Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Senate Rejects GOP Oil Drilling Bill

Today, the Senate rejected Republican intentions to expand offshore oil and gas drilling in U.S. coastal waters. The bill was defeated in a 42-57 vote. Among other things, the bill would have required the Interior Department to hold offshore lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico, Virginia, and Alaska. Also, the lease terms for suspended Gulf contracts from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster would have been extended by one year.

Democrats argued that the GOP’s initiative would not only do very little to ease the current price of gas, but it would fail to help the country’s long-term energy crisis. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said, “"We can't lose sight of the fact that our great country uses more than 25% of the oil (consumed in the world) on any given day, and we have less than 3% of the oil reserves.” This defeat signaled the continuation of a stalemate over energy policy in the United States.

On Tuesday, the Senate rejected the Democratic objective to remove $20 billion in tax subsidies to major oil companies over the next 10 years. These savings were intended to have been used to pay down the federal deficit.

During President Barack Obama’s weekly address on Saturday, he called for “safe and responsible” oil production. The administration reports that they are working to speed up the leasing process for the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve as well as give oil companies better financial incentives to use and extend existing leases in the Gulf of Mexico. Also, the president wishes to accelerate the testing of areas off the East Coast for future drilling. At the same time, Obama announced the formation of an interagency working group to oversee Arctic drilling projects to ensure that they meet health, safety, and environmental standards. The president does, however, oppose controversial plans for drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit environmental group, called the GOP bill a "misguided attempt to expand drilling and weaken safety and environmental oversight."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Drill, Baby, Drill! Obama Calls for Increased Oil Production

In response to the American people’s dissatisfaction with the price of gas, President Obama directed his administration to increase U.S. oil production. Not only has he called to extend the existing leases in the Gulf of Mexico and off of the coast of Alaska, but he has called for the hold of frequent lease sales in a federal petroleum reserve in Alaska.

Obama believes that these measures will help to reduce U.S. consumption of imported oil, but he acknowledged that any immediate effects on the price of gas will remain unseen. While it appears that the government is taking action against the burden that soaring gas prices puts on Americans, in reality it will not change the current situation.

While these three bills are generally accepted by the Republican controlled House, however, they are unlikely to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate because they believe that the measures would undercut safety reviews and expose environmentally sensitive areas to new drilling. It is ironic that Obama is now showing approval for bills that were once criticized by the White House.

Unsurprisingly, the oil industry praised Obama and declared that much more was needed in order to boost oil production as part of a broader energy strategy. They wish to gain access to key shale reserves, build the oil sands pipeline that will allow them to import more crude oil from the Canadian oil sands, and access areas of the U.S. that are currently off limits. In return, it is believed that the oil industry would generate over $194 billion in revenue. While the American people remain ensnared by exorbitantly priced gas, the oil industry will continue to enjoy record profit.

Adopting some of the bill’s provisions, Obama announced that he would extend all Gulf leases that were previously affected by a moratorium on drilling and safety requirements that were imposed after the BP oil spill in 2010. While the administration had been granting extensions case by case, officials said the Interior Department would institute a comprehensive one-year extension.

Obama also reported that he would speed up environmental reviews for seismic studies to determine how much oil and gas lies off the Atlantic Coast. To further expedite drilling off the Alaskan coast, Obama would like to create an interagency task force to coordinate all the necessary approvals. These include areas where plans by Shell Oil Co. have been delayed by an air pollution permit, but Republicans have drafted legislation to exempt drilling off Alaska from air pollution laws. As a result, there will be virtually unregulated drilling in sensitive areas of Alaska with no regard for the effects of pollution or the long-term consequences for the environment. Once a beacon of hope, Obama now seems to be submitting to the will of the vast empire of industry.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Representatives Submit to Big Oil Bribes While Americans Continue to Suffer

Last week, Republican leaders in the House opposed a vote on Representative Tim Bishop’s legislation to repeal billions of dollars in taxpayer handouts to the richest oil companies. Then, they proceeded to pass legislation to expand offshore drilling while altogether failing to address the current high gas prices.

On April 15th, while $40 billion in taxpayer handouts for oil companies continued for the third consecutive month, the House of Representatives voted for a draconian budget that cut investments in clean energy (as well as other national priorities.) The same day, Congress began to release their 1st quarter fundraising numbers. During just three months, the Big Five Oil Companies (ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips) contributed over a quarter million dollars to members of Congress, candidates, and Republican groups. Coincidentally, 85% of the total donation was given to members voting to continue the subsidies to the oil companies. While the role of government is to represent the people, many of the nation’s leaders have lost sight of this responsibility when presented with a hefty check. The result is a vote that has been bought in favor of the interest of a particular company instead of one that has been earned by the wishes of the people.

Just ten days later, oil companies announced record profits as a result of American citizens paying high prices for gas. In just the first three months of 2011, ExxonMobil reported $11 billion in profits, BP reported $5.5 billion in profits, and Shell reported $6.9 billion in profits. Over the past decade, these oil companies have enjoyed over $900 billion in profits. As American citizens endlessly suffer the burden of high gas prices, frustration with government members and their allegiance to oil companies swells. It is time that we demand leaders who refuse to be sold to the highest bidder and show our intolerance for the injustice that the American people are suffering.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

House Republicans Advocate Offshore Drilling Bill

This week, House Republicans passed a bill that will require the Obama administration to expand offshore oil and gas drilling. Even though the price of oil is increasing, the push for more domestic drilling is (ironically) coupled with the report of record profits from the oil companies. In turn, these profits have been used for record buybacks of company stock.  Mother Jones contributor Kate Sheppard writes, “This spending spree comes not only as the gas price debate has resurged in Congress, but also as companies lobby to keep the $40 billion in tax breaks and loopholes that President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats want slashed from the 2012 budget." The American people have been deceived by the lies of those who profit the most from the continuation of the country’s dependency on oil and their unwillingness to support the preservation of the environment for fear of losing revenue.

The most recent debates regarding the fight against climate change have been comprised of various strategies. The most promising, however, was proposed by David Roberts at Grist. According to him, the four strategies that could help fight climate change include a price on carbon, the deployment of existing clean energy technology on a massive scale, investment of large amounts of money in research and development, and investment in infrastructure. Right now, nonetheless, the United States is doing all of these poorly. 

It is irrefutable that our current way of living in the world is destructive. Unfortunately, at a time when the government should be pushing harder to protect the environment, they’re retreating from the protections already in place. On both the state and federal level, policy makers have failed to safeguard the environment. It is time that the nation’s leaders take responsibility for the current crisis and rally to mend the damage for future generations.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Chicheley Hall Conference Debates Fate of the Planet

Within Chicheley Hall in England, a gathering of scientists and scholars of the earth, law, politics, and philosophy assembled to brood over the fate of the Earth as the threat of global warming continues to become a reality. Among their discussions, they contemplated the opportunity to interfere with nature itself in order to save the planet. The undetermined risks of altering the Earth’s climate through geoengineering caused apprehension for many. When faced with the disturbing consequences of global warming, however, the possibility of utilizing this technology becomes a necessary debate. If climate engineering options aren't researched now, then climatologists believe that the world will have bleak options in an emergency.

The urgency of undertaking such research as a backup plan occurred because past initiatives to agree on contracts concerning carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions among nations has failed. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it is foreseen that temperatures will rise as much as 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. Not only will this radical shift cause seas to swell, but climate patterns that nurture human civilization will be disrupted.

Atmospheric scientists are troubled about the existence of global warming in the Arctic because that is a region where its devastating effects would initially be felt. This winter, the U.N. weather agency recorded an unprecedented thinning of the protective ozone layer in the Arctic by 40 percent. Officials at the U.N. report that these losses were detected through satellite observations and weather balloons that demonstrate the ozone loss at various altitudes. This winter's increase in the loss severely exceeded the previous seasonal loss of 30 percent in the Arctic’s fragile atmospheric layers.

The stratospheric ozone layer is the Earth’s protection from ultraviolet radiation in the sun, but it is becoming increasingly damaged. Ozone-devouring compounds that are found in air pollutants such as CFCs from aerosol sprays and refrigeration are chemically triggered by the cold temperatures and sunlight. Ozone loss occurs in polar regions because the temperatures drop below -108 F and iridescent clouds form. The sunlight on these icy surfaces activates the reactions in chlorine and bromine that come from air pollutants directly linked to human activities. As a result, "When sunlight returns, it all comes together to trigger significant thinning of the ozone,” explains Bryan Johnson, atmospheric chemist at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Laboratory.

Although ozone naturally regenerates itself, a downward trend of the atmospheric ozone layer could be seen in the years to come. The conference at Chicheley Hall debated these sensitive questions concerning the destiny of the planet.

Some solutions that were proposed included the painting of rooftops white to reflect the sun's heat, blanketing deserts with reflective materials, launching giant mirrors into space, fertilizing the ocean with iron to grow CO2 plankton, and brightening marine clouds with sea-salt particles to reflect the sun. It is unfortunate that the world's leading scientists and thinkers are obliged to consider radical research to save the planet from the growing epidemic of the absence in personal accountability.

Within the conference, however, only one solution emerged as a leading contender. It was agreed that stratospheric aerosol particles proved to be the idea with the most potential. The particles would be sun-reflecting sulfates emitted into the lower stratosphere from various aircraft. This technique, however, would have to be accompanied by reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, not to mention a carbon dioxide removal process. Otherwise, the stratospheric sulfate layer would need to be built indefinitely to counter the accumulating carbon dioxide on Earth. The downsides to this solution include the possibility that temperatures would increase if the operation was shut down, along with the fact that the sulfates themselves would likely damage the ozone layer that currently protect the Earth from ultraviolet rays. Unfortunately, they don't stop atmospheric carbon dioxide from acidifying the oceans and a sudden cooling of the planet would result in unknown shifts in climate patterns. 

While the future of the planet remains uncertain, experts at Chicheley Hall assumed a coalition of capable nations would arise and an independent panel of experts would review the risks of the proposed experiments in the efforts to combat climate change.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

President Obama's Not-So-Clean Energy Future?

On Wednesday, President Obama addressed the nation about the energy crisis in a speech from Georgetown University. Although the president did mention climate change and the country's need for clean energy, he dismissed the opportunity to fight for such a future. He succumbed to pressure from industry and the election season by failing to address the urgent need for less dependence on fossil fuels like oil and coal.

Not only did President Obama miss the opportunity to reconstruct the energy debate, but he placed coal with potential energy sources such as wind and solar alternatives. Coal, unlike these other energy sources, pollutes the air with billions of tons of toxic substances such as carbon, lead, arsenic, and mercury. Not only did the president praise the use of coal and alternative energy sources concurrently, but he explained that the solution to the problem is more drilling. The unfortunate truth is that the reluctance to reduce our dependence on big oil is due to the fact that it would damage profits and CEO bonuses.

The president did acknowledge, however, that the constant change of these energy prices is due to our dependence on dirty energy sources. The solution is to find superior sources of energy, not increase the dependence on choices that hurt our finances, families, and the Earth.

President Obama desperately needs to stand up for a clean energy economy and climate action. It is not only our leaders, however, who have the power to enact change. We, as the people, need to stand united in the movement.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Arrival of Cherry Blossom Season in a Devastated Tokyo

As Tokyo is struggling to recover from this year’s devastation, cherry blossom season once again arrives in Japan. The Japan Meteorological Agency said that the country's capital is officially in bloom. This announcement is one of the most anticipated events of the season. Japan monitors certain species of trees across the country and a region is considered to be in bloom when at least five flowers can be summed on 80% of its trees.

The annual rite of spring in Japan began hundreds of years ago and it involves sitting under sakura (or cherry blossom) trees to take in the pink flowers. The Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo is home to a celebrated grove, not to mention the benchmark tree. Each year, the Japanese people welcome the season with hanami (festivals organized to view the blossoming trees.) Originally, the purpose of these excursions was to ponder the transient nature of life in accordance with Buddhist thinking. This is represented by the short blooming season of the cherry blossom's flowers and their deep connection to innocence, spring, and simplicity.

This year, the enthusiasm has been overshadowed by the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that distressed the northeast coast. The cherry blossom flowers in regions hit the hardest by the tsunami are projected to make their appearance in early to mid April. The blooming of the cherry blossom trees in Japan is a reminder of the eternal rebirth in nature and reflection upon the Earth's beauty.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Earth Hour 2011

In 2007, 2.2 million individuals and over 2,000 businesses turned off their lights for one hour to demonstrate their intolerance for the human impact on climate change. This event became known as the first Earth Hour. Over the years, 128 countries and territories joined together in the multinational display of climate action. Global landmarks such as the Sydney Harbor Bridge, CN Tower in Toronto, Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and Rome’s Colosseum have all stood together in darkness for the world’s largest climate change initiative. People from across the planet turned off their lights in celebration of the Earth.

Tonight, March 26th, at 8:30 p.m., Earth Hour 2011 will take place. These actions represent hope for a cause that continues to grow in necessity every day. We are encouraged to take this time to show gratitude and love toward the environment for its never ending struggle to sustain life on this planet despite the humans that have at times forgotten and abused it. Take this day to meditate upon the significance of nature to our lives and return a bit of the love that we continually receive from the Earth. One may spend some time in the presence of nature, care for a diseased plant, tree, or animal, buy recycled goods, or conserve energy. This is the time to quiet our demanding lives and minds in order to express thanks to the Earth and get in touch with those closest to us. It is our responsibility to show our appreciation for the gift of life the Universe had bestowed upon us. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Celtic Tree Calendar: The Month of the Hawthorns

According to the ancient Celtic Tree Calendar, this period between March 21st to April 17th is the month dedicated to the hawthorn tree. This tree represents cleansing, purity and chastity because it is in preparation for the rebirth and union that accompanies the celebration of spring’s arrival. The ancient Britons believed that this month was a vital preparatory period in anticipation for Beltane on May 1st. The image of a virgin maiden with a unicorn companion represents this period and reminds us of the importance of purity.

Spending time with the hawthorn tree can help us to reach a deep spiritual understanding in our lives and once again find the love in our hearts. Liberate your ability to love all, especially yourself. The Buddha once said, "You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection." The hawthorn reminds us to trust our innocence and abstain from judging our naïveté. This month gives us the opportunity to serve our bodies, minds and souls with sacred respect. It allows us to reclaim our inner power and quiet ourselves in order to find strength. It is encouraged for one to observe a period of ritual cleansing, fasting, and meditation, as well as refraining from poor habits in order to reconnect with the divine.

It is said that this is the hawthorn’s message, “We anchor the world of mystery and magic to your world. We are sacred. We protect the temple. We remind you to keep yourself sacred…We welcome you to the world of enchantment.”

(Inspired by Sharlyn Hidalgo’s The Healing Power of Trees)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Man Faces Years in Prison After Attempting to Save Public Lands from Oil and Gas Companies

Academic and journalist, Tim DeChristopher, participated in a public auction in December of 2008 and bid $1.7 million for 22,000 acres of land that the Bush administration had auctioned for oil and gas drilling. A total of 150,000 acres were auctioned. The hitch was that DeChristopher, a student at the University of Utah at the time, did not have the funds to pay for the land.

In April of 2009, at the order of the Bureau of Land Management, which was selling the land, a federal grand jury indicted him with two accounts of felony and he was arrested. The felony charges consisted of making a false statement to the federal government and violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act which established a competitive bidding process for oil and gas leases.

If DeChristopher is convicted, he will serve up to ten years in prison and a $75,000 fine. His trial is currently set for Monday, February 28, 2011 and his legal defense team is Patrick Shea and Ronald J. Yengrich. Unfortunately, his defense has been limited and they are not allowing the necessity, or choice of evil, defense. The Choice of Evils Defense is a defense to a criminal charge based on the assertion that the act was committed in order to avoid the cost of an even greater evil. This will make it even more difficult for him to discuss the illegitimacy of the auction in the first place. In a recent interview with a blogger from the Huffington Post, DeChristopher said, “I was concerned about the state of the environment and how little people were doing. I was building up the commitment to do something to try to resist the climate crisis. I felt that writing letters and riding my bike was not enough. Part of the process was like a mourning process for my future.”

Even though DeChristopher’s actions were considered criminal, there is controversy concerning whether or not his actions were justified because he challenged a greater evil in modern society. Last year, Dr. James Hansen, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Robert Redford and Terry T. Williams wrote an open letter that was circulated in support of Tim DeChristopher's "creative protest against runaway energy policy.
In DeChristopher’s own words, “We need to look at ourselves to address climate change, rather than appealing to power (make phone calls and write letters). Rather than appeal to power, we need to assert power - because we have the power to enact social change.”

Friday, February 11, 2011

Britain Plans to Sell Forested Land to Developers

In order to pay off Britain’s budget deficit, the government is planning to sell 150,000 hectares of forest land. Land such as Sherwood Forest, The Forest of Dean, and The New Forest, which has been publicly owned since the Magna Carta was signed in 1215, could be sold to private developers. The developers who purchase the land will have few building restrictions. Therefore, they have the ability to transform these forested lands into property and businesses.

This forest land needs to remain public in order to remain protected and prevent the development of these precious areas. Once this land is sold to private developers, no land laws can truly guard it. Please sign this petition in order to let the government know that people are opposed to any sale of these forested lands.

Monday, February 7, 2011

International Year of Forests

This year, 2011, has been declared the International Year of Forests by the United Nations General Assembly in order to celebrate the sustainable management, conservation, and development of forests. A number of events have been planned throughout the year including many commissions, a variety of days dedicated to aspects of nature such as mountains, water, birds, food, etc., and others.

Although forests are some of the world’s most important ecosystems because they stabilize weather systems, keep climate change-causing carbon out of the atmosphere, and house a large portion of the earth's biodiversity, they tend to become part of the background in people's minds.

According to the World Bank, more than 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods, but every year 130,000 km² of the world's forests are lost due to conversion to agricultural land, unsustainable harvesting of timber, unsound land management practices, and creation of human settlements. This deforestation causes up to 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. Forests also provide habitats to two-thirds of all species on earth, and the deforestation of tropical rainforests could account for the loss of as many as 100 species a day.

This year, every person can raise awareness and become closer with nature by learning more about the forests of the earth, joining a campaign, and communing in nature. Websites such as connects people with news on a variety of current issues and helps them to get involved, and has a number of resources for people that wish to connect with the beauty on Earth that has been laid before us to discover.