Stunning and informative piece in the NY Times on Louisiana's disappearing coastline, and its causes and consequences.
There is an old adage in disaster studies: "there is no such thing as a natural disaster." This article explains that idea clearly by arguing that nature and climate change are not driving causes of crises like Harvey, but instead the causes originate from social and political structures and human decisions. Kelman writes:
A disaster involving a hurricane cannot happen unless people, infrastructure and communities are vulnerable to it. People become vulnerable if they end up lacking knowledge, wisdom, capabilities, social connections, support or finances to deal with a standard environmental event such as a hurricane.
The socionatural disaster in Houston, as well as in New Orleans during Katrina, were largely caused by uncontrolled sub/urbanization, unregulated development of industry and housing, and as Michael Grunwald, writing in Poltico outlines, by Federal flood insurance policy. However, in Katrina we witnessed the failure of the structural, technological mitigation system and the failed political evacuation, rescue, and rebuilding, which all took its heavies toll on African Americans and the poorest residents of New Orleans and surrounding Parishes. We have yet to see the uneven toll that our social order has taken on the people of Southeast Texas. This will become more clear in the days, weeks, and months, and honestly years.
Excellent photo essay depicting how the United States looked before the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clear Air Act and Clean Water Act. To quote an environmental radical, former President Richard Nixon:
Shall we surrender to our surroundings, or shall we make our peace with nature and begin to make reparations for the damage we have done to our air, to our land and to our water?
Brad Plummer interviews John Fleck on the politics and empirics of the Western water crisis. Rather than doom and gloom, Fleck argues that when you look behind the headlines you find communities, users, and governments working to solve the problems. Fleck argues:
And the reason is that all across the West, when people are confronted with the fact that there’s not enough water, they’ve been really successful at using less. So rather than the catastrophe I’d been led to expect, what I found instead was people working hard to figure out how to adapt.
Water crises and their variability, Fleck argues, are not natural but rather:
the difference has a lot to do with the socioeconomics of land use planning and infrastructure in poor communities.
Check out Fleck's new book Water is For Fighting Over: and Other Myths about Water in the West.
Sociologist Robert Bullard in an interview about the Flint water crisis:
In studying the history of environmental justice, you see over and over that it generally takes longer for poor communities to be heard when they make complaints. Government officials received complaints in April 2014 expressing that something was wrong with the water in Flint. If regulators at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality had had to drink that water, or serve it to their children, their response would have been different.
Connor Coyne, writing for Vox.com, on the unfolding of the Flint poisoned water crisis:
In October 2015, the state finally confirmed the worst of our fears: There was lead in the water after all. The city switched back to Detroit water, but the damage had already been done. We, and our children, were being poisoned.
The whole article is worth a read. It's part first person narrative and part sociological overview of the crisis.
I've long maintained that just about all (sub)urban development is at one point pejorative from someone's view point. The work of time, history, and change makes older neighborhoods appear more authentic, just, valued, and/or sustainable. Yet, all (sub)urban development under capitalism was produced for its exchange value and profit, not just its pretty use values and authentic qualities (in the eye of the beholder of course). Moreover, population shifts and exchange value shift can make a neighborhood once deemed "bad" (i.e., black, immigrant, working class, etc) into the prized authentic sustainable neighborhood of a gentrifying population. The reverse works too (white flight from some suburbs has left areas of poverty and spatial inequality).
Many people in the central or older areas of towns and cities often feel secure in their idea that their neighborhood wasn't created within the conditions of class and racial inequality. Yet, most were. The old looking houses and the mature trees hide the fact that when the neighborhood was build, say 100 years ago, it looked just as brand new as the shiniest new suburb today. Daniel Hertz pokes a hole in these representations of space and calls these ideas the "immaculate conception theory" of neighborhood creation. He writes:
These assumptions mostly revolve around the idea that older housing was built the right way: ethically, modestly, with an eye to community rather than profit. These older values, in turn, highlight the faults of modern buildings: gaudy and wasteful, disruptive to existing communities, and motivated only by money.
Solar only accounts for a small 0.6% of U.S. electricity but since the mid-2000s, thanks mostly to Federal tax credits and cheaper (Chinese) panels, solar instillation radically increased (mostly in California). In 2017, the Federal tax credits expire and as Brad Plumer explains, U.S. solar photovoltaic growth might hit a serious speed bump, particularly for residential installation.
Will the solar boom be another false start–like the 1970s–or will the Federal government reinstate the subsidies before they expire in 2017? Will panels prices continue to fall, making unsubsidized or lower subsidies panels affordable? Will Obama's Clean Power Plan make the States pick up the slack? Question to be determined in the coming years.
Apple Inc. released its 2015 Environmental Responsibility Report this week. In the report, Apple proudly claims that their data centers are running on 100% renewable energy and that their new headquarters in Cupertino will run entirely on renewables (solar plant in nearby Monterey County). Apple is proud to claim that building operations in the USA are moving to 100% renewable. That's great. However, Apple's real carbon footprint is in the vast, vast amount of energy used and CO2 released in manufacturing all of its physical products, mostly in China.
For example, of the 34 million metric tons of CO2 Apple claims responsibility for in fiscal year 2014, 24.8 million metric tons are in manufacturing and only 0.4 million tons are in facilities. Put another way, 73% of Apple's carbon footprint is in manufacturing, whereas only 1.1% is in facilities. Sorry Apple, switching facilities to renewables is great optics (and still worthwhile) but it is a drop in the bucket of their CO2 footprint. For Apple to meaningfully contribute to reducing global warming they will need to begin to transition their manufacturing partners to renewables. It seems they are now just taking small steps in that direction.
For now, Apple and other manufacturers, and consumers, are contributing both to the localized pollution crisis in China as well as global CO2 emissions. If Apple wants to be a leading corporate environmental steward, as statements by CEO Tim Cook and Lisa Jackson, Vice President of Environmental Initiatives indicate, then it needs to more fully and quickly address the source of their real carbon footprint: the manufacturing of physical products.
A cool new way to get hydro power right under our cities, and they don't require dams.
The Lucid system taps the power of gravity in the city’s water system. Water flowing through the Portland Water Bureau pipe at 147th and Powell will now flow through four small turbines as well, generating enough electricity to power 150 homes along the way. The turbines are 3.5 feet wide – just big enough to span the diameter of the city’s water pipe.
A great photo essay series would be "The Political Ecologies of the Age of Oil." A great place to start would be coastal Louisiana. The next place to go would be the tar sands of Alberta, Canada.
Below are some great maps with types of crises. It appears simply geographical, but we must also remember the social factors that produce different and unequal experiences before, during, and after socio-natural crisis. The full article has a mouse over feature so you can look up each county of the United States for more fine grain detail.
Right before the Fall 2014 semester ended big news on the fight against fossil fuels came out of CSU Chico, where I teach:
Chico State University showed immense leadership as one of the first public universities in the nation to commit to fully divesting from the top 200 coal, oil and gas companies within four years. The resolution, authored by members of Fossil Free California State University, was passed 8 – 4 by the CSU Chico University Foundation.
An historic deal. We'll have to monitor closely to see what actually happens. Here is the gist as reported by Jeff Spross at ThinkProgress:
The pledge commits the U.S. to cut its emissions 26 to 28 percent below their 2005 levels by 2025. This builds on the current target of a 17 percent reduction below that baseline by 2020, and could actually double the pace of emission cuts set by that initial goal — from 1.2 percent a year to as high as 2.8 percent per year. The White House has actually been looking into the possibility of expanding beyond the 2020 target since 2013, and has been involved in occasional interagency meetings to that effect.
For its part, China is committing to get 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil-fuel sources by 2030, and to peak its overall carbon dioxide emissions that same year. China’s construction of renewable energy capacity is already proceeding at a furious pace, and this deal will require the country to deploy an additional 800 to 1,000 gigawatts of zero-carbon energy by 2030. For comparison, 800 to 1,000 gigawatts is close to the amount of electricity the U.S. current generates from all sources combined.
In the US, with virtually no solid Congressional support, it will be interesting to see how such a commitment will fair in the short-term, let alone spanning multiple Congressional and Presidential terms. China, on the other hand, with a centralized one-party rule might be able to enable a more consistent and coherent energy transition strategy. It's also important to remember that most of the carbon in the atmosphere now was put there by Europe and the United States over the past 150 years or so.
Emma Marris, writing on her Beacon wolf project, about the recently spotted "wolf like animal" in the Grand Canyon. What is the animal's potential fate?
The first is that his or her fate will entirely depend on human values, human categories and human laws. Whether it is allowed to roam free, moved to a refuge or shipped south will depend on its genome—not whether it attacks livestock or not or any other fact about its actual behavior. This is despite the fact that it neither knows nor cares which category it falls into, and that it is highly likely that its individual personality is more predictive of its behavior than its species assignment. The only thing it can count on is being darted and tranquilized, because even if it is determined to be a gray wolf, agency officials will want to re-collar it. Is this truly a wild life?
Consider pledging and following Marris' wolf project. It's great stuff.
This is a great overview of the energy transition thesis (energiewende, in German). It focuses on the German example and highlights the major disruption renewables will have on utilities markets and business models. Many drastic changes and challenges lie ahead.
Electric utility executives all over the world are watching nervously as technologies they once dismissed as irrelevant begin to threaten their long-established business plans. Fights are erupting across the United States over the future rules for renewable power. Many poor countries, once intent on building coal-fired power plants to bring electricity to their people, are discussing whether they might leapfrog the fossil age and build clean grids from the outset.
Interesting new website (in beta) that gives a visual story of each countries emissions reduction targets. It includes both domestic fair share as well as embedded export emissions. I like how it begins with equity considerations. This quote caught my eye:
We demand action from everyone, but we don’t believe that everyone is equally responsible for the crisis.
This a good overview of the debate between fossil fuel macro grid models and distributed renewables in addressing energy poverty in the developing world. The author makes the case for distributed solar, which is both a cheaper and more socially and ecological just path.
Plummeting costs for solar and wind (and battery storage) paralleled by increasingly expensive long-distance coal and gas mean that for most developing nations, the time for grid parity has come and gone -- renewables are cheaper even on grid.
Judged by health criterial almonds are a supper food. You can't go wrong. But, analyzed from social and ecological criterial the almond boom doesn't look so good.
Animals and plants have way more resilience than we give them. No doubt there is some greenwashing here by the military, but this looks like a fascinating case in which animals adapt to extreme circumstances. Just look at the picture above.
The Grafenwoehr installation is now home to more than 3,000 plant and animal species, 800 of which are threatened, endangered or legally protected. These include the rare kingfisher, sea eagles, wildcats, a large beaver population, green woodpeckers and even lynx.
Still, biodiversity overall can benefit from the landscapes created by military training, officials say. Tank tracks or grenade craters from war games, for example, have become new breeding grounds and habitats for some endangered species.