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Make It Happen

December 24, 2012 - During the coming year, please do as many of the following as you can:

Plant trees.Grow your own food organically.Make your own organic fertilizer.  I've found that comfrey "tea" is fabulous.  Comfrey is not hard to grow, has pretty blue/purple flowers in spring and early summer, and can be vigorously cut back a few times a year.  Take the cuttings, put them in buckets so that they're 1/2 - 2/3 full, then fill with water.  Let stand three days.  Powerful stuff!Forego new clothing to as great an extent as possible.  When you do buy, look for something "virtuous": Made in America, organic, recycled, repurposed.Recycle and repurpose other possessions, too.Let your house get colder in winter and warmer in summer, i.e., conserve energy.Conserve water.Save more money for hard times.Amplify your pantry so that preserved foods could see you through at least a few weeks, preferably a few months.Set water aside in 2 liter pop bottles.Buy some rain …

The Right to Bear Arms and Sandy Hook Elementary

December 17, 2012 - I confess, I'm always a bit relieved each time I rediscover that we Americans are not yet untouched by our own barbarianism. Incredibly, last Friday's heartbreaking events seem to have diminished us all; we walk more diffidently, we speak in lowered tones; our hearts ache, we shake our heads both in disbelief and in sorrow.  So maniacal were the actions of the lone gunman, so basically wrong, his victims so utterly defenseless, that we stand stripped of even our capacity to feel.  Gutted and forlorn, the world looks upon us in horrified wonder.

Yet another mentally unstable American male has wounded us.  We are not dead, not like the 27 in Newtown. But the hurt is very deep and very wide, if we are brave enough to allow ourselves to feel it.  In our search to discover meaning, questions ring in our minds.  They say his poor, deceased mother was a lovely woman.  How is it that she knew so little of her deeply-troubled, 20-year-old son?  That was…

Intelligence vs. Something Worth Knowing

December 10, 2012 - There are, apparently, 16 national intelligence agencies in the U.S., and they have issued a report today about "major trends" the world faces in the 21st century.  Laughably, the "crisis-prone" global economy tops the list.  As for climate change ... the consensus amongst these 16 agencies, and the "academics, research institutions, political leaders, and corporations in 14 countries and the EU" with whom they collaborated, is that climate change will complicate resource management.  (Now would be a good time to take a deep breath.)  In addition,  they appear to express mild concern about the fact that it is happening faster than predicted.

Alright, alright - so the CIA is not the EPA.  They have vastly different missions.  I get that.  The intelligence and business communities do not take climate disruption into account because it's someone else's job, and besides, everyone knows that terrorism and the economy win the Importa…

What Goes Around

December 4, 2012 - The UK newspaper The Guardian's e-edition is an excellent source of information about environmental and conservation happenings here in the U.S.  I got kind of a kick out of the headline on this particular story: "Campaigners sue EPA over carbon emissions."  "Campaigners" just isn't a word you ever hear in America.  It's also an odd way of describing the activities of the group concerned.  As it turns out, it's the Institute for Policy Integrity (IPI) who's doing the suing (sorry).  Once upon a time, the abbreviation "NGO" (non-governmental organization) was used to refer to groups like the Institute.  I don't see it much in use these days, however.  That said, campaigning is not at all the reason they exist.

The lack of policy integrity responsible for the threatened lawsuit is the EPA's failure to uniformly and consistently enforce the Clean Air Act, according to the Institute.  A formal notice of intent st…

By George, They Think They’ve Got It

November 26, 2012 - Making fuel from trash has been a kind of holy grail – long sought after, much desired.Many have cried “Eureka,” only to find that either money or interest had dried up.I suspect lack of interest was frequently the culprit, when energy companies were the source of funds.Now, however, we have two companies that have built multimillion-dollar factories for the purpose of large-scale, commercial production of cellulosic biofuel.One will, in fact, be shipping product by the end of this month. KiOR has built their plant in Columbus, Mississippi, at a cost of $200 million.Its goal is the manufacture of 13 million gallons of fuel annually from wood waste.How can they already be shipping fuel?They have customers!FedEx, Weyerhauser and Chevron, to be exact.This sounds serious, for which we can all be grateful.Here’s why: No. 1 - KiOR’s fuel isn’t made from an edible crop, like corn.All of us have heard of food riots in various parts of the world, and have heard the warnings …

The Sky Really Is Falling

November 19, 2012 - With the issuance of the World Bank report Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4 Degree Centigrade Warmer World Must Be Avoided, the chorus of voices in Washington, D.C. that belong to organizations that have at last found their courage has become quite raucous.  What are they saying?

This will happen!  That will happen!  This AND that will happen!  This and that must not happen!  It's serious!  It's very, Very, VERY serious!!  Why?  Because this will happen!  And that will happen!  Etc., etc., etc.

Not that they're wrong.  Far from it; the ramifications of doing nothing - which is, in essence, what we are currently doing - are staggeringly awful.  I've covered them quite thoroughly, in the nearly four years I've been writing this blog.  This part of the report they got right. Without mitigative actions, we're in a world of hurt.  Yes, the World Bank speaks truth. They are to be commended.  (They also need to be told to stop funding coal-burning plant…

Occupy, You Make Me Proud to be an American

November 12 - Some of my best moments are when my children make me proud.  As any mother will tell you, once you become a mother, your nurturing instincts encompass every mother's children, everywhere. That's because, though human beings at their worst could mortify toxic sludge, human beings at their best are the outstretched hand of G-d.  The pleasure-filled looks on our children's faces when they do the work of uplifting those in need would make any mother kvel. As every mother knows, our children are at their very best when they take good care of each other.

First the members of Occupy took it upon themselves to help the survivors of Hurricane Sandy.  Going door to door, they have checked on the occupants of countless homes to determine their condition and their needs.  They have distributed food and clothing, and have offered comfort to so many who were badly shaken by the storm's battering.  Recognizing a job that required more than aid agencies by themselves cou…

Only When I Laugh

November 5, 2012 - Americans keep taking baby steps on the slow, reluctant path toward climate resilience.  Last week we found out just how far that has gotten us.  For the two of you who remain unconvinced, PricewaterhouseCooper, accounting and consultancy behemoth, has been thoughtful enough to issue its annual low-carbon economy index.  Considering that Hurricane Sandy is where we stand now, there's little in the way of shock value in PwC's latest research.  Well, unless knowing that the world is on track for 11.4 degrees F. of average warming by the end of this century shocks you.

It should, considering that 90 percent of all species will have become extinct at that increased level in average temperature.   The Middle East, along with southern Europe and northern Africa, will have become unlivable.  How ironic that the nations which comprise the Middle East seem traditionally incapable of getting along with one another (or, in the case of Syria, with even itself), fighting…

Stormageddon

October 29, 2012 - Considering that there's an 800 pound gorilla occupying all the available space, I guess we better pay attention to her.  She's big, she's bad, she's ugly: Hurricane Sandy.  From all appearances, she's on target to live up to her advance billing.  Storm of the Century, and then some.  Anything to celebrate here?  Maybe.

First of all, a closer look is in order.  Hurricane Sandy is 1,000 miles across, with sustained winds of 90 mph.  Storm surge will be her worst aspect.  Sandy, moving at a snail's pace, is scooping up and pushing water out ahead of her that may create a water wall 15 feet in height in New York City.  Should subways flood, as they are likely to do, clean up and repairs could take weeks. Furthermore, this hurricane's storm surge will last throughout three - count them, three - high tides, thereby significantly magnifying the effect.

Did you know that a cubic yard of water weighs nearly a ton?  Small wonder that a state of em…

China's Impact on Global Warming

October 22, 2012 - China surpassed the United States as the world's largest producer of carbon dioxide in 2006.  Three quarters of a million people died prematurely in China, that same year, from the effects of air pollution.  The Chinese government censored the World Bank report in which these data appeared, saying it was "too sensitive and could cause social unrest."  I find it hard to believe the Chinese people don't already know that they're choking to death on their own waste.  Unfortunately, I think they also believe that their pollution problem is no worse than that of other large countries.  It is, in fact, much worse.  For while per-capita energy consumption in the United States is five times as high as it is in China, China is the global leader in overall energy consumption.  Far too much of that energy is created by burning coal.

China is the world's largest consumer - and producer - of coal.  According to the U.S.-China Economic andSecurity Review

While You Were Sleeping

October 15, 2012 - This is interesting: businesses that have incorporated environmentally friendly practices are enjoying more growth than those that haven't.  The jobs created, known as green jobs, can be found in the renewable energy sector, water management, recycling, and anywhere within a company that is attempting to reduce its carbon footprint.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines green jobs this way -

"Jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources; or, jobs in which workers' duties involve making their establishment's [employer's] production processes more environmentally friendly or ensuring that they use fewer natural resources."

According to the Brookings Institution's 2011 Green Jobs Assessment, the "clean economy" grew by 8.3 percent between 2008 and 2009 - the height of the economic downturn.  That growth rate was almost double that of the conventional econom…

A Rock and a Hard Place

October 8, 2012 - Such a pickle: we have the coal, but no longer want to burn it.  China wants the coal, but shouldn't burn it because of the resulting air pollution.  Coal mining companies in the U.S. are ready and waiting to ship their coal to China.  Citizens of the U.S. living on its west coast are adamant they want nothing to do with exporting coal.  That includes Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber. 

Kitzhaber's April 25 letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar expresses his profound skepticism about shipping coal by way of Oregon's ports.  He has requested that a programatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) first be conducted for all five of the export projects currently being considered, as well as a comprehensive policy review.  Here is part of a press release announcing his letter:

"I have concerns about proceeding in this direction [exporting coal to China via Oregon ports] in the absence of a full national discussion about the ramifications inherent in thi…

President Obama: Less Waste and Less Air Pollution

October 4, 2012 - Hi Everybody.  Sorry to be so late getting back; I had some major catching up at work to do.  Things are under control now, and there's lots to write about.

Does it bother anybody else that President Obama is so bad at tooting his own horn?  Our president is not an easy person to get to know.  He has many layers, and the deeper you go, it almost feels like the less you know.   There's something he ought to be bragging about right now, but he keeps all his contributions to an improved environment to himself.  While I do understand that the Republicans turn everything he does or says upside-down, somebody ought to be spreading the word.  Let's get started right here.

At the end of August, President Obama signed an executive order initiating a huge increase in the number of combined heat and power systems used by industry.  The president is a smart man, and knows how to get the most bang for the buck.  After all, virtually all industrial facilities need to k…

Who Knew?

September 10, 2012 - Sometimes I flatter myself into believing I have a scientific turn of mind.  The basis for such nonsense is that I love to experiment when I'm gardening and cooking.  What I like to think of as major leaps in thinking affect only me and my long-suffering husband, however.  In order to make the kind of progress that affects millions of people, it's necessary to think, not just outside the box, but outside the realm of what we believe to be possible.  I guess if I had a science background, I would know more about what is or isn't possible. 

Fortunately, the scientists at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee know how to mix apples and oranges and come up with something wonderful (or at least that's what it seems like to me).  They've extracted a protein from spinach, placed it in an aqueous solution, and poured it onto the surface of a specially-treated silicon wafer.  Voila! In so doing, the resulting photovoltaic cells produce 2.5 times more ener…

Penny Wise, Future Foolish

September 3, 2012 - The accelerated melting of Arctic ice during the summer has been a huge story for the last week or two.  While I don't intend to write about it, it surely deserves a nod of recognition.  You can find excellent lists of stories concerning this aspect of climate change at algore.com.

Detroit's about-face regarding improved fuel efficiency may be the one and only benefit of the various bailouts that took place in '08.  Obama bought their good will by keeping them around, at the same time telling them he was going to let them return the favor.  I guess the car makers figured they could still be saved by the Republicans if the target dates were far enough away.  Nonetheless, an industry-wide average of 54.5 mpg for passenger cars will, as of the past week, go into effect in 2025.  Buses and trucks must likewise improve their EPA rating, only for them the deadline is already looming: 2014 - 2018.

We're still nowhere close to acknowledging that, one way or…

More Than One Way to Skin the Ethanol Cat

August 27, 2012 - Did you know that a large number of ethanol refineries in this country are owned by corn farmers?  I wonder if the owners are family farmers or agribusiness farmers; there's a big part of me that suspects the latter.  Perhaps you've heard that the President has been asked to order reduced corn ethanol production, as a result of the drought.  The corn is needed for, of all things, food.  More than 150 members of Congress asked the EPA  to relax government rules regarding the percentage of corn used in ethanol manufacture.  This idea surfaced weeks ago, and has still not been acted upon.  Refineries have produced about ten percent less ethanol this year, due to a scarcity of corn coupled with a higher price.  (The Bush II-era law mandates an increased percentage of ethanol in our gasoline every year.)

That hungry people should have to compete with ill-advised government programs runs counter to every basic survival instinct we have.  The Bush program, concocted…

Michiganders Like It Windy

August 20, 2012 - You know, it's hard to decide what to write about these days.  Climate extremes are happening all the time now, and I don't ever want to treat what people are going through as if it were unimportant.  On the other hand, it's very easy to tell what my readers like, and want: you guys want to hear some good news.  Last week's blog article was the most popular I've ever written, bar none.  So this week I'm going to mix it up.  First, let's all admit that it's impossible to ignore the fires burning in the western United States.

I know - they're getting a lot of coverage, and it's pretty scary stuff.  There's nothing I can say to make the situation less horrible than it is.  We all want so very badly for the fires to just stop burning!  Fact is, dead trees as dry as tinder are always going to catch fire when they're struck by lightning.  This is a good time to remind ourselves of one of those basic facts of life: we can turn…

Cleaner Energy, Cleaner Air

August 13, 2012 - Ceres is an organization made up of investors, companies, and public interest groups that work to accelerate and expand adoption of sustainable business practices.  They, along with collaborators M.J. Bradley & Assoc., the National Resources Defense Council, Entergy, Exelon, Tenaska, and Bank of America, issue a report every other year that assesses the environmental performance and progress of electric power companies.  This year's report is the eighth edition of Benchmarking Air Emissions, and it makes for enjoyable reading.  Lo and behold, the United States is in the midst of a clean energy transition.  At last!  Here are some of the long-awaited particulars:

From 2008 to 2010, emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide from electric power plants fell by over 30 percent.During the same period, carbon dioxide emissions fell four percent.  Preliminary data show another five percent reduction took place in 2011.When large hydroelectric power projects are i…

President Obama's Environmental Record

August 6, 2012 - If someone were to ask you about President Obama's record on the environment, would you have a hard time answering the question?  I realized I would, so I went straight to the horse's mouth:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/energy.  Since this is the administration's side of the story, I found that they occasionally chose to laud themselves regarding matters which I thought counterproductive, i.e., approving a permit for a nuclear reactor in Burke, Georgia.  (Everybody: Huzzah!)  Overall, I think it is safe to say that the President has done a lot more than most people realize.  While some of what's been done falls under the heading of "let's talk about that some more," there have been real, honest-to-goodness accomplishments, as well.  In the interest of a well-informed electorate, here is a list of President Obama's accomplished goals, so far (in some cases, legislation or directives have taken effect, with the completion date lying at some…