Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Climate Politics & Microcosmographia Academica

I came across a reference to Microcosmographia Academica (A Study of a Tiny Academic World) a pamphlet written by F. M. Cornford of Cambridge University and published in 1908 during an ALL class today at USF.

It struck me immediately as exceptionally humorous, but also apropos to politics other than those encountered in academia. Imagine discussing such things as "The Thin End of The Wedge" and "The Dangerous Precedent"

The Principle of the Dangerous Precedent is that you should not now do an admittedly right action for fear you, or your equally timid successors, should not have the courage to do right in some future case, which, ex hypothesi, is essentially different, but superficially resembles the present one. Every public action which is not customary, either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time.
One comparison came to mind, concerning the so-called 'debate' over climate change and what actions a responsible government might take to anticipate impending potential harmful effects and attempt mitigation. If you have witnessed the same level of denial on that issue that I have, you'd probably be tempted to just give up trying and let whatever happens, happen!

Today, this article on NASA's latest assessment of the causes of climate change appeared in USA Today. Note it directly refutes yesterday's Wall Street Journal article that named 16 'top' scientists who allowed themselves to be listed as dissenters from the view of 98% of 'top' scientists -what, 800 or so- that see clear adverse impacts from humans via greatly increased burning of fossil fuels during just the last 150 years.
It's difficult to understand anyone doubting carefully verified historical world temperature trends & cycles over the past 400,000 years, especially when these lengthy trends between successive ice ages have been so remarkably regular until just 150 years ago! What's up with that thinking? Do we get to believe science only when it suits us?
That surely wasn't the way we went about trying to land on the moon! That was an ambitious goal we used our best scientists to achieve, despite the many inconvenient uncertainties that had to be overcome.
NASA's motto then was NOT 'It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time.'

If that sounds like the ultimate in modern 'conservatism', it is - at least for those things these 'conservatives' don't want!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Coal & Climate

Floyd Mckay's Crosscut article posted today describes recent developments in Bellingham and Oregon regarding shipping US coal to China. It seems small Columbia River ports downstream of Portland want terminals to ship the coal, using huge Capesize vessels.

And, the Bellingham Herald published an article by John Stark about yesterday's launch of the Coal-Free Bellingham Initiative. Good support shown - and I am sympathetic - but is it likely to be adopted as an ordinance by the City Council? Sorry to disappoint, but I doubt it. Why? Because the City will be advised that it is illegal and will likely bring losing litigation that citizens will pay for.

Unlike the County, which willfully does stupid things that are unwise and unlawful -read Growth Management decisions- the City usually does bother to seek competent legal opinion on such matters, then follows it. I'd be surprised to see any Ordinance even dutifully considered, much less approved [by at least 5 votes], though another Resolution might be possible.

So, does coal really have a measurable effect on our climate? You bet it does! And certainly in our political climate, where divisions are already evident and solidifying into virtual abysses.
If nothing else, the coal terminal debate will serve to flush out those with opinions that are mostly ideologically -or selfishly- motivated and who see the prospect of a few local jobs and huge corporate profits as clearly outweighing any environmental or social harm that all citizens would have to accept - without their approval.

And, it will highlight the ridiculous ideas that corporations are people and money is free speech! Get serious, please, and use some common sense on these matters; I'm talking to you, Supreme Court, and all those that pay for such influence.

Capitalism is a system that does provide some real benefits, but like any other concept or system, there needs to be limits. Without those limits some very harmful and brutal things can happen for which the common citizen has no recourse.

For example, why should the people of Bellingham -and other communities along the RR route- be unilaterally saddled in dealing with the costs of mitigating the myriad safety issues, health issues and property value issues that will come with greatly increased railroad traffic through our town and waterfront?

And, why do we have to accept the idea that huge foreign registry ships will be allowed free access to our coastal waters and marine habitats for the sole reason of hauling a natural resource of our country to another to enable continued erosion of US manufacturing jobs, inevitable fouling of our waters and coastlines, increased pollution of the world's atmosphere, and enrichment of others at our expense?

I'm sorry, but I really find it hard to see what we get out of this proposal except much heartburn, additional expense and difficult new problems to solve. But, perhaps, our local Chamber of Commerce can illuminate us with its words of wisdom? Wait, that's already been attempted and it sounds like an echo reverberation from the proponents!

If this proposal was a matter of national interest or security, I might alter my opinion, but it is not. Or, maybe if there were significant clean, value-added, living wage jobs for area residents and a much more reasonable logistics plan that minimized harmful impacts, provided reliable taxes to local jurisdictions, and was managed by good corporate citizens, then the rewards would likely outweigh the penalties involved.
But, we haven't seen a proposal like that, have we?

I hate to keep bringing this up, but I will anyway; how do you think we got a safer pipeline and changes to pipeline safety rules, regulations and oversight, in response to the Olympic Pipe Line disaster?
We demanded it, that's how!

Of course, we had tangible leverage then, but only as a result of a terrible accident that could have been prevented. And, of course the pipeline crossed City right-of-way. But, most of all, because citizens united in the cause and our elected representatives heard them and actually did something about the underlying problem.

We can do the same thing, again, hopefully without experiencing a catastrophe first.
I hope we will at least try - real hard!

Getting back to climate; increased pollution of the world's atmosphere counts as our problem, too, no matter where it happens. What gets burned in China today will get blown our way tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. That is true whether one chooses to believe in climate change or not. That CO2, NOx, SO2, CH4 and particulate matter result from the combustion of fossil fuel has been known a long time; what has been more recently discovered is that these so-called Green House Gases [GHG] stay up there a long time and influence climate disruptions. Like that word better?
Since the Industrial Revolution, when the burning of fossil fuels began increasing dramatically, GHG's have been accumulating to the point that historic levels - 400,000 years - have become far surpassed, and the cause for international concern.

Of course, there are still 2% of recognized scientists who still doubt this proven fact, so its not exactly unanimous, is it? Actually, some doubt is undoubtedly attributed to the extension of this newer trend to educated guesses - speculation to some - that since humans have caused this increase in GHG's, they can also cause a decrease; that a decrease should be seriously attempted for us to avoid really bad climate change -er, disruption- in the fairly near future.
[Because, we all know Al Gore is up at the North Pole with his flame thrower!]

The point is, burning more coal -or fossil fuels- anywhere in the world contributes to the GHG problem, meaning unusual warming of our atmosphere and whatever that produces as a result.
It makes no sense for us to ban coal-fired power plants in the State of Washington, and instead ship it to China for its voracious consumption! And, in the process, deplete our own reserves, and cause the earth and water based disruptions described above.

So, if you don't think coal and climate are connected, think again!
Maybe, if we can warm our political climate enough, we can reduce warming our atmospheric climate, and save ourselves some real heartburn as a side product.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Climate: Homework For Dedicated Doubters

Well, the Patriots & Giants both barely won, setting up the Super Bowl contestants two weeks from now. I'm actually glad this unusually long season will be ending soon
Maybe then I'll initiate a New Year's Resolution to give up watching football?

There really are better things to do, like reading, eating healthier, and lightly exercising more regularly.
This article captured my attention because it makes sense without having to accept any belief except economic good sense and practicality.
But, careful, because this is more than a sound byte, and it's got a few more links, too.

While the particular approach advocated can't possibly solve our entire complex problem -or the entrenched resistance to it- it would be an undeniably a good start that could be implemented relatively cheaply.
And, very likely, it would yield fairly quick results that would convince many of the existing doubters that broader and more expensive controversial remedies might also work!

Then, this one, by Michael Gerson, of all people! Why, he's actually calling a spade, a spade!
How we know why people do what they do, and even how one knows what one does oneself. -from Michael Frayn's Copenhagen

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Coal: Specific Actions Bellingham Must Take

Previous Blogs have documented several possible actions that the City of Bellingham should take.
This one gets more specific.

In addition to re-stating the City's concerns regarding the EIS, the City Council and Mayor need to request information for the public record on the following concerns, prior to completion of the EIS Scope of Work:

Regarding RR Crossings within City of Bellingham Limits:

1. Entrance to/from Marine Park public access & surrounding businesses

2. Entrance to/from Alaska Ferry Terminal & adjacent businesses

3. Entrance to/from public access, Boulevard Park & business adjacent

4. South Bay Multi-use Trail crossing to/from North end of Boulevard Park.

5. Wharf Street crossing to/from nearby businesses along Cornwall St, including old GP Waterfront Redevelopment site

6. Access to/from Central Ave crossing, nearby businesses & old GP Waterfront Redevelopment site

7. F Street crossing to/from waterfront business, including berthing area, access to Waterfront Redevelopment Site, entrance to Bellwether Hotel complex

8. Access to/from waterfront from Squalicum Parkway truck route & surrounding businesses, Yacht Basin, Port of Bellingham


A. Need assessment of costs & responsibility for mitigating these sites for pedestrian, cycling and vehicle safety, affected all waterfront area business impacts, impacts to Waterfront Redevelopment efforts, public access to its waterfront, Port of Bellingham offices & operations, including tenants, Yacht Basin, wharf usage, water taxi, cruise, fishing, COB firefighting capability, Coast Guard operations and public access to the entire impacted waterfront area.

B. Determine source(s) of funding for all the impacts created by a significant increase to freight train traffic, including possible adverse impacts to AMTRAK & other passenger service.

C. Show cause as to why the proposed Coal Terminal at Cherry Point and related additional freight train traffic is more appropriate than other alternatives. Clearly state the amount & timing of all funding that will be made available from the proponents to mitigate any harms identified.

Specifically estimate the anticipated revenues that will accrue to each impacted local governments over time that justify approval of this proposal. What financial commitment is anticipated from citizens to pay for necessary mitigations?

There may be additional specific questions that also need to be officially asked on the public record.

I am hopeful that concerned citizens will suggest their ideas in writing to the City Council and Mayor.