Archive for March, 2011

Crazy For Energy, Article 3, By George Black, NRDC’s OnEarth Magazine

March 31, 2011

This is the 3rd of 3 related, well done articles on Global Climate Change by By George Black .

Just a week ago, we all thought we knew what would happen when President Obama flew into Santiago today for his meetings with his Chilean counterpart, Sebastián Piñera. In the wake of the horrors of Fukushima, Chile and the United States would shunt their long-planned cooperation pact on nuclear energy onto the most discreet back burner they could find.

Well, it turns out we were wrong. U.S ambassador Alejandro Wolff and Chilean foreign minister Alfredo Moreno initialed the agreement last Friday. Piñera’s spin on this seems to be, what’s all the fuss about? These are only technical discussions, and nothing will actually be done to develop nuclear energy for years. Besides, Obama and I are signing agreements on all sorts of things — let me tell you about our cool plan to bring more English teachers to Chile.

Fall 2006 Cover Story: Patagonia Under Siege
We’re all obsessed with things nuclear right now, which is understandable. But Piñera is right in a sense. Nuclear power in Chile is still more conceptual than real, and focusing on it to the exclusion of all else creates the risk that we will overlook other, more urgent problems. By which I don’t mean English teachers; I mean how far the two presidents will push the limits of what they consider to be “clean, safe energy.”

The most pressing question of all, as I’ve been arguing for the past week, is the string of huge dams that a corporate consortium named HidroAysén is proposing to build in the remote south of Patagonia. Nuclear reactors may be a far-off prospect, but the Chilean government will rule on the dam proposal as early as April 15. The indications are that Piñera’s “all-the-above” view of energy development will prevail. Chile faces such a dire energy crisis, in other words, that it needs to build every power plant possible, environment be damned. Or dammed.

I wonder what Obama might think of the dam idea if he took a few days off after his visit to Santiago and took Michelle and the girls on a trip to the far south. Halfway to Patagonia, he would pass through the city of Concepción, which was devastated by an 8.8 magnitude earthquake a little over a year ago. Farther south, at the gateway to Patagonia, he would surely be stopped short by the stunning, snow-covered Osorno volcano, Chile’s answer to Mount Fuji. It’s one of the most active in South America, having erupted at least five times in the 19th century though not since. You might say it’s overdue.

The president would be over the Liquiñe-Ofqui seismic fault now, which runs north-south for more than 600 miles. Soon the dirt road would take him past the flattened cone of Chaitén, which erupted in 2008, burying a nearby town of the same name in ash. Farther still, beyond the town of Coyhaique, which was rattled during my own visit to Patagonia earlier this month by a 5.4 magnitude tremor — small potatoes by Chilean standards — Obama would come upon the spectacular Río Ibáñez. He would marvel at the sight of a dead forest, stretching for miles along the valley floor, a casualty of the Hudson volcano, whose eruption in 1991 was one of the largest of the 20th century.

I could go on, all the way to the mouth of the Río Baker, but I suspect you get the drift by now: this is a hell of a place to build five big dams and a 1,400-mile high-tension power line. And let’s not even talk about building nuclear plants in another of the world’s most seismically unstable countries.

Worse, volcanoes and earthquakes are not the only reason why HidroAysén’s plans are so reckless. There’s also the small matter of global warming, which brings the increased risk of glacial lake outburst floods, or GLOFs, from Patagonia’s vast Northern Ice Field. In the headwaters of the Río Colonia, one of the Baker’s main tributaries, is a lake called Cachet 2. There hadn’t been a GLOF at Cachet 2 since the 1960s, but since 2008 there have been seven (the most recent was two weeks ago). Each of them dumped about 50 billion gallons of icy water into the Colonia, and thence into a stretch of the Baker that lies smack in the middle of the two dams that HidroAysén plans to build on the river.

The Edge: George Black on Climate, Energy, and Culture
Don’t worry, says HidroAysén: our dams are designed to withstand floods twice as heavy as those caused by the recent GLOFs.

Worry, say the scientists who have studied Cachet 2; physical evidence suggests that past GLOFs may have discharged more than four times as much floodwater as those that have occurred in the past three years.

After tsunami-proof nuclear plants and leak-proof oil wells six miles deep in the Gulf of Mexico, does all this sound a little familiar?

The worst part of this story is not that an energy giant would disfigure one of the most beautiful places in the world; not that multibillion-dollar dams are dinosaurs that the rest of the world is tearing down faster than new ones are being built; and not that Hidroaysén (not to mention the investors who are supposed to pony up $7 billion for the project) is courting disastrous physical risks. It’s that the whole thing is totally unnecessary. Chile simply doesn’t need the additional 2,750 megawatts that the project would supply.

Chile’s problem is not that it lacks energy, but that it lacks a national energy policy. The massive privatization of the energy sector means that the development of new sources is driven not by any coherent plan but by the whims and profit motives of corporations with near-monopoly power. In his first year in office President Piñera has done nothing to change that. If examples are needed, look no further than his decision just last month to permit Eike Batista, the richest man in Brazil, to build six new coal-fired power plants — another 2,100 MW — on an environmentally sensitive stretch of the Chilean coast.

Piñera says that Chile will need to add another 14,000 MW to the capacity of its central grid by 2025, doubling its energy supply. But studies by Chilean and U.S. energy experts have argued that this claim is based on grossly inflated projections of future economic growth. More realistic estimates, coupled with a serious California-style energy efficiency program, could reduce the projected increase by half. (Piñera, unfortunately, has slashed the budget for Chile’s energy efficiency agency.)

The real silver bullet, however, is the country’s remarkable potential to develop genuinely renewable energy sources, not spuriously “green” ones like mega-dams. The Atacama desert, scene of last year’s emotional rescue of the 33 trapped miners, has limitless solar potential; astronomers flock to the Atacama because it has the clearest skies in the world. And in the greatest irony of all, the very things that make HidroAysén’s project so risky — the volcanoes and seismic faults of the Pacific Ring of Fire — also represent an untapped and virtually limitless source of geothermal energy.

To become competitive, of course, these energies of the future require the kind of start-up support and financial cushions against risk that only governments can provide. If corporate monopolies are allowed to dictate the rules of the energy market and meet the “need” with reckless projects like the dams on the Baker, they will remove the incentives for cleaner, safer, and more reliable renewable sources.

We’re at a historic crossroads right now, with one country after another making huge, far-reaching decisions about its energy future. Ever since the Pinochet dictatorship ended 20 years ago, Chile has prided itself — with good reason — on being a model for the developing world. President Piñera has a basic choice to make: he can make his reputation as a visionary leader, charting a path for the rest of the developing world, or he can be just one more laggard, doing things in the same old dirty, dangerous, and destructive way. And even if Obama doesn’t take that fantasy trip to Patagonia, as he takes out his pen to sign the nuclear agreement he might ask himself the same question.


Temporarily Gone

March 28, 2011

Going from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina back to Bozeman, Montana. Will post on this on Thursday…see you then.

Lucky Hammock, A Fragment Of Habitat

March 26, 2011

In my eyes I was looking at a fragment of a hardwood Hammock…These Hammocks used to be scattered throughout Southern Florida.

During the Fall and Spring songbird migration, these Hammocks were islands for migrating songbirds…in this case I was looking at Lucky Hammock, a well known migratory birding location in Southern Florida near Everglade National Park.

This time Painted Buntings, Indigo Buntings and 5 species of warbler flitted about and I was in a car drivers seat about twenty yards away…watching…this was high end birding for the likes of me.

Bull Island, A Wild Landscape Of The Atlantic Coast

March 26, 2011

I went to Bull Island yesterday.

Bull Island is a barrier island right in the middle of Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, 60,000 plus acres of the coastal Atlantic in South Carolina. The island is 7 miles long.

I went with my brother-in-law, a good sport who likes to golf and puts up with my nature mannerizms…thank goodness…

Some of the highlites included a “bubbling Atlantic dolphin, numerous shorebirds, a mink, a good bunch of staff naturalists, an easy going boat ride, neat cordgrass marshes (vast), Longleaf Pine forests, Caspian Terns, American Oystercatchers, Laughing Gulls and tilting-gliding Turkey Vuultures and at least one Black Vulture… We did see bobcat tracks.

I would go back to Bull Island in a minute.

A Real Stinker Of A Proposed Action In Minnesota

March 26, 2011

Wowee…talk about hard up…this is not only a thing we should not do, it has the feel of desperation a feeling based on bad, bad decisions, like this one would be.
By DOUG SMITH, Minneapolis Star Tribune

One side says valuable black walnut trees in Minnesota state parks shouldn’t be left to age and rot — they should be cut down and sold for much-needed state revenue.

The other side says our state parks have never been commercially logged, and they have long been managed to let nature take its course, not maximize profits.

A bill requiring the Department of Natural Resources to commercially log trees in two southeastern Minnesota state parks, which officials say would be unprecedented, has sparked the debate and galvanized park supporters. The bill will be voted on next week in the full Minnesota House.

It orders the DNR to harvest black walnut and “timber resources suitable for harvest” in Frontenac and Whitewater state parks, and use profits to help fund the park system. Bill supporters say the state can’t afford to let valuable trees rot in the woods. Opponents say the measure is shortsighted and would open up state parks to commercialization. The DNR opposes the bill.

“We don’t do commercial logging in our state parks,” Courtland Nelson, DNR parks director, said Friday. “We do timbering in our state forests. Our goals are to protect and perpetuate the natural resources in our parks.” The DNR sometimes cuts trees in parks for management reasons, he said. The idea is to try to return them to pre-settlement conditions.

Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, said the bill is “outrageous. It borders on crazy.

“So are we going to log the big pines at Itasca [State Park]? Red oak and walnut trees are jewels of the southeast region. The last thing we want to do is log them out of our parks.”

But Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, who added the logging amendment to a large environmental finance bill, said it makes sense.

“The alarmists say you’re going to clear-cut the whole thing, but that’s not what the amendment is,” he said. “It’s simply to harvest the merchantable timber. It would leave 99 percent of trees intact. This is something we have to consider in the economic times we are in. We can’t afford to watch our state assets rot.”

Drazkowski said constituents who live near the parks told him they are frustrated by seeing valuable black walnut trees going to waste. Black walnut is used in veneers, furniture and gun stocks and is considered very valuable. Drazkowski said a resident told him he’s been offered $5,000 for a tree. “There may be hundreds of thousands of dollars of value there,” Drazkowski said.

Nelson said the DNR doesn’t know how many black walnut trees are in the two parks, but that an assessment will be done. The trees are native to the region.

“It wouldn’t be a windfall for parks,” said Bob Meier, DNR legislative director. He said there aren’t a large number of black walnut trees in the parks. And it would be a one-time infusion of cash, possibly less than $100,000.

Morse said the old-growth trees are an important attraction for park visitors. “These should not be sold off to fix a short-term state budget problem,” he said.

“We think it’s a really bad idea,” said Brett Feldman, executive director of the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota, a nonprofit group that advocates for the state’s parks and trails. “Our parks are places where we are trying to take care of national resources, not trying to commercialize them.”

Two House committees passed the bill, HF1010, on Wednesday, and it now goes to the full House for a vote next week. The Senate version differs substantially and doesn’t include the logging amendment, which means a House-Senate conference committee likely will hash out the differences.

“This is a discussion worth having,” said Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, chairman of the Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee, which passed the bill. He voted for it, but said the logging amendment may need refining.

“This just can’t be about economics, absolutely not,” he said. “But we can’t not pay attention to economics, either.”

Happy Spring

March 25, 2011

Happy spring. Today I was at Brook Greene Gardens in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and it was very warm and spring like. Parula Warblers and Yellow-rumped Warblers were busy singing as they migrated through.

Polar Bear Seas

March 25, 2011

America’s Arctic

This was in the most recent NRDC Biogems…please find this and act on this.
Keep oil rigs out of the polar bear’s home

Last month, we scored a major victory when Shell postponed its plans to drill off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge this summer. Shell’s decision offers a brief reprieve for polar bears, whales, seals, caribou and millions of migratory birds — all of which depend on healthy Arctic ecosystems including the Arctic Refuge, Western Arctic Reserve and Polar Bear Seas for survival. With no proven method for cleaning up oil in ice-filled waters and little scientific understanding of the Arctic environment, an uncontained oil spill in the region would be catastrophic for wildlife. Shell may have given up for now, but the company has already announced it will be back next year — along with other oil giants — in the race to exploit these fragile Arctic habitats. We need your help to make sure that doesn’t happen. The Obama Administration is currently considering a five-year plan that would allow oil and gas leasing in America’s Arctic, most notably the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, also known as the Polar Bear Seas. Send a message telling administration officials to develop a plan that prohibits oil and gas drilling.

We Are Near A Tipping Point

March 23, 2011

I have repeatedly said I feel that global climate change is a human caused phenomina, at least in some respects. I firmly believe human habits cause the quick increases we see as our climate changes.

I have frequently mentioned we are near a tipping point (read Malcom Gladwell’s book, Tipping Point) on this changing climate and I have learned it works to repeat a concept, so here goes.

What I mean, as we get to a point negative things happen in spite of what we do, and that means we are at a tipping point.

I see us as near the tipping point on a few things as it relates to a changing climate and I mean things that were a direct result of human behavior are now at their tipping point!!!!!!!An example that directly impacts my small little world would be pine bark beetle infestatons of all pine trees…huge in my backyard and probably exacerbated by our use of fossil fuels and now it happens in spite of what we do (tipping point).

Not Birds In Costa Rica

March 22, 2011

I went to Costa Rica in 2006 primarily to watch birds but I did see some very fine wildlife forms that were not birds

I saw several species of bats but it was too dark to determine what I was looking at but I have some suspicions.

I saw several species of insect but did not key the species (E.O. Wilson would not be happy with me)

I saw a Bairds Tapir in Corcovado National Park and a Coati Mundi and White lipped Peccary in the same spot where I saw the tapir.

I saw Howler, White Faced, Spider and Squirrel Monkey, primarily at a place called La Selva, a Duke University Biological Station.

2 and 3 Toed Tree Sloths were at La Selva hanging in the trees their.

Lots of tame (or so it seemed) Collared Peccarry’s.

1,000 pound American Crocodile. Several White Caimen.

The tracks of several mammals including the rare Jaguar (near where I saw the tapir-same water hole).

I saw a lot of bids and recorded all that I saw…

Think Globally, but Act Locally When Studying Plants, Animals, Global Warming, Researchers Advise, By Camille Parmesan, Michael C. Singer and their coauthors

March 21, 2011

Here is a good article about a basic tenant of climate change…to think globally.
ScienceDaily (Mar. 20, 2011) — Global warming is clearly affecting plants and animals, but we should not try to tease apart the specific contribution of greenhouse gas driven climate change to extinctions or declines of species at local scales, biologists from The University of Texas at Austin advise.

“Yes, global warming is happening. Yes, it is caused by human activities. And yes, we’ve clearly shown that species are impacted by global warming on a global scale,” says Parmesan, associate professor of integrative biology.

Policy makers have been recently pressing biologists to dissect how much of the changes observed in wild species are due specifically to greenhouse gas driven climate change verses other possible factors, including natural changes in the climate.

However, research funding is limited, and the scientists feel it should be directed more toward studies on species adaptations and conservation of compromised species rather than trying to figure what percent of each species’ decline is due to rising greenhouse gases. One reason is that, from the perspective of wildlife, it doesn’t matter what proportion of climate-change impacts are caused by humans.

“A changing climate is a changing climate, irrespective of its cause,” write the scientists.

They argue that the focus ought to now be placed on the interactions of climate change with impacts of other human activities, such as air pollution, invasive species, urban sprawl and pressures from agriculture.

“Effects of climate change are everywhere, but they act on top of all these other stresses faced by wild species,” says Parmesan. “What we need to do now is to focus on extensive field experiments and observations that try to understand how multiple factors, such as exploitation or habitat fragmentation, interact with a changing climate to directly affect these species.”

Take, for example, the Quino checkerspot butterfly in Southern California. The butterfly became endangered in the 1980s principally because of growth of Los Angeles and San Diego. Only a handful of populations remain in the United States, and they suffer from a complex of factors. A warming and drying climate is shortening the life of host plants, causing caterpillars to starve. The plants themselves are suffering from competition with introduced Mediterranean geraniums, likely encouraged by nutrients in rain falling through polluted air.

“All of these things have been happening, so when we see one of these populations wink out we suspect them all,” says Singer, a professor of integrative biology who has been working on this species since the 1960s. “Climate change is definitely part of the context for this butterfly in this system, but it isn’t the only driver.”

The scientists offer another example in corals. Incidences of coral bleaching have increased since the 1970s due to unusually high ocean temperatures associated with global climate change. Corals can recover from bleaching, but biologists have noted that recovery is worse in areas that have been hit directly by human activities, such as over-fishing, introduced species and water pollution.

For conservation biologists and policy makers, it’s critical to understand those local driving forces, so they can make appropriate, and sometimes immediate, interventions. Tackling climate change itself is a problem on a different level.

“Think globally about climate change and how that’s going to affect your national park, or your reserve or your endangered species,” says Parmesan, “but in terms of action, you’ve got to think locally about what you need to do in terms of habitat restoration, removing invasive species, assisting species migration, etcetera. Those are things you can and should do something about in the short term.”