Sierra Daily: March 2011

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35 posts from March 2011

Mar 30, 2011

You Want Something to Worry About?

Egged on by a lot of irresponsible reporting, many people in this country are being needlessly freaked out about the arrival of negligible amounts of radiation reaching the U.S. from the Fukushima Daiichi plant. There is, however, a source of radiation close to many of our homes that is more radioactive than nuclear waste, and that's coal ash, the inevitable byproduct of burning fossil rocks to supply half our energy. Kudos to ABC News for a well-done piece last night on the very real damage that a mountain of coal ash is doing to the Oklahoma town of Bokoshe:


Earlier this month the EPA put off ruling on the toxicity of coal ash, blaming the 450,000 public comments on the subject it had to work through. Said Lisa Evans, an attorney with the environmental law firm Earthjustice: ""Because 400,000 people cared enough to demand swift and effective action, EPA now has a reason to stall?""

--Paul Rauber

Mar 29, 2011

Who Among Us Has Not Flip-Flopped?


The GOP's large field of possible presidential candidates is beginning to fess up to the dilemma posed here on March 16:

"Everybody in the race, well at least the big names in the race, embraced climate change or cap-and-trade at one point or another."

That's former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, bemoaning his past reasonableness on Laura Ingraham's radio show yesterday. Pawlenty took the opportunity to take himself to the woodshed yet again:

Anybody who’s going to run for this office who’s been in an executive position, or may run, has got some clunkers in their record. Laura, mine I think are fewer and less severe than most. As to climate change, or more specifically cap-and-trade, I’ve just come out and admitted it — look, it was a mistake, it was stupid.

Here's the audio, courtesy of Think Progress, which also has an awesome compilation of Newt Gingrich's flip-flops on the subject.

--Paul Rauber

Illustration by Victor Juhasz




Mar 25, 2011

Getting Tough with the EPA Bashers

Via Greg Sargent's The Plum Line comes this hard-hitting advertisement that American Family Voices is going to run on cable stations in the Washington, D.C. area. Next week the Senate will vote on whether to revoke the EPA's authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases; EPA opponents can now choose between being portrayed as seal killers or baby poisoners. Not an enviable position for any politician.


--Paul Rauber





Gas Prices Illustrated


Thanks to Flowing Data by way of Fast Company, we can see how U.S gas prices compare to the rest of the world. This infographic uses the U.S per gallon average for regular fuel as of March 7;  by March 20 our national average was up to $3.57 per gallon. California's average is bumping up to $4 per gallon for regular, though the Golden State's major metro areas have already pushed passed it.

--Reed McManus

Baby Seal Killers


Remember back when everyone got so upset by images of Canadian hunters clubbing cute baby seals? The practice hasn't ended: You can learn more about it from the Humane Society, IFAW, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. But it turns out that there is more than one way to kill a cute baby seal. On Monday, the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced that Arctic sea ice had reached its maximum extent--a record low, tied with 2006. The lack of sea ice is deadly for harp seals, which depend on it to give birth to their pups. CBC News reports that poor ice conditions "will take a heavy toll on seal pups in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence again this year, with thousands likely to die." As many as half of the pups born in Atlantic Canada may die, estimates Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans biologist Mike Hammill.

There you have it: James Inhofe and Fred Upton, baby seal killers.

--Paul Rauber

Image: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

For Sale: One Coal Plant – Priced to Move!

Santee Cooper Ad Been looking for your own personal outdated energy source lately? You're in luck - Santee Cooper is selling all the parts and design for its now-canceled coal plant in South Carolina. Yes, they're even listing it as for sale – check out this ad found in Power Engineering magazine (PDF) - here's the text:

Santee Cooper – Power Plant Parts and Parcel to go.
Engineered, Procured and Ready to Construct.
Fully designed as a nominal 600 MW GE steam turbine, this Unit 1 power block is a coal-fired electric generating unit in waiting - making it or its equipment a perfect solution for a utility that projects demand and demands efficiency.

Ready for re-siting and permitting, this plant design comes with complete documentation of the power block specifications and calculations - and its major equipment is 100% delivered. If you have interest in either the entire plant design or the equipment, they are priced to move. Quickly.

You see, it really is priced to move - and quickly! As it turns out, this cozy little coal plant (wonder if it has a breakfast nook?) was one Santee Cooper had proposed in Kingsburg, South Carolina, but then canceled. The Sierra Club had been heavily involved in fighting this plant. See this article from SCnow for more details.

Santee Cooper Plant That's right, Santee Cooper decided it wasn't feasible to build this plant, so now they are offering the plans to the highest bidder. If they can't build a power plant using a dirty, outdated energy source - surely someone else can! This real estate sale even has its own website, with many more details about what's included in the package.

Hey, if this doesn't get your checkbook out right away, nothing will:

All design associated with the equipment listed is complete as are the foundations and buildings for the boiler, coal silo bay, and turbine building, including all foundations which are of a heavy mat design on piles that can easily transfer to other locations.

I have always, always, wanted my own coal silo bay. They make such good game rooms. Although to be honest, they had me at "The Alstom steam generator is rated at approximately 4,650,000 lbs per hour capable of burning bituminous coal only or a combination of bituminous coal and petcoke (up to a 70%/30% blend)." I can just feel my lungs burning with excitement…and asthma.

The ad does say all "power plant components," so we're wondering if you can buy just a smokestack. But alright, folks, your turn. What would you do with the spare parts of a coal plant?

-- Heather Moyer

Mar 24, 2011

Bulb Wars

Clipboard01 In case it isn't on your calendar, this Saturday at 8:30 p.m. we're all supposed to turn off our lights to celebrate "Earth Hour," a project of our colleagues at WWF, to "take a stand against climate change." The movement started in Australia in 2007, and resulted in the cool spectacle of lights being turned out on such landmarks as the Sydney Harbor Bridge, San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, and the Colosseum in Rome. The practical effects of such actions may be debatable, but reading about the Competitive Enterprise Institute's counter-campaign--the "Human Achievement Hour"--is enough to make you want to sit in the dark just to spite them.

On March 26th some people will be sitting in the dark to express their "vote" for action on global climate change. Instead, you can join CEI and the thousands of people around the world who will be celebrating Human Achievement Hour(HAH). Leave your lights on to express your appreciation for the inventions and innovations that make today the best time to be alive and the recognition that future solutions require individual freedom not government coercion. 

By "government coercion" the CEI means things like the EPA telling operators of coal-fired power plants that they can't poison us with mercury or taking steps to prevent climate chaos. So while CEI and its supporters turn on all their (incandescent!) lights Saturday to re-read The Fountainhead, I recommend you take the time to read--by the appropriate light source of your choice--this remarkable speech by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard in which she makes a powerful call to do what we all know needs to be done: Put a price on carbon.

We will cut carbon pollution. We will not leave our nation stranded by history. We will not live at the expense of future generations. We will get this call right and get this job done: For our nation. For our people. For our future.

--Paul Rauber

Mar 22, 2011

Shaky Future


If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it cause an earthquake? After studying the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed more than 200,000 people, University of Miami earth scientist Shimon Wdowinski concluded that the temblor may be linked to severe deforestation, which has removed 98 percent of the tree cover in Haiti’s mountains. 

With no roots to hold them together, the bare hillsides eroded much faster than forested ones would have. Then, in 2008, Haiti was hit by two hurricanes and two tropical storms. Flooding further hastened erosion, transferring masses of sediment from the mountain slopes to the mouth of the Leogane Delta—just north of the earthquake’s epicenter. That shift in weight, Wdowinski believes, was enough to rupture the previously unknown fault.

“Earthquakes have friction forces they have to overcome for the earth to move,” he explains. “It’s hard to move two blocks if they are [pressed] very tightly together. If we remove something from on top, we bring it closer to the [point] where the two blocks can slide.”

That something doesn’t have to be soil. It can also be ice. Researchers from NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey say that a recent uptick in seismic activity in southern Alaska followed the retreat of glacial ice. In other words, as the planet warms, it may also shake, rattle, and roll.

—Dashka Slater

--Image: University of Miami

Mar 21, 2011

Silent Spring

Leaping cat

Rachel Carson, of course, wrote the classic wakeup call to the danger posed to birds and other wildlife by DDT. But there's another silent spring that kills half a billion birds each year, and that's sweet l'il pussums jumping an unsuspecting wildfowl. Cats kill 1,000 times as many birds as do the nation's wind turbines, reviled by opponents as "Cuisinarts of the sky." (The vivid phrase was invented "in a fit of hyperbole" by the Sierra Club's late master of vivid phraseology, Bob Hattoy. Story here.)

A new study in the Journal of Ornithology looked at mortality among gray catbirds in suburban Washington, D.C., and found that 80 percent of deaths were attributable to predation--half of them by Puss. The American Bird Conservancy--and Sierra's own Mr. Green--advise that you keep your own kittypets indoors, and trap, neuter, and release neighborhood ferals.

Both the American Bird Conservancy and the Sierra Club support wind power; you can find the Club's policy on siting wind farms here. Why are people so much more exercised about wind turbines than cats? Today's New York Times quoted ABC vice president Gavin Shire:

“The idea of a man-made machine chopping a bird in half creates a visceral reaction,” he said, “while the idea of a predator with its prey in its mouth — well we’ve seen that on the Nature Channel. People’s reaction is that it is normal for cats to kill birds.”

--Paul Rauber

Mar 18, 2011

Why Worry About Radiation?

Feeling feverish? Rashy? Do your joints and eyeballs hurt? Are you vomiting? Hemorrhaging?

You may have dengue fever, the mosquito-borne virus that annually infects 50 to 100 million people around the world. In 2009, dengue came to Key West, Florida; there were 27 confirmed cases, with an additional 1,100 people--5 percent of the population--carrying either active dengue or antibodies showing that they had been exposed to the virus. Last November, a case was diagnosed in Miami as well.

Dengue used to be confined to the tropics, but climate change is spreading balmy temperatures and the diseases that come with them. The mosquitoes that carry dengue fever (Aedes aegypti, from Africa, and Aedes albopictus, from Asia) are now found in 28 states. (See a scary short animation of dengue's spread.)

"If you're in a climate where mosquitoes thrive year-round, it's much more difficult to control a mosquito-borne disease," explains Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

There are four varieties of dengue, and most adults who contract it experience nothing worse than a few days of fever. But, Fauci says, "It's a scary disease. If you're the unlucky one who gets the bad form, you can die from it." According to the World Health Organization, dengue is "the leading cause of serious illness and death among children" in some Asian countries.

--Dashka Slater

Video courtesy of Climate Central.  

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