Engineering Catastrophe

I don’t know – you pick whether it’s a noun or verb. The effects are horrible either way:

Tar-MatMillions of gallons of oil flooded the Gulf of Mexico every day — for 87 days. The biggest accidental oil spill ever. Five years later the effects of the Deepwater Horizon blowout still endure

A new study confirms a massive undersea oil mat near the unlucky oil well — Macondo 252 — that blew on April 20th, 2010. Considering this tar mat is the size of Rhode Island, the Gulf is clearly still feeling the af

fects of the catastrophe five years on. Gulf sea turtles stranding more frequently, dolphins killed, observed oil slicks hundreds of kilometers in length after the well was “capped” — a depressing list of unknown length.

Will it ever be possible to safely drill oil wells 35,000 feet into the seafloor through 4,000 feet of water from a unanchored floating 32,000 ton oil rig? You’ve got to hand it to the oil companies, the engineering is ambitious. But given the demonstrated risks to our greater resources, will it ever make sense?

Rhode Island. A tar mat the size of Rhode Island. Should there be drilling of more wells, as described above? Is further evidence needed? If you were attempt, for whatever reasons, to remain unemotional about this and look only at the evidence and reach a decision – including evidence of how you arrived at work this morning – what would the decision be? Asking for a friend.

The Rain in Nanjing

Welcome to this post about how crappy the air in Beijing is. Terrific, thanks. And you? Okay everybody take a seat and a dust mask respirator. Here we go.

Do you happen to see the film Interstellar? It’s Matthew McConaughey in a new kind of car commercial… kidding, it’s interesting, if not good – no, it’s thrilling, if an odd-brand of heavy science blockbuster. I enjoyed it. But…

The dilemma constructed to necessitate finding a new planet is the Earth becoming unlivable – mostly, we can’t grow food anymore and there are horrible dust storms and… okay has anyone in Beijing seen the movie? They probably can’t see it because of the pollution, because they are basically living in the movie right now:

A sports class is in full swing on the outskirts of Beijing. Herds of children charge after a football on an artificial pitch, criss-crossed with colourful markings and illuminated in high definition by the glare of bright white floodlights. It all seems normal enough – except for the fact that this familiar playground scene is taking place beneath a gigantic inflatable dome.

“It’s a bit of a change having to go through an airlock on the way to class,” says Travis Washko, director of sports at the British School of Beijing. “But the kids love it, and parents can now rest assured their children are playing in a safe environment.”

Beijing marathon runners don face masks to battle severe smogThe reason for the dome becomes apparent when you step outside. A grey blanket hangs in the sky, swamping the surroundings in a de-saturated haze and almost o

bscuring the buildings across the street. A red flag hangs above the school’s main entrance to warn it’s a

no-go day: stay indoors at all costs. The airpocalypse has arrived.

Come on. And this, bon Dieu:

This year’s Beijing marathon, held on a day that exceeded 400 on the scale, saw many drop out when their face-mask filters turned a shade of grey after just a few kilometres. Some said it felt like running through bonfire smoke. With such hazardous conditions increasingly common, it’s not surprising that foreign companies are now expected to pay a “hardship bonus” of up to 20 or 30% to those willing to work in the Chinese capital.

And yet denial still persists. Many Beijingers tend to use the word “wumai” (meaning fog), rather than “wuran” (pollution), to describe the poor air quality – and not just because it’s the official Newspeak of weather reports. It’s partly because, one local tells me, “if we had to face up to how much we’re destroying the environment and our bodies every day, it would just be too much.” A recent report by researchers in Shanghai described Beijing’s atmosphere as almost “uninhabitable for human beings” – not really something you want to be reminded of every day.

We wouldn’t want that. They won’t even use the right word for it. I know – we have our own problems calling things what they are. And like the Chinese, we know what to do about the proliferation of gun violence and people without healthcare, but also choose to do nothing about it. In this search for clean air getaways and other euphemisms we know what to do and what words to use.

I’m just saying. It’s air. You sort of… need it.It’s just that the power of cinema to show us a believably horrible scenario based on what we are doing right now that is truly too horrifying to contemplate much less address crosses back and forth between enough lines that perhaps we should evacuate the idea that there are any lines between now and then because there might not be. We might be there.

Image: Not from the film Interstellar. At all.

Fracking Shrugged

trekwtfIn a measure to counteract opposition to the practice of hydraulic fracturing to exploit oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania, an industry group is making an effort to reclaim the word, ‘fracking.’ I know:

“Fracking’s a good word,” says a middle-aged man collecting his mail. “Fracking’s a good word,” says a woman on her front porch. “Fracking rocks,” says a teenage girl on an elliptical machine.

The ad started running in late September, commissioned by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the beginning of a larger campaign called “Rock solid for PA.”

“Some people will try to use that word in a negative connotation,” says the group’s president, David Spigelmyer. “All we’re trying to do is shine a light on the fact that there’s a lot of good that comes out of that technology. That’s all.”

David Masur has noticed the ads. He’s director of PennEnvironment, a non-profit that opposes fracking. “It’s been highly entertaining,” he says.

Combine that with this story of pinkwashing in the fracking industry and what you have is a nice bouquet of all the modern practices of poisoning layered atop the moral numbing of continual insults refined by public relations professionals.



Are We There Yet?

As the impacts of global warming slam into the present, are you the frog or the boiling water? While you contemplate the metaphor, a brief round up of Notnecessarily the climate-related news:

Temperatures in Seattle reached into the nineties this weekend:

The main reason for the heat watch is because it will not cool down much in the evenings, causing homes to retain more of that heat.

The last excessive heat watch for the area was issued July 29, 2009 when it was 103 degrees.

Oregon is baking under the same heat with highs in the mid to upper 90s forecast in Portland, Salem and Eugene.

Seattlelites were in search of public decks to hang out on to catch the breeze on the waterfront which, in a twist, only the tourists knew about.

The University of Miami (FL) continue to distinguish itself, this time by selling about 88 acres of globally imperiled habitat to Walmart:

To secure permission for the 158,000-square-foot box store, plus an LA Fitness center, Chik-fil-A and Chili’s restaurants and about 900 apartments, the university and the developer, Ram, agreed to set aside 40 acres for a preserve.

Ram also plans to develop 35 adjacent acres still owned by the university.

But with less than 2 percent of the vast savanna that once covered South Florida’s spiny ridge remaining, the deal has left environmentalists and biologists scratching their heads.

“You wonder how things end up being endangered? This is how. This is bad policy and bad enforcement. And shame on UM,” said attorney Dennis Olle, a board member of Tropical Audubon and the North American Butterfly Association, who wrote to Florida’s lead federal wildlife agent Friday demanding an investigation.

You definitely wonder about that, among other things.

Nice Things

Atrios made a really good point the other day, avec his typical pith:

And, yes, for whatever reasons, infrastructure projects, especially anything involving a tunnel or a bridge, are absurdly expensive compared to most countries. Other people can figure out just why that is and try to do something about it. But the choice is between increasing rail capacity into New York with an imperfect too expensive plan, or doing nothing at all anytime soon. We spend all kinds of money to do stupid destructive things that at best do nothing useful for us, so we should be willing to support spending all kinds of money on nice things when the opportunities present themselves.

I’d rather have a $10 billion pair of tunnels than spend $10 billion on equipment the military doesn’t even want. That probably isn’t a choice, either, but we do the latter all of the time. We shouldn’t get “sensible” when the former is an option.

This is the point, the rub, the crux and the nub all in one: spending money as the U.S. does on armaments and then rending garments about the costs of infrastructure projects, much less factoring in the externalities for things like car-driving and plane-riding, is our great contradiction as well as the most obvious quandary we are avoiding. This avoidance takes a lot of effort and, as he points out, resources that could be better-invested elsewhere.

surviving dinosaurs

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This is totally bizarre. What world do we live in? For the record, and the hard time the first three aren’t doing, that’s Blair, Rice and Cheney yesterday with Bush’s daughter.

Via TPM.

The Bees (on their) Knees

Pesticides killing the one link in the chain that connects the truck to the boat to the dock to the lake to the wind to the water to the sun to the good times, such as they are and while they last. Man, are we stupid.

The problems we face if we don’t have healthy populations of pollinators, particularly honeybees, extend beyond almonds. Three fourths of the top crops grown in the world require animals – mostly insects – for pollination. Odds are that most of your favorite fruits, nuts and melons are pollinated by honeybees.

Across the pond, the European Union has made major strides in shedding light on the role of certain pesticides in honeybee deaths. In fact, the European Commission has proposed a two-year ban on these pesticides. Meanwhile, at home, beekeepers remain frustrated that the U.S. government is not as forward-thinking. And, for another year, the saga of bee deaths continues.

The pesticides in question are called neonicotinoids. It’s a mouthful, but the root word is “nicotine,” because they are chemically similar to the addicting tobacco compound. The most common of these is a pesticide called imidacloprid. Two others are clothianidin and thiamethoxam.

New York beekeeper Jim Doan ended last year with about 700 hives. He began the year with 900. But those numbers hide larger losses. A beekeeper can increase his or her number of hives by splitting them. Doan did so, building up to 2,300 hives by mid-June.

For a beekeeper, splitting your hives means a certain amount of sacrifice, because two smaller hives replace each larger one, and you must let each hive build up its numbers and its honey before you harvest any yourself. “Now this will be the seventh year of extraordinarily high losses. Every year we’re making up bees but at the sacrifice of not making honey. So both ways you’ve taken a beating and a loss,” says Doan.

From mid-June onward, Doan watched his bees die. By October 15, he had only 1,100 hives. More than half of the colonies that were alive only four months before were now dead. What happened?

One can piece together part of the story based on the bees’ locations and their food sources. Although Doan is a New Yorker, his bees take a Florida vacation each winter. They only reside in New York from April to September. While there, they first pollinate apricots, then cherries, pears, apples, and finally, squash, cucumbers, and pumpkins.

March 20, 2003

Today was the day. There is no greater crime than to make war based on lies and deception. So many are complicit, but I’ll focus here on the gatekeepers – the bored media that became intoxicated with the idea of war, helped to gin up support in the public and then kept blood off the evening news. But there was blood.


Image from Dependable Renegade.

Indy retailing Green

Independent_decreaseD.I.Y. is everywhere – look at this blog you’re reading, the e-book you could be reading there to the right. All of this is good, but it’s easy to be just a wasteful as large corporations, only on a small scale. But independent retailers can make being green part of their business plan from the get-go. A reader sends this handy guide:

4. Reduce paper use. Print double-sided, reuse printed paper for scrap paper, and think before you print.

5. Buy local. When possible, source your products from local distributors or producers to reduce fossil fuel use.

6. Go digital. Switch to digital bill payment, invoicing, banking and ordering. You can also send email rather than printed memos or offer downloadable employee handbooks. Use an eFax service instead of a paper machine.

7. Get rid of Styrofoam. Styrofoam is one of the least environmentally friendly products you can use. Find alternatives to Styrofoam for everything from cups to packing peanuts, both in what you sell and in what you use in the warehouse.

It would be great if all of this was just common sense, but we’re not quite there yet. I particularly like number 19. Create incentives, reward people for not being in cars. We’ll get the message.

Image: symbol for independent decrease, used in mounting circuit breakers and industrial control equipment inside equipment racks, via wikimedia commons.