Sierra Daily: November 2010
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21 posts from November 2010

Nov 12, 2010

Just the Facts, Ma'am

Sierra Daily, it turns out, is not the only outfit that takes pleasure from publicizing the pernicious shenanigans of the secretive Koch brothers, the oil-and-gas sugar daddies behind climate denialism, the Tea Party, and California's failed Prop 23, to name a few. Now the Alliance for Climate Protection's Repower Americacampaign has launched a site dedicated to shining a light on the Koch boys' doings: Koch Industries Facts.

Thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, we can't limit the amount of money the Koch's inject into the political system. But we can lift their veil of secrecy.

--Paul Rauber

Nov 10, 2010

Wax and Wane

Which Republican will replace Henry Waxman (D-California), the outgoing chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee who shepherded a cap-and-trade and energy bill through the House of Representatives in 2009?

One contender apparently has God on his side: In 2009, committee member John Shimkus (R-Illinois) read from Scripture to highlight his belief that God made a post-Flood promise to Noah that the world would face no more climate catastrophes. "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though all inclinations of his heart are evil from childhood and never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done," Shimkus quoted Genesis, adding "I believe that's the infallible word of God, and that's the way it's going to be for his creation."

If Shimkus' approach to energy policy gives you the vapors, the other three GOP contenders for Waxman's gavel won't have you singing hallelujahs: All but one -- Fred Upton (R-Michigan) -- explicitly Ark question the science of manmade global warming, and Upton is opposed to any policy action. For a rundown on the full complement of dinosaurs vying to lead the House of Representatives on energy issues, go here.

The Noah's ark imagery is useful for all opinions in the climate debate: In 2007, Greenpeace activists built a replica of the iconic vessel on Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey as a warning to mankind to act quickly to prevent global warming. 

--Reed McManus


What's to Blame for Half the U.S. Trade Deficit

Give up yet? It's your car.  

Today we're shipping to the printer (among other things) a feature I wrote for the January/February 2011 issue called "Beyond Oil in 20 Years: Here's How to Get There." Too late for inclusion comes this great chart (courtesty Matt Yglesias) from the finance and economics blog Calculated Risk. It shows the U.S. trade deficit: blue is the total deficit, red is the trade deficit without petroleum products, and black is petroleum alone. (You can click for a larger version.)

As Yglesias notes,

America is a much more oil-dependent country than other places are. We have more anti-density regulations, more subsidization of big houses, less taxation of gasoline, less investment in mass transit, etc. than most developed countries. This isn’t really a coincidence. The United States was a net oil exporter in the late-1940s. So we had a postwar industrial policy paradigm built around suburbanization and powerful firms in the oil and automobile sectors. The problem is that we’re not a net oil exporter anymore by a long shot. But we still have a policy paradigm build around encouraging lavish consumption of gasoline. Under the circumstances, we’d have to run a really enormous surplus in goods and services to cover the oil gap.

Of course, we could also ween ourselves off of oil. While you're waiting for the new Sierra, you can study up on the issue here.

--Paul Rauber

Local Bo Makes Good


Congratulations to anti-mountaintop removal activist Bo Webb, who's been named a winner of a $50,000 "Purpose Prize" by the organization Civic Ventures. Webb, you may recall, featured in our May/June story, "Close to Home" by Jeff Biggers; he singlehandedly shut down illegal mountaintop-removal coal operations near his home in Peachtree, West Virginia, but didn't stop there. "What about the hundreds of thousands of acres of active mountaintop-removal sites that are poisoning our streams and communities right now?" he asked.

In its writeup of Webb, Civic Ventures notes the his path to activism began when his granddaughter was born prematurely in 1990. “I made a promise to my God that if she could make it, I would watch over her and try to make the world a better place,” he recalls. “I’m just fulfilling my promise.”

 For more on Webb, see Ken Ward Jr.'s excellent blog for the West Virginia Charleston Gazette, Coal Tattoo.

--Paul Rauber

Nov 09, 2010

Yo Snoop! Visit a National Park!

On the heels of Oprah Winfrey's first-ever visit to Yosemite National Park at the invitation of park Ranger Shelton Johnson, change.org is teaming up with Johnson to lure rapper Snoop Dogg into the

Snoop great outdoors. Johnson (whose novel Gloryland was excerpted in our September/October 2009 issue) aims to increase the number of African-Americans visiting the national park system. At present, he says, he's more likely to meet a family from Japan than an African-American family from nearby Oakland. "All Snoop Dogg has to do is go camping in Yosemite and it would change the world," Johnson says. There's already a petition to Snoop Dogg's PR firm, 5W Public Relations, calling on the rap superstar to step up and camp out. You can add your John Doe here.

--Paul Rauber 

Grizzly Elimination Too!

But why stop at getting rid of the bluefin tuna? Conservative preacher Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association says "If it’s a choice between grizzlies and humans, the grizzlies have to go. And it’s time." (H/t TPMmuckracker.) Fishcher was incensed by an article in the Los Angeles Times  recounting the hardships the endangered bears are facing, even in their stronghold in the Greater Yellowstone region.

57420001 A number of complex factors are believed to be working against grizzlies, including climate change. Milder winters have allowed bark beetles to decimate the white-bark pine, whose nuts are a critical food source for grizzlies. Meanwhile, there has been a slight seasonal shift for plants that grizzlies rely on when they prepare to hibernate and when they emerge in the spring, changing the creatures' denning habits.

The result, some biologists say, is that bears accustomed to feasting on berries and nuts in remote alpine areas are being pushed into a more meat-dependent diet that puts them on a collision course with the other dominant regional omnivore: humans.

Reporter Julie Cart notes that 48 bears have died from human causes thus far this year, while two people have been killed by bears. That's where Fischer puts his foot down:

Ms. Cart continues her angst-ridden piece by making a statement that is ludicrous on its face: 

"With more bears and more people stuffed into the 22,000 square miles of bear habitat, something has to give, and no one here has a simple answer.” 

Of course there is a simple answer: shoot these man-eaters on sight.

Fischer's view is extreme, but perhaps only for the moment. Cart explores the possible fate of the griz should dwindling food supplies in Yellowstone lead to increased interaction with neighboring humans:

"Public tolerance is starting to wane somewhat," said Mark Bruscino, bear management supervisor for Wyoming's Department of Game and Fish. "You can look at the mountains and know there are grizzly bears there — that sits pretty good with people. But when you go to your kid's 4-H facility and bears have ruined the place, that changes things. People in Wyoming think they have enough bears."

Coincidentally, the January/February 2011 issue of Sierra will feature a story on this very topic, so stay tuned. And to whet your interest, check out this amazing amateur video of a hungry grizzly trying to run down a wounded bison in Yellowstone.

--Paul Rauber

Nov 08, 2010

Bluefin Elimination Competition

If some world body were charging those responsible for hunting the bluefin tuna to extinction, the crime would be conspiracy. In our July/August issue ("Down to the Last Sushi"), we reported on some of the forces arrayed against a proposed bluefin fishing ban. Now an intriguing joint report by the International

GR_02Consortium for Investigative Journalists and the nonprofit Television for the Environment has pushed the story much further in Looting the Seas: A Global Investigation. The exhaustive report and companion television documentary lay the blame on decades of fraud and illegal catches by fishing fleets with the tacit approval of friendly governments, and a thriving black market that accounts for as much as one third of all bluefin caught.

The questionable practices extend across the industry, ICIJ found, from fishing fleets and farms, through ministry offices, to distributors in Japan. Led by the French, Spanish, and Italians, joined by Turks and others, Mediterranean fishermen violated official quotas at will and engaged in an array of illegal practices: misreporting catch size, hiring banned spotter planes, catching undersized fish, and

Quotas_double-5x6plundering tuna from North African waters where EU inspectors are refused entry. An illicit market even arose in trading quotas — when regulators finally started enforcing the rules — in which one vessel sells its nation’s quota to a foreign vessel that had overfished.

  A particularly depressing section attempts to pinpoint which of the (most Mediterranean) tuna-fishing nations is most at fault. After it admitted to overfishing in the last 1990s, France was roundly denounced. "I can't tell you the criticism we suffered," the report quotes a French bluefin-industry official. "We were denounced by the Spanish and the Italians, who cheated even more than we did."

As Andy Revkin notes today in Dot Earth, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas is set to meet later this month. They have their work cut out for them.

--Paul Rauber

Nov 05, 2010

"Climate is gone.”

It didn’t take long for some victorious Republicans to confirm environmentalists’ worst fears after Tuesday’s election, which put the Grand Old Party back in charge of the House of Representatives. Offering a keynote speech at a trade show for natural gas executives on election day, GOP strategist Karl Rove asssured the Pennsylvania energy crowd that “climate is gone.”

In the Bush White House, Rove was considered all-powerful, but in this case he was surely referring not to a previously unheralded ability to control global atmosphere from the Washington, D.C.  headquarters of his hyper-funded conservative lobbying groups American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, but to the fate of the huge House energy bill that passed last year before stalling in the Senate.

And President Obama has admitted that we won't see a similarly big energy bill soon: "When it comes to something like energy, what we're probably going to have to do is say here are some areas where there's just too much disagreement between Democrats and Republicans, we can't get this done right now.”

The difference is that Obama still hopes to pursue energy legislation (“Let's go ahead and start making some progress on the things that we do agree on, and we can continue to have a strong and healthy debate about those areas where we don't.") while Rove delighted oil-shale execs by telling them "I don't think you need to worry" that the new Congress would get anywhere near legislation to tighten controls on hydraulic fracturing—the process by which water, sand, and chemicals are injected under high pressure into shall formations to recover natural gas.

--Reed McManus

How Low Can It Go?

Sierra's current "Up To Speed" column includes an update about the incredible shrinking Lake Mead:

After 11 years of drought, Lake Mead is at 40 percent of its capacity and dropping. The lake has a 50 percent chance of running dry by 2021.


Now NASA's wonderful Earth Observatory provides a documentary view--from Landsat 5 in the inky darkness of space. If you click through here you'll find this image contrasted with the same area as it appeared in 1985. Notes NASA:

Whether climate change is involved or not, there is also a historical problem at work, as described by the National Park Service: “In 1922, the states of the Colorado River Basin created the Colorado River Compact, governing how the water of the river would be divided between them. They looked at the average flow of the Colorado River over a ten-year time period. Unknowingly, they chose ten years that had a higher annual flow of water. This overabundance caused them to overestimate the amount of water available.”

Might be time to find a new place to berth that party barge.

--Paul Rauber

Nov 03, 2010

Fear the Bear(d)

There were a lot of post-election hangovers all over the country today, but here in California we're feeling better than some because of the crushing defeat of Prop 23, the attempt by Texas oil companies to derail our state's transition to clean energy. Of course, here in San Francisco we're feeling even better than that because the San Francisco Giants won the World Series. The victory parade passed two blocks away from Sierra's office, which pretty much emptied out as we cheered our heroes. Some followed them all the way to San Francisco's Civic Center for more festivities--and there, in one of the harmonic convergences for which our part of the country is so noted, the two issues came together:

Giants 015 
(Non-Giant fans may need to know that our winning team is notably hirsute, hence the slogan.) Thanks to Rose Braz of the Center for Biological Diversity for the great shot.

--Paul Rauber

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