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Posts Tagged ‘pollution

How tech can — and can’t — solve climate change, extinction

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Somewhere around two hundred thousand years ago, a new primate emerges on Earth.

“The members of the species are not particularly swift or strong or fertile,” the New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert writes in her new book, “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.” “They are, however, singularly resourceful.”

It is, of course, us — big-brained, small-browed genetic mutants clever enough to outcompete animals ten times our size and gradually fan out across the globe.

Eventually, humankind invents axes, engines, cities and strip malls. We tear down forests and dig up fuel from the ground.

Other times we excavate out of curiosity, traveling backward in time through the records of bones, fossils and rocks that eventually give up clues to mass tragedies in the ancient past. Huge portions of the world’s creatures disappeared in a geologic blink of the eye.

In fact, five blinks — so far. The reasons aren’t always settled in science, but strong possibilities for the various mass extinctions include a dramatic release of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, climatic shifts that tipped the globe into prolonged ice ages and a gigantic asteroid strike that kicked up enormous clouds of dust.

The early part of Kolbert’s new book is an exploration of this exploration of the past, telling the stories of scientists who worked to reconstruct this grim timeline of species loss. But mostly it’s scene setting for the real subject of the book, the one telegraphed in the title: The Sixth Extinction.

The salient characteristics of the latest epoch are that we appear to be living through it now — and causing it…

That’s the start. In between the start and finish there’s lots of important science stuff.

It’s not that I have a solution I’m trying to work toward and just haven’t said what it is. I don’t have a solution. It’s possible that massive thinking and massive effort will yield, not a solution, but a much better future than the one we seem to be heading toward.

Sherwood Rowland, one of the scientists who discovered ozone depleting chemicals and who recently died, had a couple of great lines, including one I quoted in the book. “The work is going well, but it looks like it might be the end of the world…”

The politics of the discussion is simple enough:

“What’s the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?”

The combination of know-nothings, The Party of No, idjits and Cowardly Lions in Congress aren’t even doing that much. RTFA for lots more about the book, what can and can’t be done – you already know who needs to be thrown out of Congress and state legislatures to achieve anything more than political babble.

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Written by Ed Campbell

March 24, 2014 at 8:00 am

Pentagon says climate change is a present danger — again!

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Like the Olympics and leap year, the Quadrennial Defense Review comes at us every four years. A big-picture look by the US military at the threats they see out there, the QDR [.pdf] is a broad document, but you can read in it just how big the military thinks its mission is (global dominance, really). As part of that mission, the military tries to find a way to reduce the threats it sees, but what do you do about dirty air that we all create? You can’t go and bomb the highways to stop the cars from polluting.

The QDR is a straight shooter when it comes to climate change. It warns of devastation to “homes, land, and infrastructure” thanks to climate change, as well as threats to water and food supplies. The QDR says:

Climate change poses another significant challenge for the United States and the world at large. … The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world. These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.

Note the complete lack of political equivocating. Climate change is a serious problem, the Pentagon says. That’s a refreshing change from most of what comes out of DC, but it is awfully similar to what the QDR said in the 2010 version.

There is no mention of bombing highways, but the QDR does say the Department of Defense, “will employ creative ways to address the impact of climate change.” As we’ve seen in the past, the DoD has expressed an interest in plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles, but those purchases may have been made for more financial reasons. As clear as the DoD is on the affects of climate change, it is also familiar with paying up to $400 for a gallon of gas in certain situations, so any reduction in fuel use can be good for the air and the defense budget.

We can expect this to have the same effect on Congress as acid rain rolling off a Confederate tin roof. Tea Bag Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats dedicate about as much time to sound science as the average drug dealer does to reading up on the dangers of hydrocodone.

Still – this is another tool for the oh-so-slowly expanding number of courageous progressive voices who’ve managed to tuck into some corner of elected officialdom. Who knows? One of these days a significant number of Americans may wander into the pages, page-views or news segments that make it onto cable TV or a corner of the Web that actually considers science of more use than a rain dance in Tucson. They may even be old enough to vote and living in a state where that is still permitted.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 19, 2014 at 2:00 pm

NC grand jury launches criminal probe of coal ash spill

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Click to enlarge — Coal ash swirling in the Dan RiverAP Photo/Gerry Broome

The pressure on Duke Energy over its coal ash practices has intensified as federal authorities revealed a criminal investigation of a “suspected felony” surrounding a Feb. 2 ash spill on North Carolina’s Dan River.

Duke and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources confirmed Thursday that they were subpoenaed to produce records before a federal grand jury that will meet in Raleigh next month.

The DENR subpoena demanded documents, including correspondence with Duke, since January 2010. It seeks records linked to the broken stormwater pipe that funneled up to 39,000 tons of ash – Duke’s updated estimate – and on other discharges and seepage from the site.

A criminal prosecution under the Clean Water Act could expose its target, including individuals, to fines triple the size of civil penalties, environmental law experts say, and potentially send somebody to prison.

Winning a conviction, they say, would hinge on whether the government could show prior knowledge of laws being broken or negligence…

Lawsuits DENR filed last year against Duke, under pressure from environmental groups, say the company broke the law with illegal discharges from its ash ponds at all 14 coal-fired power plants in North Carolina.

That’s proof that both the state and Duke knew of violations at the Dan River plant, said Frank Holleman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. The center represents advocacy groups, including the Charlotte-based Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, that have challenged Duke over ash in court…

Duke stores 106 million tons of ash at its North Carolina plants, including 84 million tons in ponds. The company actively used 13 active ash ponds in the state as of November, and had 18 more that were semi-active or retired…

Duke’s critics have blamed both Duke and DENR under Gov. Pat McCrory, a former Duke executive, for not aggressively addressing ash problems.

The election reform group Democracy North Carolina reported Thursday that, as Duke faced state lawsuits over ash last year, the company contributed more than $400,000 to state and national political committees for Republican lawmakers, including McCrory.

Yes, election reform means follow the money and shut off the spigot. Corporations intent on maximizing profits don’t really care which of the two parties they’re buying off.

It’s useful to have close allies like the Republican Party in power. They probably won’t have to pay as much for the pimping that takes place. But, a significant chunk of our career politicians can’t be trusted to carry a glass of water to a puppy dying of thirst – without charging a little extra for their effort, setting a little aside for lobbying about drinking water when they leave office.

Freedom Industries chemical tanks ordered removed

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Click to enlargeAP Photo/Steve Helber

The company whose storage tank spilled a chemical that tainted the water supply of 300,000 people in West Virginia must begin removing its above-ground storage tanks by March 15, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ordered on Saturday.

Freedom Industries must dismantle and remove 17 tanks and related equipment at its coal processing plant in Charleston, West Virginia, under Tomblin’s directive, part of a consent order signed by the company’s president and the state’s Department of Environmental Protection…

A January 9 spill of the 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or crude MCHM, into the Elk River prompted the state to impose a ban on the use of tap water for 300,000 people in the Charleston region. The ban lasted as long as 10 days for some residents…

Tomblin declared a state of emergency while the chemical, used in coal processing, was flushed out of the water system.

Three of the 17 tanks at the Freedom Industries facility contained crude MCHM and the chemical PPH, and all three tanks are now empty, according to Tomblin’s statement. Material in the remaining 14 tanks contain calcium chloride and glycerin, the statement said.

It is criminal in this day and age to confront an interlocking directorate of politics and poisonous industries leftover from the 19th Century. In West Virginia, in most parts of the United States where extractive industries provide the only employment – you generally find a population never educated to look for better, work for anyone better. The opportunity to broaden, grow and modernize an economy hasn’t arrived on its own and local politicians couldn’t care less.

Mine owners pick up the tab for their elections along with additional out-of-state support from the sources you’d expect to back primitive working and living conditions: US Chamber of Commerce, chemical industry associations, fossil fuel speculators. The politics stink. The jobs stink. The earth and water stink!

Written by Ed Campbell

January 26, 2014 at 8:00 am

Washington, DC may explode, go up in flames!

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DC afterwards

Natural gas is escaping from aging pipes beneath the streets of the U.S. capital, creating potentially harmful concentrations in some locations, a study found.

Natural gas leaks pose explosion risks, health concerns and contribute to climate change, said researchers who spent January and February 2013 driving all of the 1,500 miles of Washington, D.C., roads with an instrument that took methane readings close to the ground every 1.1 seconds.

Writing in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology, they reported finding nearly 6,000 leaks, with some locations showing concentrations of methane at about 45 times what would be expected with no leak…

At locations with high levels, probes put into manholes found concentrations 10 times the threshold at which explosions can occur at 12 sites, the researchers said.

If you dropped a cigarette down a manhole … it could have blown up,” Robert Jackson told USA today.

Despite reporting the leaks to the local gas utility, four months later nine of the sites were still emitting dangerous levels of methane, he said.

I suppose there’s no hope an explosion might just take out Congress? :)

Written by Ed Campbell

January 17, 2014 at 8:00 am

Northeastern states ask EPA to crack down on Midwest polluters

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Dirty-Business

Eight Northeastern and mid-Atlantic governors on Monday petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to require “upwind” states in the Midwest and South to curb ozone-forming pollution from their power plants, which they say travels downwind and poses health risks to their citizens.

They want the EPA to force nine states – Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia – to regulate the emissions that cross into their borders through prevailing winds and contribute to higher ozone levels to the north and east of the upwind states.

The move comes just ahead of a closely watched Supreme Court review of an earlier appeals court rejection of the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.

The governors, led by Delaware governor Jack Markell, said the upwind states had failed for decades to install the technology needed to contain emissions of organic compounds and nitrogen oxides which cause asthma and other respiratory diseases and contribute to as much as 98 percent of the ozone air pollution problems in their own states.

The petition asks the EPA to require the upwind states to join them in an “Ozone Transport Region,” which under the federal Clean Air Act would force actions to limit air pollution consistent with the efforts of the “downwind” states…

Besides Delaware the states petitioning for the controls are Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont…

In a case being closely monitored by environmentalists and energy companies, the Supreme Court on Tuesday will consider the EPA rule that would have set limits on pollution from coal-fired power plants in 28 states, generally referred to as “upwind states,” that directly affect air quality in other states…

Vickie Patton, general counsel for environmental group Environmental Defense Fund, said it is also in the interest of the upwind states to install pollution controls…”Cleaning up this harmful power plant pollution will mean healthier, longer lives for children, families and communities across the Midwest and the millions of people afflicted in downwind states,” she said.

What is it with creeps who dedicate their lives to profiteering from power generation? I’ve been involved in struggles against these scumbags over half my life. Take it all the way back to acid rain.

The only thing that matters in their contemptible lives is profit-and-loss statements with all the emphasis on that first word. They couldn’t care less about families and individuals in their own state much less someone next door or downwind. They should be required to live in a guard shack immediately downwind of one of their crud-belching coal-fired power plants. A shorter lifespan might change their style.

Written by Ed Campbell

December 9, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Real-time monitoring tracks nitrate pulse in Mississippi River Basin into the Gulf of Mexico

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Click to enlarge

Cutting edge optical sensor technology is being used in the Mississippi River basin to more accurately track the nitrate pulse from small streams, large tributaries and ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico.

Excessive springtime nitrate runoff from agricultural land and other sources in the Mississippi drainage eventually flows into the Mississippi River. Downstream, this excess nitrate contributes to the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone, an area with low oxygen known commonly as the “dead zone.” NOAA-supported researchers reported that the summer 2013 dead zone covered about 5,840 square miles, an area the size of Connecticut.

These optical sensors measure and transmit nitrate data every 15 minutes to 3 hours and are located at the mouth of the Mississippi River near Baton Rouge, LA, and at several large tributaries to the Mississippi River—including the Missouri River at Hermann, MO; Ohio River at Olmsted, IL; Ohio, Illinois River at Florence, IL; and Iowa River at Wapello, IA – to track how nitrate concentrations from different areas of the watershed pulse in response to rainfall and seasons.

About 622 million pounds of nitrogen were transported in May and June of 2013 at the Mississippi River Baton Rouge station, said Brian Pellerin, USGS research hydrologist. “This is roughly equivalent to the amount of fertilizer nitrogen applied annually to about 4 million acres of corn…”

Real-time nitrate monitoring in Iowa is being used by drinking water utilities to determine when to switch on nitrate-removal systems or when to mix water with multiple sources that have lower concentrations. Both actions result in higher costs for drinking water. “Real-time nitrate concentrations in the Raccoon River at Van Meter, Iowa, peaked at 20.7 milligrams per liter in May 2013. This is more than double the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level for drinking water,” said Kevin Richards, Director of the USGS Iowa Water Science Center.

Most Americans don’t realize the role played, the responsibility of agribusiness in polluting our water table. All this crap polluting our waterways filters through local water tables on the way to tributaries, thence to major rivers on the way to contaminating larger bodies – like the Gulf of Mexico.

You might think farmers, from the local Farmer Giles to corporate behemoths might care about cost savings derived from spend/wasting less money on fertilizer destined to be surplus drained as runoff. Don’t worry. You and I get to subsidize it one way or another. Either directly priming the pump for corporate growers – or at the grocery checkout.

Written by Ed Campbell

August 23, 2013 at 2:00 am

Falling sperm count sparks fertility concerns in France

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We’re French. We have more nuclear weapons than anyone else in Europe.

The sperm count of French men plunged by a third between 1989 and 2005, a finding which fuels concern that environmental pollutants or lifestyle are crimping fertility…

Exceptional in scope, the study is believed to be the first country-wide, long-term probe into sperm quality, the team said.

“This constitutes a serious public health warning. The link with the environment particularly needs to be determined,” they warned in the European journal Human Reproduction.

Researchers examined data for semen samples provided by 26,609 men at 126 in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) centres in France over 17 years…

Over this period, the sperm count — fell continuously, by an average annual rate of about 1.9 percent, totalling 32.2 percent…

Speculating on the source of the declines, the scientists point to suspects which have already been fingered in lab research.

They could be chemical pollutants called endocrine disruptors that change hormone levels.

“They might also be linked to other known semen-altering factors that would have changed over the study period, like an increase in body-mass index, stress, nutrition or infections.”

At least it’s a new excuse to offer the Pope when he whines about birth control.

Written by Ed Campbell

December 7, 2012 at 8:00 am

A coal-fired power plant, cancer and a small town in Georgia

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Robert Maddox is a bulky man with gray hair, a deeply lined face, squinty eyes and a thick Southern accent. He lives in Juliette with his wife, Teresa. The two of them invested their life savings building their home. It’s a large ranch house on several acres, and the plan was the two of them would leave it for their sons and grandchildren. They gave up that dream after Maddox’s mother developed a rare form of ear cancer and died after living at the home for three years.

“I’m not going to bring my grandchildren up in this,” Maddox says. “Anybody who does would be a fool, I think.”

The problem, Maddox explains, is now he and his neighbors are getting sick. For Maddox, the first signs of trouble would come in the middle of the night, when he would wake up with nose bleeds mixed with clear mucus. Then his muscles started twitching, and then he got kidney disease, and then sclerosis of the liver.

His doctor wondered whether Maddox was an alcoholic.

“I don’t drink,” Maddox says dismissively before ticking off his other health problems…

The neighbor who used to live in the now-empty next door house has abdominal cancer. In the house two doors over, a once healthy woman has a form of dementia that’s left her “unrecognizable,” according to Maddox.

“Besides us all being sick, we’ve all been approached by Georgia Power, with them looking to buy us out” Maddox says. “And in that house next door, [Georgia Power] has sealed the well…”

Y’know it’s coming from over there,” he says, nodding in the direction of one of the largest coal plants in the world, right across the two lane highway where Maddox collects his mail.

RTFA for a pretty typical tale of an environment distorted and made lethal by a power generation juggernaut. Georgia Power has been able to take the relatively easy way out of the death and disease they brought to Juliette, Georgia – in the name of electrification and profit. Buying folk’s homes, moving the people out of the way of any class action is always cheaper than law and justice.

But, then, this is Georgia and the concept of law, justice and politicians challenging a wealthy public utility is pretty much laughable.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 31, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Feel like eating trout – downstream from mining operations?

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Photographs of variously mutated brown trout were relegated to an appendix of a scientific study commissioned by the J. R. Simplot Company, whose mining operations have polluted nearby creeks in southern Idaho. The trout were the offspring of local fish caught in the wild that had been spawned in the laboratory. Some had two heads; others had facial, fin and egg deformities.

Yet the company’s report concluded that it would be safe to allow selenium — a metal byproduct of mining that is toxic to fish and birds — to remain in area creeks at higher levels than are now permitted under regulatory guidelines. The company is seeking a judgment to that effect from the Environmental Protection Agency. After receiving a draft report that ran hundreds of pages, an E.P.A. review described the research as “comprehensive” and seemed open to its findings, which supported the selenium variance for Simplot’s Smoky Canyon mine.

But when other federal scientists and some environmentalists learned of the two-headed brown trout, they raised a ruckus, which resulted in further scientific review that found the company’s research wanting.

Now, several federal agencies, an array of environmental groups and one of the nation’s largest private companies are at odds over selenium contamination from the Idaho phosphate mine, the integrity of the company’s research, and what its effect will be on future regulatory policy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ed Campbell

February 24, 2012 at 10:00 pm

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