The Dernogalizer

July 27, 2009

Exposing Uranium Contamination on Native American Lands

Filed under: environment — Matt Dernoga @ 2:37 am
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Last April, I had a column out which mentioned how Native Americans have been exploited by the uranium mining that takes place on their lands.  Below is the paragraph from my column

Native American reservations contain large quantities of natural resources, including energy. There is little to no access or control over as to how they are used – 65 percent of North America’s uranium lies on these reservations, as is 80 percent of all the uranium mining and 100 percent of all the uranium processing in the country.

The result has been high rates of cancer, respiratory ailments, miscarriages and birth defects. The water and soil are loaded with lead, radium, thorium and other toxins. People who work in the mines rarely receive clothing, protection, medical evaluation or compensation. There is almost no wealth to show for this exploitation, and our tax dollars subsidize it daily through our funding of uneconomical nuclear power.”

I’m glad to see the New York Times had an article out yesterday which exposed how contaminated some places became, and how people got hurt from this exploitation.  I’m reposting it below.

Uranium Contamination Haunts Navajo Country


Published: July 26, 2009

TEEC NOS POS, Ariz. — It was one year ago that the environmental scientist showed up at Fred Slowman’s door, deep in the heart of Navajo country, and warned that it was unsafe for him to stay there.

The Slowman home, the same one-level cinderblock structure his family had lived in for nearly a half-century, was contaminated with potentially dangerous levels of uranium from the days of the cold war, when hundreds of uranium mines dotted the vast tribal land known as the Navajo Nation. The scientist advised Mr. Slowman, his wife and their two sons to move out until their home could be rebuilt.

“I was angry,” Mr. Slowman said. “I guess it was here all this time, and we never knew.”

The legacy wrought from decades of uranium mining is long and painful here on the expansive reservation. Over the years, Navajo miners extracted some four million tons of uranium ore from the ground, much of it used by the United States government to make weapons.

Many miners died from radiation-related illnesses; some, unaware of harmful health effects, hauled contaminated rocks and tailings from local mines and mills to build homes for their families.

Now, those homes are being demolished and rebuilt under a new government program that seeks to identify what are very likely dozens of uranium-contaminated structures still standing on Navajo land and to temporarily relocate people living in them until the homes can be torn down and rebuilt.

Stephen B. Etsitty, executive director of the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency, and other tribal officials have been grappling for years with the environmental fallout from uranium mining.

“There were a lot of things people weren’t told about the plight of Navajos and uranium mining,” Mr. Etsitty said. “These legacy issues are impacting generations. At some point people are saying, ‘It’s got to end.’ ”

After a Congressional hearing in 2007, a cross-section of federal agencies committed to addressing the environmental and health impacts of uranium mining on the reservation. As part of that commitment, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Navajo Nation began working together to assess uranium levels in 500 structures through a five-year plan set to end in 2012.

Using old lists of potentially contaminated structures, federal and Navajo scientists have fanned out to rural reaches of the 27,000 square mile reservation — which includes swaths of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah — to measure levels of radium, a decay product of uranium that can cause lung cancer. Of 113 structures assessed so far, 27 contained radiation levels that were above normal.

“In these situations, you have contamination in somebody’s yard or in their house,” said Harry Allen, the E.P.A.’s section chief for emergency response in San Francisco who is helping lead the government’s efforts. “To us, that is somewhat urgent.”

Many structures that showed high levels of radiation were vacant; some families had already moved out after hearing stories of contamination in their homes. But eight homes still had people living in them, and the E.P.A. and Navajo officials have worked to convince residents that it would be unsafe to stay.

“People had been told they were living in contaminated structures, but nobody ever did anything about it,” said Will Duncan, an environmental scientist who has been the E.P.A.’s main representative on the reservation. “They would tell us, ‘We don’t believe you are going to follow through.’ ”

But with a budget of nearly $8 million, the E.P.A. has demolished all 27 contaminated structures and has begun building ones to replace those that had been occupied. Typically, the agency pays a Navajo contracting company to construct a log cabin or a traditional hogan in the structure’s stead, depending on the wishes of the occupants. Mr. Allen said the cost, including temporarily relocating residents, ran approximately $260,000 per dwelling and took about eight months.

The agency also offers $50,000 to those who choose not to have an old home rebuilt.

Lillie Lane, a public information officer with the Navajo Nation E.P.A. who has acted as a liaison between the federal government and tribal members, said the program held practical and symbolic importance given the history of uranium mining here.

Ms. Lane described the difficulty of watching families, particularly elders, leaving homes they had lived in for years. She told of coming upon two old miners who died before their contaminated homes could be rebuilt. “In Navajo, a home is considered sacred,” she said. “But if the foundation or the rocks are not safe, we have to do this work.”

Some families, Ms. Lane said, complained that their children were suffering from health problems and had wondered if radiation were to blame.

The E.P.A. has started sifting through records and interviewing family members to figure out whether mining companies that once operated on the reservation are liable for any damages, Mr. Allen said.

On a recent summer day, Fred and Clara Slowman proudly surveyed their new home, a one-level log cabin that sits in the quiet shadows of Black Rock Point, miles away from the bustle of Farmington, N.M., where the family has been living in a hotel.

Mr. Slowman said he suspected that waste materials from a nearby abandoned mine seeped into his house. The family plans on having a traditional Navajo medicine man bless their dwelling before they move in.

“In our traditional way, a house is like your mom,” he said. “It’s where you eat, sleep, where you’re taken care of. And when you come back from the city, you come back to your mom. It makes you feel real good.”

July 26, 2009

Declassified US Spy Satellites Show Effects of Warming

Filed under: Climate Change — Matt Dernoga @ 3:47 pm
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A result of warming temperatures has been melting of the ice caps.  It seem like every other day we find one more thing the Bush Administration was covering up.  Not that it’s new or a surprise that one of these things was climate science reports, but as the saying goes “a picture says a thousand words”.  According to an article in the Guardian, US spy satellite photos declassified by the Obama administration have provided us with the first graphic images of how badly the polar ice sheets are retreating.  Story reposted below.

Revealed: the secret evidence of global warming Bush tried to hide

  • and 
  • , Sunday 26 July 2009

Graphic images that reveal the devastating impact of global warming in the Arctic have been released by the US military. The photographs, taken by spy satellites over the past decade, confirm that in recent years vast areas in high latitudes have lost their ice cover in summer months.

The pictures, kept secret by Washington during the presidency of George W Bush, were declassified by the White House last week. President Barack Obama is currently trying to galvanise Congress and the American public to take action to halt catastrophic climate changecaused by rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

One particularly striking set of images – selected from the 1,000 photographs released – includes views of the Alaskan port of Barrow. One, taken in July 2006, shows sea ice still nestling close to the shore. A second image shows that by the following July the coastal waters were entirely ice-free.

The photographs demonstrate starkly how global warming is changing the Arctic. More than a million square kilometres of sea ice – a record loss – were missing in the summer of 2007 compared with the previous year.

Nor has this loss shown any sign of recovery. Ice cover for 2008 was almost as bad as for 2007, and this year levels look equally sparse.

“These are one-metre resolution images, which give you a big picture of the summertime Arctic,” said Thorsten Markus of Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Centre. “This is the main reason why we are so thrilled about it. One-metre resolution is the dimension that’s been missing.”

Disappearing summer sea ice poses considerable dangers, scientists have warned. Ice shelves are used by animals such as polar bears as platforms for hunting seals and other sea creatures. Without them, they could starve. In addition, ice reflects solar radiation. Without that process, the Arctic sea could warm up even more. The phenomenon threatens to set off runaway heating of the planet, say climatologists.

The latest revelations have triggered warnings from scientists that they no longer have the funds to keep a comprehensive track of climate change. Last week the head of the US’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Professor Jane Lubchenco, warned that the gathering of satellite data – crucial to predicting future climate changes – was now at “great risk” because America’s ageing satellite fleet was not being replaced.

“Our primary focus is maintaining the continuity of climate observations, and those are at great risk right now because we don’t have the resources to have satellites at the ready and taking the kinds of information that we need,” said Lubchenco, who was appointed by Obama. “We are playing catch-up.”

Even before her warning, scientists were saying that America, the world’s scientific superpower, was virtually blinding itself to climate change by cutting funds to the environmental satellite programmes run by the Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Nasa. A report by the National Academy of Sciences this year warned that the environmental satellite network was at risk of collapse.

In February, a Nasa satellite carrying instruments to produce the first map of the Earth’s carbon emissions crashed near Antarctica only three minutes after lift-off.

The satellite would have measured carbon emissions at 100,000 points around the planet every day, providing a wealth of data compared to the 100 or so fixed towers currently in operation in a land-based network.

The NOAA is under additional pressure to provide environmental data because of the re-emergence of the El Niño climate phenomenon, where warming of the tropical Pacific causes heatwaves, droughts and flooding around the world. June’s land and sea surface temperatures were the second hottest on record, and scientists are predicting this will be the warmest decade in recorded history. The last major El Niño was in 1998, the hottest year in recorded history.

The Obama administration has already taken steps to tackle America’s flagging scientific lead. The president’s economic recovery plan allotted $170m (£100m) to help close the gaps in climate modelling. The NOAA is seeking an additional $390m in its 2010 budget to upgrade environmental satellites, and help make data more available to researchers and government officials.

July 20, 2009

40th Moon-step Anniversary

Filed under: Energy/Climate — Matt Dernoga @ 2:52 am
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When I was younger I wanted to be an astronomer when I grew up.  I’ve always been fascinated with the solar system, outer space, and space travel.  If the looming threat of catastrophic global warming wasn’t in my mind, I’d just enjoy reading and watching all the specials on the first step on the moon ever 40 years ago.  But now when I check the news I might glance at this look at Neil Armstrong by the Washington Post, but my attention goes to a great column in Salon by blogger Joe Romm.  Romm compares and contrasts what we accomplished many decades ago when Kennedy declared we would go to the moon by the end of the decade, to the current climate crisis and what will be necessary to overcome it.  One of the unfortunate but probably true statements by Romm is that trips to the moon or to Mars probably will not be on the radar past 2020 since every available dollar humanity has will be diverted to dramatically slash carbon emissions.  Congressman Ed Markey also has his own column related to the anniversay.  I’m reposting the article below.

Goodnight, moon travel

It’s time to save planet Earth. And our inspiration, once again, comes from JFK

By Joseph Romm

July 20, 2009 | Forty years ago, like millions of other children, I was awestruck by Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon. No doubt the optimistic vision of space travel from the Apollo program, and “Star Trek,” were key reasons I became a physicist.

But incredibly expensive efforts like a manned space program can be sustained only by a very rich country that doesn’t have desperate Earth-based missions for its scientific and engineering talent — and for the tens of billions of dollars such a program requires. You can reach for the stars, but only when you have everything else you need firmly in your grasp.

In 2004, President Bush announced his plan for sending humans back to the moon and eventually Mars. Last week, Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, proposed a manned mission to “Mars by the 60th anniversary year of our Apollo 11 flight,” in part to study geologic-time-scale climate change on the red planet. Long before then, however, our struggle to deal with rapid, human-caused climate change here on Earth will overwhelm even a modest effort to put humans beyond planetary orbit again.

I was too young to be directly inspired by John F. Kennedy’s 1962 speech at Rice University, in which he famously declared that the U.S. would be the first country to send a man to the moon by decade’s end. But reread or listen to the speech and you will be amazed by its prescience. Many of Kennedy’s words are as true today as they were a half-century ago:

We meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance. The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds.

He saw the space race through the lens of American exceptionalism — no “nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space” — but he predicted benefits for all humankind:

We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war.

President Obama made the same kind of plea the day before the House of Representatives was to vote on the Waxman-Markey clean energy bill:

We have seen our reliance on fossil fuels jeopardize our national security. We have seen it pollute the air we breathe and endanger our planet. And most of all, we have seen other countries realize a critical truth: the nation that leads in the creation of a clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy.

Ironically, Obama’s new mission to save planet Earth is the only hope of preserving the moral leadership of this country that Kennedy took for granted.

Imagine the next 50 generations suffering from global warming of 10°F, sea levels rising 1 or 2 inches a year, dust bowls over one-third of the habited land, loss of more than half the species and oceans turned into hot, acidic dead zones. That is now what the science says we risk if we simply keep doing what we’ve been doing — if the richest country in the world, the one responsible for the most cumulative emissions, refuses to devote a small fraction of its wealth and scientific talent to preventing this disaster. I think it’s safe to say that nobody will be writing any books about us called “The Greatest Generation.”

Kennedy ended his speech with an appeal to the universal human spirit to conquer the unknown:

Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there.” Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.

Today, we know that the most hazardous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked is the transition to a carbon-free economic and energy system that’s capable of sustaining and expanding prosperity for 9 billion people. The alternative is, as a new 6,700-page report by world leaders concludes, catastrophic climate changes whereby “billions of people will be condemned to poverty and much of civilization will collapse.”

At the same time Kennedy warned that science and technology “has no conscience of its own,” he related the accelerating rate of technological change: “This is a breathtaking pace, and such a pace cannot help but create new ills as it dispels old — new ignorance, new problems, new dangers.”

He could have been talking about the accumulation of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is also occurring at a breathtaking pace -– 10,000 times faster than it ever had in nature over the past 800,000 years. We transformed the global economy with fossil fuels in a century, creating new ills, new dangers that we are only now beginning to understand.

Humanity has only two paths forward. We voluntarily switch to a low-carbon economy over the next two decades, or the reality of catastrophic climate change and peak oil forces us to desperately start doing so by the end of the 2020s. The only difference between the two paths is that the first one spares our children and grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren, untold misery. It creates a sustainable future where activities like manned space travel can be contemplated again.

The Apollo program was a major science and engineering effort to develop and, most important, deploy a variety of technologies to achieve a very difficult mission — like climate action. But the comparison between the two only goes so far.  Kennedy said:

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.

The hard goal of solving climate change is about more than winning a competition. Kennedy explained that the space effort “has already created a great number of new companies, and tens of thousands of new jobs.” But those new jobs were only as sustainable as the manned space program, whose benefits and interest to the public were limited and waning. The transition to a sustainable economy, on the other hand, will be bring great and increasing benefits to the public, ultimately generating millions of jobs.

Kennedy asserted: “I think that we must pay what needs to be paid.” That is most certainly true of the mission to save a livable climate. Yet for all its magnificent majesty, Apollo was a relatively small-scale government program with little direct connection to the U.S. economy. It pales in comparison to the urgent task of replacing the nation’s and world’s fossil-fuel-based energy system with low carbon sources.

In 2002 dollars, the entire Apollo program cost $185 billion over 10 years — an increase of $128 billion over the existing space budget. The stimulus bill passed by Congress this year increased short-term funding for the development and deployment of clean energy technology by $90 billion. While that is projected to sharply increase the market share of clean energy over the next several years, the public and private sector of this country alone will need an Apollo-level effort every year for the next few decades to avert climate catastrophe.

Fortunately, clean energy technologies have many other benefits, including reducing air pollution, cutting oil imports and saving Americans tens of billions of dollars in energy costs. So the net impact on the economy of even aggressive climate action like the recent climate bill approved by the House has a net cost to U.S. households of about a postage stamp a day, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

While technologically bold, the Apollo moon missions were, ultimately, a government program that Americans could gaze at and wonder from afar. The grander technological challenge today is a national effort that every American must participate in.

Kennedy said we had to go to space because “our leadership in science and industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men.”

More than ever we need to employ our leadership in science and industry to solve the mysteries of peace and security for the good of all women and men. But not by returning to space. Our top planetary mission for the foreseeable future must be to stop destroying the one climate hospitable to the one civilization that we know of in the entire galaxy.

July 6, 2009

Revenge of the Incandescent Light Bulb

Filed under: Energy/Climate — Matt Dernoga @ 8:29 pm
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I came across a very interesting article in the New York Times about how new incandescent light bulbs are becoming incredibly more efficient so that their producers can still compete with CFL bulbs.  I think this is a fantastic example about how if you set higher standards for our energy production and efficiency, the market will innovate.  Excerpts below.

“When Congress passed a new energy law two years ago, obituaries were written for the incandescent light bulb. The law set tough efficiency standards, due to take effect in 2012, that no traditional incandescent bulb on the market could meet, and a century-old technology that helped create the modern world seemed to be doomed.”

“Researchers across the country have been racing to breathe new life intoThomas Edison’s light bulb, a pursuit that accelerated with the new legislation. Amid that footrace, one company is already marketing limited quantities of incandescent bulbs that meet the 2012 standard, and researchers are promising a wave of innovative products in the next few years.Indeed, the incandescent bulb is turning into a case study of the way government mandates can spur innovation.”

“For lighting researchers involved in trying to save the incandescent bulb, the goal is to come up with one that matches the energy savings of fluorescent bulbs while keeping the qualities that many consumers seem to like in incandescents, like the color of the light and the ease of using them with dimmers.”

“And a wave of innovation appears to be coming. David Cunningham, an inventor in Los Angeles with a track record of putting lighting innovations on the market, has used more than $5 million of his own money to develop a reflective coating and fixture design that he believes could make incandescents 100 percent more efficient.”

“Mr. Calwell predicts “a lot more flavors” of incandescent bulbs coming out in the future. “It’s hard to be an industry leader in the crowded C.F.L field,” he said. “But a company could truly differentiate itself with a better incandescent.”

July 5, 2009

Friedman Right on China

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 1:25 pm
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I recently wrote about how ridiculously fast China is deploying renewable energy.  We now risk falling behind China in the race for which country will dominate the clean energy economy.  Tom Friedman of the NY Times has a column out today which makes that very argument.  Excerpts below.

“Yes, you might think that China is only interested in polluting its way to prosperity. That was once true, but it isn’t anymore. China is increasingly finding that it has to go greenout of necessity because in too many places, its people can’t breathe, fish, swim, drive or even see because of pollution and climate change. Well, there is one thing we know about necessity: it is the mother of invention.”

““China is moving,” says Hal Harvey, the chief executive of ClimateWorks, which shares clean energy ideas around the world. “They want to be leaders in green technology. China has already adopted the most aggressive energy efficiency program in the world. It is committed to reducing the energy intensity of its economy — energy used per dollar of goods produced — by 20 percent in five years. They are doing this by implementing fuel efficiency standards for cars that far exceed our own and by going after their top thousand industries with very aggressive efficiency targets. And they have the most aggressive renewable energy deployment in the world, for wind, solar and nuclear, and are already beating their targets.”

“Health care and the energy/climate bill go together. We need both now. Imagine how poor we would be today if U.S. firms did not dominate the top 10 Internet companies. Well, if we don’t dominate the top 10 E.T. rankings, there is no way we are going to be able to afford decent health care for every American. No way.”

June 22, 2009

Australia an Example one Way or the Other

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 1:34 pm
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Here in the United States, environmental groups are all over the place regarding their stance on the Waxman-Markey bill in Congress.  Some say thumbs up, others say it’s better to pass it than pass nothing, and others either cannot support the bill, or want a no vote from liberal Democrats.  I explain my position and rationale here.  I saw an article in the NY Times today which made me think a lot about the dilemma faced here.  On one hand, the 17% target in the Waxman-Markey bill will most likely not lead to a desirable treaty in Copenhagen.  On the other hand, what if we show up to Copenhagen with absolutely nothing?  One thing I think people overlook is the fact that Henry Waxman and Ed Markey are two of the most progressive lawmakers in the US Congress.  They know energy, and they aren’t a bunch of pansies when it comes to global warming.  Their bill is as strong as the political system in the US will tolerate.

Australia faces a similar situation.  The Prime Minister Kevin Rudd ran on a platform that included taking action on climate change, and he’s put forth a cap and trade plan, but it’s only  5% reduction below 2000 levels by 2020, but Australia is willing to go as far as 25% if other nations step up in Copenhagen.  It’s passed out of Australia’s House, but is facing huge problems in the Senate.  The labor party can’t pass the law on its own, and the conservatives are vowing to fight it and kill it.  However, in Australia they have a 3 party system, and the 3rd party is the Greens party, which is strongly pro-environment.  If the Greens party teams up with Labour, they can pass the bill.  However, the Greens are saying that 5% is too weak, and they cannot support it.  Right now, their position is 25% or bust.  If this position holds, we’re going to see a very comparable result as we would see in the United States if the liberal members of the Democratic party listened to their base and voted no because the bill wasn’t strong enough.  Would the result be a stronger bill, or an empty sheet of paper in Copenhagen?  Of course, Australia has an advantage in that if their bill fails twice, they can call elections and have the people kick out the troublemakers.  Let’s see what happens to the bill.  In my opinion,  it will give a good indication of what would happen here.  I highly recommend reading the NY Times article.

June 21, 2009

Reforming Agriculture

I read a very good column in the NY Times about the linkage between our industrial agriculture system and our health care costs.  It’s no secret that a lot of the food we eat isn’t good for us and leads to a lot of the health problems which are responsible for a good chunk of our health care costs.  I remember back in elementary school when I bought lunch at my school cafeteria, and the food was very greasy, and never healthy.  In middle school and high school the food was so unhealthy I just brought a lunch every day.  There’s also the impact it has on our greenhouse gas emissions.  There’s also the effect on climate legislation, as a single bought out Chair Collin Peterson of the Agriculture Committee in the House has been able to delay, and possibly derail the Waxman-Markey climate bill.  One part of the column which sums it up is

“Agribusiness companies exercise huge political influence, and industry leaders often fill regulatory posts. The Food and Drug Administration consequently dozed, and the number of food safety inspections plunged.”

Despite a desire by the Obama administration to move away from the disaster that’s corn ethanol towards more sustainable and logical biofuels, farm state lawmakers have been fighting them like hell, even though incentives for corn ethanol production is clearly terrible policy.  As a concession, 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol already produced are being “grandfathered in”, and the farm state legislators are still complaining, which is one of the reasons Collin Peterson is causing trouble with the climate legislation.  This experience with the sway big agriculture has on Congress raises doubts on whether reforming the industrial agriculture system is even possible.  From an emissions standpoint, farmers have shown they can cut cows greenhouse gas emissions for no additional cost simply by altering their diet.  Simply using more efficient machinery and powering those systems with more clean energy would go a long way.  It would also be a good idea to produce fruit and vegetables using methods which require less pesticides such as integrated pest management, less water such as using drip irrigation.  If you want to see some thought provoking videos that shows the state of our food system, I’d recommend King Corn, or the new documentary Food Inc.

Also interesting is the positive role agriculture could have on addressing global warming if done right.  In one of my posts titled “8 Reasons for Farmers to Support Waxman-Markey”, this was one of the reasons listed:

“U.S. agricultural and forest lands sequester 246 million metric tons of carbon annually, absorbing 13 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. With the appropriate incentives these lands could ultimately absorb 50 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. H.R. 2454 promotes U.S. agricultural lands as a carbon sink by encouraging low tillage practices, tree and perennial planting, erosion prevention, rotational grazing, agricultural carbon offsets, and a market for carbon sequestration.”

It does seem to be a heavy lift, but there should be a much harder look given to begin reforming agriculture so that it serves people, not just corporations, and betters our society, not just their bottom line.  It would also go a long way to addressing our health care and climate problems.

May 30, 2009

Russia Shifts Stance

Filed under: Climate Change,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 12:14 am
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This was a pretty big deal this week.  Russia has notoriously been indifferent when it’s come to climate change.  When it came to a global treaty in Copenhagen at the end of the year, up till this point they had been completely silent.  No more!

In a dramatic shift, Russia has made a change in its climate policy, now accepting that climate change poses significant risks, and that the need for aggressive mitigation techniques is imminent.  Something about it currently costing them 2 billion a year in GDP.  This should cause a shift in Russia’s approach to energy, and it will make a deal at Copenhagen all the more likely considering Russia is a fairly big polluter that up until now had refused a seat at the table.  This is great timing considering the possibility of a US-China climate deal.  Notable excerpts from the Nature article posted below.

“Russia’s government has quietly made a drastic change to its policy on climate change, accepting that anthropogenic global warming poses severe risks and requires immediate action to limit carbon emissions.”\

“Russia’s diplomatic approach to Copenhagen was until now just one big silence,” says Kristin Jørgensen, who heads the Russian policy group of Bellona, an environmental watchdog based in Oslo that has a network of activists in Russia. “This is a totally surprising move. There were no hearings, no stakeholder discussion, no public debate — just nothing.”

“:Official recognition that anthropogenic climate change is happening and requires action by the government is an almost revolutionary shift in policy, says Anna Korppoo, an expert on Russian climate and energy policies with the Finnish Institute of International Affairs in Helsinki. “For Russia, this new climate doctrine could be comparable in political significance with that of the Stern review on the economics of climate change in Britain,” she says.”\

“The absence of an economic adaptation system to climate change leads to [a] decrease of [Russian] Gross Domestic Product by 2–5%,” he says. “It is absolutely obvious that development of measures for adapting our country’s economy to climate changes must involve every Ministry and Department.”

May 14, 2009

More Hillock Coverage


Im the guy in the middle

I'm the guy in the middle

There’s already been plenty of media coverage involving the Wooded Hillock issue on the University of Maryland campus.  There was another article in the Prince Georges County Gazette today, and I was fortunate enough to be in the picture the photographer took.  I’m going to post the article below.  Just to give an insider’s update, the current issue is still that the university is open to considering other sites, but right now they are moving forward as if they’re going to develop the Hillock.  I have a feel that will change considering the Prince George’s County Council is going to have a thing or two to say regarding the Hillock before they approve the East Campus development.  If you look at the first link I provided, you’ll find a way to contact the council and influence their decision.  A welcome shift in stance would be the university to start looking for an alternate location site on their own, rather than passing the buck to students that are trying to hold them accountable, but don’t have anywheres near the resources available to do a thorough analysis of alternite sites that the university would seriously consider.


Students to meet with UM officials over East Campus debate

School, critics clash over plan to bulldoze nine acres

by David Hill | Staff Writer

Administration officials at the University of Maryland, College Park will meet Wednesday with students concerning the school’s controversial plan to remove nine acres of on-campus forest to make room for its East Campus project.

The university is scheduled to level nine acres of a 22-acre wooded hillock behind Comcast Center to clear space for mailing and vehicle maintenance facilities that will be displaced by the $900 million project, which will bring housing and retail shops to the area on Route 1, across from the campus’ main entrance.

Students, faculty and environmental groups have criticized the move, calling it contradictory to the university’s environmentally-friendly image. On Friday, about 25 students and faculty picketed an on-campus ceremony honoring the school as an arboretum and botanical garden.

“The university’s really being two-faced,” said Phil Hannam, a 22-year-old senior at the school. “Making a statement like that publicly but then in our own backyard chopping down one of the last remaining spots of forest on campus.”

Three of the students who led the protest, Davey Rogner, Joanna Calabrese and Hannam, two days earlier declined to attend a May 6 meeting with Ann Wylie, the university’s vice president of administrative affairs. The three said they sent her a letter on May 1 voicing their concerns but received no reply.

“We wanted to get a response from them before we went,” said Calabrese, 21, senior vice president of the school’s Student Government Association.

University officials defended the plan, saying they appointed a committee that carefully considered 12 sites from 2005 to 2007 before choosing the hillock, which they said offered the best combination of cost, proximity to campus, low visibility and minimal environmental impact.

“What we have done is try to balance a number of very difficult issues and come up with an optimum solution,” said Frank Brewer, the school’s associate vice president of facilities management.

Some critics argued that the university made its decision with little to no student or faculty input and should re-open the selection process, which they believe was incomplete and too heavily driven by cost.

“I think they need to find an alternative to that site … my suggestion is they find a parking lot on which to build those facilities,” said Jack Sullivan, a professor of landscape architecture at the university who attended the May 6 meeting and Friday’s protest.

When Rogner and Calabrese spoke before the College Park City Council April 28, they proposed a series of compromises that the university could make if it chooses to proceed in bulldozing the hillock. These included restoring 18 acres of forest elsewhere in Prince George’s County, improving water quality in on-campus creeks and protecting the remaining 13 acres of wooded hillock.

Wylie said that while she is “doubtful” that a new site will ultimately be selected, she is still inviting the plan’s critics to offer alternate solutions.

“I’m not going to close the door,” Wylie said. “They have to find something this committee did not find.”

E-mail David Hill at

May 10, 2009

EPA Chief: Environmental Justice

Filed under: Energy/Climate,environment — Matt Dernoga @ 10:49 pm
Tags: , ,

I came across an article about how EPA chief Lisa Jackson was talking about how neglect for the environment adversely impacts minority communities for a variety of reasons.  This really resonated with the two part series of columns regarding diversity and the environmental movement.  They are here, and here.  The link to the article on Lisa Jackson’s comments is right here.  I’m going to also paste the article below for your reading.

EPA chief calls for environmental justice

Saturday, May 09, 200


PRINCETON BOROUGH — The federal Environmental Protection Agency needs to address the systemic environmental issues facing America’s poor, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a speech yesterday at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School.

“I see it as part of my essential mission to show all Americans that the Environmental Protection Agency works for them,” said Jackson, the first African-American head of the EPA.

Jackson said that long-term environmental issues can devastate a community if left unchecked, leading to a cycle of pollution and poverty in the country’s poorest neighborhoods.

“If there is unchecked pollution, if there is littering, then that will lead to additional pollution, additional littering,” said Jackson. “Businesses won’t invest in that community, not even if you pay them to do so.”

Jackson also said that President Obama would reject the “false choice” between the economy and the environment, and said that the president would see the environmental sector as an economic opportunity.

“The opportunities are there to create green jobs,” said Jackson, “in places in our county where both the green and the job are absolutely vital.”

Jackson cited an initiative in the president’s Recovery Act to weatherize low-income housing as an example of the compound benefits of the green sector.

“The idea was more than just to make that housing green, which is very important, but to put 80,000 Americans to work at the same time that it saves their families hundreds of dollars a year in energy bills,” Jackson said.

Improving environmental conditions in underprivileged areas can have widespread positive effects on areas beyond the immediate community, said Jackson. As an example she described the affects of polluted air in urban settings on health-care costs.

“Think about the people who get sick at two or three times the average rate from air pollution because the air pollution in their neighborhoods on hot summer days is so severe,” said Jackson. “They’re often the same people that predominately, because of their income, get their health care from emergency room. So it drives the cost of heath care up systemwide.”

The new generation of environmentalists, said Jackson, will include people who often times don’t consider themselves environmentalists, drawing from their own personal experience. Jackson was in the upper ninth ward of New Orleans visiting her mother when Hurricane Katrina struck and said the experience changed her mother’s views on environmentalism.

“My mother never understood why I decided to become an environmentalist; she sent me to school to be a doctor,” said Jackson. “Today she can make as compelling an argument about stream buffers as I can. Today, my mother is an environmentalist, whether she knows it or not.”

Princeton President Shirley Tilghman introduced Jackson and commended the Princeton graduate for her work for environmental justice.

“Lisa Jackson was and is committed to reaching out to what she describes as communities of color, communities that might be poor, that otherwise are disadvantaged or that otherwise haven’t had a seat at the environmental table.”

Tilghman said she wasn’t surprised to see the large number of students in the audience.

“If there is a single issue that galvanizes students of this generation, it is issues surrounding the environment,” said Tilghman.

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