Thursday, August 23, 2012
Energy: A New Green Paradigm
As the GOP convention approaches, I am sitting here listening to the Republicans explain their platform on Energy Policy on TV: Increased Oil Drilling, building the keystone pipeline, extracting oil and gas from the Canadian Tar Sands, increased use of Coal, relaxed standards for offshore drilling…..everything appears geared towards an explosion of dirty energy resources for “cheap energy” and Big Oil Profiteering.
Climate Change? The Republicans don’t think government should address the issue.
Are they reading any news reports at all? Here are some of the news reports from the last 3 weeks:
In Iowa, about 58,000 fish died along a 42-mile stretch of the Des Moines River. Biologists measured the water at 97 degrees in multiple spots. (Toledo Blade)
In Connecticut, the Millstone Nuclear Power Station had to be shut down because the water in the Long Island Sound was too warm to effectively cool the reactor. (WWLP)
In Illinois, fish are dying in record numbers as state officials have raised the temperature at which water-cooled power plants can return water to area lakes and rivers. Hundreds of millions of gallons of water per day are now being returned into the waters at temperatures approaching 100 degrees. (Morris Daily Herald)
The weather has affected grain crops as well. Corn futures– which sold for $2.00/bushel just 10 years ago - have surged 60 percent since mid-June, closing yesterday at $8.075 a bushel. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently estimated U.S. corn yields will be at least 20% below the norm.
Of course, much of the grain that is being harvested is not going anywhere: The Coast Guard has closed an eleven-mile stretch of the Mississippi River near Memphis to shipping after another barge grounded near Greenville, Miss. (WANE.com)
And in Kansas, “Bare ground and stagnant ponds of water can be seen where a flowing Arkansas River should be.” According to The National Weather Service, the water has ceased to flow at I-235.“There's a quarter of a billion dollars worth of grain in the port of lake providence alone and guess what? we can't move the barge. so, we'll bring in trucks it will take 7,000 trucks. They don't exist,” said Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner, Mike Strain. (WKSN News)
And that means there's less water flowing down Mississippi river into the Gulf of Mexico, and less outflow means saltwater from the Gulf is creeping in. Cities in Louisiana cities have had to purchase emergency drinking water…and the entire city of New Orleans is now at risk. (NPR)
The loss of grain crops also affect the livestock who feed on grain - and eventually, the price of meat on supermarket shelves. And non-food livestock, such as horses, are affected, too.
Tony Caldwell, owner of an 80 acre horse rescue ranch in Indiana, reports “Everybody is using their winter hay now. The pastures are destroyed and they probably won’t recover before winter. The price of hay has doubled, and the availability is down by 75 percent…Today the problem is not nearly as bad as it’s going to be. It’s terribly bad today, but it is going to get a lot worse.” (Business Week)
The hotter weather will not only affect the prices of food, but of health care as well. At least 8 deaths have been blamed directly on this summer’s heat, and that doesn’t count deaths, injuries, and property losses from western forest fires. Nor does it include deaths labeled as ‘respiratory failure’ or ‘natural causes’ from the elderly living in homes without air conditioning. And looming on the horizon is the nation’s largest outbreak of West Nile virus, fed by the drought.
The mosquito responsible for the West Nile virus flourished during the summer's record heat and drought. Updated figures from the Illinois State Department of Public Health show extremely high numbers of the Culex pipiens species have tested positive for the disease — 71 percent in DuPage County and nearly 60 percent in Cook. Officials consider 10% problematic. National figures show 1,118 cases and 41 deaths have been reported to the CDC — the highest number of cases through the third week of August since the disease was first detected in this country in 1999, and a substantial jump from last week's tally of 693 cases and 26 deaths. And the number of reported cases through the third week of August this year is nearly three times higher than the average over the last 10 years, according to the CDC. (Chicago Tribune)
I don't care whether you believe that climate change is natural or man-made. The incontrovertible fact is that our climate IS changing, and it IS warming, and it is CHANGING our landscape. And whether this is part of a natural cycle or man-made, is immaterial: We must respond to it if we are going to avoid more catastrophes like these.
How? By reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.
(1) Higher Fuel Efficiency Standards for autos are a no-brainer. I have been disgusted for the last several years attending the New York International Auto Show at NYC’s Javits Center, and reading the mpg statistics on new models. The auto industry thinks it's offering something wonderful when a new car get 23 mpg. They just don’t get it. (Actually, they do: they can continue to offer crappy mileage because they can count on Republicans to obstruct fuel standards, and on Democrats to bail them out.)
(2) Amtrak and High-Speed Rail. This country lags decades behind every developed nation in the world, including China, which has caught up and surpassed us on rail technology. While politicians throw money away on road projects for their home districts, subsidies for oil companies, sweetheart deals to ram through oil pipelines, exemptions for deepwater off-shore drilling safety devices, and auto company bailouts…..they wring their hands and hem and haw about investing in rail. And the Republicans seek to slash Amtrak's budget every year, rather than seeing trains as part of the solution to smog-choked highways.
(3) Energy-neutral Buildings. In Europe, architects presume that a building that consumes more energy than it creates contains a Design Flaw. While the U.S. Congress continues to wring their hands over energy legislation, the European Union is requiring all residential buildings to produce nearly as much energy as they consume by 2020, in part by using renewable power sources. Public buildings will have to meet this standard two years earlier. In urban centers, rooftop gardens and solar panels on a massive scale can lower temperatures, counter emissions, and save energy.
(4) Intolerance for Local NIMBY Obstructionism. Some of the most progressive, greenest, liberal people I know suddenly become ardent conservatives when windmills are proposed in their neighborhoods, or on mountain ridges that will impede their personal views. Too Bad. It is given to Congress and Congress alone to regulate interstate commerce, and if there is any product that crosses state lines, it is the national electric grid. Far too many wind farms have been bogged down in local obstructionism, and it must stop.
(5) Local Farms, Local Food. EVERY community needs to be a Right-to-Farm community (yes, even urban and suburban communities.) Uptight zoning regulations that outlaw chickens, restrict vegetable gardens from front yards, insist on crippling health regulations, and outlaw raw products need to go. The Obama administration has been problematic on the left (FDA raids on raw milk farms), while snooty Republicans have used zoning to protect the landscape of their precious ‘burbs. The more food that can be produced locally, the less food that has to be transported on the nation’s highways - and the fewer dollars and reliance on Monsanto and AgriBusiness.
We need more than Republicans who wear blinders, and Democrats who offer lip service to Energy Policy.
We need a New, Green Paradigm. Now.