December 30, 2011

We Are Farmers, We Grow Food For People

Farmers speak at Occupy Wall Street about the importance of family farms and concerns about the lack of control over big corporate farming and wanting true democracy in action.

December 29, 2011

PBS Special on Extreme Weather and Climate Change

PBS deserves a special mention for producing a segment looking at how global warming is influencing extreme weather events. Jeff Masters, co-founder of the Weather Underground, explained : 

In one year, we had three of the most remarkable extreme weather events in history of the U.S.
I mean, we talk about the Dust Bowl summer of 1936. Well, this summer pretty much matched that for temperature, almost the hottest summer in U.S. history. We also talk about the great 1974 tornado outbreak. Well, we had an outbreak that more than doubled the total of tornadoes we had during that iconic outbreak. And, also, we talk about the great 1927 flood on the Mississippi River. Well, the flood heights were even higher than that flood this year.

So, it just boggles my mind that we had three extreme weather events that matched those events in U.S. history.

December 21, 2011

Faith on the Front Lines of Climate Change

Faith groups are playing an increasingly important role in raising awareness about climate change and other environmental issues. From the Keystone XL pipeline to the Durban climate talks, people of faith are are putting themselves in the middle of the action and encouraging citizens and policy makers to be better stewards of the earth.
Below is an interview with Joelle Novey, executive director of Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light, a faith-based group that works with hundreds of congregations to bring religious values to environmental issues. Sally Steenland, director of the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress, spoke with Novey about their role in building a national religious response to the climate crisis.
This is an abridged version of the interview. You can find the full interview and listen to an audio version at the Center for American Progress website.
Sally Steenland: Your organization, Greater Washington Interfaith Power & Light, was recently involved in the protest against the Keystone XL pipeline. What did you do? And why do you oppose the pipeline?
Joelle Novey: Interfaith Power & Light is working with over 14,000 congregations across the country to respond to the climate crisis, and our entire network was very involved in speaking out against the Keystone XL pipeline, especially some of our colleagues in pipeline states like Texas, Kansas, and Nebraska.
We oppose the Keystone XL pipeline first of all because it would bring the dirtiest oil, extracted from the Canadian tar sands, over more than 1,500 miles and six states, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, endangering aquifers from which many Americans get their drinking water. The extraction of this oil is very intensive on the climate, even more so than regular oil extraction. Climate scientist James Hansen has said that the full exploitation of these unconventional fossil fuels, like tar sands oil, would mean "game over" for the climate. So we were very concerned for these reasons.
But there was also a kind of reckoning that needed to happen. The president said in his 2008 campaign that this would be the generation that turned away from fossil fuels—and his administration could make the decision about Keystone without congressional help. Not only was it looking like the pipeline would be approved, but the president hadn't used the word "climate" in a speech in several years. So there was a need to ask, "Are we as nation going to reconcile with the climate crisis?"
We engaged with our congregation on several fronts. A number of our religious leaders made the decision to risk arrest in front of the White House as part of the arrests of about 1,200 Americans that took place in late August and early September. We turned out for several rallies. I spoke at one and quoted the prophet Isaiah when he asks, "Is this the fast I desire?" I asked, "Is this the pipeline God desires of us?" We do need pipelines to connect us with each other. We need pipelines of solidarity, we need pipelines of compassion, we need pipelines of ingenuity, but I suspect that this is not the pipeline God desires of us.
We sent hundreds of comment cards to the State Department, signed by people who had the opportunity after services at their congregations to visit the card tables set up by our green team leaders. I had the honor of delivering a big stack of those postcards with a big thud to the State Department when I gave my testimony at the D.C. State Department hearings. I testified against the pipeline on Yom Kippur, a very sacred day in the Jewish tradition, which is my tradition. That night at sundown begins the holiest night when we cut to the chase and get honest with ourselves about how we can be better people, and whether our lives are on the right path.
I asked the State Department at the hearing, "It seems to me this is a Yom Kippur moment—we either have a choice to invest more and more in fossil fuels and continue to lead the climate over very dangerous tipping points, or to turn back and to say, this isn't our future, this isn't life giving, this isn't fair, this isn't thoughtful of future generations—it's shortsighted." Then we had a large rally outside the State Department where again there was a strong faith contingent.
SS: I want to play devil's advocate for a moment and give you some arguments from those opposed to your efforts. For instance, some labor unions say, "You're taking jobs away from Americans at a time when the economy is in crisis." Another argument is that the pipeline's going to get built anyway, and the oil will be sold to China if we don't buy it. We can get oil from our friendly neighbor to the north, Canada, or from Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. What do you say to that?
JN: The damage to our climate that would be caused by continuing to put greenhouse gases in our atmosphere is irreparable. We don't know exactly when we'll hit that point of no return. But the idea that a few thousand jobs is worth permanently destroying the climate on the only earth we've ever lived on doesn't make any sense. Of course people need good, honest, living work. But all of us are human beings who live on earth and in the face of catastrophic, unprecedented, irreparable damage to the climate, any short-term considerations pale in comparison.
I said to the State Department in my testimony, "Every single one of you is also a human being who lives on earth, and based on that, this should be our common ground in this conversation." I know that people need jobs. We have to figure out a way to employ people in an honorable way that doesn't insist they also permanently destroy the planet that their grandchildren have to live on. It seems like a real poverty of imagination to say they have to choose that.
As for the question of "if we do the right thing, won't other countries do the wrong thing?" my understanding is that the United States is a major market for this oil, and stopping the pipeline will address the development of the tar sands. But more importantly, there is no other area of life where people say, "I want everyone else to stop doing that wrong thing first, and then I'll do the right thing." For instance, we don't say, "I'm not going to stop stealing until every other person in my city isn't stealing." Yet you hear that argument around our responsibility as a nation regarding climate change all the time. People say, "Why should we do right by our neighbors, why should we think of future generations, why should we have good policies on climate if China or India are not yet doing the right thing?" That's not a moral argument we would accept in any other sphere of life. I want my country to do the right thing. I hope that caring people in China will also ask their government to do the right thing, but that to me is neither here nor there. I want to ask my country to be a leader in doing the right thing on climate, regardless of how other people are behaving.
SS: People talk about "American exceptionalism" and how we're a moral leader to the world—except when it comes to this. It's an intermittent standard of morality.
JN: Reverend Mari Castellanos from the United Church of Christ also testified against the pipeline at the State Department hearings, and she said that we think of ourselves as high moral-ground people. But if we build this pipeline, we're going to have to think differently about ourselves. That's a real cost we'll pay.
SS: Are there particular challenges or benefits to interfaith collaboration?
JN: One of the challenges of the climate crisis is that we're not going to be able to solve it unless we all work together. But one of the blessings is that it really calls our bluff about what makes us similar and what makes us different. We will only be able to solve this problem if we recognize that our common humanity and common commitment to this planet are more important than any of the divisions and identities that may have gotten in our way in the past. So I see working on an interfaith basis as an incredible opportunity that the very difficult problem of climate change presents us with.
I've seen in my work that every congregation of every faith tradition has at least one person who feels like the "green sheep" in their community. They believe deeply in the importance of bringing the issues up in their community, are passionate about finding connections and taking action, but often feel a bit lonely. They sometimes don't have the support of the clergy or the ear of fellow congregants. The value of this work is bringing together the green sheep from the Presbyterian Church and the green sheep from the mosque and the green sheep from the synagogue, all of whom have a lot in common. They share similar struggles and can inspire each other.
Almost everybody drinks coffee after services, and almost everybody used to use Styrofoam cups. It's finding ways to gather in fellowship with less waste. We have a listserv where green leaders from congregations can ask each other questions and share encouragement and resources. For instance, lots of congregations have boilers in the basement that need to be replaced and could be more efficient. Lots of congregations have land that could be gardened and used to grow vegetables. In the end there's wonderful interfaith cooperation that takes place though our work—not dialogue for the sake of dialogue, but conversation for the sake of solving a problem together. It's beautiful to see.
SS: How do you link this interfaith collaboration and action to mainstream environmental groups? Are you embedded in any kind of intrinsic way, or is it a more informal collaboration?
JN: In the D.C. area I've been very grateful that we are a welcomed and central part of several different coalitions working on advocacy goals together. Our unique role in these campaigns is that we can bring in people who would not be hearing from them otherwise. When people hear messages about the environment in their faith community they listen differently. They see the issue more as moral and a matter of right and wrong. We bring new people to this work who would not have heard these messages in any other setting.
I also believe that when people come to these coalitions and speak from a deeply moral, spiritual place about why they support cleaner energy and are opposed to coal-fired power, they get heard differently. It transforms environmental coalitions when there are powerful, articulate faith voices that speak from a moral perspective. It also gets political attention in a way sometimes that the mainstream
environmental groups cannot. So I deeply, deeply believe in the unique value of what we're doing. We are bringing people to the work and also transforming how that movement is heard when we speak.
SS: One component of the Christian community is white evangelicals. Polling shows that they are more skeptical of climate change than mainline denominations such as Presbyterians or Episcopalians. What's your experience? Do you see a generational divide among evangelicals?
JN: I've had the pleasure of working with a number of organizations that are leading the way within the evangelical community. I make great use of a book called Climate for Change by Katharine Hayhoe, who is an IPCC Scientist at Texas Tech University in Lubbock and is married to an evangelical pastor. Her book does a beautiful job of explaining the science and also contextualizing it within her Christian theology.
I have also done a lot of wonderful work with the Evangelical Environmental Network and have been extremely impressed with the clarity of their vision and their very strong message about calling their community to take seriously what it means to be "pro-life," which the community strongly understands itself to be. They've pushed to say, "Shouldn't we support EPA mercury regulations that would protect unborn children from mercury pollution? Isn't that also what it means to be pro-life?" They've used the very language and self-understanding of their own community to push in the direction of being supportive of environmental legislation and positions.
There's been some great work done by a group called Blessed Earth with Dr. Matthew Sleeth and his wife Nancy Sleeth. They're doing a number of programs here at the National Cathedral in the coming months. These are all voices from within the evangelical-Christian world that are standing up and saying that for us to live out our tradition and really take Christianity seriously, we have to care for God's creation. From everything they tell me, especially among the next generation, that message is resonating.
SS: It seems to be resonating in a global way in terms of poor communities that will be disproportionately affected.
JN: Reverend Jim Ball from the Evangelical Environmental Network wrote a book called Climate Change and the Risen Lord, where he talks about the impact climate change is having on communities around the world. A lot of evangelical communities in the United States have strong ties with missionaries in Africa and countries who are seeing the impact of climate change firsthand. Missionaries are saying, "You need to pay attention to this because I'm seeing our cause suffering." It's very powerful.
SS: All of this sounds very hopeful and authentic, especially on a community level. So how did climate change become such a disputed partisan issue, instead of simply a matter of science?
JN: I can't speak to how it got that way, but I can tell you that talking about climate change in congregations is uniquely effective for a few reasons. One, when people are in their congregations, they are listening with their moral ears. It's the place they come to think about taking their own values seriously and pushing themselves and their communities to live out those values. It's the place they come to think about right and wrong. So when you have a conversation about climate change in someone's faith community, they hear that as a conversation about how to do right in the world. I deeply believe in the value of simply having these conversations in the buildings where we pray—that by itself is extremely transformative.
Secondly, people have a lot of feelings about climate science. I warn people when I'm showing them a graph of global average temperature for the last 150 years. Not too many graphs evoke a lot of feelings. But when people hear about climate science they have feelings, and sometimes when we try to have a conversations about the science in a setting where these feelings aren't acknowledged or named, people feel overwhelmed and defensive. They shut down. Some of the denial comes from people having a hard time about how they'd have to understand the world differently if the science were true.
So when I speak about climate in a faith setting, that's already the place people come to celebrate, to pray, to grieve, so this is already a setting where it's ok to talk about feelings. I warn people before I take out my slides. I say, "My experience is that people have feelings about this stuff, and I do too. When I talk about climate science, you might feel like you don't want to be here. You'll want to think about something else, or think this woman isn't a scientist, I want to see some footnotes. Or you'll think there must be something on the internet that will debunk everything I'm going to tell you." I invite them to acknowledge that and try to keep listening anyway. By saying that in advance and then checking in during the presentation, I find that that's extremely helpful for having a productive conversation.
Climate science challenges our theologies. Everyone has a theology, which is simply our idea about how the universe works and our role in it. By suggesting that maybe we have some role in the weather and might actually be changing how the earth works in a way that will change the kind of world our grandchildren will live in, in a way our ancestors who wrote the Bible couldn't have imagined – that's unsettling, scary stuff. The more we can acknowledge that people are deeply threatened by this information and be whole and honest in our broken-heartedness together, that's the way to have a real conversation about climate science.
SS: To that I say, Amen. Thank you.
JN: Thank you.
Sally Steenland is Director of the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress. For more on this initiative, please see its project page.

Energy Market Forecast

Black & Veatch has produced a report showing that coal fired electricity generating capacity will decline from 45% to 15% of total generating capacity by 2036.

They show renewables (mainly wind) going from 4% to 9% of available capacity in that timeframe, basically tripling in absolute capacity.

EPA - Protecting our health

by Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

From historic efforts to cut pollution from American automobiles to strong measures to prevent power plant pollution from crossing state lines, 2011 was already a banner year for clean air and the health of the American people. And the EPA is closing out the year with our biggest clean air protection yet.

Last week, we finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, or MATS, a rule that will protect millions of families and, especially, children from air pollution. Before this rule, there were no national standards that limited the amount of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases power plants across the country could release into the air we breathe. Mercury is a neurotoxin that is particularly harmful to children, and emissions of mercury and other air toxics have been linked to damage to developing nervous systems, respiratory illnesses and other diseases. MATS will require power plants to install emissions controls that will also reduce particle pollution, which has been linked to premature death and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

As a result, MATS will provide between $37 billion and $90 billion in health benefits for the American people. Once the rule is fully implemented in 2016, it will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 cases of aggravated asthma among children between six and 18 years old.

That last point is especially significant to me as a mother. I understand the importance of MATS in very profound ways, because both of my sons have struggled with asthma. Fifteen years ago, my youngest son spent his first Christmas in the hospital fighting to breathe. Like any parent of a child with asthma, I can tell you that the benefits of clean air protections like MATS are not just statistics and abstract concepts.

What we’re really talking about with all those numbers above are pregnant mothers who can rest a little easier knowing their children won’t be exposed to harmful levels of mercury in critical development stages. We are talking about reducing the levels of mercury in the fish that we and our kids eat every day. We are talking about future generations growing up healthier because there is less toxic pollution in the air they breathe.

Find out how MATS will protect health in your state.

What we’re also talking about with MATS are thousands of new opportunities for American workers. Not only will MATS provide health benefits that far outweigh the costs of compliance, it will also support jobs and innovation for our economy.

To meet the MATS standards over the next several years, many power plants will have to upgrade their operations with modern and widely available pollution control technology. There are about 1,100 coal-fired units that are covered by MATS, and about 40 percent do not use advanced pollution controls to limit emissions. Increased demand for scrubbers and other advanced pollution controls will mean increased business for American companies that lead the way in producing pollution control technology.

But that’s just the start. Power plants making upgrades will need workers to build, install, operate and maintain the pollution controls. As the CEO of one of the largest coal-burning utilities in the country recently said about cutting emissions by installing pollution control technology, “Jobs are created in the process – no question about that.” The EPA estimates that the demands for workers will support 46,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 long-term jobs.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will protect millions of families and children from harmful and costly air pollution, provide the American people with health benefits that far outweigh the costs of compliance, and support job creation and innovation that are good for our economy. Families across the country – including my own – will benefit from the simple fact of being able to breathe cleaner air. That is what environmental protection and the work of the EPA is all about.

In this holiday season as we gather with our friends and families, Americans can take pride in the gift of clean air. Our children and future generations will have healthier air to breathe because of MATS and this historic year for clean air protection.

About the author: Lisa P. Jackson is the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency

December 20, 2011

Fukushima - Redefining "Cold Shutdown"

At first glance, the declaration that the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors are now in a state of “cold shutdown” and “stable” sounds like some rare good news from the disaster zone. Not at all. As we all know, first impressions can be deceptive.

The industry definition of “cold shutdown” means that the temperature inside a nuclear reactor has stabilized below 95℃ from the hellish temperatures of the nuclear fission process. In the case of Fukushima, this suggests the crisis is over. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, the Japanese authorities have cheated by redefining  “cold shutdown” to suit the situation at Fukushima. Only operating nuclear reactors can be put into a state of “cold shutdown”. Reactors that have suffered meltdowns – like those at Fukushima – cannot be. The 260 tons of nuclear fuel inside the Fukushima reactors melted and burned through the steel floors of the containment vessels and into the thick concrete under pads. The melted fuel is far from under control. This means the temperature inside the reactor can’t be regulated by conventional means. Nobody at Fukushima actually knows what state this highly radioactive molten fuel is in or what temperature it is at because it’s obviously far too dangerous to go in and find out.
Also, tens of thousands of tons of water that was pumped into the reactors in the attempt to cool them remains inside and is highly radioactive. The authorities have no idea what to do with it. It’s leaking into the environment with some of it reaching the Pacific Ocean. Last week, Fukushima’s operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) had to abandon plans to dump it in the ocean after protests by local fishermen. Right now, there’s nowhere for it to go, other than to leak into the sea and groundwater.
So, we don’t have a “cold shutdown” at Fukushima.
On the eve of the “cold shutdown” announcement last week, undercover reporter Tomohiko Suzuki told a chilling story of conditions for workers at the Fukushima plant.  “Absolutely no progress is being made,” he says. 

My name is Nathan and I have a green job

A new study released this week by Navigant Consulting and prepared for the American Wind Energy Association finds that an expiration of the production tax credit could cause the loss of up to 37,000 jobs.

“It’s pretty cool that I get to do this every day,” says Crawford. “The wind industry has been able to bring me and my wife back close to home.”

But with national political leaders dragging their feet, they threaten these good-paying, middle-class jobs in America’s heartland. That is the true price of inconsistency in the clean energy policy.

Power of Moms

Ayelet Waldman says "My dream is that before Congress considers environmental legislation...  they think to themselves first and foremost 'What are the mothers going to say?'" 

She asks “How dare they poison MY children? How dare they poison YOUR children?”

Light Bulb Manufacturers unhappy with Congress

U.S. light bulb manufacturers are displeased that Republican lawmakers have delayed efforts to introduce more efficient bulbs, a move that was supposed to have taken effect January 1.
Manufacturers like General Electric, Philips, and Osram Sylvania have been planning for four years to meet the new efficiency standards, which would have required incandescent bulbs to be 30 percent more energy-efficient.
But in negotiating a year-end spending bill last week, Republicans in the House of Representatives and Senate included language that blocks the Energy Department from enforcing those rules.
The National Electric Manufacturers Association has been urging lawmakers not to delay enforcement of the new efficiency standards, arguing that light bulb makers have been planning to introduce new, more efficient bulbs since the passage of an energy law in 2007 under President George W. Bush. 

Renewing our Electricity System

Renewing our electricity system creates the ultimate clean energy carrier that will power our passenger cars and light trucks in addition to our buildings. And, thanks to innovation in maturing renewable technologies—like wind turbines and solar photovoltaics—the cost is rapidly becoming competitive with fossil-fuel burning alternatives.

Melting Permafrost - 4 times the footprint of fossil fuels

The latest estimate is that some 18.8 million square kilometres of northern soils hold about 1,700 billion tonnes of organic carbon4 — the remains of plants and animals that have been accumulating in the soil over thousands of years. That is about four times more than all the carbon emitted by human activity in modern times and twice as much as is present in the atmosphere now.

In northern Alaska, Dr. Romanovsky said, permafrost is warming rapidly but is still quite cold. In the central part of the state, much of it is hovering just below the freezing point and may be no more than a decade or two from widespread thawing.

The permafrost carbon thus represents a dangerous amplifying feedback or vicious cycle whereby warming leads to accelerated emissions, which leads to further warming.  

That's especially true since sea ice loss in the Arctic is happening faster than every major climate model projected — and accelerated Arctic warming and permafrost loss was linked to ice loss in a 2008 study by leading tundra experts.

We find that simulated western Arctic land warming trends during rapid sea ice loss are 3.5 times greater than secular 21st century climate-change trends.

A troubling trend has emerged recently: Wildfires are increasing across much of the north, and early research suggests that extensive burning could lead to a more rapid thaw of permafrost.

One day in 2007, on the plain in northern Alaska, a lightning strike set the tundra on fire.
Historically, tundra, a landscape of lichens, mosses and delicate plants, was too damp to burn. But the climate in the area is warming and drying, and fires in both the tundra and forest regions of Alaska are increasing.
The Anaktuvuk River fire burned about 400 square miles of tundra, and work on lake sediments showed that no fire of that scale had occurred in the region in at least 5,000 years.
Scientists have calculated that the fire and its aftermath sent a huge pulse of carbon into the air — as much as would be emitted in two years by a city the size of Miami. Scientists say the fire thawed the upper layer of permafrost and set off what they fear will be permanent shifts in the landscape.

December 16, 2011

Solar News

U.S. solar industry is on a roll, with unprecedented growth in 2011. Solar industry reports a booming third quarter, 140% higher than Q3 2010. - 

CPS Energy to build 400MW solar installation in San Antonio - It has received many bids at prices substantially lower than expected. 

China boosts solar power capacity plan by 50% to 15 GW by 2015! Reuters 

Onion: Global Warming irreversible if no action by 2006

GENEVA—A new report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned Monday that global warming is likely to become completely irreversible if no successful effort is made to slow down the trend before 2006.
Unless greenhouse-gas emissions are drastically reduced by then, the report concludes, it will be too late to avoid inflicting a grave environmental catastrophe upon future generations.
"We have absolutely no time to waste," said Dr. William Tumminelli, lead author of the report, which stresses it is utterly crucial the world cut its carbon footprint in half by the year 2000. "If we wait until 1998 or even 1995 to really start doing something about climate change, our planet's rising temperature will already have set in motion a series of devastating and irreparable long-term consequences. We need to have strict international rules in place well ahead of 2006 or, to be blunt, many of the earth's inhabitants will be doomed."
"I think the report is a bit reactionary, and perhaps even politically motivated." said Arthur Bainbridge, a climate policy specialist based in Washington. "Plenty of alternative models have estimated 2008 or even 2010 as the absolute point of no return."

From the Onion - A little climate humor