FROM PARIS TO NASHVILLE

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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COAL KILLS

9 02 2013

CORRECTION:  The opening power point presentation was given by Dodd Galbreath, not “Dodd Lockwood.”  My bad!

On Thursday night, I went to the Sierra Club’s “peoples’ hearing” on TVA’s proposal to spend a billion dollars on scrubbers for the stacks of its Gallatin, Tennessee, coal plant.  The meeting, along with a couple of other recent news items, was a pleasant, uplifting surprise.  All too often, public meetings and the news alike leave me with a hollow feeling closely associated with how it feels to be heading down a roller coaster curve that I know, just know, is going to make me toss my lunch.  But not this time.

First, the facts of the matter, to the best of this admittedly biased reporter’s ability to state them.  TVA’s Gallatin coal plant, just upriver (and usually upwind) from Nashville, is over fifty years old.  It consumes 9 to 12,000 tons of coal a day to supply electricity to 300,000 homes  (that’s 80 pounds of coal per home per day), and emits about 750,000 tons of CO2 per year to do that–that’s two and a half tons of CO2 per household, anda total of about 23,500 tons of sulfur dioxide, as well as large quantities of mercury, lead and other heavy metals and radioactive elements.  The EPA has ruled that all coal plants must install scrubbers to remove the sulfur dioxide, etc., or close down.  The  “coal ash” that results from the scrubbing process will, apparently, be stored in large piles and containment ponds on the banks of the Cumberland River, just like the piles and ponds next to the Clinch River near Kingston Tennessee.   (Remember what happened there?) and at every other coal-fired power plant in the country, because nobody’s figured out any safe use for all this highly toxic material.  (oops, sorry, I’m editorializing! ….well, that  IS the fact of the matter.)   Because these ponds and piles are going to take up a lot of room, TVA will have to close down The Cumberland River Aquatic Center, which specializes in growing endangered mussel species (essential for restoring stream health) as well as gar and sturgeon.  TVA has been strongly resistant to any kind of public input into their decision to do all this. Read the rest of this entry »





THE GREAT FRACKING FRAUD

4 12 2012

There’s a story making the rounds of the mainstream media these days, frequently trumpeted as “International Energy Agency says U.S. to overtake Saudis as  top oil producer.”  This may, technically, turn out to be true. But, as they say, “The devil is in the details,” and in this case, there’s definitely a Hell’s worth of details behind that headline that are all too frequently overlooked in this, our oil-based culture’s cargo cult moment.

“Cargo  cults,” to refresh your memory, were a religious movement that flourished briefly in the South Pacific after World War II.  The natives, who had been living a largely neolithic existence, saw that our troops came in, built an airstrip, and then airplanes landed, bringing all kinds of wondrous things, never before imagined, to the island, and the islanders.  Then,when the war was over, the mysterious strangers packed up and left, the airplanes no longer arrived bearing their magical cargoes,and the airstrips grew up in brush.  Some of the natives thought that, if they just rebuilt the airstrips, the planes would come again.  So they tried it, but it didn’t work, at least not directly, although the brief peak of our now-declining civilization has, in fact, brought the airplanes–bearing tourists, not soldiers, this time–back to many of those once-isolated tropical isles.

But no such temporary relief awaits us.  In fact, the granting of our wish for the oil age to continue bears such a horrific price tag that it’s a sad wonder that most people seem all too willing to buy it.  I’m going to examine the thorns of this “petroleum rose,” and, I hope, push the chorus of voices crying “DON’T TAKE THAT DEAL!!” to a volume level that just might save us from the fraudulent, Faustian  fracking bargain. Read the rest of this entry »





CARBON SEDUCTION

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.

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silk purses from sows’ ears?


New plastics dervied from CO2 emissions could fight global warming
mongabay.com
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.”

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FOOD SHORTAGES, HERE WE COME!

4 04 2008

Corn Hits $6 a Bushel on Tight Supplies

Thursday April 3, 6:56 pm ET
By Stevenson Jacobs, AP Business Writer

Corn Prices Jump to Record $6 a Bushel, Driving Up Costs for Food, Alternative Energy NEW YORK (AP) — Corn prices jumped to a record $6 a bushel Thursday, driven up by an expected supply shortfall that will only add to Americans’ growing grocery bill and further squeeze struggling ethanol producers.

Corn prices have shot up nearly 30 percent this year amid dwindling stockpiles and surging demand for the grain used to feed livestock and make alternative fuels including ethanol. Prices are poised to go even higher after the U.S. government this week predicted that American farmers — the world’s biggest corn producers — will plant sharply less of the crop in 2008 compared to last year.

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Perils in The Price Of Rice

Thursday, April 3, 2008; Page A17

You may have missed the front-page article in the New York Times last Saturday, with the one-column headline written in clipped newspaperese: “High Rice Cost Creating Fears of Asia Unrest.” But this little story could be an early warning of another big economic problem that’s sneaking up on us.

***

The price of rice in global markets has nearly doubled in the last three months, reports the Times’s Keith Bradsher. Fearing shortages, some major rice producers — including Vietnam, India, Egypt and Cambodia — have sharply limited their rice exports so they can be sure they can feed their own people.

Bradsher summarizes the evidence that food shortages and inflation are fueling political unrest: “Since January, thousands of troops have been deployed in Pakistan to guard trucks carrying wheat and flour. Protests have erupted in Indonesia over soybean shortages, and China has put price controls on cooking oil, grain, meat, milk and eggs. Food riots have erupted in recent months in Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen.”

World Bank President Robert Zoellick rang the alarm bell in a speech yesterday. He noted that since 2005, the prices of staples have risen 80 percent. The real price of rice rose to a 19-year high last month, he said, while the real price of wheat hit a 28-year high.

Zoellick warned that this inflation is having political repercussions: “The World Bank Group estimates that 33 countries around the world face potential political and social unrest because of the acute hike in food and energy prices.” To cope with the topsy-turvy economy, Zoellick made an innovative proposal that countries running a surplus, such as Saudi Arabia and China, devote 1 percent of their “sovereign wealth” funds to investment in Africa‘s poor countries. That could yield up to $30 billion in development spending.

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