U.N. Declares Three New Famine Zones In Somalia |
On July 20, the U.N. declared a famine in two zones in southern Somalia, marking the worst food shortage in the region since the 1980s. Today, the organization declared three new famine zones in Somalia, including refugee camps in the capital Mogadishu. “Despite increased attention in recent weeks, current humanitarian response remains inadequate, due in part to ongoing access restrictions and difficulties in scaling up emergency assistance programs, as well as funding gaps,” the UN’s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit said.
One of the most popular myths of supporters of unregulated natural gas drilling is that fracking — the hydraulic fracturing process that has spurred the drilling boom — has never contaminated groundwater. Although such supporters as Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) have been confronted with case after case of natural gas sites contaminating water with spills, blowouts, and other accidents, they argue that the fracking process itself poses no danger. They have been bolstered in recent years by statements from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, including administrators Carol Browner and Lisa Jackson:
BROWNER: “There is no evidence that the hydraulic fracturing at issue has resulted in any contamination or endangerment of underground sources of drinking water.” [Letter, 5/5/95]
BINGAMAN: And although there have been over a million hydraulic fracturing jobs conducted in the last 5 years, there have been zero confirmed instances of hydraulic fracturing contaminating drinking water. [Congressional Record, 3/7/02]
EPA: “EPA also reviewed incidents of drinking water well contamination believed to be associated with hydraulic fracturing and found no confirmed cases that are linked to fracturing fluid injection into CBM wells or subsequent underground movement of fracturing fluids.” [EPA, 6/2004]
LAMBORN: “More than one million fracturing jobs have been completed in the U.S. since the technique was first developed, and there have been no demonstrated adverse impacts to drinking water wells from the fracking process or by the fluids used in the process.” [U.S. House, 6/4/09]
AMERICAN PETROLEUM INSTITUTE: “U.S. government studies have shown no evidence of drinking water contamination from hydraulic fracturing.” [Empire Energy Forum, 11/12/10]
INHOFE: [There's] never been one case — documented case — of groundwater contamination in the history of the thousands and thousands of hydraulic fracturing. [4/21/11]
JACKSON: “I’m not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water although there are investigations ongoing.” [Senate testimony, 5/24/11
INHOFE: “Since the first use of hydraulic fracturing, producers have completed more than 1.5 million fracturing jobs without one confirmed case of groundwater contamination from these fracked formations.” [The Hill, 7/19/11]
In fact, a New York Times investigation reveals that in 1987, the EPA documented contamination of groundwater by the fracking process. In a report to Congress, the agency described how “fracturing fluid migrated into Mr. Parson’s water well” in West Virginia:
Although this represents just one documented case, that hardly means that fracking contamination is extremely rare. Researchers are “unable to investigate many suspected cases because their details were sealed from the public when energy companies settled lawsuits with landowners,” Times reporter Ian Urbina explains.
Last night, I finally watched the new interactive documentary series called Coal: A Love Story. It’s one of the best pieces of storytelling I’ve seen on energy. Actually, it’s one of the best web-based journalism pieces on any subject I’ve seen.
With a blend of powerful narratives and interactive graphics, the story pulls at a few threads in the complex fabric that binds us to coal in America. We often talk in simple terms when discussing the future of energy. But when it comes down to it, we’re really discussing people’s lives – and no matter how much we want to “get off coal,” this story reminds us of the human forces behind that transition.
The project was released in late July by a team at the University of North Carolina called Powering a Nation. The project was funded through News 21, an investigative reporting initiative for 21-century journalism. Below is one of the short vignettes. I recommend you visit the interactive site and watch the whole thing.
Dow Chemical will pay just $2.5 million in fines for several longstanding environmental problems at the company’s Midland complex in Michigan. It took the chemical giant almost four years to formally address problems identified by regulators, and the company will not admit any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, federal officials still cheered the settlement as a victory:
On July 29 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Dept. said that Dow has agreed to a pay a $2.5 million fine for practices that regulators found violated federal environmental laws and endangered public health.
The alleged violations were identified during inspections that took place between 2005 and 2007. Officials said it took years to investigate and negotiate a comprehensive settlement to address all the violations at Dow’s large Midland complex.
In a 24 count complaint filed in the Eastern District of Michigan court along with the settlement, the government accused Dow of violating Clean Air Act rules for monitoring and repairing leaking equipment, for demonstrating compliance with rules for chemical, pharmaceutical and pesticide manufacturing, and for failing to comply with reporting and recordkeeping requirements.
Dow also violated the Clean Water Act’s “prohibition against discharging pollutants without a permit.” In November 2007 the EPA notified Dow it found potential clean air and hazardous waste violations, which may have increased public exposure to hazardous pollutants that can cause serious health effects including birth defects and cancer.
According to the EPA, Dow’s Midland facility released 275,912 pounds of toxic chemicals in the last year. Craig Harris, a specialist in environmental sociology at Michigan State University, points out that during the time the violations occurred, Dow booked at least $6.2 billion in profits. “In other words,” he says, “the fine to which ‘our’ government agency has agreed represents less than one-half of one-tenth of one percent of Dow’s net income during the period of the infractions.”
“It’s hard to see how this reduces the incentive for future violations, as the U.S. EPA press release claims,” Harris observes.
This year’s survey of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico was just completed. And although it didn’t shatter record size as previously thought, the findings still show the problem worsening.
The dead zone is caused by a phenomenon known has hypoxia. When nutrients from farming fertilizers run into rivers and pour into the ocean, massive amounts of phytoplankton grow. As the excess phytoplankton get consumed by bacteria, the decomposition process depletes oxygen and creates an uninhabitable area. According to a 2008 study, there are 400 dead zones around the world making up an area about half the size of California.
At 6,765 square miles, this year’s dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico was above average. Researchers were expecting to find a record-breaking zone of between 8,500 and 9,400 square miles due to high water levels on the Mississippi River, but a tropical storm whipped up dissolved oxygen around the zone and decreased the area. According to an interview with one of the researchers in the New York Times, the problem is still getting worse:
“It would have been the largest if we had been out there at the right time, I suppose,” Rabalais said in a phone interview this morning.
The dead zone will likely re-form as the waters calm, said Rabalais. The scientists will set out again for their regularly scheduled two-day follow-up cruises in August and September to take additional measurements before the zone recedes in the fall, although the official size verdict likely will not change.
Along with above-average size of the existing dead zone, researchers found a new zone east of the Mississippi that is almost as big.
A changing climate will only exacerbate the problem. In May, the Army Corps of Engineers had to blow up a levee and flood 130,000 acres of farmland due to a record-smashing flood. With 100 and 500-year floods coming with ever-increasing frequency, erosion and fertilizer run-off will continue to get worse, expanding the dead zone to new areas. As this year’s survey shows, that expansion is underway.
Yesterday, we highlighted an interesting concentrating solar power plant design from MIT that could significantly reduce costs and allow projects to generate electricity 24-hours a day using molten salt storage.
Coincidentally, one of the leading CSP developers, BrightSource Energy, announced this morning that it will be offering molten salt storage for future power plant designs, allowing the company to extend electricity production into the evening.
It’s not a 15-hour system like the Gemasolar plant in Spain – a project that became the first to generate ‘round the clock electricity. But the multi-hour system will help BrightSource lower the cost of electricity produced at a facility.
BrightSource is developing a 392-MW Power Tower project in the Mojave Desert. The system does not feature molten salt storage, but future projects will presumably come equipped with the technology.
While utilities deploy large amounts of solar PV, the CSP sector has been slow to flourish. That’s because PV plants are faster and often cheaper to build. However, large-scale CSP projects with storage provide more firm power that utilities can better rely on throughout the day – and often into the night.
“That’s where these CSP technologies can have a real advantage,” says GTM Research Senior Analyst Brett Prior.
BrightSource’s current cost of energy is around 14 cents per kilowatt-hour without storage. With storage, it could drop down substantially.
A US government department that has spent six months investigating potential fraud in polar bear studies has failed to collect tens of billions of dollars in royalties from oil companies, it has emerged….
The controversy over [polar bear expert Charles] Monnett has become an embarrassment for the agency, which was renamed after last year’s BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Texas exposed the overly close relationship between government regulators and the industry that they were meant to be regulating.
A US watchdog has designated the interior department at ‘high risk’ of fraud, waste and abuse.
As the UK Guardianreports, what’s even more amazing about the whole thing is that while the Inspector General has been sending numerous innumerate investigators to question Monnett about science whose validity has never been questioned, they have ignored the real incompetence at the Interior Department, which is costing American taxpayers of billions of dollars. Here’s the rest of that story:
Below are old comments from the earlier Facebook commenting system:
agres (signed in using Yahoo)
Debt, per se, is not the problem. The Bronze Age Greeks had a sustainable economy that used no fossil fuel, and they financed the Trojan War with – debt.
However, oil was the downfall of that civilization. Olive oil became so valuable that 200 years after Homer, the Greeks started planting olive trees instead of fruit trees on their steep hillsides. The olives did not hold the soil as well as the fruit trees had held the soil and the resulting soil erosion destroyed their agricultural base and ultimately their civilization.
The problem is one of properly recognizing appropriate long term environmental costs for actions that have large near-term utility (value). This was true for the Greeks planting olives on steep hill sides, and is true for the burning of fossil fuels. Resource extraction is not debt, because debt is a 2…See More
It sounds like all we have to do is stop using fossil fuels and we will all enjoy a happy future. Somehow by decoupling our economy from filthy fossil fuel we will suddenly have enough water and land to grow all the food necessary to support the 9 billion people who will inhabit our planet in a few decades. But the limits to growth are much larger than the obvious limits to cheap fossil fuels and no credible model exists to show how we can extend a good standard of living to the burgeoning populations of developing nations like India if India does not have a growing economy.
Quite likely we can’t sustain the lives of 9 billion humans on a finite world. Unless we all want to live like the average African (with the average African’s eco-footprint), which is an option, I suppose.
Two problems with the video. First, if the premise is that we have run out of cheap fossil fuel, that unfortunately ain’t so: lots of dirty coal. As China shows, the era of rapid growth based on cheap fossil fuels continues. Second, current US debt is a function of tax cuts for the wealthy and wars fought on credit cards. No question that we could afford, as a nation to pay this down.
The Post Carbon Institute actually has shown some decent research that coal is no where near as plentiful as we think. As coal fields are re-examined the total reserves tend to be slashed.
The book “Black Out” talks about essentially a peak in coal by around 2040 at the latest. Even in China coal production is showing signs of peaking, they are being forced to focus more and more on imports and are trying to slow their own coal production in order to ensure that they have it in the future.
So long story made short: we don’t have hundreds of years of coal left.
The issue in terms of measuring the price of carbon is that from an economic and financial perspective our current financial measures for accounting for all costs is not able to properly capture certain externalities such as their impact on human health, climate change, local environments etc. China for example is running into clear limits in being able to grow because of the externalities that coal burning plants impose on environments and its people.
So, yes I would agree with you that the nominal cost of coal is cheap. However , if through a properly calibrated carbon tax that captured all externalities we would find it prohibitively expensive I would argue.
I have some real problems with this video. Not with the premise that there are limits to growth, there clearly are, but this video paints a very thin portrait of the issue. I’m not quite ready to dismiss “economists” for the opinion of a journalist.
Big question for me when I watch the video: What happens when we have developed new clean forms of energy? The limits to FF’s are not a function of their availability, the limits are due to the environmental damage they cause and the costs related to that damage. But if we manage to create clean energy how does that affect the economic equation the author is trying to make? He doesn’t address that.
I fully realize that, but there is no indicator of where that limit lies with regards to new clean energy sources. The problem I have with the message of this video is that it seems to only be saying, “Yup, the jig is up. Economic growth is impossible from here out.” And, I get the sense that conclusion is being made, not on hard research, but on that’s just the message they want to deliver.
I mean, come on, is that the message we send to the majority of the people of the world who live in emerging economies? “Sorry, but we already used up all the world’s energy. You have to remain living like you always have.” …It’s rather absurd.
[I work for Post Carbon, which produced the video.] Keep in mind that there’s only so much you can say in a 5-minute promo video. All the background and analysis is in the book: “The End of Growth,” free excerpts posted at http://www.postcarbon.org/eog .
Rob, you mentioned the availability of fossil fuels and also the idea of a ‘clean energy economy.’ We’re not optimistic on either front, and you can read about some of the research underlying our views here:
- David Hughes (geoscientist formerly with Natural Resources Canada), “Hydrocarbons in North America”
The primary issue is our addiction to private ownership of goods and capital, because in a capitalist economy inflation is inescapable, and inflation erodes wealth. That leaves two choices under capitalism: watch a dollar’s practical buying power evaporate, or grow the economy enough to offset inflationary losses.
I thought the video was awesome, but most commentary of this sort, including my own, speaks of limits to growth but stops short of the REAL issue. Joe McCarthy lives on after all.
In order to maintain 3% economic growth until the end of the century, the economy would have to grow approximately 14-fold. There is no way that this is physically possible. And before you squeal about efficiency and improved technology, I would point out that these are responsible for only about a fifth of economic growth. The other 80% has been simply more people moving more stuff faster. The latter neither can nor will continue. We had best be prepared for an indefinite period of slow and ever slowing growth.
Even a 2% growth rate would require a 6 x economic growth. Not likely in this physical universe. And 2% growth is considered bad news. We need a new economics based on ecology rather than mathematical extrapolation of past so-called progress. Then, we need a new politics based making what we can do meet the needs of the people. Not likely in the current political universe.
Thanks, Michael. It’s hard to put nuances into a video like this (see discussion above – many great points)… keep in mind it’s a teaser, of sorts, for the newly published book, “The End of Growth” that really dives into details.
This video is spot on. Thanks to Tanner and Honeycutt for the lively exchange on credibility, which is very helpful.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch in my head, this has put the nail in the coffin of my pleasure in paradox, six impossible things before breakfast, and the like. Sadly, we “must not mention” that we have to cut back our expansionist/consumption model, but we “must” cut back to survive. We must put our heads firmly in the sand in order to persuade people to pay attention.
I don’t think. Sadly, earth has bigger bludgeons, and is going to use them!
At least one deep root of the push for economic growth is fear of famine, fear older than Pharaoh’s warehouses full of grain. Hoarding, either direct-need goods or trade goods, has a dark underpinning of insecurity as well as a topping of conveniences and comforts. Those who can be secure and contented, trusting that the environment provides enough for us, cradle to grave, have a more limited, and less neurotic, need to stockpile. A lot of the developed world has no clue how to find contentment and security like a Bushman in the Kalahari, and our infrastructure is a terrible impediment to going in that direction.
Even if we could make renewable energy cheap and abundant enough to supplant fossil fuels with continued innovation in (primarily) solar energy in the long run, there are lots of other limits to growth. We’re depleting the the oceans, soils, and very biological web of life on which we depend. Energy looks like the most pressing choke point to growth now, but I think these other limits are actually more rigid and unavoidable.
Heinberg’s ‘The End of Growth’ & ‘Blackout’ & ‘The Party’s Over’
Martenson’s ‘The Crash Course’
Meadow’s ‘Limits to Growth’ & the 30-year update
www.energybulletin.net — ~5 new artcles per day on a range of subjects centered on limits to growth & what to do about it
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