YIMBY

The current issue of Sierra Magazine has a most interesting article about the determination of some cities, in this case Pittsburg, to continue to fight against global warming despite the fact that the President and members of this Congress continue to deny it is a problem. I will quote the opening paragraphs and encourage interested readers to read the article. What I found most interesting is that the fight in Pittsburg is being lead by a group of “millennials” who are active despite the fact that studies show that the vast majority of them really don’t care. I suppose it is a question of numbers.

GETTING TO YIMBY

“When President Donald J. Trump announced he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate accord, he framed it as a stark choice: ‘I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburg, not Paris,’ he declared.

“The mayors of those cities don’t see it that way. In a joint op-ed in the New York Times, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo and Pittsburg mayor Bill Peduto declared their unity in the fight against climate change — and talked about how it was improving both cities. ‘The experience of Pittsburg in the three decades since the collapse of the steel industry reveals how a commitment to science, research, and green technology can transform our cities,’ they wrote.

“Pittsburg, it turns out, is in the midst of a year-over-year burst of economic activity — its per-capita GDP in 2016 grew at almost twice the pace of the nation’s, thanks to a thriving tech sector. Its planners are working on the city’s third climate action plan (the first was published in June 2008), outlining specific steps it will take to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“Pittsburg and other cities are taking a leading role in the fight against global warming — and growth and prosperity are part of the plan. Standard efforts include negotiating with local utilities to switch to renewable energy and beefing up green infrastructure like mass transit. In addition, a new movement, composed largely of millennials, is pushing hard on city leaders to make their cities denser and more walkable and bikeable, with green infield development, more affordable housing, and transit-oriented centers. In a twist on the popular label of those skeptical of urban development, these new activists proudly adopt the mantle of YIMBY — ‘Yes, In My Back Yard.'”

It is also noted in that magazine that after President Trump withdrew from the Paris accords (while insisting it was “very unfair”), those urging him to stay in the agreement were BP, Chevron, Exxon Mobile, and Shell. Interesting, no?

In the same magazine we are told that the mayor of Tangier, Maryland — a low-lying island in the Chesapeake Bay that is disappearing slowly beneath the rising oceans — received a call from President Trump assuring him that “Your island has been there for hundreds of years, and I believe your island will be there for hundreds more.” What can one say? Seriously!

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After The Fall

Robert Reich recalls a phone conversation he had with a friend who predicts a Clinton victory in November — and a majority of Democrats in the Senate (though not the House). The conversation then picks up as follows:

And what about all the people who’ll be voting for Trump?”

“What about them?” he asked, cautiously.

“After Trump loses, they’ll still be out there, right?”

“Of course.”

“And they’ll be madder than hell, poisoned with Trump’s venom. They’ll be a ready-made constituency for the next demagogue.”

“Bob?” he asked.

“What?”

“Remind me never to phone you again.”

“Sorry,” I said.

Indeed. There’s the rub. What about those crawly things Trump has enticed out from under the rocks he has been kicking over for the past few months, “poisoned with Trump’s venom”? That’s something we all need to ponder. Given that many of them are the “second amendment people” that the Trumpet encouraged to “do something” about Hillary Clinton and given the fact that they are armed, angry, and reside very far to the political right — well past Genghis Khan over there in the distance behind that rock — we need to worry about more than discontent among his mindless minions, a “ready-made constituency for the next demagogue.” There’s that, but there is also the very real possibility that a Clinton victory will engender a violent protest that will have alarming consequences — and not only for Hillary Clinton.

I refuse to make dire predictions and it is quite possible that nothing will happen beyond some really stupid complaints from those who will be convinced that this political race has been rigged and the only way their man could possibly have lost is because the Democrats cheated. We have already heard this excuse and it is virtually certain we will hear it again.

Given the conviction that a bigot and narcissistic megalomaniac is perceived by these people as the man to rescue this country from the grasp of those damned liberals, and “make America great again,” we can be sure there will be some very unhappy, not to say stupid, people. Just what they will do is the million dollar question.

At the very least, the political landscape will never be the same and the reputation of this country in the eyes of the rest of the world will have been deeply tarnished. It will take years and the efforts of a stellar leader to restore it. We ourselves will all have been exposed to the ugly underbelly of this country, which most of us had never imagined in our worst nightmares.

Not that this will keep me from voting for Hillary Clinton in November. Not in the least. As has been said, it really is a choice between sanity and insanity. The alternative of this man winning suggests even greater horrors and for a more prolonged period of time. The Sierra Club predicts that his election would lead invariably to an “environmental catastrophe.” Indeed. And that’s just the beginning. It’s just that I feel as though I am being pinned between a rock and a hard place. Perhaps you feel the same way?

 

 

 

“Sierra” Revisited

I recently posted much of an editorial by the editor-in-chief of the “Sierra” magazine who spoke with conviction about the seriousness of the upcoming election. In the same issue of that magazine (September/October 2016) Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club had an equally compelling editorial, which I shall copy in part below:

“. . . American democracy is under attack.

We’ve seen unregulated campaign funding corrode our political process. Legislatures are mired in bitter, partisan deadlock. We’ve watched Republican leaders tout voting restrictions as a mechanism to ensure electoral victory, while millions (often in low-income neighborhoods) wait for hours in line to vote. And — most incredible of all — the party whose very first nominee for president was Abraham Lincoln has now chosen an unapologetically misogynist racist to be its standard bearer. Today, Lincoln’s first inaugural address and its appeal to ‘the better angels of our nature’ would be met with sneering tweets.

“How does this affect the environment? Profoundly. President Donald Trump would be the worst setback for the environmental movement since . . .well, I can’t think of anything that compares. For those who remember the 80s, Trump  makes James Watt look like Johnny Appleseed. If you care about the environment, our nation, or the future of the planet, this presidential election will be your most important vote ever.

“And yet, embattled though our democracy may be, I’m optimistic about its future. That’s because American politics and American democracy are not the same thing. One may yet save the other.

“In 1943 the great New Yorker essayist E.B. White . . .wrote ‘[democracy] is the line that forms on the right. It is the don’t in don’t shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half  the people are right more than half the time.’

“What White was getting at, I think, is that our democracy is more than a system of governance devised by a fractious committee of rebellious colonists. Our democracy has always been shaped by our national character. It encompasses our rejection of pretension, our common decency, our fierce belief in fair play, and our stubborn optimism. . . .

“. . . . There’s another reason to be optimistic. The only way our democracy could truly fail is if we lose our faith in the future. Giving up hope only feeds the darkness. If failure’s not an option — and it isn’t — then neither is pessimism.”

Wise words. And his point that our vote in this presidential election is the most important vote we will ever cast is especially well stated. As Bernie Sanders has said repeatedly, this is NOT the year to think about reform. Much as that is needed, the defeat of a candidate who has repeatedly demonstrated his gross incompetence and ignorance is the top priority for anyone who cares about this country and not just about themselves. It cannot be stressed too much: our choice this November is between sanity and insanity.

 

 

 

 

“Sierra” Speaks

The recent issue of “Sierra” magazine has a most interesting editorial which I quote in part:

“Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been like an oil-train derailment in slow motion — the spectacle is awful to witness, impossible to turn away from, and mesmerizing in its sheer horror.

“Trump enjoys being a bully. His bigotry and his bile are nauseating: the calculated cruelty, the willful ignorance, the lack of empathy and grace. But, as the old saying goes, even a stopped clock is right a couple of times a day. It would be a mistake to blithely dismiss this real estate mogul turned politician. Trump’s brand of nationalism may be ugly, yet he has tapped into a deep vein of resentment that many Americans feel toward the way politics is practiced in this country. He isn’t wrong when he complains that many of our elected officials are ‘puppets’ who are controlled by ‘special interests, the lobbyists, and the donors.’

“Our democracy is, in a word, busted. In this new Gilded Age, U.S.politics has become a pay-to-play game in which the quickest way to bend a politician’s ear is to dip into one’s own pocket. Electoral watchdogs estimate that during the 2016 elections, candidates for office will spend a total of $10 billion. Much of that comes from a wealthy elite who can afford to buy an elected official’s attention; just 158 families have donated nearly half of the money raised by presidential candidates in this election cycle.

“Such an imbalance obviously undermines the one-person-one-vote ideal upon which this democracy rests. . . The environmental movement has popular sentiment on its side: poll after poll shows that a majority of Americans want action addressing climate change and value clean air and water. . .  But it is difficult to translate these positions into policy when elected officials are being funded by industrial interests like the Koch brothers.

“Note that I said difficult, not impossible. Given the sickly state of our body politic it is tempting to view cynicism as wisdom. The best antidote against cynicism is staying engaged in the political process, with the knowledge that reform only happens when people demand it. . .

“It’s a delusion, of course, to imagine that a self-described billionaire will wrench the political system away from wealthy interests. Real reform will require putting all political candidates on a level playing field, stopping voter suppression that disenfranchises poor people, and ending gerrymandering that keeps incumbents in office. That’s how we’re going to make America great.”

This editorial was written by Jason Mark, editor in chief of “Sierra,.”

Sierra Report

On a semi-regular basis I share some of the information that comes in the monthly Sierra Magazine. They have a page they call “Up To Speed: Two Months, One Page.” I summarize some of the information on that page here:

The Bad News:

• March 2016 was the warmest month one record. It was the 11th straight month to set the record, which was also unprecedented.*

• Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide rose by the greatest margin on record.*

• For the second year in a row the Arctic Sea ice has shrunk to a record low.*

• Mitsubishi admitted that it has been exaggerating the fuel economy of its cars sold in Japan for 25 years.

• The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that local governments, such as those in Longmont and Fort Colins, cannot ban fracking in their jurisdictions.

[*And yet we have a presidential candidate who insists that Global Warming is a hoax while, at the same time, he petitions the Scottish government for permission to build a sea wall to protect his golf course in Scotland from rising sea waters. (This would also come under the heading of “bad news,” except that it deserves its own category — perhaps: More Insanity?? )]

The Good News:

• Oregon announced that it will stop buying coal entirely by 2030.

• Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company declared bankruptcy.

• ConAgra Foods, General Mills, and Kellogg said they will voluntarily label foods containing GMOs.

• President Obama withdrew his earlier proposal to open the southeastern Atlantic seaboard to oil and gas drilling.

• Within a month of the Tesla Model 3’s unveiling, nearly 400,000 people had paid $1000 apiece to reserve the all-electric car.

* Seaworld announced that it will stop the captive breeding of orcas.

 

 

 

 

Bad News, Good News

There’s actually more good news than bad in this month’s Sierra Magazine. So I thought I would pass it along, starting with the bad news.

BAD NEWS

• Polar bears are moving further North in search of longer-lasting ice.

•A Montana man was fined $30,000 for killing three grizzly bears (which is a bit of both, good and bad).

• The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will allow the killing of up to 15 grizzly bears in Wyoming in connection with an elk hunt and livestock grazing.

•The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is determining whether the monarch butterfly belongs on the endangered species list.

• Sea lion pups off the California coast are starving in record numbers, apparently because warmer waters are driving their prey to deeper areas farther offshore.

Now for the GOOD NEWS

•Bald Eagles are nesting in New York City.

•President Obama proposes to designate 12 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness.

•Coal prices have fallen by half since 2011 due to oversupply and reduced demand, especially in China.

• India’s tiger population has increased by a third in the past four years.

• Obama proposed to sharply restrict oil drilling in Arctic waters but takes steps to allow it on the Atlantic coast from Virginia to Georgia. [A political trade-off??]

•President Obama vetoes legislation that would have approved the Keystone XL pipeline.

•Scotland bans fracking.

• Baby tortoises are sighted on the Galapagos’ Pinzon island for the first time in 100 years.

•The Senate voted 98-1 that “climate change is not a hoax.” [But, I dare say there is still a large number who insist the problem is not exacerbated by humans.]

• California broke ground for the nation’s first bullet train.

Wouldn’t it be nice to think that the good news each month from the Sierra Club were to increasingly outweigh the bad news? Now THAT would be good news.

Happy News

My buddy, the “old fart,” insists upon looking at the glass half full. When I question him about it, he insists that I look again. As he likes to remind us all, there are good people out there who never make the news and there are good things that happen that don’t make the headlines. This is certainly true, and in the spirit of the old fart’s pointing finger I have culled the Sierra Club magazine this month and pulled out the bits and pieces of good news about the things that are happening to protect our environment and help our planet to survive. I have skipped the bleak news as that only muddies the waters (no pun intended).

• Solar power is hot on the heels of fossil fuels. In 2013, residential, non-residential, and utility-scale solar installations in the United States added 4,863 megawatts of electricity to the nation’s generating capacity, second only to natural gas, at 6,861 megawatts. (Left in the dust, appropriately, was coal power at 1,507 megawatts.) Through the first half of 2014, 53 percent of all new electric capacity installed came from solar power.” [And this despite the fact that Big Oil gets the major subsidies from the U.S. government and solar and wind power get very little and must beg for what they get.]
•California banned single-use plastic bags. It is the first state to do so. [Taking the lead again, as usual.]
• Statoil, Norway’s national energy company, shelved its plans for a multibilion-dollar investment in Canada’s tar sands.
• President Barack Obama designated 350,000 acres of Southern California’s San Gabriel Mountains as a new National Monument.
• The Massachusetts District Attorney dropped charges against climate activists who used a lobster boat to block a load of coal bound for the Brayton Point Power Plant because he said he agrees with the protesters.
• More than 400,000 people in New York City joined the People’s Climate March, the largest such demonstration ever.
• Another major investment company has emerged, the New Alternatives Fund, that encourages people to invest in solar and wind power exclusively, investments that have been extremely profitable for folks like T. Boone Pickens, Warren Buffet, and Al Gore. [One wonders if and when Big Oil will climb on board. The train is picking up speed.]
• Denmark supplies three out of four of the world’s offshore wind turbines and is on track to be free of fossil fuels by 2050.
Happy New Year to all and to all a good night!! (And thanks, BTG, for being so positive in a world that drags so many of us down.)

Cool Colleges

I turn the pages of each month’s Sierra Magazine with some trepidation, since the editors seem determined to scare the hell out of their readers by cataloging all of the dire consequences of human inattention to the health of our planet. On the other hand, I look forward once a year to reading their list of the “Green Colleges” that are helping to turn young minds toward a more responsible future. Sad to say, I have never noted either of my two alma maters listed on the pages of the magazine — which rates the top 100 colleges in the country. But the list is impressive, as are the steps that are being taken at some of the top schools in helping students learn about their responsibility to the planet. There is hope.

As the magazine notes,

“With each “Cool Schools” issue sent to press, we are reminded that LEED-certified buildings equipped with low-flow toilets and stocked with recycling bins push carbon dioxide levels lower and keep reservoirs fuller, landfills emptier, and trees standing longer.

But what of the students? The most powerful renewable energy resource these campuses generate is freshly educated young people. And colleges crow that instilling eco-literacy — teaching youths about the state of the planet — will put us on the right path. Will it, though?. . .The answer is yes.

The magazine features the top ten colleges, headed by the University of Connecticut where “nearly 600 sustainability classes are taught by some of the greenest minds anywhere — more than 40 percent of UConn’s research faculty does original academic work that benefits the environment.”  And the students are very much involved. UConn is followed closely by Dickinson College, University of California at Davis, University of California at Irvine, Cornell University, Green Mountain College, Stanford University, Georgia Tech, American University, and the University of California at Santa Barbara.

The careful reader will note the presence on this list of a disproportionate number of California schools, where it seems students and faculties take their earthly responsibilities very seriously. The presence of only one Ivy League School — and only a couple more on the list of 100 schools at the end of the article — is sobering. Many of the allegedly prestigious colleges are conspicuous by their absence, including (as I say) Northwestern University where I received my advanced degrees. That is disheartening. One would think that being “Green” and being “Clean” are the sorts of things the schools that pride themselves on their academic reputations would aspire to. But apparently not. At least not yet.

But the things that many of these schools are doing are quite remarkable, from producing their own electricity with solar and wind generators, planting their own gardens to provide food on campus, collecting grease from local restaurants to produce biodiesel fuel to power the campus’ vehicle fleet, lowering greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 25 percent, committing millions of dollars to energy-conservation projects, and the like. At Dickinson College, for example, “the school will achieve zero net emissions by 2020, if all goes according to plan.”

These are serious steps taken by serious-minded folks who know the importance of helping to save a planet under siege by the oil and gas companies while the Congress looks the other way. Let’s hope these efforts will make effective inroads against further damage to the planet by those who simply do not care.

About Fairness

One of my blog buddies, Barney, recently wrote an excellent blog about a couple of readers he lost because the opinions he stated on his blogs were deemed unfair or perhaps even offensive. He made an interesting comment, that “fairness in opinion is passionless.” Indeed so. Further, it is impossible to please everyone and a writer of blogs who is intent to get people thinking about pressing issues shouldn’t even worry about offending some. It is inevitable.

But more to the point, how is one to be fair when he or she feels strongly about an issue and is convinced that a conclusion that is sure to offend someone is the only one that can reasonably be reached at the moment? For example, let’s take the matter of climate change about which the weight of evidence has come down heavily in favor of the claim that continued use of fossil fuels will further damage the earth on which we depend. On this issue, the denial of that claim is almost entirely on the side of the Republicans and an honest opinion would have to find fault with that party on this issue — as long as 74% of the Republicans in Congress continue to deny publicly that there is a problem. What constitutes “fairness” in this case?

This month’s Sierra magazine, for example, has a brief article by Paul Rauber noting that those who are “fossil-fuel-friendly” in this country have launched a campaign against clean energy. We know by now how the game is played, and we know from their voting records that those “f f f” folks support conservative Republicans in political offices — almost exclusively. As Rauber says in his article, “Leading the movement to repeal [renewable energy standards in 29 states] are the libertarian Heartland Institute . . . and the American Legislative Exchange Council, which crafts ‘model legislation’ for conservative politicians to introduce in their home states. ALEC’s major donors include Peabody Energy, the world’s biggest private coal company; Exxon Mobil, and ultra conservative dirty-energy industrialists Charles and David Koch.. . . ALEC’s fill-in-the-blanks vehicle to roll back clean energy is the Electricity Freedom Act, written by staffer Todd Wynn. It casts renewable energy standards as a regressive tax…”

As Rauber goes on to point out, this claim is false, since states such as Colorado, for example, have shown that that state’s renewable energy standards will save its “customers $100 million over 25 years.” In a word, we have lies and half-truths being promulgated to push an agenda that favors the short-term thinking of wealthy individuals and corporations that simply refuse to admit there is a problem and are not only willing but eager to promote policies that will ensure higher profits at a cost to the planet and the health and well-being of future generations. How is one to be fair in a case such as this?

Barney imagines his lost reader, whom he calls “Mindy,” worrying that since corruption is rife on both sides of the political aisle (which is certainly true), one should not come down on one side in this — or any other issue– without also pointing out the foibles of the other side. But what if there is no “other side” in a case such as this? And it does seem to be the case that the political right is almost entirely of a mind to deny climate change and focus exclusively on profits and keeping their well-paying jobs, while those on the left are more aware and seem willing to work toward a solution.

In a word, the Republicans have shown themselves opposed to measures to encourage the use of alternative energy which seems a no-brainer from the point of view of saving the planet, while the Democrats on this issue, at any rate, seem to be in support of measures to phase out our dependence on fossil fuels and pursue alternatives that promise hope for the future of the planet on which we all live. The exception is those few Republican politicians who live in states where a great many jobs are involved in the manufacture of solar panels and wind turbines. But on the whole, it’s not possible to be entirely fair at all times, and in some cases it shouldn’t even be attempted.

Pity the Farmers

In reading the NRDC publication “onearth” recently I was steered to an online essay by Ted Genoways about the plight of the small farmer. As one who lives in the farming belt in Southwest Minnesota and who knows how the small farmers struggle against the unfair competition provided by the giant corporations, I found this article of special interest. As you travel in this area you see the sad, abandoned farm houses and countless groves being bulldozed to make room for more plowed fields and bigger yields — all signs of the corporations at work.

With the current drought that affects 65% of the farmland in this country predicted to continue, one wonders if the small farmers can survive. Indeed, one wonders if there will be food enough to feed a burgeoning world population. As the Sierra magazine reported recently two-thirds of the U.S. Wheat crop has been impaired by drought and U.S. corn and soybean production has fallen below consumption levels for the first time in 38 years. Further, “Drought will cut world wheat stocks by 13 percent in 2013. . .The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warns that low grain stores this year leave ‘no room for unexpected events.'”

And yet the corporate farmers in this country are making record profits, thanks to government subsidies as Genoways explains:

. . . Of the $277.3 billion allocated for farm subsidies from the expansion of the program in 1995 until last year, roughly 75 percent of the money went to the top 10 percent of farmers. If you expand to look at the top 20 percent of farms, nearly 90 percent of the allocations are accounted for. In real dollars, that means that the average corporate farm receives more than $31,000 per year, while the average small farm receives less than $600, in a typical year. And nearly two-thirds of American farmers collect no subsidies at all. In years of crop failure, Big Ag actually makes out even better, because of the way the subsidies are calculated. Indeed, if trends from past years hold true for 2012, the top 20 percent of recipients will garner an average of more than $45,000 from the government, compared to less than $1,000 for the remaining 80 percent.

So programs designed to save family farms are, instead, helping big business out-compete them, and eventually gobble them up, all while using their dollars and political clout to push for larger subsidies and more protection — big beef and pork producers are currently trying to get into the act — as agribusiness lobbyists in Washington cloak their efforts in the guise of defending small farmers.

So while the small farmers struggle and see their farms being swallowed up by the corporations the rest of us ponder a future with diminishing food supplies as the globe continues to heat up, droughts continue to reduce farm production, and Big Ag goes to Washington to make sure the subsidies continue. Surely, this is a formula for disaster.

Given the present state of the economy the government may not be able to bail out the corporate farmers much longer. But more to the point, not even the large corporations will be able to produce food on the scale required to feed growing numbers of hungry people if the drought continues as predicted. In addition to the greed and short-term thinking that motivates the corporations, we must add the undeniable fact that climate change will soon affect our lives in ways it is difficult to imagine, as a recent story on Yahoo News pointed out:

“What we’re going to experience is unprecedented in human history in terms of the type of climate we’re creating for ourselves,” Hanemann tells The Daily Ticker. “The rate of warming has increased maybe five times what it was in the early part of the 20th century. The earth is getting warmer faster.”

Meanwhile Congress continues to hand out subsidies to Big Ag and repay favors to fat-cat contributors while it ignores climate change, threatens to cut social programs for the needy, and gropes about blindly in the Wonderland caucus race we call party politics. Something has to give.