Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fright Delight

Have you ever been out swimming alone in the big blue?

I was swimming off Kauai once, alone in some big morning waves.  I had fins and a mask but was feeling tossed around.  As usual the ocean did what it wanted with me.

I looked down and saw shafts of light knifing downward through the green water into the abyss, into the darkness below me.  I could see no bottom, no coral, rocks, or anything but the deep.

I imagined the beasts that would come up and devour me.  I imagined sinking into that darkness, the water getting colder, the light dimming, lungs burning.  My heart raced.

I raised my head out of the water to get my bearings and to be reassured by the land.  It was there but felt far away.  The jungle behind the small beach was more shadow than deep green.

Another swell forced me to focus on the water again.  I bobbed and swam, and made progress. I would be back ashore soon enough. I knew that.

Then I looked below me once more, into the abyss -- I couldn't resist -- and my heart raced again.

Happy Halloween.

(originally posted on Eco Ocean 10/31/11) 

Friday, October 26, 2012

I Quietly Take to the Ship

Last week Herman Melville's American masterpiece Moby Dick or The Whale celebrated a publishing anniversary. 

Moby Dick is great adventure on the high seas and throughout, the powerful draw of the ocean is unmistakable.  In the opening, Melville tells us what the oceans mean to him:

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.”


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Catch Onto to Catch Shares

Overfishing -- taking creatures from the sea faster then they can reproduce -- is one of the biggest ocean issues, right up there with ocean acidification and ocean warming. 

Fisheries all over the planet, not every fishery but many, face depletion, commercial extinction, and the cascading negative effects of barren seas on once-healthy ecosystems.

It does not bode well when you consider how important fish are to healthy oceans and how important healthy oceans are to people.  One estimate puts over a billion people relying on the oceans for their primary protein source.

The good news is that good people are working to change this.  One idea -- catch shares -- continues to show success.  Catch shares maintain sustainable fisheries and keep many fishermen in their livelihood.  Let Matt Rand, the guy who brought us crucial shark sanctuaries and other important ocean victories, tell you all about it. 

"...there is evidence that the rights based management programs, like catch shares, implemented in the United States have been working. Part of the report analyzes progress in U.S. fisheries and shows that solid, science-based catch limits along with rights based management and other measures have been effective in addressing the problems of overfishing," according to Matt.

Also effective and similar to catch shares are TURF reserves.  According to two other ocean leaders, Carl Safina and Brent Jenks, TURF reserves work and deserve a chance (and for sure there is urgency).

"Give local fishers exclusive access to their fishing grounds, in the form of 'territorial user rights to fishing' (TURF, in the jargon).  In exchange for the exclusivity privilege, local fishers must agree to establish, and protect, no-take zones. Results include: increased fish populations, richer marine habitats, and coastlines more resilient to climate changes. And: more food for people," noted Carl and Brent in a recent post.

Read their full post.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

We Need the Renewable Tax Credit

Act now to support wind energy -- tell your senators and representatives to extend the production tax credit for renewable energy.  It takes 30 seconds.

Three good reasons to extend the credit:  jobs, fairness, and clean air.

Without government support like the tax credit, Americans (including me) stand to lose wind power jobs.

I market wind power on the streets of New York City.  I would like to continue to do so but the small company I work for is treading water in the on-again off-again uncertainty of much needed government support.  Some American turbine manufacturing plants facing an end to government support have let people go

One of the common questions I get from people on the streets when I market wind power is: why isn't there more wind or solar available?

We're trying, but the deck is stacked against clean energy in favor of fossil fuels.

It's not like the renewable energy business is asking for anything that fossil fuelers didn't get or continue to receive.

The federal commitment to [oil and gas] was five times greater than the federal commitment to renewables during the first 15 years of each [incentive's] life, and it was more than 10 times greater for nuclear, according to a report from DBL investors. 

The fossil fuel industry continues to receive millions of dollars in subsidies.  This money goes to companies like Exxon-Mobil who netted $40 billion in 2010.  It's kind of laughable only the joke is on us.

Beyond subsidies, if the true cost of fossil fuels -- health costs, national security costs, cost to valuable natural systems -- was reflected at the pump or meter, renewables would be the obvious choice. 

Then there's something we can all relate to -- clean air.  I'd like my air and the air of my friends and family to be clean as we run our lives on renewable, pollution-free energy.

So if any of these things interest you -- jobs, fairness, and clean air -- then please sign the petition and support the renewable tax credit.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What Would God Blow Up?

Blowing off the tops of mountains to get at the coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, hardly sounds graceful.

When researching the terrible environmental impacts -- loss of diverse forests, deformed fish -- of mountaintop removal as it's called, I came across this provocative quote.

"There are three million pounds of explosives used a day just in West Virginia to blow the tops off these mountains. Three million pounds a day...To knock fly rock everywhere, to send silica and coal dust and rock dust and fly rock in our homes. I wonder which one of these mountains do you think God will come down here and blow up?  Which one of these hollers do you think Jesus would store waste in?  That's a simple question. That's all you have to ask."

It's from an Evangelical Christian in a Bill Moyers report on mountaintop removal.

image: i love

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Inspiring Moms Fight Coal Industry

A recent incident in Michigan highlights the great job that Moms Clean Air Force is doing to bring the truth about coal to the public, and to get good things done.

They've got a ballot initiative up for vote that would mandate 25% renewables by 2020 because, as they put it, coal-fired plants pollute their children with mercury.

That is, electricity generated by burning coal creates pollution that includes mercury as opposed to electricity generated through renewables creates zero or very low pollution.

It's helpful to keep in mind: The electricity itself is not the problem, it's how the electricity is created.

The fossil fuel industry's response to an attempt to make the air cleaner is a misleading and flat out untrue media campaign against the Moms.  But Moms are hanging tough.

In a good post on Care2, Moms line by line refute the fossil fueler's apparently spurious, fear mongering, and negative campaign.  Reprinted here:

Moms Counter the Coal Industry's Wild Claims 

The following is a breakdown of the utility companies’ false TV ad attacking Proposal 3, along with the facts:

Claim: “In a few short weeks, you’ll be asked to vote on an energy mandate that would be locked into our state Constitution.”

Fact: More than 30 states have already adopted measures similar to Michigan’s ballot initiative, according to the July 6, 2012, edition of Crain’s Detroit Business — without significant increases in utility costs for consumers.

Claim: “And because it would be locked into the state Constitution in a way that cannot be changed quickly or easily…”

Fact: Building a single coal plant locks ratepayers into a commitment for 40-60 years. Once construction starts there is no ability to change course. The ballot measure directs the state to set small, interim steps to build toward 25 percent renewable energy by 2025. Each renewable energy project is smaller than a new coal plant and can incorporate the latest technology or cost-saving measures.

Claim: “…This energy mandate would affect your own family’s utility bills and taxes for years to come.”

Fact: Proposal 3 includes an explicit provision saying utilities cannot raise electricity prices related to the cost of generating renewable energy by any more than 1 percent on any given year. For the average Michigan household, that’s no more than $1.25 a month.

Claim: “So, it’s important to know the facts. Michigan would be forced to generate 25 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by the year 2025, even though it’s expensive and less reliable…”

Fact: Michigan consumers spend $1.7 billion a year importing coal from other states, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Meanwhile, the latest wind contracts approved by the Michigan Public Service Commission have been at or below $65 per megawatt/hour – lower than the cost of new coal generation.

Moreover, a Public Sector Consultants report paid for by the utility companies and released last week stated: “The cost of renewable energy to meet the renewable portfolio standard is declining, particularly with several wind energy projects that are expected to go into service this year.”

A recent report from CERES showed that renewables are also less risky. Furthermore, coal-fired power plants can’t guarantee a price for more than three years. Delivered coal prices to Michigan are up 71 percent since 2006, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Wind farms can guarantee a price that will not change for at least 20 years, according to the Michigan Public Service Commission.

Claim: “…Because the wind often doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t always shine.”

Fact: The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that Michigan has capacity for 54,000 megawatts of high-quality wind generation sites, but compliance with the 25 by 2025 standard will require only about 4,600 megawatts.

Claim: “In fact, this experiment would have an estimated price tag of $12 billion. That works out to thousands of dollars in higher electric bills for Michigan families and small businesses.”

Fact: The cost of renewable energy has decreased by 30 percent in two years, according to the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory. Illinois is on a path to 25 percent renewable energy by 2025 and the Illinois Power Agency reports that it has reduced prices by $176 million.

Moms Deliver a Simple Message

Great stuff.  It can prompt awareness and outrage, which is not such a bad thing.  If you're all out of outrage, it is at least good to stay on your toes, be reminded of the importance of knowing the issues, and be aware (and let others know) of the things the fossil fuel industry is willing to do and say to resist a clean energy future.

It's also an example of what motivates people.  Moms Clean Air Force has delivered a very simple but powerful message:  Closing coal plants protects our children from mercury pollution. 

Not scare tactics, not hyperbole, but the clear, sober facts as they relate to burning coal and human health.  Hard to ignore.

It's also about language and solid communications.  Lies aside, note the language the opposing coal utilities use, words like "force" and "pay" and "reliable" -- these are effective words if you are trying to stir up any of the fears out there, hitting freedom, money issues in a recession, and the ability to run our lives on electricity.

This is the battle for renewables' soul and take heed, we all need renewable victories even if we don't know it or believe it. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Migratory Map Over Open Ocean

The Center for Conservation Biology released a great map showing the migratory path of whimbrels, a medium sized, often dusty brown bird known as a wader.  Scientists tracked the birds with GPS and some of the birds logged over 4,000 miles.

To know the beginning and the end point of a migration is one thing, it's another to see it on a map.  Note how much time and mileage is spent over the open ocean.  Even more impressive, the bird cannot land on water, according to the report.

It's easy to admire this bird coasting and flying above the beautiful and empty deep blue for thousands of miles before finding a dark crag poking through the water, a small isle, or a bit of spare coast to finally alight.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Isn't Arizona Solar

Every now and again when I recall my days in Arizona under the blazing, beautiful, seemingly perpetually sunny skies, I wonder why isn't Arizona blowing the doors off all other states in terms of electricity generation from solar.

 Oh yea, partisan politics.

According to an Arizona Republic story about an upcoming election in the sunny state:

"The three Republicans running together argue that the current goal of 15 percent renewable energy by 2025 strikes an appropriate balance between environment and cost to ratepayers.

The three Democrats running as a slate contend the commission has an environmental duty to continue sweeping the atmosphere of pollutants and therefore advocate increasing the percentage of renewable fuels in the state's mix."

A muddling argument over an already-low goal (only 15%?) with a too-stretched timeline (to 2025?).

It'd be great to see a little more urgency; certainly it's needed.  Does this kind of thing go on in many other states?  Why wouldn't it?  Unfortunately. 

Arizona ranked 3rd in solar installations as of January 2012, according to the US Energy Information Administration

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Give the People What They Want

Give the people what they want!

It's important to develop solar power and the Environmental Protection Agency should remain intact, many Americans said in a recent survey by Hart Research Services.

A full 82% of the people surveyed, identified as both Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, said that solar power was "important" or "very important".  

So stop with the rhetoric and the moneyed politics and the anti-clean energy lobbying and give the people what they want. 

Read more coverage of what people want in USA Today.

image: the kinks

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Nature Loses a Good Friend

R.I.P. Barry Commoner (1917-2012)
  • Everything Is Connected to Everything Else.
  • Everything Must Go Somewhere.
  • Nature Knows Best.
  • There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.
Words to live by, every day and every way. Thanks Barry. 

Read Andrew Revkin's Tribute: Barry Commoner's Uncommon Life

Read New York Times Obituary.