EH in the News
LA's first big smog on July 26, 1943 is the subject of this Wired article. Of course, there had been many previous smog incidents, but mostly involving coal in Europe and the industrialized eastern US. As Peter Dykstra notes on the radio program Living on Earth, it was the first smog caused by automobiles.
Exxon Valdez anniversary Twenty five years ago, on March 24, 1989, a negligent oil industry and a drunken tanker captain and ruined a pristine corner of America. Here's what it looked like.
LA smog siege, 1979 Sera Segal-Alsberg wears mask designed to filter out airborne particles during Los Angeles smog alert on June 29, 1979.
¶ A giant tree's death sparked the conservation movement in 1853. Terrific article by Leo Hickman of the Guardian on June 27, 2013. The "Mother of the Forest" was also covered in Neuzil and Kovarik's Mass Media and Environmental Conflict published in 1996.
¶ Dymaxion car Blueprints for the 1933 Dymaxion car designed by Buckminster Fuller showed up in a Massachusetts recently. The car was far ahead of its time but a fatal accident on a test site stalled development.
¶ 1970 Clean Car Race is reported in MIT Technology Review in August, 2013. The cleanest car, among the electrics and hybrids, was a modified internal combustion engine.
¶ Buffalo soldiers In the late 19th century and early 20th century, black cavalry troopers patrolled Yosemite and Sequoia national parks in California. A new book describes their role. (Chicago Tribune, June 18, 2013).
¶ What ever happened to the environmental movement? asks the New Yorker in this flawed but interesting April 12, 2013 article by Nicholas Lemann. Also noteworthy is this response by Jason Mark of Earth Island Journal.
¶ DDT history exhibit scheduled for Midlands, Mich. college, April 2013.
¶ London smog has been infamous for centuries, but when 4,000 people died in 1952, the British government finally started to act. Telegraph, Dec. 6, 2012. China's news agency, Xinhau, noted in an article Feb. 25, 2013, that London's historical experience could provide a lesson for Beijing about how to deal with an air pollution crisis.
¶ History of the Commons and today's environmental crisis is an excellent read in the May/June 2013 Utne Magazine.
¶ Saving the NJ Pine Barrens Writer John McPhee recalls the struggle to save a remnant of wilderness on the east coast. Philadelphia Inquirer, March 4, 2013.
¶ Aldo Leopold is remembered by the editor of the Milwaukee Journal, March 2, 2013. The forester and conservationist articulated a "land ethic" in his 1949 book A Sand County Almanac.
¶ Remembering Darwin Scientific American remembers Charles Darwin and his impact on science on the 204th anniversary of his birthday, Feb. 12, 2012.
¶ Shackleton crew's 1916 ordeal -- a perilous journey taken after their ship got stuck and sank in Antarctica -- is being reinacted by a group of British and Australian adventurers. (Associated Press, Feb. 10, 2013)
¶ US air pollution was a lot like the pollution now in Beijing says Jim Bruggers of the Louisville Courier Journal and Alexis Madrigal in the Atlantic magazine in January 2013 articles. KCET public television also had a well illustrated article on L.A.'s smoggy past.
¶ First subway The London tube is 150 years old on Jan. 9, 2013. Mind the gap!
¶ Birth of the Clean Water Act Living on Earth interviews William Ruckelshaus, the first EPA administrator, about the Clean Water Act of 1972. "it was a terrible time," Ruckelshaus said. "I remember the first time I moved to Washington and the air was brown as I’d go to work in the morning. There was no industry in Washington at the time, that was all automobile pollution." Dec. 28, 2012.
¶ Remembering Barry Commoner A biologist and activist best known for studying baby’s teeth to demonstrate that radioactive fallout from atomic weapons testing was getting into our food supply and endangering our health. Living on Earth, Oct. 5, 2012.
¶ Bodega nuclear fight Gary Pace of Sebastopol, California reflects on the 1960s fight over building a nuclear power plant on top of the San Andreas earthquake fault at the Bodega Headlands. "I often wonder how (environmentalists) found the outrageous hope that they could halt the building of a nuclear plant once the work had started and I ask for similar inspiration." Living on Earth, Sept. 28, 2012.
¶ Climate change drove early human migration, anthropologists believe. NPR, Sept. 20, 2012.
¶ Ancient deforestation created the Danube River delta 8,000 years ago, scientists have found. Sept. 14, 2012New York Times.
¶ Environmental injustice The Hawks Nest Disaster of 1930 - 33 is getting a new memorial. In the infamous incident, between 700 to 3,000 US workers were killed or severely injured for life after boring a tunnel through a section of pure silica without then-standard respiratory protection. Sept. 7, 2012, W.V. Gazette. Also see this People's Press 1935 article about the disaster.
¶ National mammal? Teddy Roosevelt V argues that the US should remember its conservation history by making the bison the country's national mammal. Sept. 4, 2012
¶ Environmental Future Postcards from the past show the world of the future in 2012 in all its dazzling glory, from air police stopping traffic to whales pulling carriages full of divers. Fast Company, Aug. 20, 2012
¶ Smog of History LA Times recaps an article about testing pollution control devices in the 1950s. Aug. 17, 2012
¶ Remembering the Radium Craze France's 19th century radium craze still haunts Paris, Reuters reports. "When the Franco-Polish Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie discovered the radioactive element radium in 1898, she set off a craze for the luminescent metal among Parisians, who started using it for everything from alarm clock dials to lipsticks and even water fountains." July 20, 2012
¶ Drought in ancient times The ancient Mayan water system was designed with drought in mind, as this New York Times article notes. Are there lessons for the modern era? July 17, 2012.
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
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.
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.
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:
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
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
By Peter Dykstra
The Daily Climate
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
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.”
These are slides for a lecture to students and faculty at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, May 14, 2014. Additional notes will be posted.
by Peter Dykstra
The Daily Climate
There’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.
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
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.