Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mindset of decline

Today in the Herald there was a somewhat random op-ed from Aaron David Miller. For one bigger paper, the column appeared also in the LA Times. The thesis is that Obama "misread his moment" and though at the right time did the wrong things to be able to achieve greatness.

You could criticize the thesis, but I want to go in a direction more applicable for this blog. Miller is basically describing a declining, self-absorbed America that will not address serious long-term issues including climate change. Miller concludes with
Americans aren't so much looking for great presidents, big ideas or historic transformations. They want satisfaction on mundane matters such as prosperity, keeping Americans safe from terrorist attacks and an end to the roller-coaster ride of partisanship, name-calling and celebrity politics that is Washington today.

Give us bread ('cut my taxes!') and circuses ('what reality show is on?'), and keep us from being too scared... then nothing else matters much?

Miller pegs America as visionless and unconcerned about anything beyond point A and right now. I wish I could say he has it wrong, but with how frequently we see the same refrains for the status quo on energy and climate, maybe he has it right. All the cries of how we have to keep using fossil fuels the same as (seemingly) we have forever, we cannot put a price on carbon pollution, etc. because it would cripple us lend support to Miller's picture of America as wallet-obsessed, even so narrowly to the point of failing to recognize how such a shake-up on energy would actually still be beneficial on that front.

Are Americans collectively as short-sighted as Miller thinks? Is there only concern for the immediate perceived needs, without even realizing that foresight and investing in the future may satisfy those concerns at least as well as the same old, same old scorched earth policy? The voices of Miller and the energy delayers and climate change deniers say we can only coast along and not face and solve big problems. I still believe America can have more gas in the tank than that. And that gas is sustainable and does not produce fossil carbon pollution - maybe it is not even gas but battery power!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Saint North Dakota of the Immaculate Energy Production

We are now a couple days into the much-hyped "Running with Oil" series resulting from collaboration among various North Dakota media outlets. So far it is looking like about what I was figuring - perfectly fine reporting (though I would not call it "investigative") on a variety of facets of the whole of oil production. There seems to be a mix between ordinary "news information" stories like you could find any given day in the newspaper and more "human interest" stories that, though still seen in your newspaper, are more what may be expected from a magazine.

What has concerned me and that I expect to hold true is that there will be an enormous error of omission - no mention of the climate-altering effects of the carbon dioxide resulting from the burning of the oil. There will apparently be considerable focus on at least the threat of more direct pollution and environmental problems like from spills and massive water usage. If there is nothing though about dealing with CO2, then it would be like a massive series on the weather of North Dakota but ignoring the topic of flooding.

We did have in the Herald this morning an op-ed from a couple UND professors that again spells out some of the scientific and economic reasons to cut carbon pollution and shift toward clean energy. I assume the op-ed page (and maybe just that single submission) will be the only counter to the glowing descriptions of the North Dakota oil boom. I noted that there will apparently be mention of "threats", but I doubt that will be given the weight to make readers think the overall best action might be anything but excavating and burning as much oil as we possibly can. Oil revenue may lower our taxes in ND, so who cares how many future generations will have to suffer as a result of carbon emissions, right?

I would love to be proven wrong, but presumably this "Running with Oil" series will be simply more fodder for the right-now, burn-baby-burn mindset as exemplified by letters in the Herald> Saturday from Wade Pearson and Sunday from Jeff Miller. Unfortunately those letters I think exemplify the ignorance and short-sightedness already so prevalent and that will only worsen around these parts if people grow to more crave a few dollars more today from burning finite and polluting resources. Pearson simply pretends there is no issue of climate change and assumes that if coal plants meet current regulations on the likes of sulfur and mercury then everything must be perfectly fine forever. Miller mentions climate change but blithely dismisses it with no reason to focus on cries of being persecuted and political attacks.

We have to start seeing beyond the end of our wallet. We can afford to pay a little more to shift cleaner, sustainable energy a whole lot more than we can afford to wreck the biosphere. Pinching pennies by remaining handcuffed to dirty energy will not make up for not being able to supply food and water to billions of people, to mention just one major threat from climate change.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Alarmist and Ignorist

Sunday the Herald republished an editorial from the past Thursday's Bismarck Tribune. The thesis of the editorial was that it was good efforts at cap-and-trade have failed but that there are still efforts to maintain the environment that need to be fought. There is a throwaway line at the end acknowledging unspecified "serious and significant environmental issues that need to be considered."

A letter in the Tribune a few days later from Wayde Schafer effectively calls out the short-sightedness, so I quote it at length:

The Tribune's stated concern is avoiding "economic havoc" for coal-fired power plants, the largest contributor of global warming pollutants.

Disappointingly, the Tribune's editorial failed to consider the "economic havoc" that will befall North Dakota and the rest of the world if we do nothing to curb the man-made pollution that is causing the Earth to heat up.

Climate change is real, and we have a very small window of opportunity to reduce CO2 emissions so that the impacts are relatively small and manageable.

Time is not on our side, and the more of it we waste trying to avoid making the tough choices between yesterday's fossil fuels and the 21st century's clean energy, the less we're going to like the consequences, economic or otherwise.

To combat usage of the term "denialist", that side with those who earned the name commonly uses the term "alarmist" to paint as Chicken Littles the people who describe the threats of climate change. The irony is that the more extreme overblowing of consequences is typically from those who say things like what that Tribune editorial did - that effective actions to control greenhouse gas emissions would mean "destroying the recovering economy."

It is disappointing seeing the media around here parroting such political statements. As Schafer's letter noted, if one is worried about economic impacts, how can he or she simply ignore environmental destruction and degradation on a massive scale?

But it all fits into the larger picture as illustrated by today's editorial in the Herald entitled "A brighter future beckons as the oil boom strengthens". Fossil fuels are the sacred cash cow for North Dakota. But even if (for example) the Herald will not even think about the idea of using less of those finite and polluting resourcing, there could at least be consideration of using some of the windfall to deal with the approaching problems.

Of course acknowledging that costs will have to be paid by someone sometime for all the greenhouse gases poured into the atmosphere would mean accepting that it would be worthwhile to make an effort sooner to make smaller the bill later. That would be contrary to the two-sided strategy, "part alarmist" and part "ignorist" we see shown by these recent editorials - scream bloody murder about a price on pollution and strictly celebrating fossil fuels for the money they put in our pockets while ignoring the broader cost their use puts on us.