Sunday, October 4, 2015

Look Who's Talking

October 4, 2015 – Business is at long last throwing its weight around on behalf of the climate.  Progress toward mitigating climate change has been a nearly nonexistent process, occurring at nowhere close to the scale it needs to happen.  Governments bewail the fact they have too many constituents to keep happy, while business has wrung its hands over the cost of switching to renewable energy.  Meantime, this weekend alone has seen over 100 people buried in a landslide in Guatemala, 17 killed by flash flooding on the French Riviera, and unknown numbers of missing or dead in South Carolina as a result of torrential rain associated with Hurricane Joaquin.

Corporations haven’t exactly broken any records in their rush to speak out, but ten companies came forward on October 1 with a letter to American and world leaders.
The chief executive officers of these firms are pledging to accelerate actions that will mitigate climate change, and are urging word leaders to do the same with an airtight international agreement this December in Paris at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, abbreviated as COP21.  More than 190 nations will attend yet another attempt at keeping global warming below 2 degrees centigrade (4 degrees Fahrenheit).

Issuance of the letter took place at a bipartisan, bicameral briefing on climate change in Washington, D.C.   The briefing was sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat from Rhode Island, and Rep. Chris Gibson, Republican of New York.  Six chief executives of the ten companies involved (Mars, General Mills, Unilever, Kellogg, Nestle, New Belgium Brewing, Ben & Jerry’s, Clif Bar, Stonyfield Farm and Dannon) were present.  Ken Powell, CEO of General Mills, was quoted as saying, ‘To reduce emission levels, we must work across our collective value chains with growers, suppliers, customers, peer companies, government leaders, and industry partners.”

The rate of increase in crop yields is slowing.  This is especially true for wheat, which is sensitive to changes in heat.  By 2030, heat will have slowed crop production in both arid and non-arid regions of the world.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found that climate change has already caused declining food supplies, and is contributing to price spikes and social unrest in various parts of the world, most notably Syria.

Mars, Unilever, and Nestle have each pledged to achieve 100 percent renewable energy during all phases of production.  In addition, Mars recently invested in a 211-megawatt wind farm in Texas.  Unilever has set a goal of halving its greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.  Nestle has already reduced 2005 greenhouse gas emissions by 35 percent.  

Let’s hope their influence is as far-reaching as it needs to be.

With thanks to Ceres (

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Land of the Rising Sea

Sept. 26, 2015 - Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan, pushed a bill through the lower house of  Parliament last week which authorizes expansion of the military in Japan.  Japan was shorn of its military subsequent to World War II and today, the move is not a popular one amongst the Japanese.  They have grown unaccustomed to bearing responsibility for a well-armed military.  It will cost Japan a lot of money, for one thing.  In addition, the island nation is not well known for friendly relations with its neighbors.  The United States, however, supports the move, since it can ill afford to continue in its post-war role as world policeman.  Help from an ally would be very welcome.

Japan’s primary motivation is China’s growing military.  The actual building of islands in the South China Sea has disturbed all of China’s neighbors, with good reason.  It would appear their purpose in creating the islands could well be an aggressive one.  It bears pointing out that North Korea is, at best, an unstable neighbor, and that there is no love lost between South Korea and Japan.

In my opinion, there are two other reasons to be taken into account vis a vis Japan’s remilitarization.    One would be the fact, already stated, that Japan is an island nation.  We know from reports issued by various government and scientific agencies that islands will suffer enormously because of rising sea level.  There are already a few that have, to all effects, disappeared, necessitating the relocation of their populations.  Far more of this kind of tragedy lies ahead.  Does sea level rise threaten Japan?  Let’s take a look.

In the Japan Times issue of July 12, 2014, author Elena Johansson tells us that a one- meter rise in sea level could cause catastrophic beach erosion for the half of the Japanese population that lives along the coast.  Combined with the winds and rain associated with typhoons – there’s been a very active typhoon season this year – the encroachment of salt water could be life threatening.  Given that more than one meter is now the expected sea level rise, island life does not hold out great promise.

The other reason for Japan’s remilitarization might have to do with the Fukushima nuclear disaster.  While decontamination moves forward in the 105 municipalities affected, the nature and extent of the work make its completion widely subject to question.  Furthermore, the cost of making the hundreds of square miles of land impacted livable again, if we are honest with ourselves, may never be known.  Seventy-nine thousand people have had to be relocated.

Can a tiny nation with a population of 127 million make do without hundreds of square miles of land over the long term?  Is it possible that, between the land lost to salt water incursion and the land lost to nuclear contamination, Japan may need more land, or even an entirely new place to live? Will they go about seeking a new homeland through the auspices of the United Nations?  Or will they simply take matters into their own hands?  With the reactivation of the Japanese military, there’s a lot to consider.

With thanks to the New York Times, Japan Times,  Los Angeles Times, and Wikipedia

Monday, September 14, 2015

Too Little, Too Late

September 14, 2015 - The news just isn't getting any better, is it?  Heroic people all over the world are working very hard to keep climate change from reaching the tipping point, but governments continue down the same road they've been following for decades.  Sadly, their inertia means the bill that's coming due just keeps getting bigger.  And oh! how badly they and their super-wealthy citizens don't want to pay it.  That's ok.  This bill collector is never turned down.  It will all work out in due course.  After all, it's only humankind that may face extinction.

Actually, I do believe there will be survivors.  I don't mean that in the sense of "me and my family have this all figured out."  I mean that in the sense that the odds favor it.  Somebody, somewhere, will get through this.  Maybe a lot of somebodies.  Humanity's chance to influence a more favorable outcome is just about over, however.  Much as we human beings love to believe we're in control, we have utterly sacrificed whatever control we might have had.  For money, it would seem.

None of which means we should give up.  What we have is so wonderful, we must fight for it as long as we're able.  We know so little, it would be an awful mistake to assume that we know exactly how things will turn out.  We don't, although the brains G-d gave us have allowed us an at least partial view of the future. If it looks like the present, we're in a world of hurt.

Having moved West, I am particularly sensitive to the vagaries of wildfire.  Mixed with drought and wind, both of which are in plentiful supply, particularly east of the Cascades here in the Pacific Northwest, the situation quickly becomes dire.  California continues to be in the worst shape, with hundreds of homes now having been immolated.  Loss of life, due to the unflagging efforts of fire fighters, thus far stands at only one person.  Remarkable.

The typhoon (a hurricane that occurs in the western Pacific) season got off to a quick start, producing some of the strongest storms on record this year.  To date, there have been 27 tropical storms, including 19 named typhoons, of which 6 have been super typhoons.  Last week,  Japan was inundated with rain caused by a tropical storm.  Three million people were evacuated!  Insult has been added to injury with the eruption of Mount Aso today.

The leading climate change story this year concerns NOAA's prediction of dramatic sea level rise during the coming century.  Sea level rise, due to the melting of west Antarctica's ice and Greenland's glaciers, has been predicted before, but never so much so quickly.  The reason for NOAA's report was to urge immediate action.  That is certainly what is needed on all fronts.  We've run out of time.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Washington El Nino

July 27, 2015 - It's great to be sitting in my very own office, and writing to you from Washington state. We've been here for 3 months now, and feel very much as though we've wound up in paradise.  The views of Mt. St. Helen's, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood are spectacular, the Columbia River Gorge is incomparable, and Portland is a very fun town, albeit one that suffers from horrible traffic.  We're feeling very blessed these days, and humbled by our good fortune.

The weather here is quite different from what much of the country has endured.  Unlike the rain which has flooded so much of the middle and the south of the country, Washington is in the midst of a drought, along with Oregon and California, of course.  While our situation is nothing like California's, which is dire, there have been a number of wildfires this summer.  Farmers are getting by using irrigation, and the fruit crops look abundant to my inexperienced eyes.  I, for the first time, am the proud owner of 2 fruit trees, an apple and a pear.  The apple tree is pollinated by the extravagant number of apple trees in the area, and the pear tree is self-pollinating.  A Bartlett pear branch was grafted onto an Asian pear tree.

Our house was previously owned by non-gardeners, who did nothing in the way of pruning.  As a result, the fruit trees are tall and skinny, although they have a fair amount of fruit hanging from the branches.  A visiting garden consultant informs me I'll need to cut them in half, and cut back the branches., in order to encourage further branching.  With any luck, we have a lot of apple pies and fruit salad to look forward to.

It's funny about the sun way up north: it has a very direct feeling to it.  (When I say "way up north," I mean that we are as far north as the northern half of Maine - and Montreal.)  I notice that some of my bushes look a little sun-burned!  Generally, however, whatever you stick in the ground grows very well.  Roses especially like moisture and sun, and I have a number looking beautiful in my backyard.  I'll do a lot of experimenting in the coming years, and hope to learn a lot.

What about the impending El Nino?  Forecasts are for a warmer, slightly drier winter than usual.  I'm hoping the "slightly drier" part is true; we'll definitely be in need of precipitation by the winter, so "slightly" would be a good thing.  It seems like elsewhere in the country, the sporadic weather phenomenon may have already arrived.  Of course, our current drought may also be a part  of the bigger, El Nino picture.

How has the weather impacted you where you live?  Has it become increasingly volatile?  How so?  I'd love to hear from readers about the changes you're observing.  Thanks for your input.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Defense Department Leads the Way

April 8, 2015 - As petro-profit continues its downward spiral, investors are seeking out The Next Big Thing.  More and more of them say the future belongs to solar energy.  Companies like Tesla, Google, and Apple are investing in solar.  In fact, Tesla will soon announce the release of a "home battery" that will help store power generated by rooftop solar panels.  While there's a part of me that questions how well solar will work in a warming world, where warm air that holds more moisture will create more thunderstorms, I'm pleased that Americans are finally looking beyond fossil fuel.

Oddly enough, the word "Americans" now includes American conservatives.  Though they may not always feel free to spell out their support, they come pretty close in places like Florida, where Floridians for Solar Choice welcomes members from both the tea party and the Christian Coalition, as well as liberals, environmentalists and retailers.  More and more of us seem to be able to read the writing on the wall: fossil fuels' days are numbered.  This realization could go a long way in creating the political will necessary in order to do what must be done.

Speaking of investment, the numbers are out, and they tell a pretty convincing story: $270 billion was invested in renewable energy in 2014, 20% more than in 2013.  With time being of the essence, that rate of increase needs to continue to grow.  President Obama is aware of the need for very fast growth in the solar industry, and is making the most of turning this need into an opportunity.  He recently announced the inauguration of the "Solar Ready Vets" initiative.  With jobs in the solar industry being added at ten times the pace of the rest of the economy, the timing couldn't be better.  Veterans will be trained at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, along with nine other bases around the country.  The President's goal is to have 75,000  workers trained by 2020.  A significant number of them will be veterans.

Meantime, those residents of Florida I mentioned are rejoicing, and with good cause.  Duke Energy Florida has announced a major solar power project, which home- and business owners have clamored for.  Over the next ten years, Duke will build 500 megawatts of solar power, twice the state's current capacity.  Construction is slated to begin by the end of this year.  Improved energy storage technology  (i.e., batteries) contributed to Duke's decision.

Because Florida ("the Sunshine State") hasn't given much thought at all to solar power until recently, it has fallen behind other Southern states like North Carolina and Georgia.  New Jersey is also regarded as a leader in the utilization of energy from the sun.  Now that someone has finally picked up the ball, the game may soon include Gulf Power, the state's smallest investor-owned utility.  They have proposed building 120 megawatts of utility-scale power at Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach, Holley Field in Navarre, and Saufley Field in Pensacola.  This proposal is part of a joint effort among Gulf Power, the Navy, the Air Force and Heliosage, the project's developer.  The U.S. Dept. of Defense has a goal of of 25 percent renewable energy at all its facilities by the year 2025.

We're a day late and a dollar short, but at least we're in the game.

Thanks to the Tampa Bay Times, the St. George News, and New York Magazine.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

One Very Small Step for Humankind

March 25, 2015 - I recall, back in the early 1970's, the constant stream of news stories telling Americans that virtually every new product recently developed contained something that caused cancer.  Honestly, it was hard to know what to do with the information.  I think because there were so many stories - several a week, it seemed like - there was also a lot of skepticism.  All these years later, I will confess we should have demanded that the products be pulled from the shelves.  We didn't, and now we pay the price with our own lives, and the lives of our children and grandchildren.

I volunteer at the elementary school's library.  The librarian, incredibly competent and caring, is also the mother of two daughters.  Her younger child has had to be treated twice for leukemia.  The second go-round was caused by the first; yes, that's what I'm saying - the chemotherapy caused her to contract leukemia for a second time.  In all likelihood, chemicals in the environment gave it to her the first time.  Chemicals deliberately fed into her bloodstream to fight the cancer gave it to her the second time.  Miraculously, she is still with us and, for the time being, she is cancer free.  She will always be short, because the chemo has stunted her growth.  Never mind; she is bright and beautiful.

Now we are told by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), that glyphosate, a.k.a. Roundup, "probably causes cancer in human beings."  You know that Monsanto makes Roundup.  Other companies also make products containing glyphosate as the active ingredient.  Not quite so well known is that weeds have become Roundup-resistant; some farmers' fields contain weeds half of which - that's 50% - are resistant to Roundup.

Here's the part where, if you have any sense, you should be very scared: because of this resistance, more and more Roundup is being used.  Since 1996, more than 500 million pounds in addition to what was originally called for has been used in the United States.  In 2013, Monsanto requested and received approval from the EPA for increased tolerance levels IN HUMAN BEINGS for glyphosate.  In the case of Dow Chemical, super weeds will be targeted with seeds branded Enlist, which can tolerate the use of a glyphosate/2,4-D [Agent Orange] mixture.  To put it in simplest terms, there is no end in sight.

Too young to remember Agent Orange?  Allow me to explain.  Agent Orange was used on a spectacular scale as a defoliant during the Vietnam War.  Causing trees to lose their leaves ostensibly permitted the Air Force to more easily pick out and kill the Viet Cong, as North Vietnamese soldiers were called.  Decades later, men who had served in Vietnam began dying of cancers caused by the individual's exposure to Agent Orange.  Our neighbor in North Carolina died a hideously painful death from brain cancer caused by Agent Orange.

If it is not yet clear to you, then let's state it for the record: manufacturers of products containing glyphosate and 2,4-D don't give a rat's ass if you die of cancer.  They don't give a rat's ass if members of their own families die of cancer.  By that, I mean specifically their own children.  THEY DON'T CARE.  Do no expect them to care.  The only way they will care is if they cease to make obscene amounts of money by selling these products.  Join the Pesticide Action Network, and tell the EPA to stop working hand-in-hand with companies like Monsanto and Dow Chemical.  And for the love of God, eat organic foods.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Noose Tightens

CORRECTION:  I failed to mention in my last article that Australia sells and sends a great deal of coal to China every year.  My oversight – sorry!

February 24, 2015 – It’s been 43 years since the Club of Rome commissioned scientists at MIT to conduct research into the likelihood of civilization collapse.  Their results were published in a book titled The Limits to Growth.  Its primary focus was the finiteness of our planet, and its inability to support never-ending population growth and resource depletion.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne recently decided to examine the accuracy of Limit’s predictions.  Dr. Graham Turner used data provided by both the United Nations and the United States, specifically the UN’s department of economic and social affairs, Unesco, the UN’s food and agriculture organization, the UN statistical yearbook, and the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

What he and his research team learned is that, in keeping with the book’s many forecasts, resources are being depleted too rapidly, pollution is increasing at an unsustainable rate, and population – despite heroic efforts to the contrary – continues to rise.  Because resources have now reached peak output, industrial production is expected to start falling right about now.  Because chemical inputs used to enhance agricultural output will also begin their decline, food production is expected to decrease in the coming years.

Health and educational services are already in decline, which will persist and increase.  As a result, the death rate will start to rise in about the year 2020.  Global population will begin its plunge around 2030, at half a billion people per decade.  All of the aforementioned will lead to living conditions last seen in the early 1900s, no later than the year 2100.

Some maintain that decline has already started.  The global financial crisis (GFC) of 2007-08 and the very slow rate of recovery from it may turn out to have been a harbinger of things to come.  Peak oil production can only serve to exacerbate an untenable situation like that described.  Even the conservative International Energy Agency has warned that peak oil is upon us. 

With thanks to The Guardian online.