Environmental concerns and conflicts have surfaced throughout human history, from the earliest settlements to the latest headlines. This comes as a surprise to many people because our emphasis in history has all too often been on war and politics, rather than environment, culture and development.
The evidence for a longstanding concern for environmental issues has been readily available in manuscripts, publications Continue reading →
As a beautiful autumn season comes once again to North America, leaves are falling everywhere. Some people are using rakes to clean them up. Others have gone in for the high-tech leaf-blower approach. But why?
I once stopped to ask a group of grounds keepers at the University of the Gothic South why they used leaf blowers. What with all the noise and pollution, weren’t rakes better? No, leaf blowers are better, they said. Get the job done quicker. OK, I said, but if you still have to work eight hours a day, for the same wage, what difference does it make? Besides, that little fossil-fuel guzzler pounding on your backs belches out 90-100 decibels.
I’d rather rake, and listen to the birds sing, and putter around in the garden. Obviously, I didn’t understand the appeal of the Great American Leaf Blower. Continue reading →
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Was John Muir a racist? Definitely not. He was a man of his time, to be sure. But any reading of his work will reveal his humanity and generous views of all people.
Although no one really needs to come to the rescue of John Muir’s reputation, it is disturbing to see a gratuitous swipe taken at the icon of environmentalism. That’s what Jedediah Purdy does when he claims that environmentalism has a “racist history” and that John Muir is a prime example in the Aug. 13, 2015 edition of the New Yorker.
Mr. Purdy, an environmental lawyer, writes about John Muir:
Muir, who felt fraternity with four-legged “animal people” and even plants, was at best ambivalent about human brotherhood. Describing a thousand-mile walk from the Upper Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico, he reported the laziness of “Sambos.”
Sadly, this is a ‘whig’ caricature, which is to say, history within the present fashion. In “Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf,” written in 1867, and in many other books before his death in 1914, Muir wrote with compassion about nature and about people — all kinds of people. Anyone who read Muir seriously would know that.
Environmental activist Helen Caldicott is warning that the nuclear disaster at Fukushima continues to get worse.
“Rainwater washes over the nuclear cores into the Pacific,” she says. “There is no way they can get to those cores, men die, robots get fried. Fukushima will never be solved. Meanwhile, people are still living in highly radioactive areas.”
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June 18, 2015 — ROME — Pope Francis has issued an extraordinary environmental statement calling for environmental justice between the generations and dialogue in the international community. In one portion he says: 165. We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.
“LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs. ”(#1 Cantico delle creature: Fonti Francescane (FF) 263. )
2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters…
When you pull up to the gas pump and find the cost is going down, you can thank Ali al-Naimi, Saudi Arabia’s petroleum minister. By producing more oil than the world markets can consume, the Saudis have cut the price of oil in half in the past year. But why?
Environmental protection had enormous bipartisan support in the US during the 1970s, says former EPA administrator William Ruckelhaus in a February 2015 interview with the Public Integrity Project. Has that support changed? “Oh, yes, quite a bit,” Ruckelshaus says. “The Reagan Administration was less sympathetic than the Nixon Administration to environmental regulation, environmental laws, but nowhere near where the Republican Party has come today.”
Some day soon, an oil & gas industry representative will probably tell a journalist, or a politician, or a concerned parent: “Fracking water is as safe as dish soap. Check out the 2014 University of Colorado study.”
And of course that will be horribly wrong, but very few people will know why.
There was a time, about 50 years ago, when thoughtful scientists and science writers dreamed of the day that the American public would wake up to the importance of science. Jacob Bronowski, C.P. Snow, Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov saw science as integral to life. They didn’t like the idea of science “popularization,” as if something so important and ubiquitous had to be promoted. Instead, scientific issues and controversies should be taken up and understood, and maybe even debated, by the average person.
Well, that day has arrived, in a sense. We now have the spectacle of the Average Joe, who never set foot in a science class, imagining that climate scientists are lying about radiative forcing and the use of the Stefan-Boltzmann constant. And this is just the beginning.
The energy ladder: Developing nations first use firewood, then move “up” to coal, then kerosene, then a select few might get oil and gas. Eventually, lucky developing nations may work their way “up” to nuclear power.
RECENTLY, Barack Obama stopped US government financing of most overseas coal projects due to climate concerns. The predictable reaction from the energy industry and its friends was expressed in an opinion by Ken Silverstein in the Christian Science Monitor:
The underlying philosophy here is that if a developing country is going to move “up” the energy ladder, it needs to develop basic cheap energy sources first, use them to fuel development, then move “up” to more complex fuels, and then finally move “up” to nuclear power.
If Mr. Silverstein had been talking about communications in this same vein, he would have said: “Sorry, Mr. Obama; never mind the cell phones — Africa needs its telegraphs.” Continue reading →
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John Ray an English naturalist, is born this day in 1627. Ray published important works on botany, zoology and natural theology and created the foundation modern taxonomy. He was the first to use the term species.
Teleco Dam completed The floodgates close on the Teleco Dam in Tennessee this day in 1979, signaling the completion of the controversial TVA project. Although some of the conflict was fought over the endangered snail darter, the real problem was the confiscation and destruction of Cherokee homelands by the federal government.
EH in the News
Pollution regs saved lives says Michael Greenstone in this Sept. 24, 2015 article in the New York Times. Although some people want to repeal the Clean Air Act, air quality regulations have averted tens of thousands of premature deaths, Greenstone says.
LA's first big smog on July 26, 1943 is the subject of this Wired article. Of course, there had been many previous smog incidents, but mostly involving coal in Europe and the industrialized eastern US. As Peter Dykstra notes on the radio program Living on Earth, it was the first smog caused by automobiles.
Exxon Valdez anniversary Twenty five years ago, on March 24, 1989, a negligent oil industry and a drunken tanker captain and ruined a pristine corner of America. Here's what it looked like.
LA smog siege, 1979 Sera Segal-Alsberg wears mask designed to filter out airborne particles during Los Angeles smog alert on June 29, 1979.
¶ 1970 Clean Car Race is reported in MIT Technology Review in August, 2013. The cleanest car, among the electrics and hybrids, was a modified internal combustion engine.
¶ Buffalo soldiers In the late 19th century and early 20th century, black cavalry troopers patrolled Yosemite and Sequoia national parks in California. A new book describes their role. (Chicago Tribune, June 18, 2013).
¶ History of the Commons and today's environmental crisis is an excellent read in the May/June 2013 Utne Magazine.
¶ Saving the NJ Pine Barrens Writer John McPhee recalls the struggle to save a remnant of wilderness on the east coast. Philadelphia Inquirer, March 4, 2013.
¶ Aldo Leopold is remembered by the editor of the Milwaukee Journal, March 2, 2013. The forester and conservationist articulated a "land ethic" in his 1949 book A Sand County Almanac.
¶ Remembering Darwin Scientific American remembers Charles Darwin and his impact on science on the 204th anniversary of his birthday, Feb. 12, 2012.
¶ Shackleton crew's 1916 ordeal -- a perilous journey taken after their ship got stuck and sank in Antarctica -- is being reinacted by a group of British and Australian adventurers. (Associated Press, Feb. 10, 2013)
¶ First subway The London tube is 150 years old on Jan. 9, 2013. Mind the gap!
¶ Birth of the Clean Water Act Living on Earth interviews William Ruckelshaus, the first EPA administrator, about the Clean Water Act of 1972. "it was a terrible time," Ruckelshaus said. "I remember the first time I moved to Washington and the air was brown as I’d go to work in the morning. There was no industry in Washington at the time, that was all automobile pollution." Dec. 28, 2012.
¶ Remembering Barry Commoner A biologist and activist best known for studying baby’s teeth to demonstrate that radioactive fallout from atomic weapons testing was getting into our food supply and endangering our health. Living on Earth, Oct. 5, 2012.
¶ Bodega nuclear fight Gary Pace of Sebastopol, California reflects on the 1960s fight over building a nuclear power plant on top of the San Andreas earthquake fault at the Bodega Headlands. "I often wonder how (environmentalists) found the outrageous hope that they could halt the building of a nuclear plant once the work had started and I ask for similar inspiration." Living on Earth, Sept. 28, 2012.
¶ Climate change drove early human migration, anthropologists believe. NPR, Sept. 20, 2012.
¶ Ancient deforestation created the Danube River delta 8,000 years ago, scientists have found. Sept. 14, 2012New York Times.
¶ Environmental injustice The Hawks Nest Disaster of 1930 - 33 is getting a new memorial. In the infamous incident, between 700 to 3,000 US workers were killed or severely injured for life after boring a tunnel through a section of pure silica without then-standard respiratory protection. Sept. 7, 2012, W.V. Gazette. Also see this People's Press 1935 article about the disaster.
¶ National mammal? Teddy Roosevelt V argues that the US should remember its conservation history by making the bison the country's national mammal. Sept. 4, 2012
¶ Environmental Future Postcards from the past show the world of the future in 2012 in all its dazzling glory, from air police stopping traffic to whales pulling carriages full of divers. Fast Company, Aug. 20, 2012
¶ Smog of History LA Times recaps an article about testing pollution control devices in the 1950s. Aug. 17, 2012
¶ Remembering the Radium Craze France's 19th century radium craze still haunts Paris, Reuters reports. "When the Franco-Polish Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie discovered the radioactive element radium in 1898, she set off a craze for the luminescent metal among Parisians, who started using it for everything from alarm clock dials to lipsticks and even water fountains." July 20, 2012
¶ Drought in ancient times The ancient Mayan water system was designed with drought in mind, as this New York Times article notes. Are there lessons for the modern era? July 17, 2012.