A Mahatma Gandhi for the 21st century? Not exactly. Even so …
For one shining moment in Houston, Rex Tillerson, head of the world’s most powerful corporation, asked a Gandhi-like question. Speaking about climate change at the ExxonMobil annual meeting last week in Houston, Tillerson asked:
An aura of excitement and predictability surrounds the president’s annual State of the Union speech: A few days of hyped drama and TV punditry builds to a political Woodstock featuring generals, justices, senators, cabinet secretaries and Congress, all under one roof. Up in the balcony, the First Lady plays host to a few iconic, symbolic taxpayers who recently shared a heroic moment of fame with America.
If the past is prologue, the green talk and pageantry may be the only things delivered on the president’s lofty words this year on Feb. 12.
Environmentalists are on higher-alert than normal this year, after President Obama made a sweeping inaugural promise to tackle climate change, an issue he’d largely avoided during his first term…. More
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Occasionally, the Great Question of America’s august place in the global order is best elucidated in a location far, far from the glare of kleig lights and the stares of Washington wonks. We then see the wisdom lurking within statehouse committees and cracker barrel country stores and signs painted on the sides of tobacco barns.
And the message: Get the US out of the United Nations. Look out for blue helmets in black helicopters. Most of all, these days: Beware of Agenda 21.
Abraham Lincoln used to tell a story during the darkest days of the Civil War. Although the story was omitted from a recent movie about Lincoln, is still worth recalling.
The story goes like this:
When Lincoln was a young man in Illinois, in 1833, he was roused from his bed late one night by his frantic landlord. “Abe! Abe! Wake up! The day of Judgment has come,” the landlord shouted. Lincoln threw open the window and saw fearful neighbors in the road and, above them, a spectacular sky lit up by the Leonid shower of meteors. At first he shared their dismay. “But looking back of them in the heavens,” Lincoln said, “I saw all the grand old constellations with which I was so well acquainted, fixed and immoveable and true in their places.
Thirty years later, Lincoln would tell this story to his generals and say, “No, gentlemen, the world did not come to an end then, nor will the Union now.”
After the contentious media-driven politics of 2012, it often seems that nothing in our own times is fixed, immoveable or true in place. But that would be a misperception. We only need to look behind those falling stars to see so many of our grand old constellations still fixed and true in their places. Continue reading →
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The moment when presidential candidate Mitt Romney provided millions of US Republicans with a belly laugh at climate science — Aug 30, 2012 — is destined for a place in the history books.
“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans,” said candidate Mitt Romney, pausing as the audience of Republicans howled with laughter at the absurdity of the promise. Romney continued: “… and to heal the planet. My promise — is to help you and your family.”
It’s one of those remarkable moments that speaks to the spirit of an age — in this case, an age of denial, of superstition, and of reckless, deliberate ignorance in the face of facts. It is a 1938 Munich moment, a stroll on Titanic’s ice-strewn deck in 1912. To use environmental history analogies, it’s like the Donora smog of 1948 or the Cuyahoga river fire of 1969 in that it could be a wake-up call. Continue reading →
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Moby Dick is first published in London on this day in 1851. Herman Melville’s tale of an obsessive whaling captain who leads his crew to ruin was loosely based on the wreck of the whaleship Essex thirty-one years earlier. The book has become a classic in the canon of American literature. As a metaphor for the dawning ethic of nature, echoed also in H.D. Thoreau's Walden (published three years later) the novel depicts the fight between humanity's domineering impulse and nature's resilience as one that neither side can win. Great quote: "Whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul ... I account it high time to get to sea..."
Clean Water Act On this day in 1972, the US Congress overrides a veto by then-president Richard Nixon to pass the Clean Water Act. By Nov. 28 that year, Nixon would order funding for water projects cut in half, from $6 billion to $3 billion.
Jesse Pipeline disaster Over 1,000 people are killed on this day in 1998 as a pipeline ruptures and then explodes in Nigeria.
Nuclear power & weapons
France creates CEA As part of its postwar rebuilding effort, France creates the Commissariat à l'Énergie Atomique.The CEA coordinates France’s development of both nuclear power and nuclear weapons.France explodes its first atomic bomb in 1960, and it is predominantly dependent on nuclear for its electricity today, despite many accidents and incidents.
Russian nuclear dumping Greenpeace observers photograph Russian ship TNT-27 dumping 900 tons of low level radioactive waste off the east coast of Russia in the Sea of Japan on this day in 1993. The evidence of dumping widens an existing international diplomatic rift between Japan and Russia.
Tomorrow In Environmental History
Environmental justice 怨
Environmental Justice campaign begins in NC After a month of nonviolent protests against PCB dumping in a predominantly black area of Warren County, North Carolina, Governor Jim Hunt pledges to clean up the site on this day in 1982. It is the beginning of work to investigate links between poverty, race and toxic waste dumping that becomes the Environmental Justice campaign.
Protesters greet Concorde SST after completing its first flight and landing at New York’s JFK Airport on this day in 1977. The Air France supersonic plane departed Toulouse, France less than four hours earlier and flew at speeds above the sound barrier. The protesters objected to ozone-depleting chemical emissions, noise from the sonic boom and bird kills from the aircraft. The Concorde operated for nearly three decades but was too expensive for most people, and not worth double the price to arrive a few hours earlier. A major crash in 2000 led to the abandonment of the SST.
Yesterday In Environmental History
1998 An explosion at a poorly-maintained oil pipeline in Jesse, Nigeria kills over 1,000 people on this day in 1998. Another 250 die in a separate explosion the next day. And dozens of others have also taken place. Activists have pointed to human rights abuses and gross disregard for the environment in court cases such as Wiwa v Shell and , Kiobel v Shell.
Ellen Swallow Richards is profiled in March, 2017 Nautilus Magazine as "the woman who gave us the science of normal life." Richards first became active in environmental issues in the 1870s and was an important early voice in the Progressive reform movement at the turn of the 20th century.
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.