“You’ve got 10 minutes,” said the President of Mission Blue. She guided me to Dr. Earle (known as “Her Deepness” at the New York Times), who smiled at me as I sat down.
“I’ll make this quick,” I said, opening my notebook. “You were the rapporteur for the 2012 People’s Summit at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, where you had a major role in promoting ocean conservation. So my question is, why isn’t ocean conservation on the agenda for COP21?”
The Doctor grinned. “I’m not the right person to ask, because I’m asking the same question. It’s baffling,” she said. “At the conference, the headline was, ‘What is the future we want?’ That’s still the question. We have the answers, but we’re a little slow at putting those answers to work.”
If you’re a fan of the ocean, and a semi-decent reporter, you do your best to wipe the stars out of your eyes when Sylvia Earle looks your way. The woman possesses an uncanny aura, as if all that time spent under the ocean has altered her chemical structure. She speaks like the ocean, soft and sure, and yet the words are as trenchant as the tides. I was fortunate enough 爱上海上海419论坛
Flanked by forced-out former green jobs czar Van Jones, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said Monday that creating new jobs in green industries presents the “greatest market opportunity of our generation.”
Comparing the call to create “green jobs” to former President John F. Kennedy’s call for landing a man on the Moon, Gillibrand said at a forum that the nation needs to act in order to inspire the next generation of scientists.
“Green jobs” are those in industries that promote environmental protection and energy independence, like energy efficiency, renewable energy and smart energy. With millions of Americans unemployed and global warming threatening the globe, the burgeoning field of green technology could be the nation’s next great job creation vehicle.
It’s the “moral, political and economic challenge of our time,” said Jones, former special adviser for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Jones said that creating new jobs in green industries would combat both global warming and the recession.
Fall may have arrived, but it hasn’t brought an end to the great drought of 2012. My home state of Nebraska has been hit hard, with nearly 98 percent of the state still experiencing extreme or exceptional drought. Friends and family have told me that cities have restricted water use, farmers have plowed their crops under, and ranchers have thinned their herds. Tens of thousands of acres have caught fire across the state, and fire departments have had to ask for emergency increases in property taxes to cover the cost of fighting the flames.
Residents of the Great Plains are no strangers to erratic weather, but this year has been hotter and drier than any in recent memory. We could chalk it up to a one-time anomaly, except climate change is loading the dice and making these arid conditions more and more likely. Scientists say climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like drought, heat waves, downpours, and intense storms.
These are troubling trends, but they offer an opportunity. If we know more intense weather is coming our way, we can plan for it.
Today, NRDC and the National Wildlife Federation are calling on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to require states to consider climate change when they draft their disaster mitigation plans. Accounting for climate ch龙凤网
While America recently elected a new and possibly anti-environmental Congress, we are still ending 2014 on a high note with two environmental victories. Both originated in the executive branch of government–one in our national government and the other in the New York state government. Over the past week: 1) EPA took a small but significant step to begin regulating coal ash, the stuff that remains after coal is burned; and 2) New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo decided to continue New York’s ban on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.
Regulating Coal Ash
According to the New York Times‘ Emmarie Huetteman:
The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday announced the first federal guidelines for disposing of coal ash, instructing power plants to implement safeguards against contaminating nearby water supplies. But the agency did not require many of the restrictions that had been urged by environmentalists and other advocates, who point to studies showing coal ash… contains a significant amount of carcinogens… The E.P.A. declined to designate coal ash a hazardous material, but said power plants would have to meet certain minimum structural standards for landfills and disposal ponds, and monitor them for leaks. If a breach is discovered, it will be the utility company’s responsibility to reinforce or close the pond. New ponds and landfills will have to be lined to provide a barrier against leaks. Controls must be used to prevent people from breathing in coal ash dust.
A great deal of coal ash is recycled for use as a building material, but a lot if it is dumped into landfills and waste ponds. We have been living with a variety of forms of pollution from coal for a very long time. America’s environmental regulators have spent nearly half a century playing catch up to this source of pollution. If this is the “war on coal”, I think coal has demonstrated a lot of staying power. Nevertheless, regulating coal ash can help ensure that people and ecosystems are protected from a potential source of toxics largely transported via water.
Banning Fracking in New York State
While natural gas burns cleaner than coal, extracting gas from the earth is far from pollution free. In order to produce gas through fracking, a liquid is pumped deep underground to release the gas. While most of that liquid remains deep underground, about a third of it comes back up to the surface. Fracking fluid is polluted and must be stored locally in ponds or transported off site.
New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo based his decision to continue New York’s ban on fracking on scientific uncertainty. New York’s Health and Environmental Commissioners told the governor that the scientific impact of fracking on ecosystems and human health was not fully understood. His decision to ban fracking was based on this incomplete knowledge of its impact.
In contrast to the federal government’s regulation of coal ash, New York’s decision makers applied the precautionary principle to the practice of fracking for natural gas. The precautionary principle requires that we test the potential impact of a new technology before we implement it. It is the way we regulate the introduction of new drugs. Before we allow a drug company to sell a new drug, we test it on animals and then on people to ensure that we fully understand the side effects of the drug, and to be more certain that it is safe for use. For other technologies, such as fracking or the use of chemicals in agriculture, we introduce the new technologies first and only regulate them once we are sure they cause harm. This might be called the reactionary principle. Instead of taking precautions to prevent harm, we only react once damage is proven. We assume that the economic benefits of new technologies are typically greater than any costs. We don’t want to slow down innovation and possible economic growth by being careful and taking precautions.
Our approach to regulation is sometimes compared to the “canary in the coalmine”. At one time, before we allowed coal miners to descend into certain coalmines, we tested for poisonous gas by lowering a canary in a cage suspended by a rope into the mine. If the canary came back dead, the miners didn’t go into the mine. In a sense, we are all the canaries in the toxic cave we have created from modern technology. If we can prove a technology makes us sick, we regulate and sometimes ban it. But unlike Governor Cuomo’s fracking policy, we almost never regulate based on uncertain but possible risk. Cuomo’s application of the precautionary principle to hydraulic fracturing for natural gas is a significant step forward in the history of American environmental policy.
Fossil Fuels are a Dirty, Outmoded Technology
Fossil fuels get us coming and going. They damage ecosystems when they are extracted from the planet and they pollute the air with toxics and greenhouse gases when they are burned for energy. They are a dirty and dangerous technology, but one that we are all totally dependent on for many aspects of modern life. We are deeply addicted to fossil fuels and pretending we can do without them is a fantasy.
But our addiction to fossil fuels does not make the use of these fuels a good thing. We need to figure out a cleaner and more sustainable way to power our way of life. We need an energy source that is less toxic and possibly even nontoxic. While we are making progress in developing these new technologies, they are still not as inexpensive and reliable as fossil fuels. For the time being, we will need to continue our life as fossil fuel junkies.
Until we develop the cheap and convenient alternatives to fossil fuels that will drive that outmoded technology from the marketplace, we need government to regulate fossil fuel extraction and use. That is why the events of this past week are so important.
Economic Growth Requires Innovation
Nearly all of the economic growth we have enjoyed over the past several centuries has been the result of the development of new technologies or new ways of organizing and managing human enterprises. Innovation is spurred by human ingenuity and human ingenuity is inspired by human need. Our need for food, water, air, clothing and shelter has led to the development of a complex, interconnected global economy. Our desire for intellectual and emotional stimulation, social interaction, and spiritual fulfillment has led to the creation of an international system of communication and information. Our economic, information and communication systems are all connected to each other and all require energy to function.
Right now most of the energy we use to power modern life comes from fossil fuels; a dirty, outmoded technology. These polluting, expensive and capital-intensive technologies are ripe for the plucki龙凤网