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Found 3 results

  1. The Keystone pipeline proposal has hit a Nebraska stop sign, but it has deeper problems than right-of-way issues across the United States. After all, the controversial proposal for transporting Canada's tar sands was never just about the pipeline. Just ask the thousand students who rallied in front of the White House recently and were willing to be arrested to make their point. Frustrated and angry over a lack of political action on climate change, our Millennial Generation is not tolerating an ineffectual Congress or president. This 18-34 year old group in the United States is 74 million strong and when the worst happens will suffer the most from climate change. With little representation in Congress, where the average age is 60, they are looking to civil disobedience as a strategy to create the political will to address this threat. This will happen not only in our nation's capitol but on the streets of major cities across the nation. The fight over Keystone is really about a generational shift in our energy paradigm and how we will survive the 21st century. It concerns the wealth and jobs that the fossil fuels industry creates, how it has weaved itself into all of our lives and pulled us into a formidable dependency. With a growing foreboding, however, we are sensing our carbon lifestyle may be lethal to future generations and if they are to survive it is incumbent on us to accelerate efforts to develop other energy sources. From Washington, D.C. and Nebraska courts, this conflict now swings to Canada, where the Alberta government owns 81 percent of its oil sands and has a long list of investment partners. Besides multinational corporations, one of its biggest sources of investment capital for mining is China, our planet's largest producer of greenhouse gases. Alberta looks to collect $1.2 trillion in royalties from its oil sands over the next 35 years, but has increasingly drawn the world's attention because of the massive girth of pollution from the mining and burning of bitumen tar. Canada also faces a disenfranchised youth, who feel their voices and futures have been diminished by the enormous profits bitumen tar sands portend. They are joined by First Nations aboriginal tribes who share the same political paucity and frustration. Despite the economic benefits of bitumen tar mining on their lands, First Nations people are taking a grim view of irreversible health and cultural damage. It is a seminal decision for First Nations to continue its relationship with Canadian oil interests and on a larger scale, analogous with our world's factious accord on reducing the role of fossil fuels in our lives. The world's climate scientists essentially agree that if left unchecked, anthropogenic CO2 will worsen extreme weather, raise sea levels and create mass extinctions from a profuse array of environmental changes. Many acknowledge that climate deniers are fed propagated ignorance by fossil fuel strategists as part of a misinformation campaign, creating a set of beliefs not easily changed. It creates a polarized electorate, leaving the issue to develop worst-case scenarios before action is taken. In moderation, fossil fuel usage might not have posed a serious threat, but we have moved well past that threshold. Our burning of fossil fuels produces around 33.4 billion metric tons of CO2 per year and world energy needs are expected to rise about 40 percent over the next 20 years. CO2 has reached proportions in our atmosphere not seen for about 15 million years and many scientists warn it may already be too late to mitigate damages. There is a way forward. In time, renewables can generate jobs lost in the fossil fuels industry and will sustain our lifestyles. We can consider Generation IV nuclear energy, reportedly much safer than existing technology. Some strategists look to a carbon fee and dividend system that can increase the viability of new renewable energy sources, as well as a carbon import tax on products from other countries. As Keystone falters and tar sands mining provokes mounting protests, our nation is compelled to end political bickering and accede Millennials a more powerful voice on climate legislation. President Obama must grasp the significance of this moment, deny the Keystone permit and tell the world his decision has nothing to do with the pipeline and everything to do with leadership. This opinion piece was written by Jeffrey Meyer, a writer and volunteer for 350.org and Citizens Climate Lobby.
  2. President Obama made an important speech on climate change on June 25. He announced several policies to be implemented using his executive authority. Al Gore said it was the "best presidential address on climate" ever. The speech and the steps Obama announced are very positive for a number of reasons. First and possibly most importantly, he argued for the necessity of tackling climate change, declaring that "we don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society." His advocacy of action to address climate change is one piece of convincing even more millions of people that we don't have time to waste. This helps turn the agenda away from the deniers and procrastinators, from the oil and coal company executives and owners who want to continue making excess profits while they still can. Obama called on the people of our country to demand action by political leaders at all levels - to invest in renewable energy, to divest from fossil fuel companies, to force politicians to promote sensible climate change laws as a condition of winning the support of voters. He called on citizens to "make their voice heard." The steps he announced, from regulating emissions of greenhouse gases from new and existing power plants, to setting a goal of 10 gigawatts of renewables produced on public lands by the end of this year, are worthwhile in their own right. While these actions do not and can not accomplish as much as major congressional legislation, they do move the U.S. as a country from the obstacle to the solution side of the ledger. Obama, while punting the final decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline down the road, set the crucial precedent that permits should be denied unless there is proof that the pipeline won't increase carbon dioxide emissions. This is an application of the precautionary principle, a variation of the medical admonition to "first do no harm." We should applaud the fact that Obama, after mentioning climate change in both his inaugural address and in this year's State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress, is following up with real action. If he moves forward on his determination to make progress on these environmental issues in his second term, it will be yet another historical accomplishment of his administration. Some have already derided his directive to the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon dioxide emissions as merely telling the agency to perform its job, including following court decisions requiring the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. However, given the already furious Republican opposition to any action by the EPA, Obama's public reaffirmation is another positive step. While not exactly a "new" policy, it does engage in the battle already ongoing over EPA regulations. These steps build on the environmental accomplishments of Obama's first term, increasing fuel economy standards significantly and investing in renewable energy, using the stimulus to support a more robust renewable energy industry and to invest in research. While appreciating the positive nature of his speech and the policies he announced, it is clear that these actions still fall far short of what scientific knowledge calls for. Climate change does not just threaten even more extreme weather events like last year's Hurricane Sandy; it imperils many natural systems on which developed human existence depend. Much more is required, and congressional Republicans and coal-state Democrats are playing an obstructionist role, preventing the more far-reaching action that humanity needs. While Obama's proposals may be the maximum that is currently politically possible in the U.S., what is really required is a massive effort on many fronts - changing transportation, agriculture, military policy and production; regulating pollution-producing industries; research in many areas of energy, climate, weather, production; retrofitting existing buildings with much more substantial insulation; instituting new building code requirements and federal procurement policies - to mention a few areas where major progress is needed. The fight over the Keystone XL pipeline continues, and the next battle in the Senate will be over the confirmation of Gina McCarthy as new EPA administrator. Already, Republican senators are placing a hold on her nomination and threatening to filibuster any vote on her confirmation. These are just two of many battles to come. This article was first published in People's World by Marc Brodine.
  3. April 1 was no joke in Lansing, Michigan, when equipment at a power plant malfunctioned and caused 300 gallons of oil to leak into the Grand River. Two days later in Chalmette, Louisiana, a pipeline connected to a drum full of chemicals broke, releasing the toxic liquid into the surrounding area, along with airborne cancer-causing agents. These two incidents followed even worse disasters in Mayflower, Arkansas and West Columbia, Texas. This means that the U.S. endured four spills over the course of two weeks. And still, oil companies have not been brought to justice. The Michigan spill occurred at the Lansing Board of Water and Light's Eckert Power Plant, and for once, the spill came from somewhere other than an oil corporation, small comfort though it may be. Lansing Board of Water and Light is a publicly owned municipal utility that provides water and electricity to Lansing and East Lansing. An equipment failure at their plant caused turbine oil to escape, and soon make its way into the adjacent Grand River. The utility staff deployed three booms to contain the oil, and the EPA was on the scene almost immediately. Impacts to the local ecosystem are still being assessed, but thick dark patches could be seen by people in parts of the river after the time of the spill. "An oil spill in the Grand River is alarming, and we're calling for a thorough investigation to determine the extent of the damage and its environmental impact," said Nick Clark, Michigan director for Clean Water Action. "This is another reason why it's so vital to make clean, renewable energy a priority. There is no environmental fallout connected with clean energy sources like wind or solar power." Brad Wurfel, spokesman for the Michigan Department for Environmental Quality, remarked that though the spill is "manageable in terms of the substance ... and in terms of the environment's ability to absorb it," the smaller size of the incident (in comparison with those in Arkansas and Texas) by no means lessens the negative impact. "It's not a minor spill. We take it very seriously. Nobody wants to see anything spilled in the river. ... We'll probably continue to see [a] sheen [in the river] in the near term." Luckily, since the oil spilled was hydraulic, rather than tarsands crude, it would cause no foul odor. Nor, said Wurfel, would it release any airborne pollutants. Both of these facts are more than can be said for Louisiana. In Chalmette, not far from New Orleans, ExxonMobil has added a new disaster to its list of anti-accomplishments. While its Pegasus pipeline continues to poison the Arkansas town of Mayflower, a thick liquid chemical mixture is infecting the air and ground in Louisiana. A pipeline malfunction at ExxonMobil's refinery there caused a (so far) undisclosed amount of the liquid to poison the immediate outside area. Though the leak was quickly reported and stopped, the damage is done. On the day of that incident, people throughout Chalmette and New Orleans reported a strong, foul odor not unlike oil or gasoline. That was the effect of the chemical, which released 100 pounds of hydrogen sulfide and 10 pounds of benzene into the air. The latter is, according to Before It's News, "a volatile organic carbon compound known to cause cancer." Petty Officer Jason Screws, of the Coast Guard National Response Center, who was overseeing the accident, added, "The odor threshold for these chemicals is very low. You can smell it a lot sooner when the concentration is enough to be harmful." In other words, it was released in a large enough amount to have a negative health impact. The bottom line is that oil has tainted land and water in four different states in two consecutive weeks, and right in the midst of right-wing attempts to drum up support for pipeline oil transportation, to boot. Just days before the Arkansas pipeline leak, Alex Pourbaix, president of Keystone XL company TransCanada, had done his best to tout pipelines as the best option for transporting crude. "If you're actually concerned about the environment, you very much want to see oil moving by pipeline," he lied. On April 11, as part of the ongoing effort to show just how wrong such sentiments are, environmentalists from Texas and various parts of the Gulf Coast rallied outside the G8 foreign ministers' meeting at the Lancaster House in London. Their goal was to send a clear message to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry: that the Keystone XL pipeline must be rejected - particularly after this latest string of oil disasters. Environmental justice advocate Bryan Parras, who lives in Houston (very near to the West Columbia spill), remarked, "The XL pipeline is set to deliver a toxic slurry of dirty oil to communities all over the U.S. As we've seen from the pipeline spills in [these] last two weeks, the delivery of tarsands is too risky and costly for the communities [that are] in harm's way." The solution, he concluded, is simple: "Keep the oil in the soil." This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe.