Helen of Marlowe's Blog

Think it doesn’t matter who is president?

Posted in "North Carolina", Ecology, Environment, Politics by helenofmarlowe on October 7, 2016

I have heard intelligent people in recent weeks say that it doesn’t matter who the president is. It troubles me. I want to say to them, imagine if Al Gore had actually taken the White House when he won at least the popular vote and maybe the electoral vote. Do you think the US would have gone to war in Iraq? Think about all the repercussions of that misguided decision to take our country to war.

And climate change: If Gore had taken his place in the White House, we would be much further down the path to dealing with climate change, which is surely the most urgent issue confronting our world.

One of our candidates has said that climate change is a Chinese hoax. He has said that he will get rid of the EPA. EPA doesn’t just invent regulations, it enforces laws passed by congress. (He has also said he’d tear up the Paris climate agreement. Perhaps he doesn’t understand that he can’t do that, but he can take our country out of it.)

As The Guardian says, “Scrapping the EPA … would cause an unravelling of basic protections of air and water. …Trump is demagoguing. It plays to the far-right base but it would have enormous consequences for people’s health.”

And, from The Washington Post,

But more prosaic powers also present grave dangers. U.S. prosecutors have enormous discretion to investigate, or not investigate, and Mr. Trump would appoint his attorney general and a raft of new U.S. attorneys. These have to be confirmed by the Senate; but if you take comfort in that, simply imagine a Gov. Chris “Bridgegate” Christie at the Justice Department, or a Newt Gingrich — who, in Mr. Trump’s thrall, has advocated expelling any American who believes in sharia law — as homeland security secretary.

If Mr. Trump wanted to wield the IRS against that Chicago family; if he tried to use U.S. diplomats to help his hotel business in Russia or Azerbaijan; if he barred disfavored reporters from the White House; if he ignored a judge who told him, say, that immigrants had to be given hearings before being deported — what recourse would Americans have?

We should take comfort in the polls which show Trump unlikely to win. But then,look at the surprising Brexit vote, and the surprising Colombian vote against the peace agreement. Polls can make very very wrong predictions.

Think it doesn’t matter who is president? I go back to Al Gore, and the reminder that we would not have had the war with Iraq, and we would be working seriously on climate change, if the candidate who won the people’s vote had taken his place in the White House.

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The Pope is With Us

Posted in Environment, global warming by helenofmarlowe on June 18, 2015

This is great fun to watch.   It’s a two-minute video.

http://climatecrocks.com/2015/06/15/pope-goes-rope-a-dope-on-climate-villains/

I don’t know who created the video.

Straw Pollution

Posted in "North Carolina" by helenofmarlowe on April 15, 2015

Reduce your plastic footprint. Say no to plastic straws.

Some time ago I heard of towns in England where plastic drinking straws
are banned.  Curiosity led me to learn more about how straws harm and
kill fish and coastal birds.  Some coastal cities in the US now have
bans against restaurants serving straws.

I don’t suggest banning straws, but I do want to encourage
thoughtfulness.  If you’re not going to use it, decline the offering?

Many of our ecological choices, like driving, are not so easy.  In our city of
Winston-Salem, as in many US cities, you can’t get where you need to go
without a car, and this won’t change until our city pays more attention
to public transportation.  Until then, to give up cars is not within our
reach.

But other ways to reduce our harm to the environment, such as giving up
meat, taking our own re-usable bags when shopping, and taking our own
containers to restaurants for bringing home leftovers, are easy and cost
us nothing.  Many of us have already made those changes.

I’d like to add plastic straws to our consciousness.  I’m not proposing
that we ban plastic straws.  I am proposing that restaurants give straws
only to people who want them.  Instead of including a straw with every
glass of water or tea, why not just ask when bringing the drink – Would
you like a straw? Or provide a straw only when requested.  If customers
want a straw, they can ask and receive.  It’s one small way we can
reduce the damage we’re doing to our (and our children’s) oceans.

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The Money Behind the Climate Debate

Posted in Environment by helenofmarlowe on June 30, 2014

In   Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming , James Hoggan reports and discusses dramatic stories of projects funded by the fossil fuel industry designed to confuse and mislead the public, to mislead reporters and newspaper editors, and to confuse and misinform our elected officials. The deniers want to confuse the public into thinking there is still scientific debate, when in fact, among scientists, there is no debate.  For years, this misinformation campaign has been largely funded by the oil and coal industries, often under the guise of industry front groups and fake grassroots groups.

A few of the cases Hoggan reported were so outrageous that I had to check them out for myself.  For example, there is The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, which describes itself as a small research institute, but is in reality a farm shed. They circulate online a deceptive “scientists’ petition”  signed by 31,000 “scientists” who are either skeptics or deniers of global warming.  The Oregon Institute lists six faculty members, two of whom are dead, and two others who are the founder’s 20-something sons.   Although they identify their six members as “faculty” they have no classrooms and no students.

The  31,000 endorsers of The Oregon Petition give only names, with no contact information or institutional affiliation.  Some of the names are in fact the names of legitimate climate scientists, who, when contacted, had no idea their names were on this petition and demanded their names be removed.  But the petition still circulates with a claim of more than 31,000 scientists.   You can see it  here http://www.oism.org/project/    (I wonder why the few scientists with recognizable names don’t sue.  Maybe they have, I don’t know. Perhaps it’s just too costly to challenge the legal staff of the oil and coal giants.)  The Oregon Institute’s news releases are treated by many newspapers as legitimate contributions to some ongoing debate.

At the bottom of their web page, you’ll see

Note: The Petition Project has no funding from energy industries or other parties with special financial interests in the “global warming” debate. Funding for the project comes entirely from private non-tax deductible donations by interested individuals.

In Climate Cover-Up, Hoggan says that the Petition Project was funded by  the Exxon-backed George C. Marshall Institute.  Much of the deliberate misinformation is promoted by Exxon. (See http://www.ExxonSecrets.org)

Other “scientific” papers published in editorial sections of small-town newspapers are authored by the climate deniers under different names. They instruct their people that, although they are not likely to get published in  major newspapers, if they can get their articles printed in enough small-town papers,  they can reach as many people as they  would in the Washington Post. And speaking of the Post, when George Will wrote a column incorrectly stating facts about global warming (such as, that sea ice is advancing, rather than retreating) critics called for a correction. The Post’s editor Fred Hiatt said that Will may be wrong – he’s not a scientist — but he has a right to voice his opinion. Critics responded that this is not a matter of opinion, it is a fact. But George Will didn’t offer corrections and the Post stood by him.

Hoggan tells stories of climate scientists whose reputations and careers have been damaged by fake “scientists” who not only challenge the climate research, but also defame the characters of the researchers, who often simply don’t have the time or financial resources to fight the legal battles funded by the oil industry. (See Siegfried Frederick Singer, but don’t question his integrity unless you have a bank account to match The Heartland Institute.)

One of the most outrageous of the stories Hoggan tells is the story of  Christopher Walter Monckton, the third Viscount of Brenchely, a British politician affiliated with the UK Independence Party. Though he has a degree in classics and a diploma in journalism, and no further qualifications, according to Hoggan, he is quoted by think tanks as an expert in the field of global warming.  In biographical information supplied to news media, he claims to have received a Nobel Peace Prize for correcting inaccurate information put out by IPCC (actually, it was the IPCC panelists who received the Nobel) and he says  “The right response to the non-problem of global warming is to have the courage to do nothing.”

At least as culpable as the fossil fuel industry in climate disruption is the livestock industry.  Methane from landfills and livestock, and the destruction of rain forest for cattle grazing are at least as much a cause of global warming as fossil fuels.  But Hogan doesn’t talk about the impact of the livestock industry on climate change, and I wonder why. Since we hear so little in “mainstream” media about the environmental damage of the meat industry, I wonder whether there is a similar funded cover-up.  If I had Hoggan’s ear, I would encourage him to discover and tell us why only those of us who care to do our own research are finding the facts on CAFOs and their substantial contribution to global warming.

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Faux Spring in NC

Posted in "North Carolina", Environment by helenofmarlowe on April 18, 2014

It’s winter again, or may as well be.

Mid March I began checking the 10-day weather report every day, even though I hate those cheesy amazing-awesome-you-won’t-believe-this video teasers that my pop-up blocker won’t block because they don’t pop up anyway, looking for a stretch of ten days with no freeze.

The warming came later than usual, just as I was thinking this long fierce winter would never end.  KitchenGarden
And maybe I was right.

Late March, I planted the cold-hardy spinach and chard and snow peas. A fortnight later, the crook-neck squash and banana peppers. I bought a huge but lightweight pot and created a kitchen garden beside the back steps. Here, take a look before the freeze kills it tonight.

And now, the third week of April in Carolina, we are bringing the potted plants back inside, the plants that grudgingly came indoors last October and spent the winter, as I did, longing for warm sunshine. Together we’ll bring in the large too-heavy-for-me Crown of Thorns that spends its summers beside the front door, and the agave plants that Kathy gave me  – plural, now, because the one she gave me maybe fifteen years ago has now been divided into three. We’ll bring in the aloe and orchids, the papyrus and the dozen or so avocado trees – well, the ones I don’t mention won’t mind. They won’t like coming back inside, but they would like being left outside even less. (My friend Gracia quickly corrected me on IRC when I carelessly spoke of bringing in the pot plants.)

At least we had several 80-degree days in early March. Maybe that was our summer this year.

Meanwhile, a wren has built a nest in a pot of pansies on the back porch. In spring, a songbird’s
thoughts will turn to nesting. I wish the wrens warmth.

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Sidewalks in Winston-Salem

Posted in "North Carolina", Local Government, Winston-Salem by helenofmarlowe on March 21, 2013

I’m going to start with a quote from Climate Central, which I found by way of a link from an article in Scientific American.

On March 18, 2013,  Climate Central reported  Significant news is coming out of the Arctic these past few weeks – and none of it bodes well for the future of the Earth. In fact, for climate scientists and environmentalists, worst case scenarios are now playing out in real time.

And I’d like to consider our local City Council’s sidewalk policy in light of these environmental urgencies.

More than a week  ago, I wrote a letter to all of our Council members.  I have received no response from any.  I understand that our Council has a limited budget for sidewalks, and rather than considering the city as a whole, that money is divided equally among the eight wards. So each ward gets one eighth of the sidewalk budget, regardless of where the city’s needs are more urgent.  This leads to “The Sidewalk to Nowhere”  — a sidewalk through a neighborhood with cul-de-sacs and little traffic, as reported by Journal writer Scott Sexton.

Now consider North Point Boulevard, where we see a long stretch of businesses, office buildings, and several restaurants (Trido of Japan,  North Point Grill, El Triunfo, Asian Bistro, to name a few).  The people who work in these office buildings cannot easily walk or bike to a restaurant for lunch.  No sidewalks or bike lanes.  So unless they bring their lunch, virtually all the people who work in these offices pull their cars out on to North Point Blvd. to drive a quarter mile or so.

Here is the letter I sent on March 13 to Council Members Dan Besse, Vivian Burke, Denise Adams, Derwin Montgomery, Molly Leight, Robert C. Clark, Wanda Merschel, and James Taylor, and to Myra Stafford, Sidewalk  Project Specialist:

I have for some time been distressed with the lack of sidewalks in parts
of the city that need them. There are busy thoroughfares that run
through neighborhoods — thoroughfares like Polo Road, where a sidewalk
runs from Reynolda Road, past WFU, and then stops.  Extending that
sidewalk to Cherry Street would benefit a community where people have to
get in their cars to drive to a store because the remaining section of
Polo Road is not safe without a sidewalk.

Another example is North Point Blvd.  There are businesses, offices,
and restaurants, but people who work on North Point Blvd. have to get
their cars out to go to a nearby restaurant.  There is a short
sidewalk which runs a few hundred feet and then stops.  Extending this
sidewalk would be very helpful, would increase foot traffic and
bicycles, and reduce automobile traffic.  Please reconsider the
“sidewalk to nowhere” and move that sidewalk funding to a site where
it is badly needed.

Are we making sensible decisions with our allocations of city resources?   How are the decisions  made?   Might it be possible to consider a different method of allocation — a method that takes into consideration  the needs of the entire city?  Can we reconsider how our city resources are allocated?  Perhaps one  criterion for sidewalks should be that they have a positive impact on traffic?

“Our Marketplace is Rigged by Polluters”

Posted in "North Carolina", Ecology, Government, Winston-Salem by helenofmarlowe on November 10, 2011

We went to see Robert F. Kennedy Jr. last week.

The Yadkin Riverkeeper sponsored Mr. Kennedy’s visit to WFU, and he was the best, most enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and entertaining speaker I’ve heard in a long time.

I had pen but not paper, so I took notes in the tiny white spaces around a tri-fold Honda ad.

Kennedy, an environmental lawyer and activist, called for a major government investment in a smart grid to deliver wind-turbine and solar energy to homes nationwide and free the U.S. economy from its dependence on Middle East oil. The United States is rich with clean energy resources, from geothermal heat in the Midwest to wind farms in Montana, Texas and North Dakota to solar energy in the Southwest, he said.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Wait Chapel, WFU

Kennedy advocated a transition from a carbon-based economy to one powered by solar and wind, saying clean energy is key to our economic and national security. He spoke of the wind farms in the Great Plains and Midwest states, and solar power fields in the sunny Southwest, such as the Nevada desert, saying they could provide all the electricity needed for every building and vehicle in the U.S., and said there is enough wind in just North Dakota, Kansas, and Texas to meet all of the country’s electricity needs. In a true free market, solar would out-compete coal, oil, and nuclear, but our marketplace is rigged by polluters. When coal claims to produce electricity at 11 cents per kilowatt hour, it’s not counting the $345 billion/year tax subsidies and it’s not counting the tremendous environmental pollution that taxpayers pay to clean up. It’s always been illegal to pollute, he said, citing the 1888 Rivers and Harbors Act. In the 17th c people were executed for polluting the commons.

Kennedy was erudite, but his message was sobering.  We can’t count on our representatives in Raleigh, or in Washington.  Currently, he said, “we have a marketplace with rules written by polluters.” He cited several specific examples, including political interference in 2007 by J. Stephen Griles, then deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior and a former lobbyist for the National Mining Association, who managed to change the definition of the word “fill” instead of preventing the coal companies from contaminating rivers with their mountain-top removal fill.

Kennedy talked about electric cars, which he said cost about 6 cents mile and are becoming more affordable, and he spoke with some optimism of Vantage Point Switch bulbs.  These were not new ideas (I already have some of the expensive Philips LED bulbs in lamps), but his enthusiasm made it all seem new, and he added fine details that were new to me.  He talked about Liquid Robotics – robots that move across the ocean at about 1 1/2 knots, powered by underwater wings. Looking something like window blinds, the wings tilt up when the craft is lifted by a wave, rising through the water and pulling it forward. On a down wave, the wings sink and tilt downward, pulling the craft forward.

Leaving the auditorium, I had the fleeting thought that it would be good for Kennedy to follow the footsteps of his uncles into public office, into the White House, but on second thought, he is probably doing more good where he is,  defending the environment against industrial polluters.

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