Category: Environment

Catholic leaders ask GOP to join pope on climate, income inequality


AP/Charlie Neibergall

Bishop Martin Amos of the Diocese of Davenport, speaks during a news conference in Ankeny, Iowa. Roman Catholic leaders in Iowa are calling for presidential candidates to focus on the environment and income inequality in 2016.

Roman Catholic leaders in the early voting state of Iowa implored candidates for president Thursday to take up Pope Francis’ call for “profound political courage” by focusing their campaigns as much on improving the environment and income inequality as they have on opposing gay marriage and abortion in past elections.

The vocal pivot from such traditional social issues marks the first time U.S. Catholic bishops have publicly asked those seeking the White House to heed the admonitions of Francis’ June encyclical, said Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines.

In Francis’ major teaching document, the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics called for a “sweeping revolution” to correct a “structurally perverse” economic system that allows the rich to exploit the poor and has turned the Earth into an “immense pile of filth.”

“These are going to be difficult decisions that have to be made,” said the Rev. Bud Grant of Davenport, joined at a news conference by bishops from central and eastern Iowa. “Politicians have to have the courage to do the right thing, and not necessarily the politically expedient thing.”

The push from bishops threatens to disrupt the historically reliable alliance of evangelical Christians and conservative Roman Catholic voters, putting pressure on Republicans who have leaned on their religious faith to guide them on social issues.

It will also focus attention on how the six Roman Catholics seeking the 2016 Republican presidential nomination will wrestle with a pope’s teachings on economics and climate change that clash with traditional Republican ideology.

While Francis has condemned abortion and upheld marriage as the union of a man and a woman, he has not done so with anything approaching the frequency of his two predecessors. Instead, Francis has urged church leaders to talk less about such social issues and more about mercy and compassion, so that wayward Catholics would feel welcome to return to the church.

Should be fun when Pope Francis addresses the papier mache politicians in Congress. I wonder if any of the Tea Party idjits will shout out “you lie”?

Setting aside my reflexive wryness, the Roman Catholic church remains the only significant world religion with unified – even codified – administration and leadership. As much as some of the fundamentalist sects of Protestantism in the United States work at convincing themselves they are the only true voice of their deity, any socially, politically, reasonable leader of any of these has to respect the strength of a global religious body.

The Roman Catholic church may share all of the same fears of modern times; but, the latest pope seems to have learned something about not appearing like a complete idiot in the face of reality. The question remains – will our fundamentalists learn the same lesson? Will they then rap the knuckles of their pet political party and suggest a jot of progress is more sustaining than lockstep obedience to anachronistic dogma?

London gets their first zero-emission double-decker bus this year


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London’s public transport network is about to get a lot greener, with Mayor Boris Johnson announcing that the world’s first purpose-built pure electric double-decker bus will hit the city’s streets later this year. The announcement was made at the Clean Bus Summit, where 24 cities around the world committed to putting ultra-low emission buses on the road.

Public transport in the UK’s biggest city has been inching toward a greener future for years now, announcing its first hybrid buses back in 2009. There are now more than 1,300 of those on the streets of the capital, and it’s time for the next big step.

The new all-electric buses were produced in conjunction with BYD, which worked on the tricky problem of fitting enough batteries into the zero emissions vehicles to provide enough power.

There’s no mention of exactly how many all-electric buses are heading for London, but the first is due to arrive in October, which will enter service on route 16 in October, running between Victoria Station and Cricklewood.

It’s not just London that’s revising its public transport infrastructure for the better. The move forms part of a wider effort, with 24 cities around the world planning to put 40,000 ultra-low emission buses on the road by 2020.

I wonder if time’s right for nudging Santa Fe towards EV buses? The city was first in the United States to have NatGas-powered buses.

BYD is making a global push with their buses. More competition coming, no doubt.

Earthquakes force Dutch government to cut gas field production


Let in a little winter air?

The Dutch government has ordered a further tightening of gas production at Groningen, Europe’s largest gas field, in response to a spate of earthquakes that have caused extensive property damage in the Netherlands’ northernmost province.

Output at the field, the world’s 10th largest, will be capped at 30 billion cubic metres (bcm) for the whole of 2015, Economy Minister Henk Kamp told reporters on Tuesday. At the beginning of the year, production of 39.4 bcm was planned.

“The earthquakes are still there, and we will have to reckon with earthquakes in the future,” Kamp later told Reuters. “We can do two things to preserve safety: reduce the production of natural gas and strengthen houses, and we’re doing both.”…

Which tells us something about the size of profits – and how priorities are sorted. Even though Kamp says, “We’ll do whatever is necessary for the safety of the people in Groningen.”

In February, output was cut to 16.5 bcm for the first half of the year after the Dutch Safety Board said gas companies and state regulators had failed to take the threat of earthquakes seriously enough.

In the second half of the year, output will be capped at 13.5 bcm, with stored gas tapped if necessary to make up for any shortfall…

Analyst Oliver Sanderson of Thomson Reuters Point Carbon said reaction to the planned reduction had been relatively muted because it was announced in June, during the summer…

“Last time there was a cold winter, two years ago, Groningen was producing at around 54 bcm,” he said…”Where is Europe going to get 25 bcm?”

He said that with Groningen producing at 30 bcm in a cold winter, the shortfall in Western Europe would have to be met mostly with Russian gas, supplemented with some Norwegian gas and liquefied natural gas imported by tanker.

Try selling that in Brussels,” he said, referring to the political sensitivity of European governments increasing, rather than lessening, their reliance on Russian energy.

Sometimes, circumstances make it a little easier to understand some nations keeping commercial and trade policies separate from the latest political conflicts.

Powering desalination with the sun — in India and New Mexico


Natasha WrightPhoto/Bryce Vickmark

When graduate student Natasha Wright began her PhD program in mechanical engineering, she had no idea how to remove salt from groundwater to make it more palatable, nor had she ever been to India, where this is an ongoing need.

Now, three years and six trips to India later, this is the sole focus of her work.

Wright joined the lab of Amos Winter, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, in 2012. The lab was just getting established, and the aim of Wright’s project was vague at first: Work on water treatment in India, with a possible focus on filtering biological contaminants from groundwater to make it safe to drink.

There are already a number of filters on the market that can do this, and during her second trip to India, Wright interviewed a number of villagers, finding that many of them weren’t using these filters. She became skeptical of how useful it would be to develop yet another device like this.

Although the available filters made water safe to drink, they did nothing to mitigate its saltiness — so the villagers’ drinking water tasted bad and eroded pots and pans, providing little motivation to use these filters. In reviewing the list of questions she had prepared for her interviews with locals, Wright noticed that there were no questions about the water’s salty taste…

Almost 60 percent of India has groundwater that’s noticeably salty, so later, after returning to MIT, Wright began designing an electrodialysis desalination system, which uses a difference in electric potential to pull salt out of water.

This type of desalination system has been around since the 1950s, but is typically only used municipally, to justify its costs. Wright’s project aims to build a system that’s scaled for a village of 5,000 people and still cost-effective…

Wright’s solution offers an alternative to grid power: She’s designed a village-scale desalination system that runs on solar power. Since her system is powered by the sun, operational and maintenance costs are fairly minimal: The system requires an occasional cartridge filter change, and that’s it.

The system is also equipped to treat the biological contaminants that Wright initially thought she’d be treating, using ultraviolet light. The end result is safe drinking water that also tastes good

Although Wright’s work is currently focused on rural villages in India, she sees many uses for the technology in the United States as well. In isolated areas, such as the ranches in New Mexico where she tested her system at full scale, poor access to water pipelines often leads to a heavy reliance on well water. But some ranchers find that even their livestock won’t tolerate the saltiness of this water.

“It’s useful to install a small-scale desalination system where people are so spread out that it’s more costly to pump in water from a municipal plant,” she says. “That’s true in India and that’s also true in the U.S.”

It’s certainly true in downstate New Mexico. We have beaucoup brackish fossil water in great quantities. Not being used for much of anything, now.

Thanks, Om

Global pollution from maritime shipping has been grossly underestimated


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Britain and other European governments have been accused of underestimating the health risks from shipping pollution following research which shows that one giant container ship can emit almost the same amount of cancer and asthma-causing chemicals as 50 million cars.

Confidential data from maritime industry insiders based on engine size and the quality of fuel typically used by ships and cars shows that just 15 of the world’s biggest ships may now emit as much pollution as all the world’s 760 million cars. Low-grade ship bunker fuel has up to 2,000 times the sulphur content of diesel fuel used in US and European automobiles.

Pressure is mounting on the UN’s International Maritime Organisation and the EU to tighten laws governing ship emissions following the decision by the US government last week to impose a strict 230-mile buffer zone along the entire US coast, a move that is expected to be followed by Canada.

The setting up of a low emission shipping zone follows US academic research which showed that pollution from the world’s 90,000 cargo ships leads to 60,000 deaths a year in the US alone and costs up to $330bn per year in health costs from lung and heart diseases. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates the buffer zone, which could be in place by next year, will save more than 8,000 lives a year with new air quality standards cutting sulphur in fuel by 98%, particulate matter by 85% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 80%…

…A spokesman for the UK government’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency accepted there were major gaps in the legislation. “Issues of particulate matter remain a concern. They need to be addressed and blah, blah, blah, blah,” said environment policy director Jonathan Simpson…

“It is unacceptable that shipping remains one of the most polluting industries in the world. The UK must take a lead in cleaning up emissions,” said Simon Birkett, spokesman for the Campaign for Clean Air in London. “Other countries are planning radical action to achieve massive health and other savings but the UK is strangely inactive.”

Overdue. As usual.

None of the science is especially new or surprising. The attitude of shippers, corporations providing most of the cargo, governments supposedly in charge of regulating the environment on behalf of their citizens – uniformly accepts profits as a higher priority than human lives.

What’s Really Warming the World? NASA data provides proof

what's warming the world
Click through to a dynamic set of infographics

NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies has done a knockout series of infographics based on decades of data and study. They deserve all the credit in the world for maintaining real science in the face of superstition, myth and the new American disease – self-deception.

Doctors/Public Health prescription for healthier planet

Some top international doctors and public health experts have issued an urgent prescription for a feverish planet Earth: Get off coal as soon as possible.

Substituting cleaner energy worldwide for coal will reduce air pollution and give Earth a better chance at avoiding dangerous climate change, recommended a global health commission organized by the prestigious British medical journal Lancet. The panel said hundreds of thousands of lives each year are at stake and global warming “threatens to undermine the last half century of gains in development and global health.”

It’s like a cigarette smoker with lung problems: Doctors can treat the disease, but the first thing that has to be done is to get the patient to stop smoking, or in this case get off coal in the next five years, commission officials said in interviews…

Dr. Anthony Costello…called it a “medical emergency” that could eventually dwarf the deadly toll of HIV in the 1980s. He and others said burning coal does more than warm the Earth, but causes even more deaths from other types of air pollution that hurt people’s breathing and hearts…

Virtually everything that you want to do to tackle climate change has health benefits,” Costello said. “We’re going to cut heart attacks, strokes, diabetes.”…

In a companion posting in Lancet, World Health Organization director general Margaret Chan also compares fighting climate change to fighting smoking and saving lives. Both Chan and the Lancet commission quote WHO studies that say by 2030 climate change would “be likely to cause about 250,000 additional deaths per year” around the world.

Overdue.

Dust from abandoned mine smothers Canadian town

s3_reutersmedia_net

Heavy dust clouds blowing from Cliffs Natural Resources’ abandoned Wabush iron ore mine into a small township in the eastern Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador is putting a focus on the liability of miners that seek creditor protection and walk away from assets.

Iron ore and coal miner Cliffs Natural Resources Inc announced in February 2014 it was shutting down its Wabush mine. This year it sought creditor protection for its Canadian assets.

The fate of the deserted mine is in limbo until it is either acquired by a rival or Cliffs is able to restructure and exit creditor protection.

Local residents say the abandoned site has many open pits, with drilling equipment, trucks and other equipment stranded on the site…

Vardy said the company used to spray water on its tailings to control dust, but now that the mine has been closed dust is casting a pall around the town and causing health concerns.

The provincial environment department says air quality monitoring stations show that pollution levels are still at low risk levels, which may mean the dust is more of a nuisance than a health risk. Vardy was skeptical.

“When I walk through the community and I can feel the dust on my teeth and I can feel it in my mouth and I can feel it in my nose,” said Vardy, adding the town is urging the provincial government to intervene and release funds from a security bond paid by the company of about C$50 million to cover mitigation costs.

Newfoundland Environment Minister Dan Crummell on Thursday said the government has told Cliffs it is responsible to remediate the land, despite being under bankruptcy protection. He told the provincial legislature that Cliffs recently issued a contract to revegetate the tailings area.

Both Cliffs and U.S. Steel have sought creditor protection for their Canadian arms in a bid to isolate losses and insulate their shareholders.

Critics say the creditor protection filings are thinly veiled attempts by the companies to wash their hands of closure costs and pension liabilities around their assets. U.S. Steel has significant environmental clean-up costs around its Hamilton operations.

Cliffs and U.S. Steel were not available for comment.

As is acceptable in proper society, nowadays, they will let their lobbyists, lawyers, bought-and-paid-for politicians speak for them. The federal government will sit on their hands except when politely applauding.