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Sierra Daily: March 2011
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35 posts from March 2011

Mar 14, 2011

Badge of Honor

Peopleforbikes660 
I've threatened for years to get a permanent tattoo like this. From People for Bikes, via the wonderful Adventure Journal.

--Paul Rauber 

Mar 11, 2011

Why Do Deniers Hate the Military?

The U.S. naval forces--the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps--need to prepare for melting ice caps, rising sea level, and increasingly severe storms and droughts. That's the gist of a report, commissioned by the Navy, by the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences:  

Summer sea ice in the Arctic is declining at an estimated rate of 10 percent per decade or more, and Arctic Ocean sea lanes could be open as early as the summer of 2030.  U.S. security challenges are growing as shipping, oil and gas exploration, and other activities increase in the region, the report says.  To protect U.S. interests, U.S. naval forces need to fund a strong, consistent effort to increase Arctic operations and cold weather training programs.                

Naval forces will also need to meet growing demands for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts in response to a range of predicted crises created by climate change, including floods, droughts, intense storms, and geopolitical unrest. . . . The report notes that rising sea levels accompanied by stronger, more frequent storm surges could leave U.S. naval installations vulnerable.  An estimated $100 billion of Navy installations would be at risk from sea-level rise of 1 meter or more.

As previously noted, half of the incoming GOP members of Congress do not believe that global warming is real, or, if it is, that it's caused by human activity. Republicans in both houses of Congress are trying to take away the EPA's ability to regulate carbon dioxide, the chief cause of global warming. Yesterday, top climatologists tried in vain to explain to the House Energy Committee's subcommittee on energy and power "how years of research involving thousands of scientists in dozens of fields of expertise have come to the ineluctable conclusion that fossil-fuel pollution is threatening humanity." No dice:

The response from the majority party was an embarrassment to the institution of Congress and to the American people. As if the hearing were a drinking game of debunked global warming myths, the Republicans on the committee uniformly pretended they were wading into some grand scientific debate, whose proponents just wanted to take America’s energy away. Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) took a brave stand against the secret plot to ban nitrogen. Whitfield cited the canards of the Minoan warming period, the Medieval warming period, and growing Antarctic ice. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) competed with Whitfield, spinning tales of Vikings, global warming on Mars, and global cooling.

Maybe next time instead of sending the scientists, they should send a few rear admirals to Congress to set them straight. This remarkable time-lapse animationfrom NASA of retreating sea ice  in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, might also focus their attention:

Mcmurdo_tmo_2003_2011 
Click herefor QuickTime animation.

--Paul Rauber

 

Who Cleans Up After You?

India_sort1-thumb-600x450-43683 
Adam Minter, the Shanghai-based freelancer who recently wrote for Sierra on China's coal imports, has just finished guest-blogging for James Fallows at The Atlantic. He put his high-profile stint to great advantage with a blog series on the recycling business in Asia that he called Wasted 7/7. (The easiest place to find it all in one place is on his own blog, Shanghai Scrap.) Among its many surprising revelations:

Many recycling jobs in China are considered to be skilled labor, and experienced workers can earn more than college graduates;

Shipbreaking, a dangerous and toxic occupation in many parts of the world, has become in China  an enormous and environmentally sound industry; and

The recycling trade in Asia is often an environmental win/win: skilled hands (in many cases, skilled women's hands) separate metals and other materials far more efficiently than any machine, providing Asian industries with alternatives to virgin materials. Recycled metal accounts for 25% of Chinese aluminum production, 40% of its copper, and 15% of its steel.

"It's possible, I suppose, to look at that cycle and think of the laborers as the ones being exploited." concludes Minter. "But from China - home to a manufacturing behemoth built in part on scrap metal - I simply can't escape the feeling that the people being exploited are the Americans sending all that value to China."

Read the whole series yourself. Highly recommended.

--Paul Rauber

 

 

Mar 10, 2011

Beware the Cow Tax!

Cow with sunflower

Did you know the EPA was preparing to levy a cow tax on American farmers? or that it's going to start regulating spilled milk? News to me, but that's largely because it's not true and--one would hope--self-evidently absurd.

But people will believe the darnedest things, as witness this sad story from The Hill, in which EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has to go out of her way to rebut five  fictions that someone is finding useful to spread about the EPA's intentions vis-a-vis American farmers. Some of them--prohibiting pesticide drift to neighboring farms, or regulating nitrogen run-off--might strike environmentalists as good ideas, but for better or worse they aren't actions that the EPA is taking right now.

Probably because it's too busy conniving with the Department of Energy to sabotage Rand Paul's toilet.

--Paul Rauber 

Image: iStock

Over 3 Million Sold

006_2010_Prius-prv This week Toyota announced that it has sold more than 3 million of its now-ubiquitous hybrid vehicles worldwide since 1997. The company sells 16 hybrid models around the world, and plans to introduce 10 new gas-electric models by the end of 2012. Toyota estimates that its hybrids have led to some 18 million fewer tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Every major U.S. automaker will have a hybrid vehicle model available on the market by 2012. Just in the nick of time, too, as oil pushes past $100 a barrel. Unlike in 2008, when per-barrel oil prices last hit triple digits, automakers across the board are ready. A very bullish Bill Ford, Executive Chairman of Ford Motor Company, recently told Reuters: "You will see a shift, I believe, to smaller cars, smaller SUVs," Mr. Ford said. "We are very prepared. I love our portfolio because it plays right into our strategy, which is to be the fuel economy leader."

--Reed McManus

Poor Exxon Needs Our Help!

Since most of us get our news in small, heavily-edited bites, news consumers are often left shouting at their newspapers/magazines/radios/televisions/computers at the latest mind-blowing idiocy. (Examples from my open tabs: Senator James Inhofe [R-Okla] arguing that gas prices are going up because of cap-and-trade, not unrest in the Middle East; Sen. Fred Upton [R-Mich.] arguing that regulating coal-fired electrical plants would raise the price of gasoline.) "Why didn't that #&%! reporter call him on that?" we rage. "My 8-year-old could have pinned that guy down!"

In defense of the ink-stained wretches of the world, we should all remember that politicians got where they are because of their amazing ability to stay on message no matter what. That skill is exhibited to an amazing degree in this interview of Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) by Jon Karl of ABC News (h/t to TPM). Barton--who rose to national prominence after apologizing to BP after the Gulf spill--insists that oil companies like Exxon would go out of business if deprived of their lavish subsidies from the U.S. government, and that heaping such subsidies on immensely profitable companies is, in fact, the essence of free-market capitalism. Karl presses him repeatedly ("You really think that doing away with those tax credits would cause them to go out of business?") but to no avail. Money quote from Barton: "You can ask me the same question fifty different ways and I'm going to give you the same basic answer." Watch: 

 

 --Paul Rauber

Mar 09, 2011

Mad Men on Trains

What if we had started building a high-speed rail system 40 years ago?

Here's what's not funny: The House of Representatives voted last week to kill all federal support for high-speed rail. Learn what you can do to make green transportation a reality.

--Paul Rauber

 

Mar 08, 2011

Magic Ponies + Greed

Gusher At least once a week I get some variation of this email:
 
I received this email from a friend and then begin to wonder. Is Sierra one of those naysayers who 'control' keeping the US at the mercy of terrorists funded by Middle East Oil?
 
OIL - you'd better sit down.

Here's an interesting read, important and verifiable information :

About 6 months ago, the writer was watching a news program on oil and one of the Forbes Bros. was the guest. The host said to Forbes, "I am going to ask you a direct question and I would like a direct answer; how much oil does the U.S. have in the ground?" Forbes did not miss a beat, he said, "more than all the Middle East put together."
 
The email goes on to claim that the USGS has determined that the Bakken field in the upper Midwest
 
. . . is the largest domestic oil discovery since Alaska's Prudhoe Bay, and has the potential to eliminate all American dependence on foreign oil. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates it at 503 billion barrels. Even if just 10% of the oil is recoverable... at $107 a barrel,
we're looking at a resource base worth more than $5..3 trillion. . . .

For years, U. S. oil exploration has been considered a dead end. Even the 'Big Oil' companies gave up searching for major oil wells decades ago. However, a recent technological breakthrough has opened up the Bakken's massive reserves.... and we now have access of up to 500 billion barrels. And because this is light, sweet oil, those billions of barrels will cost Americans just $16 PER BARREL! That's enough crude to fully fuel the American economy for 2041 years straight.
 
Sounds pretty good, especially with gas topping $4 a gallon in many parts of the country. So what's the problem?  

HOW can this BE? HOW can we NOT BE extracting this? Because the
environmentalists and others have blocked all efforts to help America
become independent of foreign oil! Again, we are letting a small group of
people dictate our lives and our economy.....WHY? 

Now I just wonder what would happen in this country if every one of you
sent this to every one in your address book.

Well that would explain why I get it so often! But seriously, friends--a quick trip to Snopes.com will confirm, once again, that things that sound to good to be true generally aren't. Snopes cites a 2006 EIA paper that explains that the 503 billion barrel estimate was the high range of a draft study that was neither peer reviewed nor published by the USGS. A subsequent USGS study in 2008 came up with a mean estimate of 3.65 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil. Practically, however, the region is producing half a million barrels--0.05 percent of that amount.

What would explain the curious persistence of this myth? Wishful thinking alone doesn't seem sufficient. Then, looking for a nice image of an oil gusher, I came across the one above on a tout sheet (sorry, I won't link to it) trumpeting "Bakken: The Biggest Oil Find In US History" and offering rubes

a "once-in-a-lifetime" chance to profit on ever-rising demand for oil. And we can do it by getting in on the groundfloor of the next great oil boom. . . . It's your turn to flip the tables on Big Oil... and get your piece of the pie. Uh-huh.

Sorry friends--there ain't no magic ponies. Face it: It's time to get Beyond Oil.

Mar 04, 2011

Rail-Fund Scramble

California-high-speed-train1
Today, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that $2.4 billion in high-speed rail funding intended for Florida will be sent to other states. California stands the most to gain, since its bullet train that will link San Francisco and Los Angeles is the most advanced new project, with construction slated to begin in 2012. But on Monday, ten Northeastern senators sent LaHood a letter making the case that Florida’s funds should be used to upgrade the existing high-speed train corridor connecting Boston and Washington, D.C.

Florida’s Tea Party-backed governor Rick Scott had long made clear his disdain for the Obama administration’s stimulus plan, which included funding for an 84-mile high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando, the first phase of a longer line to Miami. On Friday, the Florida Supreme Court upheld Scott’s decision to reject the federal money, and the deal was done. 

"The Obama Administration's bold high-speed rail plan will not only create jobs and reinvigorate our manufacturing sector in the near term, it is a crucial and strategic investment in America's future prosperity," LaHood said in a statement. "I know that states across America are enthusiastic about receiving additional support to help bring America's high-speed rail network to life and deliver all its economic benefits to their citizens."

Where that money eventually goes may be determined by whether the Obama administration wants to showcase the new or upgrade the old. In February the White House announced plans to invest $53 billion in high-speed rail development over the coming six years. When newly elected Republican governors in Ohio and Wisconsin turned down federal rail dollars, about half of that funding ($616 million) was redistributed to California.

--Reed McManus

Mar 03, 2011

Outrun Your Robot Overlords

Turns out that wind power isn't just about producing carbon-free energy:

 

--Paul Rauber


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