Need for light rail and a little history lesson on collusion – a reprise from 2012

The following was written in 2012, but it provides a history lesson of why we need to dig deeper to understand sources of information. There is a reason collusion is such an ugly term. It should be noted cities are sharing ideas to make traffic flow more easily to lessen congestion and smog.

With the needs for better traffic planning in larger cities to alleviate congestion, diminish smog and let people move more freely, there has been a growing push for light rail lines. These lines are electrified trains that run adjacent and across traffic at crossing lights. They have tended to be more economical to build and run than the major subway and elevated train lines serving our largest cities. With the environmental concerns over global warming and the need for less fossil fuel usage, you would think these developments would be a slam dunk.

Unfortunately, projects like these are fighting uphill battles as part of the budget cuts and cost estimates. Unlike an operational budget issue, these capital projects are building assets that would benefit the communities and address the issues noted above. There is no doubt we need the best cost estimates possible to make these things happen and we should blend federal, state and local money to do so, but we should not be making this so hard. For some reason, the conservative right has latched onto this issue and for the reasons noted above have been more adamant against their development. The skeptic in me thinks there is more to this than just the budget issues, as we want to continue our focus on driving rather than riding. To me, a vibrant transit system is needed for a cosmopolitan area. Otherwise, we are just creating a congested, environmental problem.

What is interesting to me is a significant number of cities in the US had electric rail systems before they were destroyed and replaced by buses and cars in the 1930’s and 40’s. What is disturbing is how this came about. I would like to say this was done with good stewardship, but the unfortunate reason is several companies with a vested interest in the outcome, colluded to monopolize the bus industry and replace the destroyed electric rail or trolley system with their buses and cars. In 1949, after the fact, GM, Firestone Tires, Standard Oil of CA, Phillips Petroleum and Mack Trucks were found guilty of “conspiring to monopolize” the bus industry and using buses and cars to replace the electric trolley system that companies they owned had bought up. This conviction was upheld in appeal.

Wikipedia has a good summary of how these companies went about it. Search on “General Motors Conspiracy” and you can pull it up.  In fact, GM set in motion this plan to “motorize” the mass transit system dating back to 1922. And, if you look at the names of the fellow conspirators, you will note that two are oil/ gas companies, one is a tire company, one is a maker of buses and one is a maker of cars and trucks. These motorized road vehicles companies and fuel companies conspired to destroy an electric, rail based system that relieved congestion and smog. Even if their motives were altruistic, this would not seem like good transit planning.

Why do I mention all of this now? Two reasons. First, I want people to know why it is important to look beneath the source of information and data on any issue, but especially those which include oil and gas. There is too much money at stake and, as noted above, stranger things have happened. Just today, it was announced the President is supporting fracking to my chagrin, but is wanting the chemicals used by the oil/ gas developers to be disclosed. Yet, the industry lobbyists have battled down this ruling to be they only need to disclose this after the fact. So, they will be permitted to frack and only disclose the toxic chemicals that could leak into the water supply afterwards. To be candid, we need to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as we can. The best way to do that is to drive less with those oil/ gas-powered vehicles. Electric rail systems are a key part of that strategy.

Second, I mention this as conservatives are asking for fewer regulations and the elimination of some agencies. I worked in business and can say with certainty – businesses need to be regulated – it is that simple. If we don’t they will take advantage of situations to maximize short-term profit. The collusion verdict noted above was too late. Industries pay lobbyists a great deal to take the teeth out of regulation. The EPA has been fighting an uphill battle for years. We actually need the EPA to do more, not less. And, nowadays industries need only contribute to campaigns to share their viewpoints and push their desired outcomes. It costs too much money to run for office. This makes the lobbyists work easier.

In closing, I would ask that we all try to understand the stories beneath the news. When we see people against ideas that seem to be for the greater good, we should ask  ourselves why and look into it. Otherwise, we will miss the more elegant solutions and may avoid finding out who is more interested in an outcome than others. Not everyone is altruistic.

Ice on Fire – a reprise

Note, the following post was written two years ago, but still serves as a reminder of the progress we have made and need to make to address our climate change problem.

I encourage people to watch the excellent HBO documentary called “Ice on Fire” on concerns over climate change and remedial actions underway that should and can be leveraged. The documentary is produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, but the most impactful voices are the scientists, inventors and trendsetters who are seeing dividends from their actions and investments.

To sum up, we have two major problems facing us – too much carbon in the air along with a growing concern over methane as it is released from beneath melting ice caps and frozen tundra, on top of the venting from natural gas sites. The title comes from researchers lighting methane leaks on fire as it is released from melting ice covered waters. The scientists note with data that it is quite clear man is causing the hastened uptick in temperatures as we leave our carbon fingerprints in the atmosphere.

These are major concerns, but we are not sitting still. Significant efforts are underway. They can be categorized as putting less carbon in the air and capturing more carbon from the air. To avoid a novel, I will touch on some of the ideas, but please do deeper dives and watch the documentary airing now.

Stop putting carbon in the air

We must hasten the move to renewable energy. The costs are more on par and less, in some cases, than fossil fuel energy production. Wind and solar energy are growing at accelerated rates. One CEO noted, the technology is here to make this happen even more than it already is. Here in the US, California gets 25% of its electricity from solar and Texas gets 16% of its electricity from wind energy.

Yet, a very promising start-up off Scotland is tapping tidal energy. There is a company producing electricity today with an offshore platform with two turbines turned by the tides to generate electricity. I have written before about this group as they use existing technologies to harness the sea. Their success is gaining notoriety around the world, as it appears to be replicable.

Two other ideas also help with both recapture and restricting release. The first is reusing depleting biowaste (such as dying trees, plants and compost) in the soils to grow crops and future trees and foliage. The biowaste holds water better, maintains top soil and is straight out of nature’s guidebook.

The other is growing more kelp offshore as it captures carbon like sequoia trees and can also be used as a food source for livestock. Feeding cattle kelp is not a new approach. Feeding cattle is important as it greatly reduces the gases released by animals and preserves more carbon capturing grassland.

Capture more carbon from the air

The documentary spells out several natural ways to capture carbon and a few technological ways. On the former, here are a few ideas:

Maintain forests, especially those with large sequoias, which are huge carbon eaters. There are several places that are nurturing huge forests, but they note we need more of these efforts. We need to be mindful to replace what we cut, but keep some protected forests off limits to cutting.

Another example is to replenish mangroves that offer buffers to oceans. In addition to offering protection against storms, they also are natural born carbon eaters.

Another effort is to grow more urban farms. These farms are usually more organic, but in addition to absorbing carbon in urban areas, they perpetuate a farm to table concept that reduces transportation fumes. Reducing auto fumes is a huge concern of cities around the globe.

The next idea is more compex, but it requires the growing of more shells in the ocean. The dusts off the shells creates “ocean snow” that settles to the bottom and absorbs carbon. The idea is to spread a very small amount of iron in the ocean to cause more shells to grow.

The more technological solutions are designed to pull carbon out of the air. There are two approaches – one is to extract carbon and store it safely underground. The other is to pull it out and reuse it through artificial photosynthesis. Both of these options need more description than I am giving them. I prefer the more natural ways, but all of the above, is a necessary strategy at this late hour.

The scientists have concerns, but they do offer hope. The uncertainty of the ice-covered methane release gives them pause. They did note the methane release from accidental leaks from fossil fuel is visible from space and reduceable with some effort.

Another concern is the well-funded activity behind climate change deniers. A Wyoming rancher scientist standing in front of a visible, leaky methane cap said it plainly – they know this stuffs hurts kids more than adults. If someone came into my home to hurt my kids, it would be over my dead body. So, why is it OK to allow this?

Another scientist was less colorful, but equally plainspoken. He said fossil fuel executives perpetuating climate change denial should be tried in The Hague for crimes against humanity. Yet, as the costs have declined, the profit of creating carbon is becoming less palatable than the profit of reducing carbon in the air. People need to know these market forces exist today and not stand for future unhealthy energy creation.

Finally, if you cannot convince a climate change denier that we have a problem, ask them a simple question – if costs were not an issue, would you rather your children and grandchildren breathe methane from vented natural gas or drink coal ash polluted water or have carbon and methane neutral solar, wind or tidal energy? Guess what – costs are not much of an issue anymore and, in an increasing number of cases, less for renewables.

Friday foibles and fumbles

Since I am struggling for a longer topic and did not want to repost an old post, here are a few foibles and fumbles for this Friday.

  • Help me understand how a person gets elected to Congress that believes in things like a Jewish laser from space is causing the wildfires? But, she must be OK in the eyes of many as she believes everything the former president says.
  • Speaking of said former president, taking a page out of deceased war hero and Senator John McCain’s op-ed a few years back, how can the actions of the former president before, leading up to and during the insurrection on a third branch of government not be viewed as “traitorous.”
  • I cite Senator McCain’s words as he called the former president’s siding with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki over the input of his own intelligence people as “traitorous.” It should be noted President Biden is getting kudos from Republican legislators for pushing back on Putin in his first call. Putin is a malevolent and deceitful person, the kind of person the former president holds in high regard as a strong leader.
  • House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy traveled to Mar-a-Largo to kiss the former president’s ring. Some may use a body part in this sentence, but let’s keep it clean. McCarthy has ranged from blaming the former president for a role in the insurrection to it is not his fault over the last twenty days. Between him, Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz and, disappointingly, former UN Ambassador and SC governor Nikki Haley, groveling at the feet of the insurrectionist former president to woo his followers is rather insulting and distasteful.
  • President Biden has been a busy camper with executive orders. I am delighted he has rejoined the US into the Paris Climate Change agreement and is taking actions to help heal the planet. And, I am glad to see a president who actually considers the pandemic a problem. Mind you, it is not as important as trying to overturn a just election or inciting an insurrection which was the focus of the last president, but over 400,000 citizens dying is a problem that needs to be dealt with.
  • On a sad note, two US treasures passed away this week, Cicely Tyson and Cloris Leachman, both terrific actresses. Tyson had key roles in movies like “Sounder,” “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” “Fried Green Tomatoes,” to name only a few. Leachman was the consummate supporting actress, often in a comedic role. Her roles in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Young Frankenstein,” and “The Last Picture Show” were compelling.
  • Let me close with a note about collaboration. Collaboration is hard work, which is why it is not done as often as it should be. Working with others toward a common purpose is essential to gain buy-in and sustainability. As noted above, executive orders are easy to do and easy to change. Yet, they are not laws. Congress must do their job and work together to enact laws. If the US flip-flops with every new president on working with other countries, then those countries will find more predictable trading partners.

That is all I have for today. Have a great Friday and weekend. Let me know your thoughts and reactions.

The Frackers – the Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters (a reprise from 2014)

The following piece is a reprise from a post in 2014. It is important to read the concerns of six years ago about this industry. Fortunately, the renewable energy industry continues to make huge strides.

I recently completed a very interesting book written by Gregory Zuckerman, a Wall Street Journal reporter called “The Frackers – the Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters,” published by Portfolio/ Penguin Press in 2013. Zuckerman is also author of “The Greatest Trade Ever.” I highly recommend this book as it is as entertaining as it is informative, in multiple ways. It gives you a clearer picture of the risks and rewards of fracking, but also shows how hard it is to both glean the fossil fuel you are seeking and to be so highly leveraged in debt as you do.

The successful fracking companies, usually bucked the odds and the more measured risk takers in the larger companies who had much more capital to withstand some of the risk. As a result, even the ones who had success, usually failed before, after and sometimes during their success, due to the need to be land rich which came at a highly collaterized cost of debt. When some went public, they also had to contend with impatient shareholders. These wildcat developers made and lost huge sums of money, oftentimes with their egos getting in the way of knowing when to stop.

Zuckerman does an excellent job of telling the story of people like George Mitchell, who has been called the “father of shale fracking,” Aubrey McClendon, Tom Ward, Harold Hamm, Charif Souki, Robert Hauptfurher and Mark Papa, among countless others who were key to the success of gleaning natural gas and oil from places that were perceived too difficult to crack. He also defines why methods and strategies are so secretive, as companies will follow suit to leverage off your success. These men and their companies, Mitchell Energy, Oryx Energy, Chesapeake Energy, Continental Resources, Chenier Energy and EOG Resources, were truly the path finders in this process called fracking. They led the US to become more energy independent, yet in so doing, understated or overlooked the risks that came with those rewards.

As I read this entertaining book, I found myself convinced of a preconceived notion, that the main mission of these guys was to make a lot of money, as well as proving others wrong. Some even took delight that their hypothesis was true, even if they had not benefitted as greatly as the company that bought out their rights. Yet, what I also found this lust for money also was an Achilles Heel, and there seemed to be less consideration of what fracking was doing to the environment. They were more content to let the problems be handled by someone else and often belittled the complaints and complainers.

Zuckerman addresses these concerns from the frackers viewpoint earlier in the book, yet does devote an Afterword to the environmental risks that are real. But, before doing so, he notes that George Mitchell, late in life continued to buck convention. Per Zuckerman, Mitchell “gave millions to research clean energy even as he, along with his son and Joe Greenberg, invested in a new shale formation in Canada.” But the quote that interests me most, is by Mitchell who responds to those who contend how safe fracking is:

“Fracking can be handled if they watch and patrol the wildcat guys. They don’t give a damn about anything; the industry has to band together to stop isolated incidents.”

This dovetails nicely with a well-worn phrase I gleaned early on. Even if fracking were safe, it is only as safe as its worst operator. Mitchell, the father of fracking is more than acknowledging the bad operators. His son Todd, who was also in business with his father, said “his father’s work will have had a negative impact on the world if it forestalls progress on renewable energy, instead of giving innovators time to improve wind, solar and other cleaner energy sources.”

Let me close with an even-handed quote from Zuckerman, which frames the issue, yet also notes a caution. He answers the question “Is fracking as bad as activists say, and what will its impact be as drillers continue to pursue energy from shale and other rock formations?” His conclusion is as follows:

“The short answer: Fracking has created less harm than the most vociferous critics claim, but more damage than the energy industry contends. And, it may be years before the full consequences of the drilling and fracking are clear.”

With my reading I would agree with both of these sentences, yet not place the fulcrum in the middle of the scale. I would be more on the side of vociferous critics as the evidence continues to mount and as non-industry scientists are revealing issues. The massive water usage, the seepage of the poisonous slickwater fracking fluid into the environment, the particles that are blasted into the atmosphere which are causing breathing difficulty, and the degradation to the surrounding environment just to get vehicles and equipment into frack are compelling arguments by themselves.

But, the great caution in his last sentence is where we need to focus. “And, it may be years before the full consequences of the drilling and fracking are clear.”This is the bane of any environmental group fighting for people and the environment. Oftentimes, it takes years for the true damage to be seen and felt. Some show up in shorter order, yet when the companies making the money do not want to stop a mission, they can afford to fight people who cannot clearly make a connection. The developers want to settle with each complaint at minimal outlay and move on. Unfortunately, the people exposed to the problem, remain in harm’s way.

The Precautionary Principle – revisiting a relevant post from 2012

We are at a crossroads in our country and on our planet. We must all become better stewards with the environment and address these issues today and in the future. The business side of energy retrieval and production along side the development of mass-produced products made out of or enhanced by petro-chemicals have placed our planet in a precarious position. For the longest time, these industries have been able to delay addressing issues citing the data is not conclusive or shows causality. Proof or true causality oftentimes takes thirty years or more. In the interim, the data can show a high correlation that an activity is leading to a problem. For those who did not take statistics, correlation means things rise and fall together.

In the US, we place the burden of proof on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and like agencies who govern other areas of commerce. Other countries have a variation of the EPA.  In some countries that burden resides with the developer to show that something is not toxic or harmful to others. Several scientists and concerned citizens got together at Wingspread in Canada to discuss these issues. One of the tenets of that meeting can be summed up by a statement made by Bradford Hill, a medical statistician and inventor of the randomized clinical trial, back in 1965:

“All scientific work is incomplete – whether it be observational or experimental. All scientific work is liable to be upset or modified by advancing knowledge. That does not confer upon us a freedom to ignore the knowledge we already have or postpone the action that it appears to demand at a given time.”

In short, we should not wait to do something later if the evidence is telling us something is amiss now. With toxic chemicals, for example, if you wait to fully prove something is bad, the damage is already done. Especially when you are dealing with children who are still developing and breathe in more than adults.

The group at Wingspread developed the following Precautionary Principle

“When an activity raises threat of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context, the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.”

“The process of applying the Precautionary Principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action,” noted Dr. Sandra Steingraber in her book “Living Downstream – An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment.” In this book and her second book called “Raising Elijah” she notes industry has tended to stiff arm science to continue to conduct practices that are harmful to the environment and people. The democratic process she references is hard to conduct, when so much money is at stake.

If I have not scared you enough, I am reading a book now called “Water – The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization” by Steven Solomon. If you like history, you will love this book. I have not finished it, so I don’t know the ultimate punch line. Yet, through history it has been shown that great civilizations have risen and fallen by their ability to manage the water and sewage supply. The data he has shown thus far is very compelling. Water is our dearest resource next to air. Without either, we cannot survive on this planet. If we do not protect what is happening to either we are destined to fail as country, planet and people.

I use fracking as a good case in point. The data is highly correlated that fracking leads to toxins in the water and air of the surrounding area. Yet, I believe and have said this in letters to the editor and to politicians, set that aside for now. Fracking takes a huge amount of water out of the water supply and it cannot go back as it is poisoned with the fracking chemicals. We can ill-afford to waste our water on this environmentally destroying  retrieval process. Water is very dear and the droughts and fights over water supply will continue to show this. The developers say the same things they have said for years on other issues – you cannot prove there is a causal relationship between fracking and the toxins. Yet, we can prove you are taking a lot of drinking, bathing and sewage water away from people. And, the data is very compelling on the toxins as well.

This brings us back to the Precautionary Principle. We should reverse the equation. OK, Mr. Developer, since you want to make a ton of money and pay off people to frack beneath their land, YOU prove that fracking is NOT toxic to people or environment before you dig one hole. You prove that this is the best use of our dear water supply. And, you keep testing after you start digging. I have known many developers in my day and the last thing they want to do is hold off on doing something. They want to make their money and leave the problems for someone else. If we reverse the equation, they will have to do more homework beforehand and throughout. That is a good thing.

The dilemma we face as a planet is there is a lot of money to be had in developing energy and chemical products from fossil fuels. As a result, the industry supports a lot of politicians with a lot of money and lobbying efforts. Yet, we must diminish our reliance on fossil fuels, we must understand the impact of petro-chemicals on our environment and people and we must put the burden of proof that an activity is not harmful on the purveyor of that activity beforehand and throughout. In the meantime, if anyone says we should do away with the EPA, for you, me and our children, tell them that is the dumbest idea you have ever heard and would be poor stewardship of our planet. Please help advocate the Precautionary Principle as well.

Environmental Crisis – Raising all of our Elijahs (a reprise)

The following post was written in 2012, but requires repeating. We have made some progress, but not near enough. The children are starting to pay more attention about the world they are inheriting, as evidenced by Greta Thunberg’s popularity.

Earlier this week, I had the distinct pleasure to hear Dr. Sandra Steingraber speak on the significant environmental crisis that has been with us for some time and the impact past, current and future events will have on the environment and us in the future. I say pleasure, but in fact, she scared the crap out of me and everyone in attendance which was her purpose. Dr. Steingraber is an ecologist, author, cancer survivor* and mother of two. Her most recent book about her son is called “Raising Elijah – Protecting our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis” and it follows her earlier book called “Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer.” She is a frequent public speaker and has testified in front of Congress, the United Nations and the European Parliament to name a few. Her first book has been made into a film by The People’s Picture Company of Toronto.

She tells her stories from each of her lenses, but her most impactful lens is the one told as a mother of two. I am currently reading “Raising Elijah” and would encourage each of you to read it and tell others about it. I will move onto her first book after this one. She attests that when you speak of these issues as a mother (or parent), it resonates with everyone as we all wish for our children to live healthy lives. She notes she has been able to bring pro-life and pro-choice believers together on these issues.

In her mind, there are two types of crises with the environment – the toxic crisis and the climate change crisis. The toxic crisis has been with us for some time and decisions and exposures from many years ago are still affecting people now. The climate change crisis is very real and, in addition, to the other issues it creates, it heightens the impact of the toxic crisis even more. Elevated temperatures and the impact on the ozone will only make current matters worse. From a mother’s perspective, the impact on our children is worse than it is on adults. She notes the obvious, but children are closer to the ground where many of the toxins reside, they have a much higher degree of mouth breathing meaning they will take in more air per pound, they put their hands in their mouth about ten times an hour plus they will be exposed for longer periods due to their age than adults to toxins. A few facts that will heighten the issue

– 1 out of 8 US children are born prematurely which is traceable to the environment; early births mean the lungs are not fully created, so life long breathing issues will result;

– 1 out of 11 US children have asthma (1 out of 4 in Harlem);

– 1 in 10 US children will have a learning disability;

– 1 in 110 US children will have some form of Autism; and

– 1 in 10 US white girls and 1 in 5 US black girls will have breast development before the age of 8, which translates into menopausal and other issues.

I wish to tell you these numbers are made up, but they are well-grounded. And, the higher propensity can be traced to toxins that have been allowed to exist in the air, water and even playgrounds. The latter will make you furious, but the pressurized wood we have in many of our playgrounds is loaded with arsenic, copper and chromium, so our children and adults with our pressurized decks, are exposed to these chemicals. Adding to that, it  is measured that 60% of Americans live in areas where the air is unhealthful. So, from her perspective, “an investment in green energy is also an investment in cancer prevention.”

I went to hear her speak as she is one of the biggest opponents of hydro-fracturing or fracking to release and harvest natural gas. What I expected to hear is the impact fracking has on the nearby water where the chemicals used to fracture the shale gets in the water table. I also expected to hear about the significant increase in earthquakes in areas where fracking is done. These are a problem. Yet her major concern is what is released into the air and its impact on many today and in the future. Air pollution is what is causing the conditions in children and adults.

She notes the US is now doing and promoting Four Extreme Measure of Fossil Fuel Extraction – (1) mountain top removal, (2) tar sands, (3) deep-sea oil drilling and (4) fracking. All of these impact our environment greatly, but fracking gives her the most alarm. She advocates we must have a strategy to cease all new fossil fuel extraction now and invest in renewable forms of energy. Her point is any change will not impact the climate change for about 15 years, so we must divorce ourselves now from new fossil fuels.

What can we do? Reading from “Climate Change and Your Health – Rising Temperatures, Worsening Ozone Pollution,”  by the Union of Concerned Scientists, we should be doing the following (here in 2020, many of these are now being done, but they need to be accelerated):

– investing in more fuel-efficient cars and reducing the miles driven;

– developing fuels that are less carbon-intensive;

– providing good public transit and other commuting/ travel alternatives;

– increasing energy efficiency at industrial and commercial facilities;

– developing and retrofitting homes and buildings to be more efficient;

– using more renewable energy resources – such as wind, solar and geothermal – to generate electricity; (looking from 2020, I would add tidal as well; note wind and solar are now more cost effective than coal)

– ensuring that ozone and carbon-reduction standards are strong enough to be truly protective of public health; and

– working collaboratively with global partners to reduce carbon emissions from other countries.

The issues and solutions require concerted effort and input from all parties. And, once you read Dr. Steingraber’s book I hope you have a better grasp that we need a concerted effort now to save our children – our Elijahs. While other issues are important – none of them will matter if we don’t fix these problems. The human and economic cost will dwarf any of these issues.

*Note: Steingraber is a bladder cancer survivor. Bladder cancer is a bellweather cancer meaning it is most often environmentally caused. She and a few other family and extended family members got bladder and other types of cancer, as they lived between four manufacturing plants. And, as Steingraber notes, she is adopted, so her cancer was not hereditary.

Water shortages impacting more

In an article in The Guardian a couple of weeks ago called “More than 3 billion people affected by water shortages, data shows – UN warns about consequences of not conserving water and tackling climate crisis” it again rings the bell that we have a water crisis. Here are a few paragraphs along with a link to the article below.

“Water shortages are now affecting more than 3 billion people around the world, as the amount of fresh water available for each person has plunged by a fifth over two decades, data has shown.

About 1.5 billion people are suffering severe water scarcity or even drought, as a combination of climate breakdown, rising demand and poor management has made agriculture increasingly difficult across swathes of the globe.

The UN warned on Thursday that billions of people would face hunger and widespread chronic food shortages as a result of failures to conserve water resources, and to tackle the climate crisis.

Qu Dongyu, director-general of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said: ‘We must take very seriously both water scarcity (the imbalance between supply and demand for freshwater resources) and water shortages (reflected in inadequate rainfall patterns) for they are now the reality we all live with … Water shortages and scarcity in agriculture must be addressed immediately and boldly.'”

Water shortages are impacting us around the globe. In the midwestern US, farmers are concerned over the diminished water supply, which has been made worse by climate change. In Saudi Arabia, the oil rich country is water stressed, so Muslims are allowed to pray with sand, instead of water. In Capetown, South Africa, they are so water poor, they came close to running out of water and had to take drastic measures.

This is something we must pay attention. Ironically, with climate change, we may end up with too much salt water and too little fresh water. If this seems to be an extreme point of view, the area around Miami, which may be the most exposed large city in the world, the limestone is so porous, the sea water is a threat to encroach into the Biscayne aquifer.

More than 3 billion people affected by water shortages, data shows | Water | The Guardian

Coal energy risk is very human as well as planetary

The following paragraphs come from an article today called “Coal mine accident in China’s Chongqing kills 23” by Reuters.

“Twenty-three people died after being trapped in a mine in China’s southwestern city of Chongqing, the official Xinhua news agency said on Saturday, the region’s second such accident in just over two months.

The dead were among 24 people trapped underground by excessive levels of carbon monoxide gas at the Diaoshuidong coal mine, the agency said, adding that one survivor had been rescued, after more than 30 hours of search and rescue efforts.

Friday’s incident, which occurred at about 5 p.m. (0900 GMT) in a mine shut for more than two months as the company dismantled underground equipment, is being investigated, it added.”

Coal-mining accidents are not new, even though they have lessened over the years with greater precautions and fewer coal miners. Most of the coal stories are around the used up coal ash leaking into water reservoirs or the diminishing role coal plays in energy in the US.

I highlight this story as coal-mining remains a dangerous job and one that is not life lengthening due to the exposure to inhaled dust. When a wind mill system or a solar farm fail, people do not tend to lose their lives. Not only are these sources of energy helpful to our planet, they are less risky to the workers.

As the cost of renewable energy has fallen, the use of coal has declined further. Natural gas development put the first nail in the coffin of coal and renewable energy sources like wind, solar, tidal, hydro, geothermal, etc. are adding the other nails. In Texas, coal is being surpassed this year by renewables as the second largest source of electricity behind natural gas.

As oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens noted early last decade, natural gas will buy us time until wind energy takes over in the plains states. That time is now, with Iowa, Oklahoma and Kansas getting 1/3 of their combined electricity from wind energy and Texas getting over 1/6 of its electricity from wind, as the largest producing state.

I am saddened by the loss of life. Maybe, these lives won’t be lost in vain and efforts to migrate to renewable energy will hasten.

Coal mine accident in China’s Chongqing kills 23 (msn.com)

Conservative pundit David Brooks – How Democrats Won the War of Ideas

As an independent and former Republican (and Democrat), David Brooks is one of my favorite conservative pundits and authors. He is a regular participant on PBS Newhour’s Friday recap show with the more liberal Mark Shields. Like other key conservative pundits, MIchael Gerson, George Will, Ross Douthat, Eric Erickson and Max Boot, he is hoping that America votes out the incumbent president.

In his usual articulate and even-handed fashion, Brooks penned the following editorial last week called “How Democrats Won the War of Ideas.” The link is below, but I will highlight a few paragraphs for your review and comment.

“Over the last 100 years, Americans have engaged in a long debate about the role of markets and the welfare state. Republicans favored a limited government, fearing that a large nanny state would sap American dynamism and erode personal freedom. Democrats favored a larger state, arguing that giving people a basic economic security would enable them to take more risks and lead dignified lives.

That debate ebbed and flowed over the years, but 2020 has turned out to be a pivotal year in the struggle, and it looks now as if we can declare a winner. The Democrats won the big argument of the 20th century. It’s not that everybody has become a Democrat, but even Republicans are now embracing basic Democratic assumptions. Americans across the board fear economic and physical insecurity more than an overweening state. The era of big government is here.”

Brooks cites a few survey facts from last week’s New York Times/ Siena poll.

2/3 of Americans support allowing people to buy health insurance through the federal government

2/3 support Joe Biden’s $2 trillion plan to increase renewable energy and build efficient infrastructure

72% of likely voters and 56% of Republican voters favor another COVID-19 relief package

59% of Americans think government should do more to solve problems

2/3 think government should do more to fight climate change

60% support increasing the minimum wage and providing tax credits to low income workers

82% of voters and 70% of Republicans would like to expand requirements for paid family medical leave

Brooks also cites a study by the Mercatus Center which notes that Republicans are also moving left, just not at the pace of Democrats. This is contrary to what is believed by the media.

I have long said that more than 1/2 of the Republican voters are voting against their economic interests and do not know it. This survey indicates many do favor policies that would help them, but are sold a bill of goods packaged to woo their votes, but mask the purposeful deterioration of rights and opportunities.

A great example is the Affordable Care Act. When people are surveyed about the features of the act, the features receive high marks from all, including Republicans. The only feature that did not was eliminated – the mandate to buy coverage. Ironically, this elimination is the basis for 25 Republican Attorney Generals who have case to declare the ACA unconstitutional in front of the Supreme Court after the election, which should not occur as the case is not solid, but one never knows with these things. Sadly, the White House chose not to defend the law, which affects expanded Medicaid, exchange and employer-provided benefits.

Please read Brooks article below. It is very well done, as per usual.

American Utopia – an excellent musical by David Byrne

For those of us who came of age in the 1970s, the name David Byrne may be familiar. Yet, the name of his group, “Talking Heads” likely will ring a few more bells.

For the past few years, David Byrne’s “American Utopia” has been well received on Broadway. Fortunately, before COVID-19 shut down Broadway, Spike Lee filmed a special performance with Byrne and his multi-national troupe. It is a memorable show that is airing now on HBO. Below is link to a HBO trailer.

Dressed alike in gray suits, sans shoes and ties, Byrne and his eleven performers blend their talents in a choreographed marching band of various drum kits, guitars, a keyboard, and various and sundry instruments.

Only two of the songs appear to be popular Talking Heads’ songs – “Once in a lifetime” and “Burning down the house.” The latter sounds better than the released version with added percussion.

He also adds new music and that of others. Byrne explains the songs beforehand and includes an introduction of the band as they build the next song instrument by instrument.

Another highlight occurs when he says he asked permission from Janelle Monae to do her song as a plea for justice for a list of killed black people. This was filmed prior to the terrible deaths this year, but Lee adds a memorial at the end of the song.

Byrne makes observations throughout about our country. In one telling moment, he encourages people to vote, using the audience lights to indicate how many 20% represents that vote in local elections. He also noted in the 2016 election only 57% of Americans voted. To me, this indicates the voting problem in America – it is not fraud, it is not enough people are voting.

Yet, the highlight is the wonderful music coming from the stage produced by many different nationalities, races and ethnicities. That is what America is all about.

https://www.hbo.com/specials/american-utopia