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Posts Tagged ‘Environment

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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.


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

Speaking of the Gulf….

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Representative Joe Barton (R - Tx)

Representative Joe Barton (R - Tx)

The number of Republicans supporting Rep. Joe Barton’s (R- Tx) apology to BP amazes me. Is this not the party that perpetually claims self “responsibility” as part of their platform? Is this not the party that repeatedly states if you screw up, you pay the bill? Government is not going to cover your backside?

Yet, isn’t that exactly what Barton and his Republican supporters are saying? Are they not saying that big business can make a mess – whether it’s in the Gulf or on Wall St. – and they get a free pass.

Or is it that only the little, non-rich and powerful guys and gals who must pay the piper?

Republicans speak clearly about individual responsibility as it applies to average Americans, but it appears they hold a double standard when talking about powerful corporations.

It’s as if they’re saying, “God forbid a big corporation must pay for its mistakes or errors or greed or negligence.”

With that kind of thinking I have a big problem. If I’m supposed to behave in a certain responsible way, then why shouldn’t BP or Goldman Sachs or any other corporation. What makes those companies better than me?

Let me bring my argument down to a more personal level on the Gulf.

Oil-spill covered brown pelican

Oil-spill covered brown pelican

Say your neighbor dumps the entire contents of the engine’s motor oil he’s just changed on your yard. He’s killed your grass and plants and maybe your dog as a result. Wouldn’t you expect him to clean up the mess and make you whole without having to go to court? Wouldn’t you see that mess as his responsibility to clean up? Why should you need to go to court – and pay a lawyer a big fee (sometimes 30% or more) – to get that neighbor to take responsibility for his negligence. Meanwhile, you have to pay to clean it up yourself because it could take years to settle the case…and if like the Exxon Valdez case, you’d be dead before even a minor settlement is concluded. (FYI, some Exxon Valdez cases are still not settled…and those that are amount to $6K or less. A life or business – and business investment – destroyed for $6,000? Give me a break!)

It’s like when your kids slather peanut butter all over the kitchen counter: you made the mess, you clean it up. Isn’t that what responsibility is all about?

Yet, Republicans seem to be saying that big corporations are not expected to behave with the same responsibility to clean up their messes as you and I.

I have a real problem with that kind of thinking. If I’m supposed to behave in an ethical, responsible way, then why should not corporations? Why should they receive a “Get out of Jail Free” card when I, an average middle class citizen, cannot?

I applaud the $20 billion escrow account the President negotiated. If I have any problems, it is that it may not be enough to make the Gulf coast and its residents whole again.

That’s better than what Republicans are saying…and for my money that means a whole lot.

UPDATE: As of May 20, when BP agreed to the $20 Bil escrow account, get-it-wrong Wall St. was still issuing buy or hold share recommendations to their clients. It’s estimated that clients have lost an accumulated $100 Bil as a result of Buy recommendations after the spill occurred.

Written by Valerie Curl

June 20, 2010 at 7:35 PM

Will the Gulf wake people up? Taking care of the planet

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Wave of oil

Oceanic wave of oil

I’ve been one of those vilified “treehuggers” since my youth. I love the outdoors and being in the woods. That’s quite literally my cathedral. That is where I go to pray. Now I volunteer for a nature center as their social media coordinator and webmaster. My job requires me to monitor and pick up stories from all over the world, particularly here in the US, on all things environmental. Here’s some of the nasty stuff:

– Domestic bees are disappearing at an alarming rate which means the more than 130K crops that depend upon bee pollination are in trouble. No bees; no fruit or veggies or, in some cases, no grains. It’s a worldwide catastrophe that may in some part be due to Monsanto’s genetically engineered seeds. The jury is still out. Nevertheless, some European countries have banned the seeds.

– Due to global warming, butterflies, particularly Monarchs, which used to migrate from the northwestern US to Mexico are now turning in their migration from northern Mexico back to the Louisiana shore. Mexico has become too hot.

– Images are available on NatGeo’s site of greasy, oil slicks not caused by the Exxon Valdez but near the oil drilling sites in Alaska. It’s not the huge environmental mess in Nigeria, but seeing oil slicks floating amongst the rocks here in the U.S. that has been going on for who knows how long is more than disturbing. These Alaskan slicks aren’t due to accidents. They’re due to industry laziness or stupidity or human negligence or who knows what. Yet, they exist and no one is cleaning them up. So, drill in the pristine arctic where already the permafrost has turned to mush? Give me a bloody break! That’s stupidity built upon stupidity.

– A recent report states that the US has cut down more forests than all of the Brazilian rainforest cuts. I guess someone forgot to mention the US forests are part of the same forest ecosystem as Brazil. But, hey, we wouldn’t want to endanger the profits of Weyerhaeuser would we by stopping clear cutting and preventing mountainsides from sliding downhill and killing off thousands of more species that depend upon old-growth forests. Heavens forbid!

– Every day hundred if not thousands of plant and animal special go extinct. The ecosystem cannot tolerate the loss of many more species before the entire system is irreparably disrupted. Every specie that goes extinct affects the ecosystem in unimaginable ways. The delicate balance is disrupted in ways that have economic, health and environmental consequences few of even imagine. As that old TV commercial said, “don’t mess with Mother Nature.”

– On the health side, asthma and other chronic breathing problems are at record high levels amongst children. And that’s not all. Many men are facing impotence due to chemicals in the environment…and there’s a significant rise in genetic gender defections (if that’s the right word).

– There is an island of plastic in the Pacific Ocean between the Pacific current that’s probably larger than the Japanese Islands combined. Birds, whales, and other sea mammals have been eating this stuff and feeding it to their young. Full looking bellies of thousand of birds and a recently dead gray whales washed ashore in Seattle have been cut open to reveal stomachs full of plastic.

– The once frozen Northwest Passage of 16th C. fame is now open and up for grabs with many countries vying for rights of passage. The matter is before the UN to see which countries get rights to travel through the once frozen sea to the Pacific. Meanwhile, polar bears are dying of starvation and penguins in Antarctica are failing to reproduce at formally normal levels.

– As snowfall decreases in the Sierra Mountains, so does the amount of water needed by Southwestern states. California’s Imperial Valley was a desert until Sierra water turned it into a massive three-harvest vegetable garden, feeding the nation with cheap veggies. Now that water is disappearing as snowfall decreases – yet another result of global warming.

– Hurricanes feed off of dry land, winds building up speed and velocity as they enter the ocean. High speed winds feeding off the ever growing, deforested African desert cross the Atlantic Ocean with ever greater velocity, crashing into the American continent, creating ever greater havoc each hurricane season.

I could go on ad infinitum, but there is good news.

Young people – school kids, teenagers, and young adults – are taking it upon themselves to make changes that we older generations only argue and piss and moan about. They don’t like the world we’re leaving them so they are doing something about it.

These young people are not the Harvard MBA’s who think money is the answer to everything and who have their egos up their …well, some body parts can’t politely be stated.

These are kids who recognize the problems and are using their skills and talents to solve the urgent problems facing the world.

When I was a senior in high school, 16 yrs old, a union guy came to speak to my Civics class – I know an anomaly now – who said, (I’ll never forget the words)”We (meaning his generation) made the smoke stakes. It’s up to you to clean them up.”

We’ve done a shitty job of it so far.

We’ve been self-centered and egotistical and more concerned about our “image” (what will the Jones’ think?) than we have about living sustainably or sensibly. Humans are bloody stupid.

But we can be better.

Treat the earth well.
It was not given to you by your parents,
it was loaned to you by your children.
We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors,
we borrow it from our Children. – Ancient Indian Proverb

Humankind has not woven the web of life.
We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together.
All things connect. – Chief Seattle, 1854

I do not think the measure of a civilization
is how tall its buildings of concrete are,
But rather how well its people have learned to relate
to their environment and fellow man. – Sun Bear of the Chippewa Tribe

When our culture stops thinking about “me” and starts thinking about the world we leave to our seventh generation, then maybe there will be some hope for the planet and the human specie. If not, we’ll leave a world inhabitable except by the cockroach!

Written by Valerie Curl

June 18, 2010 at 9:18 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.


Not every senior citizen thinks like Sen. Inhofe

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While Sen. Inhofe, of OK, last week bragged that he should have been listed as the planet’s # 1 enemy. Inhofe was named #7 on Rolling Stone’s list of the planet’s worst enemies.

Inhofe took this as a slight. “I should have been number one,” he told KFAQ radio in Tulsa, “I guess [Warren] Buffet has a lot more money so he went first.”
Inhofe also aired his grievances in an interview with the Tulsa World. “My first response was I should have been number 1, not number 7,” he said. “I am serious about that. I have spent now literally years on this thing, and it has been a long, involved thing.”

Sen. Inhofe’s antiquated thinking is reminiscent of the 19th Century English Academy of Sciences when faced with evidence that contradicted their long held beliefs. Their reply in those circumstances, regardless of overwhelming evidence, was, “We refuse to believe it.” Their refusal, like Sen. Inhofe’s, is not much different than the early Renaissance Church’s refusal to accept Galeleo’s theory of the sun being the center of the Universe, rather than the earth.

However, not every senior citizen in this country thinks or believes as Sen. Inhofe does. The following letter was sent to the Good Human by 64 year old Gene Steele.

Earlier this month, I received this email from reader Gene Steele: “I would like to submit an article regarding the need for the older generations to step up and teach the youth about the damaged earth that we created for them with disposable plastics and plastic bags and the efforts of many senior citizens to reverse the damage done.” Well, I gladly accepted the offer and below is the article that was submitted. Enjoy!

My name is Gene Steele, I live in Oakland, Ca. and I want to change the world. I was born in 1945 and have lived through several horrific wars and the ever present threat of man’s self destruction through global nuclear conflict. Yet, I have never felt so vulnerable as I have since becoming aware of the measure of damage that has been done to our planet, mainly by those of my generation. This is my letter to the young people so that they may not make the same mistakes my generation made.

When I was growing up there was no such thing as recycling, everything went into the same garbage can and got hauled off to the same landfill. Television sets, furniture, food waste, every kind of household item you can think of, all thrown into one big heap at the dump. I honestly think we thought that stuff thrown away at the dump was somehow absorbed into the earth. I can remember being shocked to learn that twinkies were still found to be intact a few years after being discarded. Who knew that twinkies weren’t the only things still unchanged and sitting in landfills around the globe.

In my adult years came the arrival of the most innovative substance known to man…..plastic. Plastic changed life as we had known it. Toys were made differently, carmakers began using it in their designs, it changed the way we packaged our food, there are so many ways that plastic changed peoples lives I could be writing forever. Even now, plastic continues to be utilized in the manufacture of everyday items.

Now that I am retired and have more time to pay attention to things other than making a living and supporting my family, I began to hear more and more about global warming and climate change. The more I listened, the worse it got. Oceans rising, glaciers melting, marine life and sea mammals literally swimming in garbage, mostly plastics; everything from hard bottle type plastic that never breaks down to plastic bags which break down into smaller pieces that birds, sea mammals and fish ingest and have been found in the stomach and tissue of these same creatures.

Plastic is not a substance that was meant to be introduced into the digestive system of any living thing. Once taken in it wreaks havoc. If it gets that far, sea birds and mammals usually choke to death trying to swallow it mistakenly thinking it is food. The very thought of it breaks my heart.

The one thing that keeps me motivated in this fight to reclaim our planet is the fact that it is not too late. We as seniors and our youth should unite to get the middle generation (our sons and daughters and youth’s mom’s and dad’s) to work harder to enact laws that regulate manufacturers and consumers to develop alternative methods, greener, safer ways of accomplishing things without plastic or at the very least with the reduce, reuse, recycle credo becoming a plastic industry commitment.

This is my plea to other seniors to join in the fight. Utilize the free time you now have to give back to your community. Start a youth campaign against global warming, or give a talk at your local elementary school teaching the reduce, reuse, recycle credo. You will be doing yourself and the generations to come a great service.

Gene Steele is a noted Oakland, Ca. inventor and environmentalist and creator of the green bagman shopper, the high quality reusable shopping and/utility bag.

Trying to convince people, like Sen. Inhofe, who stubbornly continue to believe the accuracy of their ideas despite all evidence to the contrary, is like trying to change a turtle into a dolphin. Fortunately, more and more companies like Proctor and Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and Nissan – even Apple, Google, and IBM – have accepted global warming as real. In changing their manufacturing processes and investing in alternative energy, they’re not only reducing the waste going into landfills which are already overwhelmed with waste but they’re saving millions of dollars on lowered energy consumption.

This month Google announced it’s petition to the state of California to become an energy producer. The company plans to invest in solar energy farms from which they can power their massive needs for energy to run their server farms. If Google generates enough energy, they may be able to sell whatever solar energy is not needed by the company to consumers or utilities. Johnson & Johnson invested in methane conversion plants, using the methane energy created in landfills, to power their plants. Meanwhile, P&G reformulated products and repackaged products to reduce their energy consumption by as much as 40%. And Nissan is betting its future on electric cars.

Inhofe is not the only person who disbelieves global warming and want verifiable evidence of it. The problem, though, is to obtain incontrovertible evidence, major catastrophes must be suddenly, absolute, and irrevocably linked to global warming, such as island nations suddenly sinking beneath suddenly, dramatically rising oceanic levels. The problem is that planetary systems are deceptively gradual and there are few absolute historic models upon which to base accurate models.

caption: This image compares differences in ice-covered areas between September 12, 2009, the date of this year’s minimum, and September 16, 2007, the record low minimum extent. Light gray shading indicates the region where ice occurred in both 2007 and 2009, while white and dark gray areas show ice cover unique to 2009 and to 2007, respectively. (Credit: Sea Ice Index data/National Snow and Ice Data Center)

Beyond the obvious need to change how we live – exporting trillions of dollars for oil, increased smog, higher rates of asthma among children, increased rates of environmental allergies and illnesses (i.e., sick building syndrome), increased levels of chemicals and animal waste in water supplies – there remains the fact if global warming is a reality and we do nothing to arrest or slow it down, the people and animals of this planet may suffer catastrophes beyond calculation. Is that risk worth betting against by doing nothing? To put it another way, if you saw your child blithely stepping out into street into the path of an oncoming truck, would you stand by and watch, calculating that the truck would never hit your child or would you reach out and grab your child to ensure the child’s safety? That is the essential question now being posed in the argument for preventive measures on global warming: better safe than sorry.

Yes, changing how we live to adjust to the reality of global warming will require more of us than recycling and composting. It will require reinventing our lives, our homes…and our workplaces. But that’s not all bad. There is much to be gained in lowered costs and increased productivity from these changes. So maybe gas guzzling, 8 miles/gal SUVs go the way of Mammoths. But is that bad? Is it really so bad that coal-fired, polluting plants innovate to less polluting energy sources? It can be done, but the management of these companies – as well as their communities – need to change.

They need to see the benefits of changing. The horse-dawn carriage did not go down easily with the advent of the automobile. But those business models changed because it had to change. Stables became garages or car dealerships to remain in business as the public changed. Business changes to respond to customer demand, just as carriage maker employees changed to build automobiles. Old industries die and new ones are born. That is the nature of truly free market, innovative economy. That free, innovative, open, investment-oriented economy is what drove the massive industrial changes and consumer products, combined with federal R&D monies from DARPA, NIH, and various other federal agencies to universities and other research organizations following the Korean War.

Currently, there are new energy-saving or creating technologies being developed all across this country in Universities and scientific institutions as well as in cutting-edge companies. All they need is for old dinosaurs like Sen. Inhofe to get out of the way so they can get the funding they need for their research. The U.S. led the world in R&D for over a hundred years. Are we to give it up now to China and India and Brazil because of senators like Inhofe? Or are we to continue to our historic proclivity towards innovation?

Senator Inhofe – and his ilk – are on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of American business. If Inhofe had lived a hundred years ago, we’d all be riding in horse-drawn carriages or driving cars made in Germany. AT&T would be a British company, and IBM would have started in some other country, probably England!

Written by Valerie Curl

January 19, 2010 at 9:13 AM

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