The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in conjunction with the Obama Administration, has released their plan for regulating carbon emissions standards in the U.S.. This new plan would cut carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. These new regulations will target the U.S.’s single largest contributor to carbon emissions, which are a leading cause of climate altering pollution.
There has been plenty of talk from a number of groups as to whether these regulations are acceptable. Some are concerned that the new regulations will reduce jobs in the coal industry and increase energy costs for Americans, while others are concerned that these regulations aren’t doing enough and need to elevate the standards and broaden the scope of regulation.
The Democratic Party voter base is especially divided on the EPA’s new regulations. While some are advocating for the importance of combating global climate change, others are concerned for the inevitable decrease in jobs in current workforces.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) has publicly announced their disapproval for the new standards.
“The new rules would in effect stop the construction of new coal-fired power plants in the United States by enforcing emission-reduction goals that just aren’t realistic using today’s technology for carbon capture and sequestration,” IBEW president Edwin Hill said in a statement.
So, with that, we will inevitably build new, more sustainable power infrastructure while developing new technology to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants even further. Sounds good to me. It is imperative to set regulations for carbon emissions coming from our power plants. Responsible for 40 percent of U.S. carbon pollution, energy generation is the single largest source of climate altering greenhouse gases in the U.S.. We currently limit mercury, arsenic, lead, soot and other pollutants from our energy generators, but not carbon pollution. Carbon emissions cannot continue to exist unregulated.
But others disagree. “Clearly, it is designed to materially damage the ability of conventional energy sources to provide reliable and affordable power,” wrote Scott Segal, a lawyer with the firm Bracewell & Giuliani, “which in turn can inflict serious damage on everything from household budgets to industrial jobs.” Segal, who represents members of the coal industry, plans to sue over the rule.
But these new regulations give energy producers plenty of time to transition to cleaner forms of energy production which will greatly reduce increases in energy prices due to infrastructure costs. As we move beyond coal, we cannot ignore the fact that jobs related to the coal industry will disappear. With the growth of renewable energy in the future, we have the opportunity to transition those individuals displaced by the shrinking coal industry into the renewable one. Areas that are optimal for both coal and wind harvesting, such as the Appalachian Mountains, can make the conscious effort to retrain workers to help smooth the transition to renewable energy.
While some may find the new proposed regulations to be too strict, there are others who feel that it is not enough and that we should be working harder to make our energy industry cleaner and safer. There are concerns that we have not widened the scope of regulation enough, leaving some less than desirable energy options radically unaffected. “Although all options for cleaner power generation are on the table, it’s clear that nuclear power plants also offer an opportunity for the utilities to support long-term demand growth while avoiding increased carbon emissions,” wrote S&P analyst Judith Waite.
Nuclear has always been a point of contention among those concerned about carbon emissions. While nuclear power plants do emit less carbon than coal-fired power plants, their safety record, or lack thereof, makes it difficult to endorse.
Given that current global carbon emissions are set to increase in the future, there is a growing number of individuals and organizations that would like to attack carbon emissions and dirty energy generation more head-on.
“These modest measures to cut power plant pollution are not enough to address the worsening climate crisis,” said Bill Snape, chief counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity. “We see the signs of climate chaos around us every day, whether it’s catastrophic storms or shattered temperature records. If we don’t get our act together now and make serious cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, we’ll put our country at risk and damage our climate beyond the ability of future generations to repair.”
We need to do more to mitigate the effects of the impending climate crisis. However, these things can only move so quickly. We can pass these regulations and work to modify and elaborate the standards. These regulations are a good start and will send a message to the global community that we need to act in unity to find answers.
“This momentous announcement raises the bar for controlling carbon emissions in the United States,” said Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, a Washington research organization, “These new standards send a powerful message around the world.”
“I fully expect action by the United States to spur others in taking concrete action,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change.
President Obama would likely agree and had a message for the American people in his weekly address on June 1st: “I refuse to condemn our children to a planet beyond fixing. In America, we don’t have to choose between the health of our economy and the health of our children.”
On June 23rd the United States Supreme Court voted 5-4 to restrict the EPAs ability to regulate some of the nation’s largest polluters. It doesn’t affect proposed regulations limiting emissions from existing power plants, and also preserves the agency’s continuing authority over non-greenhouse gas pollutants. The Court ruling revisits the EPAs interpretation of the Clean Air Act. The EPA, despite this ruling, is still confident in the ability of the new regulations to make a dent in our nation’s carbon emission from fossil fuel fired power plants, says the EPA in a statement:
“Today is a good day for all supporters of clean air and public health and those concerned with creating a better environment for future generations. Today, the Supreme Court largely upheld EPA’s approach to focusing Clean Air Act permits on only the largest stationary sources of greenhouse gases such as power plants, refineries, and other types of industrial facilities.”
As the importance of mitigating climate change and the growing interest in renewable energy increases, we will see great paradigm shifts in the U.S. and the world. That renaissance will be of a clean, safe, reliable, affordable, renewable and sustainable energy industry. We have yet to find the answer, but we’re starting to find the pieces to that puzzle.
By Stefan Reed
Let’s file this under great moments in corporate apologies. Faced with a deeply embarrassing explosion of their fracking well near Bobtown, Pennsylvania that couldn’t be explained away as their usual operational flatulence, and that accidentally incinerated a worker, Chevron opted to go all out. Of course, living near a fracking rig in Pennsylvania — the state that Governor Corbett has promised will become “the Texas of natural gas” — isn’t a picnic under the best of circumstances; scores of neighbors have complained about polluted drinking water or foul odors or ailing pets and livestock, of headaches and nausea and skin rashes. But Chevron figured the perfect solution for all those maladies in addition to the deeply embarrassing explosion would be to deliver to every Bobtown household a coupon for one large pizza and one 2-liter drink! … Along with an apology letter, of sorts:
“Dear Neighbor, We are sorry to have missed you. We wanted to provide you with a status update on the February 11 incident that occurred on Chevron Appalachia’s Lancoe 7 H well pads in Dunkard Township and see if you had any questions or concerns that we could address.
Chevron recognizes the effect this has had on the community. We value being a responsible member of the community and will continue to strive to achieve incident-free operations. We are committed to taking action to safeguard our neighbors, our employees, our contractors and the environment.”
No mention of the worker who was killed in the explosion, nor of another worker who still remains missing, nor the effects on the environment that blowing up a natural gas well in a spectacular fireball might have on nearby residents. That would be a downer and not nearly as cheerful as the pizza and 2 liter Coke Bobtown residents received merely for breathing near Chevron’s natural gas BOOM.
But at least Chevron did better on the PR front than the satirically named Freedom Industries. After poisoning the water supply of nearly half a million people, those wild and crazy folks over at Freedom Industries delivered onto the unsuspecting public one cranky CEO named Gary Southern. Rather than displaying sympathy for the blight of some 300,000 residents in West Virginia who could no longer use their water supply for anything except possibly flame retardant (and given what we’ve seen of fracking, maybe not even that) , our intrepid CEO decided to whine vociferously about his own exhaustion after un-explaining for the 10,000th time that day why his company poisoned the water supply for nearly half a million people. All the while, he drank water from a bottle purchased from an area safely removed from Charleston, West Virginia where said poisoning took place. (Epic Fail! As the cool kids like to say.)
Perhaps there’s a silver lining in all this. Such incidents can become a training ground for Public Relation wanna-bes, or as I like to refer to them, corporate flacks. With a little imagination we could cook up one of those grand lists that news sites like to churn out in place of real news … top ten things not to say when you’ve poisoned water for nearly half a million people. Five best gifts to placate the families of dead workers you’ve incinerated in your natural gas fireball! And so on. After all, if this type of thing continues, and I see no reason why it wouldn’t, we just might have an industry devoted almost entirely to softening the blow of our mortal stupidity. Right now, it goes by the unassuming acronym, ‘PR.’
Jared Diamond, author of Collapse, has a phrase for when things continue to go wrong: “creeping normalcy,” giving a nice academic patina to Al Gore’s example of a boiling frog. What Diamond is getting at, of course, is an acceptance of things “getting just a little bit worse each year than the year before but not bad enough for anyone to notice…” Like a frog set in water brought to a slow boil.
In his book, Collapse, Diamond does us the service of enumerating the various ways civilizations can destroy themselves. Kind of like the seven deadly sins. He narrows it to a neat list of five things not to do if you want to survive on planet earth:
Ignore climate change, maintain hostile neighbors, keep bad trading partners, have environmental problems, and, finally, don’t react responsibly to environmental problems when you’re made aware of them. Notice three out of these five deal with the environment. The first four may or may not prove significant in each society’s demise, Diamond claims, but the fifth always does. The salient point, of course, is that a society’s response to environmental problems is completely within its control, which is not always true of the other factors. In other words, as his subtitle puts it, a society can “choose to fail.”
For decades now, chemicals and waste from the coal industry have tainted hundreds of waterways and groundwater supplies all across our country. But because these contaminants are released gradually and in some cases not tracked or regulated, they attract much less attention than a massive spill like the recent one in West Virginia where Gary Southern quenched his thirst and whined about his work day. The Keystone pipeline is heralded as a ‘jobs program’ even as environmentalists like Professor James Hansen argue that if it’s pushed through it will be “game over for the environment.” Finally, quietly in the works is the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a trade agreement that will involve the Pacific rim countries and strip most nations of their ability to effectively regulate the environment and protect their worker’s rights. TPP would be the largest U.S. free-trade agreement to date, surpassing the 20-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement. All this is being done in the name of ever-expanding trade.
Documents published by Wikileaks regarding the secretive negotiations around the TPP reveal that provisions of the TPP grant multinational corporations vast new powers and that, among these, are virtual veto-powers over local environmental and labor laws.
Diamond’s Collapse was written partly as a response to the dominant environmental discourse in the United States today, which holds that environmental concerns are secondary to economic and security concerns or at least in opposition to them.
As Diamond notes, “The values to which people cling most stubbornly under inappropriate conditions are those values that were previously the source of their greatest triumphs.”
With the Easter Island Rapa Nui, it was an obsession with building moai, those famous Easter Island sculptures. With Westerners of course, it’s the dream of never-ending economic expansion.
Not to put too fine a point on it, our so-called ‘work’ values, our insistence on an ever-expanding economy and perpetual growth is leading us to a dark place. The Rapa Nui cut down the last of their palm trees and turned their island into a wasteland because they really dug building the moai heads on Easter Island. They were as addicted to their cultural artistry as we are to our endless pursuit of money. Or ‘trade’ or ‘jobs’ as we like to call it. By the end of the 17th century, the Rapa Nui had deforested the island, triggering war, famine and cultural collapse.
Bringing this concept to our contemporary politics, Diamond wonders rhetorically, “Did the Easter Islander who cut down the last palm tree, shout ‘Jobs, not trees!’”
Maybe someone should ask Paul Ryan.
On the flat sweep of highway between Chaco Canyon and Taos, New Mexico, you may not expect to see much except desert and a few a scrub bushes under a pastel blue sky. You certainly don’t expect to see Hobbit like homes all bending toward the sun, like minarets awaiting their muezzins. They are spectacular against the endless sky, but the real surprise comes when you stop by to investigate. You realize something important: these singularly humble ‘Hobbit’ homes –also known as Earthships –may be a glimpse of our future.
Mike Reynolds, the founder of Earthships, first came up with the idea for these self-sufficient dwellings when Hurricane Marilyn roared through the Caribbean, destroying a quarter of the homes on St. Thomas, one of the U.S. Virgin islands. Full restoration of power took several months. Three thousand miles away, in Taos, New Mexico, Reynolds, read the news and saw a demand for a self-sustaining housing systems—what would later evolve into Earthships.
Traditionally, Mike Reynolds notes, most houses were built from whatever material was plentiful and fast at hand–trees, clay, grass (on the plains). In modern urban culture our most plentiful material is our non-biodegradable waste. Thus, he decided to use tires which will spend three times or more of a human life time making an eyesore of a valley or mountainside as the building blocks for his new-fangled Earthship.
The basic Earthship design is a U. The U design is based on three tire walls, built on the North, East and West sides while the South side is glazed and slightly angled to receive maximum sunlight. The concept is surprisingly simple and efficient: using the building walls and windows to collect solar energy during the day. The walls of an Earthship give back the energy later in the day when the outside air cools. Earthships are built from old car tires full of rammed earth, these are the load-bearing walls (that create the thermal mass). The walls that aren’t as structurally important get interesting aesthetic treatments; the most common of which is the use of “glass bricks”, which is a “brick” made out of two glass bottles, cut in half and duct taped together.
On to this mud, cement or adobe plaster is added. In addition, Earthship roofs can catch water when it rains and store it for later use in a cistern. Recycled greywater (from showers, dirty dishes, etc…) and blackwater (septic waste) are carefully separated. The grey water is fed into toilets for flushing and gardens where the waste is welcomed as nutrients to plants, and acts as a filter. The black water is broken down in an external solar septic tank which accelerates the anaerobic process by heating the waste with solar energy. The solids break down and travels through filtering layers of gravel, pumice, soil and roots where it is absorbed by plants and cleaned. Energy is provided by solar panels and/or wind generators stored in batteries. Methane gas from the breakdown of black waste can be stored for emergency energy needs.
The interior is comfortable and spacious. The rounded walls indeed give it a Hobbit feel, but this is a plus not a minus. One senses a return to a natural order living in the Earth, as this Earthship does, rather than on top of it.
Earthships also have extensive gardening beds to reduce the need to rely on grocery stores for food. There are raised beds, roof top plots and indoor greens. All this, and the most expensive of all Earth ships is a mere $70,000 (excluding labor costs). The average pricing works out to about $120 per square foot. If you provide your own labor, of course, it’s less.
In The Legacy of Conquest, Patricia Limerick writes of the western pilgrims leaving great heaps of tin cans outside their little shacks. “Living out of cans,” she notes, with a bit of irony, “the Montana Ranchers were typical Westerners, celebrating independence while relying on a vital connection to the outside world.” Not unlike the ‘independent westerners’ of today, who take to the Rockies in their SUVs, powered by a web of connections that reaches all the way across the oceans to cluster bombs in Iraq.
“The [modern housing] systems give us power on one hand and poison on the other,” Mike Reynolds notes, “Acid rain, radioactive waste, spider webs of power lines, polluted rivers and oceans, vanishing wildlife are all part of the ‘price’ for the life support systems necessary to make the current concept of housing functional. A person on life support in a hospital has to always be within reach and ‘plugged in’ to the various systems that keep him/her alive. So it is with our current concept of housing.”
Earthships incorporate systems that are external to most traditional house designs. Thus, they are self-sustaining.
There are Earthship colonies in climates ranging from the deserts of New Mexico to the high humidity of the United Kingdom, Brighton and Edinburgh. There are also Earthship enclaves near the tropics in Honduras, in Bolivia and Mexico.
For those who can’t feature themselves as over cautious environmentalists, and like, instead, to consider themselves ‘rugged individualists’, consider this: Earthships are the ultimate in an individual’s great goodbye to the systems that would otherwise keep them enslaved. Much more rugged and individualist than certain Montana Ranchers who ‘conquered’ the West while leaving behind their ‘externalities’: waste trails of empty tin cans.
Thanks to Stefan Reed, APV’s Deputy Director of Environment and Clean Energy Task Force, and Jack Johnson who visited the Earthships in New Mexico and also took the photos.
Renewable Energy is making slow but concrete progress as an alternative to conventional fuels for our energy dependence. It comes from sources that are always present (wind, solar and water powered generators) or constantly renewing themselves (biomass). Biomass is a form of energy created from burning plant waste (grass clippings, leaves, wood). All of these alternative energies are being produced at higher capacities than ever before. We can buy alternative energy here in Virginia from Dominion Resources, Inc.. This helps to support the perpetuation of the renewable industry in the Commonwealth, but how much of that renewable energy is actually coming from Virginia?
As of 2010, we were producing 101.5 trillion Btu (British Thermal Units) and consuming 146.7 Btu (eia.gov). That means that from somewhere outside of Virginia, we are importing renewable energy to meet the demands here in our own state. Keep in mind, this renewable production and consumption is for all of Virginia and not just Dominion power. Interestingly enough, Dominion currently sells their renewable energy on Green-E Energy, an organization that helps to connect renewable energy producers and consumers anywhere in the United States. Purchase of this energy from Dominion is available to all, so both residential customers and business owners can choose this option. The energy is acquired from a long list of alternative options from producers all across the country. Dominion is not an actual member of this program though, as they only sell their electricity in VA.
So, we in the state of Virginia can actually purchase electricity from other states. Dominion just powers our house per usual, and the energy company you purchase the energy from sends Dominion electrical power, which Dominion runs through its network just like the power from any of its production locations. Dominion gets our money just like normal, and presumably a commission on top for allowing the power companies to use their infrastructure to “deliver” the renewable energy. Dominion doesn’t even need to create renewable energy sources to make a profit from it!
We shouldn’t let Dominion make us out-of-state renewable dependent! Virginia needs to not only create enough renewable energy to meet our own demands, but we need to expand our renewable energy portfolio to meet the demand in other states as well.
Our non-renewable resources will run out and our country and the world will need to satisfy our need for energy with another source; a source that can provide the same energy generated from the astronomical amounts of coal, petroleum, and natural gas used globally.
A new reservoir of energy must be created to provide the globe with energy. Nevada and Colorado battle with a handful of other states to hold the title of the largest renewable energy exporters in the United States. Virginia needs to catch up and become a player in this game. Dominion, based in Richmond, has an 83 MW Biomass plant here in Virginia. Biomass, although an alternative, is not a zero emission renewable source because the burning of plant material inevitably releases all the stored carbon in the form of climate change intensifying carbon emissions. In addition to Dominion’s unfortunately small biomass effort, they are evaluating wind power opportunities. Despite their menial efforts to create renewable energy here in Virginia, Dominion has a 50% interest in all of the following:
264 MW wind farm in West Virginia
300 MW wind farm in Indiana
220 MW hydro station in North Carolina
As you see, Dominion has significantly more renewable energy being produced in other states than it has in its home state of Virginia. This trend is unacceptable. We need for Dominion to invest in local renewable energy resources now! And they need to commit to future development that will position Virginia as a national leader in safe energy production alternatives.
Considering the options available to our state, which now include the federally designated wind-development area off our coast, Virginia can and should play an integral part in advancing America to the world’s largest producer of renewable energy.
Stefan Reed is APV’s Deputy Director of Environment and Clean Energy Task Force.
And on the Seventh Day, God said CONSERVE!
by Jack Johnson
In a novel that begins with a classified ad reading ‘Teacher seeks pupil, Must have an earnest desire to save the world, apply in person’, Daniel Quinn kicks off an odd bout of Socratic dialogue between a skeptical pupil and a talking gorilla. Unlikely as it sounds, the main thrust of Ishmael is the need for an enlightened stewardship of the Earth along the same lines of the biblical verse from Genesis, but with a serious twist. According to Ishmael (the talking gorilla) the world is divided into two communities –those of the Takers and those of the Leavers. Takers are those who practice domesticated agriculture as a means of survival; Leavers are hunters and gatherers or pastoralists. About 8000 years ago these two groups clashed in the Fertile Crescent. The Takers won and the world hasn’t been the same since.
Takers, unlike Leavers, allow for the one unforgivable sin for any species, uncontrolled population growth. Because of the benefits of domesticated agricultural, according to Ishmael, our species has continued to grow, pushing out other species, laying waste to our environment and effectively fouling the only nest we have, the Earth. Worse, we have clothed our reckless behavior in the robes of invincibility and myth. Not only have we conquered and subjugated the planet – according to our own mythologies, we were always meant to subjugate and conquer the planet. It’s written in our Holy Book, as Ishmael points out. The myth of the Fall and the story of Cain and Abel is deconstructed by the gorilla and becomes a warning by the Semite Leavers (pastoralists) against the unfathomable destruction of the Caucasian Takers (farmers) from the north.
Takers are destructive due to a kind of cyclic reinforcement that affects agricultural communities. Populations are allowed to grow because of the increased food supply. But because increased population puts pressure on that very food supply, the Takers must continuously expand, forcing neighboring tribes out of their region, killing off or domesticating other species for their own purposes. Hence, outward expansion and destruction becomes a natural dynamic of a ‘Taker’ lifestyle.
Ishmael says at one point, “Whenever a Taker couple talk about how wonderful it would be to have a big family, they’re reenacting this scene beside the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They’re saying to themselves ‘Of course it’s our right to apportion life on this planet as we please. Why stop at four kids or six? We can have fifteen if we like. All we have to do is plow under another few hundred acres of rain forest –and who cares if a dozen other species disappear as a result?”
Ishmael notes that the spread of Taker culture has nearly encompassed the world. It’s what we have come to know as ‘Western culture’ and it temporarily holds many benefits for those who embrace it. Short term benefits to be sure, as Taker culture inevitably will exhaust itself. But in many ways it’s also like a prison, a pleasant consumerist prison, and ‘what is crucial to your race is not the redistribution of power and wealth within the prison but the destruction of the prison itself.’
The narrator objects that destroying the consumer prison would not be easy; would in fact be nearly impossible. Too many benefits accrue to those within its walls to contemplate its demolishment. The book ends without real resolution, the gorilla dies and the narrator is left with his calling card that asks a simple question:
With man gone, will there be hope for Gorilla?
And on the flip side….
With Gorilla gone, will there be hope for man?
The latter is perhaps the most compelling argument for a sensible adjustment of the ‘Taker’ lifestyle. In the recent issue of Harper’s, Steven Stoll, associate professor of History at Fordham University, takes a look at these adjustments and finds that one of the most compelling was first noted in the Holy Book as well. In his view, “Genesis is all about population as destiny” According to one Jewish legend, after the Flood, Noah invented the plow, scythe and hoe—the tools for appropriating the landscape and bending it to satisfy man’s hunger. On the flip side, Stoll notes that later in the Hebrew bible, Moses, a herder, is given the Ten Commandments. These laws had become necessary because as people changed over from being Leavers to Takers, “the relationship between land and labor also changed. Slavery, dispossession, empire—all can be understood as rational adaptations to a new world in which the intensive occupation of land become the basis of wealth and sovereignty.” The laws are necessary to control the behavior of an aggressive population, and to control the expansion of the population itself. Towards this end Leviticus “extends the commanded Sabbath day of rest as a precaution against the ecological destruction endemic to agrarian societies.” In short, a period of rest (approximately 1 year), of letting the land lie fallow was not just advised but legislated to slow down an economic and cultural system that threatened to devour the region both environmentally and socially.
“In the sabbatical year not a grain or grape was harvested, or even gleaned from the weedy shoots that poked up in formerly planted fields. The inconvenience of spending a year to gather wild wheat in the hills of Galilee had to be balanced against the very survival of the nation: the fallow period restored a degree of soil fertility, preventing starvation and the need to migrate. In a political sense, the sabbatical lived up to its peaceful principle, because a seed planting people able to remain within their ordained territory had no need to go to war with their neighbors.”
Within the strict practice of the Sabbatical year, we find the necessary response to the God of Genesis, the one that commands man to ‘be fruitful and multiple’…the laws laid down in Leviticus recommend a certain level of ‘sustainable management’: sure grow your crops, but don’t exhaust your soil, and if you want to maintain some semblance of a decent life, stick to one place and don’t count on continuous expansion as a life habit—otherwise you’ll be afflicted with ceaseless wars and turmoil. Good advice! But it doesn’t end there.
“Channeling God’s voice, the authors of Leviticus then moved the sabbatical toward and even more radical confrontation with the cumulative tensions of a farming society. Following every 7 sabbatical cycles not only would land lie fallow for a year, but a half century of property sales would be reversed , outstanding debts would be relieved and all slaves released. …The statute effectively abolished whatever notion of property the Israelites might have had. Instead everyone owned a ‘use’ right that could be bought and sold until the jubilee (7th sabbatical year) suspended the economic rules and reset the game.”
And in the Seventh year, God gave us true land reform.
The upshot, Stoll notes, was a “legal mechanism for preventing class differences.” More importantly, it was a method for creating a sustainable and localized community. We could extend the core concept of the jubilee to our own economic behavior in forgiving third world countries their ‘debts’, by extending carbon tax laws so that we “break a pattern that threatens the social order” just as the Leviticus statutes did. Our economic norms are dysfunctional without an awareness of the culture and environment in which they are practiced. One famous Goldman Sachs investor suggested that creating a bubble around food supplies in 2008 wasn’t an ethical problem because he preferred to think of such investment in commodities as investing in ‘widgets’. But Goldman Sachs wasn’t investing in widgets, it was creating financial products around wheat used to feed the world and because of the bubble that such products created, millions of humans starved. Following economic rules with no regard for their real world consequences is not just greedy and cruel, it’s insane and self-destructive.
Ultimately, Leviticus rules are about humanity’s survival (at least at the tribal level). The eating laws (don’t eat pork, etc…) are probably as much about trichinosis prevention as a religious mandate. The same applies to their concept of the jubilee. The biblical laws enforced and regulated economic activity—even the ultra conservative God of Leviticus knew that an unfettered free market would destroy their world. They tell us what we really want to know, how to survive, how to live within the context of our environment, legislating against the urge for thoughtless domination and endless expansion.
So the next time some far right Christian decries your environmentalism as idolatry or tries to use Genesis to prop up arguments against caring about species extinction or global warming, or that only the Bible offers any ‘true’ meaning, mention Leviticus, the book of laws, and the Sabbatical year, how those rules, with appropriate adjustments, could offer solutions that could be applied successfully to our own situation today. Tell him that the ultra conservative Hebrew God of Leviticus had the good sense to advocate for sustainable farming, not to mention the downright Socialist notion of property redistribution and probably mankind’s first legislated land reform.
Once again, we thank writer, activist and our friend, Jack Johnson, for contributing to APV’s blog.
“That’s so ugly, isn’t it? That plastic bag stuck in the tree?”
“Yes, it really is a shame. Those bags get stuck in the trees in our park all the time.”
“Did you know that plastic bags are made with petroleum products?”
“No, I never thought about it before.”
… and there’s my opening. The conversation begins. 😉
No one likes to see plastic bags stuck in the trees of our parks, washing down our storm sewers, stuck to the exhaust pipes of our cars, or stinking until they shred, sloshing in the tides, visible and unsightly during our visits to the beach. When I have exhausted every other way to hold a conversation with someone who opposes my politics, we can always agree that those ‘tree bags’ are an eyesore. It’s a fail-safe opportunity for me to introduce a conversation about how plastics have really invaded our culture, and how plastic contributes, not only to the depletion of fossil fuels, but to the demise of our marine life as well.
Next, I ask them if they have ever heard of the Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s a concentration of plastic and other man-made sludge, estimated to be about twice the size of Texas (so far) and located north of the North Pacific Gyre. It’s driven and held in place by oceanic and wind currents. There are several garbage patches in our oceans, the Pacific being the largest of them.
The plastic and trash enter our waterways by storm sewer outlets, ocean vessel dumping, and various other methods. As it begins to photo-degrade, the plastics are reduced to smaller pieces (some microscopic), and the reduction becomes a toxic soup. The chemicals are consumed by fish, whales and dolphins, among other ocean life, and eventually it kills them. Birds that feed in ocean waters are also victims of the plastic garbage piles. We see their decomposed bodies on the shoreline. All that’s left is some feathers, a pile of bones, and … plastic.
(Here’s a great ABC News Video about it – Disposable Island)
This conversation evokes sympathy from just about everyone. Once I have touched on the dead marine and bird life, I throw in a fact that brings them back home. I ask if they’ve ever heard of method products inc., an eco-friendly company whose products are sold in many high-traffic variety stores. Though it doesn’t claim to be a “green” company, their brand is easily recognized by average shoppers. The method company collects plastic trash from the beaches of Hawaii and elsewhere, and recycles it to create the packaging for their cleaning products. Hopefully, I’ve given my conversation partner a thought or two about using more eco-friendly products.
Then, back to the bigger picture.
“You know, it’s really a shame that we produce so many plastics anyway. They use up much of the oil that we seem to find so precious these days.” That’s when I drop the F-bomb on them – FRACKING.
“Have you ever heard of fracking?” I find many people who are unaware of it, or at least the devastating environmental and health effects that result from it. I tell them about the studies and consequences of the hydraulic fracturing process – everything from man-made earthquakes to flammable “drinking” water from a kitchen faucet. We discuss the impact of Fracking on the people who live in surrounding communities, like cancer and brain lesions! These studies indicate a need for strict regulation: “There have been over 1000 reports of contaminated groundwater since fracking began, and studies also link the extraction process to polluted air, disease and death in farm animals and wildlife in addition to humans. It is also connected to the increase in earthquake activity. Doctors have come out against fracking; it’s been banned in New Jersey, and other states are considering banning it.”
At this point, I am usually met with an incredulous, “Well, that doesn’t seem right!”
“I know!” I agree with them, and then I move to the most important part of the conversation. We need safety regulations, but lobbyists from oil companies, chemical companies and others, such as Halliburton, have swayed legislators who have exempted the process of hydraulic fracturing from some of our key federal environmental laws. “That’s why we have to keep corporations from having undue influence over our government and legislators. We need to reverse the Citizens United decision – you know?”
I have found some people who don’t know about the Citizens United decision or how it’s affecting our nation. I explain the Supreme Court’s ruling and that as a result, corporations now contribute to political interests without identifying themselves or disclosing their donations to the public. These massive donations, PACs and corporate lobbying groups have strong influence over our politicians, and ultimately our laws. They also pour money into media outlets and run dubious ads that influence voter’s choices. Because of the Citizens United decision, the voice of the American people has been pushed nearly out of the democratic process.
I invite them to write to their legislators about fracking and about overturning the Citizens United ruling, and mention that they can go to APV’s website, and use our link to identify their legislators. At that point, I can end the conversation without ever having spoken the words Republican or Democrat, and, yet, we are united in thought!
“Hey, can you give me a hand to get this plastic bag out of the tree? Thanks!”
Bravo! and thanks to APV board member, Rhonda Hening, for contributing this thoughtful post, and for her continuous devotion and active support for so many of the progressive issues confronting us today.
“We were wrong about peak oil: there’s enough in the ground to deep-fry the planet.”
(Click the map to see where future uranium mines could be in Virgina.)
Here’s an article about last night’s meeting: Science meets passion at uranium briefing
As you may know, Va. Beach is hosting a public briefing tonight on Uranium Mining in Virginia. A surprising number of people are getting seriously involved with this issue, and not just the people of Virginia.
Uranium mining can’t begin unless the moratorium is lifted, and due to a lack of support, the vote was postponed until 2013. The corporate money and power behind the mining project is becoming more clear all the time, though it’s been framed as a FFV’s love for their community and ultimate concern for its progress. The public isn’t buying it though, and they’re passionate about keeping the ban in place. As that firestorm continues to mount, I think we could have a real People v. Profit showdown next year, and that may be just what the doctor ordered.
I hope you’ll find a way to attend the briefing tonight, but even if you can’t, read this great exposé by award-winning investigative journalist, Rose Ellen O’Connor. It’s a three-part series that started in November about lifting Virginia’s ban, but covers much more than the 30-year moratorium. She carefully includes both sides, but weaves in and out of the ‘truth or consequences’ of uranium mining, complete with horror stories, lies, politics, corruption and misinformation. Each one is a prize, so if you’re interested in the prospects of mining and milling uranium in Virginia, I recommend reading all three for the nitty-gritty.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Marline, the Canadian firm that failed to win approval for mining from the Virginia General Assembly before the market tanked in 1985, had workers crisscross the state with Geiger counters, hopping out of their cars when an area seemed promising. Marline bought up leases on 16,000 uranium-rich acres in Fauquier, Madison, Culpeper and Orange counties, which have since expired. Opponents of lifting the moratorium say they fear that Virginia Uranium will seek to mine the sites that Marline found and that the state will be overrun by uranium mines.
Virginia Uranium executives insist publicly that they have no interest in other mines.
“We’ve made it clear we’re only interested in Coles Hill,” Wales said at the Richmond forum.
But Coles Jr. seemed to suggest that the company is, indeed, interested in other mining possibilities at a meeting with potential investors in London in February. Coles said the geologist who discovered uranium at Coles Hill has long believed that more deposits will be found. Virginia could be another “Athabasca Basin” Coles said, referring to an area in Saskatchewan, Canada, where 41 companies mine one-third of the world’s uranium supply.
“Talking to the lead geologist,” Coles said, “he’s insistent to this day that Coles Hill is the first of more major discoveries in Virginia that might lead to another Athabasca-style resource play.”
The main study on Uranium Mining in Virginia came out in December. Most people have read the non-technical brief that has been linked in many articles. But the full report to view on the internet is linked below. From the link, scroll to the Table of Contents and from there you can either read the full report, select chapters, or skim. Under the skim feature you can also search by “suggested” keywords.
Full report: “Uranium Mining in Virginia: Scientific, Technical, Environmental, Human Health and Safety and Regulatory Aspects of Uranium Mining and Processing in Virginia.”
Who owns Virginia Uranium Inc.?
Here’s how the company is structured: VA Uranium Holdings Inc., a company incorporated in Yukon, Canada, for tax purposes, owns 100 percent of Virginia Uranium Inc. A little less than 50 percent of VA Uranium Holdings is owned by Canadian firms. Virginia Energy Resources Inc., a uranium development company based in Vancouver, Canada, owns 29.44 percent of the holding company’s shares, while Sprott Resource Corp., a Toronto-based natural resource development firm, owns another 18.06 percent. Local investors own about 52.5 percent of the holding company, according to Virginia Uranium.
Video: “Uranium has never been mined east of the Mississippi River–for good reason. Kay Slaughter, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, explains why mining and milling uranium in southern Virginia poses serious threats to the environment and public health.”
I think lifting the ban has less to do with Virginia’s economy and more to do with the mining industry’s profits. Plus, our military’s unsustainable need for uranium and other strategic elements and rare earth minerals is a thirst we should be concerned about. It certainly won’t be sated in Pittsylvania County. In that context alone, I think the ban will be lifted by our lawmakers regardless of every foreseeable negative impact, and we can expect that this sort of dangerous mining and toxic dumping will spread … unless we can stop it.
Ms. O’Connor did point out the large Canadian presence involved, and in fact they are present throughout U.S. mining operations – but she didn’t mention that their web of partnerships sells to global markets. In foreign-owned hands, how can we control, or even know where the uranium and its by-products are being sold?
After 35 years of continuous mining (which is unheard of because they quit working when the market is down), the damage would be done and the mine would be abandoned. A hand full of people – maybe even some Virginians – would have made a startling fortune. After that, many generations of our children would be charged with finding safe ways to escape something we did knowing that we couldn’t control the outcome and that it could cause them cancer, birth defects and genetic mutations – among other things.
Earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding … Virginia has a long history of catastrophic weather events, and that’s not including the climate change that promises to deliver circumstances we can’t conceive of today. There’s not a corporation nor a government on earth that can ensure a thousand years of safety. Nor can they deny that in the next thousand years, no matter how “safe” the clean-up is, one healthy explosion in the reclamation area is all it would take to contaminate the water, air and land that sustain millions of Americans. That’s a bullseye.
A while back, I read a comment that a physicist made about nuclear energy production, but I think it applies to uranium mining as well. He said, “We can send a spaceship to Alpha Centauri today but it would take a hundred years or more to arrive. In 80 years, we might send a spaceship that would pass the original en route. Are we advancing our progress by sending one today? Unlikely – we already know what the current technology can and cannot do. If we used the money on basic research instead of giving it to companies to try to make inferior technology competitive, we would be better off in the long run.”
Worker safety comes before corporate profit only when politicians and business alike understand the advantage to being “on the side of the angels“.
Once learned and understood, we’re supposed to have safe working conditions for good reason. This morning, in Dying for Work, Leo Gerard, International President, United Steelworkers, brings back to the surface something we know, or should know, in the light of new-found accountability under corporate personhood.
If corporations are people, as Mitt Romney and the Republican majority on the Supreme Court claim, then their privileges as humans come with the responsibility to act humanely. Corporate-people must fulfill their obligations to workers and communities. Profit can’t be their sole raison d’etre. That’s not how it is with flesh-and-blood people. If it were, then society would condone profit-motivated murder, like killing a parent for insurance money. Now that they’re people, corporations have an even greater duty to prevent deaths on the job. And if they don’t, they must be held accountable in criminal court the same way a money-grubbing son would be if he murdered his parents for the life insurance
The legacy of those who died on March 25, 1911 should be honored, but unless enforcement effectively deters profit-driven corporate offenders, it’s meaningless.
Crosby Stills Nash and Young
You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.
I found a safety pin in the carpet and remember being surprised and delighted when I got it open. I used it to scratch the paint off the face of my sister’s new dolly. After the tear fest that followed her outrage, torrents of Bible verses and lectures about jealousy fell on my young ears and then Daddy got home to teach me several other consequences of destructive behavior. I remember it well.
Feelings about fairness are rooted in every social problem.
A sense of fairness, whether innate or learned, is something I imagine most parents attempt to highlight in their children, and learning to respect the property of others is basic. Understanding why we wouldn’t is more subjective, requires empathy and addresses the feelings of persons negatively affected. When authoritative consequences drive home the point that punishment follows for those who disobey the law, it only works if the laws are understood, reflect society’s morals and ethics, and if the punishment is applied fairly across the board.
“Do as I say, not as I do” and “Do what I say without question” are old style authoritarianism, ineffective leadership, and not the least bit democratic. We need to get that mentality out of our government. When the American people react en mass out of feelings of unfairness, we don’t need to have the sin spanked out of us. We need representatives willing to listen first, ask and answer questions, and attend to our needs – whatever we say our needs are. Their secrecy and the favoritism they show to corporations is abhorrent. They need to keep their religion to themselves and legislate in fairness with the hearts and minds of the people as their priority. That could begin with laws that respect the peoples’ property.
When young lessons are twisted up in a mix of religious and economic self-righteousness, the result is confusion, then anger, then rage. The same goes for a nation with laws that allow corporations to abuse or destroy our property while others are subjected to jail time.
If my factory emissions cause your emphazima, loss of employment and homelessness, even death – that’s too bad. Illness, cancer, toxic waste, the destruction of our environment – it’s all the same. Erin Brockovich was popular because our hearts and minds were with her in a desperate struggle to right a wrong, but the rarity of her success is what made it a story.
Teach your children well,
Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you’ll know by.
It’s role reversal. The people are the teachers, not the government. And the parents of America’s children have their hands full trying to convey that message, I’m sure. It must be tough, for example, teaching children that their bodies are their most precious possessions, to be cared for and treated with respect by all. This, at the same time the state of Virginia among others have the audacity to force medical procedures on unwilling women for a purpose clearly not covered in the law – a future mandate for women to endure unplanned pregnancy and bear unwanted children.
Another thing I know parents struggle with today, because it’s getting difficult for everyone, is providing and modeling healthy nourishment. Having compromised the standards for the most fundamental requirements of the human body – in favor of corporate profits, government agencies have made a mockery of our basic needs. Body, heart and mind – it takes clean air and water, healthy food. John Prine suggests,
“Blow up your T.V.
throw away your paper,
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches”.
And while you’re at it, exercise the freedom to make your own spiritual choices. The religious doctrine of others is healthy food for thought and a joy to study and consider – during the process of independent, personal resolve.
I jumped off the track with John Prine, but while I’m here, I’ll say what I’m thinking: there’s nothing reasonable about making smiles illegal. “Well done, hot dog bun, my sister’s a nun.” Try explaining that one to your kids, but you might hold off on the drug war. They’ll eventually see through it like everybody this side of “Just say no”, another authoritative instruction from the old school that never worked and never will.
Back to religion – by their very nature, spiritual choices are unregulated; they come through a variety of life and family experiences. Legislation that favors your experience over mine is categorically wrong, but a good example of the confusing religious and economic self-righteousness being dished out by ‘Daddy’ these days.
Among various other discrimination, Virginia’s new adoption law allows state agencies to say, “You may adopt this child if you’re a Christian, but not if you’re a Jew”. If you live in America, have a brain cell and are raising a child, that’s another one that should be difficult to explain, especially for Christians. Subjecting the soft skin of children to the warehousing of orphanages when they deserve, have a right and an opportunity to become a family member in a safe, protective and loving home, is not exactly ‘witnessing’. If I were an orphan under those circumstances, I can’t think of anything that would drive me away from Christians more completely.
And you, of tender years,
Can’t know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.
The point is, good parents are what we need and I hold them in the highest esteem. Having the know-how, intuition, courage and stamina to make positives from negatives and prepare young minds for a go at the world ahead is more than I can grasp, but I appreciate them and the challenges they face.
One of the most important lessons in fairness and how our children will work toward it is in our Bill of Rights. The First Amendment enshrines the right to assemble peaceably, to speak freely, and to petition for governmental redress of grievances. In light of what happened at the Capital in Richmond on Saturday during the rally for women’s rights, I’ve wondered how parents are supposed to teach their children to be good citizens who practice healthy, peaceful redress efforts without being afraid or intimidated. (If you don’t know what happened, here’s March 3rd, 2012 – Of Protests and Bitch Slaps, by Jack Johnson, and excellent account of the rally and of the arrests that followed.)
The following is an example of good parenting that I think fits the bill. I saw it earlier today, and don’t know the mom who posted it, but see if you don’t agree that she has the “hearts and minds” of her children in full view of their future and our needs as a nation:
“Since Saturday I have been wondering about an appropriate role in the re-surging women’s rights movement. As I watched civil disobedience play out on Saturday I kept wondering, what can/should I do? What is my role in this?
I am a mom.
I am needed at home.
My life is busy.
You are too.
I sometimes wonder if some elected officials count on us being so busy as to not pay attention to what they do. I am not *that* busy anymore. But what, given the requirements of being a mother, should I be doing?
I am a mother.
I have two daughters.
I will teach.
Today I called the Capitol Tour Desk to inquire about having a picnic with my children on the grounds. I am told that we are allowed to bring food or purchase food at their underground café and eat anywhere on the grounds except inside in the historical part of the building.
I plan to take my girls for a field trip to discuss civil disobedience, democracy, and the women’s rights movement. I may do this more than once and I am putting the intention into the universe that other mothers will feel the strength of this lesson for the next generation. The erosion of personal freedoms is not to be tolerated. This Thursday I plan to sit on the steps in the same spot that the protesters were sitting and bring my laptop with the YouTube video of what happened in that spot.
Think of the tremendous life learning opportunity we have before us to teach the next generation. I am not looking to turn this into anything other than what it is… mothers teaching their children and remaining visible even while handling our busy lives.
I was thinking I might head over there this Thursday a little before lunchtime. Anyone care to join me???”
(That will be tomorrow, March 8, 2012)
Some News from APV, Virginia:
Today Governor McDonnell signed HB 462 (the Mandatory Ultrasound Bill) into law. We are deeply disappointed by his decision, but not deterred. There is no doubt that our voices have been heard ‘loud and clear’, not just by our representatives, but by the press and therefore the country. We have gotten our message out there. We have been remarkably successful in fighting some of the worst legislation out of the GA this year with the odds against us. We have forged alliances and gathered people who will not forget, and we will continue to build momentum to take this state back. We’re in this for the long haul. Make no mistake, we ARE winning.