Author Archives: Bill Kovarik

“You may laugh, but your grandkids will not.”

That’s one response from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to critics who have been trying to mock the Green New Deal resolution of Feb. 2, and we think it shows her admirable determination in the face of the very catastrophe that the critics are hastening. Here’s a more detailed video advocating the Green New Deal.

It’s useful to recall that similar criticism greeted Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s original “New Deal” in the 1930s. It was “anti-God,” said fascist priest Charles Coughlin. It was communistic or socialistic, said others who were so well off they did not understand the pain of joblessness and hunger during those years. But the New Deal lifted the country out of the Depression and provided a long term structure for the economy in situations where laissez-faire policies had led to economic deterioration.

Similar laissez-faire polices have led not only to environmental deterioration in general but a very specific and catastrophic threat: climate change, rising sea levels and extreme weather. It’s a deep crisis unlike anything we have ever faced. To laugh in its face, to deny the science, to mock attempts to engage in dialogue, is nothing short of a nihilistic and reckless disregard for the facts.

So AOC is right to say that the grandchildren won’t be laughing.

Read the 14-page document that describes the current environmental crisis, addresses economic and health issues, and then advocates steps towards renewable zero emission power. There’s nothing radical or strange in advocating renewable technology and conservation. What’s wrong is pretending there is no need for a response, and that future generations will be fine if we just do nothing.

Averting Planet Trump

There is something perverse and peevish about the anti-environmental movement that current US president Donald Trump exemplifies. Yet if there is anything we can learn from environmental history, it is that willful ignorance and a stubborn refusal to acknowledge reality is not unique in history.

Consider, for example, the sort of arrogance that led the Times of London to proclaim, in 1854, that it would “prefer to take our chance of cholera … than be bullied into health.” Other famous examples include: denial of the germ theory of disease in the mid- to late-19th century; resistance to mosquito control at the start of the US Panama Canal project in 1904; acceptance of deadly leaded gasoline in 1926; denials that tobacco caused cancer in the 1960s; and objections to reducing ozone-depleting CFC refrigerants in the 1980s.

So it’s not just our president and his minions, and it’s not just the climate change issue. Trump has amplified a self-destructive tendency that lurks in human nature and affects many issues.

This week, a New York Times editorial entitled “Trump Imperils the Planet” explained that in terms of endangered species and climate change, the Trump administration “is taking the country, and the world, backward.” For the stout of heart, the Times provides a long, depressing list of environmental standards that are being rolled back, not just in the US, but in many other countries as well, following the American lead.

Central to Trump’s thinking – or lack thereof – is the notion that sustainability is not compatible with economic growth. Nothing could be more naive or short-sighted, of course, but even if others see him cutting a figura ridicola, Trump’s brazen arrogance shows he is determined to carry through to the end. And what an end.

Consider Planet Trump, year 2100. It doesn’t take much imagination to envision just how lifeless earth could become in less than a century. If we do not act soon, we will get Planet Trump instead of the great blue earth; we have dead seas and not living oceans; we have silent springs rather than flocks of birds; we have a dead world, a world that is no longer home.

We only have a short time to stop Planet Trump if this world is going to survive in any recognizable form. To be clear, the struggle ahead is one that must use the more powerful force of persuasion and non-violent resistance. No one should dream that any real change will come from the barrel of a gun. That, too, would be a stubborn refusal to acknowledge the reality of our precarious situation.

Exxon knew: Climate controversy heads to court

One of the most significant environmental developments of 2018 is the investor fraud lawsuit brought by the Attorney General of New York State, among others, against Exxon-Mobil Oil Corp.

The lawsuit is based in part on an investigation by the Center for International Environmental Law which accused Exxon-Mobil Oil Corp. of working to dismiss climate change science and political action despite having had a scientific understanding of climate change “as early as” three or four decades ago, (or sometimes 1977, or 1968). The research grew into an “Exxon Knew” campaign. It was greeted with enthusiasm by environmentalists like Al Gore and Bill McKibben and with skepticism by Independent Petroleum Association of America and by Exxon-Mobil itself.

West Texas “pump jack” — Photo by Eric Kounce

The key issue seems to be when Exxon knew climate change involved C02 from fossil fuels. Many of the Exxon Knew stories start along these lines: “In the 1960s, the American Petroleum Institute (and / or Exxon) made a troubling discovery.”

From an historical standpoint, the question ought to involve the broader context of scientific research. If API and Exxon researchers knew about climate change, what about the rest of the engineering and scientific community?

The fact is that the topic was a constant source of concern and research across the related scientific communities for a century and a half. Scientists concerned with climatology and glaciology and many associated geophysical sciences have studied climate change for generations.

As seen here, the Washington Post carried an article May 4, 1953 on a Gilbert Plass paper at American Geophysical Union, quoting him specifically pointing to fossil fuel use as increasing climate warming.  Plass and other climatologists regularly published on these and related topics, with much of that generation’s research converged in the International Geophysical Year (1957-58).

One of the most outstanding discoveries of that time was Charles Keeling’s observations from Mauna Loa in Hawaii showing evidence of atmospheric accumulation of C02 greenhouse gasses. Around 1958, famed Hollywood director Frank Capra made a film warning about greenhouse gas accumulation called “Unchained Goddess.

It goes back even earlier.

In March, 1912 Popular Mechanics published “Remarkable Weather of 1911: The Effect of Combustion of Coal on the Climate: What Scientists Predict.”  Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius published a 1896 prediction about climate, and the earliest scientific paper on climate and fossil fuels goes back to 1856 and Eunice Newton Foote‘s prediction that C02 was changing the climate.

So, clearly, Exxon knew, but so did everyone else.

In confining the discussion to Exxon’s own knowledge and actions, for example in a series of Inside Climate News articles, we have a legal strategy rather than an appreciation for the history of science. When we say “Exxon knew” as early as the 1970s or 80s, we ignore the long trail of scientific discovery beforehand, and we leave the field open to highly selective interpretations of trends.

So, even though the oil industry knew plenty before fueling the great climate change coverup and public relations barrage, it was not their discovery. They were reacting to real climate science, not leading it.

Perhaps this makes what “Exxon knew” even worse, since their own researchers were only confirming and expanding on what was already well known.

Cutting NASA would be a costly mistake

By  (Originally in The Conversation )

Satellites of NASA’s Earth Observation Program

Donald Trump’s election is generating much speculation about how his administration may or may not reshape the federal government. On space issues, a senior Trump advisor, former Pennsylvania Rep. Bob Walker, has called for ending NASA earth science research, including work related to climate change. Walker contends that NASA’s proper role is deep-space research and exploration, not “politically correct environmental monitoring.”

This proposal has caused deep concern for many in the climate science community, including people who work directly for NASA and others who rely heavily on NASA-produced data for their research. Elections have consequences, and it is an executive branch prerogative to set priorities and propose budgets for federal agencies. However, President-elect Trump and his team should think very carefully before they recommend canceling or defunding any of NASA’s current Earth-observing missions.

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Pope Francis’ long-awaited climate encyclical

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. 

 The full statement is found at a Vatican website here. The statement begins:           ——————

“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. )

St. Francis

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…

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Environment used to be bipartisan

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.”

Soft soap and fracking dangers

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.

This is particularly important in light of New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that a state health department study found that fracking is too dangerous for New York state  (as reported in the NY Times Dec. 17, 2014.)

At best, people will chalk the difference up to the old adage:  For every PhD, there is an equal and opposite PhD.  But nothing could be further from the truth.

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Science controversy goes viral

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.

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Sorry, Africa needs its telegraphs

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:

“Sorry, Mr. Obama; Africa needs coal.”

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

Leaded gasoline keeps coming back

Franklin. Wikipedia.

You will observe with concern, Ben Franklin wrote in 1786 how long a useful truth may be known  known and exist, before it is generally received and practiced on. 

Franklin mentioned lead poisoning as an occupational hazard for printing.  Yet 228 years later, we are still grappling with the issue.

The latest event sparking concerns is the conviction of four  Associated Octel  managers for bribery and conspiring to sell leaded gasoline despite bans.   (Octel is now Innospec).

According to the Serious Fraud Office of the UK government: Continue reading