Sunday, December 28, 2008

Shale Oil Development, robbing Peter to pay Paul

I read this article in the Los Angeles Times and it really hit set me off in several different directions.

Dollar signs fill the heads of oil companies and politicians, while visions of ecological disaster fill the minds of everyone else.

Oil company execs say it would be ‘unconscionable to forgo exploiting oil shale's potential’ while dismissing the ‘unconscionable’ destruction of land and the ‘unconscionable’ pollution and depletion of water resources.

Shell Oil spouts sound bites like ‘safely and responsibly’ ‘getting at’ this hydrocarbon resource simply because it is considered a ‘huge’ resource while at the same time acknowledging that the technology required to ‘get at’ this shale oil is unproven. What is known about this technology is that it would take 10 barrels of water to produce one barrel of oil and that could possibly use all of the remaining water in upper Colorado River Basin.

Where does this leave ranchers who depend on the underground aquifers for their crops and livestock, or the millions of people who would like to drink, bathe and swim in clean water downstream?

Taxpayer Rip Off
It seems congress has already decided how to best use our ‘public lands’. For oil shale development. Despite the proof of past ecological destruction, congress continues to bend to oil company pressure instead of taking the lead to develop renewable energy.

More proof of this decision comes from this industry being included in the $700-billion government bailout package. I was under the impression that the bailout was for financial institutions. Seems we were lied to again. I understand that we didn’t have any say in the first place on how this money was to be spent, but we were told the money was necessary to prevent Wall Street investment firms and banking institutions from going under not for more oil company tax breaks and investment.

No wonder Paulson refuses to allow disclosure on how this money is being spent. Bush and his cronies continue to ride the gravy train of taxpayer handouts.

Groundwater nightmare
It is not a matter of ‘if’ groundwater will be contaminated by this process, but by how much. No matter what ‘assurances’ oil companies give us that they will be ‘safe’ and ‘responsible’, their past and current performance shows they cannot be trusted.

Yet congress and the oil companies want to push forward into the darkness knowing full well they will add to the ecological mess that they have helped bring to our lands, air and water.

As the article says ‘Oil shale is a poor excuse for a fuel’. Why should we destroy even more landscape to further enrich a handful of men while taking away so much from so many?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

‘Free Recycling’ Plan Falls Short of Environmental Responsibility

Oregon lawmakers passed legislation last year that allows desktop computers, monitors, laptops and televisions to be disposed of for free beginning January 1. 2009.

The plan calls for any company that makes computers and TVs sold in Oregon must register with the state and pay a fee, generating an anticipated $350,000 to $400,000 in revenue.

The program needs to go one step further by providing an incentive to reuse still-working equipment.

Recycling consumes 20 times as much energy as reuse.

In keeping with the 3R’s of environment awareness: Recycle-Reduce-Reuse, sorting out reusable still-working computers, cell phones, radios and other devices, and then refurbishing and reselling them could make a deep cut in our waste stream and create employment opportunites.

Much of what could be recycled is thoughtlessly tossed in the trash can and what is placed in our recycle bins just gets dumped into places other than the landfill. Most of these ‘other’ dump sites tend to be foreign countries where hazardous materials are not regulated as they are in the U.S. Another dump site is the ocean where massive ‘plastic islands’ are forming. Colorful bits of plastic are being ingested by sea life which choke them to death.

However, there is evidence that we are becoming more environmentally aware but we need to do more. The complete 3 R program (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) needs to be employed and meticulously followed in order for us to truly cut down on the amount of waste we generate. It is not a matter of running out of landfill space. That mindset is the wrong way to view the problem. We need to keep useable items out of the landfill by adopting a ‘reuse before recycle’ mindset.

Using items for other than their intended first use, for example plastic bags we bring our groceries home in could then be used as trash can liners.

There are websites where you can offer your items for free to others who can make use of them. One such service is Free Mesa. If you're in Australia, a great new service is E-Cycled.

Glass, cardboard and paper we are aware of but you don’t have to have a garden to compost. Compost is a great nutrient source for your lawn. You can actually cut down on the amount of chemicals you dump on your lawn to make it greener plus it works to control damaging insect populations.

Visit to learn how simple it is to reduce waste in your daily routine.

Manufacturers are making a great impact on reducing packaging of the products we consumers buy, but the real driving force to get our waste under control is left to the consumer. We need to stop throwing away items that still have life in them. We need to shun the idea that we just have to have the latest gadget to replace the one we bought last year that still has a lot of useful life left.

Another couple of things that would go a long way to make us a truly environmentally aware society would be an incentive program to get companies to recycle and refurbish products and a reliable national directory of businesses that sells those products.

Further reading:
Book Mooch
Why Reuse Beats Recycling
Recycling Guide
Floating toxic plastic garbage island twice the size of Texas

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Progress Toward Addressing Climate Change Fails Again

Are we really committed to combating climate change? We talk a great game. We seem to recognize that something must be done. But when it comes right down to it, there is very little action.

Industrialized and developing countries get together periodically to discuss the problem and toss around ideas on how to deal with it, but in the end any solution is so watered down that it becomes ineffective.

Money is made available for developing countries, through a 2% levy on carbon trading under the UN Clean Development Mechanism, but everyone agrees that the amount raised ($80 million) is far below what is needed to build the necessary flood defenses, to develop much needed drought-resistant crops, and to produce storm warnings. This fund represents the human side of climate change, something that tends to be lost when discussing how much pollution should be cut back by industrialized nations.

The biggest polluters are of course industrialized nations, such as China, India, America, and Japan, who raise the loudest objections to pay more into the fund and consistently fail to reach agreements to make deeper emissions cuts. Understandably, developing nations are disappointed at their position and stubbornness. Everyone is paving a road of good intentions, but good intentions never get anything done.

U.N. projections are that poor nations will need tens of billions of dollars a year by 2030 to cope with climate change. Poland spent 24 million euros ($31.84 million) just to host the Dec. 1-12 conference and the only concrete result was to streamline access by developing nations to the fund while rich nations secured controls to ensure cash was properly spent.

This summit represented the halfway point between Bali in 2007 and Copenhagen in 2009. It was scheduled to reach an agreement to expand the Kyoto Protocol committing industrialized countries to make deeper emission cuts in the short-term and to produce a longer-term agreement encompassing all countries. No discernable progress was made.

EU leaders in Brussels agreed a pact on Friday to cut greenhouse gases by 20% below 1990 levels by 2020 -- after making costly concessions to east European countries. Is this going to be another disappointment of more talk and less action?

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions was never expected to be cheap or easy. It requires drastic changes in lifestyles for all of us, rich and poor alike. Everyone knew this before agreeing to get together to create an action plan to overcome our past mistakes. Time passes, pollution levels remain unaltered. The time has come to actually commit to a plan. Industrialized nations, being the biggest polluters should bear the largest financial burden to ease the rest of world of their disproportionate suffering.

This could be our last best chance to make a difference. Let’s make it effective.