Pollution

Weekly Wrap 8.7.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. WATCH: Jon Stewart and ‘The Daily Show:’ 9 Essential Moments

The New York Times offers this great video retrospective from 16 years of Jon Stewart nailing it four nights a week. He will be missed. #JonVoyage

2. The Women of the Protest Line

Almost a year after Michael Brown’s death, Amy Pedersen writes on how the movement in Ferguson, Mo., and beyond is largely a movement of women. “When you watch this weekend from afar, know that you are watching the movement of women; that we are on the street because that is where God is moving. … We are women and because we are women, we know how to be brave.”

3. A Haunting Timelapse of the 2,058 Nuclear Detonations from 1945 to 1998

This week marks the 70th anniversary of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ushering in the Nuclear Age. Popular Mechanics provides this arresting visual of detonations since then. Note: Keep an eye on the tickers for Russia and the U.S.

Empowering the World

ONE OF THE most destabilizing facts of the last five years is this: The price of a solar panel has fallen 75 percent. The engineers have done their job, and that offers many possibilities.

We usually look at what the developed countries are doing with renewable energy, such as the fact that there were days during summer 2014 when Germany was generating three quarters of its power from solar panels (Germany!). But the most amazing miracles—and it doesn’t really stretch the word “miracle”—are happening in the poorest places, where for the very first time lights are blazing on.

Take rural Bangladesh, where fossil fuel has barely penetrated  in the 200 years of its ascendancy in the West. There’s no grid—at night it just goes dark. Until the last few years, when low-cost solar panels and innovative financing arranged by groups such as the Grameen Bank have allowed the very rapid spread of solar panels. How rapid? As many as 80,000 new connections a month, which is far more than in the United States. Fifteen million Bangladeshis live in solar-powered houses already, and the government is hoping to have the entire nation hooked up by 2020.

That means that kids can study at night. It also means that families don’t have to waste as much as 30 percent of their income on kerosene. It also means that they don’t have to breathe those kerosene fumes, and that the black soot the lamps throw off won’t be melting glaciers. It also means that everyone can charge their cell phones, which are ubiquitous in Bangladesh. In fact, places like Bangladesh leapfrogged the whole telephone pole thing and went straight to mobile; now they’re leapfrogging coal and gas and going straight to solar.

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July 2015
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Weekly Wrap 8.1.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Visualization: Casualities in the Israel-Palestine Conflict
Washington Post is keeping a regularly updated tally of the deaths in the current conflict. The stunning visualization paints a grim picture.

2. I Need Feminism Because…
A Tumblr using the hashtag #WomenAgainstFeminism made the Internet rounds last week. Sojourners' writer Catherine Woodiwiss offers her take: "In a perfect world, women can choose to be whomever they want. But there is not yet a country on earth in which that is actually true. That is why we need feminism."

3. Religious Conservatives Embrace Pollution Fight
From The New York Times:"This week’s hearings on the new E.P.A. rule gave [conservatives] an opportunity to make their argument that climate change hurts the world’s poor through natural disasters, droughts and rising sea levels, and that it is part of their faith to protect the planet."

4. Wife Beating Gets a Standing Ovation in Baltimore
"… the sheer gall it takes to celebrate fans’ adoration of a man who beat his fiancee and mostly got away with it indicates the larger problem: The NFL is too big to fail."

5. The New Face of Hunger
One-sixth of Americans don't have enough food to eat. This powerful photo essay chronicles the stories in three parts of the country. Click through the gallery for the moving images.

6. New Baby Doll Is Anatomically Correct, And Moms Are Freaking Out 
"An outraged mom recently shared a photo of an anatomically correct baby doll on Facebook. I don't get it. When did it become taboo to talk about body parts with our kids?"

7. WATCH: What Would Happen if People in Poverty Received Tabloid Treatment?
A new campaign from a Canada-based service organization puts real people struggling with poverty in the place of the Kim Kardashians of the gossip-mag world. Check out the video and magazine mock-ups.

8. What's the Story of Your First Days in America?
From visiting McDonald's to questioning Southern hospitality, the fascinating series First Days documents immigrants' transition into the U.S.

9. Are You Too Proud of Your 'Natural' Lifestyle?
"While I certainly sympathize with concerns over chemicals and additives in our food, with the degradation of the environment, with the overprescribing of antibiotics and the soaring cesarean section rates, I’m keenly aware that many of the advances now freely scorned by those proudly adhering to ‘natural’ lifestyles are the very thing that make a flourishing, healthy life possible for so many people."

10. A Few Times Vandalism Did the World Some Good
While we're totally not advocating vandalism … the " … or Love the Neighbor as Thyself" response was pretty great. See all of these heroes-of-the-questionably-legal sort at the link.

The EPA Is Listening: Power Plants and Carbon Pollution

M. Shcherbyna/Shutterstock
M. Shcherbyna/Shutterstock

This week the EPA is holding the last few of its listening sessions around the country — 11 in total by the end of the week – to hear what Americans have to say about the EPA’s plans to tackle climate change.

These listening sessions are our chance to give the EPA our comments in person — everyone can register for a three-minute testimony spot — about the agency’s upcoming rule on carbon pollution from existing power plants.

Air Pollution Shuts Down Entire City

Unprecedented levels of air pollution effectively closed the city of Harbin in northern China earlier this week. Smog limited visibility in some places up to 30 feet, and measurements of fine particulate pollution skyrocketed a record 40 times higher than the worse safe level set by the World Health Organization, according to the Washington Post.

In the city of 11 million, schools, public bus routes, and the airport were all forced to suspend activities given the unsafe conditions. Hospital admittances of patients with respiratory problems soared an additional 30 percent.

The cause, according to local Chinese news outlets, was the first day of the city’s heating being turned on before winter. China’s air quality has consistently been found to be harmful in the recent decades of the country’s rapid industrial development.

Read more.

From the Archives: May 1990

IN THE summer of 1969, then-Sen. Gaylord Nelson was on a conservation speaking tour of the West when he visited the beaches of Santa Barbara, at that time despoiled by one of the worst oil spills in U.S. history. The devastation affected him deeply. Later, while reading an article about the teach-ins organized by anti-Vietnam War activists, Nelson asked himself, Why not have a day for a nationwide teach-in on the environment? Thus was born Earth Day 1970.

The original Earth Day was marked by a massive public outpouring of concern for the environment. Earth Day helped spawn new laws such as the Clean Air and Water Acts and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, but it did little to staunch the more serious wounds of our dying planet. ... Much of the activity during the 20th-anniversary celebration of Earth Day this April 22 will focus on individual acts. ... But there is a danger in an overemphasis on personal acts, when the most grievous assaults on the natural world come from corporations and nations whose self-interested policies of acquisitiveness and greed have brought us to the edge of ecological cataclysm. ...

The chair of Union Carbide, one of the planet's most notorious despoilers, understood the stakes when he said, "An aroused public can put us out of business, just like it put the nuclear industry out of business." Polluters be warned: Such work is becoming everybody's business. 

Jim Rice was an assistant editor of Sojourners when this article appeared.

Image: Planet symbol on Earth Day, justaa / Shutterstock.com

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Murky Waters

THE FINGER LAKES region of western New York is one of the most beautiful places on earth. The 11 lakes dangle like a necklace below Lake Ontario, surrounded by hills that are a breathtaking green in summer, red and orange for a flash in the autumn, then snowy white until the cycle repeats. It’s an area where the main tension has been of the resident-vs.-renter sort.

This summer, the tension, visibly staked out with lawn signs, was different. The topic: hydraulic fracturing, “fracking” for short. In this process, fluid—primarily water, with some sand and other chemicals—is injected deep underground to break apart shale rock, releasing natural gas and oil. Back at the surface, gas and oil are cleaned and sold; the water mixture is dumped into deep wells.

The procedure has only been made cost-effective in the last decade or so; awareness of retrievable shale oil and gas deposits isn’t a whole lot older. Combine the two, and you have an energy boom—one that led natural gas to nearly overtake coal for electricity production at one point last year.

A key question that has not been definitively answered: Does fracking, compared to the fuel it displaces, increase or decrease greenhouse gas production? Since natural gas, compared to coal, produces significantly less carbon dioxide when burned, cheaper natural gas is one reason why U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have gone down significantly of late. But natural gas is primarily methane—a gas that is more than 20 times as effective at trapping heat as carbon dioxide. During the fracking process, some of that methane escapes into the atmosphere; there is debate over how much.

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The Next Great Moral Movement

Climate change illustration, B Calkins / Shutterstock.com
Climate change illustration, B Calkins / Shutterstock.com

In my last column, "Three Numbers that Predict the Future of the Planet", I wrote about the state of the climate crisis and focused on three key data points that reveal a bleak, though not altogether hopeless, reality for us and for the rest of the planet.

As promised, this column is forward-looking and moves from describing the problem to prescribing the solution. To this end, I continue to draw heavily from the wisdom of Bill McKibben, Jim Ball, and other climate prophets who understand the times and are faithfully fighting to get us on the right track.

The way forward is not easy, but it will be good in the long run. Essentially, we need to set and enforce a limit on all remaining global warming pollution on the national and international scale, which will, we hope, keep warming to within 2oC. This will include some sort of pricing mechanism so that polluters have to take responsibility for paying for the costs of their own pollution. The problem is that we have not yet been able to muster the socio-political momentum necessary to reach these binding agreements. Turns out the polluters (largely the fossil fuel industry) don’t want to have to clean up after themselves. They’re also willing to fight with billions of dollars in campaign contributions and lobbying money to keep the status quo.

New Study Finds Fracking Can Pollute

Salon reports on a new study which suggests that "fracking" can pollute water sources:

"A new study, published in the formidable Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, upends that common-sense argument. It shows that fluids may have traveled from deep within Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, one of the formations at the center of the gas boom, into shallow aquifers hundreds of feet above. These fluids aren’t products of fracking, but if they can travel up through layers of rocks, close to the surface, it means that fracking fluids could, too."

Read more about the study here

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