Friday, November 26, 2010

People Power 2010

As I write this post, the year 2010 is now known to be the hottest on record globally. Climate scientist James Hansen predicts that, once we get beyond the cooling effects of La Nina this winter, 2011 will be even hotter. Time is running out for the U.S. to show leadership in slowing the rate of climate change from greenhouse gas emissions.

Legislative action to slow the rate of climate change through reduced greenhouse gas emissions was a disappointment in 2010. But that doesn't mean progress wasn't made. It is reassuring to find successful grassroots actions to combat climate change, taking on Big Oil and Dirty Coal in the process.

One broadly successful movement was the push against Dirty Coal's mountaintop removal mining (MTR). Although easier than drilling (for coal companies), MTR employs fewer miners, destroys pristine and irreplaceable habitats, and creates a mining waste disaster that is truly catastrophic. Only an executive order by the Bush administration makes disposal of MTR mining waste (think 'top of a mountain') feasible. But that's changing with the current administration.

Appalachia Rising, a protest against MTR supported by many groups (including 1Sky), drew thousands of citizen activists to Washington D.C. in September. Over 100 activists were arrested in the peaceful demonstration.

“The science is clear, mountaintop removal destroys historic mountain ranges, poisons water supplies and pollutes the air with coal and rock dust,” said renowned climate scientist James Hansen, who was arrested in today’s protest at the White House. “Mountaintop removal, providing only a small fraction of our energy, can and should be abolished. The time for half measures and caving in to polluting industries must end.”

Appalachia Rising is being led by residents of West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee – Appalachian states directly impacted by mountaintop removal.

...“I have talked, begged, debated, written letters to officials, published op-ed pieces in newspapers and lobbied on the state and federal level to end mountaintop removal,” said Mickey McCoy, former mayor and lifelong resident of Inez, Kentucky, who was also arrested today. “Being arrested? That’s such a small price to pay for being heard. My home and people are paying the real price for mountaintop removal. They are dying.”
The week after Appalachia Rising, Mountain Justice Fall Summit was held on Kayford Mountain in West Virginia: a weekend of 'education, training, and momentum building to end mountaintop removal.' There was also a chance to make a statement about the farce of MTR 'reclamation,' with tree plant on a Patriot Coal Company site.

This is just the latest salvo in a year of grassroots success against Dirty Coal. First ever regulation of coal ash, the toxic residue from coal-burning power plants, was proposed by the EPA, in part as a result of the devastating coal ash spill in Kingston, TN in December 2008. Hearings were held in August and September at seven locations around the country affected by coal ash. Many groups called out their grassroots to respond, and the turnout was overwhelming, including in Colorado and North Carolina.

Partly as a result of grassroots actions, the EPA announced withdrawal of it's Clean Water Permit for the Spruce Fork No. 1 MTR mine in West Virginia. Financiers are feeling the pressure, too, refusing to lend to MTR mining operations. PNC Bank in London became the 7th large bank to no longer lend to companies extracting coal with MTR!
PNC Bank, the top funder of mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining, has announced that it will end its support for the ecologically devastating practice.
...Before this decision, PNC provided financing for six of the biggest MTR coal mining companies — Massey, Arch Coal, Patriot Coal, Alpha, International Coal Group, and CONSOL — who were responsible for nearly half of all mountaintop removal mining in 2009.
Speaking of coal, nearly one hundred new coal-fired power plants were denied application after protests by local communities across the country.
The Navajo Nation, led by a Dine’ (Navajo) and Hopi grassroots youth movement, forced the cancellation of a Life of Mine permit on Black Mesa, Ariz., for the world’s largest coal company -- Peabody Energy.

...Nearly two thirds of the 151 new coal power plant proposals from the Bush Energy Plan have been cancelled, abandoned, or stalled since 2007 -- largely due to community-led opposition. ...Community-based networks such as the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Energy Justice Network, and the Western Mining Action Network have played a major role in supporting these efforts to keep the world’s most climate polluting industry at bay.
You can find more information about proposed coal plants halted in their tracks here and here.

Finally, I want to give a big shout-out to Northern Rockies Rising Tide, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and many other grassroots groups for putting the brakes on over-sized shipments of equipment on rural roads through pristine environments in Idaho and Montana, on their way to the tar sands in Alberta and oil refineries in Billings, MT. Some background on the Alberta tar sands:
Thanks to Alberta’s Athabasca oil sands, Canada is now the biggest oil supplier to the United States. A controversial billion-dollar industry is heavily invested in extracting crude from the tarry sands through a process so toxic it has become an international cause for concern. Four barrels of glacier-fed spring water are used to process each barrel of oil, then are dumped, laden with carcinogens, into leaky tailings ponds so huge they can be seen from space. Downstream, the people of Fort Chipewyan are already paying the price for what will be one of the largest industrial projects in history.

You can read more about the devastating, far-reaching effects of the Alberta tar sands here.

It started as a protest of a new 'high and wide' route through Idaho and Montana. Asian companies (South Korea and China) are hoping to shortcut the current high-wide corridor through the center of the country by offloading barges of large equipment at Lewiston, Idaho and transporting them through Idaho and Montana. Loads are in the process of being permitted by state agencies in Idaho and Montana, but once the process met the light of day, the brakes were put on the permits, at least for now! (Hearings on the movement of over-sized loads and their impacts on residents of Idaho will be held later this month in Boise.) The movement is building. Northern Rockies Rising Tide hosted a summit with other grassroots groups two weeks ago in Montana.
The summit, hosted by NRRT and the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) ... brought together nearly 100 activists from around the US and Canada who are concerned about tar sands development.
Workshops about tar sands issues and trainings in a diversity of tactics for resisting the industry’s growth helped connect the dots between anti-tar sands struggles in places from Oklahoma, to Montana, to northern British Columbia and elsewhere. ...While the eyes of the world are on the oil wars in southwest Asia, a corporate-state free-for-all is spanning North America, with Ft. McMurray, AB at “Ground Zero”.
Grassroots groups can be powerful. By linking together, diverse groups with common interests can learn from one another and work together to fight battles and WIN!

Earlier this year, the 1Sky Board posted an open letter to the grassroots about moving forward on climate change in the absence of action from the Senate. The movement needs to grow even more from the bottom up. The grassroots responded, in an open letter to 1Sky (posted on grist.) It's a great perspective on the past year, with a powerful list co-authors. In addition to highlighting successes from 2010, they note that

In D.C., corporate power rules because they can concentrate energy, resources, and relationships there -- in ways we cannot. However, when confronting these same corporations in our tribes, cities, and towns, we reveal that they are not nimble or powerful enough to defeat our communities.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Local Action on Climate Change

The Washington Post had an opinion piece this past weekend that got me motivated. This article is about how we can work to reduce CO2 emissions regardless of our acceptance of climate change science: "How to stop global warming - even if you don't believe in it".

The article addresses how politicians in Washington can get over the hump and pass legislation that is good for the environment, but without having to say it is.
So what's a conservative politician [the primary foot-draggers on climate change legislation] who secretly cares about climate change to do? How can Republicans, in Congress or in legislatures around the country, make the case to their colleagues - and how can they bring conservative voters along?

They must start by focusing on climate-friendly policies and stop assuming that we must first achieve unanimity on global warming science. People can support the transition to a carbon-free energy future without believing, or even knowing, that it might influence glaciers, coral reefs or Arctic ice.

There is a long list of carbon-reduction measures that strong majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents firmly support, including mandating better fuel efficiency, increasing federal funding for clean-energy research, spending more for mass transit, raising efficiency standards for homes and other buildings, and requiring utilities to produce more energy from renewable sources. They even support limits on emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases - just as long as they are seen as anti-pollution measures, not "caps."
This, of course, can be applied to state-houses as well as Washington. And local governments. And community actions among neighbors. This is what that looks like in Montana:

The local CBS affiliate, KPAX, is broadcasting a series of energy-reduction, green-living, and carbon-reducing activities this week that anybody can take. You can watch Sunday's segment here.

While the recent tough economic times mean that you may not be able to afford to buy a Prius or build a sustainable home, there are some simple ways you can help the environment without spending a dime.

...While unplugging a few items around the house might not have a significant impact on your monthly energy bill, the environment will thank you.

"[There are] ways to measure our consumption and to become aware are going to be the biggest savings out there," Big Sky Solar and Wind Vice President Mike Sudik advised.

...Plasma TVs use almost 20 watts per hour when they are off, but plugged in. If you leave that plasma TV on when you're not watching it, each hour it uses 324 watts. So, if you left your TV on for a month that would cost around $40.

"The more you test that stuff the more you become aware and learn how everything is," Sudik advised. Walter Bernauer and Sudik run a solar company and most of their days are spent figuring out how to save energy. They tell their costumers that they don't have to get rid of their Plasma TVs and computers to save energy, as long as they are remembering to turn them off.

...So, even if you're only saving on a small scale, you're still helping the environment by using less electricity every day.

The program emphasizes caring for our natural environment and saving money (rather than spending money we don't have for more energy-efficient items.)

They also mentioned another local ''green' event in Missoula on November 6. Northwestern Energy, the electricity and natural gas company in the Upper Midwest and Northwest U.S., held Home Energy Expos around Montana this fall to help their customers lower their energy demand. The Missoula event was the largest, with natural gas customers waiting over an hour for free weatherization kits, access to information on reducing energy costs and qualifying for federal and state tax incentives, and participating in drawings for free home energy 'make-overs' worth thousands of dollars.

These kinds of local efforts are encouraging after a disappointing legislative session in Washington this past year. Montanans care about saving money, saving energy, and saving the environment. Power to the People!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Mixed Messages

(Cross-posted at 1Sky)
Election day 2010 is over, but the fight to address climate change is not--so say many of the bloggers posting since the election Tuesday. We survived the U.S. Senate's inability to pass climate change legislation before the election recess. We survived attacks against the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases (so far). And we can and will survive the loss of the Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. Yesterday's press release (here) noted:
Corporations and their allies in Congress may play politics with our climate, but our climate isn’t playing politics.
The National Audubon Society had a similarly pithy statement in their press release:
Americans may have voted for change in Congress, but no one voted to increase pollution.
One of the bright spots in Tuesday's election was the defeat of Prop 23 in California. By a large margin, voters successfully preserved California's landmark legislation which regulates greenhouse gases and promotes clean energy. It was, as Van Jones said, a broad and diverse coalition that was able to overcome massive money from out-of-state Big Oil interests. His inspiring post from the weekend before the election is a must read.:
What the polls do not show and what few news outlets are covering, is the striking diversity of voices that are demanding clean energy, and rejecting the false notion that protecting the planet and our public health will hurt the economy.

...These groups represent just the tip of iceberg in a movement that includes environmentalists, politicians from both parties, students, public health organizations, big and small businesses, labor groups, consumer groups, senior citizens, and public safety organizations.

...But what we see happening in California gives the green movement a reason for continued optimism. This time we are on the defensive, protecting our climate laws already on the books. The fight has unmasked the opponents of clean energy, as well as vetted their arguments — the same tired talking points they have been using for the last four decades.
The bad news is that the majority in U.S. House of Representatives has been lost by the Democratic party, with many seats lost to Republican climate change denialists. For a round-up of how bad a change in House leadership will be, look here. highlights the worst of the new members here. Climate Science Watch echoes concerns about the changing make-up of House majority leadership next year:
Overall, the influx of denialists is a major loss for the country, as the new House leadership and committee chairmen gear up to make a mockery of the preeminent problem facing our society, and the Senate drifts ever further from taking long-overdue action on climate and energy reform.
A post from the Director of the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) Action Fund, however, found a silver lining in highlighting Senate races won by climate champions. Likewise, a late-breaking re-election win for Senator Michael Bennett in Colorado may actually be attributable to the Republican opponent's denial of global warming science. Grist has more on the influence of support of climate legislation on incumbent re-election. Contrary to a popular media theme, votes for climate legislation were not connected with tipping an election against the inncumbents:
In fact, Democrats who voted against clean energy were more than three times as likely to lose their seats than those who voted for it.
Joe Romm at Climate Progress demonstrated in detail that the 'climate vote' did not lead to defeat of House members.
It’s worth noting that even in the midst of a Republican tsunami, 80% of the Democrats who supported a carbon cap kept their seats. Perhaps more noteworthy is how many Democrats who opposed a carbon lost their seats.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and NRDC remind us that, even though climate denialists were elected or re-elected, Congressional elections really weren't about climate change at all. And UCS notes that scientists are actually widely respected and listened to by a majority of Americans. So when the inevitable hearings are held next year in a denialist-led congressional committees, activists are right to call on them to speak truth to power in the strongest possible language.

Finally, 1Sky's Liz Butler posted on Huffington Post on Wednesday. Her 'action' item is critical right now, and I'll repost it:
The battle for what will become the "conventional wisdom" in the press about yesterday's election is on-- and we can't allow Big Oil and Dirty Coal to spin this election as a legitimate victory for them. That's why we're asking all our supporters to write their local newspapers and tell them how big polluters bought this election -- and that it can't happen again.
Hear, hear!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The bees and the birds.

"Let me tell ya 'bout the..."
bees and the birds?

Bees have been in the news of late, and I am not referring to either Colony Collapse Disorder or the threat to agricultural production as pollinators decline.

The news I'm referring to relates to climate change, and how bees and the plants they pollinate may get out of synch as climate change affects dates when they emerge each spring. Biologists have theorized that food webs might be disrupted by climate change, but it is very difficult to detect. (I will be writing soon about recent findings regarding migratory birds and their food sources.) In the special case of bees and the plants they pollinate, there are a lot of interacting variables besides climate change affecting pollination:

There is growing recognition that plant–pollinator interactions can be drastically influenced by anthropogenic changes to ecosystems. Climate change, habitat fragmentation, agricultural intensification, urbanization, pollution, pesticides
and species’ invasions all have the potential to affect plant–pollinator interactions directly and indirectly.

Evidence for the consequences of climate change is difficult to tease out in complex ecological systems, but it is through long-term studies in pristine environments like Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory that we may be starting to see effects. A recent study conducted there, high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, got quite a bit of attention in the U.S., Canada, and the UK last week.

James Thompson, in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Toronto, has been studying glacier lilies and bumble bees at RMBL for 17 years. This pristine study site is free of the many confounding factors that affect pollination, allowing him to examine changes in bee activity and pollination success for glacier lilies over two decades.

Over that time, he found that both bee numbers and pollination of wild lily flowers have been declining. The change appears to be due, at least in part, to earlier flowering, before bumble bees have emerged from hibernation. And earlier flowering may be due to climate change:

The onset of blooming is determined by snowmelt, with the earliest years starting a month before the latest years owing to variation in winter snowpack accumulation. Fruit set is diminished or prevented entirely by killing frosts in some years.... When frosts do not limit fruit set, pollination limitation is frequent, especially in the earlier cohorts. .... This lily appears to be poorly synchronized with its pollinators. Across the years of the study, pollination limitation appears to be increasing, perhaps because the synchronization is getting worse.

Thompson is cautious in his summary of the study:
[He] admitted the evidence from the study was still weak but said the results were a warning that the phenomenon ‘might be widespread and needs more attention’.

‘It certainly suggests that people who have warned about the possible climate-change consequence of dislocated timing between interacting species have made a reasonable argument,’ he added.

While this is an alarming story, don't worry about glacier lilies. They are common and widely distributed in montane habitats in the western U.S. The bees (and the birds; that story's next) may not be in perfect synch with their flowers (or their insect food, in the case of birds) anymore, but it's not too late to prevent things from getting to the point of losing our favorite species. We still have time before the natural community diversity that exists in the Rocky Mountains is lost.

But we need to start reducing GHG emissions now. Personally, in our communities, and through our local, state, and national governments, we need to push to reduce our carbon footprints. Now is the time.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Our Dying Forests

(I posted this in a slightly different form at Daily Kos yesterday.)

Subhankar Banerjee has a post up on Huffington Post in support of Barbara Boxer's re-election campaign in California.
Banerjee's post is a good one, but the best part was sending us to his new website.

After the U.S. Senate killed the climate bill in late July, many of us were disappointed (but not surprised). We pointed our fingers to what went wrong and why our climate movement failed, but then we got to work to figure out how to move forward. Just a few days ago I founded that you can check out.

What a gifted writer! And what a story he has brought together about our dying forests, both here in North America and around the world.

The first post on this site is an essay by Banerjee, entitled 'Could This Be A Crime? U.S. Climate Bill Is Dead While So Much Life On Our Earth Continues To Perish'.

He begins by describing pinyon pine mortality around Sante Fe, New Mexico, over the last decade.
...In many areas of northern New Mexico, including Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Española, and Taos, 90 percent of mature piñons are now dead.

Under normal climate conditions, bark beetles live in harmony with their environment, laying their eggs in dead or weakened trees. However, when healthy trees become stressed from severe and sustained drought, they become objects of attack: the beetles drill into their bark, laying eggs along the way, and killing their host. Milder winter temperatures have ensured more of them survive the winter, and warmer summer temperatures have reduced the life cycle duration of the beetles from two to one year, and subsequently their numbers have exploded in recent years.

...During my childhood in India, I was fascinated by the detective stories of Satyajit Ray’s Feluda series. Because of the forest devastation I witnessed daily, I took on the role of a self–assigned visual detective of a geographic region bound by a 5–mile radius around our home. I walked again and again the same three paths, each no more than 2 miles long.

Banerjee provides a link to a photo journal of the 'scene of the crime' from these regular walks, and also describes pinyon decline in prose. He's particularly eloquent in describing Native American use of pinyon pine nuts, and in reviewing the plight of pinyon forests in the last century. In addition to the threat from climate change, pinyon-juniper forests were threatened by development in the late 1800's and 1900's. P-j forests were cleared for ranching, an act which he calls 'ecocultural vandalism.'

Banerjee writes with similar eloquence about his travels to forests in the western U.S., in the Yukon, and the Siberian taiga. He adds notes about forest declines in India and Spain that he's heard about from colleagues and friends. The thread that binds these far-flung places is that decline of forests around the globe can be attributed to the same factors that led to decline of the pinyon-juniper forests in the southwest U.S.: drought and increasing temperatures as effects of climate change intensify.

He points out that our 3 largest global carbon 'sinks', the forests which sequester carbon in their growth [Siberian taiga, North American boreal forest, and Amazon rain forests], are declining in their ability to function.

He concludes with this thought:
Global warming is a crisis: for all lands, for all oceans, for all rivers, for all forests, for all humans, for all birds, for all mammals, for all little creatures that we don’t see... for all life. We need stories and actions from every part of our earth. So far, global warming communications have primarily focused on scientific information. I strongly believe that to engage the public, we need all fields of the humanities. It is to this end that I founded ClimateStoryTellers.
Climate Story Teller indeed. Please give him a read.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

News note!

I saw a western skink (Eumeces skiltonianus) out front today! There are only 40 documented sightings of this species in western Montana; none in the last five years. Here, it is a 'Species of Concern'.
Species of Concern are native taxa that are at-risk due to declining population trends, threats to their habitats, restricted distribution, and/or other factors. Designation as a Montana Species of Concern or Potential Species of Concern is based on the Montana Status Rank, and is not a statutory or regulatory classification. Rather, these designations provide information that helps resource managers make proactive decisions regarding species conservation and data collection priorities.
We're located in the Rocky Mountain lower montane, foothill, and valley grassland ecological system. The specific location was the gravel bed in front of the house (south-facing), between the house and the herb garden/ perennial flower and shrub bed.

What it tells me is that we have fantastic wildlife habitat on our little piece of Montana!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I DID race today! Temperature: 49 degrees F. Winds: calm. Raining lightly. Almost bailed (see my previous post about NOT running in late May), but my friend Karen talked me into coming out at least to see what the weather would be like.

What a fabulous race.

What a fabulous place (Greenough Park).

Race results.
Climate Progress celebrates its 4th anniversary. Joe Romm says:

What I have learned most from the success of my blog, from the rapid growth in subscribers and visitors and comments, along with the increasing number of websites that link to or reprint my posts, is that there is in fact a great hunger out there for the bluntest possible talk. It is a hunger to learn the truth about the dire nature of our energy and climate situation, about the grave threat to our children and future generations, about the vast but still achievable scale of the solutions, about the forces in politics and media that impede action—a hunger to face unpleasant facts head on.

This blog is among the most important ones out there for providing links to the latest in climate science, and for taking the climate change denialists head-on in their disinformation efforts. It's one of the first blogs I read each day. I'll start passing more of his posts along to you. He doesn't deal with ecology or natural history per se (he's a physicist), but sometimes his commenters have nuggets of information. For example, in the comments of this post, 'Colorado Bob' said:

To the end of seeding tips that others miss, I suggest you add a category of “species response”. Into that, place reports of just what plants and animals are doing to respond , things like this :

Coffee threatened by beetles in a warming world

A tiny insect that thrives in warmer temperatures — the coffee berry borer — has been spreading steadily, devastating coffee plants in Africa, Latin America, and around the world environment/ 2010/ aug/ 27/ coffee-threatened-beetles-warming

It has been my experience that the deniers , can’t spin Humbolt Squid showing up in Sitka, Alaska, or pine beetles eating the Canadian lumber supply.

and this further down the thread:

An 11 year set of maps of the beetle kill march across in British Columbia from the Provincial Forest Service -

The Aqua satellite pass over British Columbia 8-16-2010 gallery/ ?2010228-0816/ BritishColumbia.A2010228.2120.1km.jpg

It's a great web site. Important.
Hello, readers! I have been busy lately, but that is no excuse for not posting here.

I had a blog at 1Sky a few weeks ago.

The 2 take-home points from the post were:

1. The science is settled: climate change is occurring, it is due to human-caused burning of fossil fuels, and we no longer need to engage with the global-warming denialists. They (the denialists) are a relatively small proportion of the population, they will not be convinced, and their support is not necessary for us (Americans, global citizens) to take action against climate change. It is past time to move on.

2. The biggest roadblock (other than our senators and the money from Big Oil and Dirty Coal!) to finding support for action against climate change is economic concerns. The "policy" or "action" message must address "equity." When speaking out for action, we need to speak to the economic concerns of that massive "middle," who care about doing something about climate change but are afraid of the cost to themselves and their families.
Follow the links in the diary to other blogs I've posted, both here and at DailyKos, to see the evidence to support my arguments. One additional diary (and the links therein) that is part of my evidence is here. (It was edited out of the post for 1Sky.)

Okay, now you are up-to-date on my blogging activities. Don't forget that in addition to blogging, I do blogging research for 1Sky, and that has kept me busy.

(And lest we forget, I live in beautiful western Montana where summer activities, like having relatives visit, camping, hiking, and backpacking are an essential part of my life!)

Happy reading!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

'Special Places at Risk'

Yesterday, a guest blog at 1Sky posted a heart-wrenching story about oil from the BP spill coming ashore at Florida's Gulf Island National Seashore, one of 15 special places identified as at-risk in a report by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the Natural Resources Defense Council. This report, in .pdf form that can by accessed at this link, was written in late May to summarize a just few of the many, many National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, and Seashores at potential risk from the BP oil spill that has now been flowing for over 2 months.

We've seen so many pictures and read so many news reports about the devastation along the Gulf Coast, it's hard to fathom the scope of the treasure that is our Gulf Coast natural habitat at risk. If you are from another part of the country (or the globe), this document is a good place to go to become familiar with the vast area and array of natural treasures preserved along the Coast. Breton Island NWR off Louisiana's coast, among the first areas to be oiled, is
the country's second oldest national wildlife refuge, was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1904 has been designated by Congress as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. The refuge also is a Globally Important Bird Area.
Terns, brown pelicans, and black skimmers nest here. It is one of only four Gulf of Mexico wintering grounds for redheads, with numbers as high as 20,000. It is a critically important wintering ground for piping plovers, an endangered species.

The Gulf of Mexico is a globally unique ecosystem, including habitats essential to the annual cycles of hundreds of species of breeding, wintering and migrating birds – sea birds, waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds, raptors, songbirds, and more.
Delta NWR and Pass a Loutre WMA, 50 miles from the drill rig explosion, have also been impacted. These Mississippi Delta habitats are critically important waterfowl wintering areas and migratory stopovers:

What is at stake is enormously important, in the Gulf and beyond – an extraordinarily rich environment that supports a huge quantity and diversity of wading, sea and shore birds, migratory waterfowl and songbirds, crabs, shrimp, and both fresh and saltwater fish.
Grand Bay NWR, in coastal Mississippi and Alabama, protects one of the remaining expanses of wet pine savanna habitat and coastal wetland. Associated areas include the Grand Bay Estuarine Research Reserve and together they make up The Nature Conservancy's Grand Bay Savanna project area, a bioreserve TNC accords 'one of its Last Great Places in America'.

Healthy estuarine salt marshes are among the most biologically diverse habitats in North America. In Grand Bay, this habitat supports many important
species of fish and wildlife. Commercially and recreationally important species of finfish and shellfish such as brown shrimp, speckled trout, and oysters abound here. Sea turtles, bottlenose dolphins and, on occasion, manatees can be found in the
deeper waters of the reserve.

Oil was detected on Alabama's Bon Secour NWR May 12.

The refuge is one of the largest undeveloped parcels of land on the Alabama coast and serves as an example of the Gulf Coast as it once existed. It has been named as one of the 10 natural wonders of Alabama.
Because of its strategic location along the flyway of millions of spring and fall migrants and the habitat it provides, more than 370 species of birds have
been identified on the refuge during migratory seasons, making Bon Secour one of the most important refuges in the national refuge system....[parts of the Refuge]are designated as critical habitat for the piping plover.

Loggerhead and Kemp's ridley sea turtles, both endangered species, nest on Bon Secour NWR beaches. With 4.5 to 5 nests per mile, the refuge has nest densities as high as or higher than many areas along the northern Gulf Coast....Sea turtles move throughout the Gulf and are vulnerable to oil spills at every stage of their lives: in their eggs, as hatchlings heading to the water, and foraging and migrating.
Hundreds of National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, and State Wildlife Management Areas have been identified as at risk from the disastrous BP oil spill, including 31 National Wildlife Refuges alone. But, as the authors stated in their introduction:

This report is not intended to raise useless alarm but to galvanize action. Short-term action is urgently needed.... Every bit as important is long-term action. The BP oil catastrophe is today's overwhelming demonstration of the dangers of America's over-dependence on and over-use of fossil fuels. Besides oil spills, those dangers include emissions of heat-trapping gases that are disrupting our climate..... The disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico is a powerful reason, one among many, for us to shift to safer, cleaner, cheaper, and more secure energy resources.

Gulf Islands National Seashore with their beautiful beaches and dunes; St. Marks NWR, where a wintering population of critically endangered whooping cranes is being established; and there are so many others. Please take a look and gain a deeper appreciation of what we all have to lose if the Gulf Coast is damaged. It is time for us all to push hared for passage of energy and climate legislation in the U.S. Senate in the coming weeks.

Fifteen Special Places at Risk:
1. Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas
2. Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Alabama
3. Breton National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana
4. Delta National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana
5. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
6. Everglades National Park, Florida
7. Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, Florida
8. Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Mississippi and Alabama
9. Gulf Islands National Seashore, Mississippi and Florida
10. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Florida
11. Key West National Wildlife Refuge, Florida
12. Padre Island National Seashore, Texas
13. Pass a Loutre Wildlife Management Area, Louisiana
14. Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana
15. St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

Thursday, June 17, 2010

President Obama Issues a Call for Action

Tuesday night, President Obama gave a prime-time speech to our nation from the Oval Office, an 18-minute outline of the status of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, ‘the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced,‘ and a look forward.

The President summarized the facts of the oil spill and actions taken by BP and the administration to date to contain the damage. The ‘battle plan’ he laid out included commitments by the government and by BP to clean up the spill. But the critical parts of his speech, in my opinion, were the challenges to restore the Gulf region and to move beyond oil.

The restoration of the Gulf coast Mr. Obama talked about last night is not just the clean-up plan for the area, but also a habitat restoration plan on a large scale. This would address not only effects of the oil spill, but also the effects of decades of wetland and barrier island degradation that have resulted in loss of function of these areas as ecological buffers. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar alluded to this plan recently when he talked about restoring the area to ‘better than it was before’, and Admiral Thad Allen affirmed this in comments to the press. A restoration effort on this scale has been badly needed for a long time, as we saw during the hurricane season several years ago.

I make that commitment tonight. Earlier, I asked Ray Mabus, the Secretary of the Navy, who is also a former governor of Mississippi and a son of the Gulf Coast, to develop a long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan as soon as possible. The plan will be designed by states, local communities, tribes, fishermen, businesses, conservationists and other Gulf residents.

That Obama is going to take this disaster and make it into an opportunity to restore ecosystem function in the Gulf is a huge step forward, and one we should get behind him to support in Congress.

The President also pointed out that the reason BP was drilling a deep ocean well is that all the ‘easy’ oil is gone, leaving us to attempt to extract it from places we shouldn’t have to.

So one of the lessons we’ve learned from this spill is that we need better regulations, better safety standards, and better enforcement when it comes to offshore drilling. But a larger lesson is that no matter how much we improve our regulation of the industry, drilling for oil these days entails greater risk. After all, oil is a finite resource. We consume more than 20 percent of the world’s oil, but have less than 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves. And that’s part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean -- because we’re running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water.

Obama called out for a shift from oil to alternative energy for our nation. That’s right; he referred to the end of our dependence on fossil fuels!

We cannot consign our children to this future. The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now. …Each of us has a part to play in a new future that will benefit all of us. As we recover from this recession, the transition to clean energy has the potential to grow our economy and create millions of jobs -– but only if we accelerate that transition. Only if we seize the moment. And only if we rally together and act as one nation –- workers and entrepreneurs; scientists and citizens; the public and private sectors.

Responses to the speech were mixed, but the most aggravating were the ones that wanted him to do more, or say more, or provide more detail. I do not know what they were expecting. Did they think Obama was going to issue an executive order moving us along a sustainable energy path? Were they expecting him to embrace whatever pet policy position they hold? What nonsense. They didn’t want to hear what he said and what I heard. The President has asked us to face this task together. We are going to do it. We are going to make the movement.

This was a speech to reassure us that the administration and BP are doing the best they can to contain the spill. It was a way to let us know that we, as a nation, are going to make lemonade out of lemons: by implementing a huge Gulf restoration project, and by moving away from our dependence on fossil fuels.

The House of Representatives passed the ACES bill last summer, and the Senate is on the cusp of moving forward on a climate and energy bill of their own. The President has said it’s time to move forward together. And I, for one, am with him. My job, our job is to join 1Sky, Audubon, or any of a number of advocacy groups to push our Senators to act. Write letters to the editor, make phone calls, and send emails. Are you with me? Are you with President Obama?

[This blog was posted in a slightly different form at DailyKos and 1Sky.]

Sunday, June 6, 2010

This is not sustainable

I had the privilege of hearing Steve Running speak last night, and it was a true milestone for all of us, speaker and audience. Dr. Running is a member of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), which in 2007 won the Nobel Peace Prize. He is an Earth Scientist, and a professor at the University of Montana in Missoula. He continues to work and speak on climate change research. He was the keynote speaker at the Montana Audubon annual festival in Missoula, presenting a speech entitled The Latest Science (and Politics) on Global Climate Change.

Last night was Running's 'inaugural speech' after reading a book called 'Don't Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style', by Randy Olson, a scientist-turned-filmmaker. Steve didn't present a slide show. He's trying a new approach, one that doesn't include graphs and the latest data, which aren't revealing anything new except to add to trend lines already established.

He believes the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico presents a teaching moment for disengaged Americans, that ~40% of Americans who are neither pushing for climate change legislation nor denying that climate change is occurring...the uninvolved middle. It's not the graphs from 'Steve Running's slide set' that are going to get them engaged. Rather, the pictures of oil-covered brown pelicans will catch their attention. This disaster will provide the momentum to move on climate and energy issues.

"We really are playing poker with the whole planet."

The vast majority of the 2,000 Earth Scientist know that we are on an unsustainable course. We cannot sustain this path for the next 50 years. We must turn the corner in this generation.

For Audubon types, and for readers of this blog, the action item is: we need to get going now. It's going to take time. For people we know who are employed in the 'dirty energy' sector, we need to assure them that their jobs are not at risk. It's going to take time to transition to clean and renewable energy sources, and their jobs will continue to be necessary in the short term. However, it's their children who will need to be pointed in a new direction under a climate and energy bill. We need to act now.

The U.S. uses 2 times the energy of Europe; this is not sustainable. The rest of the world's countries are waiting for America to act. We have to make hard decisions now; we don't have any time to lose. We are out of time.

Friday, May 28, 2010

(I have been asked to guest blog at, and the post appears at 'The Skywriter'.)

This week brings us to the end of May with progress being made on several major environmental issues. The massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may be plugged soon. Alternatives to oil to power our nation may gain more support as President Obama extends the moratorium on offshore drilling along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and in the Arctic. And the American Power Act introduced by Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman two weeks ago may move forward in the Senate.

All eyes are on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. More than 5 weeks after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank, killing 11 employees, BP is attempting to plug the gushing well, although we won't know if it's successful for a few more days.

Some high-profile voices spoke out this week against our country's oil addiction. On Monday, it was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:

"It's been nearly five weeks since oil started spewing into the Gulf of Mexico and onto our shores. Millions of gallons, miles of polluted coastline and more than a month later, the consequences of our oil addiction are as clear as the Gulf's waters once were…Weaning ourselves off of oil is a hard fact for us to face. We consume more 20 percent of the world's oil, but produce less than 3 percent of it. It's not a change we can make overnight. But if we don't start, the next disaster could make the current one look like a drop in the bucket. I'm tired of waiting for oil companies to get the message. America needs clean alternatives more urgently than ever."

Jonathan Hiskes at Grist reminded us of findings from 2008 on just how much energy efficiency can save us:

The last time lawmakers truly freaked out about the problem of our oil dependence – when gas prices topped $4 a gallon in the summer of 2008 – the Senate Energy Committee called in Skip Laitner, director of economic analysis at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

The committee asked Laitner what efficiency – the famously unglamorous energy strategy–could do to relieve gas prices. He gave them an astonishing figure: It could save 46 billion barrels of oil. If the U.S. made an all-out investment in energy efficiency-cutting energy waste out of vehicles, buildings, the electrical grid, and elsewhere in the economy–Laitner believes it could save the energy equivalent of 46 billion barrels by 2030.

On Thursday, more big hitters spoke out. Jamie Rappaport Clark, Executive Vice President at Defenders of Wildlife and former Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wrote on Huffington Post,

...If the catastrophe in the Gulf does not wake us up to the need to wean ourselves off oil and move towards clean, safe renewable energy, I don't know what will. This latest spill is a wake up call to the White House, Congress and frankly all Americans. President Obama and Congress must not expand offshore drilling operations. Our leaders need to lead.

In that light, the Obama administration should immediately reinstate the moratorium on off-shore leasing, expand the moratorium to Alaska's Arctic Ocean, and rescind its approval of exploratory drilling by Shell Oil due to begin in the Arctic in less than 60 days.

Calls for action from Defenders of Wildlife, the National Audubon Society, and other grassroots organizations were finally heard. Yesterday, President Obama extended the moratorium on off-shore drilling, including the Arctic, for six months!

The President also started pushing for passage of climate and energy legislation. As Senator Kerry said in a post on the Huffington Post Thursday,

So, on the biggest issue we can deal with in this Congress, President Obama just weighed in big-time: "There's been some good work done by John Kerry and Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. Let's go. Let's not wait. Let's show the American people that in the midst of this crisis, all of us are opening our eyes to what's necessary to fulfill the promise to our children and our grandchildren." That's right – the President is pounding the bully pulpit to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation.

Thank you President Obama! We need you to push this bill forward.

And he and the Senate may have public opinion moving their way. A USA Today/Gallup poll shows:

The catastrophe has boosted concern about the environment over development of new energy supplies – a long-time balancing act in American politics. Now, a majority says protection of the environment should be given priority, "even at the risk of limiting energy supplies."

The 55%-39% divide on that question was a reversal of American views in March, before the April 20 explosion sent crude oil spewing into the gulf. Then, by 50%-43% Americans said development U.S. energy supplies should be given priority, "even if the environment suffers to some extent."

On a similar question, those surveyed divided 50%-43% over whether the environment should be protected "even at the risk of curbing economy growth" or if growth should be given priority, "even if the environment suffers to some extent." That's a big swing from March, too. Then, by 53%-38% Americans chose economic growth as their priority.

Now if only we can educate the public that energy conservation and efficiency, and alternative energy, not domestic oil production, is the best path to energy self-sufficiency for the U.S., then we may be able to accomplish something to address climate change this year. Certainly momentum seems to be swinging our way.

We will continue to follow the Gulf Oil spill and progress with the American Power Act closely. But much has changed in the past week.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

I didn't run today.

I didn't run today. I'm a wuss. I was signed up for a 5k with the Evaro Mountain Challenge ('pets must have their owners on leash'), a fund-raiser for the Evaro Community Center. The low last night was 36 (degrees F), and the forecast temperature at noon was 42 with a high of 50 this afternoon. Late this morning here at home in Florence, we had a rain and snow shower, although the temperature was in the upper 40's.
I have been fixated on temperatures and running for quite some time now. I began running after the first of the year, with the initial goal being to run the famous Missoula Half-marathon in July , rated the best overall marathon by Runner's World Magazine in December 2009. It turns out that I had to modify my goals once I got started. I had never run before, and I have some health issues that I have to work around. So I committed to running 5k races in 2010.
And so I did. I ran the Run for The Luck of It in Missoula March 13. I ran the Run for the Trees 5k sponsored by the Missoula Parks and Rec Department on April 3.
But I did not run today. After 2 runs in rain and snow and wind and temperatures in the 30's and 40's I said NO MORE.
I was so happy to find a run in late May. I have finally been running outdoors lately instead of on the treadmill at the gym . It has been warm, the leaves are coming out in force, flowers are feels like spring!
But it's Montana. The date of the last killing frost averages May 25. last year we had a killing frost about June 7. And this is in the 'Banana Belt' of the state...the Bitterroot Valley.
We need the moisture. Snowpack for some mountain ranges (and associated watersheds) is at about 50% of normal. Drought status for the county I live in (Ravalli County) is severe, and for Missoula County (where all my races have been to date (including the one I skipped today) is moderate.
But I can still whine about the local weather, can't I?
I can, and I do. But I am here to tell you that Global Climate Change is occurring. In spite of unusual snowfall in the Northeastern U.S. this past winter, snow cover in North America was the least ever recorded this past winter. In spite of our non-existent spring this year in Montana, last month (April) was the warmest global average temperature on record, and January-April temperatures were the warmest, on average, ever. Snow cover in North America was the least ever recorded this past winter. The year 2010 is predicted to be the warmest year ever.
We are presently consumed, as a nation, by the tragic oil 'spill' (which is too mild a term for what is occurring) in the Gulf of Mexico. The damage to the Gulf, to the Gulf Coast, and to all the wildlife and people who live and work there is massive, unprecedented. And the only known way it will stop is when BP and it's contractors drill a back-up well, slated to be completed in August.
My heart is heavy. The losses are tragic. What can I do?
What I can do, and what you can do too, is call for strong climate change legislation from my Senators. No more off-shore drilling until the kind of safety measures required for such risky undertakings are developed.
Let's bust this myth that we must develop domestic off-shore oil resources for our national security . A 1% added domestic source for our oil needs is not going to help. It's trivial. Let's get out of Big Oil's pockets!
Let's bust this myth that there is such a thing as 'clean coal' within our reach. Geologic Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) is so expensive, we couldn't afford the electricity generated using it, even if the technology were available on the scale we need (which it isn't) . And there is mounting evidence that all the geologic sources for storage cannot begin to provide what would be needed for the use of CCS as a solution to burning coal for energy 'cleanly' . Let's get out of Big Coal's pockets!
We need climate change legislation that requires reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and that pushes us to clean, renewable sources of energy. That requires conservation strategies that actually could do some good (in contrast to domestic off-shore drilling, for example, by reducing our energy needs by 7%)!
Let's join in a battle for our energy future against Big Oil and Big Coal...let's fight for our people, and for our land, and for all the creatures who depend on it for their survival.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Rural Electric Cooperatives oppose EPA regulation of CO2

Every month, Montanans get their 'Rural Montana' magazine in the mail, complements of their Rural Electric Cooperative. I usually recycle mine without opening it. Fortunately, some of us are paying attention.

Unbeknownst to me, the April issue of 'Rural Montana' had an article opposing EPA regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Luckily, Eric Grimsrud read his mailing, and was compelled to write an op-ed in a local paper taking them to task for their stance.

Grimsrud wrote in The Flathead Beacon (April 16, 2010):

According to the April issue of Rural Montana, the leadership of our national and state electric cooperatives is using its political clout to limit the role of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in regulating carbon dioxide emissions. For this purpose they will be including stamped post cards in the May issue of Rural Montana and encouraging its readership to send their message on to our congressional representatives.

Glenn English, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (page 7) set members up for this mailing campaign. His stance is that “the Clean Air Act wasn't intended to deal with carbon dioxide. It was tailored to curb harmful pollutants like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which it does effectively.” What hogwash, an incorrect representation of the issue.

The fact is, the EPA is responding to the Supreme Court ruling:

In April the case Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, 549 U.S. 497 (2007) that the EPA violated the Clean Air act by not regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

Of COURSE the EPA can regulate these kinds of emissions. I'd like to remind English that under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has done an outstanding job of regulating emissions responsible for acid rain AND gases threatening the ozone layer. And the Agency is stepping up once again to put a brake on greenhouse gas emissions.

The May issue of 'Rural Montana is out online. In it, Montana Electric Cooperative found another spokesperson, Jason Priest, director of the Montana Growth Network, “an organization dedicated to making Montana more business friendly.”

And, how is this going to be achieved?

Priest prefers private sector solutions to energy issues rather than regulatory action.

Ah, yes. The private sector and voluntary regulation. How's that working out? That's what led to the largest oil disaster in our nation's history, and the (presumed) deaths of 11 workers. That's what led to the mining disasters last month, and the deaths of dozens of miners. Because regulations are so burdensome for business. If BP would have been required to install an automatic shut-off on the well in the Gulf, at the cost of $500,000 (as is required in Norway), they wouldn't have turned a profit? If mining regulations had been followed in West Virginia, Massey Energy would not have been profitable? I don’t think this “voluntary regulation” meme has legs anymore.

I haven't received my May issue of 'Rural Montana' (with postcard insert) in the mail yet. And, like Grimsrud, I need to see what it looks like in order to develop a response. Grimsrud wrote last month:

As I write this, I don’t know what choices the readership of Rural Montana will be given for input to their congressional representatives on the post cards referred to above. If an appropriate selection of choices is not provided, I recommend that something like the following be written on them before sending: “While input from the leadership of the Electric Cooperatives concerning their predicted costs of addressing climate change merits careful consideration, their additional input concerning the EPA’s role in controlling CO2 emissions should be ignored.”

Rural Electric Cooperatives apparently have had a hand in proposed legislation prohibiting the EPA from regulation of greenhouse gases for quite some time. The EPA has a duty to regulate CO2, and now the fight is on as to whether the Congress will allow it.

Originally posted at Daily Kos May 6, 2010

One of the comments on my post at Daily Kos was very informative:

I work for a co-op, in management to boot.I am a very active participant at the regional and national level in NRECA's annual resolutions process. Although on climate change issues, I measure my success in how much less bad I can convince people to make a policy proposal. (On other matters, consumer-ownership and co-op principles, NRECA and the co-ops are good.)

First, regarding EPA regulation of CO2: It should be understood the EPA's move to regulate CO2 based on the Supreme Court decision that they can, has always been intended as a club, a threat, to see if Congress would instead pass meaningful climate change CO2 reduction legislation. So they continue to move ahead at EPA, because Congress....well, they haven't have they? The co-ops would rather have Congress do it if it has to happen.

There is a spectrum of opinion within the leadership of the co-ops across the country, and the NRECA has to straddle that. NRECA national leadership has actually been working for a few years to move the co-ops more to the middle, to be realistic rather than deniers. Still, they end up representing what their membership decides, and it actually is a democratic process.

Within the co-ops, there are a bunch of managers and elected directors who are out & out deniers... There is a minority of people like me. And there's everyone in the middle who recognizes that as part o the utility industry, the co-ops need to do something.

In most states, the co-ops are not regulated by state government because their consumer-owned & governed. So the respond very negatively to any threat of outside regulation regardless of the issue. It should be noted that despite all this, many co-ops around the country are actively developing renewables-- co-ops in the upper midwest have been putting up wind projects pretty big time.


Co-ops nationally are more heavily invested in coal than the industry as a whole although this is definitely not the case across the board. (My co-op is 0% coal.) There are a couple of reasons, one of which is just geography-- a lot of co-ops are where the coal is. The other is public policy--- in the 1970s in response to the first energy crisis and the political desire to say we were lessening our dependence on foreign oil, Congress required that the next generation of generating plants the co-ops needed (which were going to be mostly natural gas) had to be coal instead-- project financing had to be primarily for coal because it was cheap, and American. So no they have literally billions of dollars invested in coal that they can't walk away from, financially. (No investors to take the hit.) So yes, some part of the co-op community are very defensive about their coal.

I work at a co-op where the progressives took over the board in the late 1980s after about ten years of political struggle. I also live in the northeast where the politics of the states and the co-ops members are blue not red. My advice:

Most co-ops with few exceptions really are democratically run. The problem is with who the participants in the democracy are. If you're in a super red area, the co-op will reflect that.

Use the co-op's democratic process. Lobby the board and try to be respectful at the same time. Get people elected, or mount serious campaigns at least. When your co-op uerges it's members to contact your Senator & Congressman, do that, but tell them that you feel differently than the co-op's board-- and let your board know you're doing that.