IBI Watch 4/7/13

7 04 2013

Extreme Oil, Extreme Consequences //

A few years ago, environmental activists like me hoped that increasing oil prices would lead to greater conservation and extreme efforts to build alternative energy. Tough luck. Technological wizardry – breakthroughs in horizontal and undersea drilling, tar sands oil plus of course hydraulic fracturing, has opened new bonanzas of hydrocarbons to exploit, and pushed the day of reckoning off into the future.

To careful observers, that day of reckoning is already here. Increasingly chaotic, destructive weather events are on the rise all over the world, and largely-ignored scientists continue warning about feedbacks and tipping points. We yawn, and if we think about this at all, it is to wonder about the impact on gasoline prices.

Based on the past week’s events, it would be a good time to wake up to all this right about now. Media were blocked initially from getting footage of the tar oil pipeline rupture in Arkansas. Watch a half-minute video. Commentator John Sutter speculates (includes slides and more video) that this incident could create that critical mass of support needed to halt the tar sands oil juggernaut.  If it’s going to happen, we have to hope the shift comes soon. Check the astounding results of this recent poll. Maybe this should not be surprising, since a crowd of web sites encourages penny-wise, greenhouse-foolish motorists to drive to the other side of town to save a nickel on petrol. Spills are just a cost of doing business in the modern, fast-paced world – or so Big Oil would like us to believe.

The Arkansas incident is important for many reasons. First, I found it amusing that the initial reports talked of “barrels” of oil released. With 80 gallons in a barrel, 1000 barrels doesn’t sound so bad, does it? But the EPA estimates 84,000 gallons, and it may be higher. And of course this is not your grandfather’s crude oil, but the dirtier tar sands oil, whose very nature makes spills more likely. Once those spills occur, they are much harder to clean than the already difficult traditional crude. Read more here. And lest anyone think that the Arkansas rupture is an isolated incident, read this.

I have long contended that concerns about transport were a sideshow in the tar sands battle, but maybe I am wrong on this one. After all, it is one thing to be concerned about destruction many miles away in Alberta, or to worry about the greenhouse intensity of producing oil from tar, compared to the sweeter varieties of crude that are steadily depleting. It is quite another to have the oil bubbling up in your yard.  Now that is something to get worked up about, eh? The question of course is – how many backyards, neighborhoods, parks and lakes must turn into toxic pools to move public opinion against the all-powerful oil lobby?

You have to find humor where you can. Try this – it’s not really oil, you see. And this panel from Bill Maher’s show has a few laughs when the guests are not shouting each other down. But irony and dark humor aside, those fighting the tar sands project and what it represents to the climate change struggle are weighing in. Watch a seven-minute Democracy Now segment that features an interview with Bill McKibben. And also this week – news that one of the earliest and most vocal climate change messengers, James Hansen, is retiring from his post at NASA. This will no doubt allow him to work ever more energetically to fight greenhouse madness.  And who knew that the recently deceased film critic  Roger Ebert had spoken up about the madness of climate change? Not me.

For a final call to action on this issue, watch this clever, fast-paced video. It very effectively puts this whole tarry affair into its insane context.

 

Sands of Another Sort

Aside from tar sands oil, easily the most prominent new, high-tech addition to our hydrocarbon access toolkit is hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. This practice offers a whole range of benefits and risks. The benefits are pretty clear – access to a large storehouse of natural gas deposits, and lower gas prices. The risks are another matter – groundwater pollution, earthquakes anyone? But right here in the upper Midwest, another extreme cost is controversial right now. Both Wisconsin and Minnesota are rich in a key component of the fracking system – silica sand. Wisconsin has already embraced this new system, not without environmental battles of course. Will Minnesota follow down the path? A new documentary looks to educate. Here is a TC Daily Planet article on The Price of Sand, and here is the trailer.

 

Seeds of Domination

The creeping control of agriculture by a small number of companies has been sold as progress. Feed the world, lower costs, control pests, and on and on. But what is the dominance by companies such as Monsanto really all about? For one thing, mounting profits. For another, control that approaches monopoly. This week’s news item looks like more of the same. And, you may be shocked, shocked I say, to find that a particular champion in Congress has bravely shepherded the Monsanto Protection Act into law. Allow Mother Jones to introduce the loyal corporate soldier, er, U.S. Senator, that is.

Enough people recognize that this monopolization of the food supply is not necessarily the best approach, for a number of reasons. The author of a promising new book, Foodopoly, Wenonah Hauter, appeared on Democracy Now. Her book looks to become an important part of this crucial debate. Just listen to the intro, an explanation from a rare voice for small farmers who also happens to be a U.S Senator. The author later explains how Monsanto and Wal-Mart, among others, have ridden the anti-regulation wave to ever-greater control over the whole food system. One out of every three grocery dollars, for example is spent at Wal-Mart.  Not a dollar of mine, thanks.

Check this article on fighting back on another scale. Cooperatives are fighting to save what is good about food and agricultural diversity. And this is a battle we all can take on. Join a community-supported agriculture farm. My family has belonged to a farm for many years, and it is one of the best things we have done. Year-round, fresh and frozen, we have an abundant supply of organically grown vegetables, greens and fruits, and we have the satisfaction of knowing we are helping to save the small from corporate monstrosities.

Truth-telling, Wherever You can Find it

We need more conservatives like this guy.

Modern technology

Owes ecology

An apology.

-Alan M. Eddison

 

Contributed links to this posting – Tess Galati, Allyson Harper, Brendan Murphy

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 10/21/12

21 10 2012

It’s a Pander Party . . .  //

. . . And we are all invited!  We listened in vain for ANY mention of environmental issues in the first two presidential debates and the veep matchup.  Yes, I know the economy is foremost in people’s minds, as usual, but in the long run there is nothing more important than clean air and water and a livable environment.  And without those, the economy won’t mean a hell of a lot.  Yes, President Obama was much more energized and on-message in the second debate, and Governor Romney continued his mythologizing.  But nothing annoyed me more than all the jaw-flapping on both sides about ‘energy independence’ and the notion that a president controls gas prices.  It seemed like an argument over who is more in support of what I call our long-term energy policy under both parties, i.e. ‘Find lots more oil and coal, and burn it all up – fast!’  And when Obama failed to pounce when Romney rhapsodized about his love for coal – the full exploitation of which is a death sentence for a livable planet – you could see pandering in full flower.  An insult to our intelligence – gas prices are more important than a whole range of important issues – energy choices, pollution and especially climate change.  Now all is not lost on this issue – Obama is right on to declare that Romney basically wants to let Big Oil and Big Coal run the whole energy policy.  But where is the open discussion about what our addiction to fossil fuels is doing to destabilize the climate?  And when Romney cherry-picks the failures among those trying to build alternative energy, what is his solution? You know it – “Drill, baby, drill!”

There is still time to demand better.  Sign this petition from the League of Conservation Voters.  Or you can act here with Climate Silence.  Better yet, do both.  And if you think the focus on international affairs precludes dealing with the environment in general and the climate crisis in particular, you are not paying attention.

Remember – the economy of a subsidiary of the environment, NOT the other way around.

Green Chained

There is one candidate who, if included in the debates, would make sure the environment is not neglected.  I speak of the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein.  As you might expect, her candidacy is all about sustainability.  IBI Watch readers who live in thoroughly blue or thoroughly red states might consider casting a vote her way.  Her ideas are so dangerous, though, to the powers that be and business as usual, that this happened on the night of the second presidential debate.  Democracy Now also covered the arrest of this dangerous radical.

This incident reminds me of two of my favorite causes – getting corporate money out of politics and allowing a truly level field for all candidates.  The two issues go hand in hand, and, you might say, are also shackled in today’s America.  But they don’t have to be.

Plutocracy Ascendant

In this blog and elsewhere, I have long followed the growth of plutocracy in America – a process we have built with increasing intensity since about 1980.  But I learned much – and you can, too – from a fine interview that Bill Moyers just did with two expert sources on the issue.  His two sources have a long track record of reporting on this phenomenon.  Matt Taibbi has reported on plutocracy with admirable, biting wit, in Rolling Stone.  Here is an example.  Chrystia Freeland is the author of a new book that headed right to my reading list – Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.  Moyers himself is so impressed that he has organized a book club around this first selection.

Taibbi and Freeland cover the whole gamut of issues here – wealth and income inequality, ‘too big to fail,’ the idea that America is on its way to being another Russia, Brazil or maybe a gigantic banana republic.  But what is new here for me is a term for something I have observed – ‘government capture,’ also known as cognitive capture.’  This is a way of describing how the super-wealthy have increasingly cemented their hold on the reins of power, but also gotten in the public consciousness that things should be this way, and really always should have been this way. And lest you think these two authors are the latest reincarnation of Marx and Lenin, note that Freeland especially presents a balanced view.  Yes, globalization has changed the world to foster some concentration of wealth and power – but US government policy is also a major driving force.

This discussion about what is happening in American society is also explored in a historical way by the same Chrystia Freeland.  She recently covered a work comparing modern America with the Venice of the 1400s.  Not an example we should seek to follow, thank you very much.

This story of Venice’s rise and fall is told by the scholars Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, in their book “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty,” as an illustration of their thesis that what separates successful states from failed ones is whether their governing institutions are inclusive or extractive. Extractive states are controlled by ruling elites whose objective is to extract as much wealth as they can from the rest of society. Inclusive states give everyone access to economic opportunity; often, greater inclusiveness creates more prosperity, which creates an incentive for ever greater inclusiveness.  Sound familiar?

Vote This Way, or You Will Pay

One of the demons released by the infamous Citizens United Supreme Court decision is this – employers feel emboldened to ‘persuade’ their indentured servants, er, uh, employees that is, to support the Big Boss’s political issues and candidates.  If you are say, Robert Murray, or David Siegel, or one of the Koch Brothers, guess which side you will be pushing?  As Moyers notes in his commentary, these guys are pushing their power right to its legal limits.  Concern is growing over this persuasion, which you might call employment bullying.  Soon, more and more of us may be able to truthfully sing that final line from the iconic Merle Travis song – ‘I owe my soul . . . to the company store!’  That song of course is ‘Sixteen Tons’ – performed here by Tennessee Ernie Ford (‘cheered on’ by some well-heeled fans).

Do-It-Yourself Geoengineering

Why reduce greenhouse gases?  Technology will save us from climate chaos – Rex Tillerson told us so, recently.  And so what if those snail-paced, hypercautious governments are too sclerotic to be bold, be brave, be Randian?  Take the iron into your own hands, and go dump it into the ocean, may all those nervous nellies be damned.  Edward Teller must be rejoicing at the bold, visionary action taken by this pioneer.  Oy.

Calling Tar Sands Oil Out

When I am feeling discouraged about the massive government inaction on climate change, I seek out stories of activists taking bold steps.  Such is this story about a group that punked a ‘climate conference’ that was organized and paid for by the marauders themselves.  This story reminded me of notable heroes in this regard.  If you have never heard about the Yes Men, you need to watch that linked video.

But back on the serious side, here is why scientists are in an uproar about further exploitation of tar sands oil.  If there ever was a lose, lose, lose proposition for the climate, ecosystems and the very planet, it has to be tar sands oil.  Also protested here, as covered by Democracy Now!

Empathy?  Nah.

Maybe it is just the old FDR Democrat in me, but somehow, I think these two stories go together.  Meet Paul Ryan in the soup kitchen, and Paul Krugman in full critique mode regarding the Romney approach to health care.

Human Nature and Society – Assumptions Reconsidered

Before you dismiss these links as ponderous, heady, even – God forbid – boring, think again.  Radiolab ran a terrific program this week on change.  The most compelling segment for me was this one.  It is an amazing piece of accidental research that calls into question – from afar in the primate kingdom anyway whether we will always fight wars and kill one another because it is simply ‘human nature.’ I find a strange affinity with this segment from This American Life.  It chronicles a quixotic (and possibly ethically questionable) campaign by a legislator on behalf of early childhood education.  You just won’t believe which state we are talking about here.

Binders Unbound

OK, I could not resist.  Cheers!

‘The highest patriotism is not a blind acceptance of official policy, but a love of one’s country deep enough to call her to a higher plain.’

-George McGovern

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links to this posting – Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper