Friday, November 30, 2012

The Myth of Beating Nature

Can your past inform your future?  Of course it can, in good and bad ways, and beach replenishment and coastal re-building are no different.

This is a case of the bad but we can learn from it.  An audio story on Radio Times asks if beach replenishment is worth the millions in taxpayer dollars especially given the fact that the beach will soon be washed away again and replenishment begins all over.

It's like the Myth of Sisyphus. In Greek mythology, Sisyphus pushed a rock up a hill only to watch it roll back down, over and over again  forever he did this.  It was the epitome of the absurd to Albert Camus, the French philosopher.  

Post Sandy, knowledgeable people (Carl Safina Rebuilding After Sandy is Too Big a Risk, Orrin Pilky Retreat from the Beach) call for a reassessment of the knee jerk re-building in high risk areas along the coast.  Taxpayers pay for much of it and it's just putting people at risk again.

Sounds absurd but it happens all over the country including the Northeast US.  

"We can avoid damage like that of Hurricane Sandy if we encourage people to move and discourage further development," said Norbert Psuty, Rutgers Professor of Marine and Coastal Sciences in a New York Times discussion titled: Washed Away by Storms, Paid for by Taxpayers

Moving back from the shore is smart and sustainable.  It's not building as close to the water as possible, flattening the natural dunes, and replacing the natural shoreline with a built one.

Natural systems like dunes and wetlands protect the beach, inland ecosystems, and homes and memories.  It's wonderfully displayed in several places on eastern Long Island, New York.  But if you walk the beach in Long Beach Island, New Jersey, for example, it's like the beach is a sidewalk flush along rows of big houses.

It's time to take a lesson from this mess and build smarter. 

It's a tough one admittedly, because rebuilding, a close cousin to persevering, comes not from the head but the heart.  It's generally good to be "Jersey Strong" and to "Give no Ground".  Yet we're not winning anything with rebuilding.  Nature always wins.  We stand only to lose more lives and money.

At some point, Sisyphus has to walk away before his heart bursts. 

images:, dailymail

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

German Clean Energy: Life Over Money

Germany is once again getting it done.  Already a quarter of their power grid is renewable and they have big plans for more.  So when someone says renewables are a technology or a free market problem in the US, that's baloney.  Case and point: the Germans.

When you read Truthdig's coverage of a recent renewable energy conference in Germany, you get just how much of an opportunity the US is squandering and the unfortunate irony of it all -- they even call it an American idea to begin with. 

Here's some: 

"Since 2000, Germany has converted 25 percent of its power grid to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass. The architects of the clean energy movement Energiewende, which translates to 'energy transformation,' estimate that from 80 percent to 100 percent of Germany’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2050.

Germans are baffled that the United States has not taken the same path. Not only is the U.S. the wealthiest nation in the world, but it’s also credited with jump-starting Germany’s green movement 40 years ago.

'This is a very American idea,' Arne Jungjohann, a director at the Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation (HBSF), said at a news conference Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C.

The largest difference, panelists said, between Germany and the U.S. is how reactive the government is to its citizens. Democracy in Germany has meant keeping and strengthening regulatory agencies while forming policies that put public ownership ahead of private ownership.

'In the end, it isn’t about making money. It’s about quality of life.'"


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Turkey Day

It's Thanksgiving in the US, and somewhere between stuffing the turkey and our faces, it's time to ask what we are thankful for, which is not such a bad thing to ask.

I am thankful for a loving family and friends.  I am thankful for my health.  I am thankful for the gift of nature.

And they are all related.  That's why I'll keep harping about how important (and urgent) it is to support healthy oceans and clean energy.

Don't be a turkey, support the green and blue bountiful planet.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How Green is Your Data?

That (annoying) Microsoft animated paper clip is back.  This time in human form as a reminder from Greenpeace that it takes huge amounts of electricity to run our modern online lives and it's time we asked where that electricity comes from.  Go Greenpeace.

It's not the electricity itself that is the problem -- it's the way it's generated.  If the electricity is being generated in the US, chances are most of it is made by burning fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, which is just not sustainable and causes that little giant thing you may have heard about called climate change.

So even darlings of generation progressive like Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook have to own up to the amount of dirty energy they consume.  I'd much rather store my data or buy stuff from a company whose cloud is clean and white rather than gray like the pall that spews out of a coal-fired plant.

It's only a matter of time before someone asks you:  'How green is your data?'

Like this:  I ride my bike, take mass transit, recycle, use reusable bags, support wind power, and enjoy the power of nature as much as possible so I don't want my online experience to be marred by dirty fossil fuels.

How green is your data?


Thursday, November 15, 2012

You Decide

The other day, the Animal Planet show Whale Wars came up in a conversation with a friend who is well-versed in the environment but would hesitate to call himself an environmentalist.

I asked him: do you think Sea Shepard leader Paul Watson is a criminal or a hero?

He responded quickly: hero.

You decide.

Powerful nations have issued arrest warrants for Watson becasue he harasses Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean.  The Japanese whalers apparently take advantage of a loop hole in International Whaling Commission rules and take whales for "scientific research".  This research hopes to catch and kill 900 whales -- 850 minke and 50 fin whales -- this season, according to the New Zealand Herald.  On some lists, fin whales are classified as endangered.

Sea Shepard will try once again to stop them from killing any whales.  Their methods include boat maneuvers to block the whalers and rancid butter tossed onto the processing decks of the whaling ships (it ruins the fresh whale meat).  There have been collisions, and it seems only a matter of time before someone gets hurt.

Some say they do not agree with whale hunting but they would like to see Sea Shepard do it in a different way.  Others say different ways have been tried including international legislation and steady condemnation by international groups, but these are not working.

Some contend Watson is just in it for the limelight.  Hard to know but anyway, so what?  His methods bring attention to the issue.

Maybe Watson is both a hero and a criminal.  One man's patriot is another man's terrorist?

Perhaps one relatively small organization challenging the national whaling fleet of Japan in the dicey Southern Ocean deserves the benefit of the doubt.

It's difficult to trust the Japanese intentions toward the oceans considering their ongoing behavior, which includes a relentless pursuit of the very last bluefin tuna despite the consequences, and their infamous dolphin slaughter at Taiji.  

Just because it remains legal does not make it right.  Maybe it's time to give the whales a break.  You decide.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

We Left Silence

An ocean full of loud, mesmerizing sounds made from whales?

It fires the imagination, and it appears to have been the natural order of things for a long time until guess who found out whale oil made good flame.

Researchers dug back through records of Russian whalers (not the records they showed the taxman but the real records of how many whales they caught) to create a picture of whale abundance and undersea decibels.

In the 19th century North Atlantic, it would have been as loud as 126 decibels, enough to make Led Zeppelin proud, according to the LA Times.

What that means is that there were so many whales they filled the deep blue with lively sound.

When we hauled the last whale (almost the very last) out of the ocean, what was left?  Silence. 

Maybe too, the singular echo of a lone whale fading into the emptiness of extinction.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Like Mark Twain, Clean Energy is Alive and Well

Happily, clean energy is like Mark Twain whose "reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated."

Despite what David Brooks thinks.  Clean energy defenders thoroughly countered his recent attempt at clean energy's eulogy.  

That at least several influential people responded to Brooks's funeral dirge in the first place is reason enough for hope.  It's clear that clean energy is a business not a cause. 

Stephen Cowell, CEO of Conservation Services Group, provided several great points not least of which is that we need renewable energy in our future; calling it unnecessary is folly:

"We may be able to extend our fossil fuel addiction by another 30 years, but we can't afford to close our eyes to long-term reality in the face of short-term economic conditions. We must continue supporting renewable energy and efficient technologies, or the planet, us, our children and future generations will suffer." 

Cowell also challenged the so-called demise of clean energy investments:

"Despite a few that have not fared well, many clean energy investments are paying off. At a 90 percent success rate, they're far outpacing the success of private, venture-capital-funded companies and are employing thousands.

In terms of the loan recipients, the federal government has a very respectable track record. Of the 33 companies that received federal support, only three have gone out of business. This is hardly a "wasteful disappointment." We should celebrate these success stories, instead of allowing them to be overshadowed by the Solyndras of the industry."

Read his whole post here.

Meanwhile, Frances Moore Lappe, author of  Diet for a Small Planet, finds clean energy's strong heartbeat:

"Even here in the U.S., with our comparatively timid renewable energy platform, analysis by the Brookings Institution shows that despite the recession, from 2008-2010, US jobs in clean energy -- like smart grids, solar PV and wind -- outpaced our employment growth in other sectors by about two to one, thanks in part to the federal stimulus.

What's more, clean, technology-related jobs already outnumber fossil fuel jobs, even though those dirty jobs have benefited from billions of government support annually over many decades."

Read her whole post here.

As I'm sure Mark Twain toasted his own health (with much humor), I'll raise the cup to clean energy.  Long live clean energy.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Elections Matter

If you care about healthy oceans, Ocean Champions provides a great Congressional guide for this US election across the country. 

As far as the headliners, the Presidential election, if fighting climate change and less pollution is important to you, a vote for Obama is better than a vote for Romney.  If you are unable to vote, please bear with me as I need to talk a little about this election because it is true, elections matter.

Obama is lacking in several areas when it comes to the environment, no doubt.  But Romney is unabashedly deep in the deep pockets of Big Fossil Fuel. 

The oil and gas industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to support Romney and other candidates to ensure that the status quo remains unchanged. 

This is the coveted status quo of the oil and gas industry:
  • keeping Americans addicted to fossil fuels
  • never paying for the costs to society -- health care, national security, loss of natural systems -- of their antiquated energy solutions
  • fueling media machines to convince us that Americans cannot live prosperous and happy lives without their pollution.
From where I am sitting, and I follow this closely, big fossil fuel and the candidates they support including Romney continue to do everything in their power to ensure that we do not have a clean energy future.

Please get out and vote, and vote for what you know is right.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Ding Dong Coal is Dead

A house landed on coal.  Ding dong! 

Sing it loudly (giddy dancing is optional but encouraged):

Ding dong coal is dead, coal is dead 
Wake up, the dirty coal is dead.
It's gone where the miners go,
Below - below - below. Yo-ho,
let's open up and sing and ring the bells out.
Ding Dong' the merry-oh, sing it high, sing it low.
Let them know
Dirty coal is dead!
Ding dong coal is dead, coal is dead 

(Sung to the tune of Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead from The Wizard of Oz

What's this all about?

People in the business -- people that know more than many others about coal -- have sounded the death knell of the dirty black rock.

Andy Wappler, vice-president of corporate affairs of Puget Sound Electric recently stated, “We all know that coal is a dead end.”

Kevin Parker, the global head of asset management of Deutsche Bank, said: “Coal is a dead man walking.”

Nick Akins, CEO of American Electric Power said: “There will not be any new coal plants built.”

All together now from the top...