4-in-10 see it as evidence of what ‘Bible calls the end times.’
More than half of Americans believe in a personal God who controls everything, yet a survey released today finds that most see natural disasters as increasing in severity because of climate change rather than God’s wrath.
In the wake of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the Public Religion Research Institute surveyed a random sample of 1,008 adults March 17-20. It found that few believe that God punishes nations for its sins or that earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters are a sign from God.
“Americans overall resist drawing a straight line from theological beliefs about a personal God to God’s direct role or judgment in particular natural disasters,” said Robert P. Jones, PRRI’s chief executive officer. “Americans have more natural than supernatural views of disasters.”
Seven in 10 Americans see God as an entity with whom one can have a personal relationship. And 56 percent say God is in control of everything that happens.
Yet the survey found only 38 percent believe natural disasters are a message from God. Only 29 percent believe such calamities are punishment for sins.
However, white evangelical Protestants are the exception, according to the survey, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Almost six in 10 white evangelical Protestants believe God is sending a sign with natural disasters. And 53 percent believe God is judging and punishing nations.
Only one in five white mainline Protestants or Catholics believe disasters signal God’s displeasure.
The severity of recent natural evidence is evidence of global climate change, said 58 percent of those surveyed. And 44 percent said it is evidence of biblically prophesied “end times” or apocalypse.
NASA announced plans Thursday to develop a solar-energy facility that would meet part of the energy needs at its Wallops Island Flight Facility. The project, to be built in stages, would have as many as 80 acres of solar panels.
As part of its alternative-energy project at Wallops Island, it also plans to install two residential-scale wind turbines capable of generating 2.4 kilowatts, NASA said. One turbine would be built near the NASA visitor center and one near the entrance gate and security-guard station at the Eastern Shore facility.
NASA said it expects the electricity output to alleviate rising utility costs at its Wallops Island facility and enable the agency to meet energy-conservation requirements imposed by the Federal Energy Policy Act. When complete, the project would generate enough electricity to supply about 850 typical American homes, it said.
NASA said its alternative-energy plan for Wallops Island no longer calls for installing the two utility-scale wind turbines that it proposed earlier. These were dropped, it said, because of concerns that agencies and organizations expressed about the potential impact on birds and bats.
There was a showdown in Texas Thursday over Environmental Protection Agency climate regulations.
Gina McCarthy, the EPA’s top air official, came face to face with some of the agency’s staunchest critics during a House Energy and Commerce Committee field hearing in Houston.
“The Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly exhibited a disturbing pattern of behavior of abuse of their federal authority in the state of Texas, and it needs to stop,” Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) said at the hearing of the panel’s Energy and Power subcommittee.
Texas has become ground zero for an increasingly public fight over EPA’s climate regulations “” a fight that has led Republicans (and a handful of Democrats) in Washington to push legislation to permanently block the agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The majority of scientists say climate change is occurring and is caused in large part by human activity.
Texas state officials have refused to comply with EPA permitting requirements that large new facilities, or those facilities that make major modifications, limit their greenhouse gas emissions.
As a result, EPA decided late last year to issue permits on behalf of Texas. The move led to a series of lawsuits aimed at overturning the decision.
“We are not engaged today in a witch hunt against the Environmental Protection Agency, but we do believe that the Environmental Protection Agency, like every other federal agency, should follow the law and not make it,” Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), chairman emeritus of the committee, said Thursday.
McCarthy defended the administration’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and slammed the state of Texas for refusing to comply with key parts of the rules.
California’s climate change law is not in danger of outright reversal following a court decision this week that suspended it, but the deadline for approving a cap-and-trade carbon market later this year is in doubt, according to state government and legal experts following the process.
If that deadline, which requires the state’s Air Resources Board to vote on cap and trade in October, slips even one day into November, a ripple effect could delay greenhouse gas regulations set to go live on Jan. 1, 2012.
That is because the air board adopted a draft version of its cap-and-trade regulation last October that gives the agency a year to finalize the rule. If the agency fails to meet the deadline, board members must go back to square one and likely endure another lengthy public comment process, a former senior ARB official said.
Meeting the deadline “can still happen, but there are still a lot of unknowns,” said Jon Costantino, an architect of the air board’s climate plan who has since become a senior adviser at a Sacramento law firm, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP.
The suspension of all work related to the law stems from a ruling by San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith this week that sent the proposed implementation plan for the law, known as A.B. 32, back to the air board. In a 36-page ruling, Goldsmith said ARB had abused its authority by not doing enough work on alternatives to cap and trade and had failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (ClimateWire, March 22).
The cap-and-trade system, which would apply to 85 percent of emitters by 2020 and enact the largest U.S. carbon market to date, has been challenged by a small but vocal band of environmental justice groups that insist it would disproportionately hurt low-income communities. The Goldsmith ruling effectively freezes action on the state’s low-carbon fuel standard, the cap-and-trade market and a 33 percent renewable portfolio standard for electricity by 2020.
Though ARB plans to appeal, in the short term the ruling means the agency will have to submit a more thorough analysis of alternatives to cap and trade, including a carbon tax, direct regulation of emitters, or both. It is anybody’s guess whether Goldsmith will accept those analyses as adequate under the law.
Moreover, Costantino said the ruling could mean reopening a public comment process that could drag through the summer — all while the air board is supposed to be working to finalize key aspects of cap and trade it left hanging last year. These include how to deal with revenue from carbon credit auctions, how many allowances to give electric utilities and what percentage of the greenhouse gas cap could be met with offsets.
Delegates from 40 nations tasked with designing a “green fund” to help poor countries cope with climate change will hold their first meeting in late April, U.N. officials said on Thursday.
The meeting to start developing the Green Climate Fund, which had been postponed over disagreements about who should attend, will be held in Mexico City on April 28-29.
Climate talks in December committed rich countries to finance $100 billion a year in climate aid for poor countries from 2020.
That was one of the modest goals achieved during that last major climate summit, which failed to end in a binding deal to limit greenhouses gasses like tailpipe exhaust and industrial smog.
Since that event, held in the Mexican resort city of Cancun, delegates from the 40 nations that will help govern the fund had not been able fix a meeting date.
The fund was part of a package that included steps to protect tropical forests and share clean technologies.
Rising aid is meant to help developing nations curb their greenhouse gas emissions by shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energies and to help them adapt to effects of heat waves, droughts, floods, storms and rising sea levels.
Climate change officials are watching to see if Japan’s nuclear accident will prompt wealthy countries to scrap their own nuclear energy plans in favor of more traditional fuels that worsen global warming, a U.N. official said on Thursday.
The crisis at a Japanese nuclear plant damaged after a March 11 earthquake and tsunami has already led some other nations to reconsider or slow the development of nuclear plants in the near term, said Christiana Figueres, head of the climate change secretariat.
“It is very difficult to predict what we will see from here — whether this will mean a slow development of nuclear energy and what that will mean for some countries’ goals (to curb greenhouse gases),” she told reporters after a two-day conference in the Mexican capital.
Nuclear energy has been promoted by some as a non-carbon source of power and if fewer such plans come online, those countries will have to seek energy from other sources, she said.
“In the best cases, those will be renewable energy sources,” she said.
Figueres’ task is to lay the groundwork for the next U.N.-sponsored climate change summit due to take place in Durban, South Africa, in December. Among the building blocks for that meeting is creating a “green fund” to help poor countries cope with new climate change realities.
The meeting to start developing the Green Climate Fund, which had been postponed over disagreements about who should attend, will be held in Mexico City on April 28 and 29.
Today is the 22nd anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, which until last summer’s BP disaster was the worst oil spill in US history. And to mark it, this week we have another oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico.
The slick reportedly stretched for 30 miles, with oil washing ashore along Louisiana’s Grand Isle. When it was reported earlier this week in the Times-Picayune, officials were puzzled about the source. Then on Tuesday night, the responsible party ‘fessed up. From The Lookout:
Anglo-Suisse Offshore Partners issued a statement last night expressing “surprise” that what it claimed was a minor leak from a well that’s been out of use for some time could have produced miles-long slicks that garnered national media attention. The company has been in the process of permanently plugging the well — located in a shallow area about 30 miles southeast of Grand Isle, La. Anglo-Suisse owned a cluster of five platforms in that area that were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The Times-Picayune reported that the company said it only leaked 5 gallons of oil. But as The Lookout’s Brett Michael Dykes points out, that’s more than a little questionable given the size of the slick and the amount of oil people were reportedly finding on the beaches.
Of course, the oil was “nowhere near the volume of Deepwater Horizon but still significant enough,” as Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said earlier this week (via the Wall Street Journal). But it was a good reminder of something that we reported on last year in the middle of the BP spill, when evidence of additional leaks nearby came to light. Even when there’s not a massive spill underway, there may we be leakage from other wells that isn’t monitored very closely. Companies are required by law to report their spills to the National Response Center, Coast Guard or Environmental Protection Agency if there’s a “visible sheen,” but that requires them to notice the leak, actually report it, and be honest about how much oil has spilled.
How soon we forget.
In 1970, speaking from badly polluted Los Angeles, Bob Hope cracked, “I don’t trust air I can’t see.” Most Americans could see too much of their air. So they demanded that Congress and the president do something about it.
Today the agency President Richard Nixon created in response to the public outcry over visible air pollution and flammable rivers is under siege. The Senate is poised to vote on a bill that would, for the first time, “disapprove” of a scientifically based finding, in this case that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare. This finding was extensively reviewed by officials in the administrations of presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. It was finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency in response to a 2007 Supreme Court decision that greenhouse gases fit within the Clean Air Act definition of air pollutants.
As former administrators of the EPA, both under Republican presidents, we have observed firsthand rapid changes in scientific knowledge concerning the dangers posed by particular pollutants, including lead additives in gasoline, benzene and the impact of contaminants on our drinking-water supply. In each of these cases, the authority of our major environmental statutes was essential to protect public health and the most vulnerable members of our society, even in the face of remaining scientific debate.
Earlier this year, the House of Representatives approved a bill that would cut the EPA’s budget by nearly a third and in certain areas impede its ability to protect our air and water.
The EPA was created out of recognition that pollution “” largely an unwanted side effect of an increasingly industrialized society “” needed to be controlled or America’s public health and environment would deteriorate. The public called on our national government to step in and halt what the states could not or would not do.
As the EPA was being established, Congress passed the Clean Air Act in a burst of nonpartisan agreement: 73 to 0 in the Senate and 374 to 1 in the House.
During the 1970s, many other laws were passed to deal with air and water pollution, drinking-water contamination, radiation, solid waste, pesticides and toxic substances. Sixteen major pieces of legislation were enacted to address aspects of industrial, municipal or human activity that were threatening public health or the environment. Most were passed by a Democrat-controlled Congress and signed into law by a Republican president, and the votes were seldom close.
This is a story about crap — literally, tons of it. Piling up in Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and being sprayed onto farm fields, animal manure is polluting the nation’s waterways and is nearly impossible to regulate.
Last week, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a ruling [PDF] reversing the decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requiring CAFOs to obtain a Clean Water Act permit in order to pollute. The court did uphold the EPA’s right to fine those that do pollute after the fact. Here’s the rub: Farmers are not responsible for manure that exits their property and enters waterways when it rains.
This is one of the many lawsuits against the EPA — issued by both environmental groups and pro-agribusiness organizations like the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Pork Producers Council, and United Egg Producers. For a small agency, with a $10 billion annual budget, it seems a lawsuit is the only way to force the EPA to take action. Hamstringing the EPA, which is high on the national Republican agenda [PDF], is both part of the grand plan of maintaining business as usual for agribusiness interests and a coordinated effort to step up the culture wars ahead of the 2012 election.
The EPA has been taking heat from agribusiness interests for decades, but that heat has been ratcheted up since Republicans took the House this year. Congress has called in EPA head Lisa Jackson to question her so many times, they’ve joked about giving her a parking space. She’s been asked, for example, about her plans to regulate greenhouse gases after a court mandate required it and about a plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay — the largest estuary in the U.S. — which is surrounded by industrial farms. In fact, the questioning has at times even become absurd, with GOP committee leaders stoking fears of regulating “cow flatulence, farm dust or milk spilled on dairy farms.”
Grant this much to President Obama: he does not pander to mass opinion. In his first year in office, he stood with Wall Street even after its reckless greed produced an economic collapse that left most Americans calling for bankers’ heads. Now, even as the Fukushima power station threatens to unleash the greatest nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl, Obama continues to champion an expansion of nuclear power in the United States. On day five of the Fukushima disaster, the Obama administration reminded Congress that it wanted to triple the amount of taxpayer-funded loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants””and this is after having reduced renewable energy loan guarantees by half last autumn.
If anything demonstrates the blind spots in Obama’s oft-stated support for clean energy””and the nation’s need for a bold alternative vision””it is his response to the Fukushima crisis, which at press time had made tap water in Tokyo, nearly 200 miles away, unsafe for infants to drink. The Fukushima disaster has led such previously firm proponents as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the government of China to announce that they will halt or pause planned expansions of nuclear power; but it’s full speed ahead for Barack Obama.
Testifying to Congress on March 16, when partial meltdowns were reportedly under way at three of the six reactors at Fukushima, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that US nuclear plants are safe and that the president wants to build more of them. Indeed, Chu added, the administration is proposing $36 billion in taxpayer-guaranteed loans to entice private industry to do just that. What’s more, this $36 billion would be over and above the existing $18.5 billion in loan guarantees approved under the Bush administration.
As health, education and other social services are being sacrificed on the false altar of deficit reduction, $54.5 billion is a massive amount of money. Worse, Obama is shoveling money at nuclear at the very time he has diverted funds from renewable energy. As ABC News revealed in November, the Obama administration last year “quietly drained” more than half of a $6 billion fund intended to provide loan guarantees for cutting-edge wind, solar and other renewable energy projects. Instead, the funds helped to finance the “Cash for Clunkers” program and an unrelated education initiative.