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Sierra Daily: September 2013


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6 posts from September 2013

Sep 26, 2013

Confidence Men

Bluff

There’s an increasing smell of desperation coming from our neighbors to the north. In June, President Barack Obama said he’d OK the Keystone XL pipeline “only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” Since Keystone obviously flunks that test, Canadian Prime Minister John Harper has reportedly promised to somehow mitigate the carbon pollution from Keystone if only Obama would approve it. (In a letter to Obama, Sierra Club Executive Director @bruneski called the offer "a rubber check written against an empty account.")

Today, according to Bloomberg News, Harper "said he remains optimistic the project will be found to be in the national interest of the U.S." A dive into the archive by our friends at Bold Nebraska found, however, that such assertions of confidence are apparently de rigueur for Keystone supporters. A brief history: 

 

July, 2010: “TransCanada Corp, the county's No. 1 pipeline and power company, said on Thursday it does not expect significant delays to its $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline project to the U.S. Gulf Coast.”
 
February, 2011: “[TransCanada] said it now expects U.S. authorities to approve the project in the last six months of 2011. Its previous estimate was for early in the year.”
 
September, 2011: “We are increasingly optimistic about the likelihood of a presidential permit, which will be based on his analysis of the national interest.”
 
November, 2011: “TransCanada said it was optimistic its Keystone XL oil pipeline would be approved even after Washington said it would consider alternative routes.”
 
December, 2011: “TransCanada expects Keystone XL, including the Houston Lateral, to be in service by the end of 2014.
 
January, 2012: Pourbaix is confident a deal will be in place with Nebraska by September. The company would then apply for federal approval to connect the pipeline to the Alberta oil sands after it begins construction in the States.”
 
February, 2012: “Proceeding with the southern leg of its Keystone XL route reflects TransCanada Pipeline's confidence the rest of the controversial project will be approved by Washington, said company spokesmen.”
 
 
November, 2012: TransCanada still expects to receive White House approval for its 830,000-bpd Keystone XL pipeline project after President Barack Obama's re-election, the company said Friday.”
 
February, 2013: “A senior executive of TransCanada Corp. said Tuesday the company expects final State Department approval for the Keystone XL pipeline expansion in two to three months, following a final U.S. environmental assessment, which he said was ‘imminent.’”
 
February, 2013: “TransCanada, which has been waiting for White House approval for the 830,000 barrel-a-day pipeline expansion for years, expects to receive the necessary permit ‘by the first half of 2013,’ Paul Miller, TransCanada's senior vice president in charge of oil pipelines, said.
"We anticipate to have this in service by end of 2014 or beginning of 2015," Mr. Miller said.
 
September, 2013: “An executive for the Canadian firm that plans to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline through northeast Montana said Wednesday he’s confident the project will get final approval from the U.S. State Department.”
 

Image by fotoscape/iStock

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PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber

 

 

Sep 19, 2013

Passing The Sniff Test

Smelling bad milkLast week, this blog noted the massive carbon footprint –- 3.3 billion tons per year -- of global food waste. (When compared to the greenhouse offal of entire countries, that puts “food waste” just behind China and the United States.) This week, the Natural Resources Defense Council released a useful “issue brief” that spells out ways public agencies and individuals can begin to trim kitchen waste. Among the easiest: Ignore those “sell-by” dates you find on food products. 

And risk spending the night doubled over the porcelain throne? Well, no. But “sell by” and “best by” date stamps aren’t indicators of safety, just a manufacturer’s best guess of peak freshness. Confusion over labeling, according to the Food Marketing Institute, leads nine out of ten Americans to throw away perfectly good food. In The Dating Game: How Confusing Labels Land Billions of Pounds of Food in the Trash, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic suggest that a revised food-labeling system (which, except for infant formula, is managed state-by-state) could clear up some confusion. One of their potentially contentious ideas is to make invisible to consumers “sell by” dates, which are designed to help a store manage inventory and does not tell consumers how long a product will be good after it’s purchased. The groups also suggest clarifying labeling language: “Best by” could be replaced by “Peak freshness guaranteed by,” for example.

In the end, we should rely more on our skills honed as daily eaters. “Having a date on a package of food is reassuring,” Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (And What We Can Do About It), told the Washington Post. “But you should always trust your senses before that arbitrary date on the package. Look, smell, and if it comes to it, taste it before you throw it away.”

Image by iStock/3bugsmom.

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

Sep 18, 2013

"Build Keystone XL Or We'll Shut Down the Government"

NattielampWhat do Congressional Republicans hate as much as Obamacare? This: the possibility that President Obama will nix the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada. Their current strategy re. Obamacare is to leave funding for the Affordable Care Act out of their upcoming stopgap spending bill and see if the Tea Party caucus in the Senate can persuade the Democratic majority to go along. Since the odds for that are vanishingly unlikely, the House leadership is adding further pie-in-the-sky demands to the bill--including construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

House GOP leaders will seek to advance the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline in legislation to raise the debt ceiling, lawmakers said Wednesday.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters the bill would provide a “path forward” on the Keystone pipeline, but the specifics of the GOP Keystone plan were uncertain Wednesday.

President Obama's determination on whether building Keystone is in the national interest is not expected until next year. In June, he declared that "Our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution." To make his decision easier, the Sierra Club has put together a comprehensive report: "FAIL: How the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline Flunks the Climate Test." It would make good reading for Eric Cantor and John Boehner as well.

HS_PaulRauberFINAL (1)

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber

ate Test



Sep 13, 2013

Eat Everything On Your Plate

Food garbageAccording to a new U.N. report, about a third of all food for human consumption, about 1.3 billion tons, is wasted, along with the energy, water, and chemicals required to produce it. If “global food waste” was a country, its carbon*emissions -- 3.3 billion tons per year-- would fall behind only China and the United States, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization "Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources.”

In developing countries, inefficient farming and a lack of proper food storage leads to food waste; in developed countries, it’s exactly what you’d expect: We buy too much and throw away what we don’t eat. Last year, a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that Americans throw away nearly half their food every year, waste worth roughly $165 billion annually.

Image by iStock/lucentius

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

Sep 10, 2013

We Know You Have a Choice in Airlines…

Airlines-fuel-efficiency-icct.jpg.662x0_q100_crop-scaleFlying has its environmental cost, but you don’t have to forgo your environmental sensibilities -- or the fun of travel altogether -- to maintain some sense of ecological righteousness. Ranking 15 major airlines, the International Council on Clean Transportation found whopping differences in the fuel efficiency of carriers, even among those flying identical routes. The most efficient airline overall, based on 2010 data, was Alaska Airlines; the least efficient, Allegiant. Alaska was 26 percentage points more efficient than Allegiant. 

“This gap is larger than what might be expected in a mature aviation market during a period of high fuel prices,” the report’s authors wrote. About one-third of efficiency differences can be attributed to more efficient aircraft designs and technologies. (Old, inefficient fleets -– in 2010, at least -- hindered both Allegiant and next-to-last American.) The rest is “due to a mix of factors including route circuity, airport congestion, differing average percentages of occupied seats, and fuel-saving operating practices such as taxiing with only one engine.”

Alas, airlines aren’t scrambling fast enough to replace old fleets. That’s because the cost of the latest, most-efficient plane may not be recouped soon enough to satisfy quarterly balance sheets. According to the report, “the purchase of newer, more fuel-efficient jets might make little sense when older ones are available at a significant discount because the fixed cost of state of-the-art aircraft might not be offset by the projected fuel savings.”

Image: ICCT

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

Why Space Junk Threatens Earth Conservation

Space junk litters low Earth orbit
A digital representation of lower orbit debris, from the upcoming documentary “Space Junk 3D.”

This month, the U.S. Air Force announced that it will shut down its “radar fence,” which tracks space trash. They cite federal government sequestration as the reason, and lament having to close the fence. Wait, there’s space trash? And it’s important enough to be tracked by the Air Force? Yup.

From flakes of paint shaken off of rockets to the broken up bodies of abandoned satellites, humankind’s machine waste now clutters low-Earth-orbit, the 2000 kilometers (1243 miles) above Earth’s surface. This important zone hosts most of our satellites, including those crucial for conservation and environmental management: the Earth Observing System (EOS) satellites, launched by NASA and used by the Forest Service and environmental science academics. One data collector is MODIS, an imagery sensor that flies on the Terra and Aqua satellites.

“We use MODIS data for fire detection,” says Brad Quayle, a remote sensing specialist for the Forest Service. “We also monitor tree health to keep track of pests and pathogens.” For example, Quayle's team can remotely detect a slight bark beetle outbreak through changes in satellite images of forests. 

Without low-Earth-orbit satellites, environmental science would be sent back to the Stone Age, or at least the '60s. Yet Earth’s spacefaring nations have polluted what was once seen as a public good: the "limitless" vastness of space. It took only two acts of human negligence to create one third of the space debris currently tracked by NASA. In 2007 China intentionally smashed a weather satellite, and in 2009 American and Russian communications satellites collided accidentally (see a video reenactment below). Both events scattered thousands of pieces of junk into orbit. The remaining pieces accumulated from rocket stages of human spacecraft, dead satellites left in orbit, and other miscellaneous trash. 

Continue reading "Why Space Junk Threatens Earth Conservation" »


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