Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Hillbillies must go outside.

I know that I am not alone in this, but if I don't get outside--doing practically anything--several hours each day, I go crazy. (Ask my wife.) The problem is that, in our modern world, it is difficult to get outside every day for extended time. Statistics show that the average American spends about 90% of his/her day indoors! That leaves only 10%--2.4 hours--of outside time. And that's on average, which, I think, includes those people who work outside all day.

A couple of years ago, I created a spreadsheet for recording hours spent outdoors each day, and I tracked each minute using the chronometer on my watch. I live and work at a boarding school on 300 acres. I walk to work, take short walks at every possible moment throughout the day, run or walk or garden in the afternoons, and spend time, even in the cold weather, sitting on the porch reading or watching the bird feeders. How many hours a day outdoors did I manage to get, on average? Three, which is 1/8 of a day or 12.5%. That's it. It is simply not enough for me or for anyone, I argue. We have evolved out-of-doors. We slept outside, even. Everything we did was outdoors. And now, at 5 a.m., I sit at my kitchen table, the roar of I-40 audible even through these walls and doors, and type.

Why is The Hillbilly Environmentalist writing about this? Well, I've been thinking a lot lately about our elected officials and their certain disengagement from nature. When I see Scott Pruitt confirmed by the Senate to "lead" the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, I wonder where we are headed. When I see Paul Ryan brag about killing regulations that are protecting the ancient mountain streams of Appalachia, in the futile effort to save a couple of jobs in the dying coal industry, only to leave behind streams flowing orange, I wonder.

The old adage "If you don't love it, you won't protect it" comes to mind. The British writer George Monbiot stated it like this: "If children lose contact with nature they won't fight for it." In a 2012 article in The Guardian, Monbiot writes, "Most of those I know who fight for nature are people who spent their childhoods immersed in it. Without a feel for the texture and function of the natural world, without an intensity of engagement almost impossible in the absence of early experience, people will not devote their lives to its protection."

I don't know much about the lives of Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and Paul Ryan. But I can surmise that as adults they rarely, if ever, get outside to enjoy the natural world. How could they? Days spent commuting to work, in meetings, in towers. Where are the trees?! How could they even know that we've lost 60% of the total number of vertebrates (e.g., birds, fish, mammals) on the entire planet since 1970?! That we have lost 80% of the total number of fish we had in 1970? That it is only getting worse, with habitat destruction and fragmentation, climate change, and invasive species creating a cocktail of destruction?

Why would they care about the wild public lands of the West, or about a cold mountain stream in West Virginia which was once home to beautiful brook trout? Drill them. Mine them. F**k them.

It's up to us, and I guess that it always has been. WE have to be the defenders of natural world. Scott Pruitt can't and won't. None of his type will. What right do they have to destroy it?

Signing off, here are a couple of recent haiku:

     for a moment, at least
     only birdsong
     not politics

     big moon still there,
     it's blue-gray splotches
     monday morning

I'd write more, but it's time to go outside ...

Friday, February 17, 2017

"Regulations" are PROTECTIONS!

As promised in the most recent post about Scott Pruitt, this post is about some of the functions and benefits of the oft-maligned Environmental Protection Agency of the United States.

The agency was created when President Richard Nixon issued an executive order in December of 1970 to create the EPA; the House and Senate later ratified the order.

EPA's mission is straightforward, though far-reaching: "To protect human health and the environment." [Note that human health comes first!] EPA creates regulations to satisfy the laws passed by Congress. The most well-known of the laws include the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Few Americans would argue that these acts, and the enforcement of them, have not benefited Americans and American ecosystems.

EPA writes and enforces regulations, conducts research, educates the public, and creates programs to ensure that "all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work." Who's not for that?! Well, some businesses and Conservatives and Libertarians come to mind. Scott Pruitt has worked to "reign in" the overreach of this executive agency, agreeing with many Conservatives that environmental protection should be left to the states. President Trump has said, "Environmental protections, what they do is a disgrace. Every week they come out with new regulations.

However, EPA has been quite successful since its inception to help reduce emissions of harmful/toxic emissions, even as our population has exploded and consumption has grown exponentially. For example, the table below shows that we are far better off today in terms of the amount of "criteria pollutants" in our atmosphere. Lead can affect essentially every organ in the human body; carbon monoxide is toxic to hemoglobic animals, including humans, and has a part in creating ground-level ozone; nitrogen dioxide is a respiratory irritant, and it also leads to ground-level ozone; particulate matter is also a respiratory irritant and can lead to blood clots; and sulfur dioxide, which is  emitted when fossil fuels are burned, can lead to acid rain (very damaging to ecosystems) and causes lung irritation. These are harmful chemicals, and EPA has helped to keep them out of our air and out of our ecosystems.

2:00 p.m. As I write this, Scott Pruitt has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate to lead the EPA. We are entering into a rough period for the environment AND for human health! It is time to hit the streets (or soon will be).

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The New Face(s) of Our Environmental Protection Agency

As an environmentalist, it strikes me as especially cruel that Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma will (probably today) soon take charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Described as a "lawyer who made a career suing the E.P.A.," Mr. Pruitt could severely weaken the effectiveness of this essential government agency. Of course, there are many out there who'd like not only to weaken but to actually dismantle (or "kill") the agency, starting with President Trump ("Environmental protections, what they do is a disgrace. Every week they come out with new regulations."); his E.P.A. transition team leader, Myron Ebell, who has recommended that President Trump cut the federal agency's staff from 15,000 employees to 5,000 employees; and U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who two weeks ago introduced House Resolution 861: To Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency.

If this is the goal, then Scott Pruitt is the right choice. Consider these words from Republican Christine Todd Whitman, George W. Bush's E.P.A. chief from 2001-2003: "I don’t recall ever having seen an appointment of someone who is so disdainful of the agency and the science behind what the agency does ... It doesn’t put us in a good place, in my mind. And he’s going to have trouble within the agency if he does convey that kind of disdain to the career staff ... He obviously doesn’t care much for the agency or any of the regulations it has promulgated. He doesn’t believe in climate change; he wants to roll back the Clean Power Plan."

There will be fights--oh, there will be fights. Lawsuits from every angle. Americans hitting the streets to protest. Environmental groups are gearing up for a 4+ year legal battle to require the E.P.A. to enforce the great environmental laws our Congress has passed since the early 70's. In my next post, I'll discuss some of these essential functions of the E.P.A., along with economic facts about enforcement benefits to Americans. But, for now, I'll sign off by offering that these are the real faces of our Environmental PROTECTION Agency:

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The wonderful, messy process of science.

In articles written across a wide range of media recently, journalists summarize the research by Harvard scientists to press hydrogen into metal, a feat attempted for eighty years. In the New York Times article I read, Professor Isaac Silverton describes the lustrous, shiny material that resulted when hydrogen gas was squeezed between two pieces of diamond under extreme pressure. The research was published in the prestigious journal Science, where submissions must pass a rigorous peer review process, and the editor in chief stated that only about seven percent of submissions are published. Still, skeptics abound from across the globe. For example, a University of Edinburgh professor called the claims by Silverton “… the product of Ike’s imagination from beginning to end.”
            This report highlights the wonderful, messy process of real science, where scientists submit research results to peer-reviewed journals for consideration, reports are published when strict standards have been met, and other scientists from around the world begin to shoot holes in the arguments and the data while rushing to their own labs or field locations to attempt replicating the results. Such has gone the process of climate science for decades. And, for once, there is near-unanimity: Through the emissions of greenhouse gases into our thin atmosphere, humans have significantly altered the Earth’s climate. Pretending or hoping otherwise is foolish.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Let's step it up, WNC!

A robust, scientific survey completed by Yale and George Mason Universities after the November election reported that 78% of registered U.S. voters support taxing global warming pollution, regulating it, or using both approaches. U.S. Congressional districts 10 and 11 in Western North Carolina are home to over 1.4 million Americans, with over a half a million of these people being adults. If we are even close to the national average for the American electorate, well over 400,000 of us want Congress to act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help stave off the worst effects of climate change. The problem, we are told, is that our representatives generally do not hear much from constituents that climate change is an issue for us. It is. (Think extreme drought, rampant wildfires, and near-8o degree days in February.) It is time for us to call Representatives Meadows and McHenry and Senators Tillis and Burr and tell them how we feel about this crucial issue. Supporting a revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend would be a great, positive step in that direction.

Details of Carbon Fee and Dividend Proposals:

Citizens' Climate Lobby

Climate Leadership Council (recent development from a group of conservatives, including James A. Baker III and George P.  Schultz)

Phone Numbers:

Senator Tillis: (202) 224-6342 and (919) 856-4630 ... Senator Burr: (202) 224-3154 and (336) 631-5125 ... Representative Meadows: (202) 225-6401 and (828) 693-5660 ... Representative McHenry: (202) 225-2576 and (828) 327-6100

Sunday, February 12, 2017

February 8, 2017: THIS changes everything!

I wrote about this a few of days ago, the morning I was stunned to see two major newspapers (NYT and WSJ) publish similar op-eds and articles on the carbon fee and dividend proposal of prominent Republicans George Schultz and James Baker III. The WSJ titled their piece "A Conservative Answer to Climate Change." Just seeing the works "conservative" and "climate change" together made me smile!

I think that history will show that this day marked a turning point in the previously liberal movement (in this country, at least) to act on climate change. That this group of respected, stalwart Republicans got together as the Climate Leadership Council and proposed a market-based plan to deal with runaway carbon emissions, publicly admitting that climate change is real, that humans are causing the problem with greenhouse gas emissions, and that something needs to be done--Wow!

Here is the opening paragraph from that report: "Mounting evidence of climate change is growing too strong to ignore. While the extent to which climate change is due to man-made causes can be questioned, the risks associated with future warming are too big and should be hedged. At least we need an insurance policy. For too long, many Republicans have looked the other way, forfeiting the policy initiative to those who favor growth-inhibiting command-and-control regulations, and fostering a needless climate divide between the GOP and the scientific, business, military, religious, civic and international mainstream."

What a gift to the cause taken up for years by the Citizens' Climate Lobby, which has acted in a bi-partisan manner in an effort to pass carbon fee and dividend legislation for almost a decade. The proposals of the CLC and CCL (confusing, huh?) have some differences, but they both place a fee on the carbon extracted at the source, and then return (the "dividends") the money collected to American households. This action will change consumer habits and investor priorities, moving the pendulum towards renewable energy sources in a steady, reliable manner. A CCL-sponsored report predicts that this will cause a carbon reduction of 50% of 1990 levels while adding 2.8 million jobs to the American economy.

ACTION: Call your Members of Congress (three of them--two Senators and one Representative) and ask them to consider this proposal.




Thursday, February 9, 2017

Why are James Inhofe and Lamar Smith determined to sacrifice our grandchildren?

Provocative title? You bet. I lay in bed last night at around midnight thinking of that title, and wondering why these two members of Congress continue to deny the strongest science about climate change, continuing for years--decades, even--to obfuscate the reality of human-caused climate change. Lamar Smith is the Republican representative from Texas who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. He remains prominent in the news (even yesterday) for his climate-denying antics. I could list all that he has done over the years to deny the unassailable science on human-caused climate change, but this paragraph of November 2016 from The Washington Post will do:

"Smith, 68, an attorney from San Antonio who’s represented the area northwest of the city since 1987, rejects the scientific consensus that man-made pollution is behind global warming. He’s used his perch as committee chairman to subpoena federal climate scientists to discredit their research, issuing a record number of legal summonses this Congress and turning a panel that was once a sleepy backwater into an aggressive attack dog."

James Inhofe is the Republican Senator from Oklahoma, and author of the book "The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future." He is the Senior of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and he also serves on the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. He once said infamously, "God's still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human begins, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous."

Inhofe's religious views are his religious views, and I have no problem with that, of course. However, why is he so prominent in these powerful committees on the environment and science, two public domains that must be separated from personal religious views?! If he were a critical thinker, he would know that his religious views do not mesh with those of modern science, and that he should therefore remove himself from these committees. I must conclude that he is not a critical thinker at all, and that he simply remains attached to his far-right dogma. INHOFE may be the greatest hoax perpetrated on humans world-wide!

So why do these men do what they do, to continue for years steadfast in their beliefs--hopes, maybe--that all the fossil-fuel burning we have done since the Industrial Revolution has not had an impact on the climate, even though an understanding of basic physics demands that we acknowledge the heat-trapping effects of greenhouse gases emitted into our thin atmosphere? Are they evil? I doubt that, but perhaps I can write with confidence that they are functionally evil. Reading about them leads me to believe that they love their children just like I do, and they want the best futures possible for generations to come. It must come down to power and money, then. Both men have received large sums of money for their campaigns from fossil fuels companies, and they must enjoy the work they do as public servants, and the power that is granted to them through that service. As Upton Sinclair once stated, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

They are not serving the larger public at all. Their highly-visible, continued denial of phenomena that we can all feel and see, and that are backed up by the strongest science available on any subject, puts us all at risk. (Just minutes ago, I saw the forecast for Sunday, February 12 in Asheville, NC: 79 degrees F!) If we continue down this path of unabashed greenhouse gas emissions, scientists tell us that we could make the earth uninhabitable for most animals (including humans). I don't think we are heading towards the worst possible scenarios, as there seems to be movement towards the acknowledgement for the need to act, but I could be wrong. There is a path forward to stave off the worst effects of climate change, but the public and the majority of our representatives must create the political will to affect change. Sticking with our commitment to every other nation on earth to reduce our greenhouse emissions (December 2015 Paris Climate Agreement), and then getting down to work to create a bipartisan plan (simplest: fee on carbon) to reduce GHG emissions, may be our only last hope.