Not just the climate

There’s a lot to be said about the harm that climate change is doing and will do in the future, both to ecosystems and to humanity, but the current system would be horrible, dangerous, and inhumane even without the destabilization of our climate. Case in point:

A rupture in Petroperu’s 40-year-old pipeline spilled 1,000 barrels of oil in Mayuriaga on 3 February, nine days after a leak in the same duct poured 2,000 barrels near eight other indigenous communities in the same Amazonian region.

This is a bit out of date, but I just came across it, so it’s news to me. It is yet another example of how the notion of “responsible fossil fuel use” is absurd. There has never been responsible fossil fuel use. From spills, to mistreatment of workers, to mine runoff, to atmospheric pollution, there is no reason to think that any corporation is capable of handling fossil fuels without causing massive environmental and human damage in the process. It may be hypothetically possible, but it has never been done, and there’s no reason to think it ever will be done in the future.

And the governments of the world have been no better. They have consistently failed in their duty to act in the interest of their citizens, and to protect those living within their borders. It’s not surprising that people have taken action to protect themselves:

The Wampis community of Mayuriaga seized a grounded military helicopter late on Sunday, holding crew members and several officials to press for inclusion in the emergency response plan, said Germán Velásquez, the president of state-owned energy company Petroperu.

It looks like nobody was harmed, other than those whose home has been poisoned, and that’s good. Violence is not going to get us the real change that we need. This does underscore a point that I feel a lot of conservatives in the U.S. miss, though. If someone tries to kill you, you have the right to use violence to defend yourself. In most of this country, you currently have that right even if you just think they’re going to try to harm you. Strangely, though, for all the talk of corporate personhood, if a corporation is in the process of poisoning your food, water and air, you don’t have the right to attack them to try to make them stop. It doesn’t matter if they made the decision not to repair or maintain their pipelines or holding tanks, even knowing that spills would result. It doesn’t matter that we’re talking about a scale of negligence that borders on intent to cause harm. The only legal recourse for a private citizen is a very, very slow and discouraging process of lawsuits and settlements.

And government agencies, of course – the same government agencies conservatives want to dismantle. I wonder – do they think we should take up arms against the local factory or oil company if it poisons us? I somehow doubt they would see themselves as being on the side of the Wampis community that seized the helicopter and crew…

The dangers of our current industrial and energy systems go beyond climate change (though that’s the most dangerous part), and the injustices of our current political and justice systems – across the world – go far beyond the social and political. Whether it’s an oil spill on tribal lands in Peru, or an bitumen spill in an American suburb, or harassment and murder of black and brown people by police, or the poisoning of water in Michigan, or West Virginia – we need change. We need change at every level, and we need to approach it as members of a global community with shared problems.

Conversations with Strangers: Pole shift

I’ve previously mentioned my hobby of talking to/arguing with strangers on the internet, and a while back I decided to copy and paste one of the conversations onto my blog, since it seemed wortwhile. Since then I’ve periodically added to the series when something interesting and fun comes up. So, without further ado, here is the latest installment of Conversations with Strangers, taken from the comments thread of this Huffington Post article.


So if a change in ice mass at a pole can cause the earth to sway from its position, then isn’t it possible over time that population changes could do the same thing? It that is possible, then couldn’t China and other over populated areas produced the same “balance” issue? Now, if this is possible, that could mean that Chna is a leader in carbon emissions and “Population Sway”.

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The Earth moved, but not that much!

My last blog post covered a dramatic shift in the location of the North Pole, and a change in the direction in which Earth’s axis is migrating, and the wording of the original articles, and subsequent secondary and tertiary articles has been the source of some confusion.

The 75˚ shift refers to the change in direction of polar drift, NOT change in location of the pole. It’s a big change in direction, but nowhere near the kind of change we would see if Earth’s equator suddenly ran through the Arctic and Antarctic. We probably would have felt that.


Everything is caused by global warming

No really though. It’s always been clear that the worldwide melting of glaciers and ice sheets was going to have some effect on Earth’s crust. Like some other impacts of climate change, it’s a pretty straightforward concept – the crust is a relatively thin layer of solid stuff on top of the molten goo that makes up most of the planet’s bulk, so massive chunks of ice press the layer down. Reduce the ice mass, and the crust rises up a bit.

From there it’s not much of a stretch to predict some change in seismic and volcanic activity as a result.

What had not occurred to me was that this redistribution of mass could actually result in changes in how the Earth moves through space. New research published in Science Advances (yay open access!) indicates that the loss of ice mass in Greenland and West Antarctica, coupled with a gain in ice mass in East Antarctica, has shifted the North Pole towards the UK in the last decade, a change from the direction it was moving for most of the 20th century.

This isn’t a big enough shift to cause problems, bit it is an indication of the scale of the changes that are occurring, thanks to human-caused climate change.

Richard Alley on big infrastructure changes

Some people say transitioning to clean energy will simply cost too much – “leave it to future generations.” In Edinburgh, Scotland, Richard Alley explains that if we start soon the cost of the transformation could be similar to that which was paid for something none of us would want to do without – clean water and the modern sanitation system.

Hey Moses – we can split water too!

Scientists at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have developed a new catalyst for splitting water. Here’s why this is big news:

One of the great strengths of renewable energy is their consistency and predictability. Yes, wind and solar have periods when they’re not generating power (with some exceptions like certain solar thermal designs), but the sun is available for a set amount of time every day, and wind blows in predictable patterns where turbines are placed. These predictable patterns make it easy to balance the grid, and to calculate how many units are needed to meet demand.

But here’s a little secret. All sources of power are intermittent. There is no power plant, coal, nuclear, or gas, that is available 100 percent of the time. The electrical grid is built with this in mind.

A well functioning coal plant, will not be available 44 days of the year.

For nuclear, it’s 36 days, as well as 39 days for refueling every 17 months or so.

Wind power has a failure rate of only 2 percent, and units rarely go down all at once.

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Someone else’s perspectives on religion and family

It’s easy, when entering the world of atheism, too get a biased view of religion. A lot of what’s talked about are the clearest examples of how bad religion can be. My own experiences with religion were largely positive. I was raised in a Quaker household in New England, and my religious community was, for a long time, my primary social community. It was a group of kind, welcoming people who were great at making everybody feel valued. I think a lot of effort went into creating that space for the kids growing up there, and I’m glad I had it.

And I should be clear – while I was pretty devout, in my way, and pretty clear that Quakerism was a Christian religion, albeit an unusual one, many of my friends, and many adults in the society were not Christian, and viewed Quakerism as more of a lifestyle thing. That really bugged me sometimes. All in all, the people were kind and respectful, and while I had to part ways with that community, I hold no resentment towards Quakers, and it’s been made clear to me many times that if I chose to rejoin the community, or even just to visit, I would be made welcome. The worst that I would suffer would be awkwardness from long absence and different understandings of the world.

Not everybody is so lucky, and not everybody has parents who are as open-minded, understanding, and willing to work for a good relationship with their kids as mine are. Case in point, fellow FTB denizen Joe Sands, over at Incongruous Circumspection:

Now, I will introduce you to one of my most popular series on my old blog, off in that dusty corner of the internet.

I grew up in an abusive environment, learning to cope quite well until I was 19 years old. At that point in my life, the heat got too hot and I was ready to be free. I left and went to live with my dad to get on my feet and expose myself to the real world in full color, rather than a world through sheltered and well defined, paranoiac lenses. My freedom came with many bumps in the road as I discovered that I was truly lazy when I wasn’t being yelled at to accomplish a task. I needed to mature…grow up. Life moved very fast and I needed to jump in and roll with it.

I’ll let you read the rest at his latest installment of Letters from my Mama, and just add that talking to other people from religious families sometimes makes me quite grateful for my own family, and my own experiences with religion.