America the Beautiful?

Recently NRDC partnered up with Willie Nelson and put out this poignant and beautiful video about our country. I haven’t focused much on Mountain Top Removal, but it is by far one of the worst atrocities in this country that people are allowing to happen. Maybe if more people see and share this video, more people will become more aware and do something about it. Fracking is bad, oil drilling is awful, but MTR is worse. Much, much worse.

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Treat our Water Better

As a child I was only allowed to bathe every two weeks. I could only occasionally flush the toilet (I’ll leave out the specific details) and our yard the predominant color was yellow than green. We’d go weeks without electricity and had to use lanterns, candles and flashlights. All of this because of water scarcity. It wasn’t until I got back to the United States did I realize people lived where water and moisture was taken for granted.
            In Kenya, when we were out and about, we didn’t trust water for “normal” reasons such as dead things an animal feces in the water. When out camping and getting water from rivers, generally boiling was sufficient. We didn’t have to worry about chemicals in this water. It continues to amaze me that Americans, in this day and age, can’t trust the water that comes out of their own tap. Furthermore, even though sections of this country are in the worst drought in 500 years, water resources are being used to exacerbate the situation rather than help it.
            A month ago coal mining operations caused a chemical leak in West Virginia. While authorities say that the water is safe to use and drink, residents continue not to trust it. Water is continued to be imported for drinking, bathing and cooking. People in California are also in an equal state of distress. There’s seventeen communities in the state that are about to completely run out of water in 60-120 days.  People are losing their businesses, their livelihoods. Consumers will soon feel the impact of the drought when we don’t have the food that California usually produces.
            Meanwhile, as people in our nation are suffering, water is being used or planning to be used, for practices that intensify the situations. If the Keystone Pipeline were to go through, we would be processing some of the most intensive, dirtiest fossil fuel on the planet. There is also some tar sands in Utah that they are considering to mine. DeSmogBlog outlines the process:

U.S. Oil Sands’ water-and-energy-intensive extraction process involves first digging up congealed tar sands, then crushing them to reduce their size. The company then mixes the crushed sand with large amounts of hot water (at a temperature of 122-176°F) to loosen up and liquefy the tarry, oil-containing residue and separating it from the sand.

Next, coarse solids sink, are subsequently removed and considered waste tailings. Air is then bubbled through the remaining water-oil mixture, which makes the oil float to the top in what’s referred to as “bitumen froth,” in industry lingo. The froth is then deaerated, meaning all the air molecules are removed.

But that is not the end. It continues and it involves even more water. Overall oil sands production takes 170million cubic meters of water – which is the equivalent of 1.7million households use in a year. None of this is water is returnable into the natural system.
              Then we have the 2nd offense – fracking. It takes up to 8million gallons of water to mix with chemicals to inject into the earth and blow it up and extract natural gas. These chemicals then percolate into the natural water systems and into our water systems. It poisons the environment. It poisons us. People can set their tap water on fire. They have to import their water because they cannot trust the water coming out of their own faucets. Animals and humans both become sick, suffering from cancer, hair loss, sensory, respiratory, neurological damage and ultimately death.
              While there’s people in this country that are suffering due to lack of water, it makes me wonder why we are using water resources to poison people. Not only that, this water is just making situations like the drought in California the new norm. We need to step back and redistribute the water in this country. We need to be aware of how our water is used and where it is going. We need to be aware of how our actions, decisions influence our water system.

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$1 Billion on Climate Resilience? What about Prevention?

              Last week President Obama came out with a plant to spend $1 Billion on climate resilience. I am still a little unclear what this plan entails, but the whole fact that this plan is based on RESILIENCE instead of PREVENTION is a clear sign that we have gone over the cliff of trying to solve the climate issue and now we are going to continue to mess up our climate and learn to live with it. While some folks may see this move by Obama as a bold move towards the climate issue, I see it as an act of defeat. Obama is going to continue to promote fracking. Obama is going to continue to drill for oil domestically. Obama is going to approve the Keystone Pipeline. In an attempt to placate the environmentalists, he has put forth this huge amount towards climate change – but it is going to the WRONG place.

              With any addiction, you do not want to feed the addiction or give anyone who is addicted that the substance they’re addicted to is okay. We are addicted to fossil fuels. This addiction has cost us our climate, our environment, our water, and our health. I don’t have to list all the ways we are being affected – but it is costing us. Wouldn’t it make more sense to try to PREVENT these things from happening rather than these proven detrimental things to continue to happen? Couldn’t this $1billion go towards renewable energy or carbon reduction? How about MAKING money by taxing these dirty industries that are costing us rather than giving them subsidies?

              Let’s put this in another perspective. Climate change could very likely cause the next apocalypse. What’s amazing is that we are doing this to ourselves. Willingly. But that’s beside the point. Let’s replace “climate change apocalypse” with “zombie apocalypse.” Then this “$1 Billion Climate Resilience Fund” becomes the “$1 Billion Zombie Resilience Fund.” Obama is budgeting to help communities to prepare for zombies and to fund research and technology to protect against them. Sounds ridiculous right? Well so does the fact that we are knowingly causing our own demise and doing squat about it.

              We have the technology and resources out there to bring climate change to a grinding halt. It is not going to happen overnight, but it we can slow it down and do something about it. New technology is being born every day. There are children out there that are winning science fairs that have created tech that can clean oceans of plastic. We have light bulbs that last longer and use less energy. New renewable tech is out every day. Better, more fuel efficient cars are being made every day. We, as the people, need to create a demand for these products and for our world to be a better place. We cannot let these dirty industries and fuels win. If we do, we move beyond the brink.
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Can we go a week without a fossil fuel disaster?

As we come further along with renewable energy technology it becomes increasingly shocking to me that we still not only use fossil fuels but mine and develop new tech to exploit them. Last I checked, we don’t hear about wind spills or solar farms exploding. It seems like this last month we are on a roll for fossil fuel disasters. Which still makes me wonder – how can we still be debating the Keystone Pipeline? How can we still be building new infrastructure for coal/oil/natural gas? Here are the latest (at least reported) fossil fuel disasters in the last two weeks, all of which that have decimated the environment in that area.

  •   February 2, 2014: Dan River Coal Ash Spill. North Carolina. It is not certain yet how much coal ash has spilled into the Dan River and Duke Energy is being entirely uncooperative and petulant about the matter, but it is estimated that it is between 50,000 to 82,000 tons and up to 87 million gallons of waste water were released due to a broken pipe. Coal ash may sound harmless, but it is a waste material from the coal industry that contains arsenic, mercury, lead, and several other heavy metals, many of which are toxic. Now this has entered a fragile water system that not only waters thousands of people, but also (nor formerly) beautiful environment. Coal ash is one of the largest industrial wastes in the country. Funny how renewables don’t have industrial waste
  • February 5, 2014: Train Oil Spill. Minnesota. There is NO SAFE way to transport oil because oil is NOT SAFE. That’s what it comes down to. There’s been several train derailments in the last year. In this case, the train didn’t even derail. It was just traveling along with a leak resulting in 12,000 gallons of crude to dribble all over the tracks for 68 miles. But since it’s over dry land or who knows why really, I’m just making that part up – for some reason, no one is concerned about it and no one is bothering to clean it up. Who cares, right? But you bet someone is getting fired over it.
  • February 11, 2014: Natural Gas Explosion. Pennsylvania. This is still relatively fresh and not much is known, but a Chevron Natural Gas well blew up and burned for several hours. One person was injured and another person is missing. The fire burned into the afternoon and as far as we know, it is still burning. The cause of the blast is still unknown, but you know, natural gas is flammable. Wind and solar is not.
  •  February 11, 2014: Coal Chemical Spill. West Virginia. 100,000+ gallons of coal slurry (coal waste) from a coal plant somehow managed to seep into the Kanawha River and sickened six miles of Fields Creek. “This has had significant, adverse environmental impact to Fields Creek and an unknown amount of impact to the Kanawha River,” said Secretary Randy Huffman of the state Department of Environmental Protection. This is just a month after the “chemical spill” on January 9th that got a lot of press. But the press called it a “chemical spill” – and failed to mention that the “chemical” is a byproduct of the COAL industry. It is used to CLEAN the coal that is supposedly already clean that we are still mining for. This is probably the dirtiest of the fossil fuels and one of the ones that we are supposed to be phasing out.

That’s FOUR disasters in TWO WEEKS. And two of those are in the same day. Also, those are the ones that are reported. As we learned, there were nearly 300 pipeline spills in North Dakota alone that were unreported to the public in two years. What about the rest of the states? What about the rest of fossil fuels? Who knows how many more there were. We may never know. Again – it just baffles me there are still people toting how wonderful dirty fuel is. Or that people think that we still don’t have a choice. We do have a choice. It is just a matter of what we chose to invest in. The technology is out there.

Finally I would like to close with a recent report on the price of fossil fuel devastating our communities. About a year ago a pipeline broke near Mayflower, Alabama – a quiet little community. It has been deemed clean, safe, and a happy place to live again – by the oil companies. But of course, so has the Gulf, and that is far from the truth.  Many have moved away. Those that stay are plagued by headaches, nausea and dizziness from oil fumes that still seep from the ground. However running away is not so easy and ExxonMobil is not taking responsibility for its actions. The houses that are being put up for sale aren’t selling. This area of Mayflower is becoming a ghost town.

So tell me. Is this the price that we are going to have to pay for our fossil fuel addiction? Is Mayflower our future? Will we continue to suck the Earth dry rather than work with it until we kick ourselves off our own land? The more I read the news lately the more pessimistic I get about our future. We don’t seem to learn from our mistakes at all. We keep thinking we can just patch things over. There will come a time that the bandages will give way. We need to seriously rethink our actions and decisions.
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Year of Climate Progress

Dear Obama,

One cannot say they are fighting climate change when they are producing more oil and natural gas in their own nation than ever before. One cannot say they are moving forward on climate when they are opening our national parks for oil exploitation, drilling for gas in people’s backyards, and when we are still behind on renewable energy. Look at other developed countries – heck, look at undeveloped countries, Kenya just announced they will be 50% solar by 2016 – they are miles ahead of us. And we’re supposed to be the #1 country in the world? Not even close.

I had several issues with the climate portion of your speech. I do appreciate that you did state that climate change is a fact (doubtless to piss off several conservatives) – however it is also a fact that you are doing little to combat it. In fact, with you drilling away for oil more than ever before you are exacerbating the situation. Speaking of oil, there was no mention of the Keystone Pipeline. But given your dedication to the oil industry, I imagine you plan is to approve it. Especially since part of it is already flowing. Never mind all of the various pipeline leaks and oil spills (if there’s 300 in North Dakota unreported, how many are there in other parts of the country?) that hint that this is not a safe nor clean fuel option.

However the most disappointing part of your speech was the blatant promotion of hydraulic fracturing. Water is already an invaluable resource on this planet that is taken for granted. There are currently people in California whose livelihoods are being threatened due to lack of water. But we are using water, mixing it with hundreds of dangerous chemicals, and poisoning it to further abuse our environment and waterways. It takes 1-8 million gallons of water to complete each fracking job. Couldn’t this water be used for better means? Couldn’t it be used to grow our food in California? Water people in undeveloped countries?

Sure, you have made some advances in the climate fight. You have imposed some limits on carbon emissions, which has helped (however there are other countries that have done better in that department, we are not #1 as you stated in your speech). Also it is true that solar power was the 2nd largest source of new power in 2013 – but it is sandwiched between natural gas (dwarfed by natural gas is more like it) and coal. Coal? Can I ask why we are still opening coal power plants at all? This is such an archaic form of energy that is dangerous and dirty. Didn’t you say too at some point that you were shutting down coal, not investing in it?

I have voted for you twice. The first time I voted for you because I thought you were the symbol of hope and that you were going to change things. I campaigned hard for you. The second time I voted for you because ‘you were better than that other guy’ (way better), but I was much less enthused with my vote. There is nothing holding you back now to make a real difference. I really wish I could go back to the man I saw at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and bring him out. I don’t think that man would have approved of hydraulic fracturing. I don’t think that man would be waffling on the Keystone Pipeline. That man had a vision.