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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

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When I read stories or emails like this one, I remember the first time, as an adolescent, I took my mother out to the woods behind our house in New Hampshire. I clearly remember the confusion in her eyes as I talked about how much I loved the woods, how beautiful they were, and how much I enjoyed listening to the animals that inhabited the woods. Her eyes glazed over while I talked about my deep joy of all the forest held since time immemorial as though nothing I said held any significance for her.

I suspect many people today feel much as my mother did those many years ago. Maybe even the owners and stockholders of the company to which this email from the Sierra Club refers.

healthy forests

Almost two weeks ago, my colleague Sarah Matsumoto and I wrote a letter to one of the largest landowners in America, Red Emmerson.

As two workaday environmentalists, united in our devotion to forests and the service to the planet they provide, we made a simple request.

We would like Mr. Emmerson to be clear about his company’s clear cutting. We would like him to let consumers who visit his company’s website—and there are people who do such things before they buy wood to build a new house or remodel a kitchen—get a clear picture of his company’s clear cutting practices.

Emmerson, a timber titan whose own story suggests the protagonist is not your average Joe, got his start in California logging mills as a teenager in the late 1940s. He joined forces with his father, a mill builder, and grew Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) into one of the largest and most powerful lumber companies in America.

As the company’s name suggests, a big chunk of the family owned business’s holdings are in the Sierra Nevada. Unfortunately, the awe-inspiring part of the story stops there.

Here’s why: Much of the company’s nearly two million acres are destined to be clear cut. That is, they have already been or will be totally wiped clean of trees, shrubs and other living plants, then doused with pesticides before replanting with seedlings that will require decades to mature.

If you fly over parts of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges today—or watch a Google Maps-assisted flyover produced by the Sierra Club—you can see what clear cutting means. It creates a checkerboard of bald spots across the forested mountains. At ground level, it dramatically changes habitat, microclimates and ecosystem services. Clear cutting eliminates breeding and living space for most animals, makes cool places hotter, and reduces the essential water-storing services of the bare land left behind.

When author Cheryl Strayed stumbled across a clear cut during her hike along the Pacific Crest Trail (recounted in Wild, one of my favorite books of 2012), it unsettled her. “I felt sad and angry about it, but in a way that included the complicated truce of my own complicity,” she writes. “I used tables and chairs and toilet paper, too, after all.”

So do we consumers of wood products have to accept clear cutting as a necessary evil? No, not at all.

There are better ways to do forestry. Most logging companies in California are moving away from clear cutting, and some do almost no clear cutting. They employ more selective ways to harvest timber. These ways preserve more trees and do less damage to the habitat and the forest’s ability to recover quickly and keep providing ecosystem services.

SPI uses a range of harvest methods, but harvest plans filed with the state suggest it is leading the pack among those who continue to rely heavily on the outdated practice of clear cutting. How much clear cutting does the company do? That’s the question we think SPI should clearly answer for consumers.

That’s why Sarah and I wrote the letter. On the SPI website, the company implies that it practices sustainable forestry. There’s nothing sustainable about clear cutting—it doesn’t sustain forests and it doesn’t sustain jobs.

Clear cutting is to forestry what clubbing baby seals is to the fur trade: an ugly, archaic practice so unnecessary that it is almost hard to believe it continues.

So SPI needs to be clear about clear cutting. We want it to disclose on its home page the number of acres the company clear cuts. Let consumers consider whether Mr. Emmerson’s SPI is really practicing sustainable forestry. Then consumers can vote with their pocketbooks.

Electric Forecast Calls for Increasing Blackouts

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Energy BlackoutPacific Standard’s Lisa Margonelli reports the US power grid is failing:

Since the early 1990s, according to data gathered by Massoud Amin, an electrical engineering professor at the University of Minnesota, the number of power outages affecting more than 50,000 people a year has more than doubled, and blackouts now drain between $80 billion and $188 billion from the U.S. economy every year. The power grid is slipping backwards to a time when infrastructure was unreliable, and more and more people are talking about going “off the grid” with solar, batteries, and generators as a result. Will this doom the greater grid, and by extension the greater good?

It’s not easy to keep 450,000 miles of high voltage lines up and humming. But the situation has gotten worse over the years because the U.S. has increased the load on its lines while investing less in the system. By Amin’s reckoning, since 1995 the power industry has taken more from its infrastructure than it’s invested; research-and-development spending in the power sector has fallen to just 0.17 percent of revenue. In effect, the power industry has behaved like a low-tech industry—and so it’s becoming one.

Across the power and wonkish sectors, though, there’s a fair amount of agreement that the U.S. needs to make massive investments in the backbone of the grid, as well as in a self-healing grid that can better handle outages (and hackers), and in information technology to make the grid “smart.” Amin estimates this will cost $17 billion to $24 billion over the next 20 years, but will save perhaps $49 billion in outage costs per year and increase energy efficiency to save another $20 billion a year. In other words, as a nation the U.S. would almost make money on the spending.

But in the political climate of the last decade, Americans have not gotten their act together. “We have wasted 10 years arguing about the role of the public and private sectors,” says Amin, “and our competitors have moved ahead of us.” He believes we need a leader who, like Kennedy, can pitch a big investment as a “moonshot,” but laments that “we’ve got gridlock on policy and uncertainty with investment.”

Here’s the takeaway:

Two scary things stand out about America’s failure to shore up its grid over the last 15 years. The first is that the grid’s frailties are getting worse as our weather is getting weirder. The second is that the U.S.’s inability to sort out the right mix of public and private investment and get on with the process of building the grid we need reflects that we no longer quite believe in the common good. It’s not just a power failure, it’s also an optimism failure.

The US used to pride itself as being the first in technology. The first to imagine, solve and create the seemingly impossible. The country that led in research and design and expanding the nation’s capabilities. A country where rich, poor and everyone in between believed they had a stake in the nation’s success: building it; creating new businesses as opportunities arose; expanding opportunities – with federal and state assistance – for everyone who had vision and determination; and in pulling their equitable (affordable) share of the load via taxes.

The current debate over taxes reflects, as Lisa Margonelli writes, that we no longer quite believe in the common good. For the last 20 years or so, the argument has been what am I getting and why should I have to pay for the common good. Perhaps those of us who still take pride in the US need to be asking, if not me…and you, then who?

Aussie Climate Scientists Rap

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I’m not normally a big fan of Rap music, but I love this:

A transcript from the Wonkroom:

So begins a new rap video by actual climate scientists from Australia, one of the continents hardest hit by global warming pollution. The group of scientist-rappers, in coordination with the Australia Broadcasting Corporation’s comedy show Hungry Beast, rap about science, politicians, and right-wing deniers with an amusing combination of fact and irreverence. Here’s their take on the dangerous risks of positive feedback loops and intensification of extreme weather:

Feedback is like climate change on crack.

The permafrosts subtracts: feedback!

Methane release wack : feedback!

Write a letter then burn it: feedback!

Denialists, deny this in your dreams,

Coz climate change means greater extremes,

Shit won’t be the norm,

Written by Valerie Curl

May 13, 2011 at 9:19 AM

GOP Proposes “Abandon Earth Act”

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The Wonk Room reports the latest news from House Republicans on climate science. If you can’t beat it, just move to another planet!

Smart guys, these GOP’ers.

Earth from Moon shot

Republicans in Congress find the clean energy pathway unreasonable, arguing the costs of reducing our toxic dependence on coal and oil would be too great. Perhaps stung by accusations that they are simply the Party of No, a group of House Republicans have now put forward an alternate strategy to avoiding disastrous global warming: the first step being to scrap NASA’s world-leading climate science research funding, and direct it instead into sending people into unpolluted outer space:

Global warming funding presents an opportunity to reduce spending without unduly impacting NASA’s core human spaceflight mission. With your help, we can reorient NASA’s mission back toward human spaceflight by reducing funding for climate change research and reallocating those funds to NASA’s human spaceflight accounts, all while moving overall discretionary spending toward 2008 levels.

The signatories of this Abandon Earth letter to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) and Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) are Reps. Sandy Adams (R-FL), Rob Bishop (R-UT), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Pete Olson (R-TX) and Bill Posey (R-FL), all from districts that play a role in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) manned spaceflight program. As they are currently on planet Earth, they are also all from districts threatened by the effects of global warming.

Written by Valerie Curl

February 9, 2011 at 7:08 PM

Climate Change Ended the Age of Pyramids…

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causing major ecological and human changes tht lasted over 100 years, according to scientists. “The people were like locusts,” temple inscriptions recorded, causing the end of the Pyramid building era as the Nile Delta dried up as a result of climate change that affected all of the Middle East, from Egypt to Iraq.

Egyptian Pyramids

Ancient Egypt Timeline: Egypt Guide: Discovery Channel.

About six thousand years ago, an important and dramatic climate change occurred that collapsed Nile Delta society, according to a variety of scientists from a number of fields. Around four thousand BCE, between the era of the old kingdom and the middle kingdom in Egypt, a dramatic change occurred in the Nile Delta. A dramatic climate change occurred that dried up rivers and the Nile Delta, causing the end of the pyramid age and brought drought throughout the Middle East. As a result of the drought, thousands of Egyptians died or left the Nile Delta. Hieroglyphics record people as acting like swarms of locusts, eating up everything in sight including their children. 

The African continent went from being a verdant landscape to the desert which remains today. 

The sub-Saharan desert continues to  grow rapidly, causing ever stronger and more frequent hurricanes to cross Atlantic to the shores of the U.S . Unfortunately, the no longer existing verdant forest of Africa will not save the U.S. population from dramatic climate weirding in which the northeast is likely to experience even more snowfall while the southern east coast experiences more flooding rains. Meanwhile, the western regions of the continental U.S. will experience drying and warmer weather.

What happened six thousand years ago or more was the result of a dramatic change in the Atlantic Gulf steam – the very same changes that scientists warn about today.  Amongst the greatest fear of climatologists today is the change in sea and air gulf streams. For example, when the Atlantic gulf stream is disrupted by warmer weather causing the arctic glaciers to melt, that colder water disrupts the flow of the Atlantic gulf stream, pushing it down lower in the ocean which causes colder weather in the northeast as well as disrupting the flow of the Pacific gulf flow bringing dryer air to the Western U.S.  and colder temperatures to Asia. The same thing happened six thousand years ago, causing the destruction for more than 100 years numerous Middle Eastern civilizations including the Old Kingdom of Egypt. 

Scientists studying climate change know without doubt that excess carbon emissions lead to warmer air and increased glacial melt. They know that increased carbon in the atmosphere changes air and water temperatures which affects planetary temperatures and weather patterns. Continually dumping increasingly more carbon into the atmosphere is toxic to human, plant and animal habitation, regardless of what climate deniers say, if only because doing so causes glacial melt and changes in air and water gulf streams. 

Humans have only one planet upon which to live. Unless they which to live in a similar environment to that which brought enormous suffering, hunger and death to many thousands or millions of inhabitants of six thousand years ago in the Middle East, then humans must change their habits to reduce carbon emissions before its too late.

Written by Valerie Curl

January 1, 2011 at 9:33 AM

Micheal Hirsh, of National Review, Explains the Financial Meltdown & Housing Crisis

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It appears that a great many people are still confused over the causes of the 2008 financial meltdown and housing crisis. Partisans are still claiming it’s the opposing party’s fault or have limited knowledge. What is true of everyone is angry at a system that permitted the destruction of the economy, the mass loss of jobs, and the ruination of savings and retirement accounts.

Micheal Hirsch, of National Review, has published a new book, Capital Offense: How Washington’s Wise Men Turned America’s Future Over To Wall Street, that takes a hard look at the causes of the financial crisis, going back to President Reagan’s initial decision to deregulate the financial markets.

Republicans, Democrats and Independents will be as surprised as I was after viewing this video. Please watch:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Written by Valerie Curl

October 14, 2010 at 8:58 AM

Out of the mouth of babes….

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In 1992, 12-year old Severn Cullis-Suzuki spoke before the United Nation’s Earth Summit. Her words are still powerful today.

Eighteen years have passed since Severn pleaded with world leaders, and so little has changed.


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