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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Well after more than a year without posting – here goes!  As per my habit, this post is in reference to an article I just read.  And equally as usual it is from the Wall Street Journal – it is from the WSJ’s “random” section on the bottom of the front page.

The article is called, “A Youngster’s Bright Idea Is Something New Under the Sun”, and is about a 13-year old boy named Aidan Dwyer who won a science competition this past summer based on an idea he had about placing solar panels in the same array as leaves on a tree – hypothesizing that maybe there is a benefit to following nature’s design.

Aidan was a winner in the competition, showing that a leaf array of solar panels produced more energy… but what is interesting has been what happened afterward.  A minor uproar came up when it was discovered that Aidan had measured the wrong electrical output from the panels (voltage alone, rather than power which is combo of voltage and current) thus leading to suspicion of his results and the idea in general.

Two things stood out to me in this article.  First, the Journal talks about the response from the internet – “bad science” and “impossible nonsense” were some of the choice quotes the article pointed to.  Scientists – both amateur and professional seem to have a nasty streak .  He is a thirteen after all and just had an idea he was encouraged to explore, but I guess that doesn’t matter to many people.  Get something wrong and you are toast on the interweb.  But Aidan has also been praised for his thinking, and has been invited to speak at numerous conferences, so it hasn’t been all bad.

But the second, and most interesting, thing that piqued me was this quote from assistant professor Jan Kleissl from UCSD about Aidan’s plan for a revised experiment:

I’m certain that he will not find that his arrangement is better.  I think it’s a romantic ideal that nature has many lessons for us, and there are a few cases where this is true, but in the majority of cases we could teach nature, in a way, how to be better, faster.

Wow – how nice of Dr. Kleissl to offer nature the benefit of a “few cases” where it is better than our scientists.  I’d be very curious to hear Kleissl discuss these areas.  Have we improved upon the speed and power of lightning?  Have we developed a self-contained ecosystem on the scale of say… the ocean?   Have we developed a robot with five senses as acute as a human?  Holy shite balls this seems ludicrous.

Is it just me?

P.S.  Feels good to be back.  Sorry for the layoff, and hope I can continue to post from time to time.

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Georgia’s Channel 2 reported recently that an organic farmer in Clarkston is being sued by DeKalb County for having too many vegetables on his property, a violation of zoning laws. The man, Steve Miller, is a landscaper who, according to the report, gives his vegetables to clients and friends and occasionally sells his produce at the local farmers’ market. For fifteen years, Miller has been growing vegetables on his two-acre property. Fifteen years. Which begs the question, how did the county even know he had “too much” in the first place? For fifteen years his farm has remained concealed on his two acres of land. What changed? Why now?

The answer, most likely points to a previous post about a town in Long Island using Google Earth to find zoning violators. More and more local governments are using online aerial photography for assessing fines and generating money for cash strapped local & state budgets. While the privacy concerns were brushed off as laughable then because the story was about rich people problems unlicensed pools in wealthy areas, this story is a little different and cuts right at the heart of our rights to Life and Liberty.

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I am absolutely seething about the oil leak in the Gulf. I don’t know if the gravity of this situation has sunk in with people. I also don’t have the time right now to research and explain the ecological consequences, but I would assume that I’m addressing a smart enough audience that I don’t need to. It’s bad, and it’s going to be bad for a long long time. This spill is much larger that the Exxon Valdez spill, and it has occurred in a much more ecologically sensitive area. The Exxon Valdez spill reaked havoc on the environment for more than 20 years, and some would argue that it still affects that region. Enough said.

So, I’m heartbroken by this, but I’m also mad. I’m mad partly because of the amount of times I’ve listened to politicians (mostly on the right but not always) who claim that drilling in ecologically sensitive areas is environmentally safe. Can we please throw out that argument? It’s not safe. It’s risky. I believe that drilling compromises an environment even without a disaster like this, but I don’t expect common ground on that. Can we all just agree that there is a significant risk that goes along with drilling especially in challenging areas?

Can we all also agree that although accidents may not happen often, when they do happen they are devastating not only to the environment but also to the communities that surround it? This spill isn’t only going to obliterate an ecosystem, which I’m sure I care a bit more about than some of my friends on the right, but it’s also going to obliterate many coastal industries.

Now here’s the part that I’m most mad about. At some point, someone passed a law that the oil companies would be liable for only 75 million dollars in the event of a disaster. I haven’t researched this law, so I don’t know if it’s conservative or liberal politicians to blame. I’m sure it was pushed for by the oil lobbies, and I can safely guess that it was considered pro-business. I’ve heard an opinion that through a combination of laws the company could end up being liable for as much as 3 billion but it would take years of litigation to get that much out of them, and it’s not likely ever to happen. The total clean up from this is right now estimated at 20 billion.

First off, how pro-business is this law when one company can literally wipe out business for several industries and not be completely liable to them? How fiscally conservative is such a law when it places the burden of at least 17 billion dollars of clean up on the government?

Here’s the common ground I want. Can we agree that when an oil company drills, they should accept complete liability for the consequences of any mistakes they make. The only limit to their liability should come from legitimacy of the claims against them, not based on a dollar amount. Such a policy would make them think twice before drilling in questionable areas and taking short cuts along the way. Can we agree to that?

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A couple things lately have piqued my interest about President Obama.

  1. The government okaying wind-farms off Nantucket… which had been stalled for nine years (mostly, as the story is told, because Ted Kennedy and other hoighty-toighties didn’t want their vacation home views interrupted).  Good work to Obama to forge ahead despite that view held by many democratic supporters… although I wonder if he would have if TK was still alive.
  2. Dept. of Education’s Race to the Top program.  While regular  readers will not be unaware that I am hardly a fan of the DOE or Bush’s humongous enlarging of it with No Child Left Behind… I do want to credit the president for applying rules and language to schools fighting for fed dollars that they must be willing to reform their practices on how they hire and fire teachers.  Language such as:

    reforming and improving teacher preparation; revising teacher evaluation, compensation, and retention policies to encourage and reward effectiveness; and working to ensure that our most talented teachers are placed in the schools and subjects where they are needed the most.

    The White House has made it clear that when it announced Tennessee and Delaware as the first winners, that having union support of reform plans was crucial… basically saying, “unions you need to realize you are going to reform, or else you aren’t getting any money.

Kudos to the president. It may be harder than I would like to find things to agree with our president on, but I think it is appropriate to point out when I do.

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A while back I wrote about Toyota and the question of whether the free-market may have failed in regulating itself by the presence of the safety failures that occurred in their cars and trucks.  And now we are facing back-to-back tragedies with the mine explosion in Virginia, and now the BP oil-drilling rig explosion in the gulf.  Both companies had numerous fines and citations to their record (but, ironically BP was up for two government safety awards meant to be held this month).  So what is the deal here?  Has regulation failed?  Capitalism?  Does it all boil down to greedy CEO’s?

I would say a little bit of it all… plus other intangibles.

Did regulation fail?  I’m thinking, yes.  How exactly is it that a company receives 500 citations and fines a year and is continuing operations?  Look at the mine example:

Among the hazards are infractions related to air quality; development of a mine ventilation plan; equipment testing; and accumulation of combustible materials, such as coal dust, according to U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration records.

As production at the mine has increased, so, too, have the violations.

In 2008, the mine produced 363,923 tons of coal and received 197 citations. Last year, it produced 1.2 million tons of coal and racked up 515 violations, the highest amount of violations in the past decade. The proposed fines for those violations amount to nearly $900,000.

I understand that companies are able to appeal certain decisions, and continue operating while working on citations.  But perhaps there should be a limit to that – say your first 20 violations?  I’m not completely versed in this world, so perhaps these are tickey-tack violations that should not disrupt the flow of operations… but they sound pretty big to me.  I’m curious if there is a combination between owners bent on profit, regulators enjoying revenue from fines opposed to work-stoppages, and some serious connections to lobbying efforts in DC to keep things running smooth.

BP meanwhile is an interesting study.  The CEO of BP had apparently done great work in the name of increasing their safety record and costs.  And the oil rig belonged to a contractor, not BP, though the British giant certainly is the overall boss here.  But this case includes not only loss of life, but an extreme environmental catastrophe with a deep-water gusher spewing out thousands of barrels of oil a day into the gulf – with no convenient way to stop it.  So, again… who or what deserves the blame?  Again, I will have to say I don’t know.  But I’m inclined to think it is dysfunction between government and business.

It’s not business completely, because there are lots of companies out there that have sterling reputations for safety and low accidents – so why should these bad examples eliminate the good ones’ self-regulating behavior?  It’s not government completely… they are finding the issues many times.  As I was talking to my brother this weekend I was discussing how libertarian’s are not anti-regulation, or law.  That’s anarchy – rule of law is entirely necessary even in a limited-government view.  My problem with regulation is more typically reserved for personal liberties (such as the ability to smoke, or ride a motorcycle without a helmet) that over time serve to create a nanny-state that creates even greater dependence on government and absolution on personal accountability.  The ability of a government to safeguard our coastline from anybody drilling willy-nilly is not something I oppose.

I think the overall failure could in the area of follow-through.  If your punishment for an infraction is a fine not a fix, then expect people to often just pay the fine.  If your punishment is an order to fix something within a year… expect it to take a year.  I don’t think we need new regulations per se, just better and stricter enforcement of the ones we have – a similar argument to that of our immigration laws.  Bernie Madoff was flagged for his investment scheme – but without follow up.  Massey Mines was flagged but allowed to continue operations.  Deepwater Horizons (the leased rig at the center of BP’s problem) had a history of issues… but was not considered above average by any means, and hadn’t had a reported issue since 2005.  I would say that is pretty successful, but when dealing with oil and environment perhaps even one issue can be one too many.

This is a more fully nuanced discussion than we can have here… but the fact remains, these are tragic events and we should rue them happening.  Where the problem and solutions lie I think is not entirely in one camp, but a failure of many… as is the case quite often.    But be sure, that despite where the fault completely lies… the financial cost of all this will be borne by Massey and BP, not by the United States government or any regulating body.  Which in my mind causes me to think the companies needed to do better to stave off these accidents, and that their share of the fault is higher than any other entity I could drum up.

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Ran across this post today about a boat made from 12,500 plastic bottles.  Very interesting to say the least.  Check out the post to read more, and view the video below for a trailer about the project.

Added bonus… the guy who made the trailer and is on the boat filming has a film company in my hometown of Long Beach, and it looks like he’s been filming some cool stuff.

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In full disclosure, I am about to make some broad generalizations here, so if you feel maligned by what I say please don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments and we can hash it out. That said-

I recently ran across a Facebook group called “Stop Having Kids“, which led me to “Global Advocates for Negative Population Growth“, both of which have a general interest in sharing with each other how repugnant people are who have children whilst the following is taking place; children un-adopted in undeveloped countries, children starving in foreign countries, global warming increasing due to over-population, and world resources plummeting due to over-population, etc. I was somewhat dismayed to discover the group(s) after seeing some family members join them on my news feed… disheartening because of what they must think about my daughter and their niece. I haven’t spoken to them directly yet so cannot speak to their views exactly.

But these groups bring up a discussion that I have had on numerous occasions with (shall I dare say) my friends that may or may not take offense at being labeled liberals – and most definitely not in the classical sense. They hold the belief that we are vastly overpopulated and having children is highly irresponsible. But the point of this post is not specifically about the views of over-population, but rather with how views from these liberals most often clash with political views they hold simultaneously.

To a man (or woman) they are also, as many liberals are, lovers of big government. They want increased social welfare, universal health care, and seemingly every entitlement imaginable… but who will pay for it? Just yesterday Social Security started receiving less money than it is paying out, a situation we have known is coming for years. Are these no-birthers at the forefront of cutting off social security? What will pay for universal health care – future taxes? We can’t pay for our entitlements with a growing population let alone a shrinking one.  Look at Europe where social welfare is most heavily instituted.  All their birth rates are well below the replacement rate (2.1 per woman), and even the levels they are at are slightly inflated because of immigrant births there.  So they have opened their doors to immigration as the only way to maintain a tax base that will pay for their entitlements.  And speaking of health care, let me be extra cynical and ask why liberal no-birthers would want better health care at all… that just leads to longer lives and that dreaded over-population. To truly support their over-population fears this group of people should be firebrand members of the NRA, knowing that gun-toting blowhards could take out a good portion of the population through their reckless shooting. Maybe they should become active supporters of wars in the Middle East so those ever-reproducing Muslims will be stopped! So who exactly are they talking about to stop having kids?  Westerners?  We are all demographically shrinking if not for immigration, so we can’t be held responsible right?  U.S. birthrate is 2.04 so we are slowly (very slowly) shrinking.  Britain is 1.7 so it’s not their fault.  Where are the immigrants coming from that prop up the population and the birth rate?  Well, mostly Africa.  Poor under- and undeveloped countries are reliant on children to help farm to survive… plus you need extra in case some die (Africa also has the highest mortality rates as well).  Is the answer to cut off aid to Africa so that country can finally be swallowed up and stop over-populating?  Haven’t seen that in too many liberal platforms.  Aren’t liberals pro-immigration too?  Don’t they know that is where America’s growth is coming?  Wouldn’t it be consistent to be anti-children AND anti-immigration?

It is very frustrating when people hold conflicting views – and I’m sure I’m guilty of some as well. How can you support entitlements based on future tax revenue growth, and hold that those future tax-paying generations should be smaller? It’s analogous to an American who wants low prices but supports protectionist price-raising policies. Sometimes you can’t have your cake and eat it too. But its not really possible to have no children and reduce benefits is it? In traditional cultural roles, children and grandchildren take care of their elderly parents and grandparents. Whether this is having them come live with you, or constant visits, or paying for them to be admitted to a care facility, the onus is on the family to take care of the plans. With no children, couples are thereby relying on government institutions (I’m assuming, since – remember my broad generalization note – most liberals seem to be anti-private everything) to plan for and take care of them in old age. So therefore they cannot support reduced old-age benefits because they are the very ones who will need them.

It reminds me of people who want gun-free zones, and then are dismayed when armed lunatics disobey the posted rules and kill dozens of students or workers, while no one around has a gun to protect themselves or save others. (I won’t go any further into this, but to say that most accounts of where an even worse tragedy was averted was when some parent or off-duty policeman with a gun took out the assailant).  Policies have consequences… you want no more growth, you need to support smaller government.  But those never seem to go hand in hand.

This has been a bit of a rambling diatribe, to be sure. But the point was to acknowledge the inconsistency I see in the views of those supporting reverse population growth. I’ll rely on you dear reader to do your own reading on the policy itself, and whether or not our resources will be gone (see: Ehrlichs’ population bomb theory – fail) or what population control measures lead to (see: gendercide). I especially feel sorry for the children of the mother who is guilty about having kids because of what it will do to mother Earth.

My final thought on this is highly cynical, and morbidly childish. But I find it interesting that every person that believes the world is over-populated has immediate access to alleviating that problem by one… but I don’t ever hear them offering to do so.

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