An historian is always hopeful when stumbling across an appeal to history in the popular press. But more often than not, an historian is disappointed.
Take, for example, one particularly baleful reaction to the Balcombe fracking protests in the UK this August of 2013. That the protesters were a superstitious lot, lacking any sense of history, is an argument employed by Daily & Sunday Express columnist, Niel Hamilton.
Although it must be read in its native ‘red-top’ context to be fully enjoyed, here are a few of Hamilton’s ‘lessons’ of history:
The doom-mongers are like primitive tribes, firing flaming arrows at the sun at sunset in order to make it rise again the next day, which obviously ‘works’ because the sun does rise again. Continue reading →
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There’s a great opinion article in The Tyee by artist Robert Bateman in the wake of the the incredible oil train disaster in Quebec early in July, 2013. While many newspaper opinion writers are looking at the disaster as a “trains versus pipelines” issue, Bateman says we need to consider deeper issues.
The total transformation of planet Earth has happened due to cheap energy. Has this been a good idea? Perhaps even if we could find a new, cheap energy source, it might be a bad idea. Do we need to change our goals? THE TYEE, July 13, 2013.
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:
Environmental 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 →
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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 →
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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.
By Bill Kovarik Published in the Daily Climate and Environmental Health News
Richard Nixon would be 100 years old on Jan. 9, 2013, and on the anniversary of his birth, it’s tempting to portray the 37th U.S. president as a major environmental advocate.
That would be a mistake, for it would let modern-day politics trump an important history lesson.
Nixon said and did things about the environment that seem courageous from today’s perspective:
“Clean air is not free, and neither is clean water,” he said in his 1970 State of the Union address. “Through our years of past carelessness we incurred a debt to nature, and now that debt is being called.”
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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Kirkpatrick Sale, American environmentalist and author, born on this day in 1937.
Predicting Hurricane Katrina On this day in 2002, Mark Schliefstien and John McQuaid conclude a five-part newspaper series describing the impact of a Category 5 hurricane on the city of New Orleans -- three years before a Category 5 hurricane named Katrina slammed into New Orleans. The two journalists win a Pulitzer Prize in 2006.
Felling the "mother" of the forest
On this day in 1853, California businessman George Gale cuts down a massive sequoia tree to put a section on exhibit in carnivals. The reaction is hostile. “To our mind, it seems a cruel idea, a perfect desecration, to cut down such a splendid tree," said Gleason's Pictorial. "What in the world could have possessed any mortal to embark in such a speculation with this mountain of wood?” Europeans cherish such trees, the editors said, and protect them by law. New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley called the whole business "villainous speculation" and started making plans to visit California to see the trees. The event is still remembered in the press as an important moment in conservation history.
Nuclear power & weapons
First nuclear power The world's first nuclear power to generate electricity for a grid came on line in Oninsk, Russia, on this day in 1954.
Tomorrow In Environmental History
Bald eagles no longer endangered The US Dept. of the Interior removes the Bald Eagle from the Endangered Species list after three decades of recovery. Their original decline has been blamed on the pesticide DDT.
Who Killed the Electric Car? documentary video is released on this day in 2006. Writer / producer Chris Paine documents the origins of the electric car and its near resurgence in the 1990s. The New York Times calls it: "A murder mystery, a call to arms and an effective inducement to rage."
Yesterday In Environmental History
1978Nuclear subsidy upheld The US Supreme Court on this day in 1978 upholds the Price-Anderson Act, which exempts nuclear power companies from insurance liability, in a lawsuit between the Carolina Environmental Study Group and Duke Power Co. The suit alleged that Price-Anderson was a violation of the 5th Amendment because it did not ensure adquate compensation for victims of a nuclear catastrophe and it violated the 14th Amendment due process clause by treating one class of company differently from others. The courts sided with the nuclear industry, saying that Congress intended to encourage nuclear energy, which was in its power. Without question, the nuclear power industry would have to stop overnight if it had to pay its own insurance premiums, which means that the risk of nuclear catastrophe is being carried by consumers. If a Fukushima event were to occur in the US, the survivors would have to sue the US government rather than the utilities if they were to recover even a small portion of their property.
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.