Sierra Daily: July 2012
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13 posts from July 2012

Jul 05, 2012

Not Hot Enough for Ya?

Heat wave iStock_000017071673XSmallChicago hit 103 degrees Fahrenheit today, while Washington, D.C. tied its record for the most consecutive 95-plus degree days: 8 days straight, with more heat expected. Yet according to a recent Washington Post/Stanford University poll, just 18 percent of Americans say climate change is their top environmental concern, down from 33 percent in 2007. Air and water pollution was seen by respondents as our top eco-threat, at 29 percent.

The encouraging news: Of the 804 adults in the poll, conducted between June 13 and 21, nearly three-quarters of Americans say the planet is warming and that temperatures will rise if we continue to do little about it. Writes the Post: “The findings, along with follow-up interviews with some respondents, indicate that Washington’s decision to shelve action on climate policy means that the issue has receded” in the public’s mind.

The poll was taken just before the Eastern heat wave and the catastrophic Colorado wildfires. While climatologists always caution us not to conflate “climate” with “weather,” the heat wave is "consistent” with what climate change might look like. Wildfires “and the weather conditions that create them, are exactly what climate models are predicting for arid Western landscapes from California to the Rocky Mountains,” writes Mark Lubell, director of the Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior at the University of California, Davis.

Image by iStock/KLH49.

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

Stealing Environmental Votes

VotersThe nationwide efforts to disenfranchise likely pro-environmental voters that I report on in the current issue of Sierra ("Can I See Your ID?") are ramping up as the election approaches. In Michigan, Republican Governor Rick Snyder vetoed two bills allegedly meant to combat non-existant "voter fraud," declaring "Voting rights are precious and we need to work especially hard to make it possible for people to vote."

No such political bravery, unfortunately, was forthcoming in Pennsylvania. There, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer, more than 750,000 registered voters may be disenfranchised by that state's "voter ID" law, which requires voters to present certain kinds of photo identification before casting their ballots in November. The paper compared voter registration rolls with Pennsylvania Department of Transportation databases, and determined that as many as 9.2 percent of the state's voters may lack drivers licenses.

[F]or most voters, the Pennsylvania driver's license is the standard photo ID. The disclosure that 9 percent of the state's registered voters don't have one - or an alternative, nondriver PennDot photo ID - provides a clearer picture of the hurdle set up by the state's new voter ID requirement.

Numerous studies show that African-Americans, Latinos, and young people--groups more strongly in support of environmental protection than the populace at large--disproportionately figure among those lacking photo identification. Here's Kevin Drum of Mother Jones on the subject:

In 2007 . . . the Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity and Race released a study of Indiana voters showing that among whites, the middle-aged, and the middle class, about 90 percent possessed photo ID. Among blacks, the young, and the poor—all of whom vote for Democrats at high rates—the rate was about 80 percent.    

In a close election--of which we've seen more than a few in recent years--that's more than enough to tip the balance.

Image by Digiphoto/iStock

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PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber.

Jul 03, 2012

Farewell Peak Oil

Oil pumpjacksPeak Oil--the notion that the world's supply of petroleum had hit its apogee and was already on the way down--turns out to have been wishful thinking. No one expected the resultant period of rising prices and panic at the gas pump to be pretty, but the concept did at least place an upper limit on the amount of combustible hydrocarbon we could pump into the atmosphere.

Well goodbye to all that. The coup de grace to Peak Oil was administered by Leonardo Maugeri, an oil executive and research fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs in " “Oil: The Next Revolution – The unprecedented upsurge of oil production capacity and what it means for the world.” Maugeri analyzes oil fields in 23 countries, and (persuasively) concludes that far from declining, world oil supplies are likely to rise by a net 17 million barrels a day by 2020, and more so thereafter. This is from the Belfer Center's on the release of Maugeri's report:

His study attributes the expected growth in oil output largely to a combination of high oil prices and new technologies such as hydraulic fracturing that are opening up vast new areas and allowing extraction of “unconventional” oil such as tight oil, oil shale, tar sands and ultra-heavy oil. These increases are projected to be greatest in the United States, Canada, Venezuela and Brazil. Maugeri also predicts a major increase in Iraq’s oil output as it regains stability, which will add  new production in the Persian Gulf region -- potentially destabilizing OPEC’s ability to manage output and prices.

The environmental world is still digesting the news. The New York Times' Andy Revkin's take is here, the Guardian's George Monbiot here. He's not very sanguine:

There is enough oil in the ground to deep-fry the lot of us, and no obvious means to prevail upon governments and industry to leave it in the ground. Twenty years of efforts to prevent climate breakdown through moral persuasion have failed, with the collapse of the multilateral process at Rio de Janeiro last month. The world's most powerful nation is again becoming an oil state [Maugeri thinks it possible that the United States could rival Saudi Arabia in oil production by 2020], and if the political transformation of its northern neighbour is anything to go by, the results will not be pretty. 

Getting beyond oil, it turns out, isn't something that we'll do because we run out of it. It's something we'll do because we need to preserve our livable planet.

Image by sharply_done/iStock

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PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber.

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