All Things Eco Blog Carnival Volume Eighty Five

All Things Eco Blog Carnival Volume Eighty Five is now available on the All Things Eco Blog. There are some great posts in this carnival on topics ranging from Alternative Energy to Travel and Transportation. Also included is my recent post, “St. Louis County Council Places Transit Tax On The Ballot,” on efforts to raise money for the St. Louis Metro system. Enjoy the carnival.

Aftershock

In response to the earthquake and 40+ aftershocks in Haiti, CNN.com has put up a page up called “What we’re hearing via social media“. The page is streaming updates from Haiti as they’re coming in, and while the page claims to have updates from various social media everything I’ve read so far is from Twitter. That’s not the point though. The point is that the messages coming out of the ravaged country are so serious they almost seem fictitious. Here are a few that caught my attention:

  • “dead bodies are everywhere i havent seen one ambulance or any proffesionl med care anywhere in port-au-prince” From Twitter user fredodupoux in Haiti at 12:58 p.m. ET Wednesday
  • “Night has fallen..the night seems to take so long..I guess those that are buried alive in the rubble are feeling it the worst..Prayers.”. –From Twitter user RAMhaiti in Haiti at 8:55 p.m. ET Wednesday
  • “I saw a collapsed building today..it may have been 8 or 9 stories.it looked like 8 or 9 pieces of bread one on top of the other..survivors?” –From Twitter user RAMhaiti in Haiti at 9:04 p.m. ET Wednesday

Yikes. If you want to help it seems that sending cash to the American Red Cross is the best way.

You can donate $10 to Haiti relief by texting “Haiti” to 90999

I confimed the above on the website of the American Red Cross. Over $3 million had been raised by 8:00 a.m. Central Time this morning. To a see state-by-state totals of what’s been raised you can go here. Hopefully more and more is pouring in. And more importantly, I hope these dollars can be translated into help, on the ground, as quickly as possible.

St. Louis County Council Places Transit Tax On The Ballot

I just got this from Citizens for Modern Transit this morning:

The St. Louis County Council voted in December to place a ½ cent general sales tax on the ballot on April 6 for transit operations and expansion including MetroLink. Without the passage of this measure, Metro will be cutting more than 30 percent of it service to area residents – a significantly larger cut than in 2009 which had devastating effects on area employees and employers. Without the passage, these effects will be even greater.

If you would like to volunteer to help on the measure, contact info@cmt-stl.org.

The passage of this tax is absolutely necessary to the sustained growth of the St. Louis region. The train and bus system – along with other services like Call-a-Ride – are an integral part of the transportation infrastructure. These services need to be expanded, not contracted, to help St. Louis attract new jobs and maintain the ones it already has. If you have any time, please email the address provided above to see how you can help. I’m sure Metro and Citizens for Modern Transit could use every ounce of help it gets. I’m also fairly certain that you could do things as simple as write letters to help the cause.

If you want to learn more about Metro, all it has to offer and what it could mean to the region in the future, visit The Greater St. Louis Transit Alliance. Here you’ll find statistics on Metro, a list of all the organizations that support this tax and much more. This tax was on the ballot last November and failed by only a small margin. Don’t think of this as another cost during a recession but rather a small investment by each of us that will have lasting economic benefits for the entire region.

The voters of St. Louis City have already approved this measure but need the County to pass it as well to make it happen. I’m not sure what the new proposition will be called but if you’re a registered voter in St. Louis County please vote yes. Please talk to your friends and family about the measure too. If you’ve ever been to a big, vibrant city you have undoubtedly noticed an efficient and comprehensive public transit system. One can not exist without the other. Go Metro!

Startling Environmental Facts – Take Action Now

Below are 10 startling facts we learned in 2009 that underscore the climate threat. I am republishing them from an email I received from the Environmental Defense Fund. 

  • A study published in the journal Science reports that the current level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere – about 390 parts per million – is higher today than at any time in measurable history — at least the last 2.1 million years. Previous peaks of CO2 were never more than 300 ppm over the past 800,000 years, and the concentration is rising by around 2 ppm each year.
  • The World Meterological Organization reported that 2000-2009 was the hottest decade on record with 8 of the hottest 10 years having occurred since 2000.
  • 2009 will end up as one of the 5 hottest years since 1850 and the U.K.’s Met Office predicts that, with a moderate El Nino, 2010 will likely break the record.
  • The National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that while a bit more summer Arctic sea ice appeared in 2009 than the record breaking lows of the last two years, it was still well below normal levels. Given that the Arctic ice cover remains perilously thin, it is vulnerable to further melting, posing an ever increasing threat to Arctic wildlife including polar bears.
  • The Arctic summer could be ice-free by mid-century, not at the end of the century as previously expected, according to a study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
  • Recent observations published in the highly respected Nature Geosciences indicate that the East Antarctica ice sheet has been shrinking. This surprised researchers, who expected that only the West Antarctic ice sheet would shrink in the near future because the East Antarctic ice sheet is colder and more stable.
  • The U.S. Global Change Research Program completed an assessment of what is known about climate change impacts in the US and reported that, “Climate changes are already observed in the United States and… are projected to grow.” These changes include “increases in heavy downpours, rising temperature and sea level, rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost, lengthening ice-free seasons in the ocean and on lakes and rivers, earlier snowmelt, and alterations in river flows.”
  • According to a report by the US Geological Survey, slight changes in the climate may trigger abrupt threats to ecosystems that are not easily reversible or adaptable, such as insect outbreaks, wildfire, and forest dieback. “More vulnerable ecosystems, such as those that already face stressors other than climate change, will almost certainly reach their threshold for abrupt change sooner.” An example of such an abrupt threat is the outbreak of spruce bark beetles throughout the western U.S. caused by increased winter temperatures that allow more beetles to survive.
  • The EPA, USGS and NOAA issued a joint report warning that most mid-Atlantic coastal wetlands from New York to North Carolina will be lost with a sea level rise of 1 meter or more.
  • If we do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the century, some of the main fruit and nut tree crops currently grown in California may no longer be economically viable, as there will be a lack of the winter chilling they require. And, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S. production of corn, soybeans and cotton could decrease as much as 82%.

If these facts actually did startle you, then please Take Action to Unleash Our Clean Energy Future. If they didn’t then please check your pulse, or do us a favor and step into traffic. Happy Tuesday!

How Much Hate Is Actually Out There?

There’s nothing like reading about hate crimes during your Monday morning work out. Seriously, there’s nothing like it. While “ellipticizing” to nowhere for 28 minutes I read, among other articles, two recent pieces on hate crimes in the most recent issue of Utne Reader. The first, “A Conspiracy of Hate,” is by Larry Keller and was originally published in the Intelligence Report. The second, “The Paranoid Center,” is by Jesse Walker and was originally published in Reason.

For those who know me well, I generally walk right in the middle of the view points professed by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report and those offered by the Libertarian publication Reason. The straddling is in no way meant to prevent taking sides, and in this case I have to side (mostly) with Keller’s assertion that militia-related activity is on the rise again.

Keller points out that, “Over the past year, men with antigovernment, racist, anti-Semitic, or pro-militia views have been linked to a series of high-profile murders.” This is indisputable, though I doubt any sort of coordinated activity is underway here.  Both of these articles focus more on organized militia activity and the influence of media on these groups.

But, I’ve noticed a few random personal incidents as well. Recently in St. Louis a group of homosexual men were beaten leaving a gay club, just for being gay. Other such events have been noted online and in newspapers. I don’t know if these types of crimes are actually on the rise but I do firmly believe that the election of a black president has awoken some beasts. Add to this the fact that some people actually believe Obama is a Muslim (what’s wrong with that?) and that he was born in Africa (only technically a problem) and you have the ingredients for ignorance-driven revolt by heavily armed lunatics.

I don’t see a day in the near future where hate groups have any substantial pull or presence, and that’s almost scarier than the alternative. Knowing the enemy and being able to monitor its activities is a much better option than not knowing when and where the next crime will occur. Think about it. Are you more scared of being the victim of an attack by North Korea or Al-Qaeda?

Our Last Best Chance

I’m approaching 30,000 words. While I’ve been moving at a much slower pace than I’d like, I’m coming up with a few subplots that will hopefully help my story. Tortoise and the hare, tortoise and the hare.

What some people are calling the last best chance for humanity to save itself from climate change starts today in Copenhagen, Denmark. It’s the United Nations conference on climate change and its outcome will determine whether the world’s leading polluters are willing to take enough action to prevent catastrophic damage to the Earth’s air, land and sea. The key word here is “enough”. Everyone is willing to take steps but they are rarely adequate for real change, just press releases.

I’ll be following the developments as closely as I can. I hope you do too.

Coal Ash In The Mornin’, Baby

My wife is on a mission. The objective: get in shape. She and a friend are working out five days a week doing a mix of classes and running. I’m tagging along, though not working out nearly as hard. The point of this is that when I’m doing my cardio, I like to read. And now we’ve arrived at the problem. I try not to waste my time reading mindless entertainment or sports rags. There’s so much to know and learn that reading something worthwhile is the only way to go. Occasionally this backfires. One of those occasions was today.

When it comes to periodicals, on a regular basis I read Sierra, The Atlantic and Utne Reader. There are others I read off and on as well but not on any sort of schedule. In fact, I just reduced my subscription to the printed St. Louis Post-Dispatch from seven days down to one (Sunday) so that I can catch up on my magazines in the morning instead of reading news that I can easily find online. On today’s menu was the November / December 2009 issue of Sierra. About tw0-thirds of the way through I came across this small but potent piece:

Coal Ash: Close the Poison Pits
If the nuclear industry were allowed to just shovel its radioactive waste into open pits, nuclear power would look like a bargain. One reason coal appears to be America’s cheapest energy source is that the feds don’t regulate coal ash and other waste products left behind when coal is burned in power plants. So the industry does shovel its waste into open pits, abandoned mines, and huge slurry ponds like the one that burst its banks last December in Kingston, Tennessee, sending a billion gallons of toxic goo into and across the Emory River, covering 300 acres six feet deep.

Burning coal to produce half of the nation’s electricity and a third of its global-warming gases leaves behind some 131 million tons of ash per year. Ash piles up in the 584 dumps throughout the nation, poisoning streams, groundwater, wildlife, and humans. How poisonous is it? Back in 1980, Congress told the EPA to find out. It took the agency until 2002 to come up with a “risk screening”–which it would not make public. Freedom of Information Act requests by the Sierra Club forced the agency to divulge some material, although key sections were blacked out. The full report was not released until this March. It revealed that if you drink well water contaminated by arsenic from coal ash, you have a 1 in 50 chance of contracting cancer–worse odds than if you smoke a pack of cigarettes a day.

And speaking of shoveling radioactive waste into open pits–that’s exactly what coal-fired power plants do. Because of the trace amounts of uranium and thorium in coal, reports Scientific American, fly ash “carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy.”

WHAT YOU CAN DO
The EPA should regulate coal ash as hazardous waste. It will probably need to be stored in monitored, covered landfills with liners to prevent leaching into groundwater. Write to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson at action.sierraclub.org/bigpicture_ash.

DID YOU KNOW?
You might want to find out what’s stored in that ugly pond up the hill. Of the 584 coal ash dumps scattered across the country, the EPA judges 49 to be “high hazard,” at risk for catastrophic failure. Another Freedom of Information Act request by the Sierra Club led the EPA to reveal their locations. (The agency had initially refused, because of unspecified “national security concerns.”) These dangerous sites are found in 12 states, with the greatest numbers in North Carolina (12) and Arizona (9). Utility giant American Electric Power is responsible for 11 of the impoundments, followed closely by Duke Energy and Arizona Electric Power.

Thirty of the “high hazard” dumps are in impoverished areas. In Louisa, Kentucky, home to the Big Sandy coal ash site, nearly 33 percent of nearby residents live below the poverty level ($22,000 a year for a family of four).

Wow. As you probably noticed, I underlined a few lines in the article that stood out to me. Missouri is a coal whore. St. Louis itself is home to a few of the world’s largest coal companies, including Peabody, the largest. Peabody even has a massive brainwashing campaign underway at St. Louis Blues hockey games that blatantly misrepresents the facts about using coal for energy. In related news, the local utility, AmerenUE, is reporting it will be installing solar energy systems on two of its facilities to test the technology for future use in larger scale power generation. Hopefully this will piss off the coal companies.

Twenty Four Thousand Pounds

National Novel Writing Month ends at midnight tonight and I’m at 26,392 words. If you recall, the goal is 50,000. Odds are that someone has written 24,000 words in one day but I can guarantee you that feat will not be reproduced by me. Alas, I have failed. But, the journey will continue. While I may not have met the 50,000 word goal in the 30 day time limit, I will continue until I reach 50,000 and beyond. My objective is to finish this book. It may suck but it will be complete in its suckitude! There’s also a small chance it doesn’t suck, which is my motivation for finishing what I started . . . and hopefully doing it again.

On a side note, a friend of mine who also embarked on this voyage met the 50,000 word goal yesterday. Congrats to the Purple Poet!

On a note that’s next to the side note, I don’t think it’s possible to actually lose weight during the Thanksgiving weekend. I ate fairly well and worked out.  I even went on a hike with my wife and dog on an unseasonably warm November day through a park I visited quite often as a teenager. Perhaps even water is caloric for those four days. Oh well. Back to the gym tonight to mitigant the leftover Indian food I had for lunch. What? Throwing away food is worse than eating off plan.

In other food related news, a coworker’s child decided over the weekend that she was going to become a vegetarian. Go her!

Under Water With Only Five Days Left

Naming these posts is difficult. I’ve just been combining words and phrases for the topics being discussed into something that doesn’t really make sense by itself. This could be “my thing”.

25,000 words down and 25,000 left to go. Hitting the halfway mark felt good, though I wish I did it about ten days ago. There are only five days left and unfortunately one – Thursday – will be worthless to the cause. I followed Vonnegut’s advice and started as close to the end of my story as possible. I fear I may have started too close to the end. There is story left to write but I don’t know what if it will fill another 25,000 words. I would like  at least 50,000 words of plot, only to be polished and dressed with additional words if they’re needed.

My sustainability slap in the face for the day is this statistic:  81.1% of mortgages in Las Vegas are under water, meaning the home securing the mortgage is worth less than the remaining principal balance of the mortgage. Below is a list of the worst 14 markets in the United States.  They are all in either California (6), Florida (5), Nevada (2) or Arizona (1). Take that Sun Belt!

  1. Tampa – St. Petersburg, Fla. – 48.2% 
  2. Brendenton – Sarasota, Fla. – 48.2% 
  3. Bakersfield, Ca. – 50.4% 
  4. Riverside – San Bernardino – Ontario, Ca. – 50.4% 
  5. Cape Coral – Fort Meyers, Fla. -60.5% 
  6. Vallejo – Fairfield, Ca. – 61.1% 
  7. Orlando – Kissimmee, Fla – 62.3% 
  8. Reno – Sparks, Nev. 62.4% 
  9. Fort Lucie, Fla – 62.5% 
  10. Phoenix – Mesa, Ariz. 63.5% 
  11. Stockton, Ca. – 66.9% 
  12. Modesto, Ca. 70.4% 
  13. Merced, Ca. 72.2% 
  14. Las Vegas, Nev. 81.1%

The Las Vegas number just boggles the mind, though the percentages in other cities are nearly as bad. I haven’t mapped the California cities but I’m wondering how many are in “foreclosure valley”, an area in southern California that should never been built up and now probably won’t be, at least until we forget about our mistakes. Hopefully one of the things you’re giving thanks for tomorrow is having equity in your home, no matter how teeny tiny the amount.

Ship Me Some Words

My writing is grinding to a near halt. I’m at 22,477 words, which is not that much further than I was last time I checked in. I aim to do some catching up this weekend but I fear that 50,000 word by the end of November is out of the question at this point. Only time will tell if I achieve the goalbut I will not consider my NaNoWriMo experience a failure under any circumstance. I have almost half of a book already written, which is quite amazing in and of itself. I’m not saying it’s any good but still, it’s written. Go me.

The time for buying lots of crap is upon us. I was thinking about the cost of shipping good versus going to the store to buy them. Tell me if this makes sense. Isn’t it more efficient for someone already out making deliveries to add one stop to his route instead of a consumer making a special trip to the store to buy something? I’m thinking that if goods are already being shipped from Point A to points B1, B2, etc . . . what’s wrong with adding Bx to that list? I live in a 100-unit condo building. The UPS guy is there every day. Is it more efficient for him to stop in front of my door in addition to the other dozen or so units he visits or for me to get in my car and drive all the way to Best Buy to get something?

I know I’m not considering the packing and freight implications but the merchandise still has to be shipped to a destination, whether it be a retail chain or a residence. Granted, shipping in bulk to Target is more efficient than individually delivering packages but what’s missing from that equation is that the goods are of no use if they stay in Target. It takes thousands of people in thousands of cars driving and increasing traffic and parking and idling to complete the chain.

We need to make packing more efficient and environmentally friendly, to be sure. But, if we can make delivery vehicles greener then I can see home delivery of goods paralleling public transit. My home would be just another stop on a daily traveled route. This logic holds up more in urban areas than in suburban and rural areas but hopefully you can see my point. Why if I live in a dense area that’s already served by shipping companies would I create more carbon monoxide by firing up my car? And, the more the UPS guy delivers in my building, the higher his “packages per gallon of fuel” becomes.