Category: Environment

Koch-Funded Climate Skeptic Now Warns of Global Warming

UC Berkeley Physics Professor Richard A. Muller

A University of California, Berkeley physics professor and longstanding critic of prevailing global warming science has reversed course and now attributes climate change directly to greenhouse gases produced by human-related activities. Professor Richard A. Muller, a climate change skeptic in the past, has taken funding from the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation named after billionaire Charles G. Koch, owner of the big petrochemical conglomerate Koch Industries and one of the most prolific funders of climate change denial and misinformation on Earth. Muller says a research project he undertook actually showed “that the average temperature of the Earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover,” he says, “it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.” Muller further concludes that “Humans are entirely the cause” of global warming. He calls his stance a “total turnaround” from the way he used to think. Muller authored an opinion piece in the Saturday, July 28 issue of the New York Times titled “The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic.”

Source: Los Angeles Times, July 29, 2012

Biotech Giant Syngenta Facing Criminal Charges Over GM Corn

Spontaneous abortion, one of the symptoms seen in livestock eating genetically-modified corn feed.

The big biotechnology firm Syngenta is facing criminal charges for covering up a U.S. study that showed cows died after eating the company’s genetically-modified (GM) corn. The charges came after a long struggle by Gottfried Gloeckner, a German dairy farmer and former supporter of genetically-modified crops, agreed to participate in authorized field tests of “Bt176,” a corn variety manufactured by Syngenta that was genetically-modified to express an insect toxin and a gene that made the corn resistant to glufosinate herbicides.  Gloeckner allowed the GM corn to be grown on his farm from 1997 to 2002, and fed the resulting corn to his dairy herd. By 2000, Gloeckner was feeding his cows exclusively Bt176 corn. Shortly after, several of Gloeckner’s cows became sick. Five died and others had decreased milk yields. Syngenta paid Gloeckner 40,000 euros as partial compensation for his losses and veterinary costs. Gloeckner brought a civil suit against Syngenta over the loss, but Syngenta refused to admit its GM corn could be in any way related to the illnesses and deaths of Gloeckner’s cows. The court dismissed the civil case and Gloeckner received no further payments from Syngenta, leaving him thousands of Euros in debt. Gloeckner stopped using the GM feed in 2002, but continued to lose cows. In 2009, Gloeckner discovered Syngenta had commissioned a study in the U.S. of its GM feed in 1996. In that study, four cows died within two days of eating the GM feed, and the study was abruptly ended.

Progress in Fuel-Free, Pollution-Free Flight

The spectre of fuel- and pollution-free air travel drew closer this month as the first airplane powered completely by solar energy completed its first intercontinental flight. The Solar Impulse left Madrid, Spain in the early morning hours of Tuesday, June 5 and flew across the Strait of Gibraltar to Rabat, Morocco, where it made a spectacular landing 19 hours later. The plane has the wingspan of a jumbo jet, but weighs only as much as a medium-size car. In 2010, the Solar Impulse earned a place in history after it became the first airplane to fly for more than 24 hours straight using only solar energy. The aircraft stayed aloft for 26 hours, 10 minutes and 19 seconds, and also set a record for altitude, having flown at an elevation of 30,298 feet. Technology now allows the solar-powered plane to fly both day and night. The landing in Morocco’s capitol of Rabat was also symbolic for another reason: that country’s progress toward development of viable amounts of renewable, non-polluting energy. This year Morocco will award a contract to build a power facility that will generate 160 megawatts of solar power — the first step in an ambitious and progressive national plan to generate 38 percent of the country’s electricity from solar power by 2020. The goal of the Solar Impulse Project is to prove that progress is possible using clean forms of energy, and that it is possible to eventually free societies from dependence on fossil fuels. You can follow the Solar Impulse’s progress at the project’s website,  SolarImpulse.com.

Source: Ottowa Citizen, June 6, 2012

Billboard Companies Poisoning Trees

Poisoned trees in front of a billboard (Photo credit:FairWarning.org/NC DOT)

A former billboard company employee in Tallahassee, Florida has revealed that billboard companies intentionally poison trees that block their billboards from view. Robert Barnhart, a former crew chief for Lamar Advertising, stated in court filings that he was instructed to poison trees located on private property not belonging to Lamar if they were too big to be pruned or cut back, and blocked Lamar’s boards from view. In a court filing (pdf), Barnhart states he was instructed to wear nondescript clothing without any logos, drive to the area of the offending tree in a truck without Lamar logos, park several blocks away from the offending tree, walk over, use a machete to hack into the root system surrounding the tree’s base and pour herbicide onto the roots. The herbicide was kept in containers marked “AC Cleaner.” Barnhart said he was instructed to do this at least seven times. The actions violate numerous laws and constitute criminal mischief, trespassing, and violation of environmental laws regarding dumping of poison on land. After Barnhart provided his employer with a written objection to the offensive practice, he was subsequently threatened with termination and then fired. It wasn’t Lamar’s first such offense, either. In 2010, Lamar was found liable for trespassing and killing 83 trees along Interstate 84, and in 2009 Lamar was ordered to pay about $182,000 to a couple in Ohio for killing 34 trees on their property to improve views of their billboards. Lamar owns approximately 146,000 billboards in 44 states.

Source: FairWarning.org, (news of safety, health and corporate conduct), April 26, 2012

Clean, Sustainable Energy vs. Fracking Colorado

A guest post by Michele Swensen

The week prior to Senator Morgan Carroll’s May 2 introduction of SB 107 (The Fracking Safety Act) to the Senate Judiciary Committee, an oil drilling site near Windsor, Colorado, operated by Ranchers Exploration Partners based in Greeley, was issued a cease-and-desist order by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which declared an environmental emergency. The site, located in unincorporated Larimer County above the Ridge West residential subdivision, the Poudre River and a lake, was declared a public health hazard after the drilling rig became unstable and brought up potentially toxic solid waste from the landfill upon which it was positioned. The COGCC had issued a drilling permit in September 2010, and state health officials were satisfied that the company had moved the drilling site sufficiently away from the landfill, based on a June, 2011 six-foot test drill over the site. Ranchers Exploration plans to move the drilling rig yet again to another site on the same property, ostensibly away from the old landfill.

The COGCC’s field inspection of the drilling site concluded that Ranchers Exploration failed to follow “most best management practices for drilling sites,” e.g., failing to build secondary containment for “storm water runoff, sewage, chemicals and other toxins that might flow off the drilling pad.”

The Bottled Water Scam

Some beverage companies secretly bottle tap water and then charge 1,900 times more for it

People who buy bottled water pay up to 1,900 times what tap water costs, but get less access to key information about the pricey water than they do for tap water. Big companies that sell bottled water, like Pepsi (Aquafina) and Coke (Crystal Geyser), want you to think their water is special, but refuse to reveal where their water comes from, the methods used to purify it or whether their own testing revealed any contaminants in the water. According to the Environmental Working Group (pdf), the makers of the top ten best-selling brands of bottled water refuse to answer at least one of those questions. Only one — Nestle, maker of Pure Life Purified water — willingly discloses the specific source of its water, treatment method and gives consumers access to a water quality test report. Digging for information reveals that at at least one brand of bottled water, Aquafina, is bottled from a public water source. California passed a law in 2007 ordering bottle water manufacturers to publicly disclose quality information about their bottled water, but as of 2011 only 34 percent of companies were complying with the law. When asked to supply water quality information, the makers of Aquafina claimed it was “proprietary information” that was “not for the public.” Bottled water companies make claims like their water is purely from rainfall, purified by “equatorial winds” (Fiji Water) or can help you live longer, but cannot and do not substantiate these claims. In the mean time, every 27 hours, Americans drink enough bottled water to circle the Earth with plastic bottles stacked end to end. EWG recommends drinking filtered tap water instead of bottled water. Municipalities issue annual tap water quality reports that are always available to the public.

Source: Environmental Working Group report 2011 Bottled Water Scorecard (pdf)

Online Petition Battles Junk Mail

The U.S. Post Office, suffering from reduced mail volume, has started a new program aimed at encouraging businesses to send junk mail, or “direct mail.” The program is called “Every Door Direct Mail,” and for a greatly reduced price it lets businesses blast out mailings like coupons, fliers and menus to every single household within a specific Zip code or mailing route. Business owners don’t even have to address their ads. The program is the source of fliers packing mail boxes that are addressed to “Our Neighbor,” “Postal Customer” or Current Resident.” Your name gets added to junk mail lists whenever you unwittingly turn over your name and address to a merchant, for example when you buy a big-ticket item like a car or a house, order something from a catalog, donate to a charity, fill out a product registration form or sign up for a grocery store surveillance card (euphemistically called “loyalty cards.”). Any time you hand your name and address over to a merchant, you can expect to start getting more junk mail, and mailing lists are valuable. Companies that sell or rent mailing lists make a lot of money off them. But a nonprofit consumer advocacy group called Catalog Choice, that helps people stop getting junk mail, has started on online petition asking the U.S. Postmaster General to let people opt out of getting unaddressed advertising mail.  Catalog Choice doesn’t fault the USPS for its junk mail program, but says it should give people a choice to opt out of such mass-mailing programs.  Right now, under USPS’s new program consumers must contact each individual business if they would rather not receive their mail ads — a cumbersome burden to place on people. The USPS defends their new junk mailing program by saying it lets people “know what’s going on in their own neighborhood.”

Memo Exposes Huge PR Campaign to Attack Wind and Solar Industries

A group of energy industry-affiliated, right-wing groups is readying a massive PR plan to try and turn American public opinion against the renewable energy industries. The UK Guardian obtained a confidential draft memo written by Illinois anti-wind power attorney Rich Porter that outlines a massive PR campaign to change public opinion towards wind and solar power among “citizens at large.” The goals of the campaign, according to Porter’s memo, are to “A) Cause the targeted audience to change its opinion and action” based on anti-wind messaging, “B) Provide credible counter message to the (wind) industry, C) Disrupt [wind] industry message with countermeasures, D) Cause subversion in message of [wind] industry so that it effectively becomes so bad no one wants to admit in public they are for it (much like wind has done to coal, by turning green to black and clean to dirty.) Ultimate Goal: Change policy direction based on message.” The memo suggests teaming up with established  groups like Americans for Prosperity, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Heartland Institute, the Brookings Institute, the Cato Institute and other climate change deniers. It also suggests developing derogatory names for wind energy, like calling it “puff power” and “breeze energy.”

Heartland Institute Likens People Who Believe in Climate Change to Mass Murderers

The Heartland Institute's billboard in Illinois

The Heartland Institute put up an inflammatory billboard along a major highway Illinois that compared belief in global warming to mass murder, but public reaction to the board — and even that of Heartland supporters — was so angry that Heartland pulled it down within 24 hours. Heartland posted the billboard along Interstate 290 in Illinois, which runs through Chicago. It featured a mug shot of Ted Kazinski, the “Unabomber,” alongside text that said, “I still believe in Global Warming. Do you? www.heartland.org” Despite the strong negative reaction to the ad, Heartland says it plans more similar billboards featuring Charles Manson, Fidel Castro and Osama bin Laden. The Heartland Institute is a climate change-denying think tank that accepts funding from big energy interests like Exxon Mobil and foundations related to Koch Industries. Heartland also belongs to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Heartland says the board was meant to promote its upcoming climate denial conference slated to begin May 21 in Chicago. In a media advisory about its ads, Heartland says the billboard was intentionally provocative and was an “experiment” intended to grab attention.

Main source: The Raw Story, May 4, 2012

89 Degrees in the Rocky Mountains in April?

Aspen, CO snowless ski race (Photo credit: 350.org)

At 4,500 feet elevation on the Rocky Mountains’ western slope, the average daytime temperature in the month of April in the city of Grand Junction, Colorado is 65 degrees. This year saw abnormally high temperatures for almost the entire month, with a record high of 89 degrees on April 23. Moreover, Grand Junction wasn’t alone. March, 2012 was the warmest March on record in the contiguous 48 states since 1895, when the government started recording climate data, says the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Data Center. The average temperature across the U.S. was 8.6 degrees F higher than the 20th century average for March, with 15,272 warm temperature records (day and night) shattered across the country during the month. March is also traditionally Colorado’s wettest month, but this year Colorado had its driest March on record, depressing income for ski resorts and commercial rafting companies. A lack of snow kept the Vail ski area from opening its back bowls. In addition to record high winter and spring temperatures, in recent years Colorado has also experienced extensive pine beetle infestations, early season wildfires, decreased snowpack and droughts. To draw attention to the increasing impacts of climate change, the Aspen Skiing Company recently teamed up with 350Colorado.org to put on a snowless skiing event called “Protect Our Winters: Connect the Dots,” that featured speakers and activities linked to climate change. Attendees were encouraged to wear white to substitute for the snow that would normally be present on the ski slopes this time of year.

CO House Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg Works to Benefit Drilling Industry

CO Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R)

New Republican legislation has been introduced in Colorado that purely benefits the oil and gas industry. House Bill 1356, introduced by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), would punish local governments by withholding their severance tax dollars if they do anything that stands in the way of oil or gas drilling. Citizens in Sonnenber’gs district who are concerned about the negative health and environmental effects of drilling oppose the measure. The city of Sterling, Colorado also opposes Sterling’s bill, which prompted Sonnenberg to call Sterling government officials “greedy.” After Sterling city officials came out against his bill, Sonnenberg posted a Tweet to his Twitter account that read, “City of Sterling just testified they should get oil and gas money even if the city stops the industry from producing. Can you say greed?” Sonnenberg told the Colorado Statesman that opposition from cities doesn’t matter because governments don’t vote.  “Maybe if governments voted, it would matter,” Sonnenberg said. Sonnenberg says his bill is about defending property rights, limiting government spending and encouraging new oil and gas drilling throughout the state.  At a legislative hearing for the bill, no one testified support of the measure, but several people spoke out in opposition. It isn’t the first time Rep. Sonnenberg has worked to benefit the drilling industry at the expense of citizen and environmental health and safety. In 2008, Sonnenberg worked to block the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission from hiring 21 new employees to monitor the drilling industry’s compliance with new environmental rules. When contacted by email and asked if he is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a lobby group that accepts funding from Exxon Mobil and  other energy industry interests, Sonnenberg dodged the question and ultimately refused to answer.

Main source: The Colorado Statesman, May 4, 2012

 

BP Ads Say Everything’s Great in the Gulf; Fisherman Report Sicknesses, Deformed Sea Life

Tumors on Gulf shrimp

Two years after the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, BP is running ads on TV promoting tourism in the Gulf of Mexico. The ads say the seafood is great, the beaches are inviting and times have never been better down in the Gulf. But reports from people who live and fish in the Gulf aren’t so great. In fact, they’re scary. Fishermen report seeing wide-scale deformities in sea life, like shrimp without eyes, tumors on their heads, crabs with rotting shells and fish with sores on their bodies. One fisherman reported catching 400 pounds of eyeless shrimp. The harvest of brown shrimp has  decreased by two thirds and the white shrimp have been wiped out. Gulf families report that their children, who were well prior to the BP spill, now chronically suffer from diffuse illnesses, like inflamed sinuses, upset stomachs, rashes and allergies. Fishermen complain of  headaches, chronic cough, skin rashes, vomiting and diarrhea, and bleeding from ears and nose — and they have no money to pay for medical care. Some are seeking enough money from BP to enable them to leave the Gulf coast for good.

Increase in Earthquakes Tied to Disposal of Fracking Wastewater

Damage from the 2011 Oklahoma quake

A six-fold increase in the frequency of Richter-scale 3.0 and greater earthquakes occurring in the middle of the country correlates with increase in hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” occurring in those locations. In a new paper, scientists present a series of examples in which a significant increase in seismic activity occurred in areas where oil and gas producers increased their disposal of wastewater in deep injection wells. Between 1970 and 2000, the central area of the country averaged 21 earthquakes per year. In 2009, that average jumped to 50, in 2010 it increased to 87, and in 2011, the average rose to 134 quakes per year. While most of the earthquakes are fairly small, the 5.6 magnitude earthquake rocked Oklahoma last year and  damaged buildings and increased speculation that injection wells in the area might be a cause.  It was the largest earthquake ever to strike Oklahoma, an area without a reputation for earthquake activity. The summary of the new earthquake study from the University of Memphis, says, “Based on the previous injection history, proximity of the wells to the earthquakes and the previous seismic activity in the source area, the M5.6 earthquake [in Oklahoma] was possibly triggered by fluid injection at these wells.”

Main source: Colorado Independent, April 16, 2012

 

Philip Morris and Monsanto Sued over Birth Defects in Tobacco Farmers’ Children

Screen shot from Monsanto's website

Tobacco farmers in Argentina filed a lawsuit (pdf) against Monsanto and Philip Morris for requiring them to use herbicides and pesticides that caused a high rate of severe birth defects among their children. The farmers charge that Philip Morris and the subsidiary companies that bought their crops required the farmers to stop growing their native tobacco grow a new kind of tobacco instead that Philip Morris uses in its cigarette formulation for the North and South American markets. The new tobacco they had to grow required more pesticides, and the farmers had to use excessive amounts of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup — but the defendant companies did not warn them about the dangers of the herbicide, or provide the farmers with safety information about the chemical or any protective gear to wear when applying it.

NRC Dings Colorado for Botched Approval of New Uranium Mine

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE) failed to hold proper public hearings before licensing a private energy company to build the first uranium mill in the country in decades. The Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE) held public meetings, rather than public hearings before licensing the mill, the latter being a formal legal proceeding that involves testimony under oath and cross-examination. Energy Fuels Resources Corporation asked the state to build the Pinion Ridge Uranium Mill in the Paradox Valley near Nucla in western Colorado to supply nuclear power plants and other technological users of radioactive material, but residents of western Colorado are wary. Past uranium mines have left an expensive, long-lasting and toxic legacy of contamination that cost taxpayers over a billion dollars to clean up. Western Colorado has been particularly hard-hit by these environmental disasters. Energy Fuels is enticing local residents to support the new mine by promising it

Map of U.S. uranium mines, showing high concentration in western Colorado

will supply high-paying jobs with health benefits. The Nucla area has fallen on economic hard times in recent years, so some residents are clamoring for the mine to be built to help turn the community around, but others who remember the past aren’t taking the bait. The state ordered Energy Fuels to pay $12 million in surety funds to pay for cleanup in case the mill contaminates water, soil or air, but opponents argue that amount is nowhere near enough, and they’re right. In 2010, the Denver Post found the cost of cleaning up environmental contamination caused by uranium mills in Colorado has ranged from $50 million to $504 per mill.

Main source: Denver Post, March 15, 2012

Prominent Capitalist Says Capitalism “Threatens our Existence”

Jeremy Grantham

Jeremy Grantham is a co-founder and chief investment strategist for GMO, a global investment firm that manages $97 billion in client assets and has more than 500 employees worldwide. CBS news called Grantham a “legendary investor,” and his résumé and business background make Grantham about as dedicated a capitalist as you can find anywhere in the U.S. these days. So when someone like Grantham writes that capitalism “threatens our existence,” people should sit up and take notice. Grantham’s February, 2012 quarterly newsletter] (pdf) is a scathing indictment of American capitalism and where it is leading the country: over a cliff. Grantham writes that “You don’t have to be a PhD mathematician to work out that if the average Chinese and Indian were to catch up with … the average American, then our planet’s goose is cooked, along with most other things. Indeed, scientists calculate that if they caught up, we would need at least three planets to be fully sustainable. But few listen to scientists these days.” Grantham points out that “our collective ability to feed ourselves, through erosion and fertilizer depletion has “received little or no attention,” and that “capitalism and corporations have absolutely no mechanism for dealing with these problems, and seen through a corporate discount rate lens, our grandchildren really do have no value.” He also writes, “Capitalism, by ignoring the finite nature of resources and by neglecting the long-term well-being of the planet and its potentially crucial biodiversity, threatens our existence.”

Source: GMO Quarterly Newsletter, (pdf) February, 2012

Colorado Governor Lies in Radio Ad Promoting Fracking

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper

A radio ad playing in Colorado features Governor John Hickenlooper promoting the environmental safety of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the drilling process the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found responsible for contaminating groundwater in Wyoming. Hickenlooper made the ad for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the lobbying group for the oil and gas industry. In the ad, Hick claims that since 2008, “…we have not had one instance of groundwater contamination associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing” in Colorado. Unfortunately, that claim is easy to verify as a lie. On September 13, 2011, an article ran in the Denver Post titled “Drilling spills rise in Colorado, but fines rare.” The article stated, “Colorado’s wave of gas and oil drilling is resulting in spills at the rate of seven every five days — releasing more than 2 million gallons this year of diesel, oil, drilling wastewater and chemicals that contaminated land and water.” In August, 2011, Kerr-McGee, a subsidiary of Andarko Petroleum, not once, but three times released cancer-causing benzene and other chemicals in spills that contaminated both land and water. Even a report (pdf) issued by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission describes the August spill as “historic,” and acknowledges that it did in fact cause groundwater contamination. The report states the COGCC assessed over $1.6 million in penalties on the drilling industry “for violations associated with spills and releases” from drilling activities in Colorado.