The Relative Comment

soothing waves of relativity

Archive for the ‘environment and climate change’ Category

62 Percent of Americans are now Radical Environmentalists.

with one comment

That’s the only conclusion I can reach after reading Rick Santorum’s piece at Red State.

After admitting a tepid support for air and water and parks, Mr. Santorum contrasts his “good stewardship” with “radical environmentalism,” which “has a blind devotion to the promotion of a radical agenda that ignores the interests and property rights of people.  Global warming became the litmus test of this movement.”

So. Radical environmentalism promotes a radical agenda and the basis of that radical agenda is: Global warming. Also, Watch out! RADICALS!

Anyway.

According to recent polling, approximately 62% of Americans answered Yes to the question: “Is there solid evidence that the average temperature on Earth has been getting warmer?”

And, as of last March, 52% of Americans believe that the cause of those increased temperatures is “pollution from human activities.”

We are swimming in Radical Environmentalists. What’s a Santorum to do?

more from Kate Sheppard.

Advertisements

Written by Christopher ZF

March 12, 2012 at 14:28

An update on Coal’s Decline

leave a comment »

Whatever you want to call the coalition of folks working to get our country off of coal–committed activists, radical environmentalists, or just smart people worried about the future–these folks have been working hard, for years, to end our reliance on coal powered electricity generation.

The country has of course benefited from our coal development. But knowing what we know, the great problem of epistemology, it is irresponsible to continue burning coal: it is toxic to our planet’s air, water, and the health of everything that relies on air and water.

So how are these efforts going? Recently, the retirement of two Chicago coal-fired plants was announced, a major win in a decades long fight. This victory has prompted a bit of self-evaluation in the crusade to get our electricity freed from coal.

Clean Technica has an update on how the movement is coming.

A confluence of factors is making it very difficult for owners of coal plants — particularly old coal plants — to compete. A combination of high domestic coal prices, low natural gas prices, new air quality regulations, coordinated activist pressure, and cost-competitive renewables are making coal an increasingly bad choice for many power plant operators. Along with the 106 announced closures, 166 new plants have been defeated since 2002.

So just how much of an impact have these factors had on coal closures? Bruce Nilles, director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign sent along these numbers:

EXISTING COAL (ANNOUNCED/RETIRED SINCE JAN 1 2010)

  • 106 coal plants, 319 units
  • 42,895 MW (13% of fleet)
  • 150 million MWh (8% of fleet)
  • 162 million tons/year of CO2 (9% of fleet)
  • 921,417 tons/year of SO2 (16% of fleet)
  • Average age: 55 years old
  • (For plants with available data – Data from Clean Air Task Force): 2,042 pre-mature deaths, 3,229 heart attacks and 33,053 asthma attacks prevented each year (about 15% of total health impacts from fleet).  All together these plants retiring will save about $15.6 billion in health care costs.

This is no way to imply that the effort on behalf of climate change is winning. As producers are moving away from coal in some parts of the country, plans for new coal plants (“clean coal”) are progressing. And much of this generation is being replaced with natural gas, which has its own questions.

But it is important to take a step back from time to time and acknowledge that despite what the big political stories of the day might be, progress is being made.

Written by Christopher ZF

March 7, 2012 at 10:46

as the Politics has shifted, the dangers have remained the same

leave a comment »

It wasn’t that long ago that Americans on both sides of the political spectrum understood that burning fossil fuels was bad for the Earth. Coal and gas were understood as the root cause of climate change, they polluted our drinking water and our oceans and our skies. As a result, the idea that we should consume fewer hydrocarbons was widely accepted, the science of climate change was accepted, and moving towards a diversified, clean, home-grown energy portfolio was a plan everyone got behind.

But something else was also happening in that time of climate harmony. It was understood that alongside decreased consumption would come decreased production. We were running out of cheap sources of oil and gas in the United States anyway.

Fast forward to today. Consumption of coal and gas are still root the cause of climate change, they are still polluting our drinking water and our oceans and our skies. The science behind climate change has only gotten more sound. And yet, the bi-partisan acceptance that we should move to a clean energy future has eroded. Heck, even President Obama is calling for increased production of oil and gas. So what changed?

Technology. We could all get along on energy when we all thought we would be producing less. Now we can get a whole lot more of that out of the way, expensive hydrocarbon bounty that was just not worth it in the past–the “unconventional sources.” And if we can recover more oil, if we can successfully drill deeper and further and in more remote places, if we can continue to make money off oil and gas, then the arguments against consuming fossil fuels become much less impressive.

So the argument shifts, the new era of technology makes energy security and energy jobs and domestic production the holy grail of the political energy sector, on both sides of the aisle, and relegates what has not changed, the very real and potentially catastrophic environmental threat of continued dependence on fossil fuels, to the background.

For a clear, thoughtful, reminder that we are indeed reverting, read America’s Fossil Fuel Fever, by Michael T. Klare, at The Nation.

Advocates of the new techniques claim that the environmental risks are overshadowed by the greater benefit of economic gain and national security. “Even while the environmental argument rages,” Yergin wrote in the Washington Post in October, “oil sands are proving to be a major contributor to energy security” by lowering the nation’s dependence on Middle East oil. Increased domestic production, he adds, is generating jobs and reducing the nation’s dollar outlays for imported petroleum.

These arguments have great appeal and are attracting support. But they are deeply flawed. While highlighting some benefits to the nation’s security and well-being, they overlook detrimental outcomes of equal or greater significance.

The most important, of course, is the impact of these trends on global warming. By shifting the emphasis from renewables to fossil fuels, we can expect a significant increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—from the consump-
tion of oil and gas and from its production. The consumption aspect is well understood: all fossil fuels contain carbon and this carbon is released when the fuels are burned, so any increase in fossil fuel use will result in increased GHG emissions. But the production aspect requires closer attention. All drilling activity requires energy, which produces GHGs; producing unconventional oil and gas, however, usually requires far more energy than drilling for conventional fuels and so emits a correspondingly greater amount of GHGs.

The Church Defense and Climate Change.

leave a comment »

The public efforts on behalf of climate change in the media are missing a grand opportunity.

If I were in that wonderful and ominous clique we call the Mainstream Media, every single time that Rick Santorum defends his preposterous public policy positions regarding contraception by using the Church Defense*, I would ask him why he rejects climate science.

Every time.

It would require a presidential candidate to publicly proclaim not only that he rejects accepted science, but that he rejects his Church’s very clear stance on that science for political purposes. The Catholic Church’s position on Climate Change cannot be more clear. So how do politically conservative Catholic candidates and elected officials continually get to use the Church Defense on contraception, while ignoring the Church on climate change?

If you are capable of defending a policy choice that would hinder access to the most commonplace of activities because your Church advocates it, how can you reject commonly accepted science that is also accepted by your Church?

This point is missed time after time, and it’s a shame. This really has nothing to do with Rick Santorum or even just the Catholic Church; many mainline and evangelical churches also acknowledge the reality of climate change while their political representatives ignore or campaign against it. Instead, it has to do with the fact that rejecting climate change science has no real defense, and our media has allowed an entire political party to walk away from reality for no reason beyond politics.

Mainstream media, you miss every chance you have to make that point. Alas.

**Rick Santorum has been relying more and more on what I call the Church Defense for his position on contraception. The Church Defense, from Rick Santorum, on his policy plans for contraception: “I’m reflecting the views of the church that I believe in,” he said. “We used to be tolerant of those beliefs. I guess now when you have beliefs that are consistent with the church, somehow, now you’re out of the mainstream.”

Written by Christopher ZF

March 5, 2012 at 11:42

the most depressing climate change news yet

leave a comment »

I care immensely about climate change, and as such, am always interested in hearing why people are willing to disregard it. The science is not up for debate. As far as TRC is concerned, there are only a few reasons anyone would say “Climate change is not real”:

  1. You are a scientist who works on climate issues and have seen evidence that leads you to conclude the scientific consensus is incorrect,
  2. You are ignorant of, not interested in, or benefit from ignoring the science and the consensus among climate scientists, which is about as strong as scientific consensus can get, or
  3. You are not paying attention or are paying attention to the wrong things.

Well, it turns out that the 3rd reason makes a pretty big impact. If I were to create a list of things that SHOULD NOT influence opinions on the science of climate change, I would put how Republicans in the national government vote on issues related to climate and environment right at the top of the list. If there is anything that can not change reality, it would a vote by a politician.  But I would be wrong. How the GOP votes is a strong determing factor in how Americans view climate change.

The researchers behind the study created a “Climate Change Threat Index” to gauge how the public views the impact of climate change over a nine-year period, and they conclude that GOP votes on environmental legislation have a particularly outsized effect. “In an extremely partisan environment, Republican votes against environmental bills legitimate public opinion opposed to action on climate change,” the authors write. “When the Republicans increase voting support for environmental bills, it reduces partisanship and increases public support for actions to address climate change.”

Next time you think that congress doesn’t impact Americans, remember, when an anti-environmental Republican mood takes over Washington, we jeopardize the very health of our planet.

Written by Christopher ZF

February 9, 2012 at 15:26

Santorum’s Stewardship: For Our Benefit, Not for the Earth’s

leave a comment »

Yesterday, Rick Santorum reaffirmed that he does not believe in the science of global warming. Well, he actually said the following:

I for one never bought the hoax. I for one understand just from science that there are one hundred factors that influence the climate. To suggest that one minor factor of which man’s contribution is a minor factor in the minor factor is the determining ingredient in the sauce that affects the entire global warming and cooling is just absurd on its face.

Clearly, he understands the science of global warming.

That Santorum does not acknowledge the accepted science of climate change should not surprise anyone. It certainly does not surprise TRC. Even though it takes a serious ability to tune out the massive weight of evidence in support of climate change, it’s a pretty common feat in today’s GOP. It should be noted, however, that Rick Santorum’s position on climate change is 100% at odds with the Catholic Church’s position on climate change. I don’t mention this because Santorum must always conform to the teachings of his church, but it does seem relevant as the candidate makes much over his Catholicism.

But, again, Santorum’s rejection of climate science is not news. Something else that he said at the same event, though, is a bit more shocking:

We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit…We are the intelligent beings that know how to manage things and through the course of science and discovery if we can be better stewards of this environment, then we should not let the vagaries of nature destroy what we have helped create.

This kind of language gives TRC the willies. This is, essentially, a license for human behavior to take whatever shape it wants, regardless of the consequences. Santorum mentions the oft quoted dominion over the earth biblical command, which can be interpreted several ways, one of which is that we need to be good stewards to all creation. If he had mentioned the good stewardship and moved on, well, such comments wouldn’t have merited TRC’s attention. But that’s not what Santorum is presenting here. This language represents dominance and human arrogance on a level that is down right scary.

Santorum claims on the one hand that he understands science enough to know that climate change is a hoax, and on the other that the purpose of science is to benefit humans against the vagaries of nature. That is a prescription for a very bad future.

TRC Regrets its acknowledgment of the WSJ Op-Ed on Climate Denial

leave a comment »

Sorry about that.

I’m not quite sure what possessed me to open the pages of TRC to the opposition argument on climate change presented by the Wall Street Journal Op-Ed page. The editorial, signed by 16 scientists, makes a terrible argument against climate change. I guess I was just feeling that day like that was a reasonable thing to do.

Of course it isn’t. I stated in that post that there is nothing new in their argument, and nothing that has not been thoroughly discredited. But still. If you want more proof, Bad Astronomy takes down the boldest of the mis-information pieces.

Needless to say, the Wall Street Journal op-ed page won’t be represented here as an open and fairly treated source. Because they are unwilling to do the same. It is no surprise that they posted a global warming denialist editorial. It is actually a surprise that they won’t publish science-based reality in the same pages.

An editorial page that does not open its arms to the opposition makes them hacks. We all know that the WSJ op-ed page is an obvious supporter of Republican and Conservative politics, which is fine. We all have our biases. But I actually did not think that the WSJ was willing to stoop to such embarrassment for the purpose of political absurdity. Shit. If the NY Times will publish Robert Bryce-the fossil fuel funded “expert” on a mission to oppose any environmentally friendly energy development, you can find a place for reality.

So, when I heard that the WSJ accepted an op-ed piece signed by 16 scientists (4 of whom are climate-related) that based itself on claims that have been scientifically refuted over and over, and then turned around and rejected an op-ed signed by 255 scientists from the field in support of the accepted science of climate change, I regretted my decision to post fairly about their published ‘scientific’ editorial. WSJ, I tried to give you the benefit. What a terrible decision.

From Forbes:

The most amazing and telling evidence of the bias of the Wall Street Journal in this field is the fact that 255 members of the United States National Academy of Sciences wrote a comparable (but scientifically accurate) essay on the realities of climate change and on the need for improved and serious public debate around the issue, offered it to the Wall Street Journal, and were turned down. The National Academy of Sciences is the nation’s pre-eminent independent scientific organizations. Its members are among the most respected in the world in their fields. Yet the Journal wouldn’t publish this letter, from more than 15 times as many top scientists. Instead they chose to publish an error-filled and misleading piece on climate because some so-called experts aligned with their bias signed it. This may be good politics for them, but it is bad science and it is bad for the nation.

The letter, from Science Magazine.

WE ARE DEEPLY DISTURBED BY THE RECENT ESCALATION OF POLITICAL ASSAULTS ON SCIENTISTS in general and on climate scientists in particular. All citizens should understand some basic scientific facts. There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything. When someone says that society should wait until scientists are absolutely certain before taking any action, it is the same as saying society should never take action. For a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet.