Procrastinators Rejoice! It Isn’t Too Late

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Have you made a New Year’s resolution yet? Are you thinking about making one? If so, you’re among the 44 percent of Americans who, according to a December 2016 Marist poll, say they are likely to make a resolution for 2017.

The Marist survey asked: “What is it that you will resolve to do or not do in the New Year?” (Here’s a link to the poll in case you’re interested in analyzing the data: http://maristpoll.marist.edu/wp-content/misc/usapolls/us161201/Marist%20Poll_National%20Tables_New%20Years%20Resolutions_December%202016.pdf#page=3).

The results of the poll show that many of the most common resolutions involve reducing some kind of consumption. While the top vow is to “be a better person,” resolutions to lose weight (that is, to eat less), spend less money, stop smoking, and stop drinking are also popular. Absent from the survey are resolutions to achieve materialistic goals. Apparently, Americans aren’t resolving to become rich and famous in 2017—or, if they are, they aren’t admitting it.

In addition to resolving to be a better person, people are vowing to improve themselves by exercising more, eating healthier, getting closer to God, going back to school, setting goals, and getting a better job. They say they want to use their time better, increase family time, enjoy life, be kinder to others, and get politically involved. Worth noting is the fact that, with the exception of the 1% who are resolving to get a new house and the less than 1% who want to travel, Americans are resolving to do things in 2017 that are either environmentally benign or environmentally beneficial.

So now that it’s January, and the super-duper, holy-cow(!), consume-like-there’s-no-tomorrow season is behind us, a lot of us are thinking about reducing our consumption of food and other stuff and spending our time involved in more meaningful pursuits. If we follow through with our resolutions, we’ll not only make our own lives better, stronger, and happier, we’ll also be reducing the strain our consumption puts on the natural world.

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What Underlies the Pipeline Standoff in Dakota Indian Country?

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Have you been following the story regarding the Native Americans’ attempts to block construction of an oil pipeline in North Dakota?  Briefly, the Standing Rock tribe and its allies are trying to (1) prevent destruction of sacred lands and (2) protect the purity of their water supply. On the other side, Energy Transfer Partners argues: (1) it has fulfilled all of its legal requirements for building the pipeline; (2) as long as we depend on oil to power our cars, etc., we’re going to need to move that oil around; and (3) a pipeline is the safest way to transport oil.  At bottom, then, the problem is our overconsumption of fossil fuels.  If we use less, we won’t need to move as much of it around.

For decades, we’ve  tackled environmental problems primarily on the supply side of the equation.  In recent years, however, politically powerful oil suppliers have pushed back, demanding fewer regulations and restrictions.  We might be able to reduce the power of the oil-and-gas industry eventually, but, in the meantime, we can’t just stand by and wait for a sympathetic Congress to enact strong new environmental laws.  We must reduce our demand.

Here are links to several articles concerning the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Tribes Across North America Converge at Standing Rock, Hoping to Be Heard

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/tribes-across-north-america-converge-standing-rock-hoping-heard-2/

What Will Dakota Access Protesters Do If Final Pipeline Restrictions Are Lifted?

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/will-dakota-access-protesters-final-pipeline-restrictions-lifted/

Obama Holds Private Meeting As Cops Mass Near NoDAPL Front Lines

http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2016/10/26/police-presence-grows-civil-rights-leaders-join-water-protectors-166226

Mark Ruffalo Delivers Solar Panels to Camp Where Thousands Are Fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline

http://www.ecowatch.com/ruffalo-solar-dakota-access-pipeline-2066031293.html?utm_source=EcoWatch+List&utm_campaign=20ef4ce389-MailChimp+Email+Blast&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_49c7d43dc9-20ef4ce389-85933793

Police Start to Clear Pipeline Protesters Off Private Land in North Dakota

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/police-start-clear-pipeline-protesters-off-private-land-north-dakota/

IT’S A BIRD! IT’S A PLANE!

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No, it’s a weathered, shredded plastic grocery bag.

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Inevitably, when I’m out for a walk, I see plastic bags blowing in the wind or snagged by a branch and flapping in the air. Often, I pick the bags up and carry them with me till I get to a store with a recycling barrel. Plastic bags weigh next to nothing., so carrying them for a little while isn’t a big deal.

I realize, of course, that picking up and recycling a bag or two makes approximately zero difference in the grand scheme of things. At the same time, I’m pretty certain that an individual turtle or sea bird or some other marine creature will be spared harm because I took a second to pick up a plastic bag.

What’s happening in the world’s oceans is appalling. If you haven’t read this before, you might think that I’m making it up, but, in fact, there are continent-sized patches of floating garbage in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans.* And most of that garbage is plastic. Consequently, more than half of the Earth’s sea turtles and almost all of its sea birds have ingested plastic.

So if you’re out for a walk and you see a plastic bag blowing by, you can prevent it from landing in a creek or a storm drain and being carried by the current to a river and then to the ocean and then to the stomach of a century-old tortoise by picking the bag up and recycling it. If recycling is too inconvenient, throwing the bag away in a trash can will at least keep it from ending up in the stomach of some marine creature.

http://education.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/great-pacific-garbage-patch/   http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/03/100302-new-ocean-trash-garbage-patch/   http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/04/140404-garbage-patch-indian-ocean-debris-malaysian-plane/

If your nerves can stand it, check out one or both of the stories linked below.

By 2050, Our Oceans Will Hold More Plastic Than Fish

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/01/24/oceans-more-plastic-than-fish/79267192/

By 2050, There Will Be More Plastic Than Fish in the World’s Oceans, Study Says

I, Termite?

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If climate change were the only environmental crisis we face, we could switch to wind, solar, and other non-fossil forms of energy, and go on depending on economic growth to solve our enviro-politico-socio-economic problems forever. But while climate change is arguably the worst environmental crisis we face, it is not the only environmental crisis we face.

My last post included links to several articles about the species-extinction crisis. This time, my post includes a single link to a series of articles that ran in USA Today a few weeks ago on the groundwater-depletion crisis.

Did I hear a groan, Dear Reader? I think I did. So, let me just say, yeah, I know that reading about environmental degradation isn’t fun. At times, in fact, it’s downright depressing. Perhaps it’s comparable to reading reports about the condition of your home. While you probably don’t want to know that the entire back wall of your house is infested with termites, that the plumbing is corroded and needs to be replaced, that the roof is springing leaks, or that the foundation is cracked, you need to know the unpleasant facts so you can fix what’s wrong before the whole place caves in on you.

I regret putting it this way, but the sad fact is that humans have begun to feed on the Earth like termites feed on the wood in houses. But unlike termites that can move on to another house or a decaying tree to sustain them after they’ve consumed all the wood in one house, we have no other Earth that we can infest (so to speak), so we’d better take care of this one.

And now, without further ado, here’s the link to the article:

http://www.usatoday.com/pages/interactives/groundwater/

 

 

They Paved Paradise

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Climate change is a gargantuan environmental problem, but it’s not our only environmental problem. By focusing obsessively on it, we blind ourselves to problems occurring in the periphery.

That point came to mind as I read an article in today’s New York Times, entitled: “Despite Push for Cleaner Cars, Sheer Numbers Could Work Against Climate Benefits.” If you’d like to read the article, you can find it at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/08/business/energy-environment/despite-push-for-cleaner-cars-sheer-numbers-could-work-against-climate-benefits.html?partner=IFTTT&_r=0

The article notes that the number of cars “on the world’s roads is on pace to double — to more than two billion — by the year 2030. And more likely than not, most of those cars will be burning carbon-emitting gasoline or diesel fuels.” Why? Because many of those cars will be sold in places like India and China that lack “the ubiquitous electric grid required for recharging electric vehicles.”

So all those additional cars on the road will be spewing billions of additional tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, making it harder to reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions, and that’s a problem — no doubt about it. But it’s a problem that can be fixed. All we have to do is phase out the production of fossil-fuel powered vehicles and create a ubiquitous green-energy electric grid. Of course, doing those things will be difficult, but not theoretically impossible.

But there is at least one related problem that an electric grid and electric cars can’t solve: species extinctions due to paved-over habitats. A higher rate of extinctions is inevitable, because with more cars, we must have more roads. Twice as many cars will mean twice as many roads. And we’ll also need to devote more space to parking lots and garages and gas stations and salvage yards and auto parts stores, and on and on.

So, when we’re looking for ways to cope with climate change, we need to remember that environmental problems are interrelated. While we’re working on one issue, we should take a step back and ask ourselves if our proposed solutions will paper over flaws that are more intrinsic.

 

Will It Begin Today?

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As I mentioned in earlier posts (“Hat’s Off” and “Floating down the River . . .”), I’m aware that scaring people about the deteriorating health of the environment can be counterproductive. People who are frightened and see no way to fight back are inclined to go out and buy more stuff, surround themselves with comforting things, and distract themselves from the source of their fears. I’m equally aware that the way we’re living is unsustainable. In the process of tearing through resources and pumping out waste, we’re racking up a long list of environmental bills. Sadly, our children and grandchildren will be forced to cope somehow when those bills come due.

Knowing those facts, I walk around with my hair on fire under my hat, wanting to grab people by the collar and shake them till my hat (or theirs) falls off, and shout: “Don’t you realize what’s happening? Don’t you understand that we’re all contributing to environmental problems by buying a lot of stuff we don’t need? Don’t you know that there are environmental costs to all the stuff we buy? Species extinctions, groundwater depletion and pollution, soil erosion, desertification, endocrine disruption, climate change, ocean acidification, and on and on. You’d better take these problems seriously and do everything you can to fix ’em, or there’s a very good chance that down the road your kids and grandkids are gonna curse your memory.

The problem with that idea (in addition to the risk of having my lights punched out by some temperamental soul who doesn’t appreciate being shaken by the collar and screamed at) is that few of us are inclined to deny ourselves the pleasure of buying new things — especially if we suspect that our choices will not affect the environment one way or the other. And, in fact, most of us realize that environmental problems are so enormous that the effects of our little, individual indulgences (or sacrifices) are truly insignificant.

So what we’ve got here is one big — and growing — environmental mess. With each day that we fail to reduce our burden on the ecosphere in the present, we compound the difficulty of correcting environmental problems in the future. And because we believe that our own actions are largely irrelevant, we passively wait for government regulations or technological innovations to descend from above, deus-ex-machina style, and fix all of our problems for us.

The trouble with the sit-around-and-wait strategy is that it ain’t workin’. The government is hobbled and nearly dysfunctional. Republicans not only oppose new environmental regulations, they want to roll back most of the ones that are already in force. While the President can issue some executive orders for the sake of the environment, his ability to make big changes is limited. As for technological solutions, to be brief, inventions that help the environment in one way generally (perhaps inevitably) harm it in other ways. Beyond that, the ecosphere is unraveling along a multitude of seams. Even if we could develop side-effect-free technologies (which isn’t going to happen), we can’t invent and deploy those technologies fast enough to mend all the rips and frayed edges.

So it’s up to each of us to cut our unnecessary consumption and thereby reduce the wear and tear we inflict on the planet. Since one person’s consumption reduction has no appreciable impact on the environment, what we need is a movement — an anti-consumerist movement — to sweep the nation and the world. With the release today of Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, that movement may be about to begin.