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Tue Apr 14, 2015 at 05:06 PM PDT

The Mother Frackers think we are stupid

by DWG

They are celebrating over in Frackerville. They scored a peer-reviewed paper in a decent journal. According to industry astroturf Energy in Depth, this new paper will "discredit Duke methane papers." Those "flawed" studies found that the concentrations of methane, ethane, and other gases were substantially higher in wells close to active hydraulic fracturing operations.

Heads exploded in Frackerville when they read this research article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

Distance to gas wells was also the most significant factor for Pearson and Spearman correlation analyses (P < 0.01). For ethane concentrations, distance to gas wells was the only statistically significant factor (P < 0.005). Isotopic signatures (δ13C-CH4, δ13C-C2H6, and δ2H-CH4), hydrocarbon ratios (methane to ethane and propane), and the ratio of the noble gas 4He to CH4 in groundwater were characteristic of a thermally postmature Marcellus-like source in some cases. Overall, our data suggest that some homeowners living <1 km from gas wells have drinking water contaminated with stray gases.
That conclusion probably gave more than a few investors heartburn. It invites meddlesome regulations and requires larger campaign contributions to keep politicians turning a blind eye. Really dangerous in the hands of the good lawyer. Especially things like this.
The studies suggested the Marcellus methane ended up in well water because of the wells' faulty metal casings that allowed the methane to seep out into aquifers as natural gas was pumped to the surface. The research said the leaks could also be linked to poor concrete construction inside gas wells.
Something had to be done. Mission Accomplished!!!
In contrast to prior findings, we found no statistically significant relationship between dissolved methane concentrations in groundwater from domestic water wells and proximity to pre-existing oil or gas wells.
Suck it, Duke. I have it on good authority that the lords of Frackerville danced as they broke out the champagne, caviar, and top dollar escorts.
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If you were a peer reviewer of Siegel et al, would you vote to:

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Nature Geoscience just published a sobering look at likely deglaciation in Western Canada during the 21st century with continued carbon emissions. The research team led by Garry Clarke of the University of British Columbia developed models that incorporate ice dynamics physics with existing surface mass models. Using global climate models to project temperature and precipitation projections with "business as usual" carbon emissions, the models indicate that glacial ice mass in this region will decrease by 70% from its 2005 footprint by the end of the century.

Retreat of mountain glaciers is a significant contributor to sea-level rise and a potential threat to human populations through impacts on water availability and regional hydrology. Like most of Earth’s mountain glaciers, those in western North America are experiencing rapid mass loss. Projections of future large-scale mass change are based on surface mass balance models that are open to criticism, because they ignore or greatly simplify glacier physics. Here we use a high-resolution regional glaciation model, developed by coupling physics-based ice dynamics with a surface mass balance model, to project the fate of glaciers in western Canada. We use twenty-first-century climate scenarios from an ensemble of global climate models in our simulations; the results indicate that by 2100, the volume of glacier ice in western Canada will shrink by 70 ± 10% relative to 2005. According to our simulations, few glaciers will remain in the Interior and Rockies regions, but maritime glaciers, in particular those in northwestern British Columbia, will survive in a diminished state. We project the maximum rate of ice volume loss, corresponding to peak input of deglacial meltwater to streams and rivers, to occur around 2020–2040. Potential implications include impacts on aquatic ecosystems, agriculture, forestry, alpine tourism and water quality.
Think of this as yet another chapter in the water crises that will be the hallmark of the 21st century. Climate change and unsustainable agricultural uses of water have conspired to put California into a drought with profound economic implications. Syria fell into civil war after a prolonged drought wiped out agricultural productivity in rural parts of the country. Blood shed in South Sudan and other sub-Saharan countries has become all too common during water shortages. Freshwater reserves in China are under pressure from climate change, industrial use, and pollution. Ditto in India. The list goes on. And on.
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Hurricane Katrina revealed the power of nature and the incompetence of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under Michael Brown. The storm shredded the Gulf coast and breached the levees protecting New Orleans, leaving 1883 people dead, 2 million homeless, and the city in chaos. It took the joint federal task force under Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré to rescue the recovery efforts. The general has since retired from the military, but now leads a Green Army.

I don’t call myself an environmentalist, I call myself a pollution fighter.”
Here is a taste of the general in action. Starting at the 3:50 mark, he says that the environment is biggest challenge of the millennial generation and beyond. Here is the situation in Louisiana.

"There is an expiration date on clean drinking water in Louisiana. We will have less tomorrow than we had today. And this is because of the acts of men, of greed and of a failed democracy. A democracy that put the flag of oil and gas companies over our capitol, over the constitutional responsibility to look out for the welfare of the people.

In that regard, our democracy has failed us. I don't say that with any pride. I say it with a sadness in my heart because I spent 37 years, 3 months, and 3 days wearing the cloth of this nation as a soldier. To come back to my home state and see corporations work with total disregard, with collaboration and support from elected officials, to do things that tell the people of Louisiana that oil field wastewater is not hazardous. These are elected officials in the state of Louisiana who will stand up and defend this industry."

He goes on to describe industry-fueled propaganda as psychological operations (about the 6:00 mark).
Every day this group practices psychological operations on us. Don't say nothing bad about the oil and gas companies because if you do, they will leave. And, oh my Lord, what is going to happen to our economy. This is psychological operations.
Now that is speaking truth to power.
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Will David Vitter need to wear Depends if forced to debate General Honore?

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Wed Apr 01, 2015 at 04:52 PM PDT

Climate apathy and ignorance

by DWG

"We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach."

Stephen Hawking

Paraphrasing Dr. Hawking, if we humans are any indication what "intelligent life" looks like, be afraid of extraterrestrial visitors. Be very afraid. Here is a look at human collective intelligence at its finest.

Climate scientists continue to document the deliberate destabilization of our planet's climate system because of our reliance on 19th century carbon energy sources into the 21st century. In the past month alone, studies have shown crumbling ice sheets in Antarctica, rapid dissipation of Arctic sea ice, dramatic slowing of ocean currents making up the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, and a reduction in calcification by plankton that form the basis of the ocean food web in conjunction with increased acidification. Rising temperatures are also wreaking havoc with the hydrological system in California, plunging the state into deepening drought and increasing the risk for future crippling drought conditions. It does not take much imagination to see that continuing to alter the chemical composition of the atmosphere and oceans will have dire consequences for future generations yet efforts to move away from fossil fuels are anemic at best.

Sadly, the weight of climate science is not swaying public opinion. In survey (Gallup) after survey (Pew Research Center), the issue of climate change has achieved some head-space but lacks heart-space. A majority of Americans think climate change is real but few see it as an urgent priority.

Here is another disturbing fact, public opinion regarding climate change appears to be unchanged for a generation. Gallup has been polling on global warming/climate change for over 25 years. In its 2015 survey, only 32% of Americans are greatly concerned about the threats posed by climate disruptions. That is the same level found when polling on the issue first began in 1989. The tragic irony is that children born in 1989 will live to see some of the most severe climate impacts in their lifetimes if carbon pollution continues apace.

Efforts to persuade political conservatives to ignore climate science have been extraordinarily effective. Less than one in six Republican-leaning people in America think the impact of global warming will be substantial or that climate changes are due to human activity. The Merchants of Doubt are winning.

A study just published in Nature Climate Science provides some insight into the disconnect between the science and public opinion. The research team examined media coverage in United States and United Kingdom of the most recent reports from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which summarize existing scientific evidence and likely climate-related impacts. The bottom line is simple. It was largely ignored by print and broadcast media outlets in the US.

In legacy media, the IPCC gained far more attention in the UK (87 articles, 20 broadcasts) than the US (30 articles, 6 broadcasts). Even considering the unequal broadcast lengths (some were 30 min, others an hour), UK broadcasters spent nearly five times more airtime reporting the IPCC than US broadcasters (1 h 23 min 53 s in the UK, 17 min 53 s in the US); a pattern also evident in print (67,385 words in the UK; 25,482 words in the US).
What little coverage the IPCC consensus reports received in the US was also framed in counterproductive ways. Network news outlets focused its few stories on the impending disaster (D) from climate chaos. An isolated brief segment predicting disaster is not likely to energize the audience to take action. Cable news outlets focused on political and ideological struggle (PIS) or cast the science as unsettled (US), framing that also undermines action. Print media was simply a joke.
US polarization was evident in the broadcast media surveyed, with frame use differentiated by media outlet along partisan lines (D, ABC, NBC; PIS, MSNBC; US, Fox).

[snip]

The US print media had low levels of coverage and so assessing frame usage is difficult. However, the Wall Street Journal did seem to be further from the consensus science position than other US newspapers.

Raise your hand if you are surprised that Rupert Murdoch's broadcast and print media properties sell stupid shit by the seashore.

Here is what the authors of this report think should be done to address the deficiencies in media coverage of climate science.

Co-produced research is needed—with journalists, scientists and institutional actors—on the moment of news production, to help explore and explain these trends. Audience studies examining the impact of exposure to different frames is also required. Future studies should seek to expand the countries examined, to determine whether these trends are also seen beyond English-speaking, Western nations. Integrating this knowledge into the design and communication of future IPCC assessments—and including others (artists, film-makers, journalists) in the conversation on developing potential narratives and their associated visuals—would facilitate communication of climate change, and offer audiences a more diverse selection of frames with which to engage with the issue.
Looking for ways to improve the impact of climate science on public policy makes sense. However, these suggestions leave me cold for three reasons.

First, it implies that the scientific community has not done enough to effectively communicate climate science to the media and media-consuming public. Trying to market science the same way goods and services are hawked is likely to be counterproductive. No matter how well marketed, however, climate scientists are up against the best-financed marketing operation in human history with an army of lobbyists. Think David and too many Goliaths to count.

Second, how will all these media studies be funded? Funding for scientific research in this country is tight as it is without diverting a chunk for marketing research. The Merchants of Doubt have mastered the art of creating inertia in political leaders and the general public when it comes to energy policy. They have massive wealth generated from fossil fuels at their disposal.

Third, the biggest problem is that it assumes that the corporate media in America is meant to speak truth to power. The notion of a "free press" that serves as watchdogs of our democracy and social well-being is a myth.

Julia Corbett argues that the media in America and other developed nations acts more like a guard dog for the status quo rather than a watchdog.

A guard dog's job is to protect its owners and their interests. Thus, guard dog media are highly attentive to the dominant power structure on which they are dependent for news; they do not offer equal support to all institutions or authorities and may switch allegiances when power shifts. In reporting climate change, guard dog media report selected climate science findings and international meetings but overall defer to the mainstream values of a dominant fossil-fuel culture and the status quo. According to this theory, media are not liberal champions of progressive social change but fairly conservative institutions that support those in the social system with the most power and legitimacy. If those in power call for significant social change regarding fossil-fuel use, the media may follow — not lead — the call. Guard dog theory predicts that proponents of social change (scientists, environmental groups, politicians) will have an uphill battle — both with the dominant power structure and with the media — if the desired change differs from the status quo. In that sense, the media act as agents of social control. They will dutifully report conflicts so that powers in the social structure may better accommodate them (which may not be the same thing as taking action).
.

The study in Nature Climate Science shows that media guard dog in action. Given the
anemic coverage of the rapidly-developing climate crisis in print and broadcast media,
it should come as no surprise that ethically bankrupt leaders of fossil energy companies promise to protect their shareholders by not stranding a single molecule of carbon in their undeveloped reserves. Our political system in America continues to churn out political leaders that are obsessed with what other people do with their genitals while celebrating the ongoing depletion and degradation of natural resources (e.g., Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Rick Scott). They know they have nothing to fear from the media guard dogs.

When the nomad extraterrestrials that Professor Hawking warned us about arrive, please tell them that our media, corporate, and political leaders are quite tasty. Better than bacon. Better than chocolate. Better than truffles. Better than champagne. Slowed smoked over hot coals is the best way to prepare them. Oral apparatus smacking good.

-----------------------------

UPDATE: This comment by Stuart Heady lays out our challenge as advocates for transformational change in energy policy to stop carbon-fueled climate change. Kudos, Stuart, for getting to the heart of the matter.

Poll

When it comes to climate science, the media serve as:

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| 96 votes | Vote | Results

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Thu Mar 12, 2015 at 11:41 AM PDT

Solar power booms in 2014

by DWG

Despite the flat-earth fossils in the U.S. House and Senate, solar power is growing by leaps and bounds. The U.S. Solar Market Insight report for 2014 shows installed photovoltaic (PV) capacity in the U.S. grew 30% over 2013 levels. The trend is nothing short of inspirational.

pvinstall2014

The growth in PV was evident at all scales of deployment, from smaller residential installations to massive utility-scale solar farms. Only natural gas accounted for a larger percentage of new generating capacity than solar, but the gap was only 10%.

Here are a few tidbits from the executive summary:

The U.S. installed 6,201 MW of solar PV in 2014, up 30 percent over 2013, making 2014 the largest year ever in terms of PV installations.

Solar provided roughly one-third of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S. in 2014.

More than one-third of all cumulative operating PV capacity in the U.S. came on-line in 2014.

By the end of 2014, 20 states eclipsed the 100 MW mark for cumulative operating solar PV installations, and California alone is home to 8.7 GW.

One other element of the report stands out. The solar Investment Tax Credit has paid remarkable dividends in job creation and renewable energy investment.
“Without question, the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) has helped to fuel our industry’s remarkable growth. Today the U.S. solar industry has more employees than tech giants Google, Apple, Facebook and Twitter combined,” said Rhone Resch, SEIA president and CEO. “Since the ITC was passed in 2006, more than 150,000 solar jobs have been created in America, and $66 billion has been invested in solar installations nationwide. We now have 20 gigawatts of installed solar capacity -- enough to power 4 million U.S. homes -- and we’re helping to reduce harmful carbon emissions by 20 million metric tons a year. By any measurement, the ITC has been a huge success for both our economy and environment.”
Unfortunately, the solar ITC is scheduled to expire at the end of 2016 unless the do-nothing-worthwhile Congress acts to extend it. Clearly, we have to do some serious House cleaning to keep renewable energy on track.
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Dear Mr. President:

I applaud steps taken by your administration to examine the impact of the “war on drugs” on our society. It has filled our prisons, giving us the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of incarceration among all developed nations. Few other countries even come close. Good luck finding a living wage job or even trying to vote with a felony on your record. But that is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg of injustices created in the name of “protecting” the public from the menace of drug abuse.

I want to call your attention to one simple policy issue. Let’s call it reefer madness. That is where marijuana is labeled by the federal government as a Schedule I drug, hazardous with no legitimate medical uses. You and I both know that is a crock of crap. Evidence-based assessments of drug toxicology clearly demonstrate the low risk associated with cannabis (h/t Walter Einenkel).

The classification of cannabis as a Schedule I drug was a scourge designed by the Nixon administration. Mr. President, tear down this wall. I do not want to speculate about the reasons for Mr. Nixon’s reefer madness. As long as cannabis remains classified with drugs that have a high risk for physical addiction and fatal overdose, reefer madness will continue. According to the controlled substances schedules, marijuana represents a greater public health risk than cocaine, opium, and synthetic opiates. Or try explaining why synthetic THC (“Marinol”) is a Schedule III drug but cannabis plant derivatives warrant a Schedule I classification as a threat to public safety.

Let me remind you of the prophetic words of Raymond Shafer, head of the Shafer Commission to study marijuana use for Congress way back in 1970:

The criminal law is too harsh a tool to apply to personal possession even in the effort to discourage use. It implies an overwhelming indictment of the behavior which we believe is not appropriate. The actual and potential harm of use of the drug is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior, a step which our society takes only with the greatest reluctance.
Mr. Shafer recommended decriminalization of marijuana but "Tricky Dick" Nixon and friends were not to be deterred by common sense.

And isn’t it ironic that the last three presidents of these United States have admitted to recreational use in their youth. I am beginning to think pot has become a gateway drug to the Oval Office. Presidential hopeful Jeb Bush even made it clear that he inhaled deeply and frequently during his youthful indiscretions, but still believes in tough penalties, especially for poor kids of color. That is, after all, his legacy as governor of Florida but I digress.

As for legitimate medical uses, it is hardly a secret that cannabinoids provide pain, anxiety, insomnia, and gastrointestinal symptom relief. It has only been used as an herbal medicine remedy for thousands of years. The U.S. Surgeon General said recently that “marijuana can be helpful” for treating some medical conditions. There is even a rare bipartisan proposal to increase access to cannabis for combat veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorders. Twenty three states have legalized it for compassionate medical use but state-licensed dispensaries continue to be frequent targets of federal investigation.

Thanks to reefer madness, we have an amazing Catch-22 for research on the medical effects of cannabis. The National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine summarized it nicely in a 2003 review of the scientific literature on cannabinoids.

Clinical studies of marijuana are difficult to conduct: researchers interested in clinical studies of marijuana face a series of barriers, research funds are limited, and there is a daunting thicket of regulations to be negotiated at the federal level (those of the Food and Drug Administration, FDA, and the Drug Enforcement Agency, DEA) and state levels (see chapter 5). Consequently, the rapid growth in basic research on cannabinoids contrasts with the paucity of substantial clinical studies on medical uses.
In other words, medical researchers cannot conduct controlled clinical trials of cannabis because it is a Schedule I drug, which explicitly states there is no legitimate medical use despite ample promising observational study evidence to the contrary. The FDA requires clinical trials to demonstrate efficacy and safety but researchers cannot conduct those trials because of reefer madness among our spineless political leaders. The DOJ points to the lack of clinical trials as proof there is no clear medical benefit and continues to reject petition after petition to reclassify marijuana. And the wheels go round and round, grinding up lives in the criminal justice system and shutting down research on the efficacy and safety of cannabinoids for treating medical conditions. I can only conclude that our political leaders are ethically bankrupt to have created and perpetuated such a system. Franz Kafka is smiling somewhere.
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The new Republican governor of Illinois is following the Tea Party handbook to the letter. He just hired Donna Arduin, the business partner of Arthur Laffer, the "economist" whose ideas have increased budget deficits and sent economies into the ditch wherever they have been tried.

While the economic consultant whom Rauner named last month as chief financial officer is largely unknown in national circles, she’s served Republican governors intent on shrinking governments through tax cuts, privatization and social-spending cuts from California to Florida. Her business partner is Arthur Laffer, whose so-called supply-side economics suggests lower taxes produce activity and thus revenue.

“She’s the high priestess of the Laffer curve,” said Dan Gelber, the former Democratic leader of the Florida House of Representatives when Arduin was budget director under Governor Jeb Bush. “It’s deja voodoo economics all over again.”

Bloomberg

Tax cuts, privatization, and social spending cuts (aka, welfare for the wealthy) have never been shown at the federal or state level to do anything other than create deficits and strangle economies.

Supply-side shenanigans by Reagan and George H. W. Bush added $3.41 TRILLION to the federal debt. George W. Bush added another $6.1 trillion. Not that empirical evidence matters to Republicans.

Laffer's firm also helped Sam Brownback kill economic growth in Kansas while creating massive budget deficits.

And Laffer recommended that Kansas Republican Governor Sam Brownback push to roll back that state’s income tax. The legislature agreed and the state now faces a projected budget gap next year of more than $700 million as revenue losses from the tax cuts were greater than projected. Brownback has proposed consumption tax increases to close part of the hole.

Bloomberg

Forbes has a nice summary of what Brownback's smoking of Laffer crack has done to Kansas.
Since the first round of tax cuts, job growth in Kansas has lagged the U.S. economy. So have personal incomes. While more small businesses were formed, many of them were merely individuals taking advantage of the newly tax-free status of those firms by redefining themselves as businesses.

The business boom predicted by tax cut advocates has not happened, and it certainly has not come remotely close to offsetting the static revenue loss from the legislated tax cuts.

Forbes

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Wed Aug 13, 2014 at 08:31 AM PDT

A new counter-culture

by DWG

I am so so used to reading things that make me want to scream that I am speechless when I encounter something that makes perfect sense. What follows comes from a paper featured at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association. Dr. Miriam Tatzel summarized the relationship between materialism, psychological well-being, and environmental destruction.

Tatzel’s presentation illustrated how many consumer traits have direct links to the environment for both good and bad. Materialism is not only bad for the environment, it’s bad for consumers’ well-being. “Peoples’ wants escalate as they tire of what they have and they want something else, which in turn leads to more consumption and more waste in landfills, more energy consumed and more carbon emitted into the atmosphere,” she said. “The larger the gap between what one wants and what one has, the greater the dissatisfaction. Less materialism equals more happiness.”

Another path to well-being is thrift, which means conserving resources as well as money, Tatzel noted. Frugal people are happier with life in general, according to a 2014 study. That may be because avoiding the negative consequences of spending too much and going into debt is one way to avoid unhappiness, she said.

People enjoy doing things more than having things, with other studies finding that people realize more lasting happiness by changing their activities than by changing their material circumstances. “Experiences live on in memory, are incomparable, often shared with others and don’t have to be resource intensive,” said Tatzel.

She described other research that has found that people are more likely to be happy by cultivating personal talents and relationships more than money and fame, and by having an independent sense of self that results in not caring much what others think of their possessions.

I highlighted the section about less materialism being associated with increased psychological well-being. Those dirty freakin' hippies were right after all. Beyond doing a happy dance, however, what do we do with that tidbit of wisdom?

Dr. Tatzel is suggesting that people reject core values of our society - greed, materialism, consumption, and waste. By limiting consumption to our needs instead of our advertising-driven wants, we are happier and our lifestyle is more conducive to sustaining life on this increasingly crowded planet. It requires a very different mindset when it comes to natural resources.

“A society in which some people are idolized for being fabulously rich sets a standard of success that is unattainable and leads us to try to approach it by working more and spending more,” Tatzel said. “Cooling the consumption-driven economy, working less and consuming less are better for the environment and better for humans, too.”
This seems very counter-culture to me. Stop idolizing the rich. Find time to enjoy life rather than spending it pursing more and more material things. Don't be a self-centered jerk. Give a shit about the poor, sick, old, and disabled. Look at the resources of this planet as something to respect and protect, not dig up and destroy. Stop carbon and particulate pollution. Conserve. Find new uses for old things. Cultivate relationships - family, friends, neighbors, and co-conspirators. Seek economic fairness and opportunity for all. I enthusiastically endorse such a value system. I have just one question. How do you get more people to adopt a value system like that?

Climate change provides the perfect illustration of everything rotten with unregulated corporate behavior. The current pace of carbon pollution puts us on track for a nightmarish future by the end of this century. In effect, the quality of life for future generations is being deliberately sacrificed to satisfy the unquenchable greed of the executives and stockholders of fossil energy companies. Their actions have negative survival value for humans and other species on this planet yet these people are treated like paragons of virtue. These same toxic individuals have corrupted our democracy to the point that even most politicians on the left are climate ducks rather than hawks. Politicians on the right worship fossil fuels as their economic savior. How do you change a culture with its collective head this far up its collective butt?

If you have thoughts on that little question, please share them in the comments section. The current values in American society are pushing us toward global climate change and depleting critical resources, much to the delight of Ayn Rand Party Libertarians. So how do you personally counter this toxic culture?

Poll

Can we change our materialistic, consumption-driven culture?

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| 46 votes | Vote | Results

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Fri Aug 08, 2014 at 11:50 AM PDT

An Act of Environmental Terrorism

by DWG

Yet another sign that civilization is on the ropes. A terrorist cell unleashed a river of sludge filled with arsenic and mercury into the region's water supply. Here is government footage of the toxic flood. (Check out close-ups of ground zero around the 7:30 mark.)

The contamination is expected to have devastating long-term consequences for the local community.

What is immediately certain is that there will be profound and long-lasting effects on local, regional, and provincial economies, on livelihoods and communities, on fish, wildlife and ecosystems, and on British Columbians’ trust in regulators.
Previous terrorist attacks like this one have been very expensive.
It calculated that taxpayers provided $69 million for cleanup of pollution from B.C.'s Britannia Mine, and almost $400 million to clean up the Giant Mine in the Northwest Territories.
This is the kind of damage that create calls for justice and retribution. I have lost track of the countries that we have dropped high explosives into since 9/11/01.

But, get this. The attack was successful because the police have taken a hands-off approach to the terrorists. Stop-and-frisks were cut back in 2003.

 photo mine-inspector-visits600px_zpsdfd270bb.jpg

Laws were rewritten to give terrorists the benefit of the doubt - presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

In 2012, it enacted two omnibus budget bills that repealed and amended several of Canada’s oldest and strongest environmental laws. It watered down the Fisheries Act, significantly weakening protection of fish habitat and outright eliminating protection for some fish, including species at risk.

It also replaced Canada’s environmental assessment law with a new, weaker law that resulted in the cancellation of nearly 3,000 environmental reviews across the country. Projects that no longer require federal review include two open-pit coal mines near Elkford and Sparwood, B.C., an LNG facility near Kitimat, a mine extension in New Brunswick, and, somewhat ominously in the present context, a tailings pond and treatment facility, and expansions of two uranium tailings ponds, in Saskatchewan.

The rollbacks continue. Changes to the federal Navigable Waters Protection Act that were brought into force this year removed protection for over 99 percent of Canada’s lakes and rivers. Expected sometime this month are regulations that will make life easier for the aquaculture industry, but not for wild fish, by relaxing the regulation of the dumping of aquatic drugs and pesticides into wild fish habitat.

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Wed Aug 06, 2014 at 04:52 PM PDT

Lessons from the Toledo water crisis

by DWG

Raise a glass to Toledo - it is safe to drink the water. They have finally removed high levels of microcystin, courtesy of an algae bloom on Lake Erie, from the water supply.

It is crystal clear that the water purification system on Lake Erie cannot handle a massive algal bloom. It is equally clear that the costs are high when our public water systems are shut down for any extended period of time. The fabric of daily life is torn asunder. Sadly, these threats to our water supply are expected to increase in the future.

If you want to understand just how unprepared we are for the environmental consequences of stupid human tricks, look no further than Toledo.

Now that people can drink the water again, the messaging in the media makes it seem like a set of unfortunate circumstances. From the AP:

The chances of another water emergency over the next few months will depend a lot the winds, rains and temperatures that dictate how large the algae grow and where algae blooms end up.

"To some degree, there are only certain things we can control," said Craig Butler, director of Ohio's Environmental Protection Agency. "What is possible is making sure systems taking water from Lake Erie are being very vigilant with the treatment process."

The state experts want to focus your attention on the treatment side and ignore the very factors that encouraged the algal bloom in the first place.
What role the algae-induced toxin played in fouling the water supply for 400,000 people in and around Toledo is being investigated, as is the city's aging water supply system and how it operates. But researchers believe winds pushed the algae right to where Toledo collects its water from the lake.

"When they bloom and it's right over our intake, we're at its mercy," said Ed Moore, Toledo's public utilities director. "This is Mother Nature we're dealing with. This was out of our control."

Mother Nature was just hormonal. Meanwhile, everyone is concerned and wants to upgrade water treatment processes. More testing. Add a carbon filter or two. As for root causes, zilch.
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Fri Aug 01, 2014 at 09:58 AM PDT

The blame game Texas style

by DWG

Tell me if you have heard this one before. An industry endangers the public because their products are dangerous to produce, store, transport, or use. They further threaten public safety because these very limited liability corporations do everything possible to hide the dangers. Lie. Smear the people who uncover their deceit. Bribe politicians.

I found a perfect example from the great state of Texas.

April, 2013: A synthetic fertilizer plant in the town of West explodes with megaton force, killing first responders trying to keep a fire at the plant from spreading into town. This short video will refresh your memory.

When the dust settled, 15 lost their lives, over a 100 were injured, and several hundreds of buildings damaged or destroyed. If this had been an act of political terrorism, the feds would be out hunting the perpetrators with drones. Corporate negligence and incompetence risks only a slap on the wrist. And big legal and lobbyist bills.

May, 2013: The state fire marshal says these volunteer fire fighters did not know how to fight a blaze like this one.

The Texas State Fire Marshal's Office concluded in a report published in May that members of the West Volunteer Fire Department arrived at the scene that day unprepared for the dangers.

The Texas State Fire Marshal also determined that strategies and tactics utilized by the WVFD were not appropriate for the situation and unnecessarily exposed the firefighters, many of whom have brought claims against the CF defendants in this matter, to extreme risks, CF Industries says in the motion.

Thank goodness for state regulators. Too bad the Texas State Fire Marshal does not educate local fire departments about potential dangers in their midst.

October, 2013: An accident investigation revealed a bevy of safety violations.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration has cited a West, Texas, fertilizer company with 24 safety violations springing from an April 17 explosion that killed 15 people and flattened much of the town.

Adair Grain Inc., the owner of West Fertilizer Co., could face fines up to $118,300 under the law. The fertilizer firm is a retail agricultural supply store and warehouse, similar to 6,000 other firms spread throughout U.S. farm communities (C&EN, April 22, page 8).

The notice of violation was publicly released on Oct. 10 by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the day after it was issued by OSHA. The violation notice was not made public, Boxer said, because the agency is closed as part of the federal government shutdown.

(BTW, kudos to Senator Boxer.)

Blow up half a town and kill 15 after cutting corners on safety and you could get slapped with a fine of $118,000! The owners of the company are laughing their asses off. That is probably not even one day's worth of revenue. Now all they have to do is beat back the civil lawsuits and contribute to the corruption of public officials.

July, 2014: The companies responsible for the blast spread massive cow patties in court.

WACO, Texas -- Two fertilizer companies sued following a deadly Texas explosion are claiming the small town deserves blame for failing to properly train volunteer firefighters and first responders, who made up most of the 15 people killed by the blast.

El Dorado Chemical Co. and CF Industries argued in a state district court in Waco that the city of West, which has about 2,800 people, had insufficient protocols in place to battle the April 2013 blaze at West Fertilizer Co. that triggered the explosion.

The fertilizer suppliers are now seeking to have the city designated as a responsible third party in lawsuits filed against the companies, the Waco-Tribune Herald reported Saturday.

Your Honor, please make these suckers share our liability. After all, they were gullible enough to welcome our business into their community and believe our sincerely-held beliefs that our products and processes were safe. Judge, would you like your campaign contributions in small or large bills?

The companies even blamed the town for allowing the companies that close to residential areas.

"...because it failed to protect its citizens by allowing through its zoning authority schools and a nursing home to operate in a close proximity to the plant."
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Thu Jul 31, 2014 at 12:39 PM PDT

Whippet Bad: Fertilizer and fun balloons

by DWG

When our son was in kindergarten, we took him to see the Grateful Dead in Soldier Field. On the way to the show we passed a street vender selling small balloons. It led to an awkward explanation about why he cannot have one of those balloons. How do you explain nitrous oxide to a kid? His response was "Really?!?!?"

What jogged this memory was a study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about nitrous oxide (N2O). This is a very dangerous whippet for the climate.

According to the EPA:

Nitrous oxide molecules stay in the atmosphere for an average of 120 years before being removed by a sink or destroyed through chemical reactions. The impact of 1 pound of N2O on warming the atmosphere is over 300 times that of 1 pound of carbon dioxide.
It sounds like we should not dump much of this stuff into the atmosphere. One major source of N2O emissions is from soils, particularly those with treated with synthetic fertilizers. In the words of study authors Iurii Shcherbak, Neville Millar, and G. Philip Robertson:
Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a potent greenhouse gas (GHG) that also depletes stratospheric ozone. Nitrogen (N) fertilizer rate is the best single predictor of N2O emissions from agricultural soils, which are responsible for ∼50% of the total global anthropogenic flux, but it is a relatively imprecise estimator.
Dumping too much synthetic fertilizer into the soil is stupid. So here is the question. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has always assumed a linear relationship between the dose (concentration of synthetic nitrogen in fertilizer applied to fields) and the response (N2O emissions from the soil). It is a reasonable starting point when formulating models, but does it provide the best fit to real-world data?

The study from the Michigan State researchers provided compelling evidence that the relationship between fertilizer dose and soil emissions response is likely to be nonlinear. Combining data from all published studies:

We found that the N2O response to N inputs grew significantly faster than linear for synthetic fertilizers and for most crop types. Our results suggest a general trend of exponentially increasing N2O emissions as N inputs increase to exceed crop needs. Use of this knowledge in GHG inventories should improve assessments of fertilizer-derived N2O emissions, help address disparities in the global N2O budget, and refine the accuracy of N2O mitigation protocols.
This graph illustrates the departure from IPCC model assumptions for N2O relative to available data in published studies.

 photo F3medium_zps2561ddd5.gif

Comparison of the uncertainties associated with IPCC tier 1 (1%), a range of six models from Philibert et al. (31), and the mean ∆EF model for all site-years from this metaanalysis (excluding N-fixing crops and the bare soil site-year). The 95% CI is provided for each model across a range of N fertilizer rates (0–300 kg·ha−1). The IPCC tier 1 95% CI is 0.3–3%. The Philibert et al. (31) 95% CI encompasses parameter uncertainty.
That means that industrial scale farms that apply large amounts of synthetic fertilizer to their fields will have a much larger impact on climate change than originally feared. Brilliant. The data compiled by this study can serve as a good starting point for empirically-derived maximum concentrations to prevent N inputs far in excess of crop demands. Of course that requires meaningful agricultural policy, one not dictated by agribusiness corporations. Pardon me if I do not hold my breath waiting for sensible regulation to protect the environment from nutrient pollution and its climate consequences.
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