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Environment

Mother Jones does a great article linking lead and violent crime. Many causes have been put forth as a cause to reduced crime, however exceptions can be found to all those cases. Just correlation is not enough to establish the link. The link of leaded gasoline with violence has no contrary evidence.
 

We now have studies at the international level, the national level, the state level, the city level, and even the individual level. Groups of children have been followed from the womb to adulthood, and higher childhood blood lead levels are consistently associated with higher adult arrest rates for violent crimes. All of these studies tell the same story: Gasoline lead is responsible for a good share of the rise and fall of violent crime over the past half century.

 

 
So the real question is this. Why do always we have to learn the hard way? Why can’t we look at the copper sulfide mining being proposed in this state and see the increase release of toxic elements would be bad for us? What if those effects from the new toxic elements does not dissipate as quickly as lead. Afterall, it is only our health and lives at stake.
 
Funny how we can spend tons of money checking for bombs in shoes for a one time threat that was successfully prevented. Yet we cannot forgo 360 low-paying jobs to stop a proven threat to the quality of water from copper sulfide mining.
 

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Young voters both encouraging and discouraging

by Eric Ferguson on February 20, 2014 · 4 comments

Just to steer clear of the false balance thing implied by the title, more encouraging than discouraging. But yes, a bit of both.

 

The youth vote has become vital to Democrats. We’ve been winning the people voting in their first elections by a large percentage and for several elections in a row, and without them, we would be the ones perpetually fretting about our demographics problem. This has provided a huge incentive for Democrats to get on the right side of gay rights and marijuana legalization, and Democrats who want to win will make student debt a top priority. It goes the other way too, in that if we want to make progress on issues that aren’t seen necessarily as youth issues, we need to win over the “millenials”, a term I put in quotes from uncertainty over just who that describes, but I guess it’s more compact than “30 and under but old enough to vote”.  Or are millenials now reaching their early 30s? Anyway, we need to win their support on more than the two or three issues that go on the lit pieces for candidates with a college campus in their district.

 

Which gets to some encouraging news: millenials (used in this article) are the age group most likely to accept evolution.

 

The 60 percent level of acceptance of human evolution includes all adults. But digging into particular age groups reveals that, while acceptance is significantly lower in adults older than 65 (49 percent), it is significantly higher in younger adults, between 18-29 (68 percent), with other age groups close to the national average.

Hang on. Since when do we vote on evolution? All in favor of delaying the mutation of new traits to next week say “aye”? Well, we do sometimes elect school board members based on the evolution/creation debate, but I’m thinking a bit more meta. Specifically, when kids are taught that science says one thing, but your parents, your preacher, or the blatherer on wingnut talk radio say otherwise, so believe what you want, the lesson isn’t just that there’s a debate over creationism and evolution. There’s another lesson that science is just one opinion, no better than what feels right however you get there. If science is just another opinion on evolution, then believe whoever you want on other controversial subjects.  That, I’m convinced, underlays much of our problem convincing the public on environmental issues, especially global warming.

 

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Paul Douglas On Climate Change In Eden Prairie

by gregladen on February 19, 2014 · 5 comments

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Last night I attended a talk by meteorologist Paul Douglas, at the Eden Prairie High School. The talk was “Weird Weather: Minnesota’s New Normal? Our Changing Climate and What We Can Do About It,” and it was sponsored by Environment Minnesota, Cool Planet, and the Citizens Climate Lobby. I didn’t count the number of people in the audience but it was well attended (over 100, for sure). Extra chairs had to be brought in.

 

You probably know of Paul Douglas either because of his own fame or because I often link to (or facebook-post) his blogs at Weather Nation or the Star Tribune, and I frequently post his videos. Paul is an Evangelical Christian Republican who insists that we must adhere to the data and the science. He is outspoken on climate change, global warming, and science denialism, and he is sincere, thorough, and forceful in these areas. I consider him to be a very close ally. The contrast between what Republicans seem to think as a cultural group, and what Evangelical Christians seem to think as a cultural group, and what Paul advocates makes him, in his own words, a Human Albino Unicorn.

 

The talk, as something organized by three environmental activist groups, had the usual suspects in attendance. I recognized several fellow activists from the Twin Cities area, including individuals from 350.org and Obama’s OFA. I had the sense that I was attending a Democratic Farm Labor (that’s what we call Democrats ‘round these parts) convention being run by a Reasonable Republican.

 

Needless to say, Paul provided an excellent presentation that would have provided any skeptic sitting near the fence a gate to pass through when the moment was right. His talk would have likely convinced any dyed-in-the-wool skeptic in attendance to at least be quiet about the skepticism and let others take the conversation for a while. Paul tied together several reasons to respect the science and to act on it, touching on diverse perspectives including personal morality, concern for our children and grandchildren, business acumen, responsibility for the Earth’s environment, conservative political thinking, and (briefly, he did not belabor this point) religion.

 
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Huxley hoarding snow, just in case!

Huxley hoarding snow, just in case!

My son, Huxley, is 4. It is possible that he will see the end of the present century. If climate change proceeds as it is now, with no serious action to curtail the release of fossil carbon into the atmosphere, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere will be well above 500 parts per million.
 
The last time there was this much CO2 in the atmosphere sea levels were meters, not centimeters or millimeters, but meters, above present level. When CO2 is added to the atmosphere quickly, as we are doing now, the Earth’s surface starts to heat up. It takes years to reach equilibrium. As this heating takes place, glacial ice melts and raises sea levels. We do not really know how fast temperatures reach equilibrium, and we know even less how fast glaciers melt. But we are already at the point where sea level “should” be higher than it is now. It is quite possible that Huxley will witness the historic event of major cities around the world being inundated by the sea.
 
But if he lives in Minnesota, one might think, he’ll have to travel to the coasts to witness this event. But that is not really the case. Minnesota at present has about 5.3 million people. Since I moved here close to 20 years ago, about one million people have been added to the state, mostly through migration and immigration. When 25% or more of the population of the United States has to move, places like the Twin Cities will have to absorb millions of people. A large percentage of our food staples, globally, are grown in regions which will be inundated by rising seas, especially in places like South Asia and Southeast Asia, but really, all around the world. Climate change induced or worsened drought and severe weather already affect food supplies. The civil war in Syria stems directly from the climate change induced collapse of agriculture in that country, and climate change is implicated in all of the Arab Spring uprisings as a major causal factor. Smaller and more arid countries are being affected now by climate change in this regard. Everyone else will be affected over the next few decades.
 
So Huxley will not have to go to the coasts to witness the effects of sea level rise. The mass migration of people away from heavily settled coastal regions will come to him even if he stays here in the middle of the continent. And, the food supply will not be as stable and secure at it is now, by any means. I’ve never felt comfortable with survivalism and I have always thought of it as a rather quirky and even dangerous cult. But I wonder if I should try to make sure Huxley has some of those skills. It pains me to write this but I find myself defying my own distrust of apocalyptic scenarios when I examine, as a scientist and a science communicator, and a father of two (Huxley is the youngest), and find it not so hard to see the shadow of collapse not to far ahead, around a corner we are approaching all too quickly.
 
President Obama, in the State of the Union Address, reaffirmed that climate change is real. The Republican opposition took no time to deny this. It is absolutely essential that we understand the science of climate change and apply good science to the development of effective policy at all governmental levels. But any unit government that has a significant GOP power base, such as the US Federal government today with a GOP house, is unable to do so. At present we are 17 seats away from removing the anti-science pro-global warming Republicans from a position of ruinous power in Washington. Erik Paulsen, my representative, is one of the 17 members of the House who has to go.

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Penn State is one of many universities worldwide that are providing free massive open online courses. I signed up for a course on Energy, the Environment and Our Future starting this week. I have already completed two lessons. There are readings, videos, blog-like discussions and quizzes. Even for a person who has studied environmental issues for decades, there is still good information to learn.

 

For example, history can teach us about what happens when when don’t have trade or alternatives available:

 

Mesa Verde. Ancestral Puebloan (often called Anasazi) people lived at that site for roughly 700 years—much longer than the history of the Americas since Columbus—first on top of the mesa, but then moving to build intricate dwellings in caves down the mesa sides, commuting up ladders and steps carved in the rock to work the fields on top. But, after most of a millennium, the people left… Within the uncertainties, the history of how many people lived there is the same as the history of how many people could have lived there. Rain nourished people. The population fell when the rain didn’t. We don’t know how many people died in droughts, compared to migrating or not having children, but the population dropped in dry times. And, when a very large drought hit at the end, the people migrated away, becoming what we now would call environmental refugees.

 

pueblo water population graph

 

If this sounds interesting, the sign up is here.

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Great Lake Tar Sands Threat: Be Aware

by gregladen on December 7, 2013 · 2 comments

Tar_Sands_Spill_In_Kalamazoo_River_closing_signLake Superior is virtually unique as a thing. It is a huge lake, it is far from the equator, it is very very deep, and it is a freshwater lake. That combination is hard to come by. It is therefore almost always going to be true that a major environmental disaster such as the sinking or wrecking of a tar-sands boat on that lake will not have a precedent. If there is a huge tar sands disaster on Lake Superior it will not be possible to clean it up, most likely. And there will be such a disaster; this is almost guaranteed.
 
With significant opposition to Keystone XL pipeine actually threatening, for once, the big plans of big-petrol instead of just being a thorn in the side, those who wish to ship Tar Sands out of Canada to China and elsewhere through the United States are already working hard on finding alternate routes, and one of the most likely alternates is over land across Minnesota then to Lake Superior. And this applies to the Bakken Fields oil as well.
 
Here’s a few bits and pieces of information for you to peruse and follow up.
Enbridge to revise ND-Wis. oil pipeline route 

Pipeline operator Enbridge has agreed to a revised route for a new oil pipeline from North Dakota across northern Minnesota.
 
The proposed $2.6 billion Sandpiper pipeline will carry between 225,000 and 375,000 barrels of oil a day from the booming Bakken oil fields across Minnesota to Superior, Wis.

Enbridge crude oil pipeline across Minnesota faces fresh opposition 

The expanded line from Hardisty, Alberta, to Superior, Wis., would import more oil from Canada’s tar sands region. Environmental activists who oppose the expansion cite Enbridge’s safety record and concerns about increasing greenhouse gas linked to climate change.
 
“Enbridge is responsible for the largest on-land spill,” said Tom McSteen, lead convener for the anti-tar sands group MN350. He’s referring to the July 2010 rupture of an Enbridge pipeline in Michigan that released 20,000 barrels of crude oil, much of it into the Kalamazoo River, triggering a record fine and a $1 billion cleanup. “We don’t want a Kalamazoo in Minnesota,” he added.

 
Oil and Water: Tar Sands Crued Shippig Meets The Great Lakes? (PDF Download)
 
And for a summary of most of the current relevant information: Tar Sands’ Next Frontier: Shipments on the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes, drinking water source for over 40 million North Americans, could be the next target on tar sands marketers’ bullseye according to a major new report out by the Chicago-based Alliance for the Great Lakes. 

The 24-page report, “Oil and Water: Tar Sands Crude Shipping Meets the Great Lakes?” unpacks a new looming threat to the Great Lakes in the form of barges transporting tar sands along the Great Lakes to targeted midwestern refinery markets. As the report suggests, it’s a threat made worse by an accompanying “Wild West”-like regulatory framework.
 
“The prospect of tar sands shipping on the Great Lakes gives rise to fundamental social and economic questions about whether moving crude oil by vessel across the world’s single largest surface freshwater system is a venture this region wants to embrace, despite the known risks,” the report says early on.

Click through to get the rest.

 

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typhoon-philippines-haiyanPlease join us. It will be at the West Metro Critical Thinking Club on Saturday, December 28, 2013, at 10:00 AM at the RidgePointe Senior Apartments on 12600 Marion Ln. W, Minnetonka, MN.
 
I know these people. This will be a tough audience. This is a well educated and thoughtful group. Also, there are many climate skeptics in the group, and a talk given last September that questioned the strength of the evidence for Global Warming was well received. So, this is going to be interesting and fun!
 
Here’s the writeup for the talk, and more info can be found HERE:
 

NASA_jet_stream_image_-resized_rev1

The Global and Local Impacts of Climate Change


 
Anthropogenic climate change, also known as “Global Warming,” has emerged as a significant reality affecting societies and economies around the world and at home. In this talk we’ll examine the contentious questions of changes in weather patterns and sea level rise. Both of these effects of warming have already had impacts and these impacts are expected to increase in the future. What does the science say about “weather whiplash,” severe storms, and the rise of seas in the near and longer term future, how certain are we of what may happen, and how severe might these impacts be?
 
Greg Laden is a science communicator and teacher who has studied the relationship between human evolution and ecology, climate change during the Holocene, and African and North American prehistory. He has addressed, mostly through his writing on National Geographic Scienceblogs, the science of climate change, and has presented several talks and workshops on this issue. He is currently teaching at Century College and is writing two books, one on fieldwork in the Congo and the other, a novel, on life in the upper Midwest and Plains in a post-climate change world. He strongly hopes that the novel remains fiction rather than prediction. Greg lives with his wife and two children in Coon Rapids, Minnesota.

 
I’m purposefully not going to address the following things beyond a brief mention:
 

  • Atmospheric CO2 has increased and this increase is because of the burning of fossil fuels by humans.
  •  

  • This change in the chemistry of the atmosphere has caused the warming of the atmosphere and oceans in accord with expectations from the physical science, and continues apace.

 

These are facts so well established by science that I don’t need to drive across town to tell them to people. Within that second fact is the question of the so-called “Hiatus” and I’ll address that briefly but really, it is just a Fox News meme and need not demand the energy and time of this thoughtful group of well educated people.
 
Sea level, storms, and weird weather, on the other hand, are a different thing. There are aspects of this feature of climate change that climate scientists argue about among themselves, and the there are differences between what the IPCC officially said in its recently released report and what many groups of mainstream climate scientists say. The differences are not deep or huge … we are not talking about science denialism here. But there is uncertainty and we are approaching new territory. This makes the science interesting, and the potential consequences of climate change make it important.
 
See you on December 28th, come hell or high water. As it were.
 

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stop_denying_global_warmingThe LA Times recently instituted a policy change: they no longer print letters to the editor from climate change deniers. The LA Times believes that peer-reviewed work by established scientists have overwhelmingly proven that our planet is warming and this is leading to significant climate change.
 

And those scientists have provided ample evidence that human activity is indeed linked to climate change. Just last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — a body made up of the world’s top climate scientists — said it was 95% certain that we fossil-fuel-burning humans are driving global warming. The debate right now isn’t whether this evidence exists (clearly, it does) but what this evidence means for us.

The LA Times started this and I think that the Minneapolis Star Tribune should join them.
 
As recently as October 22nd, the Strib printed a letter from a climate denier crank from California.
 
On October 14th, they published an op-ed by former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson. Gerson isn’t exactly a denier, instead he’s trying to vilify the messengers and, via ad hominem attacks, show that climate change and global warming are not believable.
 
Generally, the Strib allows Republicans to tell any old lie they want to on their editorial page. But it’s time to tell them to put an end to the anti-science malarkey the climate deniers want printed.
 
Please sign the petition asking the Minneapolis Star Tribune to join the LA Times in no longer publishing climate denier letters:
 
TELL THE MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE: DON’T PROMOTE CLIMATE CHANGE DENIAL
 
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Dophins Dying – Who is Next?

by Grace Kelly on August 20, 2013 · 0 comments


Environmental toxins tend to concentrate more and more as one goes up the food chain. As the highest level of predators, you would think that would make us more wary of environmental pollution, but it doesn’t. One of my Republican friends said he didn’t believe what I was saying because the average age of humans is still increasing. Well, this chart on human sperm counts ought to be a warning. Well maybe the high number of dolphins dying on eastern beaches should be a warning. It has been declared an Unusual Mortality Event. The toxins weaken dolphins so they can not handle normal viruses.

 

CNN has more of the story with this incredible picture:
 

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More on that Mining Truth ad

by Joe Bodell on July 25, 2013 · 0 comments

mining-pollutionIf you’ve looked at the site lately, you’ve probably noticed a banner ad in the rotation up above, pointing to Mining Truth. This is a project by Friends of the Boundary Waters, an organization devoted to getting the word out about proposed sulfide mining in one of the most pristine outdoor areas in our state and, frankly, the entire country. Their spokesperson is Aaron Klemz, a friend of MPP and the blogosphere at large, and we sent him a couple of questions about the Mining Truth effort:

What political challenges are you facing in the state’s government as you try to push back on these mining initiatives? 

 

One challenge we face is a simple lack of awareness of the existence of sulfide mining proposals like PolyMet and Twin Metals. Despite 40 years of on-and-off industry interest in the copper-nickel sulfide ores of northern Minnesota we know from our polling that around half of all Minnesotans are unaware that these mines are even being considered. Until that changes, skeptics of mining will struggle to get the attention of statewide politicians who are getting an earful from vocal proponents.

 

The Boundary Waters and Lake Superior are special places that are valued by people across Minnesota and across America. Love for these places cuts across geographic and partisan divisions, and that presents political opportunities as well as political challenges. The challenge is that there’s not a geographically defined and easily mobilized constituency, so you have to do campaigns like Mining Truth to bring awareness to this dispersed group of people.

 

Additionally, a lot of people aren’t aware of the differences between these sulfide mines and existing taconite mines. Minnesota has no experience with sulfide mines, but a century of experience with iron mining. Sulfide ore mining presents different (and worse) pollution problems than the taconite mining Minnesotans are familiar with. One key difference is that the ore itself is the biggest cause of pollution with sulfide mines. When you dig up the ore and crush it, the exposed waste rock creates the pollution. It’s a matter of simple, inexorable chemistry. While old iron ore pits can become fishing and swimming holes, old sulfide ore pits can become huge hazardous waste sites. For an example, just look at one of the biggest Superfund sites in the US, the Berkeley Pit in Montana.

 

Lastly, any project that promises new jobs in an area that has struggled economically will have powerful backers. But we’ve also seen that blindly supporting every project that promises jobs has serious flaws. For example, the Excelsior Energy proposal has received tens of millions of public dollars for a power plant that has no customers and will probably never be built. The path to a sustainable, diverse economy in northeastern Minnesota is a long one that will take a lot of small business development, but we are stuck in a model of spending all the time, money, and human resources to attract one big employer. The national and global economy is changing, and these proposals are a throwback to a 1950’s model of economic development that focuses on attracting a couple of big industrial employers. That’s the very same logic that got us here in the first place. PolyMet proposes to reuse part of the shuttered LTV Steel plant that closed in 2000. At that time, LTV employed 1,400 people at that plant. Even if PolyMet reaches it’s full projection of 360 employees, that’s a quarter of the jobs that were lost. Given the increasing pace of mechanization in the mining industry, the number of jobs available will inexorably continue to shrink relative to the amount of ore mined. Futuristic projections of mining include visions of fully automated mines with hardly any human employees at all!

 

One alternative is to court small, information-age businesses and mobile entrepreneurs. The arrival of broadband internet to Ely, Babbit, and Hoyt Lakes due to federal stimulus spending will finally allow the region to fully enter the internet-based information economy. A truly sustainable approach to economic development starts by making communities attractive to businesses and independent contractors who can locate their business anywhere. In concert with a growing tourism economy, northeastern Minnesota can be a prosperous place where entrepreneurs want to grow their businesses and good jobs are available for folks who want to stay where they grew up and raise a family.

If you can, click that banner up there (refresh the site once if it’s not presently displaying; ad rotation is fun!) and check out the effort.

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