New High-Tech Imaging Protecting the Planet and Saving Lives

A revolutionary new technology is not only helping to protect the environment, but is now being used to save lives.  Increasingly, thermal or optical gas imaging cameras are being used to detect dangerous fugitive emissions from refineries and other industrial facilities.   An article in today’s WSJ, Making Drilling Rigs Safer, tells the story of a new startup, Rebellion Photonics, started by Allison Lami Sawyer and Robert Kester, who are using thermal imaging to save the lives of those who work in jobs, such as the oil and gas industry, where explosive emissions can kill.  Given the revolutionary potential of this technology, Rebellion Photonics was one of three finalists for “WSJ Startup of the Year.” 

The science behind these new camers is fairly straightforward, enabling us to see infrared wavelengths absorbed by gases not visible to the naked eye.  Here’s the technology being used to find a potentially deadly natural gas leak. 

This technology is transformational on so many levels and, I predict, will revolutionize industry.  Not only because of its huge benefits, but its small price, relative to the adverse impacts from undetected fugitive gases.   These new tools are also now being deployed by EPA enforcement to catch the unwary who, in many cases, are violating environmental laws by not finding and fixing gas leaks in the course production.   It’s not at all uncommon these days to spot EPA enforcement officials, in unmarked cars, siting outside the fence-line with a thermal imaging camera in hand, collecting all the evidence they need.  Feeling somewhat exposed, companies are feeling compelled to install these technologies at their own fence-lines to proactively detect leaks before the regulators do.  Given that the ready availability of this technology is driving enforcement and exposing companies to greater enforcement risks, it will continue to blossom into big business, as reflected in the upcoming annual LDAR-Fugitive Emission Symposium, slated for New Orleans in May 2014.

Oceans At Risk

Below is a sobering story of a yachtsman who, in a recent voyage from Australia to Japan, observed some disturbing telltale067467-200-ocean-pollution signs in the oceans.  While fish were scarce, human debris littering the ocean was apparently plentiful.

An Australian sailor has described parts of the Pacific Ocean as “dead” because of severe overfishing, with his vessel having to repeatedly swerve debris for thousands of kilometres on a journey from Australia to Japan.

Ivan MacFadyen told of his horror at the severe lack of marine life and copious amounts of rubbish witnessed on a yacht race between Melbourne and Osaka. He recently returned from the trip, which he previously completed 10 years ago.

“In 2003, I caught a fish every day,” he told Guardian Australia. “Ten years later to the day, sailing almost exactly the same course, I caught nothing. It started to strike me the closer we got to Japan that the ocean was dead. Continue reading

Tea Partiers Aren’t as Scientifically Stupid as Believed – Concludes One Smart Liberal

Those that read this blog know that I’m a fan of Dan Kahan, although I don’t know him personally and he and I don’t hang together in the same political spheres.  Kahan has conducted some interesting research on cultural cognition as it relates to climate change and other controversial topics, like vaccines, that require an intellectual capacity (and willingness) to understand scientifically complex issues.  But before delving into Kahan’s interesting results, a brief refresher on linear regression analysis.  The higher the r-value, ranging from 1.0 to -1.0, the stronger the correlation between two variables.  When doing linear regression, you can have both negative and positive correlations.  It should come, therefore, as no surprise to learn that those who are more highly educated tend to have higher scientific literacy and comprehension than those less educated, r-value of 0.36, as shown by the histogram below.  Full post over on Kahan’s blog here

   Continue reading

Rupert Murdoch, Fox News, and Climate Change

Linking to an interesting NPR interview this morning with David Folkenflik, author of the book, Murdoch’s World, and not surprisingly the storyline that tends to portray the strong influence exerted by Murdoch over his news outlets, such as News Corp, i.e., the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, on stories such as climate change.  I heard the interview this morning on my commute into DC.  Interesting, it just so happens that, although Murdoch’s outlets convey strong skepticism of anthropogenic global warming, he himself believes the matter serious enough that, in 2007, he declared News Corp would become “carbon neutral” in five years.   Continue reading

The Ick Factor to Recycled Water – Just a Drop in the Ocean

just-a-drop-in-the-ocean-543410-mPut this in the column of wacky Friday stories.  In a story this week involving Portland, Oregon’s, drinking water reservoir:

One man caught urinating into Portland’s Mt. Tabor reservoir on Wednesday morning caused panic – forcing the city to dump almost 8 million gallons of drinking water at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars.

Police were called to the open air reservoir, which supplies some of the city’s 500,000 residents with their water, after surveillance cameras captured the unidentified 21-year-old relieving himself by the water’s edge.

While the police did not arrest or charge the man, this is the fourth contamination incident in five-years for the controversial reservoir, causing them to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayers dollars dumping millions of gallons of drinking water each time.

Full story here.  The resulting consequence of this stranger relieving himself in Portland’s water supply cost $36,000.  I’m quite confident the City would not have made this costly decision but for the public’s squeamishness and the “ick” factor associated with “recycled” water.  But truth be told, we humans drink recycled water every day.  There isn’t a glass of water or soda consumed that hasn’t previously been cleansed by the kidneys of another human, or dinosaur for that matter.  The risk to the public from this event was non-existent.  So, we the public need to get over the ick factor, and stop making our resource managers make these kind of silly decisions.  And increasingly, the need for using reclaimed water grows, where strains on the environment, aquatic life, and water resources are reaching a breaking point. 

A New Movement of Sorts – Reusable Toilet Paper

I thought I was among the vanguard of sustainability when I installed a couple of those water saving two-button toilets in our household – you know, the ones with the small and big button for small and big jobs.  But I can’t, and probably won’t, top this new trend, reusable toilet paper.  Can you imagine attending a nice dinner party at your friend’s house and, when that biological urge arises, discretely making your way to the powder room, and then all of a sudden the shear horror and dilemma of what to do.  Well apparently this is not all that far-fetched, and happened to Whitney (we’ve withheld her last name to protect the immortaly embarrased).  Continue reading

Dr. Michael Mann – living in a glass house (with greenhouse gases)

As folks know, Dr. Michael Mann, the climatologist who’s best known for his climate change hockey stick graph, has sued the National Review and Mark Steyn for defamation for poking fun at Mann’s work as academic fraud.  So, here Mann is pressing his legal case, arguing that someone has legally injured him by knowingly spreading falsehoods.  You’d think Mann would understand the seriousness of defamation, and of course the legal elements to establish a defensable claim.  You’d think.  But this week, Mann couldn’t help himself, and tweeted out what appears to be libelous claims about Anthony Watts, whose blog, Watts Up With That, presents skeptical arguments about manmade climate change.

Mann_libel_koch Continue reading

Frogs are Green – or at Least the Living Ones

Just like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, where canaries served as human sentinels in subterranean conditions, amphibians today are viewed by many as serving thatcropped-FrogsRG_header-2013 same role for the terranean landscape.  Because amphibians, such as frogs and salamanders, are sensitive to habitat loss and environmental pollution, they have become the biological sentinels of the environmentContinue reading

EPA Priorities in the Waning Hours of the Obama Administration

Toward the end of any administration, there’s always a mad dash by EPA to push through as much of its regulatory agenda as it can.  This past Friday, I was asked to pinch hit for Nancy Stoner, head of EPA’s Water Office, at the ABA’s annual environmental law conference in Baltimore.  Due to the partial government shutdown all EPA officials were threatened prohibited from making any public appearance to prognosticate on the agency’s priorities over the last three years of the Obama Administration.  Sorry, Nancy – we missed you.  But not to be overshadowed by the Air Office and the looming showdown on climate change regulations, I promised big things from you and your office (you’re welcome!), namely the “Big Three” rules, stormwater, waters of the U.S., and nutrients.  Continue reading

Happy National Ethical Investment Week

If you’re not familiar with it, it may sound a bit hoakie.  But it’s legit, and that’s what they are celebrating in the UK this week.  And although the UK is leading the charge on using private finance to leverage social good, the concept of ethical investing continues to gain greater traction here in the U.S..  Now, one might argue that the only social good a company need provide is a good job and decent rate of return for its investors.  And 30 years ago, you would have been right.  But these days, companies are being asked to deliver much much more.  Continue reading

Obduracy of Climate Politics Creates Real Risks

Michael Gerson, a conservative and former speech writer for Bush 43, has a very thoughtful article this week on the climate change debate.  I have grown increasingly frustrated by those voices within the Republican party who, for whatever reason, refuse to  consider the possibility that human activities are contributing to climate change.  Yes, I know, environmentalists have overplayed their hand, made predictions that haven’t materialized, and have exploited fear to leverage action.  The consequences have been greater cynism and, what I refer to as, a crisis of credibility.  However, this crisis of credibility doesn’t diminish the very real possibility that climate change, caused in part by human activity, is occurring.  However, as Gerson argues over in WashPo, politics is poorly suited to address global warming. Continue reading

Good Intentions Leading to Bad Policy – The Ethanol Quagmire

The American Petroleum Institute this week filed suit against EPA, seeking to overturn the agency’s renewable fuel standards that require 10% of gasoline to be blended with biofuel or ethanol, made from grass, wood chips, corn and other plant materials.  This is one of those requirements DCF 1.0with many detractors and odd bedfellows, that is opposed by not only oil and gas, but by conservative and environmental groups as well.  As John Upton over at Grist points out, only the ethanol lobby seems to like it.  While environmental groups oppose it on environmental grounds, CEI and Cato have long argued that federal subsidies for ethanol should be phased out, as ethanol harms fuel and food prices.  And there simply isn’t enough of it to provide a steady cost-effective supply to blenders.  The blended ethanol fuels, e.g., E10, are also causing havoc with drivers, whose engines may not tolerate the ethanol.  AAA has cautioned drivers about the potential for damage to vehicles and voided warranties. Continue reading

Beware of New Construction – Safety Hazard Ahead

I’m excited to report that this blog will soon be undergoing a redesign, with a vibrant new look and a more ecumenical theme.  Due to the volume of visitors and the desire to provide a greater variety of content and perspective, this blog will be moving toward a multi-contributor platform with a continued focus on the important topic of conservation and environmental stewardship from a philosophically conservative orientation.  I will also be inviting some of my not-so-conservative political friends to offer guest essays to add to the depth and richness of perspective, and to mix up the dialogue on occasion. I’m also very excited about showcasing the incredible nature photography of my cousin, Greg Clark, whose work, like this below, will adorn the front page.  So stay tuned.


Environmentalists Debate the Costs and Benefits of Gas v. Coal

Thought it worth posting this thoughtful and civil discussion between Kate Sinding of NRDC and Michael Shellenberger of The Breakthrough Institute on the debate over energy policy and fracking in the U.S..  Some agreement, but mostly disagreement.  As you’ll gather from the interview, NRDC is opposed to fracking primarily because the natural gas boom keeps the U.S. economy hooked on a carbon-based fuel source, an obstacle to more renewable energies.  Shellenberger takes the more balanced approach, arguing that natural gas is better than coal in all respects, including environment impacts, worker safety, and the economic benefits.  Sinding argues “better is not good enough.”  Interesting exchange beginning about 26:05 where Shellenberger points out NRDC’s about position on fracking nearly five years, having previously strongly supported natural gas.  He notes politics and Hollywood hypocrites, rather than environmental concerns, have inflamed the fracking debate.  Good primer for those who haven’t followed the complex and nuanced political debate.

The Maddening World of Climate Change

I’m not one to give credence or air time to climate change “deniers” or “alarmists.”  My goal in trying to understand a very complex topic has always been to objectively review the evolving scientific evidence, searching for truth and striving to sift through facts and fiction, science from politics.  Like the other 99.9 percent of the public, I don’t get paid to assess the latest climate studies or arguments, pro or con, although I do so voluntarily to inform my own thinking, rather than letting others do that for me.  I’m an admitted, healthy skeptic, who, while believing humans are likely contributing to climate change, is not predisposed to alarmism.

Steve Goreham, two-time author and policy advisor to the Heartland Institute, has an interesting perspective on the topic over at Watts Up, positing that water cycle, not carbon dioxide, is the largest contributor to climate change.  Goreham does not dispute that humans may be contributing to climate change, but argues that our contributions are miniscule relative to other factors.  I’ve yet to come across a serious critique or debunking of Goreham’s argument, other than this one that takes a less than effective scatological “wipe” at Goreham’s book, The Mad Mad World of Climatism.  So I would welcome a link or citation by anyone who has offered up or read an objective, scientific criticism of Goreham’s scholarship.  I’m confident one exists, but just haven’t found it.  If one exists, abiding by my theme for objectivity, I will post it for all to read.  Here’s the article, which was originally published in the Washington Times. Continue reading

Contemplating a Conservative Response to Climate Change

Wanted to bring attention to a new blog, The Climate Conservative, the brainchild of my friend, Rob Sisson, over at ConservAmerica.  I’ve long believed the topic of anthropogenic climate change (AGW) is an emerging issue that warrants thoughtful debate and discussion, but have witnessed the serious erosion of credibility by both the political left and right who have used the controversy to obfuscate and advance their own political agendas.  Trying to “scare” the public into action hasn’t worked and won’t work by those who continue to play fast and loose with scientific facts and uncertainty.  And the strategy of denial, relegating AGW to nothing more than a mere hoax, does nothing to advance the interests of wise stewardship if, in fact, humans are influencing the climate.   Continue reading

Water Doesn’t Grow on Trees Nor Do Roots Sprout Pipes

I posted earlier this week on the enormous financial needs for restoring our water resourceswater main break and infrastructure within the United State alone.  Our water systems have atrophied and are no longer able to provide the same level of services we have come to expect and need to maintain our current standard of living.  Below is a picture of what happens when a 66-inch water main breaks.  This was near my home in Potomac, MD, on River Road, which occurred several years back.  That fateful morning, River Road turned into a torrential river, nearly claiming the lives of several commuters, who had to be rescued, and cost millions of dollars in emergency repairs and lost business due to extended water outages.  This senario is occurring far too often as water main breaks and costly outages are becoming the norm in many communities.  Continue reading

Connecting the Dots, Collecting the Drops

global-water-volume-freshI love this picture – as it puts into perspective the importance of Earth’s finite water resources.  The largest, blue sphere represents the total volume of all water on Earth.  The medium size one over Kentucky represents all useable freshwater, including surface and groundwater.  And the tiniest one over Atlanta, hardly visible, represents the amount of water in lakes and streams, the same water that gets recycled and filtered everyday through biological systems and has been available to sustain life for millions of years.  It’s limited, that’s all there is.  Just think, the water you drink from your tap was at one time filtered through the kidneys of dinosaur.  Someone’s waste is another’s treasure or, in this case, water.   Continue reading

Climate Skeptics May, In Fact, Be Good For The Earth

I bring your attention to a great article by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus as the IPCC releases this week its latest report on climate change.  Pointing to the work of Robert Bryce, Steve Hayward, and even the Koch Brothers, the article begins,

Over the last decade, progressives have successfully painted conservative climate skepticism as the major stumbling block to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Exxon and the Koch brothers, the story goes, fund conservative think tanks to sow doubt about climate change and block legislative action. As evidence mounts that anthropogenic global warming is underway, conservatives’ flight from reason is putting us all at risk.

This week’s release of a new United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report opens another front in the climate wars. But beneath the bellowing, name-calling, and cherry-picking of data that have become the hallmark of contemporary climate politics lies a paradox: the energy technologies favored by the climate-skeptical Right are doing far more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than the ones favored by the climate-apocalyptic Left.  [continue reading]

Lest you dismiss this criticism of the climate-apocalyptic Left, Nordhaus and Shellenberger are dyed-in-the-wool liberal, environmentalists.  The article is well worth the read.

EPA Decision Will Effect the Future of Gulf of Mexico

For water junkies like me, or those who care about environmental restoration, you might be interested in this significant decision out of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana that compels the U.S. EPA to make a “necessity determination” on whether it needs to adopt numeric nutrient criteria to achieve restoration of the Gulf of Mexico.  As I’ve blogged previously, the Gulf suffers from a large “dead zone” caused by too much nutrients from, among other sources, agricultural runoff and sewage treatment plants discharging into the Mississippi River and its tributaries.  These extra nutrients reduce the oxygen available to crabs, fish and other aquatic critters in the Gulf.  The Mississippi drains all or parts of 31 states and stretches even up into Canada.  So this is one of those wicked problems that requires significant time and resources to fix. Continue reading

Good News for Pacific Northwest Salmon

chinookVery encouraging news for the Pacific Northwest salmon fishery.  Due to recent conservation efforts to restore beleaguered chinook populations, this year the Fall run is breaking records not seen since 1938 when the Bonneville Lock and Dam was constructed.  la-na-chinook-salmon-20130924-gMaria Ganga reports from the LA Times.

The tiny fish-counting station, with its window onto the Columbia River, was darkened so the migrating salmon would not be spooked. And it was silent — until the shimmering bodies began to flicker by.   Then the room erupted with loud clicks, as Janet Dalen’s fingers flew across her stumpy keyboard. Tallying the darting specimens, she chanted and chortled, her voice a cross between fish whisperer and aquatic auctioneer. Her body swayed from left to right. Her tightly curled bangs never moved.”Come on, come on, come on,” Dalen urged, as she recorded chinook and steelhead, sockeye and coho. “Treat the fish counter nice. Keep going, sweetheart. That’s a good girl.… Pretty boy! Salute to the king! He’s a dandy. Beautiful, beautiful. Lotta fun. Just can’t beat it. An amazing year.” Continue reading

EPA Goes Big with Air and Water Proposals

Toward the waning hours of every administration the pace of regulating at EPA picks up – you can set your watch to it.

Last week was no exception, with two big announcements by EPA’s leadership affecting water and air resources.  As part of POTUS’ climate change priority, EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy, announced on Friday EPA’s intention to move forward with a regulation to limit carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.  The current best hope for meeting the aggressive limits being sought by EPA is the use of new technologies that will promote the practice of carbon capture and storage, where carbon is removed from coal emissions and injected deep under the earth’s surface.  After Friday’s hearing before the House Energy Committee, skeptical Republican senior leadership, who are concerned about the impacts on the nation’s energy costs, have vowed to block EPA’s efforts. Continue reading

Human Carrying Capacity – Fanciful Fiction or Deadly Reality

One of the first courses I took in college toward my degree in wildlife management was a Isle Royal Moosepopulation dynamics class.  And one of the first readings was the classic story of the boom-bust population cycles of the moose and wolf of Isle Royale Michigan, where, prior to the wolf as a keystone predator, the island’s moose herd would overpopulate and overgraze, resulting in starvation and mass die-offs.  When the wolves were eventually introduced the belief was that the keystone predator would help stabilize the moose population.  But the history of Isle Royale moose and wolf populations have been wildly unpredictable, affected not only by availability of food, but by disease, tick outbreaks, wolf0422severe winters, and immigrant wolves.  Every five years has brought unpredictable fluctuations in both populations, and every five years has been different from all other five-year periods.  Even in the 1980s when my classmates and I were closely following this study, it was believed that the populations would reach equilibrium.  But that never happened.  Continue reading

EPA Scores Big Victory in Chesapeake Bay Decision

Last Friday, the U.S. EPA scored a big victory against industry opponents who imagesCAE38NBGchallenged the Agency’s authority and efforts to establish a cleanup strategy for the Chesapeake Bay.  The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled in favor of EPA upholding the total maximum daily load (TMDL) scheme for the Bay restoration efforts.  Bay TMDL Order  I have former clients and friends on both sides of this notable litigation, so win, lose or draw, there would have been no victory lap for me. Continue reading

Climate Alarmists Continue to Scramble

I link to an interesting article in the WSJ titled “Dialing Back the Alarm on Climate Change,” by Matt Ridley, a well-respected British scientist and journalist and a/k/a rational optimist.  You can decide for yourself whether climate scientists, but mostly alarmists, have damaged their credibility and the effort to forge viable solutions.

Later this month, a long-awaited event that last happened in 2007 will recur. Like a returning comet, it will be taken to portend ominous happenings. I refer to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) “fifth assessment report,” part of which will be published on Sept. 27.

There have already been leaks from this 31-page document, which summarizes 1,914 pages of scientific discussion, but thanks to a senior climate scientist, I have had a glimpse of the key prediction at the heart of the document. The big news is that, for the first time since these reports started coming out in 1990, the new one dials back the alarm. It states that the temperature rise we can expect as a result of man-made emissions of carbon dioxide is lower than the IPPC thought in 2007.

Admittedly, the change is small, and because of changing definitions, it is not easy to compare the two reports, but retreat it is. It is significant because it points to the very real possibility that, over the next several generations, the overall effect of climate change will be positive for humankind and the planet. Continue reading

Beauty Has Become The Ugly

I share the following provocative BBC documentary, “Why Beauty Matters”,  by Roger Scruton.  A powerful and moving piece on the importance of beauty and aesthetics in art, form, and the natural world around us.  Scruton maintains that beauty “is a value, like truth and goodness,” decries the fact that the world has turned its back on beauty, and bemoans the spiritual desert of the postmodern world, which oft seeks to mock the pursuit of beauty and desigrates its spiritual significance.  Mona Charen referred to Scruton’s documentary as “one the most affecting documentaries I’ve ever seen.”

We cannot reach a consensus on the definition of beauty, any more than on the definition of other such volatile terms. But we can reach a consensus on the importance of beauty, and its place in our lives. The test of time is important, but the important time is now. And that is why we must educate children in the love of the beautiful and the capacity to distinguish the true from the phony examples.
– Roger Scruton

Africa’s Black Rhino Driven to Extinction

Very sad news to learn of the confirmed extinction of Africa’s western black rhino.  The blackrhinoblack market for rhino horn, which fetches upward of $1,400 an ounce for medicinal witch-doctory in countries like Vietnam, where demand is at its highest, was a death sentence for this species.  According to CNN reports,

Africa’s western black rhino is now officially extinct according the latest review of animals and plants by the world’s largest conservation network. Continue reading

Our National Treasures – Was Secretary Watt Correct?

Interesting article in American Spectator this week by Robert Smith titled, An Environmentalist Deception, wherein Smith takes issue with fellow conservatives at the R Street Institute for celebrating the anniversary of Reagan’s establishment of Mount St.imagesCAOFESOR Helens National Volcanic Monument.  Here’s what prompted Smith’s retort:

R Street Associate Fellow Ryan Cooper pointed to research from the Headwaters Economics showing that since the monument’s establishment, the surrounding region has seen population grow by 30 percent, real personal income has grown by 62 percent, total jobs have grown by 42 percent and real per-capita income grew by 24 percent. Headwaters’ data suggests that in many cases, employers have explicitly chosen the area for its beauty, a major drawing point for highly skilled employees. Continue reading

Coase and Environmental Externalities

With the recent passing of Ronald Coase, much tribute has rightly been given to his inordinate contributions to the world of economics, here by Peter Boetkke and here by Patrick Lyons of the NYT.  I’m not an economist and don’t even pretend to be one on TV, but have followed and appreciated Coase’s contributions to the scholarship of environmental policy involving the economic problem of environmental externalities.  Most modern economists, save Coase, believe that environmental pollution is the result of market failure.  Adler has a good piece today on Coase’s rejection of the concept of externalities and corrects those who may misunderstand or misinterpret Coase’s argument.  According to Coase, when property rights are clear and well-defined, contracting parties, including the polluter, will allocate resources effectively and efficiently, as the economic benefits and costs – read environmental – are fully borne by the effected parties.  This idea was coined the Coase TheoremContinue reading

Yellowstone’s Wolves Prove Beneficial to Bear Population

Linking to a new study at Oregon State which tends to reinforce the ecological importance of wolves to the Yellowstone ecosystem and elsewhere.  With the wolves helping to rgrizzlyeduce the large population of elk in the park, who over the years overgrazed plants, trees and shrubs, many of the berry producing shrubs have returned.  These berries are important for the grizzly bear’s pre-hibernation diet. Continue reading

The Decline of GOP Environmentalism or Decline of Environmentalism Itself

Paul Sabin has an article in this weekend’s Boston Globe titled “The Decline of Republican Environmentalism.” Sabin, a professor of history at Yale and author of “The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble Over Earth’s Future,” makes a compelling case for the country’s current deadlock on forging solutions to important environmental matters, including climate change.  However, I think the article could aptly have been titled the “Decline of Environmentalism” or “The Failed Gamble of Environmentalism,” rather than painting the GOP into a corner.  According to Sabin,

Twenty-five years ago tomorrow, from the sunny decks of an excursion boat touring Boston Harbor, George H.W. Bush, then the Republican candidate for president, launched a fierce attack on Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee. Bush said that Boston’s polluted waters — “the dirtiest harbor” in America — symbolized Dukakis’s failed leadership. He “will say that he will do for America what he’s done for Massachusetts,” Bush declared. “That’s why I fear for the country.” By delaying a major cleanup of the harbor, Bush said, Dukakis had cost taxpayers billions of dollars and allowed the pollution to continue, making “the most expensive public policy mistake in the history of New England.”

Bush’s attack on Dukakis stands out as perhaps the last time a prominent national Republican turned an environmental cause into a weapon against a Democratic opponent. And in that 25-year gap lies a lost path and a giant missed opportunity. Republicans no longer seriously contest the environmental vote; instead, they have run from it. Largely as a result, national environmental policy-making has become one-sided, polarized, and stuck. Republican politicians mostly deny the threat of climate disruption and block legislative solutions, while President Obama tries to go it alone with a shaky patchwork of executive actions. A middle ground on environmental policy remains a mirage. Continue reading

Death Panel Proposed for Pandas

Interesting and thought-provoking article this week by Tim Lavin over at Bloomberg pandatitled “Why I Hate Pandas and You Should Too.”  The gist of Lavin’s discrimination and hatred toward the cute and cuddly panda stems from his violent disagreement with spending tens of millions of conservation dollars to save a Darwinian-challenged species, when that money could be better spent on more important, sustainable conservation efforts.  Excerpts of Lavin’s article,

Congratulations on your new panda cub, Washington! You’re prolonging the existence of a hopeless and wasteful species the world should’ve given up on long ago.  I understand the impulse. Some people find them cute.  Pandas don’t have much of a habitat left in the wild, thanks to heedless human development. And zoos imagine they’re doing the right thing, pulling in some extra visitors while helping conservation efforts. Continue reading

A Christian Perspective on Environmental Stewardship – by Francis Schaeffer

Growing up in an Evangelical Christian home, my disappointment in how my form of imagesCA974EHGChristianity thought about and responded to environmental problems was inescapable.  Biblical dominance over nature took precedence over reverence and respect.  But there was one prominent voice within the evangelical movement who strongly disagreed.  In 1970, Dr. Francis Schaeffer, an evangelical theologian and philosopher, penned the book, “Pollution and the Death of Man: the Christian view of ecology,” which is still available in reprinted version.  It’s a short read, little more than a hundred pages and a couple of hours of reading.  The other night I blew the dust off my original, dog-eared, margin-smudged version that I kept near my night-stand during my youth as I struggled with faith and fauna.  Its content and message of why Christian stewardship of the environment matters are still very relevant today.  Schaeffer wrote the book during a time of environmental awakening in the U.S., shortly after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring but before the advent of federal environmental laws, such as the Clean Air and Water Acts. Continue reading

More Chicken Wings = More Environmental Challenges

chickensWe have a lot of chickens in Maryland.  And, in fact, we humans are outnumbered 1,000 to 1 along Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  Lots of chickens also means lots of chicken poop – something you probably don’t care to think about as you’re nibbling on that chicken wing.  And fact, most of the chicken manure (a/k/a chicken litter as it’s called locally) is land-applied, which is also what’s affecting the quality of water in the Chesapeake Bay.  More manure equals more algae, equals less oxygen for fish, crabs and other aquatic critters.  But, as a vital nutrient resource that keeps on giving, it can also be transformed into a renewable energy source as discussed below. Continue reading

Michael Mann v. National Review – Update

Linking to Jonathan Adler’s latest update on the Michael Mann defamation lawsuit against National Review. For those who haven’t followed this case, the partisan and outspoken climate scientist, Mann, took offense to comments made last year by NR’s Mark Steyn, who called Mann’s climate work “fraudulent” and called into the question his professional integrity, mocking Mann’s oft-repeated false claims in holding himself out as a Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Mann sued the conservative organizations NR and the Competitive Enterprise Institute for alleged defamatory statements made against him.

Although Mann’s climate theories and science may ultimately turn out to be correct, he’s about as good for the advancement of objective science as a large scary arachnid to a little girls’ tea party. Zealous advocacy, political partisanship, and thin skin, earning him the dubious title of “Climate Charlatan” by some, have made him an easy – and, yes, enjoyable – target for climate skeptics and opposing partisans.

In any event, a few weeks ago, NR’s and CEI’s request to have the lawsuit dismissed was rejected by a DC Superior Court judge. Adler, over at The Volokh Conspiracy Blog, provides interesting perspective on this case, as it potentially heads to trial. NR and CEI are being represented by their respective lead counsel, Shannen Coffin and David Rivkin.

Some GOP Propose Taxing Carbon Not Income to Mitigate Climate Change

Art Laffer, former Reagan economic advisor, and Bob Inglis, former GOP Congressman from South Carolina, discuss options for responding to climate change. Tax carbon not income. What do you think?

Check out the Energy and Enterprise Initiative and decide for yourself.

Nature – an abstraction to far too many

Author and ecologist, Daniel Botkin, in his new book, The Moon in the Nautilus Shell, offers an important perspective on humanity’s connectedness to nature.  Using the fascinating ecology of the Nautilus, Botkin argues that we too are deeply connected to nature in ways beyond our own conciousness.  When we lose touch with our surroundings, nature becomes but a mere abstraction bereft of relevance and meaning. According to Botkin, the only way to solve many of our environmental problems is through our understanding of our connection to nature, an important part of ourselves.  Here is a four-minute video of the unique story of the Nautilus and Botkin’s sentiments.

Who you gonna believe – Rush Limbaugh or Al Gore?

I’ve heard from some who have grown weary of my covering climate change here – and I must confess that I too grow weary of the topic.  This blog was never intended to focus on a singular topic, but because of how central climate change has become to so much of the policy and political debate on energy and natural resource management, it simply cannot be ignored.  So I ask for your indulgence for this, and possibly a few more posts in the weeks to come.

Because of all the climate change “noise” from competing views, it is extremely difficult for anyone to decipher fact from fiction.  And what one believes on the issue can probably be distilled into one word “trust.”   Who you gonna believe, Rush Limbaugh or Al Gore?   Who you trust on this matter, what scientific or political figures you believe will steer you right, probably aligns well with your current position and views on the topic.  Continue reading

Draft IPCC Report on Climate Change Leaked And Survey Says . . .

The next assessement report (AR5) of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is due out next month.  But a draft version has been leaked to Reuters and is being widely reported in the news.   Although the IPCC has warned against drawing any conclusions from the draft – because it most assuredly will change by the time it’s finalized – some media outlets and blogs are already going to town and reporting on noteworthy statements and conclusions contained in the draft.  Although I don’t think it’s productive to begin debating a report for which the vast majority haven’t yet seen or reviewed or isn’t yet final, I link to a number of the articles below and the headlines.

Reuters – Experts surer of manmade global warming but local predictions elusive.

New York Times – Climate Panel Cites Near Certainty on Warming.

Mother Jones – 5 Terrifying Statements in the Leaked Climate Report.

Grist – Climate scientists are 95 percent sure that humans are causing global warming.

Daily Kos – New IPCC report leaked: We’re heading toward 9F increase – climate impacts are speeding up.

I’ll await the release of the final version before drawing any of my own conclusions.  Stay tuned for more fun.

Enduring Wildlife Conservation is About Conserving Human Livelihood

So often, we hear stories of wildlife extinction or near extinction due to imbalances created by habitat encroachment or insatiable human appetites.  This week I’m highlighting the extraordinary conservation work of Paul Butler of the organization RARE, who has helped to bring the St. Lucia Parrot population back from near extinction to now on the road to recovery.  In the 1970s these beautiful birds were on the brink of extinction – only 150 specimens – due to deforestation for agriculture and illegal hunting and capture for international pet trade.  There are now 1,500 St. Lucia Parrots flying about the forests of the Caribbean.  Paul and his local partners, churches, St Lucia parrotbusinesses, and musicians, brought attention to the plight of this bird by appealing to local “pride” and working with local communities to protect people’s livelihood.  According to Paul,

Conservation is not just about fluffy animals and about protecting habitat.  It’s also about protecting people’s livelihoods. When you appeal to people on both their rational and emotional side, we find that conservation can gain traction and can be successful.

Kudos to Paul and his team and leveraging the right incentives for success.  You can find out more about RARE and Paul’s work here and here.

Real Christians Don’t Believe in Climate Change – Really??

During my commute into DC yesterday for a lunch meeting, I had my radio tuned to Rush Limbaugh when he swerved into the topic of climate change.  He was talking about recent comments made by Secretary Kerry wherein Kerry made reference to climate change as “a challenge to our responsibilities as the guardians–safe guarders of God’s creation.”  Well Rush took issue with Kerry’s comment, but particularly Kerry’s inconsistent treatment and views of the unborn as part of God’s creation.  Here is a snippet of the monologue:

You must be either agnostic or atheistic to believe that man controls something that he can’t create.  The vanity!  These people — on the one hand, we’re no different than a mouse or a rat.  If you listen to the animal rights activists, we are the pollutants of this planet. If it weren’t for humanity — the military environmentalist wackos — the Earth would be pristine and wonderful and beautiful, and nobody would see it.  According to them we are not as entitled to life on this planet as other creatures because we destroy it. But how can we destroy it when we’re no different from the lowest life forms?”

And then on the other end, we are so powerful.  And we are so impotent — omnipotent that we can destroy — we can’t even stop a rain shower, but we can destroy the climate.  And how? With barbecue pits and automobiles, particularly SUVs. It’s absurd. Continue reading

Feathers Ruffled in Montgomery County

Suburban living hasn’t always offered a very chicken-friendly way of life, but where I live that could be changing.  Montgomery County, just north of our Nation’s Capital, about 12 miles as a crow flies or as a chicken walks, is now considering relaxing its zoning requirements for chickens.   Since 1955, County zoning required chicken coops to be at least 25 feet from a property boundary and 100 feet from your closest neighbor’s home, which pretty much has been a defacto prohibition for the vast majority of Montgomery residents.  Under the new law, chicken coops would be required to be at least five feet from the property line and 15 feet from the nearest home, with a limit of one chicken per 1000 square feet of property and maximum of eight birds. Continue reading

Conservative Skepticism Not Caused by Climate Change

A little tongue-in-cheek there in case you missed it.  But everything these days seems to get blamed on climate change, rain, storms, snow, droughts, flooding, migration, violence, insecurity, depression, and bad hair.  At some point it all becomes unbelievable and facile, and it’s regrettable when an otherwise serious scientific discussion morphs into a political charade.  Chris Mooney, a politically left and perspicacious political journalist, has penned a thoughtful piece over at Mother Jones regarding the skeptical mind of conservatives and the modern role of science.  Polls consistently reveal that conservatives and the political right are a skeptical bunch and far less inclined to believe in manmade climate change than are their liberal neighbors.  Some have sought to blame this phenomena on conservative media, such as Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, who indeed are prone to sowing seeds of doubt.  But is that the root cause of conservative skepticism?  Mooney isn’t buying it, Continue reading

Climate Change – “Scientific Consensus” or Pathologies in Public Discourse

There’s been a fair amount of controversy – some might even call it an old fashion dust up – involving a recent study by John Cook et al. that claims 97.1% of scientists endorse the consensus position that humans are causing global warming. scientific consensus The study has been used by some in the media as a rallying cry to force a public consensus as well as policy action.  Step number one in any change management strategy is to create a sense of urgency, the burning platform that drives change.  Yet the “consensus” study has been resoundingly criticized by some, including Professor Mike Hulme, as poorly conceived, designed and executed, and contriving a debate that is irrelevant and unhelpful in advancing policy solutions.  This latter point is supported in part by a recent Pew Research study that reveals 7 in 10 Americans believe global warming is occurring, but only 4 in 10 believe that such warming is caused by human activity.  So a super-majority believes climate change is happening, but less than half are convinced that warming is caused by humans and/or don’t support drastic policy measures being advanced by those who would seek to kill the Keystone Pipeline project.  So the purported “disconnect” is not about whether there is a problem; rather, it’s how we address the problem. Continue reading

Climate Change Makes People Meaner and More Prone to Violence

Another study this week links climate change with increased violence and global conflict.  Abstract for the study, just published in Science:

A rapidly growing body of research examines whether human conflict can be affected by climatic changes. Drawing from archaeology, criminology, economics, geography, history, political science, and psychology, we assemble and analyze the 60 most rigorous quantitative studies and document, for the first time, a remarkable convergence of results. We find strong causal evidence linking climatic events to human conflict across a range of spatial and temporal scales and across all major regions of the world. The magnitude of climate’s influence is substantial: for each 1 standard deviation (1σ) change in climate toward warmer temperatures or more extreme rainfall, median estimates indicate that the frequency of interpersonal violence rises 4% and the frequency of intergroup conflict rises 14%. Because locations throughout the inhabited world are expected to warm 2 to 4σ by 2050, amplified rates of human conflict could represent a large and critical impact of anthropogenic climate change. Continue reading

Crunchy Con Manifesto Redux

Over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate Rod Dreher’s contributions to environmental discourse and advancing the better elements of conservativism.  Some may recall his work at National Review, where he was the king of Crunchy Con.  It’s difficult to improve upon his Manifesto, which I’m reposting here:

  1. We are conservatives who stand outside the conservative mainstream; therefore, we can see things that matter more clearly.
  2. Modern conservatism has become too focused on money, power, and the accumulation of stuff, and insufficiently concerned with the content of our individual and social character.
  3. Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government.
  4. Culture is more important than politics and economics.
  5. A conservatism that does not practice restraint, humility, and good stewardship—especially of the natural world—is not fundamentally conservative.
  6. Small, Local, Old, and Particular are almost always better than Big, Global, New, and Abstract.
  7. Beauty is more important than efficiency.
  8. The relentlessness of media-driven pop culture deadens our senses to authentic truth, beauty, and wisdom.
  9. We share Russell Kirk’s conviction that “the institution most essential to conserve is the family.”
  10. Politics and economics won’t save us; if our culture is to be saved at all, it will be by faithfully living by the Permanent Things, conserving these ancient moral truths in the choices we make in our everyday lives.

I would love to hear from anyone, liberal or conservative, with ideas on how this set of guiding principles could be improved.

Some Environmentalists Think and Behave Like Animals

This is where I think so many environmentalists go so terribly wrong.  David Roberts over at Grist, who I think is a fairly smart fellow, couldn’t be more wrong in the way he views and discusses environmental problems, such as climate change.  In an article titled, We are Consigning Hundreds of Coastal Cities to Destruction. Who Cares?,  David laments:

Humanity’s difficulties dealing with climate change trace back to a simple fact: We are animals. Our cognitive and limbic systems were shaped by evolution to heed threats and rewards close by, involving faces and teeth. That’s how we survived. Those systems were not shaped to heed, much less emotionally respond to, faceless threats distant in time and space — like, say, climate change. No evil genius could design a problem less likely to grab our attention.

Continue reading