Thursday, December 29, 2011

Support Wind and Create Jobs

A new study commissioned by the American Wind Energy Association says that if the Production Tax Credit, a lifeline for the burgeoning wind industry, is allowed to expire as scheduled at the end of 2012, it would eliminate about 37,000 jobs, while an extension of the credit could save and create 54,000 jobs.

Read more here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Finally Some Movement on Mercury

Good news -- the Environmental Protection Agency is going to limit mercury emissions from coal fired power plants. It's not a done deal by far -- Congress will likely try very hard to kill the proposed rules. 

Nevertheless, the EPA is finally putting it out there. Some people might be surprised, having assumed this was already taken care of.  No such luck, the fossil fuel industry has resisted this for years while toxins and pollutants continue to pour into our air and water.

The opposition claims that the proposed rules will have a huge impact on power supply or jobs. That seems unlikely. Hard to trust, too. These days it seems our trusted officials can say things that just aren't true. Anyway, I could be wrong, but I'd rather be wrong and have cleaner air, water, and fish than not.

Even people within the fossil fuel industry say it's about time. According to the New York Times

"Ralph Izzo, the chief executive of the Public Service Enterprise Group, the parent of New Jersey’s largest electric utility, said his company had spent $1.3 billion to bring his plants into compliance with New Jersey’s air quality rules, which are as stringent as the new federal standards. He said other utilities had had more than enough notice to clean up their facilities in advance of the federal rule announced on Wednesday.

Mr. Izzo said that the E.P.A. action was “long overdue,” and that the Clean Air Act, under which the new standards were issued, provided enough flexibility to allow all power generators to come into compliance without a threat to the electric supply."

Sometimes you have to pick a side. Do you side with the fossil fuel industry and their well-paid lobbyists and politicians who have dragged their heels for years? Do you believe the industry resisted making the necessary changes all these years because they were concerned about the job security of their employees and the service to their customers? There is a lot of money to be made not buying equipment to clean emissions.

Or do you side with doctors, scientists, and environmentalists who are saying these pollutants are bad for everyone's health, and we can clean them up?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Follow Costa Rica's Lead

A scientist who studies bugs, but who is well aware of the ongoing negative impact of humans on land and sea, is inspired.

After spending months in Costa Rica, Poncie Rutsch came away with hope that we can save the world before it's too late.

Or is just that Ticos, the friendly name for a Costa Rican, are simply wonderfully enlightened? Hopefully, it's a little of both.

"I can say that the people in Costa Rica have their priorities straight when it comes to conservation biology. They want to share their land with scientists, and they are keen to know what lives in their backyards and how they can protect it. If all developing countries took this much of an interest in their endemic wildlife, there would be boundless potential for conserving biodiversity worldwide," said Poncie Rutsch in the article.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Ocean is Not a Dump

The latest skirmish around the ongoing theme that "the ocean is not a dump" has environmental groups suing the US Environmental Protection Agency to do its job, and clean up the US Navy's method of sinking retired ships. According to an article in The Maritime Executive, it's about time.

The Navy uses the ships as target practice. The adolescent in me loves a good explosion for sure, and maybe the ships even help create artificial reefs that attract fish, but the downside of pollution and message are more important.

The lawsuit claims that EPA must initiate rules to regulate the marine disposal of PCBs during ship sinking exercises to protect human health and the environment against an unreasonable risk of injury.

“EPA is legally required to keep dangerous chemicals like PCBs out of our oceans,” said Amanda Goodin, an attorney with Earthjustice representing Basel Action Network and Sierra Club. “It’s time for EPA to make the Navy clean up its act.“

Very simply: The ocean is not a dump. Thanks to several groups for carrying that message to the EPA.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Whale Songs Have a Profound Impact

A really concise and swift interview with Roger Payne, the founder of Ocean Alliance, in the Guardian spells out the depressing news about whales. Japan hunts whales under the guise of science; the Japanese are pretty much the world's demand for whale meat; the International Whatever Commission is powerless; toxins are piling up in whales.

Let's focus on the fascinating and beautiful. Here Payne talks about the sounds whales make.

"What has pleased me most is the reaction that people still have when they hear the sounds of whales. Nobody is prepared for it. Whales seem to be communicating in what I think of as emotional communication.

The songs of whales have a profound impact on many people. A lot of people weep when they hear them. And they can't even tell you why they have wept, except they say it just seems so sad. And many times it does."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sustainable Deja Vu in Kenya

What is surprising is that this is still happening.

All the ways that we know are the wrong ways to grow a coastal economy, from experiences in many other developed or developing nations, are happening along Kenya's coast, according to the Guardian.

Sustainable development is a well known practice or skill set. Reading about Kenya's mistakes is like something from the early nineties or even further back.

It appears people are piling up short term profit at the expense of long term value and wealth. Sustainable deja vu.

Ecosystem services are worth billions. Healthy seas full of fish are worth billions (some would say priceless). They are the gifts that can keep giving if properly handled -- shorthand for 'sustainable'.

"Coastal developments are one of the top five threats to sea turtles. Because of the loss of land, turtles may waste their eggs in the sea or lay them in an inappropriate location, reducing their chance of survival. The greatest problem is when an entire beach is affected by coastal developments," says Meggy, a sea turtle project manager in Kenya.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Nemos Love Them to Extinction

It is possible to love them to death. Or rather -- love them to extinction. The death of all deaths.

A well-publicized report from Canadian researchers highlights the ongoing plight of many of the stars of Disney's Finding Nemo including clown fish, sea turtles, and sharks.

The complex psychology behind some of the challenges is both vexing and disheartening. Disney's Finding Nemo had a conservation message but it actually served to cause depletion of the star, the clown fish, according to an article in Newser and the Washington Post

“When people see a beautiful film about tigers, they don’t go out and shoot a tiger. They don’t go out and purchase a tiger. In the case of things in the ocean, they think, ‘I care about them, so I’d like to have them,’ or, ‘I care about them, that’s why I’d like to fish them,’ ” said one of the scientists.

And at times sad.

“They are truly the celebrities of the ocean. Despite their legendary status, most people are unaware that sharks are literally being fished to extinction,” said another scientist.  Read -- shark fin soup. 

And at times whimsical.

The authors of the Nemo paper apparently watched the movie about four times for their research.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Great Start: Coal Plants Close

Celebrate the closure of coal plants? Yes, indeedy do.

In Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota coal plants have closed, according to the Huffington Post. This isn't just rabid environmental activism. This is common sense.

Coal is dirty stuff. There is no such thing as clean coal; that's just a marketing term. The costs of coal -- health care including mercury tossed into the air and seas, and environmental damage on extraction and after burning -- far outweigh the benefits.

We can still provide jobs and power this country without coal, applying a mix of renewables and a reasonable use of transition fuels.

Thanks Sierra Club and its supporters for leading the way.

Friday, December 9, 2011

My Face Off with a Climate Denier

I met a climate denier and a Tea Party disciple the other day. It went well all things considered. He only threatened to knock me off my bar stool rather than actually knocking me off. Apparently because he was a born again Christian, my life was spared. All of this is true.

It snuck up on me as I was on vacation, checking out the local color on a beautiful island on the Gulf of Mexico. He came into the sparsely crowded bar wearing a festive t-shirt, smoking a cigar (which you can still do indoors in Florida), and wearing a small gold cross around his neck. He greeted people as if running for office.

His jet black hair was a little too black but he looked good and moved swiftly. When he plopped down on the barstool next to me and flashed me a smile, I thought this guy could be interesting or at least fun.

We didn’t get to climate denial until he had told me all about himself including his days as a professional hockey player in Minnesota where he grew up. He liked to talk about himself, but that’s ok. He told me if not for Christ, he might be dead from money and drugs.

He told me he had a huge house on the island on some nearby hill. I said there are no hills in Florida, and he said there is now -- he built it. Probably dredged the mangroves for the fill but that’s another story.

I forget the exact moment when things unraveled between us. I think it was when he told me the basis for his climate denial.

He said that as he has observed it -- from his seat as a financial planner or something like that backed with his extensive scientific training as a professional hockey player -- sea level on the island has not changed since he has lived there.

Stacks of peer reviewed science and consensus, sworn statements by Nobel laureates, and every government in the world confirming climate change were not going to slow him down.  His front yard was still dry.

But maybe the facts don’t really matter so much. It’s odd how these things are spoken as if faith rather than science. That may be part of the communication problem, and there is a communication problem.

If only 47% of Americans attribute climate change to human activity, there is a serious communication problem. And as a professional communicator, mea freaking culpa.

Our face-off added a hard twist of discouragement to such frustrations. Not because he was sitting there denying climate change and not because of the aforementioned large number of Americans who would agree with him, but because I could see no opportunity to try to persuade or even learn: We were both making too much noise.

We were both buying into the hyperactive hyperbole that drives a schism between people who otherwise might listen to each other, even a little.

Much of it has to do with the national conversation, created by the media and good PR on both sides. Tension and controversy and wild statements sell almost as much as sex. Often if one side is shouting and the other side is taking the “high road”, the shouter is only one people hear.

Plus, people including tough, retired hockey players, can only take so much doom and gloom before they shut down. Who wants to agree to all that climate calamity? They’re actually invoking a self-protection mechanism and shutting down the depressing scenarios at the source. Hence, denial.

National personalities and emotions don’t help either. A good part of why this denier so vehemently denies is he simply does not like Al Gore. He has a visceral reaction to him. I saw the veins in his head bulge when he talked about the great climate change guru. I can understand this. If my new friend had told me to believe that something Rick Perry says is true and right, I might want to knock him off his bar stool.

But the gloves did not really come off until he called me “ignorant” and “stupid” more than once.

The bartender winced, and looked over sympathetically. She of course knew the guy.

It did not help that I followed up by asking him if he was “a teabagger”.  That’s when he made the comment about knocking me off my bar stool. For future reference, Tea Partiers do not like to be called teabaggers, even if delivered with a brash schoolyard smile.

At about this time, the bartender asked us both to quiet down as we were scaring the other customers.

Anyway, I didn’t bring you this far into the story to let it end with a shushing.

Fear not climate believers, all is not lost. There are ways around.

So I asked him what about pollution, thinking few people are pro pollution. And what about innovation and business? How about we do it differently than humans have been doing it for 10,000 years (burning stuff to create energy)? I also brought up energy independence. No one really wants to see young Americans killed in far away places so we can still drive cheaply to the strip mall.

And surprise, surprise, he was fine talking about all of that. We proceeded to have a good conversation about clean energy and technology. The name calling was over and I stayed on my bar stool.

Maybe the lesson is when confronted with climate deniers and tea partiers, don’t argue science or belief.  Talk about things people can understand and that are not depressing. And look for the possible hot button reason why that specific person is really so against something, and avoid it. When I didn’t mention the term climate change or Al Gore, I was singing a lullaby.

But there is no set playbook for this. To carry the sports analogy one agonizing step further, if you’ve got a guy in the penalty box or if you’re up against a fast team versus a big team, you need to change up and improvise. You need to try to assess your opponent and work on the areas that can get things done.

Did I make a difference? Maybe not, probably not, but at least I got him talking in a positive way about renewables.

Soon after, my new friend finished his beer, and just like that he left, off to another local haunt, probably to find cold comfort with some other denier. They have to stick together. It’s a lonely road.

We’re all unhappy about the situation but when you choose to do something, to acknowledge it, life has endless potential and meaning. Denial is for fossils and darkness. Step into the light and join the human race.

After my new friend walked out, the bartender placed a fresh beer in front of me and smiled.

“This one’s on me,” she said.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

US Losing on Global Clean Energy Biz

The United Nations talk fest in Durban has raised the profile of clean energy, at least until this news cycle expires. What emerges is a puzzling fact: the US is letting an unprecedented opportunity slip through its hands.

No matter what people think of climate change or pollution, clean energy is a massively growing global business yet the US drags its feet. This is completely unlike us. We are leaders when it comes to capitalism and innovation and making a buck. What's going on?

Sunil Sharan of Sierra Consulting has some insight in the Washington Post

"The production of renewable energy and smart grid technology is not the only way in which the United States is falling behind. Government gridlock at the federal and state level is slowing the nation’s progress. Despite a stalemate in federal policy, 24 states, as well as the District of Columbia, have passed a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) — a binding target for renewable energy production.

"Others wait to gauge which way the national wind blows, while the rest will not act unless forced to. In sharp contrast to our inertia, the European Union, with a population of about 500 million, and a standard of living equivalent to ours, has forged ahead. In 2007, the EU leaders agreed to mandate that a 20 percent share of energy consumption must come from renewable sources by 2020. And the region is reportedly on track to meet that goal.

"Congress refuses to budge even as America continues to lose ground, and its intransigence could continue for years, compounding on the nation’s competitiveness problem. A way out is for President Obama to pass an executive order mandating a nationwide RPS, moderate enough to make the climate amenable for renewable energy but not so aggressive that it will be hard to meet or needlessly inflame partisan passions. Such an order would immediately empower the nation to compete for the world’s emerald laurel."

Politicians seem willing to trash the whole country as long as they make money and stay in office. So let's vote them out.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Local Hope Really Far Away

Turtle hatchery on Besar Island

Something about a conservation effort in such an exotic and far away place is hopeful.

People in a culture half way around the planet have come to the same conclusions about saving species and protecting the gift of nature. The right thing to do surfaces.

In this case, it is saving sea turtles on Sarawak's Talang Talang islands. "These creatures have been around since the Triassic Era, representing one of the few species that have lived through the evolution and subsequent extinction of the dinosaurs," says Aref Omar in Adopt a Gentle Giant.

"Unfortunately, they too are becoming an endangered species, which is why ongoing conservation efforts have been established by the Sarawak Forestry Corporation."

The only downside to this is here's another place to add to the list.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Toninha Survives in Brazil

Everyone likes survivor stories. A rare white dolphin, known as Toninha in Brazil, has been spotted in the Bay of Babitonga.

Not only has the albino dolphin avoided natural predators despite lacking its natural camouflage, but it has also survived humans who prey on all the living things in the bay in subtle but well-documented ways.

"Albino animals generally have fewer chances of survival because they have greater chances of being caught by predators. Here, in this bay, they don't have natural predators. But there is a lot of environmental degradation from two ports, industrial and residential sewage, tourism. This is an another argument for its protection," said Camilla Meirelles Sartori, chief biologist.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Carl Safina on Extinction

Carl Safina, president of the Blue Ocean Institute and author of great books like The View from Lazy Point, questions those who say that losing some species of animals doesn't matter because we can live without them.

"Hell yes it matters. Don't let anyone suggest it doesn't matter because people can live without them (extinct species). People can-and most do-live perfectly well without computers, refrigerators, the Winter Olympics, plumbing, libraries, concert halls, museums, and ibuprofen. Whether things are worthwhile for survival or whether they help make survival worthwhile are two quite different things. Whether we "need" them, is a dull and uninteresting question. Need? We never needed to lose our living endowment, our inheritance."

Don't let anyone suggest it doesn't matter.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Everyone Wants a Piece

In New Jersey, a swordfish fisherman, who is trying to do the right thing, is at the nexus of the complicated nature of an ocean without borders and conservation measures with borders. 

Swordfish are a success story in the Mid-Atlantic as conservation measures have led to their recovery yet overfishing looms on the edges as a constant potential threat, according to the Press of Atlantic City. In this case, Canadian fishermen unrestricted by US conservation measures want a piece of the US quota.

"Fishermen in other countries do not have the same regulations, as America goes way beyond commission recommendations. This includes landing and gear restrictions, minimum sizes, area closings of thousands of square miles of ocean — particularly in the Gulf of Mexico, observers onboard vessels, reporting requirements, electronic monitoring of vessel movements, and bans on certain types of fishing," according to the article.

It is great to see the US leads in conservaiton but it would be frustrating to say the least if other nations undermine our good work.