Category Archives: Environmental politics

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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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

Before we go to war for oil again …

1300263346_standard-oil-company

The oil octopus – a 19th century cartoon.

By Bill Kovarik

Information about world oil reserves has been skewed for political purposes.  Until very recently, everyone believed the Middle East has 2/3 of all the world’s oil. But in fact, the Middle East has only 2/3 of a narrow politically defined category called “proven” reserves. How is it that we were so badly misinformed?

As a very young news reporter in Washington DC in 1979, I was invited to one of those  think tank “luncheons” where the speakers chat amiably about the next imminent disaster.  This one was  about world oil reserves and the possible collapse of the Persian Gulf.

Not surprisingly, all the speakers agreed that a shut-down of the Persian Gulf would be catastrophic and must be prevented at all costs. All the speakers, that is,  except one smiling Venezuelan named Alirio Parra, who was then the country’s oil minister.  The bottom line of his talk was this: Don’t worry. Venezuela has more oil in the eastern Orinoco region than all the Middle East. And if this seems surprising, he said, your petroleum geologists should be more honest with you.

I remember the shouts of outrage from the assembled policy wonks, one of whom yelled that there was “a journalist here” in the same tone that a Victorian preacher might caution:  “ladies present.”

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Climate news displaced by Benghazi obsession

by Peter Dykstra
The Daily Climate

Dykstra-115There’s an adorably naïve tendency among many who live and breathe environmental issues – journalists, scientists, advocates – to presume that reason, backed by science, will rule the day, any day now.

I recommend either one of two easy cures for this: Watch an hour of Fox News, America’s most-watched cable news network by a long shot. Or do what I did earlier this week: Watch the White House press corps.

By the time Carney closed the briefing 68 minutes later, the final score was climate, 26 minutes of press corps interest, Benghazi 34.

Climate change was ostensibly the Story of the Day for Monday’s daily briefing: White House Counselor John Podesta, the administration’s climate point man, headlined the affair. He showed slides and took questions for 24 minutes before being whisked away, with reporters invited to continue the dialogue with Press Secretary Jay Carney.  Continue reading

Turning point in Tidewater, Virginia

By Bill Kovarik
The Daily Climate

Editor’s note: This story is part of an ongoing series at The Daily Climate exploring climate change impacts hitting society right now. Find more stories here on The Daily Climate.

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – Weary of debating the causes of climate change, mayors and other elected officials from Virginia’s battered coastal regions gathered here last week and agreed that local impacts have become serious enough to present a case for state action.

Fraim-150“We are here to ask for your assistance,” said Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim. “It’s a threat we can no longer afford to ignore.”

So far, assistance from the state level has been paltry and grudging at best. In 2011, a group of coastal scientists and planners, with the backing of mayors like Fraim, were asked to study the problems, but only after tea-party conservatives in the state Legislature insisted that “recurrent flooding” – and not climate change – would be the study’s sole focus.

The report, Recurrent Flooding Study for Tidewater Virginia was released in February and did indeed point to increasing local problems from sea-level rise. Continue reading

Oh the humanity!

Rex Tillerson, Exxon CEO

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:

‘What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?     The statement strikes you right away on about a dozen levels:   First, obviously, without a planet,  we wouldn’t have to worry about suffering humanity.  Secondly, the possibility of a “saved” planet seems rather unusual, coming from Tillerson, since it begs the question: “from what?”  Continue reading

Rachel Carson, DDT and the global malaria epidemic

carsonEnvironmental politics is often symbolic, so its  no surprise that the symbolic legacy of most power figure in environmental history — Rachel Carson — has become highly contested.

She is, for some, the woman who turned a sleepy conservation movement into a green typhoon.  For a few people, however, she is the symbol of environmentalism gone horribly wrong, a nightmarish figment of their fertile imaginations.  And the most persistently contested areas of  Carson’s symbolic afterlife involves a controversy over one pesticide ( DDT ) and one disease (malaria).

In the pugnacious facts-be-damned style of American extremists, Carson’s legacy is the nightmare of a worldwide ban on DDT that has (supposedly)  killed Continue reading

The Iron Lady’s strong stance on climate

By Douglass Fischer
The Daily Climate

Margaret Thatcher, the “Iron Lady” of British politics who died Monday at the age of 87, is being lionized as the woman who tilted British domestic and economic policy to the right.

Less noted is how seriously she viewed the threat of climate change.

In a 1990 speech at the second World Climate Conference, in Geneva, Thatcher compared the threat of global warming to the Gulf War, which was then just escalating following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

Thatcher, who spent 11 years as the United Kingdom’s prime minister, spent almost a quarter of her 2,500-word speech touting the importance of climate science and the UN body tasked with assessing that science. She called the work of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “remarkable” and “very careful.” Continue reading