Paul Tullis's Grim Tidings

Bitter musings on politics and policy

Archive for the ‘environment’ Category

No free lunch: Why Republican policies always end up biting you in the ass

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The Wall Street Journal today editorializes that the Cape Wind clean energy project that recently won the approval of the Interior Dept. is a “lousy deal” because it may, if the pricing scheme proposed by the company operating the wind farm is approved by regulators, produce energy at double the price consumers in the area now pay.

Here’s what’s also going to be expensive, if we don’t move aggressively toward a clean energy future:
•Rebuilding after hurricanes, which will be stronger and more frequent with a warmer Atlantic Ocean. Hurricane Andrew, in 1992, cost $41.5b in 2010 dollars.
•Cleaning up after oil spills, such as is now being played out along the Gulf Coast. Current costs are estimated at $350m and rising.
•The price of food, as fertile soil is lost to heat and drought.

I could go on, but you get the point: Conservatives don’t want to pay now, but we’ll all end up paying later. The difference is that the costs now are knowable, and so easier to plan for.

The Journal says that Cape Wind will result in “$443 million in new energy costs.” It doesn’t say among how many people these costs will be spread out, or over how long a period of time; if it’s 5 million people who might get power from Cape Wind, over 40 years (which seems like a reasonable amount of time for it to function), then we’re talking about a whopping $2.21 per person per year.

Disinvestment—the inevitable result of their tax-cuts-to-solve-everything approach to governing (if you can call it that)—also ends up costing more in the long term. Case in point: In 1978 Californians voted to cap their property taxes. This was hailed as a great moment, the people taking power away from big scary mean government, and launched an anti-tax movement that can be said to be the roots of the “Tea Party” (which boasts among its membership people who are on Medicaid yet rail against “people looking for handouts” and “the whole welfare mentality”). But since public schools get the bulk of their funding from this pool, the state’s schools went from tops in the nation to down around Mississippi’s somewhere. Obviously this would not have been the sole factor (conservatives will probably blame unions and immigrants), but it cannot be said that the way to improve outcomes in education is to reduce its funding.

Now you’ve got companies saying the students we’re graduating are too dumb for them to hire (I can point you to the surveys if you’re interested). So we get a lot of unemployed people. But Republicans don’t want to pay unemployment benefits. Some of these people turn to crime—and Republicans are always happy to lock people away. Here’s the problem: It costs about $25000 a year to incarcerate someone.

California spends about 1/3 that figure per pupil on public education. So would you rather educate people now, or get car-jacked by them later?

This would be funny except the pattern gets played out again and again. Look at the news today: It’s conventional wisdom on the conservative blogs (and leaking into the mainstream press) that the reason Greece and Spain are so screwed (if they are indeed screwed; the $18b per year bailout compares favorably with the $144b a year we’re spending in Iraq) is because of their overly generous welfare states. The implication is that there but for the grace of God go I, i.e., the US will be headed down this road if we don’t cut back on entitlements (somehow the Pentagon’s budget, which has nearly tripled in the last 20 years, is always left out of these discussions).

Now consider Republican policies: They want every company to be free to move their operations to wherever labor is cheapest. They don’t want to pay to retrain the workers left behind for the service jobs that are all our economy creates anymore. They don’t want to give them unemployment insurance over the long term. They don’t want to pay to educate their kids, so that the kids don’t grow up into the same predicament as their unemployed parents.

So what are they supposed to do? Live off the fat of the land? Become bond traders? Whoops, that won’t work—their education is shit. Work retail? Great—but who’s going to buy the stuff they’re selling?

Is there something I’m missing here?

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Obama's Katrina in the Gulf? No comparison

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The NY Times today runs—and, perhaps more significantly, Politico’s Playbook email blast cites—a classic case of pointless navel-gazing the press too often engages in, at the expense of actual reporting. The whole structure of the piece is typical: You start with a link-baiting headline, “Shadow of Hurricane Katrina Hangs Over Obama After Spill.”

Then you go on to demonstrate how responsible you are by saying, in the 13th of 15 paragraphs, that there is a “key difference” between the spill and Katrina.

In between you dig up an academic—in this case, a self-promoting professor at a fourth-rate university—to say something that sounds detached and intellectual, but in fact is a total case of log-rolling, with the log having been replaced by a piece of bullshit in the shape of a log. I wonder how many calls Helene Cooper had to make to get someone to say something to support her obviously pre-determined thesis, that the spill is somehow comparable to the Great Flood of New Orleans?

The Times has therefore, in an attempt to demonstrate its lack of liberal bias, launched a meme in the political discourse, justifying pundits’ forthcoming “balanced” debates on cable about an issue that doesn’t exist.

Here are a few “key differences,” in the hopes that as little as possible breath and ink is wasted on this baseless comparison.

1) Katrina was not an accident, and as such, it was predictable. We must remember that what happened in New Orleans was not a natural disaster; it was entirely man-made. The state of the levees protecting the city was well-known: the Army Corps of Engineers, which was responsible for them, knew it, and anyone who read the Times-Picayune‘s superb series on the danger posed to the city by a major hurricane due to the weak levees knew it too. The Corps’s budget for levee construction in New Orleans was slashed by Bush 14 months before Katrina, and its overall budget was cut by $71.2 million two months before the storm. Bush, as he never tired of reminding us, was Commander in Chief, and therefore bore ultimate responsibility for not fixing the levees in the four-and-a-half years he had to do so before the hurricane struck.

2) Hurricanes are forecast; the type of accident that exacerbated the spill has never happened before. Bush had days, if not weeks, to send emergency supplies to New Orleans and help with its evacuation as the storm came from the Atlantic, across Florida, west through the Gulf, and finally north to the mouth of the Mississippi. By contrast, the mechanism that’s supposed to shut off BP’s oil well has never failed before. This shouldn’t be read as an endorsement of offshore drilling, or an excuse for BP, which spent $700m on the rig that exploded and $1m a day to run it. But Bush could have prepared for the flood of New Orleans, and chose not to. It’s true that Obama could have, in general way, done more to prevent an oil spill in the Gulf, but foreseeing this disaster would have been impossible, because no such disaster of this particular type had ever occurred. Not so with Bush.

3) Bush deliberately dismantled the system for responding to disasters, both directly and indirectly. Bush directed in 2005 that FEMA “officially” lose disaster-preparedness capabilities, leaving no federal agency to perform this essential function. In January 2001, he had named a crony from Texas with no experience in disaster management to head FEMA. This guy handed the reins to Mike “Heckuva job” Brown, a college friend who also had no experience, and had been fired from his previous job for mismanagement. Brown was at the controls when Katrina came ashore. FEMA denied flood-control requests from Louisiana.

4) Bush slept, and New Orleans wept; Obama was on the case from Day 1. Here’s a timeline of the days before and after Katrina. It shows that 3 hours after first reports of levee breach, Bush was making a speech somewhere (“My Pet Goat,” anyone?) and 12 hours after, Rumsfeld was at a baseball game. The governor of Louisiana made a desperate plea for help at 8pm on the 29th; Bush went to bed that night without responding. The next day, he went on vacation. Three days later a campaign had begun to blame local officials.

By contrast, the Coast Guard was on the scene within hours of the explosion at the oil rig; the DepSec of Interior was there the next day, and coordination with local officials and with BP have been constant from the beginning.

So that ought to be enough about that.

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Killing animals so they don't kill animals that we will later kill

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…doesn’t make a lot of sense, on the face of it.

They’re shooting wolves in Montana. Legally. Another policy held over from the Bush administration that Obama has decided to defend in court.  Is this laziness, or swing-state politics?

Written by ptullis

November 16, 2009 at 4:02 pm

Posted in environment

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Why Obama is like Sully Sullenberger

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Imagine my surprise reading an editorial in the Wall Street Journal yesterday saying “the ethanol boondoggle is also an environmental catastrophe.” This is the editorial page that never wastes a chance to argue in favor of business over ecology—all of a sudden the minions of Paul Gigot are concerned about environmental catastrophes? Flummoxed, I read on.

The piece describes a paper in Science showing what many have suspected for at least a year: If you account for the emissions resulting from the clearing of forests in order to grow plants for biofuels, biofuels like ethanol are no longer carbon neutral. The editorial continues:

Cap-and-trade programs exacerbate the problem because developed countries (where emissions are putatively capped) get credit for reductions from ethanol—despite the fact that their biofuels are generally grown in developing countries (where emissions aren’t capped). So if Malaysians burn down a rain forest to grow palm oil that ends up in German biodiesel, Malaysia doesn’t count the land-use emissions and Germany doesn’t count the tail-pipe emissions.

This is a serious problem, to be sure. But the WSJ editorial page has spent the last 20 years or more claiming that climate change is bullshit. Why are they arguing that Waxman-Markey erred in banning the study of land-use changes as a gift to farm states?

Because it’s a chance to beat up on President Obama, of course! How could they ever pass that up?

Look, I’ve been pretty disappointed in much that Obama has and hasn’t done so far. But the man is the Sully Sullenberger (pilot who landed the plane with two dead engines in the Hudson River back in January, remember?) of politics. The country is the plane, the Bush administration are the geese, the economy is one engine and the wars are the other. In this metaphor, well, the Republicans are the ground: They exist to foil the captain’s purpose, even if it means crashing the plane.

Editorials like this one prove it. If these people are so disingenuous as to defend something as a critical component of something they’ve done nothing but decry, there’s really no value in anything else they have to say. Ttheir motives are not intellectual, but purely political.

It’s sad, pathetic, and unpatriotic, and it demonstrates the emotional maturity of a 12-year-old. Do we really want people like that running our country?

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A quick fix for our broken government

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The public option has been gutted, and government negotiation of drug prices was cut from health care reform. The “Cadillac tax” on the costliest policies is on the chopping block. No significant regulation or legislation has been passed addressing abuses that nearly sent the economy over a cliff last autumn. President Obama’s pledge to make industry pay for pollution permits under cap-and-trade didn’t make it into Waxman-Markey.

What do all these things have in common? Between when the changes were proposed and were voted on, barrels of corporate cash were injected into campaign coffers of the relevant decision-makers. The banking industry paid members of Congress $300,000 in the days before a vote on credit card reform—during which time the bill was watered down. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus’s top corporate contributors are drugmakers and insurers. The health insurance industry spent $133 million lobbying Congress in the second quarter.

For over 100 years, the US has treated the corporation as a person for some useful legal purposes: It can sue and be sued, it can own property, etc. The Supreme Court is now considering a case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, that would unleash corporate power into the political arena even more than it is today: By ruling in favor of a polemical right-wing group engaged in the hateful politics of fear, companies could be given the same free-speech rights as humans—opening a floodgate of corporate money into campaigns. Which justices will consider the insanity of this? Only in a country where a 12-year-old can be declared an adult for trial would an entity existing on paper be accorded the same political rights as flesh-and-blood.

The notion that a corporation is a person rests on one spoken sentence—it wasn’t even in a decision—by a Supreme Court chief justice in 1886, ushering in the era of robber barons and the greatest disparity of wealth in US history. (We’re nearly breaking the record today.) Ever since, the idea has stood essentially unchallenged. The social contract requires that the interests of the whole be accounted for in the decisions of the individual. But corporations operate only in allegiance to themselves; even the worst humans have natural empathic tendencies. Hitler had a dog.

Is anyone still blind to the fact that solving our country’s problems begins with removing the corrupting influence of corporate cash from politics?

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Dog's carbon footprint twice that of a Land Cruiser?

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New Scientist reports on a study calculating the carbon footprints of various pets. The worst, chiefly because of its consumption of meat, is a dog:

A medium-sized dog would consume 90 grams of meat and 156 grams of cereals daily in its recommended 300-gram portion of dried dog food.…That means that over the course of a year, Fido wolfs down about 164 kilograms of meat and 95 kilograms of cereals. It takes 43.3 square metres of land to generate 1 kilogram of chicken per year – far more for beef and lamb – and 13.4 square metres to generate a kilogram of cereals. So that gives him a footprint of 0.84 hectares…Meanwhile…a 4.6-litre Toyota Land Cruiser…driven a modest 10,000 kilometres a year, uses 55.1 gigajoules, which includes the energy required both to fuel and to build it. One hectare of land can produce approximately 135 gigajoules of energy per year, so the Land Cruiser’s eco-footprint is about 0.41 hectares – less than half that of a medium-sized dog.

The article leaves the reader to draw the conclusion that his or her own meat-eating is a significant contributor to greenhouse-gas emissions, a point of view detailed here.

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Written by ptullis

October 26, 2009 at 2:33 pm

NYT lauds toxic, water-hoarding method of natural gas extraction

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The New York Times on Saturday featured an article extolling the promise of tapping shale fields to increase the supply of natural gas:

energy analysts are already predicting that shale could reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas. They said they believed that gas reserves in many countries could increase over the next two decades…

the article breathlessly explained. It went on to explain how great this greenhouse gas is for global warming:

More extensive use of natural gas could aid in reducing global warming, because gas produces fewer emissions of greenhouse gases than either oil or coal.

But a whole lot more than zero! Natural gas is a critical greenhouse gas no matter what you compare it to.

I was disappointed and dismayed not to find a single mention of how water-intensive and how very damaging to the environment where it occurs this method of extraction is.

Reporting by organizations such as ProPublica and WNYC has revealed that

In New Mexico, [this kind of] oil and gas drilling…has already caused toxic chemicals to leach into the water table at some 800 sites. Colorado has reported more than 300 spills affecting its ground water.

Moreover, the method — called fractured drilling or horizontal drilling — requires huge amounts of water, often in an area that is drought-prone or drought-stricken, such as the American West.

Instead of portraying oil-shale drilling as a savior, the Times should be describing how incredibly damaging and resource-intensive it is. The answer to ameliorating global warming is not finding new sources of natural gas but investing in wind and solar–technologies that create jobs, diminish environmental damage, and have a generation’s worth of fuel costs built in.

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Written by ptullis

October 12, 2009 at 3:04 pm