Death toll rising in global war on environmentalism

United Nations envoy says the pattern of killings has become an epidemic. (UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré)

Three Central American  assassinations in the first three weeks of March 2016 underscore the mounting global death toll in the war being waged against peaceful environmental protests by mining, timbering and hydro-electric industries.

The assassinations signal a “growing epidemic” according to a United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.

Waterkeeper Alliance president Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has called on the US State Department and international organizations to investigate.

“Ordinary citizens and local communities are increasingly finding themselves at the forefront of the battle over the planet’s natural resources,” Global Witness spokesman Billy Kytes said.

The three Central American activists are among hundreds named and described here on the Environmental History Timeline page Remembering Murdered Environmentalists.

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

The toxic history of lead

cropped-1.5.Franklin.jpg

The recent outrage over lead contamination in the water supply of Flint, Mich. reminds us of how much is known about the history of  lead poisoning.

In 1786, Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter about the harmful effects of lead. In describing the problem in distilleries and the printing trades, Franklin noted how resistant people can be when it comes to understanding public health and environmental issues.

You will observe, with concern, how long a useful truth may be known, and exist, before it is generally received and practiced on,” he said.

Although it hardly seems creditable, the useful truth about lead in the form of paint, water pipes, and leaded gasoline is still not practiced.

Lead is the oldest and best known of environmental hazards.For over two millennia, overexposure to lead was known to cause hallucinations and severe mental problems. Continue reading

2015 in review

Pope and Obama

US President Obama greets Pope Francis at the White House in September, 2015.

Pope Francis’ campaign to stop climate change and the Dec. 12 Paris climate agreement were the two top environmental developments in a year that marked a turning point for the environment  and renewable energy.

Environmental Health News put the two  at the top of its list, as did Huffington Post,  Deutche Welle,  the Conversation and others.

“It was an outstanding year for the environment,” said Deutche Welle.

“Call it the grand convergence,” said Douglass Fischer of Environmental Health News. “Coverage of environmental issues, especially climate change, jumped traditional boundaries to pick up broader—and slightly ominous—geopolitical and health angles.”

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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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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

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