Saturday, August 31, 2013

Hope Lady Liberty Can Swim

Just got the latest National Geographic. Makes climate change-fueled sea level rise a lot easier to understand than the IPCC's percentages & certainties, don't you think?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Not One But Two Oil Spills Fouled New Bedford Harbor Today

I've covered oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico and in Arkansas, but today the oil came to me.

This morning a local journalist alerted me to reports of an oil spill right down the street from me in New Bedford Harbor. I headed down and found hundreds of gallons of diesel fuel (dyed red for tax purposes) coating the water off Pier 3. Some television crews were filming the spill, so I talked to WJAR and WLNE generally about the potential impacts of oil spills - concern for the people who make their living off the water, the fish who swim in it, and the seabirds who land in it.

As soon as I finished, a Coast Guard staffer angrily told me, "You shouldn't be talking to the press. We should be presenting a united front."

"I work for the National Wildlife Federation, not a federal agency," I said. "I'd be happy to work together on this - just tell me what's going on."

She stared at me and said nothing.

"OK, well so much for a united front," I shrugged.

Coincidentally, the Energy Exodus march was passing through New Bedford at the exact same time as the oil spill. The climate activists are marching all the way from Somerset's Brayton Point coal-fired power plant to Hyannis in support of Cape Wind.

In less of a coincidence, the moment the Coast Guard staffers saw the dozens of Energy Exodus folks arriving, they threw up yellow caution tape and ordered all civilians away from the oil spill.

As it turns out, this was the first of two oil spills in New Bedford Harbor today. I understand tracking down the culprits is hard, but do the local authorities have to sound so fatalistic already? Welp, lotsa boats, they all look alike, whaddya gonna do?

Southeastern New England faces a choice - move aggressively towards a clean energy future, or face more oil spills.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Cabbie Teaches Taxi To Fly, Lives To Tell About It

I woke up early this morning and, being a red-blooded New Englander, decided to go for a Dunkin Donuts run. At 5:30am, the only other customers were New Bedford EMTs killing time.

Just as I turned up Maxfield Street from Purchase Street on the walk home, I heard an engine rev, tires squeal, and a huge crash from around the corner. I ran back and ... nothing. Empty street. Was I crazy?

But there was a guy across the street holding his bicycle and staring. I said, "Did something happen?" He pointed across the street towards a walkway under the arch of the New Bedford Health Department building. Still, I saw nothing.

I kept walking closer and saw the heavy handrail bent over. I looked down the walkway and it took my brain a second to register what I was seeing. A cab had hit the handrail, gone airborne, and was now resting on its side:

I started dialing 911 and ran up to the back windshield of the cab. I could see the driver curled up against the driver's side door. "Are you OK?" I yelled. "I don't know. I think so," he said.

"I'm calling 911. Stay there," I said and went out in the street to flag down the ambulance. As I was waiting, two other cab drivers pulled over and offered to help.

About two minutes later, the ambulance arrived and the EMTs jumped out ... the same ones I'd seen 10 minutes earlier at Dunkin Donuts. They talked to the cabbie and it seemed like other than a bump on his head, he was OK. He said he'd just picked up his cab for his morning shift when the engine suddenly revved and he lost control. He seemed pretty embarrassed, so I got out of the EMT's way as they figured out the best way to help him out of the cab.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Green Miles on The Green Front

I joined the Progressive Radio Network's On The Green Front with Betsy Rosenberg yesterday to talk about solutions to climate change, how climate change is covered in the media, conservatives facing climate reality. Listen to the segment here.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

David Roberts' Sabbatical and the Decline of the Free-Range Blogger

Grist's David Roberts, who blogs on the best policies to solve our climate & energy challenges and the politics that perpetuate our problems, has announced he's taking a one-year sabbatical from blogging, reporting & tweeting. I'll miss his work while he's gone but understand his motives - what's more disappointing is the void he leaves behind.

When I first started blogging here at The Green Miles, David's writing challenged me to improve. It's easy to make fun of climate science deniers, but it's much harder to figure out why they reject it. When I later got to meet him at Netroots Nation, I was struck by his work-life balance (he calls it The Medium Chill) and ability to keep his eye on the climate prize - to maintain his passion without becoming too embittered by small setbacks & petty disputes.

Knowing he values that balance, I wasn't surprised by his decision to step away. If you spend a lot of time working on the climate crisis OR interacting online OR reporting, burnout is a major problem. David does all three. With President Obama having already rolled out his plan to act on climate and Congress in gridlock, now's the best time in years for a climate activist to take some time off.

But what bugs me is that in David's absence, there are few great climate bloggers to fill his shoes. It's a reflection of how much of blogging has evolved from free-range to factory farming:
  • Blogging as career. While pioneering bloggers like Markos "DailyKos" Moulitsas, Duncan "Atrios" Black, and Heather "Digby" Parton still blog independently, many of the next generation of bloggers have been hired by emerging progressive news websites (i.e. Huffington Post & TPM), by mainstream media blogs (i.e. the Washington Post's WonkBlog) or by organizations in need of online help (I got hired by the National Wildlife Federation). Which is understandable because ...
  • Blogging for free sucks. It's a lot of work for very little reward. I can understand why many first-generation bloggers gave it up and why younger folks choose to use Facebook, Twitter & Tumblr instead. But combine these first two points and now we have ...
  • The blanding of blogging. Many of those who do blog spend less time trying to break the mold and more time trying to impress the Beltway establishment that might hire them. What Dave Grohl said about American Idol destroying the next generation of musicians applies here - they spend less time trying to find their own voice than trying to make their voice sound like everyone else's. I read lots of nibbling around the edges and "smart takes," but who'll stand up when necessary to say shit is fucked up and bullshit? And their middle manager editor at a newspaper website - they're going to run that?
So who are the climate must-reads? Here's my list (add any that I overlooked in comments):
Enjoy the break, Dave. And don't worry - unless a secret alien wizard breaks the spell of climate denial currently hanging over Congressional Republican leadership, shit will still be fucked up and bullshit when you get back.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Can You Support Local Fishermen AND Conservation?

Entangled Humpback calfI love local seafood AND local fish & wildlife. It's frustrating to hear local fishermen constantly oppose any and all regulations geared towards conserving natural resources for future generations.

This week's example: As federal regulators seek to protect endangered whales from entanglement in lobster trap lines, Cape Cod lobstermen have come up with a laundry list of reasons to oppose the rules, but (at least according to the article) not a single alternative solution or possible compromise. As someone who doesn't think we have to choose between a thriving seafood industry and a healthy environment, it's frustrating when fishermen come to meetings with nothing to say but NO.

Fishermen have been open-minded when it comes to offshore wind development. It would be nice if they sought a similar role in regulating their own industry.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Short Books Under $10 You Should Read

I've read a few really good, really short, really cheap books lately that shed new light on some of America's thorniest problems. You should read them too!
Get them on your Kindle or iPad. Or if you're like me, get the used paperback, read it yourself, then give it to a friend or family member who you think would appreciate it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Block Island Wind Would Cut Climate Pollution and Power Bills

I have an op-ed in this month's issue of WindCheck Magazine on a proposed wind farm off Rhode Island's Block Island:
Block Island has some of America’s best breezes, a natural resource that's lured sailors for generations. Now the community is on the verge of harnessing that resource in a new way with offshore wind energy.

One of those unique New England treasures, Block Island hits a perfect balance – close enough to the mainland to warrant a daysail, while its pace and landscape assure you that you’re on vacation. Yet somewhere along those 13 miles the price of your Mudslide, and everything else, managed to skyrocket. No one would expect bargain basement prices in a vacation paradise adjacent to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, but then you get to your hotel room and realize there’s no air conditioner. “If we put an air conditioner in your room, we’d have to double your rate,” the desk clerk tells me. “We pay some of the highest electricity prices anywhere in the country.”

While offshore wind energy is usually talked about as a higher-priced electricity source, on Block Island the five-turbine, 30 megawatt project proposed by Providence, RI-based Deepwater Wind will be a huge money saver. Americans pay an average of 12 cents per kilowatt hour for their electricity and 15 cents per kilowatt hour in Rhode Island, but out on Block Island, thanks to the community’s antiquated and highly polluting diesel electricity generator, electricity averages an incredible 47 cents per kilowatt hour. Some hotels pay as much as $50,000 per month in electricity bills. Offshore wind is projected to save Block Island residents and businesses 42 percent on their electricity bills – even more when demand is high.
Read the whole thing at WindCheck Magazine.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Are More Gas Pipelines the Answer?

A natural gas pipeline explosion in Iowa provides more evidence that more natural gas dependence isn't the answer for Massachusetts.

The Case for More Dogs in More Pubs

dog in dingleWith rare exceptions in outdoor seating, regulations effectively prohibit dogs in U.S. bars & restaurants, citing hazily-defined health concerns.

But as one look at will tell you, we're missing out. In Britain, the onus is on the establishment owner is to make sure there is no risk of contamination and that all food preparation areas are up to specified hygiene standards. And as in all other aspects of dog-owning life, the onus is on the dog owner to make sure the dog's OK around people.

In addition to the fact that life is simply more fun with a dog around, there's a growing body of science that humans have evolved hand-in-paw with dogs and that we actually need them around to keep us healthy.

America would be better off with more dogs in more bars.

Monday, August 12, 2013

They Deny Climate Science. Why Won't Reporters Call Them Science Deniers?

Dana RohrabacherAfter the party's drubbing in the 2012 elections, many political pundits speculated that Republicans would spend 2013 trying to seem less extreme. Instead, many are spending the August Congressional recess assuring the Tea Party that they are, in fact, 2 Extreme 2 Quit.

As first reported by +The Nation's +Lee Fang, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) has a bizarre theory that neatly ties his climate science denial into his broader delusions:
“Just so you'll know, global warming is a total fraud,” the 13-term lawmaker told a Tea Party group Thursday. Rohrabacher said the fraud has its origins with liberals at the local government level who want decision-making ceded to higher levels of government.

“You’ve got liberals who get elected at the local level [that] want the state government to do the work and let them make the decisions. Then at the state level they want the federal government to do it. And at the federal government they want to create global government to control all of our lives,” he said.
Republicans want to ban oral sex, ban gay marriage, ban a woman's right to choose, deport undocumented immigrants & send their children to massive government-run orphanages, ban workers from organizing into unions, and restrict which Americans get to vote. But it's liberals who want to use government to control your lives?

The Hill's Ben Geman adds:
Rohrabacher, whose remarks Thursday on climate began by disputing links between wildfires and global warming, is a longtime climate skeptic.
The science connecting man-made carbon pollution to climate disruption is much older and just as well established as the science connecting cigarettes to lung cancer. If a politician denied the link between cigarettes and cancer, we'd call them a science-denying shill who'd say anything for his friends at Big Tobacco.

Why do reporters tiptoe around politicians who attack climate science by calling them "skeptics"? As if they might judiciously change their minds depending on what's in NOAA's next set of satellite data? Dana Rohrabacher is a science-denying shill for industrial carbon polluters. It's OK to say that!

Here's the problem: Dana Rohrbacher hates to be called a science denier. Sure, he'll deny science all day. But if you call him on it, he'll claim to be a great student of science, because that's how Dana Rohrabacher would like to think of himself! That doesn't make it so.

Calling a science-denying politician like Dana Rohrbacher a science denier is 100% fair & accurate and reporters should do it more often. Are they really more interested in staying on politicians' good sides than being fair & accurate? (Don't answer that.)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

If Cooking Spray's Chemical Propellant Sticks To A Non-Stick Pan, Why Eat It At All?

I bought a new non-stick hard-anodized pan recently and noticed this warning in the intructions:
DO NOT use aerosol cooking sprays. Aerosol sprays contain a chemical propellant that is difficult to remove. Instead, use an oil mister filled with olive or vegetable oil, or dab a bit of oil on a paper towel and carefully wipe the interior of the pan.
Now, in a lot of cases like this I'd be suspicious that they were just trying to get you to buy more crap you don't really need, or establish one of a hundred ways they'll try to get themselves out of fulfilling the warranty.

People are already way too mistrusting of government and American regulators do a very good job of protecting us from major health threats, so I don't want to sow too much mistrust. But after learning that McDonald's "egg whites" have 15 ingredients, that Velveeta contains sodium phosphate (also used as a bowel cleanser), or about any of the shady food practices banned in Europe but allowed in America, I'm beginning to wonder if smart consumers need to do more self-policing on stuff that's on the "somewhat to moderately" end of the awful scale.

I bought a Misto olive oil sprayer, which an exhaustive 15-second review of ratings at Amazon revealed was the best/cheapest one. Apparently they're a bit of a pain to take care of - you need to clean it once a month & even then they only last about a year. But I'd rather struggle to clean the oil out of my sprayer than figure out how to clean the propellant out of my small intestine.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

5 Ways Climate Changes are Hammering Cape Cod This Summer

Cape Cod Hurricane #3
Flooding on Cape Cod, 2007 (Flickr/Chris Seufert)
How is global warming changing Cape Cod? Sean Gonsalves of the Cape Cod Times lists five ways, concluding:
5) New waterfront property.

"Preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Maps" are being released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Surprise! They show flood hazard zones in Cape towns will significantly expand, which means skyrocketing flood-insurance premiums — as high as $10,700.

This comes on the heels of several studies showing sea levels will continue to rise. Again, I refer you to the Department of Energy report: "Floods are projected to increase in frequency and intensity" especially in areas "that are expected to receive increased annual precipitation, such as the Midwest and the Northeast."

Let us now give thanks for this costly gift bequeathed to us by previous generations and the expensive lesson in adaptability it will provide.
Fortunately for Cape Cod, the same clean energy solutions that cut climate-disrupting carbon pollution will also create jobs and bring energy stability on the Cape. Show your support for Cape Wind.

You Are Not Allowed to Make Fun of Big Oil CEOs on NBC

Don't believe the game is rigged in Washington in Big Oil's favor? WRC-TV, the NBC owned & operated affiliate in DC, has aired ads in support of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, but it refused to air this ad opposing it:

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

When Richmond, CA Fights Big Oil, Chevron Fights Dirty

Thinking about hosting an oil pipeline, refinery, fracking operation, etc. in your town? Better hope everything goes smoothly. If it doesn't, as The Rachel Maddow Show reports, Big Oil is ready to get personal:

Friday, August 2, 2013

The 3 Things Missing from the Republican Case for Climate Action

Sandy SkylineTwo articles make the Republican case for Congressional action on climate change today, one in the New York Times by former Environmental Protection Agency administrators under GOP presidents William D. Ruckelshaus, Lee M. Thomas, William K. Reilly, and Christine Todd Whitman, and one in the New Jersey Star-Ledger by former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC).
  1. Republican leaders aren't representing Republican voters on climate action. Poll after poll shows anywhere from 30% to 50% of Republican voters say climate change is happening and we should do something about it, but only a handful of Congressional Republicans advocate climate action. Why aren't Congressional Republicans representing their own voters on climate change? These articles ignore the disparity altogether.
  2. No one likes a carbon tax better than carbon limits. Both articles argue that a revenue-neutral carbon tax is superior to Environmental Protection Agency limits on carbon pollution, citing conservative economists who say that's the most virtuous way to go. The problem is that among non-economists, Americans across party lines agree taxes are bad and Environmental Protection Agency regulations are good. Even if it was popular, as Grist's David Roberts has detailed, a carbon tax is trickier than you think.
  3. Why is inaction untenable? Neither article lays out the scientific urgency of addressing climate change - for example, the number of American communities that inaction will literally put underwater. Neither article lays out the political urgency - for example, that young voters think Republican climate denial is ignorant, out-of-touch and crazy. Both articles focus on economic solutions, which again, is compelling to economists but won't win you many arguments at a neighborhood picnic. A much stronger case was made by a young conservative Congressional staffer ... who wrote under a pen name for fear of losing his job for speaking the truth about the scientific & political urgency of climate action.
Much like with immigration reform, Congressional Republicans have painted themselves into a political corner: They're screwed in the short-term because they've opposed sensible solutions for so long, they'll get none of the political credit for their passage. But that would leave them screwed in the long-term as the ignoramus party. Wouldn't you rather take the short-term hit and move on to topics that you can win on?

I'd rather these articles have dealt with that reality, rather than blaming "gridlock" and pushing plans no one likes. Where does that get us?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Put Transit Where People Need to Go (Especially If They're Drunk)

the feast!Tonight begins New Bedford's 99th annual Feast of the Blessed Sacrament, a drinking-intensive event with no nighttime public transit.

Just this week, New Bedford Standard Times columnist Steve Urbon lamented how the city's recently-launched downtown shuttle service has few passengers. Urbon speculates the route was designed not around where people already need to go but where tourism officials would like people to go.

Why not take advantage of the opportunity to introduce thousands of potential new customers to the service by offering a special & late-running Feast Shuttle? Give them fliers for the normal shuttle routes that they can read the next morning while they're recovering from their skull-crushing Madeira wine headaches?

Handicapped Match: Cardinal vs. Three Blue Jays. Who You Got?

Just watched it unfold on my deck. Your winner: The cardinal. Was surprising since blue jays have always struck me as assholes and cardinals as fairly mellow, but the cardinal really took the fight to them. The blue jays quickly retreated.

Will Gov. Patrick Listen to Anti-Coal Protesters and Shut Down Somerset's Brayton Point?

Protesters delivered a powerful message to Gov. Deval Patrick (D-MA) on Sunday, asking him to shut down the coal-fired Brayton Point power plant:
Organized by Massachusetts Action and Better Future Action, protestors carrying mini wind turbines and signs like "Coal is stupid" called for Gov. Deval Patrick to close the coal plant and "ensure a just transition for workers and host communities from the West Virginian mines to Somerset," according to a press release. [...]

Chanting slogans like "All coal is dirty coal, leave it in the ground," a line of protesters snaked past area homes, drawing some bystanders.

"We live nearby and we are concerned about the power plant but didn't realize (the protest) was going to be that big a deal," said Missy Pimentel, surprised by the turnout. "I'm glad they are here."
Police arrested 44 protesters. Show your support by emailing Gov. Patrick asking him to shut down Brayton Point now. (Its recent sale shows Brayton Point is nearly worthless anyway.)

Despite the $30,000 in riot gear that Somerset Police Chief Joseph Ferreira bought especially for the event, all went peacefully. Somerset is now considering a sizeable solar project near the current site of the Brayton Point coal plant that could generate $500,000 a year in revenue for the town.

The event garnered widespread media coverage, though lines like this give me a headache (emphasis mine):
The plant has long been the ire of environmental groups worried that the plant's emissions can cause nerve and brain damage to nearby residents. The latest protest comes after a boat blockade attempted to stop coal shipments to the plant earlier this year.

Dominion Energy, which owns the plant, paid a $3.4 million penalty in April for alleged violations of the Clean Air Act. In documents online protesters allege the plant spews 15,000 pounds of mercury, arsenic, lead, and other hazardous air pollutants into the air each year.
Why are the health impacts and pollutants attributed to environmental groups, as though that's a he said/she said debate rather than scientific fact? If environmental groups stop worrying, will the health impacts go away? Can't we objectively measure the pollutants?

Check out a more in-depth review of the event from Wen Stephenson in The Nation and sign up for updates from the Better Future Project.