Category Archives: Environment

THIS WEEK IN FOSSIL FUELS

By Christopher B. Daly

One month into the Trump era, the number of new jobs in coal mining remains steady, at zero.

Now comes word that employment in the oil patch is declining and not coming back. The problem: automation.

When will we figure out — and acknowledge — that these industries are dying a natural death. There is no need to look for scapegoats like liberals, regulators, environmentalists. Congress should act quickly to flood the states dependent on coal and oil with money for income support and for retraining those folks for decent jobs in renewables or in other fields.

 

 

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Filed under Uncategorized, Environment, fossil fuels, coal, energy

TWIFF:Congress says it’s OK to dump coal waste in rivers & streams

By Christopher B. Daly

Yes, elections have consequences.

Near the head of the line of interest groups who supported President Trump in the election and who now want favors is the coal industry. In the first few days of the new Congress, both the House and Senate wasted no time in giving a green light to surface mining companies to resume their dirty ways. Both houses have passed legislation to reverse the “Stream Protection Rule” — which does pretty much what it says. But evidently, that regulation was just too burdensome for the coal industry.

Make no mistake: the pollution that results from lifting this rule will not harm the “coastal elites” who opposed Trump in the election. No, the pollution will go into the streams in Coal Country, where voters (well, white ones anyway) voted for Trump in big numbers. He is literally fouling their waters.

With friends like that, does the white working class really need enemies?

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Trump at a campaign rally last October in Pennsylvania. Photo by BU alum Dominick Reuter, AFP/Getty

 

 

 

 

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Filed under coal, energy, Environment, fossil fuels, Politics, Trump, Uncategorized

TWIFF: Clean coal?

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(photo by Lewis Hine)

By Christopher B. Daly

This week in fossil fuels brings a front-page story in the NYTimes reporting on a fiasco in Mississippi to spin straw into gold: a giant “clean coal” project that failed.

If anyone still thinks coal can be used cleanly, here’s a tip: pick up a lump of coal sometime. Carry it around. Try sharing it with others. Put it under your pillow. Go into a small room with the windows closed and burn it.

You will be sick of it in less time than it takes to read that Times story.

The world cannot stop mining and burning coal fast enough. Just stop. There are other ways.

 

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This Week in Fossil Fuels: It’s all over now

By Christopher B. Daly 

Even the Saudis get it: fossil fuels are ready for the dustbin of history.

One of the rising princes in the House of Saud announced this week that his oil-dependent nation is taking steps for life after oil. Some Saudis may actually have to develop skills and do work that the rest of the world values; some may even have to pay taxes. (In fact, my hope is that all Saudis soon have to pay taxes, as the government’s share of oil revenues declines. That way, Saudis will feel a growing sense of ownership over their own government. As it is now, the government can tell its people to get lost, because they don’t pay for it. In the future, the Saudi people may come to resent a regime of taxation without representation. They may even decide to overthrow the whole rotten system.)

Not since the collapse of the whale-oil industry have we seen such a dramatic shift in economics and ecology.

Elsewhere in fossil fuels:

–BP reported quarterly losses of about half a billion dollars. (Remember that p.r. slogan “Beyond Petroleum”? They might want to bring that one back and say it with feeling next time.)

–And China (usually tied with India for worst polluter on the planet) has decided to put the brakes on more coal-fired power plants.

All of which makes me wonder: How long before Obama pulls back his “all of the above” energy policy and declares that the faster America moves into renewables the better it will be for the planet and for the U.S. economy?

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Filed under business, china, coal, energy, Environment, fossil fuel, fossil fuels, Uncategorized

Photo gallery from Galapagos

By Christopher B. Daly 

Recently, I had the chance to visit one of the great destinations in the world — the Galapagos Islands, the equatorial archipelago in the Pacific made famous by the visit by Charles Darwin in 1835. Like many people, I have wondered about the Galapagos ever since first reading On the Origin of Species in college.

This trip was also a personal pilgrimage, to survey the place where my father-in-law, Army Lt. James W. Fishel, served during World War II. He and his men never surrendered an inch of territory to the Japanese (who did them the favor of not showing up).

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To the Koch Bros: Maybe you’d prefer China

By Christopher B. Daly

Thanks to the NYTimes, we know a little more today about the doings of the Koch brothers — the secretive billionaires who are using the Citizens United ruling to spend unprecedented amounts of money to affect U.S. politics and policy. A major theme appears to be advancing their corporate interests by discrediting government, which attempts to regulate the fossil-fuel businesses that the Kochs profit from.

According to the Times:

Leaders of the effort say it has great appeal to the businessmen and businesswomen who finance the operation and who believe that excess regulation and taxation are harming their enterprises and threatening the future of the country. The Kochs, with billions in holdings in energy, transportation and manufacturing, have a significant interest in seeing that future government regulation is limited.

It occurs to me that there are countries where those very industries — energy, transportation and manufacturing — are encouraged and liberated from regulation. A paramount example would be China, which has achieved tremendous growth rates by unleashing those sectors.

But what China and the Kochs do not want to talk about are the social costs that de-regulation imposes on society. Here is a photo I took last year in Xian — a large city in China’s industrial heartland. Bear in mind, this was not taken on a cloudy or rainy day. It was just a normal day in China, with air so thick you could not read a cease-and-desist order through it.

A reminder: Spending money ≠ speaking.

To Messrs. Koch, I ask: can we keep our (relatively) clean skies, please?

Xian, China.  Photo by Chris Daly (March 12, 2013)

Xian, China.
Photo by Chris Daly (March 12, 2013)

 

 

 

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Filed under Environment, New York Times

Alternatives to leaf-blowing

By Christopher B. Daly

In an earlier post, I laid out some of the case against getting rid of all the leaves that may fall on your land in the fall. This time, I want to explore some alternatives.

1. Do nothing. This is pretty extreme, I will grant you, especially in certain suburbs. It is the first step in a process that would logically culminate in turning your yard into a forest (at least here in New England). The trees on your land not only want to live, they want to pass on their DNA. To do that, they will produce thousands of seeds, and they will also try to shape the environment to favor their own kind. Thus, white pines will drop needles in profusion, changing the chemistry of the soil and physically blocking many of the pine’s rivals. So, if you really do nothing about your yard in this part of the world, it will soon look like the nearest patch of forest near where you live. This would not be the worst thing, but it will attract some notice, especially from neighbors who think the neighborhood should look like a golf course or a corner of Versailles. (Plus: you should probably not do absolutely nothing, or else you could end up with a forest of Norway maples, which would not be a really great outcome. See: alien invasives.) Still, if you’re up for it, go ahead to do nothing. Please let me know how that works out.

2. Fire your landscaper. Most landscapers are really not on your side. The ones I observe here in the New England suburbs are profit-maximizing businesses like any other. They want to sell you services and materials. So, they are not really interested in cutting back on the number of visits or applications of stuff like pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. If you decide to keep your landscaper around, then at least take charge of the relationship. Tell your landscaper exactly what you want (and do not want). You can begin by telling your landscaper not to use leaf-blowers on your place any more. Tell him (or her?) that you request the use of rakes and brooms instead. Your guy may grumble, but remember: the customer is always right.

3. Mulch your lawn. This may sound technical, but it is about as easy as falling out of bed. All mulching means is that you shred your leaves (somehow) and keep them on your own property. First, the shredding. This can be accomplished in a pretty good fashion with a regular lawn mower. You will need to mow pretty often in the fall to stay ahead of the accumulating leaves, but this is better than nothing. You can even tell your landscaper to do this. Better is to get a “mulching mower,” which is specially adapted to shredding imagesleaves into a nice small size, which encourages them to rot, which is just another term for recycling. Rotting is a great thing for your yard — both lawn and gardens. In fact, without rotting, we would be buried in stuff that never got properly recycled. So, you shred the leaves, and if the pieces are small enough and there are not too many leaves, you can just let them drop. They will drop down to the base of your grass. There, the mulch will retain water in the soil (thus sparing you from another racket — irrigation systems. If you live in New England, you do not need an irrigation system, certainly not for the typical lawn and gardens. We get plenty of rain here.) The mulch will also rot into the soil, thus enriching it. There you go: no need to water, no need to fertilize.

4. Mulch your gardens. As the leaves pile up in the fall, you may find that they outrun your capacity to mulch them right into the lawn. That’s OK. You can run your mulching mower with the bag attachment andimgres collect the shredded leaves. When the bag is full, you walk over to a nearby garden bed and just shake the contents into the garden. Let them pile up two to three inches deep. Here, they are your friends. They will rot and enrich the soil; they will limit evaporation and help retain rainwater; they will also help to suppress certain weeds. Depending on the ratio of garden beds to lawn at your place, you might be able to use all your shredded leaves on your own property. Never buy any more mulch from the nursery. You don’t need it.

5. Compost. This too may sound arcane or just daunting. It’s not. Composting is just a fancy name for a program of deliberately encouraging organic material to rot. When you compost, you accomplish several good things at once: you create your own free, natural fertilizer; you reduce your flow of garbage and other waste that has to be dealt with; and you will capture more and more of your own organic material. Composting can be ridiculously simple. You can just start a pile on the ground behind your garage. Toss grass clippings and shredded leaves on the pile, in alternating layers. From time to time, mix them up. Come back a few months later, and — voila! — there will be a load of dark, rich material that looks like a composting-how-tocross between plain old dirt and peat moss. Help yourself to a shovel-ful. Take it to a flower or vegetable bed, pour it on, and mix it in. Or, you can shake it lightly over your lawn. Anything you want to grow will grow better with compost. Once you get the hang of it, you can add kitchen scraps to your compost pile (but no meat or fish, please, or you will get every raccoon and skunk in the neighborhood spending the night behind your garage having a real hooey!). You can also buy a composter, which is a container for all this stuff, or make your own. Oh, yes, one more thing: it will all go better if you can divert some rainwater from your garage roof and keep your compost pile nice and moist.

6. Start a hedgerow. Huh? This too is easy. Here’s the idea: in many parts of the world (Ireland, England, France and elsewhere), farmers traditionally divided their fields by allowing or encouraging certain shrubs to grow up along the borders. Think of it as a living fence. The hedgerow not only marks boundaries, it was also used to control livestock in the centuries before barbed wire. But there’s one more benefit, too: the hedgerow is a patch of land on your property that you can essentially leave alone forever. The leaves that fall on it can just be left alone. Oh, and there’s a super bonus, too: a healthy, established hedgerow is also a home for lots of beneficial wildlife, which will appreciate the leaf litter on the ground, the cover provided by the shrubbery, the possibilities for making homes, and the food provided by any fruit or seeds yielded by the plants in your hedgerow. Here’s a way to start: go out to the back boundary on your land. Pace off 10-12 feet. Mark that line. Then, just stop mowing or weeding that zone. In a few years, you will find all kinds of “volunteers” — plants that show up all on their own, thanks to the wind or animals that disperse the seeds, and set about growing. You might want to do a bit of sorting, so that you get a good mix of native plants about the right size. Evergreens like yews and holly will get you through the winter. Fruiting shrubs like viburnums provide color and fruit. Now, if you back neighbor would do the same thing, the two of you would have a hedgerow more than 20 feet wide, which will really transform your neighborhood.

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So, there you go. These are all cheap, low-tech, proven techniques. Try them all. And see if you don’t find yourself running a more natural landscape.

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