And the Rains Came


This has been the wettest month of June in recent memory. Is it a coincidence that the word rain is a jumbled version of Iran where civilization has had a nervous breakdown? Is our climate having a breakdown as well? Climatologist's point to global warming as the cause of this rain, and my soggy mind has been occupied with building an ark – the kind Noah had constructed when faced by the great flood – only I’m building it inside my roiling brain. Now comes the big question With whom do we fill it?

You, of course, reader, are welcome aboard, but without your flat screen TV, gas guzzler van, exhausted cell-phone and whining children with ipods glued to their ears. Being human I would go for my own family first. Taking care of one’s own comes with the Good Book seal of approval. Noah didn’t leave his family out to surf the rising waves. Both my sons and their significant others, together with my grand-daughters, my good wife, the family Labrador Sam, and cats Byron and Kittay would make it aboard.

Of course I’d invite congenial friends, preferably ones with musical or story telling skills to while away the long hours in the darkness as we rocked and rolled in that raging sea. Plenty of biscuits and bonine aboard. My family doctor would be welcomed with her family. She’s kind and gorgeous and skilled and must be saved. The caring nurse who sees me through the ups and downs of my chronic illness will be among the invited along with various physicians who qualify as full human beings rather than MRI technicians. Cats allowed but no catscans. Janet Ritz, the brilliant environmentalist, would be there to give us some tips on how to survive it all. And we would need some folks who are skilled with aqua-agriculture and can mix up a self-restoring batch of salad greens to keep all of us fed. We would all be vegetarians. None of those two by two animals on board would be there for the slaughter. The trouble this modern Noah faces is that virtually every wild animal is now an endangered species, as is much of mankind, so rule number one is no eating the passengers. Continued...

President Obama: Opening the Door to a Clean Energy Economy


The President praises the energy legislation passed by the House of Representatives:

"The legislation will help America create green jobs, ensure clean air for our children, move towards energy independence and combat climate change." Continued...


Coal River Mountain


Statement of Jim Hansen at 23 June 2009 Coal River Mountain rally.

Mountaintop removal ignites strong passions because local effects are obvious – pollution of air and water, effects on human health, destruction of the environment.

But another effect of coal mining, global climate change, will become important in the next few decades. Climate change will have large consequences for people who are alive today, especially children, and future generations.

President Obama speaks of “a planet in peril” for good reason. If we do not move rapidly to carbon-free energy, we will hand our children a planet that has passed climate tipping points. It will be a more desolate planet, with half or more species committed to extinction.

Burning all fossil fuels would destroy the future of young people and the unborn. Coal is the critical issue. Coal is the main cause of climate change. It is also the dirtiest fossil fuel. Air pollution, arsenic, and mercury from coal have devastating effects on human health and cause birth defects.

The science is clear. We must have a moratorium on new coal plants and phase out existing ones within the next 20 years. We should start with termination of mountaintop removal now. Coal from mountaintop removal provides only 7% of United States coal, less than the amount of coal that we export... Continued...


Stovepipe City


The Appalachian region has been supplying American with cheap energy for generations, a duty it has performed with a sense of pride and patriotism. But while electricity from the region’s coal has been cheap for the rest of us, the price has been extraordinarily high for the people of the mountains.

That price took on a new dimension this week in a peer-reviewed study from the Health Policy Institute at West Virginia University. Researcher Michael Hendryx reports that coal mining costs the region five times more in early deaths than it provides in economic benefits.

Hendryx’s sobering calculation is that the coal industry provides about $8 billion annually in jobs, taxes and other economic benefits -- but premature deaths attributed to coal mining and its impacts, including local air and water pollution, cost the region $42 billion.

Hendryx qualifies this estimate, saying it’s impossible to calculate these numbers with absolute certainty. But even a cursory look at how coal is extracted in Appalachia – largely now through the incredibly destructive practice of mountain top removal – leads reasonable people to conclude that Hendryx is on the right track.

I’ll write a great deal about the ongoing Appalachian tragedy in the future, but in this post I’ll focus on the ecology of decision-making in Washington D.C. that allows national energy policy to be so destructive, even deadly.

The great lesson of global climate change is that everything is connected. The emissions from a coal plant in Iowa, for example, may produce floods in Bangladesh. Or the folks in Iowa may someday suffer bigger floods because of all those new cars about to populate the streets of India. Continued...

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Why Cities & CEOs Can't Relax - Part 2


The federal stimulus money flowing to America’s municipalities right now presents them with a choice and a question. The choice: Will they use the money to become cities of the past or cities of the future? The question: What is a city of the future, anyway?

The choice should be simple. A city official’s first responsibility is to ensure the health and safety of the people in his or her community. Insofar as stimulus funds are available to repair failing bridges, dams, roads and vital infrastructure, that’s where they should be invested.

But as more funds are available – for example, the $100 billion earmarked in the stimulus package for energy grants to states and localities, or the $6.3 billion targeted for clean energy grants, or the $17 billion for transit or part of the $40 billion for roads, bridges and other infrastructure -- a high priority should be to begin putting each city on the road to the future.

That means building communities that are secure from energy supply disruptions and crippling energy prices; free from the
air pollution that threatens the health of 186 million Americans today; laced with safe routes for people to walk and bicycle; able to provide a variety of mobility options so that everyone – including the young, old and disabled – has access to vital services. Cities of the future condemn no neighborhood to be the dumping ground for waste, pollution or traffic; conserve vital resources such as water; prepare to withstand the anticipated impacts of climate change, including heat waves and extreme weather; protect and restore natural places so that kids of all ages have contact with nature; foster social interaction; and avoid urban sprawl, to name a few criteria.

If the benefits of building for the future are not clear, the urban leaders should think of it this way: If they plan to invest in buildings, transit systems, streets or infrastructure and those improvements are meant to last more than a decade, they are not building the city for themselves. They’re building it for their children. The goal should be to create a community that remains competitive for generations to come as a wonderful place to live and do business. Continued...

My Eyes Are on the Prize


The other day I sent an email to the President of Bard College, my Alma Mater, protesting an award sponsored by the college that was restricted to novelists under 39 years old. It wasn't about my feeling excluded from that competition. I'm well over 39 but I am not an older novelist shut out of a chance for some prize money and a job, nor am I a professional protester. But it seemed to me that the college had taken a misstep in its prize-giving. If they had asked me I would not have called it the Bard Fiction Prize but the Jack Benny Prize after that beloved comedian who foolishly and forever gave his age as 39.

Clinging to 39 was part of Benny's radio act, which centered on his comic vanity -- his effort to fight aging with a preposterous lie. Along with his shtick of stinginess, playing the violin badly, and wearing a toupee, middle age-denial was Benny's comic persona. Old age wasn't even considered a viable subject for humor then. People died much younger in the 1940s, and those who lived long were more often revered for their wisdom than mocked for their frailties. It was called respect and it came as a part of our human equipment. Now the elderly are often the butt of many a bad TV ad and when not mocked, they are marginalized, trivialized, and Viagravized (sorry about that one). It gets far worse; they are more often ignored. Continued...

Flashback Review: The Lives of Others


In hearing about the 12 year sentence of lard labor for nothing more specific than "grave crimes" against North Korea, journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee are on the minds of many, including the realization that they are indeed pawns of a totalitarian regime bent on "proving" some sort of strength through the subjugation of others. Instead, it proves nothing but cowardice, for only a despotic regime would brutally subjugate others to prove a sense of power or control.

With this in mind, it reminded me of the film The Lives of Others, which I reviewed first in 2007 for the Humanitarian Media Foundation (HMF). I wanted to repost this here, because the issues are similar. North Korea is, like East Germany was during the Cold War, a communist regime which controlled its population through fear, tyranny, and an abject lack of personal freedom, believing that such methods were necessary for absolute power and control of its population. No one knew the truth about such regimes unless those inside were able to smuggle news out. While we do not know if Laura Ling and Euna Lee were across the border into North Korea from China, we do know that they were researching and doing a story on human trafficking. And it is true that now they have some sense what other citizens of North Korea most fear when facing off against the government. Continued...