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The bioenergy delusion

The bioenergy delusion 

Biomass harvest

Replacing fossil fuels with bioenergy only takes us backwards, continuing our addiction to burning and extraction, and causing extensive ecological damage.

The bioenergy industry gives the impression of being at the forefront of tackling climate change. Every wood pellet that’s burned communicates the illusion of innovative progress away from fossil fuels and towards ‘renewable’ energy.

In the context of our urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is easy to be persuaded by a strategy which can supposedly help steer us away from impending doom. 

Before I took my job working to protect forests I was under the impression that bioenergy was something positive. 

Capitalism growth 

Since humans first discovered how to create fire about 1.5 million years ago, our ability to harness the flames has sustained us, warmed us, and fed us. 

Most of the world is fiercely globalised and intensely capitalist, focusing on – or subjected to – short-term economic gain. 

Societies in the global north have become demanding and consumerist, reaching ever further afield for products to satisfy our desires. We have plunged deep into oil wells, and exploited pristine, ecologically priceless ecosystems in the Arctic and Amazon

Burning materials to produce energy continues to drive our modern society. 

Many people will have heard and agree with the slogan ‘keep it in the ground’ in reference to coal, oil and gas. The need to do so could not be more pressing, as we teeter on the brink of global climate catastrophe. 

Climate denial 

A crisis is already playing out around us – more noticeably in some parts of the world than in others, and exerting greater pressure and injustice on certain communities than on others. 

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why economic growth is not compatible with environmental sustainability

Why economic growth is not compatible with environmental sustainability

Man walking with factory in background

Academic FEDERICO DEMARIA will be addressing staff at the European Commission today in a keynote speech about the crucial issues of economic growth and environmental degradation. He asks, is the well-being of the individual, societies and nations possible beyond economic growth? 

‘Growth for the sake of growth’ remains the credo of all governments and international institutions, including the European Commission.

Economic growth is presented as the panacea that can solve any of the world’s problems: poverty, inequality, sustainability, you name it. Left-wing and right-wing policies only differ on how to achieve it.

However, there is an uncomfortable scientific truth that has to be faced: economic growth is environmentally unsustainable. Moreover, beyond a certain threshold already surpassed by EU countries, socially it isn’t necessary. The central question then becomes: how can we manage an economy without growth? 

Enough is enough

Kenneth Boulding, the economist,  famously said that: “Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist”.  

Ecological economists argue that the economy is physical, while mainstream economists seem to believe it is metaphysical.

Social metabolism is the study of material and energy flows within the economy. On the input side of the economy, key material resources are limited, and many are peaking including oil and phosphorus. On the output side, humanity is trespassing planetary boundaries.

Climate change is the evidence of the limited assimilative capacity of ecosystems. It is the planet saying: ‘Enough is enough!’. 

Mainstream economists – finally convinced by the existence of biophysical limits – have started to argue that economic growth can be decoupled from the consumption of energy and materials.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Custer’s Last Stand Meets Global Warming

Custer’s Last Stand Meets Global Warming

Photograph Source: Charles Marion Russell – Public Domain

A recent article in Arctic News on the outlook for global warming foresees a frightening scenario lurking right around the corner. Hopefully, the article’s premise of impending runaway global warming (“RGW”) is off the mark, by a lot. More to the point, off by really a lot in order to temper the sting expected when abrupt temperature increases hit hard, as projected in the article, which is entitled: “Greenhouse Gas Levels Keep Accelerating.” Oh, BTW… the worst-case scenario happens within one decade!

Here’s a snippet: “… such a rise in greenhouse gas levels has historically corresponded with more than 10°C or 18°F of warming, when looking at greenhouse gas levels and temperatures over the past 800,000 years….” (Source: Greenhouse Gas Levels Keep Accelerating, Arctic News, May 1, 2019)

Obviously, it goes without saying no sane person wants to believe, and likely won’t believe or accept, studies about killer temperatures locked, loaded, and ready to fire, right around the corner. That fact alone serves to christen the title “Custer’s Last Stand Meets Global Warming.”

Furthermore, and for journalistic balance, it is important to mention that mainstream science is not warning of imminent Runaway Global Warming (“RGW”), as outlined in the Arctic News article.

Still, the article does have credibility because it is the product of academic scientists. Therefore, metaphorically speaking, one can only hope that their Ouija boards were out-of-whack, misinterpreting the data.

Alas, the Arctic News article would not be out there if only the U.S. Senate had taken seriously Dr. James Hansen’s early warnings about global warming way back in 1988. The New York Times headline d/d June 24, 1988 read: “Global Warming Has Begun, Expert Tells Senate.”

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Failure to Plant Crops

Failure to Plant Crops 

COMMENT: Good day from Chatham, Ontario Canada (50 miles east of Detroit 42.4048° N, 82.1910° W);
Interesting your models are warning of the next year’s results in climate change.

Our location is always the first to plant in Canada as it is the same latitude as northern California.
A few climate tidbits;

– As of today, May 18th, 2019, no farmers (zero) have started planting.
– In 3 years the percentage of April planting starts has decreased to 0% from 70% just 4 years ago. Typically planting was completed by mid to end of May.
– Flooding this year from Ottawa to Detroit along with cooler temperatures can wreak havoc on winter wheat crops which are planted in the fall and has germinated. But if the heat doesn’t come to dry up the land then the wheat crop is susceptible to rot.
– soil temperatures are below the 25-year average by 23 degrees.
– more rain means less sunshine.
– Songbirds in our area are unusual for May. Makes for a very noisy morning coffee.

Bird watchers reporting many species have not finished their normal migration north. Somehow they have stalled in lower latitudes knowing the northern food sources are not ready.
The birds singing is nice, but I would like to eat.
Best to you;

RH

REPLY: Others are reporting the same general trends. Some people write in and try to disagree with the forecasts. What they fail to understand is this is BY NO MEANS my “opinion” or what “I think,” for I do not see myself as qualified on such a personal level to forecast such events since I am not a farmer and have never been. My grandfather had maybe an acre where he grew grapes, fruit trees, and some other things like tomatoes. He was not a professional farmer.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How Removing Asphalt Is Softening Our Cities

How Removing Asphalt Is Softening Our Cities

Greening alleys reclaims public space, reconnects urban dwellers to one another, and invites nature deep into cities.

1_freehill_primary.png

Rachel Schutz hated watching the kids play outside, and not because she was a curmudgeon. As director of an after-school program in a Latino neighborhood near ­Portland, Oregon, she likes the outdoors, the piney tang that hangs in the damp air.

But the kids’ shoes would thump on the asphalt, the pounding echoing against metal dumpsters along the alley. That was their play space. When a neighbor’s pine tree shed its needles, she watched the kids sweep them together and build them into a nest or fort. Otherwise, they were limited to games with chalk or a ball hoop.

The kids wanted something different for the Inukai Family Boys and Girls Club’s 5,000 square feet of alleyside space. They talked about a soccer field or a traditional playground—but surprised Schutz by choosing a nature park. They imagined dirt, logs, and boulders to climb on, raised beds to grow flowers and veggies, and hundreds of trees and plants throughout.

Schutz just had to figure out how to remove the pavement.

Doing so introduced her to a soften-our-cities movement in which cities such as Nashville, Tennessee, Montreal, and Detroit are rethinking all that cement. Alleys and alleysides in particular are being effectively reimagined as people-friendly pathways, parks, and lushly planted urban habitat.

Schutz and the kids she serves understand why the idea has been spreading. The day before they strong-armed the asphalt up, one girl asked her, “Miss Rachel, does this mean we get real grass we can touch?”

Some things about alleys

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

THE MASSIVE 46 STORY TALL STRUCTURE: The Penasquito Mine Tailings Dam

THE MASSIVE 46 STORY TALL STRUCTURE: The Penasquito Mine Tailings Dam

The colossal Penasquito Mine’s tailings dam will reach a stunning height of a 46 story skyscraper over the next decade.  That is, if the mine reopens and is allowed to continue business as usual.  Newmont-Goldcorp suspended operations at Mexico’s second largest silver mine on April 29th, due to a blockade stemming from issues with the local community in regards to water supply concerns and problems with a trucking contractor.

Last year, the Penasquito Mine produced 272,000 oz of gold and over 18 million oz of silver.  However, it plans on producing over 5 million oz of gold and 400+ million oz of silver over the next decade.

After I published my article, MORE TROUBLE IN MEXICO: Second Largest Silver Mine Suspended Operations, I did some research on Penasquito’s tailings dam, and when I saw a photo of the dam, I was literally shocked by its massive size.  I never really gave it much thought about where all the waste ended up after the processing of ore was finished.  It’s a typical problem we all deal with today, OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND.

Let me start by saying that the tailings dam is so large; it surpasses the size of the Penasquito open-pit mine itself. For clarification, the tailings dam (or ponds) are used to store the processed waste slurry after the metals have been extracted.  Here is a layout of the Penasquito Mining Operation:

(image courtesy of Goldcorp 2018 Tailings & Mine Waste Conference PDF report)

As you can see, the tailings dam is 4 kilometers long compared to the Penasquito open-pit mine, which is about half its size.  However, this layout doesn’t give the epic scale of the tailings dam justice.  According to the images in Goldcorp’s 2018 Tailings & Mine Waste Conference PDF, and data from the company’s Feb 2019 Penasquito Mine Tour Presentation, the tailings dam is currently 85 meters tall, or nearly 280 feet in height:

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

WHO’s 2050 Prediction: 10 Million People Could Die from Mutated Superbugs And We’ll Have No Drugs to Fight Them

WHO’s 2050 Prediction: 10 Million People Could Die from Mutated Superbugs And We’ll Have No Drugs to Fight Them

The discovery and widespread use of antibiotics many decades ago have saved millions of lives. Infections that were once a death sentence were easily treated with the medications. Unfortunately, many antibiotics are now becoming ineffective because bacteria have become resistant to the drugs.

We have overused antibiotics with reckless abandon and are now beginning to see the consequences. Some bacteria have mutated into “superbugs”.

We’ve used antibiotics so freely, some bacteria have mutated into so-called “superbugs.” They’ve become resistant to the very drugs designed to kill them. A study commissioned by the British government estimates that by 2050, 10 million people worldwide could die each year from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. That’s more than currently die from cancer. (source)

Infections by drug-resistant microbes may eventually be the leading cause of death.

The World Health Organization predicts that worldwide death rates from drug-resistant microbes will climb from the current 700,000 per year to 10 million by 2050. At that point, they will have surpassed cancer, heart disease, and diabetes to become the main cause of death in the human race.

Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest health threats of our time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

Antibiotic resistance has the potential to affect people at any stage of life, as well as the healthcare, veterinary, and agriculture industries, making it one of the world’s most urgent public health problems.

Each year in the U.S., at least 2 million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and at least 23,000 people die as a result. (source)

Karen Hoffmann, who heads the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, told Newsweek those figures may be on the low side:

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Climate Change was No Accident

Climate Change was No Accident

Years ago, tobacco companies discovered the link between their products and lung cancer. Did they warn their customers? No — they denied the link entirely, misleading the public for decades while killing their customers.

Similarly, ExxonMobil scientists made startlingly accurate predictionsabout climate change as early as 1982 — and then spent millions of dollars on a misinformation campaign to sow public doubt about climate change.

They didn’t need to convince the public that the climate crisis wasn’t happening. They just had to muddy the waters enough to prevent us from doing anything.

They provoked uncertainty: Maybe the climate crisis isn’t happening. And even if it is, maybe it’s not caused by humans burning fossil fuels. (Of course, it is happening and it is caused by humans.)

The result was inaction.

If we aren’t even sure that a human-caused climate crisis is afoot, why should we wean ourselves off of fossil fuels? It would be highly inconvenient and very expensive to go to all of that trouble unless we’re absolutely certain that we need to.

After all, the argument went, “only” 97 percent of scientists believe that human are causing a climate crisis.

I’m a scientist. Let me tell you, when 97 percent of scientists agree on anything, the evidence must be overwhelming.

Scientists are trained to critique and argue with one another. We make our careers by pulling apart other scientists’ theories and exposing the flaws in them and then supplanting them with better theories of our own.

You couldn’t get 97 percent of scientists to agree that puppies are cute or chocolate is delicious.

What about other 3 percent? You can always find one or two nutty so-called scientists with inaccurate, fringy theories out there. There’s probably a scientist somewhere attempting to publish a study asserting that Bigfoot exists — or that climate change isn’t happening.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Interlocking Crises: War and Climate Chaos

The Interlocking Crises: War and Climate Chaos

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Arlo K. Abrahamson

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

– James Baldwin

Climate change is the apex crisis of all time and the US military is the prime crisis multiplier.

As we approach the horizon of climate disaster it certainly looks like the predatory phase of human history — of which war is just the most glaring example — is related to our predatory relationship with nature. At the center of the storm is the interlocking crisis of militarism and climate destruction.

We will evolve beyond perpetual war and global empire or face climate chaos.

The climate crisis is rooted in a set of interlocking institutions with a common cause of power over others and a shared strategy of violence, plunder and deception. The military is the linchpin, playing a pivotal role intensifying the climate crisis.

Consider the basic facts. The US military is:

+ The single largest institutional consumer of fossil fuel in the world;

+ The most powerful global force securing oil and protecting oil infrastructure;

+ The leading director — along with the big bankers and fossil fuel giants — of the elites’ plans for dealing with the coming crisis. The military and big corporations are not in climate denial — they are in control — and plan to keep it that way as the climate deteriorates.

+ The war machine’s enormous consumption and strategic capture of fossil fuels and their behind-the-scenes management of the crisis hints at its true role: sponsor of big oil and co-creator of the climate crisis.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Radioactive ‘Nuclear Coffin’ May Be Leaking Into The Pacific

Radioactive ‘Nuclear Coffin’ May Be Leaking Into The Pacific

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has sounded the alarm over a giant concrete dome built 40 years ago in the Marshall Islands to contain radioactive waste from Cold War-era atomic tests. 

According to Guterres, the dome – which houses approximately 73,000 cubic meters of debris on Runit island, part of the Enewetak Atoll – may be leaking radioactive material into the Pacific Ocean, as the porous ground underneath the 18″ thick dome was never lined as originally planned. It was constructed in the crater formed by the 18-kt Cactus test. 

“The Pacific was victimised in the past as we all know,” Guterres told students in the island nation of Figi while on a tour of the South Pacific. “I’ve just been with the President of the Marshall Islands (Hilda Heine), who is very worried because there is a risk of leaking of radioactive materials that are contained in a kind of coffin in the area.” DoE report, 2013

Residents of the Islands were relocated from their ancestral lands shortly after the United States began what would become 67 nuclear weapons tests from 1946 – 1958 at Bikini and Enewetak atolls. Despite US efforts to move people to safety, thousands of islanders were exposed to radioactive fallout from above-ground tests conducted before a moratorium was enacted in 1958. 

The tests included the 15 Megaton Castle Bravo on the Bikini Atoll, which was detonated on March 1, 1954. It was the most powerful ever detonated by the United States – and around 1,000 times bigger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima just nine years before. 

From despair to repair

From despair to repair

I belong to an online climate discussion group that today asked three questions: what is the state of the movement, do we need climate change or system change, and do we need a meta-movement? Keying off the insights from the Earth Repair Conference, I wrote the following – and have added a post-script to include a week of research on the state of the movement for Earth Repair:

CLIMATE MOVEMENT: STATE OF PLAY

Last weekend I attended the Global Earth Repair conference and this workshop (long) is where a new context clicked for me, though I’ve had all the pieces collected over all these years of low to the ground innovations. 

The cumulative impact of the event revealed this: the Climate Movement is missing a crucial, essential element. It offers resistance but not repair. It is clear about the against, but largely mum on an equal scale restoration project. The anti-war movement allied with the Peace Movement had moral and spiritual power. In the Climate Movement we are shown pictures of the beauty of the earth and the losses of the world we and our kin were born into, but mostly to awaken individuals to act. If you love this earth… you will change your habits and join the resistance. Habit change is under the banner: if we all do a little we can do a lot.

With the Climate movement solely a resistance movement and an energy transition movement, we are missing this: the self-nourishing, self-healing, self-restoring, self-generating ecosystems of the earth herself. We are fighting symptoms without an equally massive movement for restoring health where we can – which is immense considering degraded and degrading landscapes.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Total Catastrophe For U.S. Corn Production: Only 30% Of U.S. Corn Fields Have Been Planted – 5 Year Average Is 66%

Total Catastrophe For U.S. Corn Production: Only 30% Of U.S. Corn Fields Have Been Planted – 5 Year Average Is 66%

2019 is turning out to be a nightmare that never ends for the agriculture industry.  Thanks to endless rain and unprecedented flooding, fields all over the middle part of the country are absolutely soaked right now, and this has prevented many farmers from getting their crops in the ground.  I knew that this was a problem, but when I heard that only 30 percent of U.S. corn fields had been planted as of Sunday, I had a really hard time believing it.  But it turns out that number is 100 percent accurate.  And at this point corn farmers are up against a wall because crop insurance final planting dates have either already passed or are coming up very quickly.  In addition, for every day after May 15th that corn is not in the ground, farmers lose approximately 2 percent of their yield.  Unfortunately, more rain is on the way, and it looks like thousands of corn farmers will not be able to plant corn at all this year.  It is no exaggeration to say that what we are facing is a true national catastrophe.

According to the Department of Agriculture, over the past five years an average of 66 percent of all corn fields were already planted by now…

U.S. farmers seeded 30% of the U.S. 2019 corn crop by Sunday, the government said, lagging the five-year average of 66%. The soybean crop was 9% planted, behind the five-year average of 29%.

Soybean farmers have more time to recover, but they are facing a unique problem of their own which we will talk about later in the article.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Plastics Industry on Track to Burn Through 14% of World’s Remaining Carbon Budget: New Report

Plastics Industry on Track to Burn Through 14% of World’s Remaining Carbon Budget: New Report

Plastic jug on a beach

The plastics industry plays a major — and growing — role in climate change, according to a report published today by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL).

By 2050, making and disposing of plastics could be responsible for a cumulative 56 gigatons of carbon, the report found, up to 14 percent of the world’s remaining carbon budget.

In 2019, the plastics industry is on track to release as much greenhouse gas pollution as 189 new coal-fired power plants running year-round, the report found — and the industry plans to expand so rapidly that by 2030, it will create 1.34 gigatons of climate-changing emissions a year, equal to 295 coal plants.

It’s an expansion that, in the United States, is largely driven by the shale gas rush unleashed by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The petrochemical expansion also comes over the same period of time that international plans to reduce climate change call for rapid reductions in greenhouse gases from all sources — transportation, electricity, and industry.

“Humanity has less than twelve years to cut global greenhouse emissions in half and just three decades to eliminate them almost entirely,” said Carroll Muffett, president of CIEL, citing UN figures. “It has long been clear that plastic threatens the global environment and puts human health at risk. This report demonstrates that plastic, like the rest of the fossil economy, is putting the climate at risk as well.”

“If growth trends continue,” the report concludes, “plastic will account for 20 percent of global oil consumption by 2050.”

The new report, co-authored by Environmental Integrity Project, FracTracker Alliance, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), 5 Gyres, and Break Free From Plastic, looks at how plastic production carries major impacts for the climate as it goes from raw materials tapped by the fossil fuel industries all the way through its ultimate disposal or breakdown in the environment.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Timidity and Palliatives While the Planet Burns

Timidity and Palliatives While the Planet Burns

Photograph Source: Eric Fisk – Public Domain

The best conditions for genuine discussion, for me at least, is during a feast of good food and drink. Ancient Greeks called that symposium.

The wisdom behind the tradition of symposium – millennia ago and today — is simple. Friends and guests eating food and drinking wine feel good about themselves. Organic food well-cooked and excellent wine do that. They are medicines. In such euphoria, symposiasts are very likely to be honest, even eloquent, in their expression of their views or opinions.

This is the reason Plato chose the dialogue for the spreading of his ideas. The dialogue comes from intimate symposium discussions.

Today I often hear Americans speaking in radio or television saying this and that must be part of a “national conversation.” I wonder what they have in mind.

Invisible civil war

This is because in the second decade of the twenty-first century Americans are divided as never before. Republicans are embracing guns, perpetual wars, corporate plutocracy, America-first, and ecocide. Indeed, Trump and the Republicans are now moving the country for a possible war against Iran.

The Democrats advocate policies that may improve the well-being of Americans. Yet when the Democrats had the White House and Congress, those policies were timid in fixing the gross inequality among rich and poor in America. In addition, Democrats have yet to propose a coherent plan to diminish and end global warming.

Given this political instability, verging on soft civil war between the rich and poor, the cultural elites are covering up the schism by palliative measures, especially unpolitical but fashionable talk in the academy. Professors pontificate about sexuality, race (whites or blacks or lesbians for new appointments?) and other anthropological headings.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How A Sustainable Food System Is Built

How A Sustainable Food System Is Built

From the ground up.

Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash.

We all eat food. Most of us every day. Most of us several times a day.

Food is undoubtedly one of the most constant and impactful aspects of our lives.

And the ways that we produce — and consume it— are impactful as well.

We all know about climate change. Agricultural activities (crop, livestock and fossil fuel) contribute approximately 25% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions — yet around 1/3 of all food is wasted.

15% of the world’s land surface area has been degraded by soil erosion and physical and chemical degradation, while even more is at risk.

Industrial agriculture is using more and more toxic chemicals to control weeds and pests, which put the environment, agricultural workers and consumers at risk.

Farmers now earn less in every dollar that we spend on food, despite rising costs of living, as big companies squeeze (and squeeze).

Rural communities are collapsing, the quality and diversity of food that we produce (and thus eat) is constantly decreasing, neoliberal policies have seen small farmers displaced coupled with a rapid rise in the rate of rural-urban migration.

The rural poor are poorer than ever before, food security issues are rife and malnutrition is one the rise.

Meanwhile, both producers and consumers are disenchanted and dissatisfied with the current state of the industry and the way it’s structured.

In short, many aspects of the way that we produce and consume food is not sustainable.

Something (i.e. a lot of things) needs to change.

Sustainable Agriculture Isn’t Simple

But it’s necessary. Very necessary.

Defining Sustainable Agriculture

I’ve defined sustainable agriculture before but I’ll do so here again, so that we’re all on the same page.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai III: Cataclysm
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