Fracking, etc: “An Investment in Death and Destruction”

Graphic by the Dallas Observer

Graphic by the Dallas Observer

The news from Planet Oil continues to be relentlessly upbeat. The United States has surpassed Saudi Arabia in oil production (except it hasn’t, unless you use a very specialized definition of petroleum liquids), now produces more oil than it imports (which means that it still has to import nearly half; during the oil shocks of the 1970s and 80s, we were only importing about a third) and is, in the words of USA Today, “tiptoeing toward energy independence” (which is a very long way to go on tiptoes).

The news from Planet Earth, on the other hand, continues to describe an unfolding catastrophe whose end state is not “Number One,” nor “energy independence.” Continue reading

Muscling the Meat Industry: Fuhgedaboudit

meat marketLong ago, in a certain state, I called a certain agency (I am blowing smoke here to protect the obviously guilty) to enquire whether I could legally move a “farm use” (i.e. unlicensed, unregistered, uninsured) trailer from one state into another on public roads. The rather hard bitten sergeant (did I say sergeant? I meant person.) responded by asking, “Are you familiar with (name if state redacted)’s motto?” I said I thought it was sic semper tyrannis. “Do you know what it means?” he asked. Something to do with tyrants, I responded. “No, you’re wrong. It means ‘Don’t F#@k With Farmers.’ You can take that “farm use” trailer anywhere you want and nobody is going to bother you.”

I missed the memo, but apparently the United States has adopted my former state’s motto, now understood as sic semper agricolas. With the implied addition of the adjective “industrial.” Recent evidence abounds. Continue reading

AP Trashes Ethanol Mandate: “Raping the Land.”

The (Corn) Wasteland: Unprotected fields like this, the soil laced with leftover fertilizer and pesticide, will wash away with their toxic contents come spring. Yet we must have more corn! (Photo by Perry McKenna/Flickr)

The (Corn) Wasteland: Unprotected fields like this, the soil laced with leftover fertilizer and pesticide, will wash away with their toxic contents come spring. Yet we must have more corn! (Photo by Perry McKenna/Flickr)

A major, meticulous study by the Associated Press published today concludes that the government mandate for corn ethanol to be mixed with gasoline has brought none of the promised benefits and a raft of unintended consequences. When President George W. Bush signed the law he said it would make America “stronger, cleaner and more secure.” Instead it made industrial agriculture stronger, dirtier, and more secure while accelerating the destruction of the natural systems from which all food comes. Continue reading

Climate Hawks: Deniers of Another Kind?

In Chongqing, China, in 2011, they were saying “If we don’t do something about this real soon, it’s going to get real bad. They didn’t. It did. And on it goes. (Photo by Leo Fung/Flickr)

In Chongqing, China, in 2011, they were saying “If we don’t do something about this real soon, it’s going to get real bad. They didn’t. It did. And on it goes. (Photo by Leo Fung/Flickr)

The best thinkers and writers about the rampant destruction of natural systems that is the hallmark of our times profess, almost unanimously, that mankind faces catastrophe unless something is done, something effective, right away. Political action is a necessity, they say, nationally and internationally. We must find the will to act. A respected, frequent commenter on this site suggested the other day that to do anything else is a distraction from the vital effort to transform politics. But is that “unless,” that ever-present qualification — the notion that something might be done, tomorrow or maybe the day after, to save us from the worst consequences of our actions — itself a form of denialism?

I think so, and I submit into evidence three headlines from this week’s news. Continue reading

The Silence on the Bees. And the Bats.

This brown bat is lucky -- he's just stunned momentarily. If there were white spots on his nose, he'd be dead. (Photo by Velo Steve/Flickr)

This brown bat is lucky — he’s just stunned momentarily. If there were white spots on his nose, he’d be dead. And then he would be a canary. Let me explain. (Photo by Velo Steve/Flickr)

It bears repeating one more time: When the canary in the cage at the mine face drops dead, the lesson is not that we need to take better care of canaries. The lesson is that we need to get our asses out of that mine before it blows up. If, on the other hand, the miners are dumb enough to watch canary after canary drop lifeless to the bottom of the cage, and do absolutely nothing, well, then, maybe the right thing is to let natural selection run its course.

We are surrounded by dying canaries. Okay, they are not, strictly speaking, canaries, but they are playing the mine-face canaries’ role. The conditions that kill them are coming for us. And the funny thing is that, while it is news of a certain, not-quite-legitimate kind (“environmentalists are concerned that…”) when we notice the first of them dying, their continued dying — an indication that conditions in our mine are getting worse — is not news. Or, worse, it’s “old news,” an oxymoron. Continue reading

Phear of Phosphorus: “We Will Begin to Starve.”

Not really the farmer's friend, synthetic agriculture is leading the way toward a crash. (International Institute of Tropical Agriculture photo/Flickr)

Not really the farmer’s friend, synthetic fertilizer is leading the way toward a crash. (International Institute of Tropical Agriculture photo/Flickr)

The declining amount of phosphorus left in the world illustrates perfectly a basic premise of Brace for Impact: Surviving the Crash of the Industrial Age: that it’s too late to save all of us from the crash of the industrial age, but on the other hand any of us, in small groups, can escape the worst consequences by living sustainably. Industrial agriculture cannot survive without industrial supplies of mined phosphorus, of which a diverse, small family farm has no need whatsoever. It also illustrates other components of our situation: a mortal threat recognized by a small group of scientists with their hair on fire who are ridiculed by industry hacks and ignored by a public who could not find a way to care less. [Wait, don’t leave. I’m about to explain why you should care more.] Continue reading

Falling Colors: The Long Agony of Trees

Spectacular? Not Really. The fall foliage season is increasingly pastel, washed out, as on Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains pictured here. The culprit is that visible, constant pall of pollution. (National Park Service Photo)

Spectacular? Not Really. The fall foliage season is increasingly pastel, washed out, as on Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains pictured here. The culprit is that visible, constant pall of pollution. (National Park Service Photo)

A long-time friend of, and commenter on, The Daily Impact, Gail Zawacki, has for years maintained a lonely vigil on behalf of trees. On her blog. Wit’s End, she chronicles the massive, mortal harm being done to trees all over the world by air pollution. They are, in fact, slowly dying, a fact that should be most strikingly obvious to everyone in the fall, when by the tens of thousands we drive our emissions-rich cars long distances to see the fall colors. Which, increasingly, aren’t there any more. In part because of the emissions from our cars. Yet no one (except Gail) seems able to see the sick trees for the pale forest. Continue reading

Cable News: A Plug for Personal Energy Independence

The Next Big Thing in electricity is already pretty old -- it’s been around for two or three styles of IPhone. But the mighty USB cable may be about to electrify the world. In a good way. (Photo by Teo/Flickr)

The Next Big Thing in electricity is already pretty old — it’s been around for two or three styles of IPhone. But the mighty USB cable may be about to electrify the world. In a good way. (Photo by Teo/Flickr)

In the long debate between industrial, grid-based electricity and distributed, home-grown electricity…wait, you didn’t know there was a debate? Not surprising, since one side has all the TV commercials, all the cash-and-carry political power, all the hyper-funded “think tanks” and the endowed university departments. The other side has engaging stories to tell around campfires. Nevertheless, there are two sides to the debate, and the turtle in this race is showing some life recently. Continue reading

Toxic Green Slime Attacks America

Algae -- the rising tide that poisons all boats.  (Photo by gorize/Flickr)

Algae — the rising tide that poisons all boats. (Photo by gorize/Flickr)

Toxic Green Slime Attacks America! What a great movie pitch! Awesome special effects! Multitudes of bikini-clad victims! Unfortunately, it’s true, so hardly anybody is interested. This summer, 21 states that we know of — most don’t even bother to keep records on this pestilence — closed beaches and issued public-health warnings when their waters became clogged with blooms of toxic green algae. At least one person and 20 pets have been killed by the slime, along with untold numbers of birds and wildlife. Yet no cable news network has gone wall-to-wall on this spreading, deadly threat — perhaps because there’s no mystery here. We know who the culprit is, and we know how to stop the threat. Continue reading

Gulf of Mexico: “There is No Life Out There.”

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge Manager Jereme Phillips reports oil on a refuge beach in Alabama in June of 2010. Three years later, the hits just keep on coming. (Photo by Jennifer Strickland USFWS)

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge Manager Jereme Phillips reports oil on a refuge beach in Alabama in June of 2010. Three years later, the hits just keep on coming. (Photo by Jennifer Strickland USFWS)

The Gulf Oil spill is old news, right? 2010? Over and done with. The seafood industry has recovered. tourists are back, BP has kept its promises to make things right. We know that because that’s what the incessant BP commercials on television are telling us. BP seems to believe its own commercials, because it announced in June that it and the Coast Guard were ending regular patrols of the Gulf Coast (except for Louisiana) looking for washed up oil. It did this, it said in its exuberant announcement, because of its “extraordinary progress in cleaning up the Gulf,” which, it declared, is almost back to normal. Who you gonna believe? BP’s commercials, or your lyin’ eyes? Continue reading