Baleful history and the Balcombe protests

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

Bursting the petro-bubble

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.  

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

State of the Union addresses
are often paved with green intentions

By Peter Dykstra, Publisher
Daily Climate and Environmental Health News

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

Corn pone pols push plan as porn in tinfoil

By Bill Kovarik

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.

Continue reading

New documentary on Environmental History


Fierce Green Fire is a long-awaited documentary based on the best-selling book by New York Times environmental journalist Phil Schabecoff.

A green Nixon doesn’t wash

Richard Nixon: Environmentalist?

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.”

Continue reading

Abraham Lincoln and climate science

The Leonids of 1833

By Bill Kovarik
Published in Appalachian Voice

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