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

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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

Jimmy Carter’s ‘malaise’ speech

By Peter Dykstra
The Daily Climate

Thirty-five years ago this evening,*  Jimmy Carter stared America in the eye, and invoking his promise that “I will never lie to you,” gave us all a royal scolding.

It ran just over a half-hour, back in the day when such speeches were carried by all three of the commercial TV networks, in prime time, before tens of millions of viewers. Every one of those viewers had likely spent some recent time in a gasoline line, paying inflated prices for scarce fuel.

“Why have we not been able to get together as a nation to solve our serious energy problem?” asked the president, with an earnest gaze and several chopping, pounding motions with his right hand. It was a second sortie for a president who two years earlier had told us that our energy woes were “the moral equivalent of war.”

* July 5, 1979     / MORE -> The Daily Climate

Before we go to war for oil again …

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The oil octopus – a 19th century cartoon.

By Bill Kovarik

Information about world oil reserves has been skewed for political purposes.  Until very recently, everyone believed the Middle East has 2/3 of all the world’s oil. But in fact, the Middle East has only 2/3 of a narrow politically defined category called “proven” reserves. How is it that we were so badly misinformed?

As a very young news reporter in Washington DC in 1979, I was invited to one of those  think tank “luncheons” where the speakers chat amiably about the next imminent disaster.  This one was  about world oil reserves and the possible collapse of the Persian Gulf.

Not surprisingly, all the speakers agreed that a shut-down of the Persian Gulf would be catastrophic and must be prevented at all costs. All the speakers, that is,  except one smiling Venezuelan named Alirio Parra, who was then the country’s oil minister.  The bottom line of his talk was this: Don’t worry. Venezuela has more oil in the eastern Orinoco region than all the Middle East. And if this seems surprising, he said, your petroleum geologists should be more honest with you.

I remember the shouts of outrage from the assembled policy wonks, one of whom yelled that there was “a journalist here” in the same tone that a Victorian preacher might caution:  “ladies present.”

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History, myth and journalism

These are slides for a lecture to students and faculty at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, May 14, 2014.   Additional notes will be posted.

Climate news displaced by Benghazi obsession

by Peter Dykstra
The Daily Climate

Dykstra-115There’s an adorably naïve tendency among many who live and breathe environmental issues – journalists, scientists, advocates – to presume that reason, backed by science, will rule the day, any day now.

I recommend either one of two easy cures for this: Watch an hour of Fox News, America’s most-watched cable news network by a long shot. Or do what I did earlier this week: Watch the White House press corps.

By the time Carney closed the briefing 68 minutes later, the final score was climate, 26 minutes of press corps interest, Benghazi 34.

Climate change was ostensibly the Story of the Day for Monday’s daily briefing: White House Counselor John Podesta, the administration’s climate point man, headlined the affair. He showed slides and took questions for 24 minutes before being whisked away, with reporters invited to continue the dialogue with Press Secretary Jay Carney.  Continue reading

Hidden in old paintings, a clue to past climate.

By Lindsey Konkel
The Daily Climate, March 25, 2014

 

 

 

Deep red sunsets offer more than just a stunning backdrop for Old Masters’ paintings: They can tell how dirty the air was when the painter picked up the brush.

The degree of red in the skies depicted in historic paintings offers a proxy for pollution levels in the Earth’s past atmosphere, according to a study published Tuesday. What’s more, artists’ sunsets have gradually gotten redder over the past 150 years, likely reflecting increased manmade pollution.

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Minamata convention finally signed 怨

The Minamata Convention on Mercury is signed Oct. 10, 2013, with a thousand delegates from  140 nations   adopting an international  treaty that controls the use and trade of mercury.  The convention was named for the Japanese city that suffered thousands of deaths and injuries from uncontrolled releases of mercury by the Chisso Chemical Co.  In the 1950s and 60s, “Minimata disease” was one of the world’s earliest and strongest wake-up calls for environmental protection.  And yet, recognition and even minimal compensation in Japan has been a struggle for some 65,000 who have applied for help;  only  3,000 have been officially recognized. That number is set to expand following  an April 16, 2013 ruling of Japan’s Supreme Court.

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Turning point in Tidewater, Virginia

By Bill Kovarik
The Daily Climate

Editor’s note: This story is part of an ongoing series at The Daily Climate exploring climate change impacts hitting society right now. Find more stories here on The Daily Climate.

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – Weary of debating the causes of climate change, mayors and other elected officials from Virginia’s battered coastal regions gathered here last week and agreed that local impacts have become serious enough to present a case for state action.

Fraim-150“We are here to ask for your assistance,” said Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim. “It’s a threat we can no longer afford to ignore.”

So far, assistance from the state level has been paltry and grudging at best. In 2011, a group of coastal scientists and planners, with the backing of mayors like Fraim, were asked to study the problems, but only after tea-party conservatives in the state Legislature insisted that “recurrent flooding” – and not climate change – would be the study’s sole focus.

The report, Recurrent Flooding Study for Tidewater Virginia was released in February and did indeed point to increasing local problems from sea-level rise. Continue reading

Baleful history and the Balcombe protests

An historian is always hopeful when stumbling across an appeal to history in the popular press. But more often than not, an historian is disappointed.

Take, for example, one particularly baleful reaction to the Balcombe fracking protests in the UK this August of 2013.  That the protesters were a superstitious lot, lacking any sense of history, is an argument employed by Daily & Sunday Express columnist, Niel Hamilton.

Although it must be read in its native ‘red-top’ context to be fully enjoyed, here are a few of Hamilton’s ‘lessons’ of history:

The doom-mongers are like primitive tribes, firing flaming arrows at the sun at sunset in order to make it rise again the next day, which obviously ‘works’  because the sun does rise again.    Continue reading