Tanker blinkers

It is very difficult to report on Climate Change. It even difficult to write about reporting on climate change. For example:

On the NYT Climate and Environment page right now has these as their stories:

Fossil Fuels Are to Blame for Soaring Methane Levels, Study Shows

Bezos Commits $10 Billion to Address Climate Change

Both are serious stories and neither can be taken as straight news as they scream out for flame and snark – not even looking at you, twitter. But it points up the challenges of treating climate developments as new when they have existed for more more than a decade and are only being admitted into polite, gray lady discourse. The very idea that plutocratic climate funds are any kind of answer to anything is almost as ludicrous as the story a little farther down the page about damming the North Sea to combat sea level rise. I’m sure they meant the other ‘damning,’ and perhaps could have used them interchangeably.

This is not [only] a complaint. That these stories are being reported out, written and published is something – it’s just an incomplete something. We probably need to cross reference these stories to get a more accurate picture. True multi-media. Bezos’ billions could go to greenlight feature films of stories about what’s happening. You can’t turn the tanker without starting to turn. The. Tanker.


Peak Demand?

Mount_McKinley_and_DenaliRemember PEAK OIl? I wrote about it many times, and heard about it even oftener. It seems the great malevolent equalizer that would be a de facto end to eh way we had run things for 100 years. What happened?

In summer 2014, Citigroup’s Edward Morse noticed that Saudi Arabia was offering its oil at lower prices than usual. Others reported the same, and it was inferred that, as OPEC’s leader, Saudi Arabia was suddenly out to push down the global price. And that is where it went—inexorably down. It was not clear how low it could go, although Morse had been forecasting for some time that it would average in the range of $65 to $80 a barrel by the end of the decade; now the plunge he foresaw seemed to be coming much, much sooner.
In effect, the Saudis had declared war on US shale. Then, in November 2014, the situation bode worse for the US-produced oil: The Saudis, meeting with fellow OPEC cartel members in Vienna, declared that US and other non-OPEC oil had to be driven out of the marketplace—the cartel as a whole had to go on a war footing. So it was that, led by the Saudis, OPEC, along with Russia, flooded the market with oil, leading prices to as low as $27 a barrel in January, a 77% drop from their peak in June 2014.

At least that. The pressure from renewables that would have seemed a pipe dream in 2004 has already mutated into something even stronger and perhaps more positive, as the technology cheapens individual investments in solar and wind. An enormous reckoning remains on the issue how far you live from work, groceries and schools, the 20-to-30-minute-drive-each-way on which our society and many of its problems are based. The fact that people didn’t see this coming, and that the Saudi’s are willing to sink the entire enterprise to stop shale oil should be instructional. How much of the environmental assessment from 2004 remains operable is an interesting point to ponder.

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.

What happened in Wisconsin yesterday

is a preview of where republicans, specifically those in control of Wisconsin but all of them in general, want to take the country. How do you codify environmental pillage into law?


the bill is an almost perfect example of the conception held my modern conservatives — which is to say, Republicans — of the way things are supposed to work, and an almost perfect example of the conservative idea of self-government as public oligarchy. And the last one is that it truly is an atrocious bill, being, at the same time, an environmental catastrophe, a staggering economic giveaway, and a deliberate and obvious offense against the idea of a political commonwealth.

It is the latter that is the most disturbing. They not only passed the bill, but eliminated any chance the people of Wisconsin had to protect themselves.  For example, nobody denies that the massive open-pit mine that Gogebic Taconite plans to gouge out of northern Wisconsin is bound to do environmental damage. The Republicans who pushed for the bill admitted that openly.

And, with numerous groups already vowing to challenge the bill in court, Sen. Tom Tiffany also acknowledged that changes were made to the legislation to put the state on stronger legal ground to withstand such a challenge. “The bill reflects the reality of mining. There are going to be some impacts to the environment above the iron ore body,” said Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst. “If the law is challenged and ends up in court, the judge needs to know it was the Legislature’s intent to allow adverse (environmental) impacts. That way, a judge can’t find fault if the environment is impact.

The legislation was written in such a way as to defang the state’s Department Of Natural Resources, provide what is essentially a liability shield for the company, overturn over a century of environmental protection laws for the benefit of a single company, and it even contained a provision repealing a state legal law dating back to the 1880’s that prevented Wisconsin land from being controlled by foreign corporations or government, leading more than a few people to wonder exactly who’s going to get the 75 kajillion jobs that Walker and his pet legislature insist the mine will provide. In short, despite the fact that polls show substantial opposition to both the bill and the mine itself, and despite the fact that its sponsors admit the destruction it inevitably will cause, the Wisconsin legislature passed a law not only to permit the project to go forward, but to immunize the corporation against any destruction the project might wreak on the state and the people therein. They gave away public lands to this company while arranging that the political entity known as the state of Wisconsin, and therefore the people they ostensibly represent, would be unable to protect themselves from the damage the company will do. Self-government, and the political commonwealth that arises from it, is just something else gouged out of Wisconsin for a buck. This is astonishing. This is something that happens in China.

This is raw state capitalism at its most egregious, and it demonstrates clearly that the conservative movement has plans that go back in history beyond rolling back the Great Society or the New Deal. They are after every progressive advance made since the end of the 19th Century. This isn’t something that the conservative movement is trying to hide.

Let’s Do Nothing

Let’s do nothing! is a children’s book and I have a promotional button for it, some non-currency in which my daughter was ‘paid’ for taking part in a review of the book. The button is stuck up in my office, occasionally catches my eye and is, in general, a good reminder.

And doing nothing, wasting time, is in general a very solid idea. Because, of course, you’re not literally doing nothing – you’re thinking, reflecting, being still… not to mention all of things you’re not doing: driving, talking, watching. And certainly if you’ve avoided these things for any length of time today or any day, it is not time wasted. So generally speaking, doing nothing is the route to all things good, and even green.

But there is such a thing as wasting time, just as there is a time beyond which when doing nothing is advisable. And these are precisely the things in which Republican presidential candidates (no need for a link, because it’s all of them) are telling us they will be engaged in, if any of them is elected:

“Do I think the world’s getting hotter? Yeah, I don’t know that but I think that it is,” Romney told a crowd in New Hampshire Wednesday, according to Reuters. “I don’t know if it’s mostly caused by humans.”

Romney then tilted over and grabbed some of Rick Perry’s Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK)-endorsed ideas on the environment. That is, let’s not spend a time doing anything about it.

“What I’m not willing to do is spend trillions of dollars on something I don’t know the answer to,” Romney said.

We must take them at their word. It seems obtuse to point this out, but when it comes to climate change, ghg emissions, energy and the closely-related issue of jobs, the time for doing nothing is quite past. Even the polluting industries are waiting to see what the new regulations will be so that they can adjust – even they don’t believe they can keep doing things the same way indefinitely – even if someone manages to abolish the EPA. The realities on the ground won’t change, and at some point we’ll see that we’ve truly been wasting time, and not in a good way.

Changing the Story

Probably not the kind of story you were looking for – though it’s flattering, until it isn’t. A.S. Byatt on Ragnarok. The nugget is in there – see if you can find it.

Myth comes from muthos in Greek, something said, as opposed to something done. We think of myths as stories, although, as Heather O’Donoghue says in her book From Asgard to Valhalla, there are myths that are not essentially narratives at all. We think of them loosely as tales that explain, or embody, the origins of our world. Karen Armstrong writes in A Short History of Myths that myths are ways of making things comprehensible and meaningful in human terms (the sun as a chariot driven by a woman through the firmament) and that they are almost all “rooted in death and the fear of extinction”.

Nietzsche, in The Birth of Tragedy, sees myths as dreamlike shapes and tales constructed by the Apollonian principle of order and form to protect humans against the apprehension of the Dionysian states of formlessness, chaos and gleeful destruction. Tragedy controls the primeval force of music by presenting us with beautiful illusory forms of gods, demons, men and women, through whom apprehension is bearable and possible. He wrote: “Every culture that has lost myth has lost, by the same token, its natural healthy creativity. Only a horizon ringed about with myths can unify a culture. The forces of imagination and the Apollonian dream are saved only by myth from indiscriminate rambling. The images of myth must be the daemonic guardians, ubiquitous but unnoticed, presiding over the growth of the child’s mind and interpreting to the mature man his life and struggles.

Closed (Collision) Course

How close do you have to get to being a doomsayer to get the point across about resource depletion without seeming like a kook and therefore being easily marginalized? It seems like we are on a collision course with finding out. The idea filters down (or up, depending on your orient) to every sort of green advertising, book selling, and opinion writing you can find by opening your iLid. To even get in the door to policy discussions, the apocalyptic ends must be sufficiently trimmed to keep the discussions civilized (i.e. potentially profitable) to the corporate nervous Nellies who control everything. But any serious steps to alter the trajectory of planetary ruination will be absolutely predicated on a series of disasters, sufficiently devastating as to be impossible to iSleep through. It’s an indelicate path between catastrophe and optimism. Joe Romm quotes little Tommy Friedman, channeling Paul Gilding:

This is not science fiction. This is what happens when our system of growth and the system of nature hit the wall at once. While in Yemen last year, I saw a tanker truck delivering water in the capital, Sana. Why? Because Sana could be the first big city in the world to run out of water, within a decade. That is what happens when one generation in one country lives at 150 percent of sustainable capacity.

The need for crises; the will to avert them.

Closed (collision) course. Amateur driver.

State of the Environment

The local environment, in China. You’ve heard about the smog, but just how bad is it?

  • Surface water pollution is “relatively grave,” with 16.7% of rivers failing to meet any sort of grade standard–meaning the water is completely unfit for use (including in agricultural irrigation). And 42.3% of rivers are affected by eutrophication, a process where phytoplankton deplete oxygen from the water.
  • Approximately one in five cities doesn’t meet China’s urban air quality standards, which are lower than those recommended by the World Health Organization. Acid rain was observed in over 50% of the country’s cities.
  • 22% of the country’s 2,588 nature reserves are damaged in some way, mainly because as “economic development and industrialisation have gained momentum, unreasonable activities have weakened the function and value of those reserves.” In other words, the country is just too crowded.
  • Heavy metal pollution is a growing (but still small) problem, with 14 reported cases last year and seven this year.

Something to remember in between all the talk about China being our biggest competitor. Point being: competitor for what?

Another thing, all this is from a report released by the Chinese government. It’s not like they’re being coy about it. Maybe we shouldn’t be, either.

Yesteryear’s Iowa

Soon-to-expire tax cuts for the wealthy might be sexy, but soon-to-expire ethanol subsidies are really going to complicate things for the Fondu Republicans, aka the teabagger set.

Greg Sargent of the Washington Post has gotten a hold of a letter being circulated on Capitol Hill. Authored by Senators Diane Fienstein (D-CA) and John Kyl (R-AZ), the letter draws a bi-partisan line in the sand: “Let the subsidies expire.”

We are writing to make you aware that we do not support an extension of either the 54 cent-per-gallon tariff on ethanol imports or the 45 cent-per-gallon subsidy for blending ethanol into gasoline. These provisions are fiscally irresponsible and environmentally unwise, and their extension would make our country more dependent on foreign oil.

Subsidizing blending ethanol into gasoline is fiscally indefensible. If the current subsidy is extended for five years, the Federal Treasury would pay oil companies at least $31 billion to use 69 billion gallons of corn ethanol that the Federal Renewable Fuels Standard already requires them to use. We cannot afford to pay industry for following the law….

Really? Says you. Is free government green for the agricultural sector really on the block? The presidential politics of this thing that have always cemented the giveaway are worth watching if anything does change. Pandering to the big farm states will kick into high gear, but will a fictional concern over deficits lead to real environmental progress?

What the ethanol does that mean?

God Hates Texas

As a young Dallas Cowboys fan in the seventies, I thought maybe s/he was just indifferent. But now Governor Rick Perry has confirmed the worst.

Later in his response, Perry said he feared a “knee-jerk reaction” to the oil spill, and said the oil spill could be just another “act of God that cannot be prevented“:

“We don’t know what the event that has allowed for this massive oil to be released,” Perry said alongside several other governors on a panel Monday. “And until we know that, I hope we don’t see a knee-jerk reaction across this country that says we’re going to shut down drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, because the cost to this country will be staggering.” Perry questioned whether the spill was “just an act of God that occurred” and said that any “politically driven” decisions could put the U.S. in further economic peril. “From time to time there are going to be things that occur that are acts of God that cannot be prevented,” Perry said.

We’re still in the early-middle of the post-beginning period of trying not to understand what has happened as God corporations have assumed their rights as a supra-governmental entities. There are still many more contortions along the lines of Joe Barton to go (actually, we won’t even believe Newt’s next turn in nuanced Randianism) some of which won’t even make re-written history books. They’ve spent decades training us, after all, selecting the best people for the most important but also the most minor offices, and with all of that time and investment spent cultivating the reality of benevolent selfishism, we’re not going to just be able to turn on a dime – like a dynamically positioned drilling rig, for instance – and just blame them for something they actually did.

I mean, come on.