Saturday, March 30, 2013

Is Man-Made Deer Overpopulation the Right Issue to Take a Stand for Animal Rights?

Deer III - Rock Creek ParkIf you were to design a system for ensuring an overpopulation of deer, it would look a lot like DC's Rock Creek Park - a huge expanse of temperate land with well-maintained vegetation, no predators, and no hunting allowed.

And it's worked perfectly! So now the National Park Service is having to pay hunters to harvest the deer for food:
Sixty to 70 deer are expected to be shot. After the carcasses are tested for disease, the venison will be donated to food pantries.

The Park Service says that what it euphemistically calls a deer “harvest” is needed to safeguard the health of the park, the herd, and the people who live nearby or use the park. With 70 deer per square acre, the park has about four times the density considered ideal.
Animal rights activists have called for the Park Service to use birth control, but that's proved expensive and ineffective. Meanwhile, the results of the man-made deer explosion have proved disastrous, with car-deer accidents and Lyme disease among the serious public health threats. When animal rights activists are comparing the deer cull to Newtown and using the hashtag #DontKillBambi, are they being dismissive of those threats to people?

The case for culling is even greater if you see Rock Creek Park for what it is - a man-made deer farm. Why not take advantage of it, especially considering how much deer meat food pantries stand to gain? I'd seen reports online that one deer can feed up to 200 people, which seemed high but is backed up by the math. One pound of deer meat makes up to six servings. The average deer provides 40 to 60 pounds of meat. By that math, assuming every culled deer is healthy, we're talking about meat for 10,000 meals provided free to food pantries.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The No-Brainer of the Century: Solar on Old Landfills

A new solar farm has gone up on the old town dump in Dartmouth in just five months:
The capped Russells Mills Road Landfill has a new lease on life after Borrego Solar Systems Inc. quietly topped the former dump with a solar farm, a venture that drew none of the complaints common to similar solar projects in town.

"It's the town of Dartmouth that showed leadership today," state Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Mark Sylvia said Wednesday during a ribbon cutting for the facility.

State and local officials including U.S. Rep. Bill Keating, state Rep. Chris Markey, Select Board Chairwoman Lara Stone and others attended Wednesday's ceremony celebrating the 5,300-panel, 1.4 megawatt solar farm slated to meet 20 percent of the town's energy needs.
If you have an old landfill and you don't have a solar farm on top of it, you're throwing money away. Even in March as the sun shines for hours less and at much lower intensity than it will in summer, the solar farm is already producing more than a megawatt.

But the article also has a reminder that to really reap the benefits of renewable energy, towns should consider properly-sited wind power:
The solar farm can produce 1.4 megawatts of power, slightly less than one of the two 1.5 megawatt wind turbines in Fairhaven, which stand 396 feet tall on land owned by the town.
Learn more at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Why Do Only Progressives, and Not Polluters, Need to be Diverse?

Darryl Fears has a good piece in today's Washington Post taking a closer look at diversity in the environmental movement - or lack of it. Tough but fair. I work for an environmental organization and I agree green groups don't do nearly enough.

But what about polluters and their allies - how are they doing on diversity?
What about workers in polluting industries? It's just as bad:
  • Oil & gas extraction: 23% women, 9% Hispanic, 4% African American
  • Coal mining: 6% women, 3% Hispanic, 1% African American
No one writes articles about polluting industries being almost entirely white men because it's taken for granted that polluting industries are all run by rich old white guys. Even when they repeatedly get caught using stock photos to try to not look to the public like such rich old white guys - and Republicans, coal, and chemical polluters all have - it isn't covered in the mainstream media because again, everyone is just supposed to already know that polluters are rich old white guys who buy pictures of non-rich old white guys to make themselves look like they care about non-rich old white guys.

Again, I think conservationists need to do more to reach out to Hispanics and African-Americans. Excluding them isn't just wrong, it's bad business - polls show minorities are exceptionally strong supporters of climate action in particular and clean air & water in general.

But much like the media holds polluters and their allies to a much lower standard ethically, they're held to no standard on diversity.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sunday Morning Shines Light on Sharing Services

Until recently, you'd be much more likely to read about collaborative consumption on Grist than in the Boston Globe. But Avis' purchase of ZipCar has brought sudden credibility to the notion that car and room sharing services are profitable and here to stay. CBS Sunday Morning takes a closer look:

Thursday, March 21, 2013

GOP Congressman: "Best Thing About the Earth" is Drilling It

Not sustaining life and providing food and water and shelter. Fossil fuels.

Statements like this reveal how incredibly insular the world of Congressmen can be. Do you think Rep. Stockman spends more time talking to sportsmen? To parents? To students? Or to oil & gas lobbyists?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

WCVB's Harvey Leonard on Climate Change and Extreme Weather

water leakIf you're a TV meteorologist who's not talking about global warming, you're not giving your viewers the whole story.

If you're not talking about how warmer ocean temperatures are adding strength to storms or talking about how higher sea levels are adding to flooding concerns (among many other ways carbon pollution is changing weather patterns), you're putting ignorance, fear or politics ahead of forecasting the facts.

Last week, some Massachusetts viewers went to WCVB to say thanks to WCVB Chief Meteorologist Harvey Leonard for talking about global warming's role in fueling the February "Nemo" blizzard. You can add your name to the petition thanking Leonard at

Here's the segment that earned Leonard viewer thanks:

Friday, March 15, 2013

Two More Studies Show "Wind Turbine Syndrome" Caused by Anti-Wind Groups

I Spy...The biggest factor in whether you say wind turbines make you sick is someone telling you wind turbines will make you sick. That's the result of two new studies on so-called "wind turbine syndrome," reports DeSmogBlog's Graham Readfern.

The first study exposed some people to the "infrasound" that groups like Fairhaven, MA's "WindWise" say causes illness, while others were actually exposed to nothing ("sham infrasound"). Some were warned that it was likely to make them sick ("high expectancy") while others were told it likely wouldn't ("low expectancy"). The results:
The response from the "high expectancy" group was to report that the "infrasound" had caused them to experience more symptoms which were more intense. This was the case whether they were exposed to sham infrasound or genuine infrasound. The report explains that "the number of symptoms reported and the intensity of the symptom experienced during listening sessions were not affected by exposure to infrasound but were influenced by expectancy group allocation."

In the low expectancy group, the infrasound and sham infrasound had little to no effect. In other words, the study found that if a person is told that wind turbines will make them ill then they are likely to report symptoms, regardless of whether they are exposed to infrasound or not.
So what does this mean for building and siting land-based wind turbines? Can you write by-laws to satisfy the "wind turbine syndrome" crowd, as Fairhaven is trying to do? Lead author Fiona Crichton:
The findings indicate that negative health information readily available to people living in the vicinity of wind farms has the potential to create symptom expectations, providing a possible pathway for symptoms attributed to operating wind turbines. This may have wide-reaching implications. If symptom expectations are the root cause of symptom reporting, answering calls to increase minimum wind-farm set back distances is likely to do little to assuage health complaints.
Another preliminary study from a public health professor at the University of Sydney finds "only a tiny proportion of people living near turbines do actually complain and, when they do, the complaints coincide with campaigning from anti-wind groups."

The studies reaffirm mountains of independent studies showing no direct health impacts from wind turbines. But they also confirm that, as Stephen Colbert detailed, if you get told they'll make you sick enough times, you might think wind turbines gave you herpes.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Democrats Can't Have It Both Ways on Keystone XL and Climate Action

Self-styled "centrist" Democrats like Senators Michael Bennet (Colorado), Bob Casey (Pennsylvania), Claire McCaskill (Missouri), and Tim Kaine and Mark Warner (Virginia) say they recognize climate reality and support action to cut carbon pollution.

But ... then they see polls that show the public is split on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline ... and feel pressure from Very Serious People in Washington who won't say no to anything the oil, gas and coal industries want ... and think, maybe we can have both? Get credit for support this current & specific polluting pipeline AND burnish climate bona fides by hand-waving towards some future & not yet existent climate effort?

No. Climate action isn't just about the easy & popular things, like clean energy and energy efficiency. It's also about the hard things, like saying no to oil and coal barons who may spend lots of money to try to defeat you in your next re-election campaign. You can't claim to support climate action, but wilt like corn caught in a global warming-fueled drought every time big polluters come asking for a favor

Either you support climate action. Or you support Keystone XL and don't really care about things like climate-fueled extreme weather or protecting our natural resources for future generations. You can't have it both ways.

Today at Noon: Talk About Talking About Science

Northeastern University's College of Science has invited me to join their Twitter chat today at noon ET. We'll be talking about science communication and how today's college students can be tomorrow's Bill Nye The Science Guy.

If you'd like to ask me a question or join the conversation, tweet with the tag #sciencechat.

If you're not a Twitterer, leave your question in comments here and I'll field it like Nomahhh going behind second base to grab a grounder. (And then I guess that means I'll also throw it into the 5th row, because no one could follow up a graceful snag with a god-awful throw like Nomar.)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

North American Energy Independence is Imaginary, Awful and Socialist

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is once again touting the Republican fantasy called "North American energy independence." Here's a quick reminder of why that concept is phony, horrifying and anti-capitalist:

  • Coal companies want to build coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest to send America's coal to Asia. Oil companies want to build the Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline to the Gulf Coast to send North America's oil to Asia - and the Republican plan would force its completion! Unless Republicans plan to nationalize the fossil fuel supplies of both the U.S. and Canada and ban exports rendering Keystone pointless, the GOP plan is imaginary
  • If we have any chance of keeping global warming to a livable limit, we need to be on a path to using much less of carbon intensive-fuels right now and keeping a great deal of our known fossil fuel supplies buried in the ground forever. The Republican plan would essentially do the opposite - dig them up and burn them much faster than we're currently doing, cooking the planet even faster than we're currently doing. We're talking a 10 degree rise in temperature and 3+ foot rise in sea level in the lifetime of a child born today. Just imagine superstorm Sandy with an extra 10 degrees of fuel and an extra 3 feet of storm surge. The GOP plan is awful.
  • The Republican plan would continue massive government help and direct subsidies for the worst polluting fuels with no limit on carbon pollution. The GOP plan is socialism for big polluters.

As Steve Benen details, the Ryan budget is also imaginary in that it pretends the 2012 election never happened.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Dominion Sale Shows Old Coal Power Plants Are Nearly Worthless

Kincaid Power StationBig news today as Dominion announced it's selling two old coal-fired power plants and one gas power plant - and the price-tag is eye-popping:
The power stations are:
  • Brayton Point Power Station, a 1,528-megawatt power station in Somerset, Mass., with three coal-fired units and one unit fired by oil or natural gas. Dominion has owned it since 2005.
  • Kincaid Power Station, a 1,158-megawatt power station in Kincaid, Ill., with two 579-megawatt coal-fired units. Dominion has owned Kincaid since 1998.
  • Elwood Power Station, a 1,424-megawatt power station outside Chicago, with nine natural gas-fired combustion turbines. Dominion has owned a 50 percent interest (712 megawatts) in and operated the station since Elwood became operational in 1999.
The sale will require the approval of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and Hart-Scott-Rodino antitrust clearance.

Dominion announced last September that it was exiting the merchant coal-fired generation business as part of the company's continual review of its assets to ensure they fit strategically and support its objectives to improve return on invested capital and shareholder value. The sale is expected to result in after-tax proceeds of approximately $650 million, which includes cash tax benefits generated from the sale. The company plans to invest the proceeds in the company's regulated businesses and reduce debt needs.
"Merchant power" is basically when you own a station and sell the electricity to a utility. It's always a risky business and at a time when America's electricity use is falling overall and the price of electricity from natural gas is falling, now's looking like a good time to bail for whatever Dominion can get.

But look at that low sale value - and that includes tax write-offs! Considering Dominion had spent $1 billion on upgrades at Brayton Point alone in recent years, including two enormous cooling towers, Dominion must be taking an absolute bath. But especially as new Clean Air Act limits on industrial carbon pollution loom, Dominion's happy to take what it can get for the coal plants.

Speaking of limits on industrial carbon pollution, now would be a good time to tell President Obama you support the strongest limits possible.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Mild Temps, Bad Storms: MA's Climate-Changed Winter

DSC_0262As yet another brutal winter storm hammers Massachusetts with snow, wind and coastal erosion, there's a lot of talk about what a rough winter it's been in Massachusetts. But our temperatures have actually been mild, and climate scientists say this type of winter is exactly what we can expect in a warming world.

First, the temperature data from NOAA's National Weather Service Boston office:
  • Boston: December: +3.7, January +2.5, February  -0.5, March (thru 3/6): +2.5
  • Worcester: December: +4.7, January: +2.7, February +0.4, March: +1.5
  • Providence: December +4.1, January: +2.1, February:  -1.0, March: +3.0
While Boston is close to its seasonal snowfall average of 43 inches, Providence has gotten a foot more than usual and Worcester has been absolutely hammered with over 86 inches so far, nearly three feet more than average.

The National Wildlife Federation reports climate change is bringing more oddball winter weather:
Global warming is bringing a clear trend toward heavier precipitation events for the simple reason that warmer air can hold more water. Even with a greater fraction of precipitation falling as rain, many areas are still seeing big and intense snowstorms, especially in the upper Midwest and Northeast, where temperatures typically remain below freezing in winter. At the same time, global warming is shifting storm tracks northward. The last few years have brought several unusually heavy snowstorms as warmer and moister air over southern states has penetrated further north, colliding with bitter cold air masses.
As's Andrew Freedman details, this winter storm has also highlighted the impacts of global warming-fueled sea level rise:
Higher sea levels provide a higher launching pad for storm surges from hurricanes and nor’easters, making it possible for relatively weak storms to cause major damage.

According to research by Climate Central scientists, on Nantucket Island, where coastal flooding is occurring from this storm, the sea level has risen by about half a foot during the past 50 years.

According to the draft National Climate Assessment report released in January, even without any changes in storms, the chance of what is now a 1-in-10-year coastal flood event in the Northeast could triple by 2100, occurring once every 3 years, due to rising sea levels.
In a sane world, cutting carbon pollution and building out clean energy would be at the top of our national agenda. Instead, Congressional Republican leadership is committed to creating one new phony crisis after another, trying to decide whether to punish the old, sick, young, or all of the above as they fight to protect tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and oil executives.

Fortunately, President Obama doesn't have to wait for Congress to act - he has authority under the Clean Air Act to limit industrial carbon pollution. Tell President Obama you want the strongest limits possible - and if you want to do even more, join Reality Drop.

Big Oil: We'll Still Hate Obama Just As Much Even If He Builds Keystone XL

Those who support climate action but say it's not worth fighting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline like to imply that President Obama's approval of the pipeline would earn him political capital. But the head of one polluter front group would like to assure Washington that whether President Obama approves or rejects Keystone XL, Big Oil will still hate him just as much.

First, Dave Roberts summarizes the case against #noKXL activists:
Professional wanker Matt Nisbet says [fighting Keystone XL] “distracts” and “limits” Obama’s ability to broker a deal. (A deal on what? With whom? He doesn’t say.) Michael Levi says it makes 60 Senate votes for a price on carbon less likely. (Less likely than impossible?) I could cite a dozen more examples, people casually accusing Keystone activism of impeding or draining energy from other solutions.

What is this good-faith bipartisan progress just waiting to happen if only activists weren’t being unreasonable about Keystone? What do the VSPs have to offer? I don’t see it. I see self-pleasuring dreams of bipartisan Grand Bargains with no awareness of changed political circumstances.
As Jennifer Yachnin reports in today's E&E News (sub. req.), a top oil industry lobbyist says those who think approval of Keystone XL would mean Big Oil will look the other way on other carbon-cutting efforts are dead wrong:
But [American Energy Alliance and Institute for Energy Research President Thomas] Pyle added that approving the pipeline won't curb industry criticism of the Obama administration, including over what it sees as efforts to hold back oil and gas production on federal lands.

"I don't know that it buys him any good will," Pyle said. "There will be lots of statements of thank you ... but ultimately from a political perspective I don't know that it buys him any room to maneuver."

And ill will could linger over how much time it has taken the administration to make a final decision on the pipeline, Pyle added.
All the climate-disrupting carbon pollution and no thanks from his political enemies? All the more reason President Obama should do the right thing and reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Monday, March 4, 2013

DC Cherry Blossoms Continue Climate-Driven Early Bloom Trend

2012 03 17 - 5236 - Washington DC - Cherry BlossomsOnce again, DC's cherry blossoms are forecast to bloom much earlier than the 20th-century average - sometime between March 26-30, horticulturalists say.

And once again, the Washington Post story on the early blooms doesn't mention that the early blooms are part of trend at all, never mind a global warming-fueled that may eventually push the cherry blossoms into February.

All connections to climate change must be made in sidebar stories - readers of the main news story on the blossoms are to be kept blissfully ignorant of whether or why they're arriving earlier and earlier.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Did Fracking Cause Alabama Earthquake?

Scientists have already connected the natural gas drilling technique known as fracking to earthquakes in Ohio.

Now there's a compelling case to be made that fracking triggered a minor earthquake in Alabama last Friday.