If you haven’t read Robert Leleux’s story on the Corpus pet-coke power plant in the current issue, you oughta do so. One small irony I wish he had noted, though: the name of the pollution-belching juggernaut is Las Brisas, which means “the breezes” in Spanish… I guess the owners are hoping the wind will blow all the crap somewhere else. Hello San Antonio!
Forrest for the Trees
Texas Climate News highlights some interesting, if unsettling, results from two public opinion surveys. First, a Texas Lyceum poll finds that Texans really aren’t all that different from other Americans when it comes to support for a congressional cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gases. Great news: we’re just about as complacent!
A national survey by the Washington Post, using an almost identically-worded prompt, found that support nationwide was 52 percent in favor to 42 percent.
But, let’s turn to the more disturbing of the two polls I mentioned above. It’s a survey conducted solely in Harris County (Houston) by Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg.
Houston’s the energy capital so perhaps it’s not surprising that only half of the people think climate change is driven by human activity. But it’s still disturbing. Scientists – outside of a handful of very marginal naysayers who can’t get published – agree on the mechanism of global warming. There’s simply no scientific debate. But politics and science are two different animals.
In Texas, the Republican leaders – from top to bottom – are global warming deniers. The Republican grassroots are just as willfully ignorant. Americans for Prosperity, one of the groups behind the anti-health care mobs, is touring around the country with a hot air balloon, spreading pseudo-science among the hoi polloi.
There’s always been a strong anti-intellectual and anti-science streak running through American society. But in recent years, we also have to include the factor of political polarization. According to Texas Climate News (who, by the way, is doing yeoman’s work trying to advance a rational, scientific perspective on climate):
A striking feature of the Houston Area Survey findings on questions about climate in recent years is “the degree to which it has become a partisan issue,” Klineberg said.
He discovered a growing separation in the views of Democrats and Republicans on environmental issues in general between 1990 (when there was essentially no partisan difference) and 2000, a period when he conducted the statewide Texas Environmental Survey.
The party divide was evident last year in a Houston Area Survey question that was not asked in 2009: “How serious a problem would you say is the ‘greenhouse effect,’ or the threat of global warming? Would you say: very serious, somewhat serious, or not very serious?”
In 2006 and 2008, both years when that question was posed, large majorities (77 percent in 2006 and 80 percent in 2008) answered “somewhat” or “very” serious. A major difference was manifest between the responses of self-identified Republicans and Democrats – in 2008, for instance, 32 percent of Republicans and seven percent of Democrats said “not very serious”, while 30 percent of Republicans and 68 percent of Democrats said “very serious.”
This is a real shame. There’s no reason why a conservative should be any less interested in empirical reality than a liberal. But as long as the Rush Limbaughs, Rick Perrys and Sarah Palins dominate the GOP, I’m afraid know-nothingism is here to stay.
One of my favorite bands from high school, Modest Mouse, has just released a video for their new song ‘King Rat’. No, I’m not turning this space into an indie-rock fanpage. Allow me to explain.
The animated video, a project of actor Heath Ledger’s before his death, violently depicts the modern whaling industry through an inversion of human-whale relations. In the video, whales hunt, harpoon, bludgeon, skin, and process humans, turning people into something like dog food. It’s bloody, disturbing and bound to anger the whaling industry. Let’s just say it’s NSFW, as they say.
Here’s some background from the band’s website. You can also watch the video there. (Note: The YouTube version has been stripped of its audio due to copyright-something-or-the-other.)
In January of 2007, while visiting his homeland of Australia, Heath Ledger presented Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse with an idea to direct a video for their yet-to-be-released song ‘King Rat’. Heath’s vision, brave and unapologetic in its nature, would marry his love of bold and original music with his impassioned stance against the illegal commercial whale hunts taking place of the coast of Australia each year.
Always one to operate from his heart and take a stand for what he cared deeply about, Heath’s intention was to raise awareness on modern whaling practices through a potent visual piece without having to say a word. It was his way to let the story, in its candid reversal, speak for itself.
Proceeds from the video go to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
The ax seems to have finally fallen on CES Environmental Services, a Houston-based waste transportation and processing company with a nasty, brutish history. Yesterday, federal officials raided the company’s facilities in Port Arthur and Houston.
Investigators haven’t said exactly what it is they’re looking for but the raid follows on a string of highly suspicious employee deaths, violations of safety and environmental rules, and persistent complaints from citizens. From the AP
Port Arthur Justice of the Peace Tom Gillam said he began investigating the Port Arthur site after two workers died from inhaling hydrogen sulfide, a gas produced by human and animal waste. Gillam said he alerted federal authorities after he discovered that hydrogen sulfide contributed to two of the three deaths.
On April 14, Charles “Brent” Sittig, 48, of Eunice, La., died at the Port Arthur site of severe heart disease; Gillam said exposure to hydrogen sulfide was a “contributing factor.”
Sittig’s mother, Shirley Pitre, said her son never complained about his job while he worked as a truck driver hauling waste for CES — first in Houston, then in Port Arthur. However, Pitre said she had questioned Sittig about the safety measures employees took when dealing with the waste.
“I asked him whether he had any breathing apparatus and he said no,” she said. “I knew he was into hazardous waste materials and they really need protection like HAZMAT suits.”
Pitre said the autopsy report found her son had heart disease, but no one knew. Despite that, she said she is convinced that the daily inhalation of hydrogen sulfide at his job played a role in Sittig’s death.
Another worker, Joe Sutter, 36, of Arlington, Texas, died a few months before of asphyxiation caused by inhaling the gas, an autopsy found.
In Houston, an employee was killed in a July fire while he was inspecting a tanker and a lantern ignited ethanol residue. His identity was not disclosed.
Neighbors have complained about odor and other problems at the Houston site since 2006, Dicker said. After two December explosions that damaged nearby homes, residents demanded the site be closed.
The death of the two workers in Port Arthur led to an OSHA investigation that’s ongoing. In May, KBMT, a TV station in Beaumont-Port Arthur, interviewed several anonymous CES employees who had some devastating things to say about the company.
“They’re all about covering up things. They know that they’re in violation. They['re] exposing people to chemicals” said one man.[...]
“I’ve seen them cover up people being exposed and blaming it on previous health issues” added another man who wanted to remain anonymous.
This lovely corporate citizen also caused so many problems for neighbors in Houston that the city pressured CES to shutter its oil recycling facility
The city sued the company in January after months of complaints about sickening odors wafting from the plant, which is permitted to process non-hazardous industrial waste, such as used oil.
Neighbors also pleaded for the city’s help after two explosions sent debris into homes and yards bordering the facility in December.
In response, Houston took the unusual step of suing the industrial business under its public nuisance laws — a tactic previously used to shutter seedy hotels and strip clubs.
Corporate polluters get away with a lot in Texas so it’s refreshing to see a really bad one get busted.
I was driving in East Austin this evening when a story about the ‘cash for clunkers’ program aired on NPR. My ears pricked up because I’ve been idly wondering how ‘green’ the program really is. I’ve also been pondering whether to trade in my ’92 Toyota Pickup (no, we aren’t getting rich at the Observer) for a newer, more fuel-efficient model. One sticking point for me has been the thought of my truck being turned into scrap metal.
Not only do I have a bit of sentimental attachment to the vehicle (it’s been with me for five years), but it only has 108,000 miles on it and these old Toyotas are known to go for 200,000, even 300,000 miles. The stereo sucks, the sides are dinged up, and the upholstery leaves something to be desired… Still, there’s a lot of life left. Is my truck really a ‘clunker’? And, more important, isn’t it wasteful to junk a perfectly-decent vehicle before the end of its life?
According to the NPR piece, there’s actually a strong argument to be made that the environmental benefits of ‘cash for clunkers’ are more modest than the auto industry and the White House would lead us to believe.
[I]t takes electricity to make a new car, and fuel to ship it.
“The estimates vary, but somewhere between 3 and, say, 12 tons of CO2 are produced for every car you make,” says William Chameides, dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University.
Chameides calculates that if you trade in an 18 mpg clunker for a 22 mpg new car (22 miles per gallon is the minimum mileage allowed for a new car under the program), it would take five and a half years of typical driving to offset the new car’s carbon footprint. With trucks, it might take eight or nine years, he says.
Incidentally, my truck gets exactly 18 mpg, according to EPA. So, if I were to opt for a sligtly more fuel-efficient vehicle it could take five or eight or nine years to get into the positive karma zone. Not terribly impressive.
And people with big cars tend to buy new cars that are still pretty large, according to Brand Fowler, vice president of Sheehy Auto. He says more customers are opting for modest trade-ups, close to the four mile-per-gallon minimum improvement that’s required for cars. Auto analysts say they’re seeing plenty of deals for new cars that get 10 miles a gallon more. So far, though, there’s not much data to indicate where the final average will end up.
But either way, it’s not enough, says Dan Becker of the Safe Climate Campaign. “The problem is the auto industry hijacked this law so it doesn’t get the better ones on the road,” he says. “All it does is replace old clunkers with new clunkers.”
It’s too early to tell what the average gas mileage will be of the cars purchased through ‘cash for clunkers’. Perhaps the math will work out for both the economy and environment. As for me, I think for now I’m sticking with my tried-and-true clunker.
Update: NYTimes reports that the average fuel efficiency of trade-ins is 15.8mpg and the average fuel efficiency of the new vehicles is 25.4mpg – a 61 percent increase in fuel efficiency. Democrats are praising the program.
“The statistics are much better than anybody dreamed they would be,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California. The actual mileage gain so far, she said, was not due to the details of the law but “the good judgment of the American people.”