Monday, December 13, 2010

Bush Honeysuckle in Indiana - posted by Lauren Campbell

On October 9th, 2010, I participated in a flood plain naturalization project at the Burr Oak Bend to help provide a buffer for the river and to protect the native plant settlements. This was an ongoing Service Learning Project founded by the Central Indiana Land Trust. Our participation in the learning project involved removing invasive non-native plant species such as the Bush Honeysuckle. The goal is to preserve the native plants’ natural growth and protecting the natural wildlife’s native habitat. This project also prevents unnecessary erosion of the rive bank; helps control service containments and sediment pollutions; and maintain and improves the water quality of this river. I was particularly interested in helping remove the invasive plant species because I wanted to see how they affect our environment and what balance must be struck to adequately preserve and conserve our local environment.

Our project area is located just south of 206th street in Hamilton County near the Center for Earth and Environmental Science of IUPUI. As a group we walked through some of the native brushes to get to the worksite. The walk to the worksite was actually more difficult than what I imagined. There was a small “path” and I was surprised how difficult it was to actually maneuver through the brushes. Once we arrived at our worksite at the riverbank, Cliff, our guide, showed us what Bush Honeysuckle actually looks like and how to remove it from the environment. There was Bush Honeysuckle everywhere.

I was surprised how abundant it was. We were to cut down the Bush Honeysuckle with either a small saw or with pruning shears, depending on what size the Bush Honeysuckle was; the sizes varied greatly. Some were the size of small trees and others that were small enough to not even be noticed. Our guide directed us to cut the Honeysuckle down and then to drag it to large piles that had already been established from previous service projects. The process, started by the Central Indiana Land Trust, was to cut down the larger Honeysuckle, let it decompose for six months in the large piles and then to come in with herbicide and kill the small saplings that were left. This is a very tedious project and according to Bob Barr of the Land Trust, it is one that has been ongoing for about six or seven years.

Cliff explained to us that Bush Honeysuckle was originally brought to America from Asia in the early 1900’s. Travelers who brought the plant to American thought that it would provide solid shelter for small animals such as birds. It was also intended to provide a source of food for birds and other wildlife from its small red berries. It was not until a few decades ago, with the development of new technology, that researchers were able to break down the sugars of this berry and realized that it does not contain complex sugars, but simple sugars. This meant that birds that ate these berries were not getting the right amount of carbohydrates, which leads to lack of energy and prevents the birds from being able to fly long distances. With Indiana being in the center of many migratory paths, Bush Honeysuckle is detrimental in migration to many different bird species. (There was a study done in 1999 in the tri-state area regarding birds and Bush Honeysuckle. Researchers followed 600 birds that built nests in Bush Honeysuckle for the purpose of laying their eggs; when hatching time arrived none of the 600 nests had a single hatchling survive.)

Bush Honeysuckle is such a dense brush and it is so prevalent in the area, it has prevented ground animals’ ability to move through it. This is detrimental to the local deer’s migration patterns and caused an over abundance of deer in the area. In the early 1900’s, it was thought that deer would eat the berries provided by these Bush Honeysuckle, but through rigorous research it was discovered that they do not. Because deer do not eat the Bush Honeysuckle berries, they are forced to survive on other native local plants. This puts a strain on the ecosystem and the available food resources for the area.

Through the Central Indiana Land Trust’s service learning project, hopes of removing Bush Honeysuckle are quite high. The process is very unique as well as time consuming. It has taken six or seven years to begin to see improvement in this small Indiana area. But through the dedication of the Central Indiana Land Trust as well as volunteers, researchers think that Bush Honeysuckle will be completely removed and native plants will begin to grow again. By adding native Indiana vegetation, soil erosion will decrease, allowing other native plants to grow. A native vegetation canopy will decrease soil erosion and thus increase the water quality in the White River. With all the dedication and time that people spent doing this project as well as other projects around central Indiana, the Central Indiana Land Trust in cooperation with IUPUI has protected almost 4,000 acres and 15 nature preserves in the state of Indiana.

Because of this project I have learned how important native plants are to our local environment; they provide warm shelter to small animal species, food for many different species, and also maintains the entirety of the local ecosystem. Native plants help control erosion, which in turn help with the quality of water in the White River and ultimately in our state. In class we have discussed the negative effects that erosion can have on water and on soil quality. Sediment pollution is also an environmental issue that we have discussed in class. By removing invasive plants and establishing native plants near rivers and other waterways, volunteers can prevent sediment pollution. Prevention of sediment pollution in one area of a river can affect the quality of water through the entire river and also help control flooding. Through this learning project and through class lectures, I have learned how one small plant can affect the state as a whole. The ecosystems located here in Indiana , as well as the global ecosystem, are so beautifully balanced it is amazing how much it has endured through the decades with human population and consumption at an all time high. In the course of this project, combined with class I have learned so much about the balance of the Earth and what we need to do to help sustain it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Self- belief or self-delusion:

Self- belief or self-delusion:

[you may want to read this article before you read this blog: Are the climate change deniers with no evidence just naturally gullible?]

I have always been one of those annoying outliers who could never accept the established truth. (To be honest, I think I enjoy being the anti-establishment just so I got to entertain my odd sense of humor.) I’ve questioned authorities everywhere I felt that challenge to the establishment could bring progress and innovation. I hold myself to a standard to advance the society a bit further from the call of the beast. At the same time, I seek to learn from the spectrum of cultural and social dialogues to better my own understanding of the role I must play in this short and precious life.

Being an outlier has its advantages of being distinctively connected to the undercurrents of our societies. I grew found of the Tea Party movement, the Libertarians, the Communitarians, and the whole salute of alternative political views. But I understand that to be an effective outlier, to advance a culture in the direction of positive progress, I must also accept the norm and take some sides on issues that are volatile and polarizing. It is a good thing to have a core belief system, so that when faced with disinformation I am able to recognize the cleverly disguised political agendas and the motivating incentives behind the curtain.

But acquiring that core belief system is a difficult process, one that is enduring perhaps throughout one’s lifetime. Each one of our core systems of belief is shaped by our education, our capacity to accept some ideas as a priori. Take for example: we are all bound to believe that 1 + 1 = 2. This is a simple mathematical truth, that without it, our very social structure would fall apart. If when you wake tomorrow, the consensus is that 1 + 1 actually does not equal to 2, just imagine the chaos at your local grocery stores. (Trust me, there is an fractional algebraic proof that 1 + 1 actually equal to 1.99999. . . .) The point is not to prove there is no certainty in our lives, but just the opposite, that we take things for granted to form our core beliefs so that we can continue to look forward to living productive and meaningful lives. But the caution is that we must make educated guesses to take our leap of faith, to form our core belief systems. Our educated guess doesn’t have to be absolute and if you are looking for absolute truth, I urge you to look at Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem - that language in itself does not and cannot validate truth in of itself. This is echoed by the Archimedes’ point – that to verify a 2 dimensional (or three dimensional if you prefer) truth, you would need to be lifted to the higher dimension to observe the whole context of reference (also note the observer’s principle here in the Uncertainty Theory).

Now that we have our philosophical exercise out of the way, I want you to turn to the focus of today’s rant: global warming and anthropogenic green house gas emissions.

I’ve notices a lot of disinformation lately. What prompted me to write this piece of rant is a facebook post I saw:

‎"In most communities, neither victims, nor the proponents of sustainable development are aware that their plight is part of a global agenda. Indeed, most would scoff at the idea. Nevertheless, the transformation of America is well underway, without public debate or Congressional approval. From watershed, to ecosystem, to village, to city, to multi-county regions, to trans-boundary biospheres- the U.N. agenda is being systematically implemented- with the help of elected officials, paid for with the taxes of American citizens."

-Henry Lamb, “Why the Government is Grabbing Our Land”

The phony Christian-conservatives have never warned you about the very plan that is the very means whereby planners are silently, insidiously, and deceptively dragging America into a global government, the seat of which is intended to be the United Nations. That plan is “Regional Governance.”

-Jakie Patru, “Regionalism: Sneaking America into Global Government”
Naturally I had a quick reaction to these posts:

the problem of environmental justice goes beyond the incremental climate changes that will cause significant problems down the road. I won't get into an argument about the science because both sides of the political spectrum have funneled billions of dollars into media campaigns to swing your opinion for the good of a few (rich and delighted who continuous to pollute, and the environmental nut jobs who will blow up the whole world to just prove the world is coming to an end...) sustainability practices falls somewhere in the middle, where business will find innovative ways of promoting a distinctive connection to mother earth and yet succeed in bringing the human race above and beyond the call of the beast...

all that aside, what is inescapable is the environmental and human injustice suffered at the opinion of these so called small government fundamentalist (aka fake anarchists) who thinks any cooperation with a global forum is a bad deal. let's not forget that the top 1% of the population control about 90% of the global wealth, and the top developed countries contribute the majority of the pollutants emitted. where is the environmental justice and human rights protection? tossed aside for ideals and individualism. these super rich and super powerful countries have a hidden agenda to promote in convincing you that global politics is bad, because once you realize a power of collective action, their model of profit and power is doomed...

i recommend that thinking before acting or believing is the first step... but beyond that, individualism should adhere to a principle of cooperative justice to eliminate the injustice we face as a collective human race. the survival of the specie is paramount to the survival of the individual...

- anarchist

But then I got to thinking: where were these types of disinformation when the G7 exclusively controlled the global financial system? Why weren’t we fighting the global government on curtailing the super rich from being increasingly powerful?

So you now have a choice: to affirm your self-belief that global warming is a real consequence of our past transgressions against our distinctive connection with mother earth; or to self-delude and believe that this whole global warming talk is just another way for the super rich to control you even further and squeeze more from your empty pockets. Either way, I think you have some choices to make against the establishment. But before you go on questioning everything, just remember 1 + 1 = 2 . . .

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Say no to feedlot pollutions

I recently attended the Hoosier Environmental Council’s “Green the State House” event. (Please don’t ask me what a “Hoosier” is.) In any event, it was a sobering experience to hear that it is not likely for this small group of dedicated environmental activists in Indiana to make a significant impact on the legislator. Put it bluntly, we are not likely to make the legislatures change their policies anytime soon because there are just so few of us who wants to change the way we think sustainability and business.

But what is more disturbing, borderline nightmarish, is the fact that things in Indiana will only get worse.

One of the guest speakers is a lawyer, a fellow veteran (a Marine but I won’t hold that against him), and environmental advocate. He became a fisherman after retiring from the military, but soon discovered that his rivers were polluted by the feedlot operations in his state. He showed us horrific pictures of fishes’ flesh eaten off by various bio-pollutants from the feedlots. The pollution destroyed the fishing industry, the tourism industry, and severely polluted the land in North Carolina. You can visit NRDC's site to find out more:

That is not the end of his story. Apparently, these feedlot operations are being kicked out of NC by the state legislatures. Well, it is no surprise that Indiana had rolled out the red carpet for these feedlot operations to come and continue their ill-regulated activities. At the same time, they will be out-competing the small farming operations that employ sustainable methods of raising livestock. I have nothing against farming, but these feedlot operations are FAR from being farmers. They squeeze as many livestock as they can into enclosed rooms, inject large amount of hormones into these animals just to increase profit. They don’t care about the consumers who are actually eating their products, nor do they give a pig’s ass as to how much they can pollute the land. If they get kicked out, they will just move to another badly informed state and continue their dirty business.

Friday, October 22, 2010

She cooked with our poop.

China is THE hot-topic these days. Lauren and I had spent some time this summer in China to see all the hype for ourselves. Besides Lauren's shopping escapades and managing being squeezed between armpits on Beijing's subways, we saw innovative ways the Chinese are trying to conserve and preserve. In all of the hotels we stayed, lights were only accessible by our room key, hence we were kindly reminded the small things we can do to be aware of rapid path down the environmental drain. Never once did we forget to turn off our lights and TV when we left the room.

With that note, I would like for you to watch this short Youtube video, courtesy the Ashden Awards

(trust me, you will enjoy it and just maybe you will think of ways we can be sustainable locally making global impacts):

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Tell the Pope and the Supreme Court to kiss the Discovery Doctrine goodbye

The 15th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen (UNFCCCC), represented collectively the indigenous peoples of the world at the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions and called on the Pope to repudiate the Christian Doctrine of Discovery.

What is the Doctrine of Discovery? And why should you care about this doctrine as an environmental activist?

The Doctrine is a fundamentally racist philosophy from the 15th century. The Doctrine had allowed, and continues to allow, nation-states to dehumanize indigenous people and devastate the living earth in their endless search for resources and markets. Sounds familiar? One group of people and one nation came to my mind – the great USA and the Native Americans. A still existing case law binding all federal courts of the US still operates to this date to deny Native Americans their entitlement to their land. Albeit a far stretch, but the traditional views of Native Americans towards land and their attitude of harmonious coexistence with mother-nature and earth are the epistemological basis for our theory of sustainability. If a legally binding law is still in place that denies the originality of this epistemological approach, then there is perhaps little hope that the view of reconciliation with mother-earth will ever become predominate social and economical practices.

The case law I am referencing is Johnson v. M’Intosh.

In Johnson v. M'Intosh, the US Supreme Court held that private citizens could not purchase lands directly from Native Americans. The Court determined that the United States government had acquired free title to the land based on the longstanding practices of European colonization under the Discovery Doctrine, and therefore Native Americans could sell their land only to the U.S. government. You may ask, what does the prohibition of selling land has anything to do with sustainability and environmental protection? The short answer is it does not due to a long standing of cultural wash that eroded Native American’s strong belief that one must co-exist with nature and not conquer nature. But the long answer is that it has everything to do with environmental protection and sustainability because if we do not concede to the rights and privileges of Native Americans to their land as a basis for legal, and consequentially social and economical, progress, we will never concede to their long held tradition of respecting the earth as children of earth.

I’m no hippie but a realist. I know that tree hugging will only help save perhaps one tree and one tree forest. I believe that if we are to save our planet, we have to start from the fundamentals. We have to begin to recognize that our legal title to the land as we see fit to use is not proper and that the indigenous culture is entitled to its day in the sun and the concept of holistic harmonious coexistence should be the social norm. Not only should you demand justice for the indigenous people around the world, you should scream as loud as you can to stop powerful nation-states from continuing their exploitation of the indigenous culture. You should demand that we focus on sustainability in our developments with respect to our our natural resources because they are limited and that we need to respect nature instead of conquering nature.

So if you are Catholic, tell the Pope to repudiate the Christian Doctrine of Discovery. If you are not Catholic but religious, tell your religious family to advocate for mother earth as a respectful way to warship your faith. If you are not religious at all, then at least demand justice for all – human beings and everything that mother nature has offered all living creatures for the sustainability of LIFE.

Friday, September 17, 2010

How clean is the water near you?

New York Times has an interactive map to show you those polluters near your zip code. From there you can dig around a bit more and find out just exactly how many violations the facilities have had in the past few years.

Thank You NYT

Friday, September 10, 2010

Silly kids, CEs are for BP

- Why are BP's deep-sea oil drillings in the Gulf of Mexico Categorically Exempted (CE) from Environmental Impact Statements (EIS)?

A few days ago BP began their finger pointing to mount a defense to their oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. It was entertaining to hear BP’s coy and tenacious claims, yet I feel responsible to at least dig around a bit to understand the situation a little better. Aside from all of the BP bashings from Hulk Hogan:

I found this Washington Post article from May of this year: U.S. exempted BP’s Gulf of Mexico drilling from environmental impact study

To save you time from reading the Washington Post article, just know that the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS)
made the decision to give BP’s lease at Deepwater Horizon a “categorical exclusion” from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on April 6, 2009 -- and BP’s lobbying efforts just 11 days before the explosion to expand those exemptions – show that neither federal regulators nor the company anticipated an accident of the scale of the one unfolding in the gulf.

From what I understand, the NEPA Act requires government agencies to evaluate the environmental impacts of any “major federal actions” and file an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the public. In a previous blog post (Silly rabbit, NEPA's EISs are for kids), I briefly noted that EIS does nothing if we, as environmentally aware citizens, do not pick up the reading material and ask tough questions. But if there are no reading material, then we can't really ask questions. Can we?

The EIS is strictly a procedural tool in the sense that NEPA does not mandate any government agencies to implement environmentally friendly process and procedures. Rather, the EIS is in place to provide transparency to these projects that could potentially impact our environment and allow citizen actions by providing accurate data and scientific research on the potential impacts of any given project. See Robertson v. Methow Valley.

I was recently shown an EIS statement for a stretch of highway no more than a few hours of driving. It was consisted of two volumes of analysis and supplemental material, each totaling more than thousands of pages, including angry letters from the people who lived in the area. From what I can tell, the detailed information helps us make informed decision to either pressure the agency responsible for the project or brush it aside and let the project proceed.

Back to BP, if a stretch of highway requires such large volume of material for the public, then why has BP’s deep-sea oil drilling operations received a Categorical Exclusion for EIS from the MMS?

Could it be that BP offered MMS cocaine and sex? Yes, you would be shocked too if you had read this article: Report Says Oil Agency Ran Amok Interior Dept. Inquiry Finds Sex, Corruption

investigators said they "discovered a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity" in which [MMS] employees accepted gratuities "with prodigious frequency."

The social outings detailed in the report included alcohol-, cocaine- and marijuana-filled parties where certain employees of the Minerals Management Service were nicknamed the "MMS Chicks" by the energy employees. The companies paid for federal workers to attend football and baseball games, PGA Tour events, Colorado ski trips, paintball outings and "treasure hunts,"

I’ll admit, it’s a kind of fun speculation imagining MMS chick in a bubble bath with cocaine, kind of kinky...

Silliness aside, I had to ask myself why isn’t BP required to do a worst-case analysis and anticipate the kind of accident that had occurred? Then I remembered that the NEPA EIS regulations had a “worse case” requirement in the 1970s, but in 1986 the requirement was removed by the Regan administration.

During the Bush administration, BP was getting a FONSI (Findings Of No Significant Impact) after FONSI for their drilling operations. Because of the consistent administration’s blind eye, and a brief 13 page (remember the thousand pages volume earlier for just a highway) environmental impact analysis declaring minimum prospect of any serious damages that would associate with a spill and only

“sub-lethal” effects on fish and marine mammals . . . it is unlikely that an accidental oil spill would occur from the proposed activities.

BP’s senior federal affairs director (their lobbying b!tch) wrote the Obama administration and requested a Categorical Exclusion because

Such exemptions should be used in situations where environmental damage is likely to be “minimal or non-existent.” [And] expansion in these waivers would help “avoid unnecessary paperwork and time delays.”

Needless to say, BP got its Categorical Exclusion for its deep-sea drilling and now we have a disaster... But does it make sense to give BP CEs? I don’t think so. CEs are used for eliminating cost associated with environmental impact studies for mundane things government agencies must do such as installing energy saver light bulbs in its offices. I certainly don’t think deep-sea oil drilling is mundane. From my diving days, I know that the deep ocean’s immense pressure makes every predicable and mundane situation into unpredictable and dangerous times. So if I had to check my equipments and keep records of my safety evaluations on each dive, why is BP exempted from doing the same for its oilrigs?

Then I remember the elimination of “worst-case analysis” in the 1980s, and I had to ask: why can we bring that back again Mr. Obama?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Out of sight, out of mind

Out of sight, out of mind is a statement that I have heard many times from many different people throughout my life. In most instances whoever was making this statement was using it in a jovial manner. It wasn’t like anything serious was put out of sight, at least not in the context of which I remember; but none the less, when hearing this statement come from some person’s mouth, one typically just chuckles along and nothing serious is further discussed. I mean who would really just shove something from their sight in order to forget about it? Especially if was an act or an instant that was serious enough to burn an unforgettable memory into the mind; it would then be mentally impossible to “actually” forget a situation, an action, or an instance…right? I can see if one were to put an unimportant inanimate object out of sight and eventually forget where it was or that it was even in existence, that would be out of mind; but out of sight, out of mind surely cannot work for memories of an event and/or actions, especially if the event/actions were ones involving immoral decision making.

Now, I know that people can forget traumatic events that they have experienced-Regression- would be the psychological explanation of such; but regression, by definition, occurs when a negative event/action is experienced, not one of joy or extreme happiness; regression also happens unconsciously, that is that the person in question does not “will” the negative experience away consciously, or by choice, but that the unconscious mind takes over because the event was so emotionally/mentally traumatic, it tricks the brain into forgetting it ever happened. This got me thinking then that someone cannot, by conscious effort, put a conscious immoral decision, out of sight…or out of mind.

Now, all of this thinking about out of sight, out of mind was stimulated by something I learned in my Environmental Geology class. We learned earlier this week the great “Love Canal” tragedy. In late 1800’s The U.S. government began building a canal between Canada and New York; we know this area currently as Niagara Falls. In the 1890’s the canal was finished and was intended to be used as a generator for hydroelectricity, but unfortunately it went unused, why I do not know. For the better part of 30 years this area of land was “out of sight, out of mind.” But in the 1940’s and the early 1950’s, companies in the area were in need of a toxic dumping site, and seeing as how this area hadn’t been in use for some time, decided to make it their dumping ground. During this time, 20,000 tons of toxic waste was dumped there. In 1953, the company that was then managing the site donated it the city of Niagara Falls. With the wonderful donation made by the company a wonderful little community popped up. You know, one of those 1950’s residential communities, with churches and schools. Everything was swell. Then in the mid 1970’s this area had record rain fall and caused the grounds to become extremely saturated, this in turn caused toxic and chemical wastes to begin oozing…literally oozing out of the ground. Can you imagine, sliding down the slide at the elementary school and landing in a puddle of toxic waste?

With this new discovery of toxic waste, the community’s health as a whole began plummeting. Cancer spread like wildfire. Now, I know that other instances have happened in different places, we’ve all seen Erin Brockovich, but it was with this lecture in my class that really got me thinking about out of sight, out of mind. Now, I know that back in the early 20th century, the knowledge of toxic waste and it’s affects on human life weren’t what they are now, but with the knowledge that we now know, why is this still occurring? What is it about our environment that most people think is out of sight? It’s amazing that incidences like this one can happen, over and over again, and lessons are not learned. This was just one instance in one country, in one state, in one town. Now, multiply that on a global scale. It’s stories like this one that really make me wonder how our earth has even sustained itself for this long with us bombarding it with waste, trash, and carbon; especially when companies, who aren’t suffering from regression issues, dump toxins into a lake, stream, or the ground itself. I do what I can to help the environment. We recycle, we try to be as carbon conscious as possible, and we attempt to spread the word; but unless this starts becoming a way of life for millions of individuals, we will always have the mentality of “Out of site, out of mind.”

Silly rabbit, NEPA’s EISs are for kids:

Richard Nixon, among other things, is known for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969. The act focuses on the overall environmental degradations affecting our health and welfare and possible preventive measures our government can take to minimize those degradations.

In general, section 101(b) of NEPA empowers federal agencies to consider environmental impacts and alter their actions accordingly. (Using energy saver light bulbs for all federal agencies; building new offices with only minimum impact to the endangered forest in the area; etc...) The effect of this act, in light of our Administrative Law, is that federal agencies are required to be transparent at the helms in keeping our country moving in the right direction with the environment in mind. Information is power. Given the information are public and are accessible, agencies would/should be more willing to adopt environmentally friendly procedures and actions?

It must be noted that the NEPA does not have the authority to force anyone into environmental compliance or action. It’s no rubber stamp, but its teeth are no jagged Great White’s. In a 1971 D.C. Circuit decision, the court held that the NEPA merely requires Federal agencies to consider the impact of their actions on the environment. Calvert Cliffs’ Coordinating Committee, Inc. v. United States Atomic Energy Commission. Later the US Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court’s holding. See Robertson v. Methow Valley. 

Although it does not force federal agencies to select the most environmentally friendly options in their actions, it is subject to the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. § 551. Our fellow tree-hugger watch-dogs may descend upon the Feds and demand justice if we should have rational basis and standing in court. See Greater Yellow Stone Coalition v. Kempthorne. The courts have been willing to declare NEPA “are entitled to substantial deference” in the presence of justice. Marsh v. Oregon Natural Res. Council. Section 102 of the NEPA requires agencies to list environmental impacts, in a Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), of any federal actions that significantly affect the quality of the human environment. This creates administrative records for the purpose of citizen and judicial review. Even though there are categorical exclusions to the EIS, but citizens are also entitled to citizens suits under the APA mentioned before.

Some have hailed the NEPA as giving a voice to the environmental values that were not prevalent in our society before. Aside from the point of enforceability in light of mere consideration standard, some have raise the concern that the NEPA is a mere tool for the ‘no in my back yard” types to slow down progress by inhibiting important projects that may be utilitarian to the whole human race.

For whatever it is worth, the NEPA is just tricks for the rabbit only if we do not want the sweets. The Act’s full force to propel our society towards sustainability resides in a public accountability mindset. We have to want our environment to be better and want to hold our federal agencies accountable for their reporting and decisions to build a progressive green future. We have to be kids and tell the rabbit: silly rabbit, NEPA and EISs are for us!!!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Better safe than sorry

Be honest, the first time you had to pay for car insurance wasn’t when you first drove? At some point in your life, you ate a seven day old unrefrigerated pork chop and prayed you’d be close to a toilet just in case? Or you dove more than a hundred feet at the Puget Sound at night on one tank of air and forgot to check for remaining air pressure when you saw that giant octopus?

Okay, so maybe not everyone was as reckless as I was. I couldn’t help it for the most part. Most of my brain cells were presumably damaged either by the lack of oxygen from all those dept dives or by being knocked around so much from those daisy-chain IEDs in Iraq.

For your viewing pleasure, this is what a daisy-chain looks like:

Maybe I’ve been always reckless. I have fond memories of my grandparents citing instances of me as a unmanageable daredevil toddler: jumping in the deep-end of the pool before I knew how to swim; jumping off the bed headfirst into the concrete floor pretending to be the Monkey-King; sticking my finger under the needle of a moving sewing machine to see how it would feel; chasing farmers and their chickens for a few miles before I could form a complete sentence to let them know where I lived. I was always being rescued by unintended adult supervisors and punished accordingly. To this day, I carry a few ugly scars as a reminder of my own stupidity.

As I got older, I developed a sense of reservations for these reckless things. I had told myself when I turn thirty that even though I had no self-control to stay out of trouble, I would at least take out insurance just in case. I began to pay my health insurance on time. Life insurance payments became a monthly deductible from my checking account. I actually upgraded my car insurance above the state minimum requirements. I had learned that life is too short already and until I can see the secret of forever young in clear scientific evidences and shed my guilt for those people who love me dearly, I should be cautious: better safe than sorry.

And so, when I read-up on the Precautionary Principle, I thought to myself: make sense.

[w]e should avoid steps that will create a risk of harm; until safety is established through clear evidence, we should be cautious.

- The Paralyzing Principle, Regulation 32 (Winter 2002-2003) Cass R. Sunstein:
The principle has been a fundamental part of modern environmentalism, reflected in legal documents such as the 1992 Declaration of Principles by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.

The Rio Declaration states:

Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

Over the years, this principle has been seen as a kind of plea for regulatory insurance. But Sunstein pointed to an alluring counterargument, that it is almost paralyzing to human progress:

[T]he principle cannot be fully defended . . . simply because risks are on all sides of social situations. Any effort to be universally precautionary will be paralyzing, forbidding every imaginable step, including no step at all.

Sunstein goes on to point out an unobjectionable weak version of the principle, taking steps and incurring costs to avoid hazards that are far from certain: avoiding dangerous areas at night, exercise for health reasons, buy smoke detectors, buckling seatbelts, avoiding moldy pork chops, etc.

He then objects to the strong version of the principle adopted in 1982 by the United Nations World Charter for Nature suggesting

[W]hen potential adverse effects are not fully understood, the activities should not proceed.

Sunstein raised just a few examples in protest of the strong version of this cautionary principle:

Genetic modification of food that may help countries like China to feed one-fifth of the world’s population with a diminishing seven percent of the world’s cultivatable land;

Nuclear power to help nations like India and China reduce their dependency on fossil fuels;

Naval exercises on the open seas that endanger wildlife but improves national security.

Come ’on, who is against national security in this day and age?

I suddenly saw an energy saver light bulb hovering above my head: things are never as simple as they seem!

Just as I believe International Human Rights campaigns cannot succeed from the sole protests of naïve college students around the world, environmental conservations and preservations cannot be achieved by pure inactions. Humans have to learn to balance progress and economic innovation with the need to regulate and modify our practices. Nothing can be enforced to the point of inaction, and this precautionary principle is perhaps paralyzing when taken too far.

After all, I am rather proud of my scars, and without faults we would not be progressively human, right?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

put your dog on a leash for clean air?

Reading Dan Stockman's article "Clean-air picture hazy" in the The Journal Gazette really puts a damper on such a sunny and seemingly clean Sunday:

. . . the majority of the Indiana companies that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says have violated the federal Clean Air Act since Jan. 1, 2007, were still in violation on Dec. 31, 2009. Yet in more than a third of those cases, state and federal regulators have taken no action.

What do you mean majority of the Indiana companies have violated the federal Clean Air Act since 2007 and have not yet been slapped with some kind of warnings or fines to this day? Doesn't the law care about the quality of air we breath?

After all, If I were to take my dog to a public park, and he was to roam freely in the trees leaving his mark on anything he should find, I am entitled to a $50 fine for disregarding my responsibilities as a pet owner. And believe me, there are at least two park rangers on duty at all times, including on this fine Sunday, to roam the parks and regulate. They would off-road their government issued Ford sedan over fallen trees and small creeks just to get to you and your liberated pet, to issue you a warning first and give you a fine if necessary.

So where are these highly trained bark-police hiding for the last three years when it comes to the foul air our beloved companies are leaving behind? Is it more acceptable for pollution to mark our beautiful trees than it is for my four-legged friend to do just the same? (Leaving aside that my dog is an ever so loving rescued puppy who would rather lick you than to attack with any intention to harm; unlike the poisonous air that aims with no intent but a serious harmful side-effect. I would rather have a park full of roaming dogs than a city full of roaming dirty air.)

“(A lack of enforcement) creates a huge incentive not to fix the problem,” said Faith Bugel, a Clean Air Act attorney at the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago. “Why should they? No one’s coming after them.”

Even the violations the EPA said are its highest priority – by repeat violators and those who pollute more than allowed – are getting little attention: Twelve of the 62 facilities with “high-priority violations” have been in violation for three years without any enforcement action.

I did a little more reading on The Clean Air Act. I realized that it is up to the individual states to enforce violations. Great, with the amount of park police, in their shining green uniforms, sitting in their patrol cars on any given morning sipping coffee, there should be no shortage of manpower to help enforce and regulate these roaming off-leashed dirty air, right?

Well, things are always more complicated:

“Getting a facility into compliance can be very difficult,” Uhlmann, a University of Michigan law professor who used to be in charge of the U.S. Justice Department’s environmental crimes section said. “Many times, the companies involved are providing valuable, if not essential, services to the community, so it’s often not an option to shut a factory down or to be overbearing in dealing with whatever pollution problem they’re having.”

I guess in this economic climate, creating jobs for the community and greasing the wheels with politicians and federal agencies' watchdogs are more important than the policies to be enforced. I accept that as the price to be paid for living in such a generous society: one that offers me a liberated media to say whatever I please, and let me dogs off-lease pending a $50 fine. I guess if I should have the rights to let me four-legged friends roam and potentially harm others by peeing on them or pooping on public land, then big corporations putting hundreds of people to work should have the freedom to off-leash their pollutions and let dirty air pee on my face and poop in my lungs, pending a $500 fine.

But what is not fair is there are two patrol park-ranger sedans roaming a small city park just to enforce my misbehavings, but there are no bark-police to patrol and enforce fines for these companies... Next time at the park budget hearing, I may just say what's on my mind: I'm going to put my dogs on the leash just so you can free up some men to hunt down these dirty corporations the same way you've hunted me in the park... go nuts...