps getting worse

Environmental activist Helen Caldicott is warning that the nuclear disaster at Fukushima continues to get worse.

“Rainwater washes over the nuclear cores into the Pacific,” she says. “There is no way they can get to those cores, men die, robots get fried. Fukushima will never be solved. Meanwhile, people are still living in highly radioactive areas.”

Pope Francis’ long-awaited climate encyclical

June 18, 2015 — ROME —  Pope Francis has issued an extraordinary  environmental statement   calling for environmental justice between the generations and dialogue in the international community. In one portion he says:  165. We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay. 

 The full statement is found at a Vatican website here. The statement begins:           ——————

“LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs. ”(#1 Cantico delle creature: Fonti Francescane (FF) 263. )

St. Francis

2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters…

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Why the Saudis undermine world energy markets

When you pull up to the gas pump and find the cost is going down, you can thank Ali al-Naimi, Saudi Arabia’s petroleum minister.  By producing more oil than the world markets can consume, the Saudis have cut the price of oil in half in the past year. But why?

The Saudis plan to extend the age of petroleum, and protect their markets, Peter Waldman explains in a Bloomberg Markets article.


Environment used to be bipartisan

Environmental protection had enormous bipartisan support in the US during   the 1970s, says former EPA administrator William Ruckelhaus in a February 2015  interview with the Public Integrity Project.   Has that support changed?  “Oh, yes, quite a bit,” Ruckelshaus says.  “The Reagan Administration was less sympathetic than the Nixon Administration to environmental regulation, environmental laws, but nowhere near where the Republican Party has come today.”

Soft soap and fracking dangers

Some day soon, an oil & gas industry representative will probably tell a journalist, or a politician, or a concerned parent:  “Fracking water is as safe as dish soap. Check out the 2014 University of Colorado study.”

And of course that will be horribly wrong, but very few people will know why.

This is particularly important in light of New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that a state health department study found that fracking is too dangerous for New York state  (as reported in the NY Times Dec. 17, 2014.)

At best, people will chalk the difference up to the old adage:  For every PhD, there is an equal and opposite PhD.  But nothing could be further from the truth.

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Science controversy goes viral

There was a time, about 50 years ago, when thoughtful scientists and science writers  dreamed of the day that the American public would wake up to the importance of science.  Jacob Bronowski, C.P. Snow, Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov saw science as integral to life. They didn’t like the idea of science “popularization,” as if something so important and ubiquitous had to be promoted. Instead, scientific issues and controversies should be taken up and understood, and maybe even debated, by the average person.

Well, that day has arrived, in a sense. We now have the spectacle of the Average Joe, who never set foot in a science class, imagining that climate scientists are lying about  radiative forcing and the use of the Stefan-Boltzmann constant. And this is just the beginning.

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Sorry, Africa needs its telegraphs

The energy ladder: Developing nations first use firewood, then move “up” to coal, then kerosene, then a select few might get oil and gas.  Eventually, lucky developing nations may work their way “up” to nuclear power.

RECENTLY, Barack Obama stopped US government financing of most overseas coal projects due to climate concerns.   The predictable reaction from the  energy industry and its friends was expressed in an opinion by Ken Silverstein  in the Christian Science Monitor:

“Sorry, Mr. Obama; Africa needs coal.”

The underlying philosophy here is that if a developing country is going to move “up” the energy ladder, it needs to develop basic cheap energy sources first, use them to fuel development, then move “up” to more complex fuels, and then finally move “up” to nuclear power.

If Mr. Silverstein had been talking about communications in this same vein, he would have said: “Sorry, Mr. Obama; never mind the cell phones — Africa needs its telegraphs.” Continue reading

The undead: Leaded gasoline keeps coming back

Franklin. Wikipedia.

You will observe with concern, Ben Franklin wrote in 1786 how long a useful truth may be known  known and exist, before it is generally received and practiced on. 

Franklin mentioned lead poisoning as an occupational hazard for printing.  Yet 228 years later, we are still grappling with the issue.

The latest event sparking concerns is the conviction of four  Associated Octel  managers for bribery and conspiring to sell leaded gasoline despite bans.   (Octel is now Innospec).

According to the Serious Fraud Office of the UK government: Continue reading