Tag Archives: environment

Drive slow, (Free Range) children

Drive Slow Children signIf the history of our planet could be compressed into 24 hours, we humans would account for little more than a minute. About nine minutes before that, dinosaurs roamed the globe, until a big rock fell from the sky, blew a hole in the ground somewhere south of Mexico, and evolved the dinosaurs into extinction.

In real time, about 250 million years ago, dinosaurs left footprints that became filled in with sand and other sediments, which compressed and would eventually decorate the capstone on rock walls of certain bridges where men fought and killed each other so their leaders could continue, or not, to base an economy on the unpaid labors of other men.

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Japan, Ukraine foreshadow environmental risks in PA

John's thumbnail(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 5/9/2014)

Nuclear disaster in Japan and aggression in Ukraine could be good for natural gas producers in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region. For Pennsylvania taxpayers, not so much.

Much of western and central Europe buys about a third of its natural gas from Russia. That’s a lot of countries wondering how they will cope if Russian President Vladimir Putin makes good on his threats to close the valve.

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Planet Earth – our home, if we can keep it

The Big Blue Marble is our home, if we can keep itThe just ended election dealt, in part, with Lincoln’s economic formula. At least environmentally, the question seemed focused on whether “new beginners” were to be given a chance or whether their efforts would be stymied by the efforts of financially successful technologies to protect their treasure.

Somewhere deep inside most of us – 98-percenters and 1-percenters alike – is the understanding that we can’t go on the way we have. The forests once were thought to be too expansive, too fast growing, to ever threaten the nation with wood shortage, and few people were aware of the damage clear-cut mountains could render to rivers and streams.

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Exploitation without conservation: a recipe for disaster

What recently was preserved forest has been cleared for access to natural gas.I love traveling. I enjoy meeting people in a variety of places, with different manners of talking and thinking. Though sometimes there aren’t as many differences as one might think.

A friend turned 40 a few years ago, nearly at the top of Engineer Pass, just outside and way above Ouray, CO. I was driving the Jeep that day as we climbed as high as I dared into the San Juan Mountains, part of the Colorado Rockies. One particularly impressive part of the hours-long climb up narrow, rock-strewn switchbacks was looking up at what someone later told me was, as I recall, Steeple Spire. Or something of that ilk.

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DCNR on its way to being DR

Truck-bearing roads, pipelines and drilling pad clearings slice and dice their way across Loyalsock State ForestA bill in the Pennsylvania legislature has conservationists on high alert. House Bill 2224, some fear, will open the way to sale of public lands without the normal path through the courts. All they would have to do is declare the “parks, squares or similar uses and public buildings … no longer necessary or practicable.”

Which appears to many to be what Gov. Tom Corbett, R-Marcellus, declared his award winning state park system director, John Norbeck. It seems Norbeck’s “no drilling in the state parks” crashed into the “drill everywhere” juggernaut, and the people of the Commonwealth lost.

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Report says GHG cuts could be significant with more taxpayer money and different measuring

Study says fossil-fueld vehicles will be here for foreseeable future.A National Petroleum Council report chartered by the U.S. Secretary of Energy says fossil fuel-powered engines will be the motive power for the nation’s transportation machine for the foreseeable future.

Ya think? Gasoline-powered vehicles sold this year will need gas at least 10-12 years from now to keep them tooling down the road.

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Demand for electricity straining water supplies

Rivers streams and lakes are jeopardized by our insatiable thirst for electricityThe Chicago Tribune reported last week nuclear and coal-fired power plants along the Great Lakes have been granted waivers to release hotter-than-normal water into the lakes, causing fish to die or migrate to deeper, cooler locales. Plant operators say they need the waivers because shutting down the plants will cost them profits and make them unable to supply electricity for their elderly customers.

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Nuke power plants in hot water

Three Mile Island was the site of a near melt-down in 1979Last week, the Nuclear Regulatory Agency put the brakes on renewing licenses for existing nuclear-powered electricity generating plants. The agency also announced it will not be approving any additional plants – at least in the near future.

And a nuke plant in Connecticut was shut down Sunday because the ocean water on which it depends has become too warm to use for cooling the plant’s processes.

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EVs closing in, slowly, on their niche

More of these are needed to make electric vehicles attractiveElectric Vehicles are coming – as soon as the charging stations are built and the price comes down. They have the mirror image of the problem Marcellus Shale drillers having.

Nissan Leaf  has sold about 1,400 of its all-electric LEAF so far this year, down about 70 percent from 2011 sales. The company only sold 370 of the “clean” little commuter cars in April.

High entry price, commuter-centric miles-per-charge, and few charging stations hinder rapid market expansion.

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Look what I found (and what I didn’t)

A catbird chick, without even many feathers, sits on a bicycle chain, apparently pondering whether to reach the pedalsSometimes you just know something. You can’t prove it, but you know it’s true.

Thus it was with a catbird (at least I think it’s a catbird) in our front yard. Somewhere in the shrubs is a nest. I know that because Mama bird flitters around and squawks and tries to convince me the nest is where it ain’t, so I’ll not detect where it is.

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Nero plays while …

Nero plays while the planet burnsIn the past couple weeks, the evening news has been occupied with obesity, Distracted Walking, and appropriate attire for women playing Olympic beach volleyball.

NBC anchor Brian Williams had the first two items. For more than a week, aided by a steady parade of guest experts, he told us of the consequences of being obese. The obesity stories ran nightly until, I am certain by sheer coincidence, came the announcement of a new miracle drug that just might make everyone slim and sexy.

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Appeals court says municipalities may tell frackers where to go

Commonwealth Court says municipalities may keep wells away from homes, schoolsFor years, Pennsylvania’s municipalities have held zoning power within their borders. As long as they provided a place within their borders for all legal land uses, they were allowed to tell developers of all stripe where to go.

But fracking developers did not want township leaders deciding whether the wells would be allowed near a school, or a pipeline under homes.

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Pocket change: Fracking industry invests $23M in Pa legislature, reaps $1T profit

Fracking money pours from a golden faucet into capitol dome inverted to be a funnelAccording to a release last week by MarcellusMoney.org, the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry has spent $23 million in direct contributions to favored legislator campaigns and lobbying efforts since 2000.

The big winners in the Cash for Legislation sweepstakes between 2000 and April 2012 were:

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“UnClean Coal” not listed on billboards

Coal heaped and waiting for customersKing Coal loudly proclaims its place in our society, from the employment it claims to offer to the electricity it sends to our homes. Billboards along the Interstate insist that coal – often referred to as “clean coal” – is the way to go for continued prosperity and energy independence.

But the billboards and television commercials leave out some established, and troubling, truths their supporters hope we will not notice lurking behind those huge signs.

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Wind helping blow coal away – in the U.S., anyway

Wyoming and Pennsylvania have some of the most reliable wind in the nationThe largest wind farm in the world may be coming to the Wyoming prairie. And smaller farms are in the works offshore Rhode Island and Massachusetts, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The Wyoming project would comprise up to 1,000 turbines, generating enough electricity to serve a million homes. The project, in two groups of turbines named, respectively, the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre sites, would occupy about 2,000 acres of public and private land south of Rawlins. Together, the two farms could replace two coal-fired generating plants in nearby Nevada.

The Bureau of Land Management has completed the final environmental impact statements …

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Save gas, clear the air, promote retail traffic and get a little exercise; downtown pedestrian-only should be an attractive idea

Kloggers perform in a pedestrian-only stage area in Burlington, Vt.A recent thread about sidewalk cafés in Philadelphia reminded me of a thread I’ve followed many years in the town where I live – making a portion of downtown pedestrian-only. The idea benefits everyone who shops, works and even breathes in the burg that tries it.

It’s a hard sell, though. We Americans have a long independent streak.

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Community shows a way to reduce water use

Hillside development features rooftop solar panels and natural wastewater treatment

(This column was first published on Rock The Capital, Oct. 21, 2011.)

It is said that that much of the county in which I live is only 30-45 days away from drought. The land beneath the houses and pavement is nearly solid – compacted dried clay virtually incapable of storing water.

We turn on our tap and water issues forth, which we use to drink, wash ourselves and our dishes, and flush away our waste. Most of us remain unconcerned about how long that sequence will continue.

In 1998, one group of South Central Pennsylvania residents had a different idea. They created a community designed from the start to minimize demands on natural resources, including water. It seems to be working.

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The hidden cost of food

Fields of crops becoming ready for pickingMen and women are picking tomatoes to earn 50 cents for each 32-pound bucket, $50  to hand pick more than two tons of tomatoes in a 12-hour day.

Of course,  cheaper isn’t always better. The idea leaves thousands of farm hands needing taxpayer support for food stamps and medical care because their wages will not cover the expense.

For one more penny a pound, the person who picked it can see a doubling of her wage, but it’s hard convincing grocery chains and restaurants it’s the right thing to do.

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Pennsylvania’s parallel governments: a journey to The Outer Limits

Two Pennsylvania capitals side by sideFor decades, science fiction has been telling of parallel universes. I was introduced to the idea in my youth by “The Twilight Zone,” a weekly television show that ran 1959 – 1964 and featured people in strange situations – often in places they thought they recognized, but were not where they thought they were – their home town, but with no people, for instance.

Or “imagine, if you will,” as show host Rod Serling would say, finding yourself on the street where you lived. You walk up to your home and are met by – yourself. It’s you, your wife, your child, your dog – and none of them know who you are.

Sometimes the evening news resembles reruns of those old shows. We recognize the representatives we voters sent to Harrisburg to oversee the state’s operations, but they seem not to recognize us. It’s as though we live under parallel governments.

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The Sky is Pink

White puffy clouds float through a pink sky“With the gas-bearing Marcellus Shale formation underlying 50 percent of the state (of New York), and with the gas industry proposing upwards of 100,000 gas wells (in the state), (Gov. Mario Cuomo’s decision to repeal a moratorium on fracking) could fundamentally transform New York.”

With that, producer/director Josh Fox opens an 18-minute video foray into the dangers of fracking for natural gas. Fox was nominated for an Academy Award in 2010 for “Gasland,” a documentary about the hazards of fracking, and is working on a full-length sequel, “Gasland 2.”

In his new short video, Fox says all the chemicals and gas often do not remain confined to the well casing and pipelines, and the industry knows the dangers they deny exist.

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