Archive for the ‘education’ Category


Global warming ‘irreversible’ for next 1000 years.

As reported by AFP, NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) scientists have released a study saying that current levels of global warming will cause irreversible damage, no matter what is done in the future to decrease CO2 and other related emissions.  I will add a link to the primary scientific article when the link is published.

“NOAA senior scientist Susan Solomon said the study, published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, showed that current human choices on carbon dioxide emissions are set to “irreversibly change the planet.” Researchers examined the consequences of CO2 building up beyond present-day concentrations of 385 parts per million, and then completely stopping emissions after the peak. Before the industrial age CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere amounted to only 280 parts per million. The study found that CO2 levels are irreversibly impacting climate change, which will contribute to global sea level rise and rainfall changes in certain regions. The authors emphasized that increases in CO2 that occur from 2000 to 2100 are set to “lock in” a sea level rise over the next 1,000 years.”

This is certainly well past a wake-up call, if anybody still needed one. Here’s where the relentless optimist meets the original cynic: I refuse to accept that it is worthless to make the biggest changes possible to head off increased global warming. Am I denying science? No, I’m just clinging to hope.

Original text copyright © 2009 James K. Bashkin

See futher discussion of this post here at Gather.com.

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Please see the article by Sam Carana on how a larger grid, yet a simultaneously more locally-run grid, can be implemented.  The purpose is to capture as much of the electricity being generated as possible while keeping a local level of control, to try to avoid undue influence by those who fail to understand the details of energy policy.  Read about how many parts of Europe already have surplus electricity, and how countries are linking their grids together to improve efficiency.  Part of the rationale for such arrangements in Europe is that countries which generate a lot of electricity from wind can necessarily control when that electricity is most plentiful, but they don’t want it wasted.  At the same time, such European countries may need electricity from other sources, say hydroelectric plants in a neighboring country, when wind power isn’t sufficient.  Similar arrangements could be made throughout North America.  See what Sam has to say!  He gives lots of sources for his comments and information.


Today I am delighted to publish a guest post on asbestos and human health, and their links to the environment. The post is by James O’Shea, content editor of http://www.maacenter.org; James K. Bashkin (Site Publisher and Editor; the guest post is the opinion of its author).

January 22, 2009: For more discussion of this topic, please see the comments here and the version of this article, with discussion, that was re-published by me on Gather.com: http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.jsp?articleId=281474977474977

January 1, 2009: Today I am somewhat less delighted to point out the comment made by Dennis of samadhisoft.com, who provided the link http://samadhisoft.com/2008/09/18/mesothelioma-asbestos-awareness-center/. This blog, written by Dennis, documents some strange behaviors associated with the sponsors of the center that offered this guest report. While I was fully aware that they were sponsored by a law firm, I was not aware of some apparently predatory practices that Dennis has uncovered. I have removed the live links in this article except the one that I supplied to the literature citation, but you can still get to the site if you want to by typing the url of the center, http://www.maacenter.org, into your browser. Meanwhile, I have added Samadhisoft.com to my blogroll. Thanks, Dennis!

The processing of fossil fuels has a long trail of consequences, with some being more obvious than others. There are essentially two tiers of negative ramifications to backwards energy policies. The first of these are the direct environmental consequences of the burning of fossil, which has been well documented in recent years with the recent interest in the effects of global warming. However, the second tier are the human health effects associated with the burning of fossil fuels.

(Revised Editor’s note: this paragraph has been removed.  Some comments refer to the missing text).

Then there are the more indirect costs, and specifically those which are associated with the industry itself. Working conditions in the fossil fuel industry are among the most hazardous of any occupation. One of the hazards workers will encounter is asbestos, which has been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission as a known carcinogen. And even though asbestos was banned by the CPSC in the late 1970’s, older asbestos fixtures still exist within nearly all facets of the fossil fuel infrastructure. These older and sometimes damaged fixtures pose and even greater hazard to human health.

When microscopic asbestos fibers are inhaled, they lodge themselves in the lining of lungs. This lays the groundwork for the deadly asbestos cancer, mesothelioma. Perhaps it should come as no coincidence then that rates of pleural cancer (mesothelioma) in oil refinery workers are among the highest of any occupation.

What we begin to see then, is that there are effects of ozone depletion and fossil fuel use and processing, that are detrimental not only to the planet, but also to human health. When the world opens its eyes to the crisis we’re supporting, we’ll not only have sustained the future for our children, but also saved lives.

References:

Environmental Protection Agency

Occupational Medicine 2007 (an Oxford Journal), Mortality of UK Oil Refinery Workers and Petroleum Distribution Workers 1951-2003, by Tom Sorahan, Institute of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of Birmingham.


Green issues are sometimes complex.  We need to recycle many things, like electronics, but we certainly don’t want to poison others in the process.  Efforts to protect the environment and conserve valuable resources must be coupled with proper health and safety procedures.  Unfortunately, just saying this doesn’t make it happen.  Developing countries are becoming a dumping ground for much toxic waste and proper environmental health and safety is being ignored, both by local opportunists and suppliers of e-Waste from developed nations.  From Greenpeace:

This shocking documentary from Greenpeace shows how “second hand goods” exported to Ghana for reuse are actually causing horrendous pollution. “People in the developed countries bring them here to bridge the digital gap but in actual fact they are creating a digital dump.”

Ghana — The latest place where we have discovered high tech toxic trash causing horrendous pollution is in Ghana. Our analysis of samples taken from two electronic waste (e-waste) scrap yards in Ghana has revealed severe contamination with hazardous chemicals.

Similar problems occur in China and, surprisingly, even in developed countries.  See related information about toxic waste dumps all over the world here.

However, you can also read good news about environmental protection in Europe and the effect it is having on US companies.

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Original text copyright © 2008 James K. Bashkin


The environment is once again under attack by the US government, this time in a foolish and futile gesture to appease voters who are justifiably angry about high gas prices. In a move destined to have no effect whatsoever on gasoline prices in the near term, and possibly ever, President Bush just lifted the Executive ban on offshore drilling. This ban was actually imposed by the Presidents’s father. A story from Reuters (via Yahoo!News) by Jeremy Pelofsky and Tom Doggett describes the President’s action as

a largely symbolic move unlikely to have any short-term impact on high gasoline costs.

Of course, off-shore drilling isn’t the only forbidden activity that President Bush has just approved- he also approved drilling of 4400 wells in Wyoming and related energy mining activities on Federal land formerly protected by a large number of environmental regulations. In “Heedless Rush to Oil Shale” by Democratic Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado writes in the Washington Post:

Bush and his fellow oil shale boosters claim that if only Western communities would stand aside, energy companies could begin extracting more than 500 billion barrels of recoverable oil from domestic shale deposits. If only the federal government immediately offered even more public lands for development, the technology to extract oil from rock would suddenly ripen, oil supplies would rise and gas prices would fall.

If only.

Since the 19th century, we in the West have been trying to extract oil from the vast oil shale riches that lie under our feet. It is no easy task, and past efforts have failed miserably. Commercial oil shale development would require not only immense financial investments but also an undetermined quantity of (scarce) water from the Colorado River basin and the construction of several multibillion-dollar power plants.

Sometimes it seems that we are getting close to overcoming these barriers. But each time we near a boom, we bust. The last bust, the infamous “Black Sunday” of 1982, left Western communities holding the bill long after the speculators, Beltway boosters and energy companies had taken off.

Senator Salazar goes on to add:

The governors of Wyoming and Colorado, communities and editorial boards across the West agree that the administration’s headlong rush is a terrible idea. Even energy companies, including Chevron, have said we need to proceed more cautiously on oil shale. With more than 30,000 acres of public land at their disposal to conduct research, development and demonstration projects (in addition to 200,000 undeveloped acres of private oil shale lands they own in Colorado and Utah), they already have more land than they can develop in the foreseeable future.

So why is the president hurrying to sell leases for commercial oil shale development in the West’s great landscapes? A fire sale will not lower gas prices. It will not accelerate the development of commercial oil shale technologies.

Senator Salazar continues by saying that he supports the idea of developing technology for removing shale oil in a commercially feasible manner, something I would not be in favor of relative to solar and wind power, but he concludes that Federal land is being given away for no logical reason- not even the oil companies are making any promises about if and when shale oil from the Western US will become a viable commodity.

Returning to the subject of off-shore drilling, I think that this policy change will be considerably more than symbolic to the environment, even if it is only symbolic with regard to our national energy crisis. The construction of drilling platforms and the potential for oil spills, ruined beaches and dead fish and birds may well dwarf the wreck of the Exxon Valdez on March 23. 1989. Let’s hope not, but let’s also remember that the Exxon Valdez spill broke many Federal laws and some prosecution resulted (although, as shown below, the Supreme Court recently protected Exxon from significant financial punishment). The President and his corporate friends should be held to strict environmental standards that they haven’t done well in following, historically: if President Bush’s close friends in the oil industry keep up their poor track record of environmental protection and cause serious damage, they should be prosecuted.

In case some of the details of the Exxon Valdez case may need to be reviewed, here are a few worthwhile quotes and links to the original sources. In a case the went to the Supreme court and was resolved in June of 2008, Adam Liptak of The New York Times reported on June 26, 2008 that (note, you may have to sign up for a free registration to set the Times article)

The Supreme Court on Wednesday reduced what had once been a $5 billion punitive damages award against Exxon Mobil to about $500 million. The ruling essentially concluded a legal saga that started when the Exxon Valdez, a supertanker, struck a reef and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into the Prince William Sound in Alaska in 1989.

From alternet.org:

The spilled oil — somewhere between 11 to 38 million gallons (the figure is elusive because as we learned the hard way, the truth was one of the first casualties of the spill) — created a big mess and broke a lot of federal laws. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Exxon paid $2.5 billion for its cleanup and another $1 billion for penalties. But, it might surprise people who live outside Alaska to learn that taxpayers, not Exxon, paid a majority of that bill. Exxon recouped most of its remaining expense from its insurance companies and from money it paid to settle damages for natural resources — publicly-owned wildlife and lands.

From the State of Alaska and the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council:

The Exxon Valdez spill, though still one of the largest ever in the U.S., has dropped from the top 50 internationally. However, it is widely considered the number one spill worldwide in terms of damage to the environment. The timing of the spill, the remote and spectacular location, the thousands of miles of rugged and wild shoreline, and the abundance of wildlife in the region combined to make it an environmental disaster well beyond the scope of other spills. Much has been accomplished over the years to prevent another Exxon Valdez-type accident. See the Spill Prevention and Response section of this website.

For more information about the environmental impact, case studies, legal history and science of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, this time from NOAA (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration of the US Department of Commerce), see here.

Getting back to Monday’s decision by President Bush and the Reuters story by Pelofsky and Dogget,

With prices at the pump over $4 a gallon, Bush pushed the Democratic-controlled Congress to expand offshore oil and natural gas drilling and give companies access to the Arctic Wildlife National Refuge despite fierce opposition from environmentalists.

However,

Democratic leaders in Congress and environmentalists immediately condemned the move as having have no short-term impact on soaring oil prices.

Of further note, from Reuters:

Democratic White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign quickly condemned the move. “It would merely prolong the failed energy policies we have seen from Washington for 30 years,” spokesman Bill Burton said.

and

Republican White House contender Sen. John McCain, who reversed his previous opposition to offshore drilling, told reporters that he thought the decision was a “very important signal” and that “states should continue to decide.”

Meanwhile, Japan, Germany, Spain, China and many other countries are cornering the market on fuel efficient cars, plug-in electric hybrid vehicles, solar power installations, wind power installations, and manufacturing plants required for producing solar panels, while the U.S. is left in the position of having many innovative companies but no significant tax support or other incentives to reduce our dependence on oil.

This latest act of poor judgment by the President is typical of his actions, where he has consistently fought and overturned environmental protections and the White House has ordered officials to ignore science and the environment in favor of big business. Some of these orders have come from Vice President Cheney’s office, though he has been stealthy while interfering with the EPA and other agencies. For a 2007 report on the Vice President’s role in hampering EPA efforts, see the Washington Post article “Leaving no Tracks” by Jo Becker and Barton Gellman:

Law and science seemed to be on the side of the fish. Then the vice president stepped in.

First Cheney looked for a way around the law, aides said. Next he set in motion a process to challenge the science protecting the fish, according to a former Oregon congressman who lobbied for the farmers.

Because of Cheney’s intervention, the government reversed itself and let the water flow in time to save the 2002 growing season, declaring that there was no threat to the fish. What followed was the largest fish kill the West had ever seen, with tens of thousands of salmon rotting on the banks of the Klamath River.

Characteristically, Cheney left no tracks.

It is long overdue for the USA to develop a reasonable and sustainable energy policy that will diminish our dependence of oil, introduce sustainable energy and transportation on a large scale, and do so without damaging or adding threats to our health or environment. It is long overdue to rein in the the current administration’s reign of international policy, environmental, and financial disasters.

Original text copyright © 2008 James K. Bashkin

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The website 1sky.org reports that

Congress is now deciding which federal programs will be funded in 2009. Among those programs are the Green Jobs Act, which would invest $125 million in green-collar job training programs, and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant, which would authorize grants to local communities to help improve their energy efficiency and increase renewable energy. Now we must make sure that Members of Congress keep their promise and fully fund these programs.

If you wish to write to Congress to voice your support for Green Jobs and Grants, this link will help.

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Several recent articles have indicated the impact that gas costs are having on lifestyles. Two related articles were reported in recent posts at this site, “How to Find the Cheapest Gas Price in Your Area“and “Plug-In Hybrid Leads Toyota’s Drive Beyond Oil“. In The Demise of the RV, Eric Fry reports for Rude Awakening on the disappearance of the once-ubiquitous Winnebago and its close cousins from American roadways:

“I never would have bought [my motor home] if I thought that gas would go this high,” a retired firefighter in Westchester County told the Hudson Valley’s Journal News. “My wife always wanted to go to Napa Valley,” the firefighter lamented. “But with gas so high, it probably would be cheaper to fly and rent a car, rather than take the motor home.”

The firefighter is probably right. We did the math:

Assuming gas mileage of 10 miles to the gallon, a 31-foot motor home would consume about $2,500 worth of gasoline to journey from the Hudson Valley to the Napa Valley, and back again. By comparison, two roundtrip plane tickets from JFK to San Francisco would run about $375 each. Even after paying another $450 to rent a midsized car for a week, the fly/drive combo would only cost about $1,200 – or less than half the cost of the RV’s gas.

At the same site, Dan Amoss offers stock trading advice related to the weakest recreational vehicle (RV) companies. (Note: I do not offer or endorse any financial advice related to the stock market):

For most of the last three decades, oil prices have been low, the economy has been expanding and motor home sales have been soaring. RV sales have been trending up for nearly three decades, but there are many reasons to expect a huge decline in 2008-2009.

The posts wraps up with questions and a request for comments from Joel Bowman of Rude Awakening:

Is the high oil price the greatest threat to market stability in the months ahead? How bout the financial fiasco that has rocked Wall Street to the core? Or, perhaps it’s political incompetence? We’d like to hear your thoughts on the market’s greatest risk and, if you can see a way out, your ideas on how to play the downward trend to your favor.

On a related note, the recent article from Lyneka Little of MainStreet.com reports that “Rising Gas Prices are Hurting Nonprofits“. I heard a related story on NPR by Kate Archer.

This situation is clearly seen in nonprofit food delivery programs to homebound seniors such as Meals On Wheels. In these programs, oft-time volunteers deliver meals to the elderly, typically by driving—and paying for the gas—their own vehicles. Nowadays, volunteers are finding it harder to fund the delivery.

The MOWAA has seen a 58% loss in volunteers due to the gas prices alone. Dealing with the loss of volunteers, “our programs have to cut back on everything,” says Enid Borden, President and CEO of Meals On Wheels Association of America. Now, “sometimes volunteers are only able to go out once a week or once every other week,” says Borden.

The one meal a day can turn into no meals a day or a meal and frozen dinners for additional days. Now 4 out of 10 seniors sit on a wait list hoping to be one of the million to receive a warm meal.

Other effects are seen from the general economic downturn, as former corporate donors have either gone bankrupt or simply don’t have any funds to make their typical donations:

Citymeals-on-Wheels, which serves New York’s homebound elderly, knows this firsthand. While donor contribution is up by 13%, Citymeals has been hit by a decline in the high-end sector and in special events. Bear Stearns (BSC) was a major donor for the organization, and Citymeals has lost $500,000 in charitable contributions since that firm went under, says Marcia Stein, executive director of Citymeals. “To lose a half a million dollars in the last quarter of the year, that was very tough, and that’s money that will not come back,” says Stein. “It’ll take many years to recover.”

In order to contribute to Meals on Wheels or Citymeals-on-Wheels, please visit the following websites: Meals on Wheels Association of America and Citymeals-On-Wheels. Thanks to Lyneka Little for highlighting this problem in her article.

Do you have any stories of your own about the effects of gas prices on your summer plans or lifestyle that you would like to share? If so, please add them to the comments. Thanks and best wishes, Jim

Copyright © 2008 James K. Bashkin

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Nigel Hunt of Reuters reports that

Corn prices rose to record highs on Monday and looked set to climb further as torrential rains threatened to reduce further U.S. crop prospects in a market already facing tight supplies and surging demand.

Strong demand for corn from U.S. biofuel producers has contributed to supply tightness in the corn market. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has forecast about a third of this year’s crop will be consumed by the biofuel sector.

“I am still very bullish. I think $7, $8, $9 corn is well within reach,” said Commerzbank analyst Edward Hands.

Unfortunately, the combination of a foolish corn ethanol program with rising gas prices and rising transportation costs are all conspiring to drive up the price of food. With the additional effects of the recent heavy storms and rain in the Midwest, including flooding in some areas and frequent tornadoes, corn prices are skyrocketing. One simple action that should be taken immediately is to halt all corn ethanol subsidies and programs, so that food and fuel are no longer in competition with each other.

Original text copyrighted © 2008 James K. Bashkin

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Addendum. Devastated US corn crop sends ethanol producer shares into freefall.” The Associated Press reported the following financial news:

The values of ethanol producers hemorrhaged Thursday as the price of their key feedstock, corn, climbed to record levels because U.S. floods have devasted this year’s crop.

“In the last 10 days the world has changed in the corn market with massive flooding causing irreparable damage to this year’s crop and pushing corn prices up $1 over this time frame,” Citi Investment Research analyst David C. Driscoll wrote in a client note.

“As a result of this unprecedented weather event which has happened only twice in the last 25 years, ethanol margins have plummeted over the same ten day time span with small and mid size ethanol producers now running at substantial losses against cash costs.”

He expects such small and mid-sized producers to halt operations.

Unfortunately, these financial and farming problems will increase food prices in the near term, but they may help lower food prices in future growing seasons, as long as the corn ethanol producers stay shut down. Repeal of the tax credits for corn ethanol would help keep corn ethanol from once again driving food prices up.

Original text copyrighted © 2008 James K. Bashkin

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As reported by Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post Staff Writer:

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson favored giving California some authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks … before he consulted with the White House and reversed course, congressional investigators said yesterday.

As the article describes:

An extensive congressional investigation into Johnson’s conduct relied on more than 27,000 pages of EPA documents; interviews with top EPA officials served as other sources of information. The results of the investigation were just announced.

According to the agency’s documents and depositions by staff members, EPA officials unanimously endorsed granting California the waiver, and Johnson initially agreed. EPA Associate Deputy Administrator Jason Burnett testified under oath that Johnson “was very interested in a full grant of the waiver’ in August and September of 2007 and later thought a partial grant of the waiver ‘was the best course of action.”

The White House claims it did not influence Johnson’s decision but has ordered Johnson not to answer questions about White House involvement in the process. Seemingly at odds with his refusal to allow California a waiver of the Clean Air Act that would have imposed more stringent emissions standards on cars and trucks, Johnson did admit to reporters that he considers CO2 to be a pollutant.

Groups including the California Air Resources Board and the Natural Defense Resources Council (NRDC) are poised to show courts how tainted Johnson’s decision was, and how it ignored internal EPA science and external scientific advisers. The NRDC and other advocacy groups will submit a brief to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in an attempt to overturn the EPA administrator’s decision.

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As reported in the related story here at OhMyGov.com,

A briefing prepared by the lead staff lawyer for EPA’s General Counsel stated: “After review of the docket and precedent, we don’t believe there are any good arguments against granting the waiver. All of the arguments … are likely to lose in court if we are sued.”

In fact, the EPA staff interviewed by the Committee were unable to identify any agency documents that argued in favor of denial prior to December 19, 2007, the day California’s petition was denied.

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Amnestry International and BlogCatalog are sponsoring today as a day to focus on human rights around the world.

I’ll add a few personal thoughts in support of this effort. First, I would like to emphasize the value of people’s lives, no matter what they believe and where they live. When the historical changeover occurred that made civilian casualties of war an everyday reality, and with the concept of collateral damage well entrenched in the soul of the times, I feel it is important to say that there is no acceptable death of innocents, of civilians, of bystanders. Furthermore, what has happened to the art of diplomacy? Brushed aside as outmoded by the Bush administration, there are now few open lines over which ostensible enemies can communicate. Surely this only helps situations escalate into war, which is a tragedy.

The damage done to women, children and men around the world is not, of course, limited to wartime. After the recent Cyclone, the response of the Myanmar Junta to offers of outside aid was and is simply inexcusable. How this Junta could participate in the decimation of its own country is unfathomable. As Daniel Schorr put it so eloquently on NPR yesterday, it is time for the international community to act, together and immediately, to prevent this tragedy from becoming far worse. This can be done through the United Nations “Responsibility to Protect” resolution of 2005. As Mr. Schorr made clear, this international action must be carried out in spite of the bad name given to “intervention” by President Bush.

It is not enough, however, to respect the right of people to live. As an international community, we must also respect and provide for the basic human rights that go beyond life itself. I join Amnesty International in support of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.

As further elaborated on Amnesty’s website, and quoted vebatim here, the organization fights for these additional goals:

Women: 15 Steps to Protect Women’s Human Rights

Torture: 12-point Program for the Prevention of Torture

Disappearances: 14-Point Program for the Prevention of “Disappearances”

Extrajudicial Executions: 14-point Program for the Prevention of Extrajudicial Executions

Peacekeepers: 15-Point Program for Implementing Human Rights in International Peace-keeping Operations

Health Professionals: Amnesty International’s Declaration on the Role of Health Professionals in the Exposure of Torture and Ill-treatment

Medical Investigations: Amnesty International’s Principles for the Medical Investigation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment

Internal Displacement: Amnesty International’s guiding principles for addressing the specific needs of internally displaced persons worldwide.”

I hope that everyone can take the time to personally contribute to the struggle, and it is a struggle, for universal human rights.

James K. Bashkin

Copyright © 2008

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