Category Archives: Environment

Beauty Ablaze

Credit…Kyle Grillot for The New York Times

California is burning with no end in sight. People are dying, houses are blackened hulks, forests are decimated — Why? Why is the Golden State an inferno with flames incinerating homes and trees in hills and valleys?

Several factors come into play, but all are linked to climate change. Global warming in California has resulted in shorter winters and reduced snowpack. The fire season starts earlier and ends later each year. With warmer spring and summer temperatures, drought is inevitable. Starved of moisture, vegetation and the soil are desiccated by the dry, intense heat. Undergrowth in the forests becomes abundant kindling that can ignite spontaneously, and the trees, stressed by extreme heat and lack of water, are unable to withstand the flames.

The Santa Ana winds rush from high pressure areas in the mountains to lower pressure at the coast. Channeled through mountain passes and canyons, their velocity accelerates, and the lower pressure compresses, warms and dries them out. The winds augment the parching of extreme heat and drought. Once the underbrush ignites, the wind propels and nourishes the wildfire, easily driving it across thousands of acres.

Though wildfires are a natural part of California’s bioregion, the fire season is an estimated 75 days longer now. The trends of rising temperatures and decreasing rainfall are expected to continue, and wildfires will keep pace. Each year during this decade has experienced a more destructive fire season, and there is no reason, given the paucity of effort in capping or lowering emissions, to expect deviation from this ominous trajectory.

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Filed under Climate change, Global Warming

Flooded future

Flooding in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 2017. Source: World Meteorological Organization / Flickr

An alarming, just published, report from Climate Central warns that flooding projected across the globe by 2050 will be far worse than previously thought. The areas affected are mostly in Asia, where millions live on or near the coast. Flooding by seawater implies not only inundation of homes, but the salting of cultivated fields. Worldwide, chronic floods will endanger 300 million people. By the end of this century, the high tide line will be permanently higher than the land where 200 million people now work, farm, and call home.

These dire predictions result from the discovery that coastal elevations are actually lower than previously estimated; hence more vulnerable to flooding, inundation and the contamination of freshwater. In fact, the incursions of saltwater could make the land uninhabitable even before it disappears under the sea.

The previous estimates of land elevation were calculated using data produced by satellite photography, which sees the tops of trees and buildings, thus overestimating the elevation of the land. The problem is particularly acute in areas of dense forest and close clusters of buildings. More accurate means of measurement, using lasers and overflights, are expensive and consequently not widely used.

Cities on the world’s coasts are the most densely populated areas on the planet, and most of them have low elevations. The older elevation estimates have been found to be too high on an average of approximately six to eight feet, which is the same as or even more than the highest sea level rise projections for all of the 21st century. The elevations of some American cities, including New York, Miami and Boston, were overestimated by an average of 15.5 feet.

As we now know, the rise in sea level occurs when the combustion of fossil fuels and other emissions caused by human activity pollute the atmosphere. The planet grows warmer, causing glaciers and ice sheets to melt and flow into the oceans. The increased volume of water raises the level of the sea.

The estimates of the number of people who will lose their farms and homes to floods of saltwater are based on moderate emissions cuts mandated by the Paris climate accords. (We are not currently meeting those goals.) If pollution and the subsequent greenhouse gases continue to increase, by the end of the century chronic flooding and permanent inundation will imperil the land that shelters and feeds 640 million people living now (actually more; based on 2010 data), close to 10 percent of the global population. Ironically, the people most likely to suffer are the ones least responsible for polluting emissions.

The United States is already experiencing the predicted effects of global warming. Hurricane Harvey caused epic flooding in Houston; diseases once confined to the tropics are increasingly occurring in the temperate zone; extreme heat is responsible for a sharp increase in deaths in Nevada and Arizona; wildfires are consuming California . . .

The loss of land and the resulting migration of climate refugees will surely give rise to humanitarian crises of unprecedented severity and have devastating effects on the world economy. Other aspects of global warming like drought and extreme heat will also have catastrophic consequences. All living creatures, from plants to insects, fish, birds and humans will have to flee their habitats and invade others. Some will survive; many won’t.

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Filed under Climate change, Global Warming

After the storm

The day after

Sunset over a peaceful sea

The storm has passed

Day of the storm
Boats race against the coming tempest back to a safe haven

It was the the middle of August and a big, national, summer holiday. Everyone except emergency crews and restaurant and hotel staff was on vacation. The heat and humidity were oppressive.

Then the storm came. It lasted, with varying intensity, through the night. The lightening was focused on Capri: it blazed through closed shutters, dousing the house with light. Reluctantly, because of the heat, we had to close every window and door; the shutters were ineffectual at keeping out the rain. The deafening thunderclaps pounded us from less than a mile away. I have never experienced a storm so violent. (Hurricanes are in another category.) We were warned that global warming would produce extreme weather…

Next morning, no power, no surprise. No power also meant no water. Big holiday. The electrician was away and the plumber didn’t answer his phone. The power company threw up its defenses and no one answered those calls either. Soon we found out that we were the only ones without power.

A full day passed. We carried buckets of water upstairs from the garden, where one tap was still flowing. We charged our portable devices at a neighbor’s house and left candles at the ready. Back home, it seemed quaint to carry lit candles from room to room as we readied for bed. No streaming movies, but thanks to our electronic devices, we could enjoy reading.

Fortunately, power was restored the next morning, lifting the sense of isolation and allowing us to appreciate the storm’s gift: refreshing, cool, dry air.

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Filed under Global Warming, Italy

Pink Pussyhats

Streaming out of the subway in waves of pink exuberance, New York City women had lost none of the energy from last year’s Women’s March. Signs abounded, screaming opposition to Donald Trump and the harm his decisions have done to American life and the welfare of the planet. America is a nation of immigrants, so DACA and immigration were major themes. Women’s rights— #MeToo, abortion and pay parity— were the other main focus.

There were people in costume, like the man covered with dollar bills and other currencies, all splattered with blood. They were bands. One had a tuba, clarinets, saxophones, a trombone, a melodica, tambourines and, of course, drums. Another was all drums, played by women in blue, dancing and drumming. Fogo Azul (blue fire) wore blue pussy hats. They had everyone in earshot moving and dancing.

Many creative, artistic signs.

“A woman’s place is in the House, the Senate, the White House.”

It doesn’t say ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled Norwegians yearning to breathe free.'”

We all enjoyed ourselves, but we appreciated

“Resign. Don’t make me march again.”

The march was scheduled to begin at 71st St. and Columbus Avenue at 11 a.m. My group met at 66th and Columbus at 11:30. By that time,, Central Park West, the main route, was inaccessible from the side streets, so the March was directed up Columbus to join the mainstream on Central Park West. It took us three hours to reach Central Park West at 77th St. A policeman told me that people had to march to 91st St. to reach the end of the line.

The procession began to move a little faster as the shadows lengthened and people peeled off.

At 4 o’clock I was the only one of my party left. I reached Columbus Circle (59th St.) and the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weakening. I told myself it was okay not to continue. I had, after all, marched 22 blocks in three hours only to return to my starting point. I wish I’d had a seat in the helicopter overhead to see the barely moving double flow of enthusiastic people waving signs and making music in a huge demonstration of solidarity.

.

 

An sea of pink, pussy-hatted women of all ages–
babies

 

 

to grandmas–

Not every pussyhat was worn by a woman.
Although the vast majority of marchers were women, supporting men took part too.

 

 

 

Of the several themes, the most consistent, the one that tied the others together, was anti-Trump anger.

His boastful claim that when he sees an attractive woman he “grabs her by the pussy” was of course the inspiration for the pussy hat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were little pussycats

Big cats roared in defiance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Covered with bloodied currency, this figure embodied scandal and corruption:

Rounding up the usual suspects for Special Counsel Robert Mueller:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Votes, instead of pussies, were proposed for grabbing instead.

Getting out the vote to defeat Republicans and Trump in particular was a popular theme. 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Woman power.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were references to #MeToo.

Plunder of the Earth was a pressing concern.

And the music played and the marchers danced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And of course, the Trump Shutdown.

 

Trump’s unforgettable language.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally,

 

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Filed under American Society, Environment, People, Politics, Random, Resistance

Art of the Deal: Trump & Putin

Robert Reich makes a cogent and logical argument for Trump’s collusion with Russia to his and Putin’s mutual benefit by listing the events that have already occurred to the advantage of both.

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Filed under Climate change, Politics, Trump

Climate change? Hello.

Hurricane Harvey 2017

Twenty storms causing a billion dollars or more in damage have taken place since 2010, not including Hurricane Harvey, compared with nine billion-dollar floods in the full decade of the 1980s, according to inflation-adjusted estimates from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Seven have hit just since 2016…

 Wall Street Journal

The oceans are growing warmer at an accelerating rate. Half the entire increase in temperature since pre-industrial times has occurred in the past 20 years. Water absorbs much more heat than air. The oceans have absorbed more than 90% of the excess heat and nearly 30% of the carbon dioxide generated by human consumption of fossil fuels.


Warm water fuels the storms. Hurricanes and tropical storms suck up the moisture that evaporates from the warm water surface and dumps it as rainfall on the land.

Harvey, Katrina— If toxic politics don’t destroy America, global warming will. The Trump Administration has revoked the Paris accords to control climate change and is dismantling the E.P.A., which studies climate change and issues regulations that are designed to combat and slow it down.

 

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Filed under Climate change, Global Warming

Sines of the times

ttps://twitter.com/alisongriswold/status/855795690462695425/photo/1

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Smart kid, cool sign!

Seen at Earth Day / Science march CoolEarth

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Hermine, the hurricane that blew us off

Dune BreakersWeathermen anticipated Hermine, or Hermione, as I like to call her, with a lot of hype because of the havoc she left in her wake as she roared through the Southeast. Then she drifted out to sea and blew past Long Island, but not without livening summer’s last hurrah. The hurricane that wasn’t inspired a happening on the beach. The curious formed a steady stream of arrivals and departures.

Breakers, Girl

As the wind picked up over the Labor Day weekend, she drew young and old, mostly with cameras, all in awe of the storm and enjoying the rowdy bravado of the surf.

 

Photographers

Photographers

With rows of breakers she washed over the sand, almost reaching the dunes, and offered photo ops all afternoon. (What happened to the abandoned tripod?)

Foam

The sun set and the moon rose late, but the ocean, undismayed, continued its assault on the beach without an audience.

 

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Filed under Environment, Random

Yea! The world just reached an agreement to combat climate change!

Finally! A “monumental triumph,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Nearly 200 countries agreed to combat climate change after two weeks of tense negotiations and more than of 20 years of debate and dispute and failure to stabilize, let alone slow, global warming.

Climate change “requires the widest possible cooperation by all countries,” because it “represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet,” reads the agreement. The cap it sets on global warming is below 2˚ C., which is still not enough, according to many scientists.

This agreement won’t save the planet, not even close,” climate activist and advocate Bill McKibben wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. It doesn’t include, for example, a specific timeline for phasing out fossil fuels.

But it is a giant step forward nonetheless. It is “the best chance to save the one planet we’ve got,” President Obama said in his remarks to the nation on Saturday. 

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Filed under Climate change, Environment, Global Warming

VBI scooped the New York Times

Sha1993_smog_wkpd

Shanghai smog, 1993

Big Oil’s long history with climate change,” posted September 19 on this blog, asserted that “Exxon Mobil has known for almost 40 years that fossil fuels pose a lethal threat to Earth and all its inhabitants.”

Exxon’s Climate Concealment” was published today in the NY Times. The article deals with the same scandalous campaign of deceit, disinformation and denial by Exxon and other industry leaders that climate change is real and caused by burning fossil fuels. The Times clearly used the same source as VBI did, Inside Climate News, a nonprofit news organization with a Pulitzer-Prize-winning web-site, because the two articles are substantially the same.

Despite the satisfaction of “scooping” the Times by three weeks, I’m glad they eventually deemed the story worthy of publication. Their readership is (obviously) orders of magnitude greater than VBI’s, and the story is important. (No) thanks to Exxon we have wasted too much precious time trying to clean up their mess and switching to alternate forms of non-polluting energy. But petrodollars talk — very loudly — and there still remains a steep uphill climb to counteract Big Oil’s propaganda.

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Filed under Climate change, Environment, Global Warming, Personal

Pope Francis unites religious leaders at 9/11 Memorial

Now that the whirlwind visit of Pope Francis to the United States has come to a close, I urge people of all faiths, including Christians, Jews and Muslims, to watch and contemplate video of the pontiff’s visit to the September 11 Memorial.

Pope Francis watches Rabbi and Imam embrace

Pope Francis watches Rabbi and Imam embrace

The multifaith service was deeply moving, perhaps more than any other event on his schedule, because it showed avowed enemies embracing one another and praying for peace together.

CardsSingHeb

Catholic cardinals sing along with Jewish cantor in Hebrew

The service (not “interfaith,” but “multifaith,” because each religion keeps its own identity) was awe-inspiring and painful. Painful, because the memorial brings to mind the bitter conflicts and hatred that rage in many parts of the world and that were brought directly to us at Ground Zero. At the same time, the visual proof that human diversity can be mobilized to work together for the common good is awesome.

Continue reading at Women’s Voices For Change

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Filed under Climate change, Environment, Islam, People

Big Oil’s long history with climate change

Birds killed by oil from the Exxon Valdez spill

Birds killed by oil from the Exxon Valdez spillBig Oil

Was anyone really surprised last Wednesday when InsideClimateNews (ICN) revealed documents confirming that Exxon Mobil has known for almost 40 years that fossil fuels pose a lethal threat to Earth and all its inhabitants? ICN, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning web-site, published the first installment of an exposé of Exxon’s role in suppressing research on climate change and disseminating disinformation. (Exxon [then Esso] and Mobil merged in 1999.)

In 1977, James Black, a top technical expert at Exxon, informed a group of top-level oilmen at Exxon headquarters that

[T]here is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels.

The following year Black persisted. Speaking to a wider audience, he warned that the percentage of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continued to increase and would raise temperatures everywhere, but especially at the poles. Continue reading

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Pluto: the new world

New data from Pluto is blowing the minds of NASA scientists http://ow.ly/Q3gvr

Pluto Dazzles in False Color Four images from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were combined with color data from the Ralph instrument to create this enhanced color global view of Pluto.

Pluto Dazzles in False Color
Four images from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were combined with color data from the Ralph instrument to create this enhanced color global view of Pluto.

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Filed under Environment, Space exploration

Shadows of Solar Eclipse (NASA)

And they want to defund you, NASA!

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41 million IQ points lost to neurotoxins

neurotoxinsAs a followup to the two previous posts about the efforts of the American Chemical Council to water down regulations that protect Americans against toxic chemicals, consider this: exposure to lead, mercury, and organophosphate pesticides have fried 41 million IQ points, i.e., have lowered the collective IQ of Americans by that much.

The research of Dr. David Bellinger, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, demonstrates that neurotoxins definitely affect the human brain adversely. He compared the IQs of children who had been exposed to these poisons in utero to those who hadn’t. Dr. Bellinger attributes a loss of 16.9 million IQ points to the exposure to organophosphates, the most commonly used pesticides. Continue reading

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When the fox guards the henhouse . . .

Source: ShowMeTheHoney

Source: ShowMeTheHoney

This entry continues the previous one, Who pays the piper calls the tune

Not surprisingly, the bill Sens. Udall and Vitter presented yesterday to the senate committee on the environment doesn’t set a floor for minimum regulation by the states, but it does block them from raising the standards as they do now. Since the Environmental Protection Agency provides weak or no protection to the public from the approximately 1,000 chemicals it considers potentially hazardous, a majority of the states have enacted their own regulations. If the Udall-Vitter bill passes, they will lose their ability to do so.

The Nation reports that

The bill would bar states from regulating a chemical once the EPA designates it as “high priority” for assessment, a process that can take up to seven years. It requires the EPA to start reviewing a minimum of 25 chemicals within five years, but at that rate, it could be centuries before the agency got through the 1,000 chemicals is says need assessment.

Consumer advocates like the Environmental Working Group believe the new bill not only doesn’t adequately protect the public, it degrades the current protection: Continue reading

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Who pays the piper calls the tune

CoalSmokeStacks
The law regulating toxic chemicals in the environment (TSCA) is 40 years old, and both the chemical industry and public health and environmental advocates agree that it needs to be brought up to date. How to update it — that’s the rub, because as usual, the lines are sharply drawn between those who want to weaken the legislation (mostly Republicans) and those who say it doesn’t go far enough (mostly Democrats).

Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) co-sponsored the new bill with Sen. David Vitter (R-LA). It was presented yesterday to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Udall was a steadfast advocate for the environment until the 2014 election cycle, when two things happened concurrently:

Udall began working on a new bill to regulate toxic chemicals, and the American Chemical Council contributed to his reelection campaign for the first time ever. Continue reading

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Most Democratic candidates deserved to lose

Pres. Obama in happier days

Pres. Obama in happier days

Instead of standing up to Republican critics of Obama, Democrats disowned the president. All they had to say is “Are you better off today than you were when Bush left office?”

You betcha.

By hiding Obama, they tacitly confirmed the lies about him being spread by their opponents. Not that we’re not facing serious problems, e.g., immigration.

But Democratic candidates failed even to mention, let alone emphasize, that during Obama’s presidency,

  • the Great Recession receded; GDP is now growing at 3.5% while Europe is saddled with austerity
  • 14 million now have healthcare coverage under Obamacare. Rollout was a disaster, but now, it’s a resounding success. And, sky-rocketing medical costs are going down as predicted.
  • unemployment below 6%; Spain’s rate, for example, has decreased, but it’s still more than 23%
  • stock market posting record highs; it is 218% higher than it was in 2008
  • he saved General Motors and a related 1.2 million jobs. GM is now more profitable than Verizon, AmEx, 3M
  • no major terror attacks
  • Osama Bin Laden killed
  • many fewer troops in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Iran is no longer building nuclear weapons
  • marriage equality in 32 of the 50 states
  • despite crossing his own “red line,” Assad (Syria) no longer has chemical weapons
  • emissions standards at their strictest ever
  • gas averages $3/gal today

The losers could have mentioned at least some of these accomplishments.

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Filed under economy, Environment, Foreign Affairs, Health, Politics

Obama: mopey? no. energized, yes

Mitch McConnell, next Senate Republican Majority Leader

Mitch McConnell, next Senate Republican Majority Leader

At his post-election presser today, Pres. Obama was asked how he feels after the Republican trouncing. “It doesn’t make me mopey, it energizes me,” Obama replied.

The President fielded tough questions with aplomb, unflappable as usual. I find it reassuring to have a leader who, no matter what’s thrown at him, he keeps his composure and reflects. He doesn’t go off half-cocked, singing, “Bomb, bomb Iran!”

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama

With a Republican congress and a judiciary dominated by conservatives, what will happen to the issues dear to Democrats and spurned by Republicans? What will happen, for example, to the president’s signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act? What will happen to climate-change imperatives like emissions control when Mitch McConnell, the presumptive majority leader, represents a state whose economy is almost entirely dependent on coal?

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Lincoln Center is GREEN!

Students enjoy the green roof over Lincoln Center's elegant restaurant, the Lincoln

Students enjoy the green roof over Lincoln Center’s elegant Lincoln Ristorante

The Chamber Society of Lincoln  Center opened its season tonight. The concert, all Mozart, was as delightful as we have come to expect. But what totally knocked my sox off was a little story in the back of the Playbill.

I was thrilled to read that the buildings on the main campus of Lincoln Center are powered by renewable energy. Avery Fisher (philharmonic), Alice Tully (chamber music), the Film Center, the Lincoln restaurant, the Atrium, all of Juilliard, the heating and cooling plants for the Metropolitan Opera and the other theaters— all these use energy derived from the wind.

Solar panels, which should lower fuel bills further,  are due to be installed on the roof of the Rose Building. It is estimated that as a result of these initiatives, Lincoln Center’s CO2 emissions will be more than 100 million pounds less over three years than they would have been with fossil fuel-based electricity.

If this large performing arts complex in the middle of Manhattan can go green, it stands to reason that all new buildings can incorporate similar measures.

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Filed under Climate change, Environment, Global Warming

The yuck factor – what will people eat in 2050?

by Takoradee

Food stall in Bangkok

What will you and your descendants eat in 2050? Will you enjoy a t-bone steak, a slice of swordfish, a chicken drumstick?

Probably not.

Not because you wouldn’t like to, but because that kind of food — animal flesh — will have become very rare. The developing world is clamoring for meat, but it doesn’t have the resources to enrich its diet with a fraction of the meat now consumed by the developed world. (You don’t have to go to Africa to see hunger. Fifteen percent of American households don’t have enough to eat.)

Even now, the earth doesn’t have enough freshwater or arable land to grow the crops necessary to feed its entire population of seven billion adequately. The additional two billion people projected by mid-century will remove more land from cultivation for housing and require a great deal more water.

The oceans, expansive as they are, won’t yield the same food they do currently. Overfishing is pushing large fish like swordfish and tuna to the edge of extinction. Climate change and the increasing acidification of the oceans is resulting in changed habitats on land and in the sea that are no longer hospitable to the same species. Fish, land animals, birds and plants are responding to the changes in temperature on land and in the sea by migrating away from the equator and towards the poles in both hemispheres. They will not find the conditions that allowed them to thrive in their native habitats.

What then will humans eat? Where will we find a source of protein? The answer has a large yuck factor:

Continue reading

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The People, 0; Plutocrats, 2

Two really disturbing developments on two fronts, environmental and political, in American Democracy’s losing battle against moneyed interests:

With today’s McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court knocked down the two-year limits on donations by individuals to political parties, PACs and congressional and presidential candidates. Why shouldn’t the wealthiest ensure the election of those who protect their interests? After all, everyone has the right to vote in one’s own best interest, but giving more weight to the interests of individuals like the Koch Brothers by increasing the role of money in politics is anything but democratic.

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision changed the political landscape in 2010 by ruling that money is the equivalent of speech protected by the First Amendment and that corporations have the same right as people do to express themselves. Corporations speak with money, money spent to influence elections by supporting the candidates who will legislate in their favor (or denouncing their opponents). The sluice gates that previously held back the flow of money into political campaigns, i.e., the buying of elections by the deepest pockets, opened wide to allow the flow of the billions of dollars that have since been spent on candidates and political parties.

On environmental side, the AP reports that

Duke Energy is asking a judge to prevent citizens groups from taking part in any action that would make it clean up nearly three dozen coal ash pits in the state.

Not only does the polluter refuse to take action, it refuses to tolerate any negative publicity− why should the people whose health is at stake be allowed to demand the polluters clean up their own toxic waste?

 

 

 

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Changes

The sun rises Tuesday morning on Manhattan’s Upper Westside:

IMG_1427IMG_1432The picture on the left was taken at 7:16 a.m. Across the river in New Jersey just a very few buildings are light on top and the landscape behind them is still dark. The second shot is a mere two minutes later, yet the shadows cast by the taller buildings to the east are lower and much of the land across the Hudson is now bathed in light.
IMG_1428

At 7:16, the buildings are still in shadow in Manhattan and across the river. A minute later,

IMG_1429 there’s a notable difference in the amount of light reaching the buildings.
IMG_1430

and even more before the minute is up.

But in no time the clouds take over. The sun disappears. Light snow starts to fall within the hour. Another two hours and the snow whirls about in earnest.IMG_1435

Mid-afternoon and the blue sky is a distant memory. IMG_1443
The golden buildings are barely discernible in the blizzard.

The first serious snow of the new year, appropriately named Janus.

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Filed under Environment, Musings, Personal, Random

Mandela and Francis, agents for change

Nelson_Mandela-2008_(edit)Nelson Mandela was the archetypal hero. To achieve his goal, he had to endure great personal suffering before leading his people out of the wilderness of fear and pain. He vanquished the oppressors by dint of unwavering faith in the eventual triumph of right. The world has seen few heroes so steadfast in their adherence to their principles. On the occasion of his death on December 5, Mandela was deservedly eulogized as a man who, despite his faults, achieved greatness.

One hero passes, another one rises.

Papa_Francisco_na_JMJ_-_24072013Throughout its history, the Vatican has always sought to enrich itself. Bishops and popes accumulated earthly treasure even beyond the store in royal coffers. Yet now we have a pope who is calling out the evils of income inequality, which, along with climate change are our gravest challenges. Pope Francis:

While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power.

To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. Continue reading

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American pigs and Chinese smog

Satellite captures the smog hiding coast of eastern China

Satellite captures smog hiding China’s eastern coast

China’s air pollution problems are very much in the news lately. “You can hear the person you are talking to, but not see him,” tweeted a resident of Harbin in northeast China last week.

The suffering of pigs raised on factory farms is another hot issue.

Who would have thought these issues could be related? Mark Bittman, the noted food journalist, for one. He pointed out that China’s purchase of Smithfield, the largest American producer of pork, will compound our pollution problems while inoculating China from the worst environmental impacts of commercial factory farms:

As is the case with 90 percent of the pork produced in the United States, almost all of Smithfield’s “farms” use now standard techniques, including large (average: 2,000 pigs) concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, in which pigs are confined, fed with legal but problematic drugs and use enormous amounts of feed, water and energy while generating giant lagoons of manure.

The CAFOs stay in the U.S., and the pork feeds the Chinese.  Continue reading

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America’s concentration camps

Can you still enjoy a pork chop as you did before watching the video?

CAFO

After learning how animals, the environment and our own bodies are harmed by the inhumane, disgusting and unsustainable conditions in a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) several years ago, I gave up eating beef. Though I knew that not only cows, but hogs, chickens and even fish were confined to similarly cruel, unhealthy and toxic food factories, I didn’t give up any other meat.

This is a long-delayed update to my Vegetarian diary, in which I describe some of the horrors of CAFOs. Continue reading

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Our toxic bodies

Sunset at the cement factory during a snow storm Stefan Wernli

Sunset at the cement factory during a snow storm
Stefan Wernli

We are unknowing guinea pigs who are being poisoned by lead and plastics and formaldehyde and asbestos and Bisphenol A and … hundreds of other potentially noxious substances as well as many that are proved to be toxic. These chemicals and compounds are not only in the air we breathe, the food we eat, the potions we apply to our bodies, the clothes we wear, they are in our bones, muscles, blood and fat. We don’t know the long-term effect of some of these compounds, or how they interact, but we do know that many are dangerous. And we have ingested them unknowingly or even confidently, believing the claims of the corporations that manufacture these dangerous substances that they are innocuous and indispensable. I wrote previously about this issue here and here.

Now David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz have written about what they call the “hidden epidemic,” a disturbing catalogue of the chemicals we all now have in our bodies, their pernicious effects and how the public was persuaded to bring them into their homes.

As Joe Camel would be for tobacco, so the little Dutch Boy of the National Lead Company became an iconic marketing tool for Dutch Boy Lead Paint, priming Americans to invite a dangerous product into their children’s playrooms, nurseries, and lives.  The company also launched a huge advertising campaign that linked lead to health, rather than danger. It even produced coloring books for children, encouraging them to paint their rooms and furniture using lead-based paint.

Continue reading this fascinating and horrifying account.

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How America Became a Third World Country

What would what would the U.S. look like 10 years from now if the savage and indiscriminate across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration aren’t repealed or at least modified? In fact, denizens of the corridors of power — inconvenienced frequent fliers and the Department of Defense, for example, have begun to restore some of the cuts.

On the other hand, funding for public education, job training, food stamps, infrastructure and environmental safeguards — things that most people consider essential — these funds have been stripped away. As always, the disadvantaged suffer the most.

So when I came across this eye-opening piece while browsing Juan Cole’s always informative blog, Informed Comment, I decided to reblog it. Written by Mattea Kramer and Jo Comerford, “How America Became a Third World Country” is a plausible and alarming forecast:

The streets are so much darker now, since money for streetlights is rarely available to municipal governments. The national parks began closing down years ago. Some are already being subdivided and sold to the highest bidder. Reports on bridges crumbling or even collapsing are commonplace. The air in city after city hangs brown and heavy (and rates of childhood asthma and other lung diseases have shot up), because funding that would allow the enforcement of clean air standards by the Environmental Protection Agency is a distant memory. Public education has been cut to the bone, making good schools a luxury and, according to the Department of Education, two of every five students won’t graduate from high school.  Continue reading

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Koch Brothers, Dirty Energy and the Media

David Koch 2007 photo by Fred Thompson

David Koch 2007
photo by Fred Thompson

The Brothers Koch improved their standing in Forbes’ lisiting of the world’s billionaires by increasing their wealth by $9 billion each in the last year. That increase catapulted them from a tie at 12th place to a tie for sixth richest in the world, fourth in  the U.S.

Charles and David Koch are worth $34 billion each. Their fortunes were originally made by their father in coal and oil, and Koch Industries continues to profit from dirty energy and chemicals. No surprise, then, that the Kochs are climate-change deniers. David, the younger of the two, shrewdly invests in philanthropy in addition to his many other interests. Lincoln Center and the New York-Prebyterian Hospital are among the beneficiaries, and so is WNET, the New York outlet of public television.

PBS planned to air a documentary featuring a candid and not always flattering portrait of David Koch, “the right-wing oil tycoon.” Government support of public broadcasting is now down to 12 percent, and local stations rely almost exclusively on gifts for their funding, so the $23 million contributed by David is far from inconsequential. Jane Meyer’s outstanding reporting traces the steps and the reasons that led to David Koch’s resignation from the board of WNET, notwithstanding the abrupt cancellation of the film in a futile attempt to placate the sensitive billionaire.

Watch Robert Greenwald’s “Koch Brothers Exposed” for another critical scrutiny, one that David Koch’s media influence can’t quash:

Hat tip: Juan Cole

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Filed under Climate change, Global Warming, Journalism, Politics