Monday, October 31, 2011

Three Climate Events in DC This Week

Quick heads up about some cool climate & conservation events in DC coming up in the next week:

New Movie to Poochify "The Lorax," Rid Story of Downer Moral Lessons?

Remember that Easter Bunny from the Illumination Entertainment movie Hop that crapped jelly beans? If that bunny ate a copy of the book The Lorax, Illumination Entertainment's new film based on adapted from vaguely inspired by the Dr. Seuss classic might be what would come out the other end.

Grist's David Roberts reviews The Lorax trailer, predicting "movie to insult all that is good, holy." The new story seems to make the destruction of the area's ecosystem less of a devastating man-made catastrophe of choice and more of a minor inconvenience that can be exploited to score with treehugging babes. As for The Lorax himself, he seems to be Poochified - less wise than wise-cracking, a punchline also ready to punch out anyone who disagrees with him.

Considering you can buy the book for less than the price of a movie ticket, seems like you should skip the film and re-read The Lorax instead.

And if you really want to embrace the book's moral - "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." - RSVP for the Tar Sands Action at the White House on Sunday.

UPDATE 2/23: It just keeps getting worse - as Mother Jones' Kate Sheppard reports, the Lorax is now a spokesman for an SUV.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Yes Scott Brown, a Border Fence is a Conservation Issue

Fighting cubsThe League of Conservation Voters came out with a new ad last week pointing out that since Sen. Scott Brown (D-MA) arrived in Washington, Sen. Brown seems a lot more concerned with making his new polluter lobbyist friends happy than protecting wildlife and public health. Sen. Brown's re-election campaign responded in part, "The LCV Includes Non-Environmental Votes Taken By Senator Brown, Including His Support For A Border Fence".

Look, if you want to argue a border fence is necessary from a national security perspective, that's fine. You have to explain why it's worth spending $4 million per mile for a fence that can be easily scaled in less than 20 seconds by young women, and maybe deal with the Herman Cain let's kill the Mexicans perspective, but the root concern around national security is valid.

But you can't say a border fence isn't a conservation issue. Wildlife have not spent eons building their seasonal migration patterns around 2011's geopolitical concerns. As Defenders of Wildlife explains, a border fence cuts right through the commuting routes of dozens of species:
Many imperiled species depend upon borderland habitat for their continued existence. In Arizona alone, the Border Patrol estimates that 39 species protected or proposed to be protected under the Endangered Species Act are already being affected by its operations.

Much of this country’s most spectacular wildlife, including jaguars, ocelots, wolves, and hundreds of bird species depend upon protected public lands along the border for migration corridors between countries.
If Scott Brown is trying to refute the League of Conservation Voters' charge that he doesn't care about conservation issues, showing complete ignorance of the conservation issues surrounding a border fence probably isn't the best way to do it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

New LCV Ad: Scott Brown Thinks Washington is Wicked Awesome

This League of Conservation Voters ad is brilliant because I don't think Sen. Scott Brown came to Washington planning to vote against conservation every single time ... but well, it just makes life so much easier to be able to ask the polluting billionaire Koch brothers to write you huge checks, you know? And when you vote against the public health protections, all the lobbyists are so much friendlier! You get taken to lunch at The Palm all the time.

So will Sen. Brown vote to continue multi-billion-dollar handouts to Big Oil? Tell him to take a stand for Massachusetts for once. That way when he loses to Elizabeth Warren, at least he can't say you didn't warn him.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

BBC: "The Disappearing Island in the Chesapeake Bay"

Virginia's Tangier Island was first settled 325 years ago. But as the BBC reports, thanks to a combination of a  Chesapeake Bay polluted by unchecked runoff, rising sea levels fueled by global warming, an eroding shoreline fueled by natural subsidence, Tangier Island is slowly disappearing into the Bay:

Learn in the National Wildlife Federation's 2008 report on the Chesapeake Bay & sea level rise.

The 1% Would Like You To Know It Disdains Your "Car-Free Day"

Asshole parking in BaltimoreA letter to the editor in the local Arlington Sun-Gazette begins by declaring "the concept of a world 'car-free day' truly odd," pooh-poohing public transportation and singing the virtues of the car. But the author then gets down to brass tacks:
In fairness, I should mention that I own three cars. One also provides me with a major source of social fun because I belong to a car club that requires you must own that make of car to belong.

Some of my favorite things to do are to take a Sunday early-morning drive in the country or to participate in rallies or social events with like-minded people. It would be difficult for me to imagine a bus- or Metro-owners club.
Oh, do you not own three cars? How unfortunate for you. And why would you choose a form of transportation that does not facilitate lunch at the country club with like-minded people? I mean, the Kennedy Center grows weary after a time, don't you find?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The iPod of Thermostats?

Yeah, sure, saves tons of energy, learns what you temperature you like it & automatically adjusts, yadda yadda yadda. But wait ... being able to turn the heat up on a cold winter night from your smartphone without having to get up from under your blanket?? That's change I can believe in!

Check out the Nest thermostat, created by the same guy who invented the iPod & expected to hit the market next month for $250:

Via Grist

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Designs of DC's Downtown Public Parks Discourage Public from Using Parks

Matt Yglesias often makes the case that, in a city where building height limits put a huge premium on ground space, some of DC's parks could be put to better use as homes & businesses:
New York City doesn’t have this problem, but Washington, DC and some other American cities really do seem to me to be plagued with excessive useless parkland. If you had a park featuring a playground no kids were ever on, or a basketball court that was never in use, people would be asking “what went wrong here?” That’s not to say that every park should have a playground. But every park should be used for something. If there’s not going to be any regular programming on your patch of publicly owned land, it makes more sense to sell it and let people put up buildings. Do an unusually wide sidewalk to make room for some extra trees and benches if you need extra trees and benches.

That’s not to say we should pave all the parks. But we should be thinking of something to actually do with them. Cities are full of people, and most of the country doesn’t have Southern California weather. There’s limited practical demand for just sitting around outside.
It's a short post, but Matt conflates two distinct questions:
  • What are DC's downtown public parks set up to do?
  • What's the optimal set-up for a downtown public park?
DC's downtown parks, managed by the National Park service, seem to be set up with three goals in mind:
  1. Appeal to a tourist's impression of what a park in DC would look like (majestic statues! pigeons!)
  2. Minimize cost of park management
  3. Minimize the utility of the park to DC's homeless population
I worked across the street from DC's Franklin Park for a year and while it was nice to look out at the trees in the summer, I never went there for a coffee break or to eat lunch. It just wasn't designed for that.

Post Office SquareBy contrast, I visited Boston's new Post Office Square Park for an event this summer and was stunned at how well it met the needs of the park's neighbors:
As of 2009 the square is almost entirely occupied by a privately-owned and -managed but publicly-accessible park, Norman B. Leventhal Park, named for the Boston building manager and designer who designed it. It sits above a parking garage, named "The Garage at Post Office Square." The garage lies 80 ft (24 m) below the surface, the deepest point of excavation in the city. Revenues from parking fund the maintenance of the park. The 1.7-acre (6,900 m²) park is a popular lunchtime destination for area workers. It features a cafe, fountains, and a pergola around a central lawn, and the management provides seat cushions for visitors during the summer. Designed by landscape architects The Halvorson Company, the park is also home to "125 species of plants."
"There’s limited practical demand for just sitting around outside"? I couldn't even find a place to sit down to get on my laptop. Whereas DC's K Street corridor parks have trees plopped in the middle, leaving the open areas filled with muddy, uneven grass struggling to grow, Post Office Square's trees line the edges of an inviting field. Wide paths are lined by wooden benches shaded by vines, cooling them on hot summer days. And the cafe tables were stunning - an outdoor table to sit & eat your lunch? Is there a public park space with tables anywhere in DC? I can't think of one (if you can, please post in comments).

So while I agree with Matt that DC's park space is underutilized, I'd like to see them at least make an attempt to meet users' needs before giving up & selling them off. And if the cost of that is letting a developer put a building on half of Franklin Park or build a garage under McPherson Square, let's do it.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Importance of Knowing People Good at Rescuing Turtles

Back in August, The Green Miles was at a meeting in Vermont for his day job with the National Wildlife Federation & spotted a turtle trapped in an abandoned pool. Nice to work with people who are experts in wildlife rescue:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

This is How You Fight Back Against GOP Attacks on Clean Air

You don't need to have a Ph.D. to talk about why we need clean air and climate action. You don't need to have a mastery of facts & figures.

In fact, you're your own target audience. You need to be able to talk about it in a way that people who don't know facts & figures either can understand. Don't worry about framing the issue or dazzling with statistics - tell a story.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) had the quote of the year back in January, summing up the fight against polluter-funded GOP attacks on the Clean Air Act: "There is a case to be made that, in the contest between corporate profits and children's lungs, someone should be standing up for children's lungs."

Last week on the Senate floor, Sen. Whitehouse expanded on the case with a series of simple yet vivid examples:

If you don't have time to watch the clip, check out the full transcript at

Greening Your Garbage Bags

Buying products made from recycled materials is just as important as recycling itself. It helps communities get a good price for their recyclable materials and gives business an incentive to keep the cycle going.

I noticed Harris Teeter has apparently discontinued their Naturals trash bags made from recycled plastic, so I went online looking for an alternative. Amazon carries PrideGreen bags, which are not only made with recycled plastic, but contain an additive that helps them biodegrade faster. And at a price as low as 18 cents a bag (with free shipping), they're competitive with bags made from freshly-drilled petroleum.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tonight: Go See "Gasland" in Arlington

Gasland PosterHere's a chance to see the award-winning documentary Gasland while supporting a great organization:
Gasland, The Movie
NRECA, 4301 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA
October 18, 7-9pm

Delegate Patrick Hope, The Virginia Progressive Caucus, The Virginia Sierra Club & The Virginia League of Conservation Voters invite you to watch the thought provoking movie, Gasland. Tuesday, October 18, 2011 from 7:00 - 9:00 pm at National Rural Electric Cooperative Association 4301 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22203. Proceeds will benefit the Virginia Progressive Caucus - Friend $25 • Donor $50 • Sponsor $100 • Patron $250 • Benefactor $500. To register in advance visit or call Mary 703-486-1010
I can't make the movie, but just contributed $25 anyway to show my support for the Virginia Progressive Caucus. You should too & ActBlue makes it easy, so go give $5, $10, $25 or more right now.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Here's a Threatening Email from an American Electric Power Employee

I got this Facebook message from Jim Hinton, who lists himself on his profile as an accountant with American Electric Power:
I'm sure you'll be shocked to hear that Hinton is also a Facebook fan of Glenn Beck and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX).

Obviously this email was not exactly vetted by AEP's public relations wing. But it's more revealing than a thousand press releases that Hinton doesn't even bother to make any sort of factual argument and goes right to the personal attack, 2011's preferred climate science denier strategy.

AEP lists $50 billion in assets, has spent more than $30 million on lobbying in the last four years alone, and gives millions to candidates for office (mostly Republicans) like Rep. Robert Hurt (R-VA). Yet this little blog is so powerful that one of its employees feels the need to send me threatening emails?

AEP's entire business model depends on Americans turning a blind eye to the fact that its profits depend on socializing the impact of its pollution while privatizing the profits. AEP is America's biggest carbon polluter and was ranked 40th in the Political Economy Research Institute's Toxic 100 list of America's biggest polluters. Information is AEP's enemy - the more Americans know about how companies like AEP get rich off treating our skies like an open sewer, the more likely they are to support proper pollution regulations.

No wonder America's corporate elite finds the Occupy Wall Street movement so menacing.

UPDATE: Hinton's employer & fan pages have suddenly disappeared from his public profile & he's blocked me. Here's how the message looks now:

Energy Project With Least NIMBY Opposition? Wind Farms

The New York Times' Green Blog digs into some polling data from the Saint Consulting Group and finds hypothetical "wind farms on the ridge above one’s home" polls better than any other potential local energy project, with a full 70% in support of local wind power. Even Tea Party members would rather see a local wind farm than a local oil drilling project or new conventional power plant. Makes you wonder why people like Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) think oil drilling off Virginia is "centrist" when 55% of Americans say they wouldn't want oil drilling to take place in their community.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Richmond: Cycling Capital?

Bike Race 05Richmond is about to embark on a crash course to become a world-class city for bicyclists:
Last month, Richmond won its bid to host the 2015 UCI Road World Championships, bringing the nine-day event to the United States for the first time since 1986. The elite racing series is projected to have an economic impact of $86 million in town, and $130 million in the region. But more importantly, bike advocates in Richmond, including its recently converted mayor, Dwight Jones, are hoping the event will prompt new bike infrastructure, new bike commuters, new jobs in bike-related industries, and even new businesses interested in relocating to a “bike-friendly” city.

Currently, Richmond only has about three miles of bike lanes, and just 2.2 percent of people commute to work by bike according to the most recent census estimates (Helmboldt, though, adds that he’s cautious of census statistics on this question). The James River that cuts through Richmond also makes cross-town biking difficult. [...]

So the city has committed to building new infrastructure to accommodate the championships (which will run primarily through a 10-mile circuit within the city’s urban core), but it’s also planning to use the championships as an excuse to ramp up bike routes and programs not necessarily intended for the international cycling elite. By 2015, the region plans to have completed a 52-mile paved trail from the state capitol in Richmond to the old capitol of Williamsburg, so tourists will be able to take in the entire Virginia “Historic Triangle” without setting foot in a car.

Richmond also plans to expand the trails along its riverfront, knit together its existing greenways, and install more bike lanes and bike parking, all while rolling out outreach programs that will help translate cycling from an international spectator sport into a local commuting solution.
One-time events often don't have the impact their sponsors tout (see: the DC Le Mans fiasco in 2002). But if this race is an excuse to give Richmonders a cheap, easy, zero pollution way to get around, why not? Heck, I don't even own a bike, but a Richmond-to-Williamsburg ride sounds like a fun weekend. Will there be any brewpubs near the trail?

New Report Highlights Climate Crisis' Threat to Hampton Roads

A new report takes a closer look at which cities will be hurt by global warming-fueled sea level rise. As Brad Plumer reports, Virginia is in the climate crisis crosshairs:
Things don’t look good for India. But the United States doesn’t get off easy, either. If you look at exposed assets rather than total population, then Miami, New York-Newark, New Orleans and Virginia Beach all climb higher on the list, with $7 trillion in assets vulnerable to severe coastal flooding by 2070. [...]

Take Miami. A three-foot sea-level rise, experts have noted, would likely put all of Miami Beach underwater and turn downtown Miami into an island, channeled off from the rest of Florida. Yet the state isn’t doing all that much to prepare for this eventuality. Instead, it’s racing to subsidize new developments along the coasts, through state-run insurance and funding for coastal protection. By contrast, cities such as London and Amsterdam are taking more prudent steps to guard against future flooding — and, as the OECD report notes, are likely to cope with sea-level rise better.

That’s not an isolated case. In general, the United States has been slow in preparing for rising sea levels. In many cases, we’re actively making things worse, as Steve Nash laid out in this excellent article in the New Republic. This is one area in particular where climate-change denial can do a lot of damage — it’s awfully hard to prepare for a problem that no one can agree even exists.
So we're not doing climate mitigation, like cutting carbon pollution. And as an event just last month at NASA's Langley Center in Hampton pointed out, we're not doing climate adaptation, either, like coastal restoration & limiting development in areas just above sea level.

Basically, if you were consciously trying to leave the worst possible situation for the next generation, you'd be doing exactly what people like Gov. Bob McDonnell are doing now - deny the problem & delay solutions. And note the 2070 date - we're no longer talking about forecast impacts on some future generation, but real changes happening within the lifetimes of the children in your family right now.

Amazing that the same people who profess such a concern with our budgetary national debt have no qualms about leaving our kids stuck with a multi-trillion-dollar climate liability.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Celebrate National Wildlife Refuge Week in Virginia

Did you know Virginia is home to 14 National Wildlife Refuges? Learn more about National Wildlife Refuge Week and check out a map of Virginia's refuges to find one near you.

(All of Virginia's wildlife refuges are in the eastern part of the state, but considering how many state parks are located in central and western Virginia, you have plenty of wildlife-appreciation options.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What Good's An SUV If You Can't Afford To Drive It Where You Want To Go?

Sunset at the ledgesConservatives love to paint personal vehicles as the pinnacle of freedom, fuel efficiency standards as the government boot on the neck of Lady Liberty, and walkable communities, car sharing & public transit as creeping communism. But an experience last weekend made America's oil-addicted transportation culture seem more constricting than liberating.

I was up in New Hampshire hiking the Boulder Loop Trail off the Kancamagus Highway in the White Mountain National Forest near the town of Conway. The trail walk to the top of Moat Ridge gave us beautiful views of the surrounding mountains as well as the Swift River running through the Passaconaway Valley.

We were hiking with a couple in their 20s who'd brought their 3-month-old baby along. Except for her request for lunch, we barely heard a peep from the baby the whole hike, she was perfectly happy gently bouncing along in her baby carrier.

As we got back to the parking lot, mom said she'd had a great time and wanted to hike more often for regular exercise. I suggested making a routine of it - finding a favorite spot and going for a hike, say, every Sunday.

"Well ... maybe every couple of weeks," she said.

Why not more often? "This thing," she sighed, pointing to her SUV. "I couldn't afford to drive the hour and back to the mountain every weekend."

Over the longer term, President Obama has taken steps to significantly increase fuel efficiency in new cars, trucks & SUVs. But in the short run, families need to consider all the consequences of owning a gas guzzler. I understand the desire for a roomy vehicle to lug around car seats, strollers & such. But what good is owning that vehicle if it means you can't afford to get to the places you want to go?

The newest vehicle that's both fuel-efficient AND family-friendly? Check out the Toyota Prius V:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Exxon Mobil Sponsoring Climate Silence on Science Channel

I was watching Faces of Earth on the Discovery Communications-owned Science Channel this morning as it discussed finding fossil fuels, both coal mining and oil drilling. I was amazed at how the show didn't mention any negative effects of mining fossil fuels:
So I waited for the closing credits. Sure enough, as the "sponsors" frame flashed for only a moment, Exxon Mobil helped fund the series.

Once again, it's a shame that networks that profit from the wonders of nature aren't doing more to protect them.

Can We Outrun the Climate Firestorm We're Stoking?

FirestormIs it time to stop talking about the low end of climate change predictions?

Until now, I've thought of our climate choices as "mild disruption," "wrenching calamity," and "civilization-threatening catastrophe," depending on how quickly and seriously we act to cut carbon pollution. But reading Jeff Goodell's Rolling Stone article on Australia's grim future, I wonder if our continued inaction is putting that first option in the rear view mirror.

The United Nations International Panel on Climate Change issued its 4th Assessment in 2007, predicting a low carbon emissions scenario would see a rise in temperatures by 2100 of about 2 degrees Celsius (about 3 degrees Fahrenheit). The UN continues to cite that 2 degrees C as its goal for maximum temperature rise.

But since that report nearly five years ago, global carbon pollution has continued to rise steadily. And with Washington talking about sticking a new tar sands pipeline in our oil addicted veins, now experts are wondering if we'll act fast enough to avoid the dreaded high emissions scenario:
How bad could it get? A recent study by MIT projects that without "rapid and massive action" to cut carbon pollution, the Earth's temperature could soar by nine degrees this century. "There are no analogies in human history for a temperature jump of that size in such a short time period," says Tony McMichael, an epidemiologist at Australian National University. The few times in human history when temperatures fell by seven degrees, he points out, the sudden shift likely triggered a bubonic plague in Europe, caused the abrupt collapse of the Moche civilization in Peru and reduced the entire human race to as few as 1,000 breeding pairs after a volcanic eruption blocked out the sun some 73,000 years ago. "We think that because we are a technologically sophisticated society, we are less vulnerable to these kinds of dramatic shifts in climate," McMichael says. "But in some ways, because of the interconnectedness of our world, we are more vulnerable."

With nine degrees of warming, computer models project that Australia will look like a disaster movie. Habitats for most vertebrates will vanish. Water supply to the Murray-Darling Basin will fall by half, severely curtailing food production. Rising sea levels will wipe out large parts of major cities and cause hundreds of billions of dollars worth of damage to coastal homes and roads. The Great Barrier Reef will be reduced to a pile of purple bacterial slime. Thousands of people will die from heat waves and other extreme weather events, as well as mosquito-borne infections like dengue fever. Depression and suicide will become even more common among displaced farmers and Aborigines. Dr. James Ross, medical director for Australia's Remote Area Health Corps, calls climate change "the number-one challenge for human health in the 21st century."
Politicians & the media focus almost exclusively on the cost of switching to clean energy. But Australia's case is a reminder that the cost of climate inaction would be far higher.

You can read the whole article here, but as I've written before, buying the newsstand version is a vote with your wallet to keep good environmental journalism coming.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The One Opportunity Steve Jobs Missed

Steve Jobs - PlacardSteve Jobs made a lot of amazing products that made a lot of people's lives more enjoyable. He made a ton of money for his employees, his investors and himself. But I can't help but consider his passing with some regret. Jobs had opportunities to use all that power for greater good, but turned them down.

Under Jobs, Apple used less clean energy & more coal than any other data giant, according to a Greenpeace report (PDF). And as CNN Money reported:
[In 2007] the founder of the Stanford Social Innovation Review called Apple one of "America's Least Philanthropic Companies." Jobs had terminated all of Apple's long-standing corporate philanthropy programs within weeks after returning to Apple in 1997, citing the need to cut costs until profitability rebounded. But the programs have never been restored.

Unlike Bill Gates - the tech world's other towering figure - Jobs has not shown much inclination to hand over the reins of his company to create a different kind of personal legacy. While his wife is deeply involved in an array of charitable projects, Jobs' only serious foray into personal philanthropy was short-lived. In January 1987, after launching Next, he also, without fanfare or public notice, incorporated the Steven P. Jobs Foundation. "He was very interested in food and health issues and vegetarianism," recalls Mark Vermilion, the community affairs executive Jobs hired to run it. Vermilion persuaded Jobs to focus on "social entrepreneurship" instead. But the Jobs foundation never did much of anything, besides hiring famed graphic designer Paul Rand to design its logo. (Explains Vermilion: "He wanted a logo worthy of his expectations.") Jobs shut down the foundation after less than 15 months.
Steve Jobs leaves a legacy of innovation. I just think it's a shame his rivalry with Bill Gates didn't transcend to higher callings.

(Footnote: Fair to point out the size of Gates' philanthropy may in part be a product of the outsize compensation Gates was given compared to Jobs.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What's Occupy Wall Street & Why Should Climate Hawks Care?

What is Occupy Wall Street? Why does it have Republicans & the establishment media so riled up? The Daily Show explains:

And why should climate hawks care?

Learn more at and show your support by donating.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Washington Post Steals My Armadillo Story

BurglarTwo days after I posted about how global warming might bring armadillos to Virginia, the Washington Post's Post Local did the exact same story.

How do I know they stole the story? The Post calls it a "new" report, but that's not true - it came out in June. I started a post on it in June but never finished it, and it sat in my drafts file until I needed some new content & published it this week.

Bloggers are happy to share ideas and content for free - all we ask for is attribution, the same courtesy that paid journalists extend to each other when one breaks a story. And come on, considering The Washington Post Company pulled down $547 million in operating income last year, while The Green Miles does this in his spare time for free (refusing paid ads), would a courtesy link be too much to ask? Apparently so.

I wouldn't publicly point it out, except the Post steals from local blogs all the time. Just last month, the Post-owned Fairfax Times stole a quote from without attribution. Isn't it silly for an enormous media conglomerate to have a policy of stealing from the little guy, especially when doing the right thing is so easy?

And how's this for hypocrisy? The Post has expressed outrage when blogs excerpt the Post's work, even WITH full credit & links back. Gawker's Gabriel Snyder fired back an epic rebuttal.

It doesn't have to be this way. NBC4's has used my posts for story ideas several times (including the armadillo story) and always cites my original post with a quick link back. Everybody's happy!

I emailed the Post this morning asking why they didn't provide a link. From what I've heard from other bloggers who've had their work taken by the Post without attribution, I'm not expecting to hear back, but will update this post if I do.

Creative Commons-licensed photo via Flickr's PirateJohnny

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Regulating Dirty Coal Will Kill Human-Killing Jobs

There's been a wave of closures recently at the oldest, dirtiest, most-polluting coal-fired power plants, including GenOn's Potomac River Generating Station in Alexandria and Dominion's Chesapeake Energy Center and Yorktown Power Plant.

At, David Roberts says we should be celebrating the death of these power plants that we've been subsidizing at the cost of asthma attacks and heart failure:
The key thing to remember is that these are some of the most heavily subsidized jobs in the U.S. economy. They are subsidized at a level that makes anything Obama did with the stimulus bill look like pocket change.

Why is that so? Well, it's widely known by now, at least in economist circles, that the coal power industry grossly underpays for the damages it does. That's the unanimous conclusion of a flurry of new research that's been done on the question: see, e.g., the National Research Council (NRC), Harvard Medical School's Paul Epstein, or last week's bombshell from Yale's William Nordhaus and colleagues, which found that coal-fired power plants do 21 cents of unpaid damages for every single kilowatt hour of power they produce. Economists call these costs "externalities," but really they amount to subsidies -- the public is paying these costs on the coal companies' behalf. [...]

And these subsidies are not investments that pay back over time, like loans to innovative renewable energy firms. These subsidies come in the form of babies with birth defects, asthmatic kids, and adults with respiratory and heart ailments. These subsidies pay negative returns. They subtract value. All in the name of propping up a dying industry.
The Alexandria plant alone is estimated to kill 37 people & sicken hundreds of others every single year.

But the coal industry keeps looking for someone to blame, and it's not just on the human costs of its pollution. As Coal Tattoo's Ken Ward Jr. reports, coal companies are desperately trying to pin falling Appalachian production on regulations & conservationists. That's instead of accepting the simple fact that the low-hanging fruit of Appalachian coal has long since been picked and what little is left is getting more & more expensive to blast out. For today's coal industry, reality is hard to face.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Squirrels: Terrible at Hide and Seek

I was at my aunt's house in Somerset, MA a couple of weeks ago and noticed this black walnut tucked under post on her porch. She said the squirrels in her yard frequently "hide" fall nuts in spots that are in no way hidden.
Black Walnut Seed "Hidden" by a Squirrel

Coming Soon to Virginia: Armadillos

Armadillo FeetGlobal warming has species on the move - for instance, making Vermont less hospitable to its iconic maple trees. Meanwhile, warm-weather species are taking the opportunity to move north, and according to a recent study, armadillos could move north into Virgina & across the entire Mid-Atlantic region:
The consequences of such changes are unclear. Armadillos are a welcome help to residents dealing with fire ants, a big concern in the South, McDonough said. But they're also a nest predator and could put added pressure on local quail populations already trying to defend against possums, raccoons and snakes.

[University of Michigan biology professor Philip] Myers' research in Michigan, meanwhile, suggests southern species are replacing northern ones, rather than simply slotting into the local fauna.

"To predict the impact of adding a chipmunk or subtracting a mouse, you have to know a lot more about the natural history of the communities than we do ... Potentially there are huge changes that could be a consequence of messing around with the species present," Myers said.
See a map of the armadillo's projected range at

The quail connection is an example of the cascading effects of the climate crisis. Even if a quail can survive in a region that's rapidly becoming warmer & wetter, it may not survive a new predator moving into its habitat. It's also a major reason so many sportsmen have become climate activists.