9 01 2016

In December, the 21st “Council of Parties” to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change took place in Paris. Almost everybody seemed to understand that we are in “no more fooling around” territory, with some notable exceptions, like, f’rinstance, India and Saudi Arabia. Ironically, these are two of the countries with the most to lose from further climate change–like, their inhabitability.  Even so, it has become common knowledge that climate change denialism has largely been, um, fuelled by oil companiesbig-oil-the-new-big-tobacco-29081 who did the research in the 70’s and 80’s and, like the tobacco companies before them, realized that their product was lethal, and who nonetheless chose to elevate their short-term bottom line over the long-term survival of not just their customers, as with the tobacco companies, but of the human race, along with most other species on the planet. I could be snide and sneer about the oxymoronic quality of the phrase “corporate ethics,” but it’s not just corporations that prioritize reaping short-term benefits over preventing long-term threats.  It’s a fairly common human trait, it turns out, and one that is plaguing our efforts to stop doing things that release more carbon and accelerate climate change, and to start doing things that will capture carbon and reverse our ever more tightly spiralling spin into planetary oblivion. In order to reverse climate change, we must reverse our own conditioned responses.  The outer depends on the inner, as always.

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26 01 2013

In December of 2008, TVA’s Kingston Coal Plant was the site of a disaster, as unusually heavy rains washed away retaining walls and inundated the area downstream from the plant with highly toxic coal ash from “ponds” on the plant site.

Now, TVA wants to set the stage for an even more spectacular disaster.  Instead of polluting the small rural community of Kingston, their new plan puts the city of Nashville at risk.

Their intentions are good–the Gallatin plant they want to “upgrade”  has been listed as one of the most polluting coal plants in the country.  But TVA’s solution–to spend a billion dollars installing “scrubbers” that will remove the pollution from the plant’s exhaust system–will result in tons and tons of toxic waste being stored on the banks of the Cumberland River, upstream from Nashville.  All it will take is a flood like the one we had in 2010, and that coal ash, with its toxic load of mercury, cadmium, arsenic, lead, and more–will be all over Nashville.  Thanks, TVA! Read the rest of this entry »


11 07 2010

This month’s “Truth in Strange Places” award goes to Tennessee’s  own Lamar Alexander, for saying, in a speech on the Senate floor:

“We use 25 percent of all the energy in the world to produce about 25 percent of all the money in the world—five percent of the people in the world. In order to keep our high standard of living we need to remember we’re not a desert island. Solar, wind and biomass are an important supplement, but America’s 21st Century reliable, low-cost energy needs are not going to be met by electricity produced by a windmill, a controlled bonfire and a few solar panels.”

What makes the placement of this truth strange is the overall context, and the presumptions that surround it.  Senator Alexander apparently thinks that America can keep relying on petroleum and coal, build more nuclear power plants, and thus maintain our current lifestyle.

Senator Alexander’s remarks contain numerous fallacies about our energy supply and its future.

First, he assumes we can keep on relying on petroleum, when the truth is that we on the brink of seeing our petroleum supply diminish rapidly.  One of the rarely mentioned significances of deep water oil drilling is that we are only doing it because all the easy oil is gone.  We are at the point of peak oil.  Demand, especially from India and China, is increasing, while the rate of new oil discoveries has fallen dramatically and the amount of oil produced annually has plateaued.  .  Senator Alexander refuses to face the fact that we are running out of oil.

Second, he assumes that we can go on mining coal indefinitely.  This is not the case; carbon issues aside, some students of our energy future think we may hit “peak coal” in just another fifteen years or so. Let’s face it: mountaintop removal is to coal what deep water drilling is to oil–scraping the bottom of the jar for the last scraps of its contents.  Large-scale coal mining is also heavily dependent on petroleum for lubricants and transportation, and will become more expensive as the price of oil continues to increase.  Sen. Alexander further assumes that the sacrifice of much of West Virginia and Kentucky, and parts of Tennessee, is an acceptable price to pay for that coal.  Many of the area’s residents would disagree with him.  The fact that coal companies do not have to pay out of pocket for the destruction of the Appalachian ecosystem does not make it any less expensive.  It just means that somebody besides the coal companies is having to pay the cost.

Senator Alexander ignores the climate change aspect of coal and oil extraction, as well, and falsely claims that nuclear power is a low-carbon option.  The increasing carbonation of our atmosphere and oceans has spun the planet’s climate out of equilibrium and in a much, much warmer direction.  By cutting back our carbon emissions, we can at least soften the blow that is falling on us, but Senator Alexander recklessly disregards these realities in his demand for comfort now.  Where is his respect for the rights of the unborn on this issue?

“The rights of the unborn”—yes, I find it extremely ironic that many of those who campaign against abortion on this slogan seem to have no compunction about living a high-consumption lifestyle that will leave little in the way of natural resources for those who are not yet born….but I digress…

Nuclear power, too, faces looming limits on the availability of its primary fuel, uranium, and has the further disadvantage of creating radioactive wastes that remain lethal for a quarter of a million years, at least.  Not surprisingly, we have yet to come up with a technology or even a location for safe containment and storage of these poisons.  A quarter of a million years ago, our ancestors were not yet homo sapiens.   That’s how long we’re talking about here.  And, while Senator Alexander rails against subsidies for wind power, he conveniently ignores the massive subsidies that have made nuclear power appear to be a viable option for producing electricity.When the subsidies are factored in, nuclear energy is one of the most expensive ways to produce electricity.  A program that improved the efficiency of insulation, lighting, heating and cooling, and other common uses of electricity could eliminate the need for nearly 400 power plants in this country  We don’t need more, thank you.  The Europeans are doing quite nicely on about half of US per capita energy consumption.

And then there’s the question of how we are supposed to pay for more energy production, or even continue to pay for what we are currently using.  Sure, we have been “five percent of the people with twenty-five percent of the money,” but those days are just about over.  The American middle class is tapped out–in addition to everybody’s personal debts, we middle-class taxpayers are footing the bills for the bank bailout and our country’s military adventures in the Middle East, and just printing up more dollar bills will only go so far.

Can you say bankruptcy, boys and girls?

And the sad thing about all Senator Alexander’s errors of fact and perception is that they are not just one man’s opinion.  They are presumably shared by the million and a half Tennesseans who elected him, as well as millions of Americans around the country, many of whom are not even Republicans.  After all, Obama’s energy guy, Steven Chu, is calling for an expanded nuclear program in this country.  “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” eh?

The one thing that Senator Alexander did get right is that renewable energy sources cannot maintain the energy supply to which we have become accustomed.  The American lifestyle–indeed, the lifestyle of any even moderately wealthy person anywhere on the planet–is possible only because we have burned the greater part of the planet’s accessible supplies of coal and oil in the last two hundred years, leaving only scraps for our descendants.  There is no way we can keep living as we have been.  We are going to need to orchestrate a sensible and orderly return to a simpler lifestyle, or face the chaotic consequences of ignoring that reality.  It’s not what most people in America want to hear, but that’s the way it is.  The party’s over, Lamar.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “The Party’s Over


7 07 2010

In contrast to the cockeyed optimism of Lamar “nuclear option” Alexander and many genuine advocates of sustainable, alternative energy, the sobering truth about our energy future can be found in a short but incisive book by Richard Heinberg, entitled “Searching For A Miracle–‘Net Energy’ Limits and the Fate of Industrial Society.”  It’s available for free from the website of the Post-Carbon Institute.

In a mere eighty-three pages, Heinberg makes it clear that it  will, indeed, take a miracle for our energy-intensive way of life to continue.

He begins by laying out “ten key criteria for comparing energy systems and their limits,” and then he rates the full spectrum of energy production possibilities, from the greenest to the grungiest,  by those criteria.  In the third section, Heinberg expounds his view of our most likely energy path into the future, and closes with  “The Case for Conservation.”

The criteria are:  direct monetary cost,  dependence on additional resources, environmental impacts, renewability, potential scale of contribution, location, reliability, “energy density” (how much energy can be derived from a given quantity of the energy source), transportability, and “energy returned on energy invested,” (“EROEI” for short) more simply referred to as “net energy,” analogous to “net profit.”  That seems like something that any capitalist should be able to understand, right?

The net energy return of the petroleum we have used for the last hundred years or so was extremely high–a hundred to one for most of the twentieth century. This fantastic profit is what has enabled us to create the civilization we think of as normal.  The problem, as Heinberg is quick to point out, is that there is no other energy source that offers a return anywhere near as favorable.  Domestic petroleum production today, which mostly comes from technologically complex sources like offshore wells, clocks in at around 10:1, while imported oil has an EROEI ratio of about 20:1–the cost of getting it to the USA does not completely offset the greater ease of extraction from Saudi, Mexican, and other oil fields. Coal still offers a fairly good net energy return, around 70:1 by Heinberg’s calculation, but at an unacceptable environmental cost.  And nuclear power, the darling of so many on both sides of the aisle in Washington, is near the bottom of the pile with an EROEI of about 10:1.  That ratio, interestingly enough, is the same EROEI that anthropologists calculate for hunter-gatherer societies  Ain’t that enough to make ya think?

If it’s any consolation to you nukeheads out there, photovoltaic power also has a dismally low EROEI, and wind generators are only a nose ahead of the solar/nuclear bottom dwellers.  The EROEI of extracting oil from tar sands comes close to being negative, especially if larger environmental factors are considered.

Petroleum currently provides about a third of the world’s energy needs.  The only major oil fields that are still increasing production are in Russia.  Mexico, which is one of the US’s major suppliers, is in steep decline, and the status of the oil fields in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Kuwait are closely guarded state secrets–and the Saudis have recently announced that they are no longer looking for new oil fields “so part of this wealth is left for our sons and successors God willing,” as King Abdullah put it.  A wise monarch, at least on this issue.

About a quarter of our civilization’s energy comes from burning coal.  Its high environmental price, both at the mine and out the smokestack, goes without saying; but Heinberg predicts that we are at the point of peak coal as well as peak oil, and that in another three decades much of the coal that remains in the ground will take more energy to extract than it will provide.

Natural gas provides another quarter of what keeps our lights on, and it, too, is pushing its limits.  The recent invention of “fracking” technology, which injects chemicals into deep formations to loosen up gas deposits, is creating an epic ecological conflict:  is it more important for companies to get rich harvesting natural gas in the eastern US, or is it more important for New York City to continue to have potable water?  While natural gas once blew freely out of the ground along with oil, giving it a very favorable EROEI, the new, high-tech extraction methods have made natural gas much more expensive to extract, and Heinberg pins the EROEI of fracted natural gas as equal to or less than 10:1, which he estimates is also the threshold below which energy extraction is not worthwhile.

Hydropower, aka “dams,” provides about a fifth of the world’s electricity.  There are actually quite a few rivers in the world that could still be harnessed, but the environmental price tag of doing this would be quite high, in terms of carbon release and ecosystem disruption for humans and other animals.  Dams also depend on a steady supply of flowing water, which, in a time of erratic climate change, could be problematic, and dams do fill up with silt after a while, a problem the US is encountering with Hoover and Glenn Canyon dams on the Colorado River.  When, not if, these dams become full of silt and empty of water, it will be “game over” for much of the southwestern US.  Sooner or later, China’s massive dam projects will meet the same fate.  Increased hydropower is not a long-term solution to our demand for electricity.

Heinberg next analyzes nuclear power, which accounts for a mere 6% of world electrical production.  If we attempted to achieve Senator Alexander’s fantasy of replacing coal and oil with nuclear power, we would need to build nearly ten times as many nuclear power plants as are now in existence–but there’s a supply choke-chain for uranium that, like coal and oil supplies, gets tight about the middle of this century–and that’s without a massive increase in demand for nuclear fuel–production of which, Heinberg is quick to point out, is neither clean nor carbon-neutral.  Nuclear power advocates have been promising for decades that reprocessed nuclear fuel will give nuclear energy long-term viability, but the reality of nuclear fuel “reprocessing” is, Heinberg points out, still experimental at best and highly polluting at worst.  France, which Senator Alexander likes to hold up as a shining example of nuclear power, has a radioactive hot zone around its reprocessing plant that should be enough to give anybody pause.

Heinberg then goes on to give us the mostly bad news about all the “green” and not-so-green energy alternatives.  Wind power is intermittent and land-intensive; photovoltaic power is too high-tech and dependent on rare elements; biofuels have ridiculously low EROEIs and all too often  take food out of people’s mouths, biomass is at or beyond its sustainable supply limits already, passive solar doesn’t really generate energy, it just conserves it.  He has some good things to say about solar mirrors and geothermal energy, but both are dependent on a fossil-fuel economy–which, it appears, is going to be fading away in the coming decades.

So–what is to be done?

On page 58, Heinberg tells us:

…there is no single “silver-bullet” energy source capable of replacing conventional fossil fuels directly….Though several of the sources discussed already serve, or are capable of serving, as secondary energy sources.
This means that as fossil fuels deplete, and as society reduces reliance on them in order to avert catastrophic climate impacts, we will have to use every available alternative energy source strategically. Instead of a silver bullet, we have in our arsenal only BBs, each with a unique profile of strengths and weaknesses that must be taken into account.

And even if we fire all our BB’s, the result will still be, in his words

…the world’s economy is likely to become increasingly energy-constrained as fossil fuels deplete and are phased out for environmental reasons. It is highly unlikely that the entire world will ever reach an American or even a European level of energy consumption,and even the maintenance of current energy consumption levels will require massive investment.

That “massive investment,” as he sees it, is quite unlikely.  Why?  He doesn’t say it, but I will: there is too much inertia in the status quo.  The world’s wealthiest people believe that there is not enough to go around, and they have determined that they will do whatever it takes to hang on to what they have, and to hell with the rest of us.  If the planet would be better off with fewer humans, let social Darwinism determine who survives–but candy-coat it, spin it carefully, find charismatic spokespeople like Barack Obama who project caring and compassion and hope for the future; but, behind the friendly facade, circle the wagons and load the machine guns.  If the US did not have such a massive military establishment, we would have enough money to fund energy transition, social programs, and health care, and still cut the budget.  Why don’t we?  Because of who the army answers to, and why those people want to make sure they maintain control…but, as I do so often, I have digressed…back to the book review!

As I said, the final quarter of the book is devoted to energy conservation.  Early in it, Heinberg lays out the results of continuing down the path we are on:

How far will supplies fall, and how fast? Taking into account depletion-led declines in oil and natural gas production, a leveling off of energy from coal, and the recent shrinkage of investment in the energy sector, it may be reasonable to expect a reduction in global energy availability of 20 percent or more during the next quarter century. Factoring in expected population growth, this implies substantial per-capita reductions in available energy.  These declines are unlikely to be evenly distributed among nations, with oil and gas importers being hardest hit, and with the poorest countries seeing energy consumption returning to pre-industrial levels (with energy coming almost entirely from food crops and forests and work being done almost entirely by muscle power).

Thus, the question the world faces is no longer whether to reduce energy consumption, but how.  Policy makers could choose to manage energy unintelligently (maintaining fossil fuel dependency as long as possible while making poor choices of alternatives, such as biofuels or tar sands, and insufficient investments in the far more promising options such as wind and solar). In the latter case, results will be catastrophic. Transport systems will wither (especially ones relying on the most energy-intensive vehicles—such as airplanes, automobiles, and trucks). Global trade will contract dramatically, as shipping becomes more costly. And energy-dependent food systems will falter, as chemical input and transport costs soar. All of this could in turn lead to very high long-term unemployment and perhaps even famine.

Yes, folks, we are staring down the road to Hell, and yes, it is paved with good intentions.

The other road, the one we have not yet taken, involves rethinking, restructuring, and restraint.  For an example of “rethinking,” one of the most important points Heinberg makes is that we need to quit thinking of “growth” as a measure of the health of an economy.

There are a lot of “re-words” in Heinberg’s list of, uh, re-medies:  research, retrofit, reduction, re-localization, re-ruralization, re-direction, and return–as in,

The return of control of the bulk of the world’s remaining natural resources from corporations and financial institutions in the industrialized countries to the people of the less industrialized nations where those resources are located.

For me, this simple statement has incredible ramifications.  For one thing, I think the corporate pirates and their puppets in government are highly unlikely to let go of their ill-gotten gains.  On the other hand, this is what many corporate mouthpieces are talking about when they say of people who are not co-operating with their agenda, “They hate us for our freedom.”  They hate us for our freedom to go into their back yard and take their stuff–and well they should.

Heinberg also points out that this greed is unnecessary, citing studies that relate human satisfaction to energy access:

The data appear to show that well-being requires at least 50 to 70 Giga Joules (of energy) per capita per year. As consumption above that level slightly expands, a sense of well being also expands, but only up to about 100 GJ per capita… above and beyond that level of consumption, there is no increase in a sense of well being. In fact the more consumptive and wealthy we become, the less content and satisfied we apparently are….. North America’s energy consumption is currently about 325 GJ per annum.

And there you have it….we are using three or four times more energy than we would really be happy with….a kind of “energy obesity.”  I submit that the extreme reactivity of all those, Tea-Partiers and “liberals” alike,  who subscribe to the doctrine that ‘the American way of life is not negotiable”  is rooted in denial and a guilty conscience.

Will enough Americans (especially our corporate overlords) break through the cycle of anger and denial, let go, and allow a sane future to evolve?  Or will we burn up the last petroleum in a battle over the last clean water, and pollute it in the process?  It’s an exciting time to be alive, folks.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “Unsustainable


13 06 2009

Some of us were stunned and saddened last week when Dr.  George Tiller was murdered in church.  Some of us were not.

“I am glad George Tiller is dead”

That’s what “Reverend”  Wiley Drake, a former officer of the Southern Baptist Convention, told Fox News.  Drake said he has been praying for Tiller to  have a change of heart about abortion,but in the last year had been praying for Tiller’s death, because:

(Dr. Tiller) had obviously turned his back on God again and again and again,”

Drake called Tiller “a reprobate” and a “brutal, arrogant murderer” who “bragged on his own website how many babies he had killed.”

“Would you have rejoiced when Adolf Hitler died during the war?” Drake asked. “Or would you have said, ‘Oh that is terrible for him to be killed’? No, I would have said, ‘Amen, praise the Lord, hallelujah, I’m glad he’s dead.'”

Drake says Barack Obama is now the object of his “imprecatory prayers.”  Let me put it bluntly:  he is praying for Barack Obama to die soon.  Since Mr. Obama seems to be in excellent health, this sounds to me like a public call for the assassination of our President.  Now, I’m not a big Obama fan either, albeit for very different reasons, but that is going WAY too far.  C’mon, Homeland Security, ain’t this domestic terrorism?  But hey, he’s not a right-wing terrorist, he’s just exercising his freedoms of speech and religion…and the guy that murdered Dr. Tiller is one of the Lord’s avenging angels.  No causal connection between Drake’s hate speech and trigger man Scott Roeder.

Drake is just one example…. Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, and many other right wing pundits have been beating the drum against Dr. Tiller for years.  Coulter, commenting on other murders of abortion providers, said that you could say they had been shot,

….or, depending on your point of view, had a procedure performed on them with a rifle.

OK, let’s change our focus for a little while…mountain top removal, anyone?

In spite of their stated commitment to science over politics, the warnings of every credible climate scientist in the book, and Al Gore’s call for civil disobedience to prevent more coal plants from being built, the Obama administration appears to be ready to approve at least 42 of the 48 mountaintop removal projects currently on the EPA’s table.

The coal that will be produced from this massive environmental destruction will make a few corporate balance sheets look good, but it will release more poison into what’s left of the waters of West Virginia, where mercury levels are already dangerous for women who are or might become pregnant, and also, of course, cause the release of massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where it will eventually contribute to the deaths of millions, possibly billions, of babies–and adults–all over the world, as global warming creates a world in which the living may well envy the dead.  Kofi Annan, former UN leader who now runs the Global Humanitarian Forum, estimates that global warming is already killing 300,000 people a year, not counting the number of miscarriages due to malnutrition, which would probably swell that 300,000 by quite a bit, since about 45 million of the world’s 900 million hungry people are considered to be directly affected by climate change.  My reaction is, “only 45 million?!  They must have had to work on the numbers quite a bit to get it down to that level!”

Dr. Tiller helped women who did not want or felt incapable of raising the babies they were carrying.  The coal industry is indiscriminately slaughtering hundreds of thousands of children whose parents value them and do not want them to die. But hey, it’s totally indiscriminate–they’re killing parents and grandparents, too.  Not picking on the helpless unborn, nossir.

So, Reverend Drake, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, where are you on this issue?  If you’re really concerned about “the rights of the unborn,” maybe you should commence  “imprecatory prayers” against the coal companies and their many allies in Congress and the administration.  Or is it that “the rights of the unborn” is really just a cover, and your real agenda is the assertion of patriarchal control over womens’ bodies, and that’s why the destruction of the atmosphere and the murder of millions by the coal industry is irrelevant to you?

In the church I grew up in, we had a different name for “imprecatory prayer.”  Asking for bad things to happen to other people was called “black magic,” and needless to say, we did not recommend it.  Here we have a clear case of somebody who alleges he is a Christian practicing the dark arts….gee, just like Satan.  In my church, we all understood that if you asked for  evil to happen to someone  else, you had better be prepared for it to visit you.  So, when I consider the right-wing punditocracy and its sick, sad culture of death threats, I’m not going to wish evil on them.  They have already summoned it to themselves.  May God have mercy on their souls.

music:  Frank Zappa, “Jesus Thinks You’re a Jerk“(excerpt)


13 06 2009

There’s been a lot of concern lately about rising carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere, but a recent study by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography raises an even more serious issue–the atmospheric oxygen level is dropping.

It hasn’t fallen by much, yet, but we are running on a narrow margin when it comes to oxygen.  Our atmosphere is about 20% oxygen, and, according to OSHA standards,

“if the oxygen level in… an environment falls below 19.5% it is oxygen deficient, putting occupants of the confined space at risk of losing consciousness and death.”

To requantify that, while our atmospheric CO2 level has risen by nearly 50% and not made enough difference to get most peoples’ attention, a drop in the atmospheric oxygen level of just 2.5% would kill us.  Long before that occurred, decreasing atmospheric oxygen would make it difficult to think clearly.  Maybe we, and other surviving species, could make a quick evolutionary adaptation to lower oxygen levels.  Maybe not.

That still might not alarm some people….”Hey, a tenth of a percent in two hundred years?  It’ll be 5,000 years before we run low!  No problem–for us, anyway!  Let’s party!”

The authors of the article that brought this phenomenon to my attention, in fact, didn’t seem too concerned about the possibility of oxygen depletion, but I was surprised by some of the things they didn’t mention–such as the fact that both our major sources of oxygen are at risk.  On land, the richly diverse, oxygen-producing rain forests of the world are being turned into cardboard boxes, toilet paper, and two-by-fours–and the ground they occupied, its natural cycle disrupted, dries up and turns into savannah, which produces only a fraction of the oxygen generated by rain forest.  At sea, the continued acidification of the ocean threatens the continued existence of microscopic sea life that produces 70-80% of the oxygen in our atmosphere.  And then there’s plastic poisoning…more on that later.

So, if we don’t end our carbon-dioxide belching ways, or if we pass a tipping point that sets runaway greenhouse conditions in motion, we really could smother ourselves, probably in a lot less than five thousand years.  Hey, all you folks making big noises about “the rights of the unborn”–how about this issue?

Now for the “DEEP green perspective” on this.

Humans have been seriously exploiting the planet’s oil and coal deposits for only about two hundred years, and in that  time we have used up about half the available crude oil and most of the best-quality coal, and have begun digging into “tar sands” in Canada and Venezuela, and “lignite” coal in a variety of locations.   Tar sands would have become good quality oil in another few million years, just as lignite, in the natural geological evolution of the planet, would eventually have become anthracite coal. What’s the hurry here?

Both coal and oil  were created when massive amounts of living matter, mostly plants, were buried and compressed for millions of years.  At our current rates of consumption, we probably have enough oil and coal left in the ground for another hundred years or so of our current lifestyle, or maybe a little longer, since as they become rarer, their prices will rise and inhibit consumption.   That will leave a gap of millions of years with effectively no available oil or coal on the planet–for all intents and purposes, they will be gone forever, which is too bad, because they are very useful, and the eight-hundred pound gorilla in the room where we predict our future  is that solar power, wind power, and biofuels, for all they can do, cannot replace the many functions coal and oil serve in our culture.  In fact, they are all, to some extent, dependent on a continuing supply of “conventional” fuels for their manufacture and deployment.  Oops!

It seems that, until recently, it didn’t occur to anyone that we might run out of petroleum and coal, with the result that we, like not-so-Wiley Coyote, have run off a cliff without noticing, and are about to fall a long way, with a very painful landing awaiting us.

Moreover, by burning so much oil and coal all at once, we have done serious damage to the web of life on this planet.  It’s the only planet we have to live on, y’know?

If we were the only species at risk from our own behavior, I would say we were suicidal.  But, since we have decimated or eliminated so many other species on the planet, I classify our behavior as not just suicidal, but murderously sociopathic.

If we had the intelligence with which we like to credit ourselves, we would have realized long ago, when the first coal mines played out and the first oil wells went dry, that there are only limited quantities of these marvelous hydrocarbons available, and rationed them out carefully like the precious substances they are, stretching our coal and petroleum supplies to last for thousands, not hundreds, of years, sparing damage to our environment, and allowing us plenty of time for careful research and transition out of our dependency on these irreplaceable gifts.

But no, we have not done that.  We have exploited limited resources that took millions of years to create and burned them senselessly or turned them into stupid plastic crap that made a few people materially wealthy for a very few years and now will impoverish and sicken our children and what descendants they can manage to conceive for untold generations to come.  Again, I have to ask, “where are all the ‘Right to Life’ people on this issue?”  and I have to wonder what makes us think we are “Homo sapiens,” “the wise human”?  Has our behavior really been so “wise”?  Give me a break!

music:  Talking Heads, “Air


10 04 2008

one on one….

That’s when everything changed. Charging around the further curve came a couple of four-wheelers, roaring up the road past our group. Immediately following them were all manner of vehicles (mostly pick-up trucks). Out of the vehicles poured what looked like the majority of the coal company’s demolition crew, along with their wives and even some of their children. They were all clad in identical sky-blue t-shirts with a logo on the back and the slogan “Protect An Endangered Species — Save a Coal Miner” or some such corporate drivel. They deliberately blocked our little group in between the mouth of the road and the No Trespassing barrier, like some group of penned animals they planned to slaughter just like the animals that die when they push the detritus of their “mining” into the valley below.

Since we’re fairly new to having our homes attacked by Mountain Top Removal here in my neck of Fayette County, some of us were surprised at the show of force. I checked with my friends down in the coal fields of southern West Virginia, however, and they said it’s a typical company tactic. Here’s what happens: the coal company tells its people (the people who are owned by the company) that the Evil Environmentalists (who, they’re told, love trees, fish and numerous species of snails more than people) are trying to take away their jobs. The bosses tell their wage slaves that America can’t have electricity without blowing the hell out of the oldest mountains on the planet. The slaves are told that they’re actually even “patriots.” They get some spiffy new T-shirts and are told, not asked, to take the wife and kids to help intimidate the “Environmental Wackos.” Failure to do so, can mean one of these peoples’ jobs.

Of course, the bosses DON’T tell their demolition crews that as quick as the last seam has been scraped from the earth, as soon as they’ve pushed the last bit of mountaintop over into the valley that is my home and killed every living thing that walks, creeps, swims or crawls, they’ll be gone like an itching john from a low-rent bordello. They don’t tell their “associates” that two or three spins of the Wall Street roulette wheel will reduce those much-vaunted “profit sharing plans” to the value of your great-granny’s cache of Civil War Bank of Montgomery Confederate notes. Nope. All those pathetic people hear is that “Coal Keeps The Lights On.” All they know is that as long as they keep up the bombing, the paychecks keep coming.


working through the legal system….

In the majority of cases where Monsanto sues, or threatens to sue, farmers settle before going to trial. The cost and stress of litigating against a global corporation are just too great. But Pilot Grove wouldn’t cave—and ever since, Monsanto has been turning up the heat. The more the co-op has resisted, the more legal firepower Monsanto has aimed at it. Pilot Grove’s lawyer, Steven H. Schwartz, described Monsanto in a court filing as pursuing a “scorched earth tactic,” intent on “trying to drive the co-op into the ground.”

Even after Pilot Grove turned over thousands more pages of sales records going back five years, and covering virtually every one of its farmer customers, Monsanto wanted more—the right to inspect the co-op’s hard drives. When the co-op offered to provide an electronic version of any record, Monsanto demanded hands-on access to Pilot Grove’s in-house computers.

Monsanto next petitioned to make potential damages punitive—tripling the amount that Pilot Grove might have to pay if found guilty. After a judge denied that request, Monsanto expanded the scope of the pre-trial investigation by seeking to quadruple the number of depositions. “Monsanto is doing its best to make this case so expensive to defend that the Co-op will have no choice but to relent,” Pilot Grove’s lawyer said in a court filing.

With Pilot Grove still holding out for a trial, Monsanto now subpoenaed the records of more than 100 of the co-op’s customers. In a “You are Commanded … ” notice, the farmers were ordered to gather up five years of invoices, receipts, and all other papers relating to their soybean and herbicide purchases, and to have the documents delivered to a law office in St. Louis. Monsanto gave them two weeks to comply.


taking over the legal system!

News last week of former White House lawyer John Yoo’s recently disclosed 2003 memo positing, among other things, that the president’s authority as commander in chief allows him to override federal laws prohibiting “assault, maiming and other crimes” against suspects in the “war on terror” was followed by a second revelation: an alarming footnote on page 8 referring to another secret memo, written shortly after 9/11, and, in the name of national security, dispensing with the Fourth Amendment.

In the age of the “war on terror,” according to the footnote, the Department of Justice “recently concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations.” (Emphasis in the original.)

The Fourth Amendment, of course, lays out “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Critics of the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program — which was started in the same weeks the memo was written — have staked their claims in part on its violation of this right. Proof that the program originated at the same time that the White House officially jettisoned the Fourth Amendment in the name of national security is a damning — if not surprising — revelation.


ignoring the legal system!

Babak Pasdar is a computer security expert who was hired in 2003 to help restructure the tech infrastructure at a major wireless telecommunications company. What he found shocked him.

The company had set up a system that gave a third party, presumably a governmental entity, access to every communication coming through that company’s infrastructure. This means every email, internet use, document transmission, video, text message, as well as the ability to listen to and record any phone call.

It is also believed the system would allow the government to be able to trace the physical location of cell phone users. The secret system is known as the Quantico Circuit, named after the city in Virginia home to the FBI Academy.

AMY GOODMAN: Babak Pasdar has not named the company where he worked, but the publication Wired reports his claims are nearly identical to allegations made in a federal lawsuit filed against Verizon Wireless. Verizon Wireless is one of several major telecoms facing lawsuits over its role in the government’s spying program. Congress is still debating on whether to give Verizon and other telecoms immunity, even though their actions broke the law.



10 04 2008

A worker at a steel mill in India.India’s electricity appetite is exploding. A worker at a steel mill in India. (Credit: Scott Eells for The New York Times)

The troubling tension between propelling prosperity and limiting climate risks in a world still wedded to fossil fuels is on full display this week. India’s Tata Power group just gained important financial backing from the International Finance Corporation, a branch of the World Bank, for its planned $4 billion, 4-billion watt “Ultra Mega” coal-burning power plant complex in Gujarat state.


silk purses from sows’ ears?

New plastics dervied from CO2 emissions could fight global warming
April 10, 2008

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Efforts to slow global warming by “scrubbing” carbon dioxide smokestack emissions could generate a material for the production of DVDs, beverage bottles and other products made from polycarbonate plastics, say chemists speaking at the 235th annual meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Dr. Thomas E. Müller and Dr. Toshiyasu Sakakura said that polycarbonate plastics made from CO2 could be cheaper, greener, and safer that conventional plastics.

“Carbon dioxide is so readily available, especially from the smokestack of industries that burn coal and other fossil fuels,” said Müller. “And it’s a very cheap starting material. If we can replace more expensive starting materials with CO2, then you’ll have an economic driving force.”

Sakakura, of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tsukuba, Japan, said that CO2 could be used as a feedstock to change carbonates and urethanes into plastics and battery components.

Müller said that polycarbonate products — which could include eyeglass lenses, DVDs and CDs, and beverage bottles, among others — have great potential for removing million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“Using CO2 to create polycarbonates might not solve the total carbon dioxide problem, but it could be a significant contribution,” he said, adding that polycarbonates derived from CO2 emissions could reach the market within a “few years.”



3 04 2008

Yo! Obama!? Hillary?! McCain?! MCCAIN??!! You guys reading this? And no, this doesan’t mean we can ramp up our coal exports ’cause we’re using less…..and no, it doesn’t mean we need to turn to more nuclear power, either……..

A Long Year in the Life of the U.S. Coal Industry

Lester R. Brown and Jonathan G. Dorn

With concerns about climate change mounting, the era of coal-fired electricity generation in the United States may be coming to a close. In early 2007, a U.S. Department of Energy report listed 151 coal-fired power plants in the planning stages in the United States. But during 2007, 59 proposed plants were either refused licenses by state governments or quietly abandoned. In addition, close to 50 coal plants are being contested in the courts, and the remaining plants will likely be challenged when they reach the permitting stage.

What began as a few local ripples of resistance to coal-fired power plants is quickly evolving into a national tidal wave of opposition from environmental, health, farm, and community organizations as well as leading climate scientists and state governments. Growing concern over pending legislation to regulate carbon emissions is creating uncertainty in financial markets. Leading financial groups are now downgrading coal stocks and requiring utilities seeking funding for coal plants to include a cost for carbon emissions when proving economic viability.



22 03 2008

…unless we can capture all the CO2 from them, which of course, we can’t do yet….meanwhile, the Chinese are putting a new coal-fired plant on line at the rate of one per week, and there’s plenty of political rhetoric blowing wind into the sails of more coal plants here in the US.  Hanson says if we don’t stop with the fossil fuels like RIGHT NOW, we’re gonna cook our goose.  His critics say it’s not politically feasible to do that.  What do you call it when it’s “not politcally feasible” not to commit planetary suicide?

Oh yes, the main point of the interview was how both the Bush and Clinton administrations have attempted to censor him….and sometimes succeeded.  Al Gore.  Censoring James Hanson.  Well, OK, it was the Clintons, and that was then and this is now….

from the Democracy Now interview:

DR. JAMES HANSEN: Well, the most important thing is—if you just look at how much carbon dioxide there is in the different fossil fuels, coal is the really big issue. The important step is to have a moratorium on any new coal-fired power plants until we have the technology to capture the carbon dioxide and sequester it. And if we would do that, that’s a good fraction of the solution. But we’re also going to have to use the other fossil fuels more conservatively. We’re going to need to emphasize energy efficiency. And eventually we have to find sources of energy that don’t produce greenhouse gases.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m just looking at a piece in the New York Times from a few days ago by Andrew Revkin that said, “Dr. Hansen “and eight co-authors have drafted a fresh paper arguing that the world has already shot past a safe eventual atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, which they say would be around 350 parts per million, a level passed 20 years ago,” Andrew Revkin writes. This is controversial. “Some longtime champions of Dr. Hansen, including the Climate Progress blogger Joe Romm, see some significant gaps in the paper”—still in draft form—“and part ways with Dr. Hansen over whether such a goal is remotely feasible.”

DR. JAMES HANSEN: Well, yeah. Unfortunately, Joe feels that we have to talk about what’s practical. I think we have to look at the science and tell us exactly what it—and tell the people exactly what it is pointing to. And the history of the earth tells us that even 385 parts per million is too much. And we can still go backwards. The ocean does take up carbon dioxide. If we would phase out the use of coal, except to recapture the CO2, then it is feasible to get back below 350 parts per million. But we’re going to have to put a stop on new coal-fired power plants until we have the technology to capture the CO2.

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