Saturday, May 22, 2010

Chickens Arriving to Roost

NPR: "Thick, brown and rust-colored, sticky oil is washing up on the beaches, marshes and wetlands of some parts of southern Louisiana, threatening wildlife and vital habitat. Those communities not yet seeing oil on their shores are bracing for the worst."

CNN: "The damaging effects of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will be felt all the way to Europe and the Arctic, a top scientist told a congressional panel Friday."

Climate Progress: President Obama uses his weekly address to talk about the Gulf gusher.

Measuring the Edge of Extinction

We can say that species are "endangered," and that the gulf oil gusher threatens them, but what that means in the context of today's situation of very depleted life comes a great deal clearer with something like this, concerning the threat of this oil and chemical disaster to sperm whales in the Gulf :
"A 2009 stock assessment report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimated that the potential biological removal, or PBR, level for the Gulf of Mexico sperm whale population is three. That means the whales' long-term survival is at risk if, in addition to natural deaths, three sperm whales a year are killed or removed by human causes. The loss of a handful of whales each year can impact a population of hundreds, because sperm whales—especially females—require a very long time to reach sexual maturity. Females then give birth to just three or four calves during their entire lifetimes. "

The Daily Babble

I'm a computer stuck-in-the mud: I use PCs with Microsoft browser, email and word processor. But I'm getting pretty sick of it all. Basically because they keep changing it, and making "improvements" that almost always cost me more time and effort to do what I want to do.

I've got Vista on my desktop. It's not so bad, I've gotten used to it, and I've learned to control the Microsoft Updates. But HP--or somebody--snuck something by me, and now switching between windows is two to three times more time consuming, and I can't figure out even where to find the change it made.

The new version of Explorer was snuck in when I had this machine in the shop, and now cutting and pasting for this blog takes a couple of extra steps each time. My new laptop has the post-Vista operating system, version 7, which is supposed to be so much better, but for my purposes, is just more complicated and worse. Plus I can't work on it for more than a few minutes before some message pops up on the screen demanding that I update this or that, or some damn thing.

And what's with Windows Mail? When email started, the email couldn't be read by anything but the Microsoft program that created it, which made it impossible to store email and read it on another machine, without importing it into the same email program. And damn if however many years later, this hasn't been fixed. Windows Mail isn't read by anything else--it's incompatible with Word and associated programs. I realize most people trash their email immediately. But this is the only way we get mail these days. I have a trunk full of letters from pre-email days. It would be nice to be able to keep letters I receive electronically without copying them into word processing and/or printing them individually. Is that really too much to ask?

I've managed to hold onto my 1998 version of Word, which is the only thing that instantly boots up when I access it. I'm staying away from new versions of Word and Office like the plague they seem to be. Though I don't know how much longer the Lords of the Internet will let me.

And these PCs, apparently loaded with capabilities which remain completely hidden. No explanations, no logical paths, no manual (of course)--print or online. Just a lot of ways to waste tremendous amounts of time and energy, often with no result, because they make a gazillion variations on their machines, and apparently can't keep track of how to do stuff on each one of them.

So that's that. As for these blogs, again I realize how much time I spend on them with little excuse in terms of numbers of readers. I like doing these little essays or feature stories, almost like a real magazine or something, but I don't seem to be doing much else with my non-jobs time. So instead of running away from the traditional blogging concept, I'm experimenting with moving closer to it. It might even be starting to look like tweeting. Don't know how long that will last, but if things seem to be changing around here, don't be too surprised.

Generational Shift

I can remember people and the press complaining in the first years--and what turned out to be the only years--that JFK wasn't doing enough. I've read of the deep disillusionment with FDR from the left. And even I have things I wished the Obama administration was doing, or doing more of, or faster. But maybe the wingnuts have it right, for the wrong reasons: the change now underway is significant.

That in any case is the theme of a New York Times lead article today, that begins: "With the Senate’s passage of financial regulation, Congress and the White House have completed 16 months of activity that rival any other since the New Deal in scope or ambition. Like the Reagan Revolution or Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the new progressive period has the makings of a generational shift in how Washington operates."

Friday, May 21, 2010

As the Camera Turns

The Gulf Gusher is a big topic on cable blather stations today. Is there some new compelling story? Not exactly. It's awful and getting worse, but that hasn't focused their attention so much before. The reason is simple: live video of the gushing oil is now available. So they're running it continuously, and so they have to talk about it. As the camera turns.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Gulf Gusher Updates

More malfeasance and more oil: Jed Lewison has an update with links on the latest news concerning the Gulf gusher. And Climate Progress has even more.

More Light on Heat

The normally conservative National Academy of Science has issued "the most comprehensive report ever on climate change" in response to a congressional request, affirming that "climate change is occurring, the Earth is warming ... concentrations of carbon dioxide are increasing, and there are very clear fingerprints that link [those effects] to humans," and calling for strong action to confront the Climate Crisis, including mechanisms to put a stiff price on carbon.

Another NAS panel noted that "the government and communities need to prepare for threats that are likely no matter what actions we take," such as consequences of sea level rises and the droughts in the Southwest. In other words, they recognize the need to deal with both causes and effects, something I've been advocating here for several years.

Earlier this week, NOAA and NASA regular climate reports concluded that we've just experienced the hottest March and April on record. A weather expert noted that"the three past seasons with record warm April SST anomalies all had abnormally high numbers of intense hurricanes." NASA's figures show it was also the hottest January to April period, and it is very likely that 2010 will be the hottest year on record. NOAA also found a strong multi-year warming trend in the world's oceans.

There's both anecdotal evidence (from British explorers) and data suggesting that the Arctic ice is melting faster this year than the previous record year of 2007. The data shows an unusually steep curve in seasonal melting, which suggests 2010 could set a new record. Not exactly something you want to cheer for.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Oil Wrongs

photo: wake of a ship through the oil in the Gulf of Mexico

As BP's chief said on Tuesday that the environmental impact of the oil gush is likely to be "very, very modest," and the company whose faulty equipment, shoddy procedures and fraud caused the explosion was busy dividing up more than a billion dollars in dividends, the New York Times reported: "A thin stem of oil stretching east from BP PLC's spill is increasingly likely to enter the Loop Current, a powerful Gulf of Mexico flow that runs past the Florida Keys and up the Atlantic Seaboard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief said today."

Once oil is in the current, it would likely reach the Florida Keys within 10 days. By month's end, the oil could reach Miami, oceanographers have also warned...Any oil or dispersants pulled south to the Florida Straits could pose an environmental hazard, especially for coral reefs, said Nan Walker, the director of the Earth Scan Laboratory at Louisiana State University. "The dispersants could kill corals," Walker said earlier this month.'

According to a TIME Magazine report:

" Federal officials have also raised alarms about the damage that has already been done to turtles, sea birds and marine mammals. And in response to concerns about the impact on undersea species, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Tuesday expanded the no-fishing zone; nearly one-fifth of the Gulf, more than 47,000 sq. miles, is now off limits for fishing. Far from having a "very, very modest" effect, the Gulf oil spill will linger for a very long time. "Make no mistake," said Rowan Gould, the acting director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "This spill is sufficient to affect wildlife in the Gulf and across the region for years and perhaps decades."

A Reuters' roundup adds: "In a sign of the widening environmental impact, the United States nearly doubled a no-fishing zone in waters seen affected by the oil gushing from the blown well, extending it to 19 percent of U.S. waters in the Gulf." There were reports of oil reaching beaches and marshes.

In Washington, President Obama has called for an independent commission to investigate the situation, several Senators are requesting that the Justice Department open civil and criminal probes, the Secretary of Interior has promised reforms of the responsible regulatory agency, and Senate Republicans are blocking legislation to increase the cap on oil company liability for the effects of their actions.

Meanwhile, this Houston Chronicle article articulates more of the concern expressed in my last post on this subject: "The oil has not yet caused a visible catastrophe — so far only 23 oiled birds have been found dead — but there is increasing concern about the array of life below the Gulf of Mexico's surface, too deep to watch closely. “What concerns us the most is what we can't see,” said Rowan Gould, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's acting director."

A couple of other interesting links: This piece by Douglas Brinkley about the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, one of the places threatened by the oil and chemicals, and this very adept primer, ostensibly for reporters but also a great consumer guide, on the realities and misinformation (or truth and lies) involved in the "Gulf oil geyser," by Mark Sumner, coming out from behind his Kos screenname of Devilstower, which I assume makes him more employable as a science writer elsewhere. He should be--he knows his stuff.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

“I am dreaming, and I want to do good. For the good you do is never lost. Not even in dreams.”

Pedro Calderon de la Barca

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Heeding Invisible Voices

Over the past few days, scientists have figured that there's a lot more oil coming out of that gusher in the Gulf--estimated at about ten times more per day. This oil is gushing a mile below the ocean surface, and now scientists believe not all of it is coming up, at least not right away: "Scientists are finding enormous oil plumes in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, including one as large as 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick in spots. One scientist adds: “There’s a tremendous amount of oil in multiple layers, three or four or five layers deep in the water column.”

Oil depletes oxygen in the water, among other toxic effects, and it happens potentially over a long period of time. It kills life, plain and simple. (This Kos diary puts other relevant articles together.)

There are a lot of lessons about this gusher we're going to painfully learn that apply in a shorter time scale to expected Climate Crisis effects: devastating local effects that accumulate over time, and then cause secondary disasters that spread invisibly to the rest of the world, felt perhaps more measurably as economic effects but with other less quantifiable elements subtracted from the world we know, and the world we need.

We already knew that oil coming into wetlands and shores will kill nesting birds and other wildlife, as we knew that oil on the surface will kill endangered species as well as the fish and shellfish that the Gulf supplies as food to the world. Now underwater oil further threatens species we know, like dolphins, whales and turtles. But such vast quantities of oil so deep may erase a world of life we almost never see, a world of immense beauty, and for all we know, as essential to our own lives as the honey bee. This, too, is a metaphor for the Climate Crisis. A warning if we need one, of what is to come. And of course, it's more than a metaphor. It's a spreading, almost inconceivable reality.

But the time scale is part of our perception problem. Though this is a shorter time scale, it is longer that we are accustomed to pay attention, especially in this novelty-driven data age. We didn't even pay attention to Katrina and New Orleans long enough to understand what really has happened there. We have to use a little imagination, and some perseverance in paying attention.

Our attention to this catastrophe is already waning: there are no new pictures. What is happening is happening invisibly, at least for the moment. This catastrophe is exposing realities, and also our weaknesses.

The Climate/Energy Bill Debate

On the Climate 'n Energy bill in the Senate: the Conventional Wisdom says it doesn't have much of a chance, and like everything else these days, it is attacked from the Right and the Left. From the Left, there's Phil Radford of Greenpeace debating Joseph Romm of Climate Progress. I love Greenpeace but Radford didn't make much sense, and Romm was right to call him out on misstatements. Radford did make one cogent claim, though: the carbon costs imposed by this bill aren't high enough to jump-start clean energy and energy conservation. That's an important concern, although I don't necessarily accept that his opinion is correct. I'd like to see this point joined more specifically.

(His other claim--that the bill isn't strong enough to give Europe and the rest of the world the cover to continue their efforts--was also simply an assertion, surrounded by faulty data. So someone else will have to produce evidence to make this claim more credibly.)

Otherwise, Romm is persuasive: the idea is to turn the ship around, get it going in the right direction: towards penalizing the production of heat-trapping gases and incentives for clean energy. Maybe it's not enough. But the alternative, which is pretty clearly not doing anything at all, is definitely not enough.

But issues that need to be clarified: are individual states going to be prevented from establishing stronger rules, and if so why, and how it that going to work anyway? And if they are going to take the only weapon now in the arsenal away--EPA's ability to regulate carbon based on the Clean Air Act--what enforcement with the force of law will substitute?