Posts Tagged ‘environment’

h1

An Unfortunate Step Backwards

June 5, 2017

On this World Environment Day we are left to ponder the latest chapter in human irresponsibility, the decision by Mr. Trump to have the United States, the second greatest polluter in the world, withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

This decision manifests the President’s unacceptable lack of understanding of reality. After hearing his comments and speech, one is left to wonder if he actually read the agreement. Trump’s assessment of the Paris accord and its supposed effect on our nation once again displays his “willful ignorance and disinterest” and “failure of intellectual virtue” as columnist David Brooks (a Republican, no less) aptly phrases it.

This is an agreement involving a non-binding timetable for the reduction of carbon emissions. No country is imposing restrictions on any other country, contrary to Mr. Trump’s assertions. Under the agreement, we already have the freedom to make adjustments as dictated by our circumstances without penalty.

Trump claims that the accord “would effectively decapitate our coal industry.” For those who pay attention, the coal industry was in decline long before the accord because of the availability of cleaner and cheaper energy sources. As a matter of fact, even the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum in Benham, Kentucky, switched to solar power in order to save money.

He said in his speech that he “was elected to represent the people of Pittsburg, not Paris”. It is of some interest to note that the people of Pittsburg voted overwhelmingly in favor of Hillary Clinton and is a green city of its own volition.

Economically, there is widespread agreement that any short-term gains made by the fossil fuel industry will be greatly offset by our inability to capitalize on the inevitable world-wide shift to renewable energy. By leaving the Paris agreement, we jeopardize our potential to be at the vanguard of clean technology and the economic gains that come with it, a vacuum sure to be filled by other industrial nations, notably China.

This withdrawal seems to be more about sending a misguided “nationalist” message to the world (courtesy of the unelected Steve Bannon) than about global warming. It is the product of the bunker mentality of a man who sees not facts or points of view but instead a pantheon of enemies composed of any person or group who disagrees with him.

Mr. Trump has chosen to put us in the company of only Nicaragua (who voted against the accord because it wasn’t tough enough) and Syria in the world community. He has basically abdicated the leadership role the United States had formerly embraced in this critical issue. Instead of forging ahead in the field of sustainable energy, he has chosen to go backwards in spite of the opposition of a large number major corporations (including, amazingly enough, Exxon), 211 mayors representing 54 million Americans, and his own Secretary of State.

By now there should be no question about climate change being affected by carbon emissions caused by mankind (though some in the current administration still have their heads in the sand on this one) and no question that an immediate concerted effort is needed to curtail the damage being done before it is too late. Any negative impact this may have on our economy (and that is indeed disputable) is far outweighed by the positive impact we could and should make concerning the future health of this planet and the future generations that will inhabit it.

The Paris accord is by no means perfect, but at the very least it takes a step forward in uniting the nations of this planet in a common cause, one that is critical to us all. To abandon it is an act of self-absorbed fantasy which only serves to accelerate the advance towards an incomprehensible cataclysm. The reality is that we are all in this together. It is a time for America to step up, not take this unfortunate step backwards.

h1

Now More Than Ever

April 22, 2017

Earth Day 2017 comes early in the current administration’s assault on the environment. Now more than ever we need to be increasingly diligent in the protection of our vulnerable planet for it is abundantly clear that preserving it has taken a back seat to the unfettered and irresponsible expansion of the fossil fuel industry.

The Trump cabinet has been called “a nightmare for the planet, and the fossil fuel industry’s dream come true” (Michael Brune, director of the Sierra Club). It is filled with those who have a history of denying climate change  (including the President himself), most of whom are directly from the petroleum industry.

Scott Pruitt, the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (which he built a career suing on behalf of the oil industry), is busy filling it with other climate change deniers in an attempt to roll back environmental regulations which they narrowly view only as harmful to business. The fact that these penny-wise and pound-foolish actions will be detrimental to the health and welfare of the Earth and its inhabitants seems to be besides the point.

Natural resources such as oil, gas, and coal are finite entities. However, they have become nothing more than a valuable commodity to be manipulated for the benefit of national power, corporate stockholders, or personal convenience by those in the business of resource profiteering. Modern man has exploited the gifts of this Earth without regard for their potential depletion or the destruction that is the byproduct of their acquisition. We have disregarded the interconnected nature of all things that make up the ecology of this world, and in doing so, have created an imbalance that is spiraling out of control.

History shows that we constantly overestimate our ability to safely extract the materials that we want and dispose of their waste. The result has been the pollution and destruction of our only environment. How many oil spills, deforestations, slag heaps, chemical contaminations, oceanic plastic “swamps,” animal extinctions, fouled wells, toxic dumps, poisoned water sources, and smog-choked cities do we need to understand this?

Half of the equation is the need to decrease our copious consumption. We have become energy gluttons who value convenience over conservation. How about downsizing the gas-guzzling vehicles we seem to covet? How about using more mass transit or even walking or biking? How about foregoing the wasteful McMansions and living in reasonably sized houses with moderately controlled temperatures? How about greater support for developing and making use of the technologies that would allow us to produce energy without destroying our planet in the process?

The idea of stimulating much-desired job creation by focusing on the fossil fuel industry is constantly being heralded. However, it is actually in the area of renewable energy industries that more jobs can be provided without adversely affecting the environment. According to the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, $1 million dollars worth of oil and natural gas output directly creates 0.8 jobs and $1 million dollars of coal produces 1.9 jobs. However, wind power creates 4.3 jobs per million, solar power 5.4, building retrofits for energy efficiency 7.0, biomass power generation 7.4, and mass transit services 11.0.

We need to return to our instinctive reverence for the natural world and a realization of its delicate balance. It seems that “civilization” has made us arrogant, for the view that the land and all that is upon or under it is merely there for our exploitation is now prevalent. This is a shame that can become a tragedy, for humans have ignored this stark reality: if we do not take care of this planet, we will destroy it, and us along with it. This is not crazy talk. It is not the doomsday rambling of some overzealous tree hugger. It is science. It is common sense. And, in the long run, it is a matter of survival.

So today, April 22, the day which has been designated as Earth Day, the citizens of this nation are once again reminded to reconsider the shortsighted intrusions being made upon this delicate sphere. We do not have unlimited time to solve the problem even if the skeptics and deniers change their views. The very things that make life on Earth possible are being endangered, and the damage that is being done now to our land, atmosphere, and waters cannot be reversed. And unlike the dinosaurs, we will have no one to blame for our extinction but ourselves.

h1

Enemy of the Ocean

January 2, 2017

5cf3f96e-8bef-404a-860b-e9e65b750c84

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
― John Muir

The oceans of the world are one of the critical elements of the ecology of the Earth. Their environmental health is a powerful indicator of the health of the planet itself. And that health is suffering because of the actions of one creature: mankind.

At this moment eight massive garbage patches exist in the world’s oceans. The one in the Mediterranean Sea contains about 250 billion pieces of plastic. In the Pacific Ocean, the Great Eastern Garbage Patch is the size of Texas, and the Great Western is even larger at half the size of the continental United States. The Indian Ocean and North Atlantic Ocean have also fallen victim to this egregious phenomenon.

These garbage patches are composed of anything humans dispose of that floats. The greatest portion is plastic: plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic containers of all sorts.

This is of particular concern because plastic takes an extremely long time to biodegrade. The average plastic bottle takes at least 450 years to completely biodegrade, and some take as long as 1,000 years. Rather, the plastic is ground down by the motion of the sea and the light of the sun into small particles called “confetti.” This confetti is destined to float around in the currents like a murky soup.

This is further compounded by the fact that these plastics leach out harmful substances such as bisphenol A (BPA). Plastics also absorb PCBs already present in the water. When marine life consumes the plastic granules, the harmful chemicals get into the food chain and affect any organism that eats them (including people).

And just who are the culprits responsible for this?

We are. All of us.

The use of products that end up in the garbage, plastic or otherwise, is pervasive. Since the threat is not immediate or visible, we succumb to the temptation of convenience. In the meantime we are pushing the limits of the planet’s ability to absorb the waste products of our modern civilization.

So what are we to do?

It sounds quite simple, but it requires the breaking of habits, something that in reality always proves difficult — stop (or at the very least greatly curtail) the use of common plastics.

When you shop, don’t use plastic bags. Choose paper or better yet, bring your own cloth bags. If you do end up with plastic bags, recycle them. Most supermarkets have a receptacle for such recycling right by the front door.

Instead of drinking bottled water, get a reusable drinking bottle and fill it with tap water (essentially what you are drinking in the plastic bottle and certainly no less healthy). Whatever plastics you do use, recycle. Virtually every town has a curbside pickup these days, so this practice should not be difficult to maintain. Not to do so makes you an enemy of the ocean.

These are most certainly not major sacrifices in terms of time or money (as a matter of fact, they will actually save money in the long run). But they are major actions that can help save the oceans. And that means saving the very planet we live on.

h1

Respect Your Mother Earth

April 22, 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“O beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plain!”

We first heard this as children in school, these lyrics of “America the Beautiful.” As a child, it was merely a song, but through the years as I traveled about this great country of ours, the words have taken on new meaning as I saw for myself the incredible splendors sprawled out from sea to shining sea. Each had a character and beauty of its own, and each left an indelible imprint in my memory. I do not exaggerate when I say that the natural wonders I beheld stirred my soul.

White Sands, New Mexico

White Sands, New Mexico

How could this not be so? Gaze upon the pure white other-worldly dunes of White Sands. Stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon and watch the sun rise over the vast crevice. Listen as the mighty waves of the Atlantic crash with a thunderous roar on the rocky coast of Maine. Walk in the sand as the seals bob their heads up in the surf along the pristine shoreline of Cape Cod National Seashore. How can the creations of mankind possibly match the staggering majesty of the Great Arch in Utah or the mighty Mt. Denali in Alaska? If you don’t believe me, next vacation, rather than visiting the artificial monuments of glass and steel and neon like Las Vegas, Hollywood, or Disney World, venture forth to explore the grandeur of the Tetons or Yosemite or Acadia or Big Sur. They all speak far more eloquently for themselves than I ever could. In the words of the great naturalist John Muir, “Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”

Mt. Denali, Alaska

Mt. Denali, Alaska

So today, April 22, the day which has been designated as Earth Day, the often distracted or oblivious inhabitants of this nation are reminded to reflect on and appreciate the wonders of this land and all its natural glory. As far as I’m concerned, this should be done every day. While we are at it, we might perhaps reconsider the shortsighted intrusions we make on it for our own “benefit.”

The native peoples of the past did not need Earth Day, for they had an instinctive reverence for the natural world and a realization of its delicate balance. It seems that “civilization” has made us arrogant, for the view that the land and all that is upon or under it is merely there for our exploitation is now prevalent. This is a shame that can become a tragedy, for humans have ignored this stark reality: if we do not take care of this planet, we will destroy it, and us along with it. This is not crazy talk. It is not the doomsday rambling of some overzealous tree hugger. It is science. It is common sense. And, in the long run, it is a matter of survival.

Great Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Great Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Natural resources are a finite entity. They are not a commodity to be manipulated for the benefit of national power, corporate stockholders, or personal convenience. Modern man has exploited the gifts of this Earth without regard for their potential depletion or the destruction that is the byproduct of their acquisition. We have disregarded the interconnected nature of all things that make up the ecology of this world, and in doing so, have created an imbalance that is spiraling out of control.

History shows that we constantly overestimate our ability to safely extract the materials that we want and dispose of their waste. The result has been the pollution and destruction of our only environment. How many oil spills, nuclear meltdowns, deforestations, slag heaps, chemical contaminations, oceanic plastic “swamps,” animal extinctions, fouled wells, garbage-laden landfills, toxic dumps, and poisoned water sources do we need to understand this?

upstate New York: another site for "fracking"?

upstate New York: another site for “fracking”?

The cry of some at the moment is more oil, more oil, more oil. Why? Because we need it? No, we do not need it. We just want it. We have become energy gluttons who value convenience over conservation. How about downsizing the gas-guzzling vehicles we seem to covet? How about using more mass transit or even walking or biking? How about foregoing the wasteful McMansions and living in reasonably sized houses with moderately controlled temperatures? How about greater support for developing and making use of the technologies that would allow us to produce energy without destroying our planet in the process?

Teton Range, Wyoming: let the drilling begin?

Teton Range, Wyoming: let the drilling begin?

Americans are the biggest culprits. We have perverted the concept of freedom and liberty into I-should-get-whatever-I-want-and-the-hell-with-everyone-else. That is not freedom; it is license. Just because we have the means and the power to do something does not mean we have the right to do it. Our avarice is reprehensible considering the consequences for the future of life on Earth.

I understand that there will be those who read this and shake their heads. They think this view is far-fetched and implausible. I’m afraid it will take nothing short of catastrophe to convince them. Perhaps they should speak to those folks from Bhopal, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Seveso, and the Love Canal who also once felt that way. Until it happened to them, that is.

We do not have unlimited time to solve the problem even if the skeptics change their view. The very things that make life possible are being endangered, and damage that is being done now to our atmosphere and oceans cannot be reversed. Unlike the dinosaurs, we will have no one to blame for our extinction but ourselves. If you listen carefully at this very moment, you might be able to hear the sorrowful cries of your Mother Earth as she witnesses the betrayal of the humans who inhabit her. Or perhaps that is just the sound of the ice caps melting.

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” -- John Muir

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” — John Muir