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Guess what, folks! Today is AMERICA RECYCLES DAY! Woo-hoo! Did you get the day off? Me neither. Rip-off, right?

Let’s hope we get the day off next year. In the meantime, let’s show our America-Recycles-Day spirit by clicking on the following links.

For information about:

So come on, America! CELEBRATE THE DAY! There won’t be another America Recycles Day for an entire year!


What Underlies the Pipeline Standoff in Dakota Indian Country?



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


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


Obama Holds Private Meeting As Cops Mass Near NoDAPL Front Lines


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


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




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


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


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

What the Frack?


Below, I’ve pasted introductory quotes and links to several articles about the environmental impacts of natural-gas production and storage. The first article discusses some of the arguments among environmentalists over the costs and benefits of fracking; the second looks at the impact of fracking on Florida’s drinking water; the third covers fracking-induced earthquakes; the fourth calls the leak from a natural-gas storage facility in Los Angeles “the worst accidental discharge of greenhouse gases in U.S. history”; while the fifth says, hold on a minute, the massive methane leaks from Texas’s fracking sites are worse than California’s.

Between the lines, the articles hint at why fracking is likely to continue despite the high environmental costs.

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Fracking Is Killing Coal. So Why Do So Many Environmentalists Hate It?

By Brad Plumer, April 8, 2015

Few things have inspired angst among green groups and climate advocates like the question of how to deal with fracking…. Here’s a very rough breakdown of the debate: Supporters of fracking point out that the US natural-gas boom, driven by hydraulic fracturing, has actually been one of the big environmental success stories of the past decade. Electric utilities are now using more cheap gas and less dirty coal to generate power. Since gas burns more cleanly, that curbs air pollution…. On the “anti” side, meanwhile, are a large and growing set of environmentalists who now argue that the problems with fracking outweigh the benefits…. They don’t see gas as helping us move away from coal. They see cheap gas as hampering the transition to renewable sources like wind and solar.



Unlikely Battle Over Fracking Intensifies in Florida

By Lizette Alvarez, Feb 23, 2016

With geology akin to a wet sponge and fragile underground aquifers that supply almost all its drinking water, Florida has never been considered part of the agitated battle over fracking as a technology for extracting oil and gas. But that began to change two years ago when a Texas-based oil and gas company was found to have been using hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, and matrix acidizing, a fracking-like method that dissolves rocks with acid instead of fracturing them with pressurized liquid. Neither residents nor local governments knew about it because well stimulation, the catch-all term for both techniques, does not require a separate permit and is not regulated.



Erin Brockovich on Oklahoma Earthquakes: ‘It’s Fracking, Let’s Just be Honest’

By Lorraine Chow, February 24, 2016

Oklahoma experiences more earthquakes than anywhere in the world. Before 2009, Oklahoma had two earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater each year, but now there are two a day…. Despite mounting scientific consensus against the oil and gas sector, certain politicians such as pro-business state Gov. Mary Fallin have been slow to change their tune about the link between fracking wastewater disposal and earthquakes. State scientists and regulators have also been reportedly silenced by industry-linked state officials.




California Gas Leak Was the Worst Man-Made Greenhouse-Gas Disaster in U.S. History, Study Says

By Joby Warrick, February 25, 2016

The massive leak that vented millions of pounds of natural gas from a Los Angeles storage facility now appears to have been the worst accidental discharge of greenhouse gases in U.S. history, scientists concluded in an analysis released Thursday…. “The climate impact is the largest on a record” for any single incident in the United States, said Stephen Conley, an atmospheric scientist at the University of California at Davis and one of six scientists involved in the study.




Massive Methane Leaks From Texas Fracking Sites Even More Significant Than Infamous Porter Ranch Gas Leak

By Claire Bernish,  February 23, 2016

Texas is dealing with a comparable disaster [to the one in L.A.] that has been overlooked by officials and the media, in part, because the state’s methane emanates from a powerful industry’s infrastructure…. “Every hour, natural gas facilities in North Texas’ Barnett Shale region emit thousands of tons of methane—a greenhouse gas at least 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide—and a slate of noxious pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and benzene.The [Los Angeles] leak was big. The Barnett leaks, combined, are even bigger.”




A Link to the Zero-Waste Guru


Dear Blog Reader,

For now, I’d just like to pass along a link to an article, “Zero Waste Guru’s 10 Tips for a Happier and Healthier Life.”


Thanks for taking the time to check out my post!


Can We Curb Conspicuous Consumption?


Evidence of the environmental impact of individual consumption is everywhere—from the single plastic bag hanging from the limb of a nearby tree to the millions of acres of plastic debris floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and other ocean gyres.

In recent years, plastic bags have become common features in our landscapes.

In recent years, plastic bags have become common features in our landscapes.

We see pictures and read stories about environmental tragedies and shake our heads in sadness and disgust. The rape-the-earth corporations are to blame, we think. In truth, however, each one of us is partially responsible. After all, it’s because we want stuff—and want it at the lowest price possible—that profit-seeking manufacturers grind out goods and transfer costs to the environment.

So while pointing fingers and tut-tutting at corporations can be personally therapeutic, in practical terms, our self-righteous indignation has achieved far too little. After years of condemning the bad guys, the ecosphere continues to unravel, and it does so at a rapidly accelerating rate. Each of us needs to find ways to protect the environment, and we need to do it now, because with every passing day environmental problems become harder to address.

But (you may be wondering), what about the government? Shouldn’t the government pass more environmental laws and enforce more environmental regulations? Well, yes, the government should play a more active role. As luck would have it, however, one of the two major political parties—the one that’s presently in control of Congress—is dead set against letting that happen. 

Okay, if not the government, then what about technology? Can’t we rely on some geniuses somewhere to come up with technological fixes for our environmental problems?

Well, maybe, but counting on technology to save the day would be a mistake. For one thing, creating a new technology takes time, and with environmental problems tangling and metastasizing by the day, waiting for a genius somewhere to have a brainstorm—which might never even happen—is a risky strategy. Beyond that, like a Trojan horse, an attractive new technology can carry unexpected troubles in its belly. In too many cases, the troubles that escape through the trapdoor are more difficult to fix than the problems the technology was designed to solve.

Which leaves us where? Contemplating our navels? If governmental actions are constrained and technological innovations are problematic, sitting back and waiting for the government or technology to solve environmental problems for us is, at best, a waste of time. And while ecological economists offer finely limned blueprints for a sustainable future, the necessary transformation from a growth-based to a steady-state economy won’t happen overnight. So the big question is: What can we do right now, as individuals, to help reverse destructive environmental trends?

Well, for starters, we can face the fact that we’re shopaholics and take the cure. And if the first step to recovery is admitting we have a problem, then square one should be reachable, because most of us recognize that consumption in the U.S. is excessive. According to opinion polls conducted over the past three decades, we Americans agree, by overwhelming majorities, that our fellow citizens consume too much stuff, produce too much waste, and need to make major lifestyle changes in order to protect the environment.

So why don’t we just go ahead and make those changes? Well, for one thing (generally speaking, of course), we’re consumption addicts, and addicts specialize in denial. While we’re ready to admit that aggregate consumption is excessive, we deny that something we buy could actually be responsible for somehow damaging the environment, or we assure ourselves that the environmental impact of our own consumption represents such a tiny fraction of the whole that there’s no point in denying ourselves the things we want unless a whole lot of other people make similar sacrifices.

Which brings us to one big doozy of a question. Ready? Okay, here goes: If most individuals won’t reduce their consumption unless masses of other people reduce theirs, is there a way to motivate the masses to reduce their consumption voluntarily when those masses are made up of individuals who won’t reduce their consumption unless a whole lot of other people reduce theirs? In other words, is there a way to solve (to borrow from Churchill) this “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” and bring about the necessary groundswell of consumption reducers?

I think there might be. It won’t be easy, but there just might be a way. And that way is (drumroll please): conspicuous consumption reduction.

To be successful, consumption reduction must be conspicuous, and here’s why: Those of us who are inclined to curb our consumption will be much likelier to do so (for reasons mentioned above) if we know that other people are curbing theirs. As things stand, we have no way of knowing whether or not a stranger is committed to consumption reduction. We don’t necessarily know about our friends, family, or coworkers, either. If they are cutting back, they might tell us; but, then again, they might not. What we need, then, is a way to signal each other that we’re members of the consumption-reduction community. Getting the signal from someone else will reassure us that we’re not sacrificing alone and in vain, but are instead members of a movement that is actually helping to protect the environment.

So, if we agree that we need a way to signal our commitment to consumption reduction, we need to decide what that conspicuous signal should be. While it could be a lot of things, I suggest we use a tattered armband and call ourselves the Tattered Armband Alliance.

tattered armband on 11-12-14 at 11.58 AM

As I mentioned in a previous post, joining the Alliance would be a simple matter of taking an old rag or worn out piece of clothing, tearing a long strip (perhaps unraveling the edges a bit), tying the strip around the upper arm, and declaring ourselves members. There would be no dues or products offered as incentives for joining. Simply wearing a tattered armband and vowing to be a consumption cutter would be sufficient for membership.

People will probably ask Alliance members why we’re wearing those raggedy bands on our sleeves. If they do we can explain that scientists have begun to warn us that the Earth might not be “a safe operating space” for humans in a matter of decades.* We need to act immediately, and conventional approaches to environmental protection are insufficient. Given that our excessive consumption is a major driver of environmental degradation, cutting back will make a difference, and it’s something we can start doing today.

The tattered armband is just one idea. If you have another idea for organizing a consumption-reduction movement, please share it. The need to act is crucial, and the more ideas, the better.


*Steffen, Will, Katherine Richardson, et al. “Planetary Boundaries: Guiding Human Development on a Changing Planet. Science. Published Online January 15, 2014. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2015/01/14/science.1259855



In Which We Pick on Picketty, Part II


Yesterday I said I’d explain what the popularity of Thomas Piketty’s book and the writings and speeches of others on inequality have to do with consumerism and its impact on the environment. So let me get right to the point: All of this focus on unequal distribution of wealth is causing us to take our eyes off the environmental ball at a time when swift actions could help mitigate the extent of future ecological catastrophes.

In all probability, within a few decades, it will make very little difference to us whether the median annual income is $50,000 or $100,000, because we’ll be too busy struggling with resources wars, eco-refugees, droughts, floods, water shortages, hurricanes, wildfires, and on and on, to care about such trivialities.

In the meantime, putting more money into the hands of the middle class will almost certainly exacerbate our environmental ills. Why? Because middle class people are likely to spend much of their additional income on stuff they could actually live quite well without, and that sort of over-consumption is the very foundation of human-caused environmental problems.

Keep in mind that everything that goes into producing, transporting, using, maintaining, and disposing of our possessions inflicts costs on the environment, even though most of those costs occur out of sight. We deplete resources and produce waste (including pollution) during every step of a product’s lifecycle: from the extraction, transportation, and transformation of resources; to the manufacturing, distribution, and consumption of finished goods; and finally to the disposal of used-up or broken-down trash.

I don’t mean to say that unequal distribution is a frivolous issue. Wealth translates readily into political power, so the concentration of wealth in a tiny fraction of the population is a danger to democracy. And clearly, there are too many people within the United States and around the world who work hard but barely scrape by—even in good times. When misfortune strikes, these folks lack the reserves to cope with the consequences of adversity.

So thinking about the unequal distribution of wealth and what to do about it is certainly worthwhile—as long as we keep the environmental consequences of overconsumption centermost in our minds.