A New Childish Tactic to Combat Global Warming Preventive Actions

I commend President Obama for addressing the issue of global warming and the need to act. He has helped already with the higher miles per gallon standards on cars and perpetuating tax credits to invest in alternative energy which have been paying dividends. However, we do not have an orchestrated eco-energy plan to do what is needed to more aggressively combat this problem. We are already at least ten years behind on this and our failure to do more would be viewed as one of greatest tragedies by our children and grandchildren. Yet, two articles that appeared in the Wall Street Journal last weekend and one editorial by a national columnist in my paper today have interested me for both their begrudging acknowledgement of the climate change problem as well as a very childish theme in response.

This morning Charles Krauthammer, a conservative national columnist, wrote an editorial called “President Obama’s Global Warming Folly” which picks up on themes of the two articles in last weekend’s WSJ. The first was by Rusty Todd on “Why the Grass Should Not Always Be Greener” and the second by Holman Jenkins, Jr. “The Climate Change Speech Obama Didn’t Give.”  In Todd’s article, it was noted we should be less concerned by the significant use of water to frack with as we waste more water in the US watering our lawns. In Krauthammer and Jenkins’ articles, it was noted that we should be less worried about addressing climate change as the Chinese will be using far greater coal and it won’t do any good. To me, that is like a child asking why should I behave because Johnny and Susie are doing worse things than me?

Two comments. First, water is a dear resource and we should be concerned about the use of water in many more calculations of Return on Investment, including its use in lawn irrigation and fracking. To this latter point, frackers and farmers are fighting over water in places like Kansas and California. This is before we get to the other environmental concerns of the toxic air and water pollution which are occurring. I would encourage people to read Steven Solomon’s excellent book “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization” whose historical context lends credence to his concerns over our use of such a dear resource.

You may ask what does this have to do with global warming? Water is becoming a dear resource with or without global warming. The scientific models say global warming will make the drought areas worse and more prone to forest fires, while dumping excessive amounts of water in other areas through stalled weather systems causing flooding. This is already happening. Yet, as we look at ways to countervent this problem, we must factor in the use of water in our equations. Burning natural gas is cleaner than burning coal, but it is not perfect. Yet, if we must drain our water supply to get natural gas, not to mention all the other toxic chemicals that find their way into the air and water, then we are creating other major problems that global warming will exacerbate.

Second, the climate change comments are equally irksome, as we are beyond the tipping point on doing something about this obvious problem. Not that it matters, but I left the GOP in 2006 because of its stance on global warming. It was very apparent then, that the fossil fuel industry’s unhealthy influence over the GOP is causing smart people to ignore what NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)  and 97% of scientists are saying. Please check out the “The Global Warming Reader” complied by Bill McKibben, a world-renowned climate scientist. He notes the significance of Congress failing to approve an acknowledgement of climate change along party lines in April, 2011. He said that date may go down in history as a point when we could have acted, but did not. Due to their failure, the President is now picking up the reins and driving ahead.

If we are going to get others to act more responsibly on climate change, we need to do better ourselves. We need to more aggressively move toward alternative energy sources and build on what is already happening in our country on a confederated basis with solar, wind and biomass energy. By itself, California is the producer of the 7th most solar energy in the world (if measured as a country) and wind energy is in 39 states. My own state of North Carolina is the 5th most prolific solar energy producing state in the US and is home to Semprius, a company that produces the most efficient solar photovoltaic panel in the world, improving by 40% the effectiveness over the previous best model. And, these industries are producing local jobs, so it truly is not an either/ or proposition. I have learned recently that Strata Solar, a North Carolina based company that installs solar systems for businesses and individuals, has more orders than they can handle.

Let me close with a survey that USA Today did after the President’s speech. It noted that 65% of Americans are concerned or greatly concerned with climate change as problem, with 33% being unconcerned. The lowness of the 65% disturbs me as it shows how effective the fossil fuel industry efforts to create doubt have been. According to McKibben’s book, this effort to confuse the issue dates back to 1992. His book actually takes the time to show dissenting views, which I found very generous and even-handed.  Yet, when you read the three articles and editorials above, you do see a begrudging acknowledgement of the problem after previous naysaying by the authors. At least that should be viewed as a success. Now, let’s go do something more about it and stop throwing childish tantrums.

Memo to Boehner and Reid – Make a Move

Date: April 7, 2013

To: Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Leader Harry Reid

From: A Concerned Parent in America

Cc: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Dianne Feinstein, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden

Subject: Better Gun Control – Make a Move

I have been beating on this drum well before Sandy Hook, but we cannot let what happened there go without acting responsibly. I applaud Governor Malloy and the bi-partisan legislature in Connecticut for doing the right thing and passing universal background checks and restriction on magazines. I also applaud the governor and legislature in Colorado for similar action. And, hats off to those states who already have tighter requirements.

Tonight, I watched with millions of Americans the parents and loved ones of the twenty-six Sandy Hook victims tell their story on 60 Minutes and beg you to act. It is time to make a move. The ball is in your court and I will hold you two personally responsible along with Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor for your failure to act.

You see, the problem is worse than the shooting tragedies at Sandy Hook, Aurora, Arizona, Virginia Tech, et al. The problem we are fighting happens everyday. It is when one teen shoots and kills another teen or child. It is when someone feels “dissed” in a public setting and has access to a gun in his car (gender intended as very few women are this irresponsible). You mix guns with testosterone and alcohol or drugs and only bad things happen.

You see, the US leads the top 23 wealthiest countries in gun deaths and teen/ children gun deaths by far. It is not even close. Even gun countries like Canada have much fewer gun deaths than we have. You see, we have the Second Amendment and the NRA. I am not advocating taking anyone’s Second Amendment rights away, but we need to understand the context of when the constitution was written. In my mind, no one outside of the military or police should own an assault weapon. And, for those of you who wonder What Would Jesus Do? I can assure you that Jesus would not own a gun, much less an Uzi or AK47. If a minister tells you otherwise, then you should strongly question his understanding of the bible.

This is not a fishing license. We need universal background checks on every purchase. I think we need training as well, but let’s start there. I also believe we can limit the magazines. That will also save lives. I think we should get rid of the assault weapons, but I am going to make it easier for you and say do those first two things – universal background checks and limits on magazine. The police are telling you to do this – we should listen to them rather than the NRA. The NRA does not speak for Americans and they don’t even speak for most gun owners. So, say thank you for your input NRA, but we are going to do this.

Make a move. It is time. The significant majority of Americans want this. It is up to you. And, for those who feel they may not get re-elected, I have two final comments.

First, stop worrying about keeping your job and do your job.

Second, if someone uses this as a campaign issue, you look them in the eye and say, I voted to save lives. What would you have had me do? Next question.

Speaker Boehner and Senator Reid, it is your ball to play. Make a move. Americans want this. I want this as a parent. And, as an Independent voter having laid out this problem, I am less concerned with what the NRA thinks. When the next shooting happens (and it almost did in Central Florida a month ago, except for an alert fellow student), it will be in your lap to reconcile that tragedy with the failure to act now. Acting will not stop gun deaths. It cannot in our free society. But, it can make a difference.

So, make a move. Make a difference. It is time.

Don’t Frack Us Over

My blogging friend Z at www.playamart.wordpress.com suggested we make fracking a new curse word, given what it does to the environment and people.

Don’t Frack Us Over….is a new slogan I would like to submit for your consideration.

Why is fracking a curse word when it provides access to all that natural gas?

  • Fracking takes 4 to 6 million gallons of water per frack. Each well has about ten fracks, so that is 40 to 60 million gallons per well. If you frack an area with 2,000 wells like they did Utah, that is 80 to 120 billion gallons of water.
  • Fracking water is loaded with chemicals to grease the skids and is highly toxic. Yet, the toxic water finds a way to get into the aquifers we drink from.
  • Fracking blasts arsenic, methane and mercury gases and particulates into the air. It cannot be fully contained given the intensity of water pressure.
  • Fracking destroys the infrastructure around an area with the heavy trucks, makeshift roads and degradation of surrounding property values.
  • Fracking water disposal underground has been proven as causing earthquakes in Arkansas, Ohio and England. In England, the fracker was shut down.
  • Fracking makes a huge amount of money for the fracker; a tidy sum for the landowner; and some local workers join many out-of-state workers. But, the problems are left for the community.
  • Fracking is not safe as portrayed by the industry when you read scientific reports and even the industry reports. See “Gasland,” a documentary movie.
  • Fracking received favored son status in the 2005 Energy Policy Act sidestepping the policing by the EPA under the Clean Air Act and Safe Water Drinking Act.  This provision was added by Vice President Dick Cheney, who is a former President of Halliburton, one of the largest frackers in the world. Why would he do this if fracking were safe?

Dr. Sandra Steingraber, a biologist, ecologist, an expert who has testified in front of the UN, European Parliament and US Congress, mother of two, bladder cancer survivor, and author of “Living Downstream” and “Raising Elijah,” is writing a book on fracking. She said in her books and speeches that fracking is one of the worst things we could possibly do to the environment. Steven Solomon who wrote a definitive history on “Water” noted that water is one of our two dearest resources and we need to be very protective of its supply. Fracking uses a huge amount of water, so my question is this where we want to use our water? You may scoff, but the farmers and frackers were fighting over water in Kansas this summer.

Don’t Frack Us Over

I do not want to live in a state that fracks. And, the business side of me says companies will not want to move to a state where fracking is done. The fracking prize is not worth the chase and is dwarfed by the cost of the problems it creates.

Apparently, I am not the only one who feels this way. Please check out www.artistsagainstfracking.com and you can see a video called “Don’t Frack My Mother” with cameos from various artists who are worried sick about the consideration of fracking in New York. As noted in my recent post a few days ago called “Anti-Environmental NIMBYism” fracking in New York is filled with even greater peril due to the proximity of the fracking sites to the aquifers that support the metro-New York area. This is tens of millions of people we are talking about.

But, let’s forget all that and go back to the very first point above. Fracking takes a huge amount of water. Water, we can ill-afford to lose to a process that does more harm than good. Even without global warming, we need to be concerned about our diminishing water supply. With global warming, it is even greater crisis we must deal with.

Don’t Frack Us Over

Here Comes the Sun Again

About a month ago, I used George Harrison’s song “Here Comes the Sun” to highlight the continued expansion of solar energy in the US. It was noted that California has passed 1 gigawatt of solar energy which is more than produced by many countries.Solar energy continues to become more affordable and is a job creator, as well. Also mentioned was the success of a Durham, NC company called Semprius which is a joint venture between the US Department of Defense, Siemens and Pratt Whitney Rocketdine. Semprius makes the state of the art photovoltaic panel in the world which converts 33.9% of the sun’s energy into electricity, a significant increase from the previous conversion rates of 24%. Instead of 1/4 conversion, it is now 1/3 about a 40% increase in productivity.

Yesterday, I saw two more highlights in my home state of NC.These observations are state specific, but I wanted to highlight what can be done when things are set in motion.Other states are having success as well, with California leading the way. In NC, a huge part of the success is a mandate for utilities to provide 12.5% of their energy from alternative sources by 2021, something that Duke Energy is taking seriously.  Duke just rolled out yet another 12.5 megawatt solar farm in eastern NC which can power 3,000 homes. The two additional highlights are unrelated to Duke Energy, but build on the success of Duke’s efforts in NC and the Charlotte metro area which has become an alternative energy hub in its headquarter city.

The first highlight involves an Italian company solar panel installation and photovoltaics developer setting up an US headquarters in Charlotte called Siser USA LLC. Siser will start small with ten employees, but they have a five-year track record in Europe and have developed 50 megawatts of solar energy in Italy, Germany, Spain and Eastern Europe. They picked Charlotte for its infrastructure and dedication to solar energy. An additional foreign-owned solar panel maker, Jetion Solar out of China helped recruit Siser to the Charlotte area. I should add that within 45 miles of Charlotte are several solar farms created Google and Apple for data centers they will be powering in Hickory, NC.

Further east, the second highlight is from Chapel Hill based Solar Strata, whom I have written about before. It plans to build a 100 megawatt solar farm in Duplin County breaking ground at the end of the year. This site will be able to power 11,500 homes. In 2012, Solar Strata announced a dozen solar farms under construction and this year they plan to announce another 25 more. By my count that is 37 solar farms which is pretty heady stuff. I noted in my last “Here Comes the Sun” post a month ago, solar energy projects need not be big and that is perhaps their elegance. They can be set up pretty much anywhere there is a large field and can supply power to nearby homes and data centers or plants. I passed by the Google site the other day on my way back from Asheville as it is noticeable from the road. One other irony is it is very near the famous Maiden minister who was severely criticized for wanting to put gays behind the electrified fence. I will let you write your own punch line to this.

As before, I mention all of these success stories for solar and wind energy as the stories need to get out. These are building energy sources, they are becoming much more affordable and scalable, they are creating jobs and they are continuing to be dismissed by the fossil fuel industry and the political party it funds. I worry about the GOP led NC state legislature who is talking about rolling back the 12.5% alternative energy requirement, who passed a fracking bill and wants to begin drilling with a stacked deck of fracking friendly oversight, and who dismissed a peer-reviewed rising sea level estimate that was similar to predictions made in Virginia, Louisiana and other coastal states and went with a looking backwards forecast that was 1/5 the estimated increase of the peer-reviewed report. Stephen Colbert rightfully lampooned the NC state legislature for their folly on holding back the tide with legal briefs. This was before Hurricane Sandy crushed New Jersey and New York due to coming ashore over higher sea levels.

Solar energy is a key part of the solution to our global warming crisis. Wind and other alternative energy sources play a key role as well. Plus, solar energy is much cleaner and will not pollute the environment with chemicals like many of the other solutions, fracking for natural gas and coal to name two. So, in my best George Harrison….here comes the sun doo-da-doo-dah, here comes the sun……and I say it’s alright……Let’s celebrate our many solar successes and spread the sunshine.

If I were a groundhog in the US….

If I were a groundhog in the US, I would consider going back in my hole. Otherwise, I might get shot. In my newspaper yesterday, the first day of February, there were four stories on gun death that were headlined or sub-headlined under the category “Briefly” which notes news nuggets or updates. I guess since three of these stories were under this category, it shows how routine gun deaths have become in America. Since we lead the civilized world with 80% of the gun deaths of the top 23 wealthiest countries, the comment about routine is on the mark.

So, let’s at least honor the deceased by mentioning these four stories. I will give you the headline then a brief synopsis.

Teen accused of killing his grandmother appears in court – Seventeen year old Clayton Eli Watts and two others are accused of killing Watts’ grandmother Jimmie Diane Paul. The victim was described as a bubbly woman who cared for others. One of Watts’ neighbors said “he was such a good boy.” I add this as it appears often in these stories and goes back to a post I wrote ten days ago – “How do you know who the good guys are?”

Police: Teenager shot by fellow student at GA middle school A student opened fire at his middle school Thursday afternoon, wounding a 14 year-old in the neck before an armed officer working at the school was able to get the gun away (I know this is not a gun death, but could have been). Access to guns. Access to guns Access to guns. If you have guns at home, lock them up. Responsible gun owners know this and realize its importance.

Phoenix office shooter found dead of apparent suicide – A man who shot and killed a call center CEO and wounded a lawyer where they were meeting to discuss a contract dispute was found dead early Thursday of an apparent suicide. Arthur Douglas Harmon, age 70, died of an apparent self-inflicted gun shot wound ending a 24 hour man-hunt. I will let you draw your own conclusions as we don’t know what went through his head. Yet, I am troubled by the fact a man would bring a weapon to a contract dispute. Again, this goes back to our need for civil discourse. This is not a movie or video game – you cannot kill someone who disagrees with you.

County prosecutor killed near North Texas courthouse – An assistant district attorney (DA) was shot and killed near the courthouse where he worked. A masked gunman shot Mark Hasse, the DA, multiple times in the parking lot at 9 am as Hasse was headed into work.The killer is still at large. The police are searching through the DA’s cases for clues as to who may have done this apparent targeted shooting.

These are four stories that appeared yesterday. I would ask you to do a test over a week’s worth of news. Tally the number of gun shootings and deaths that occur in the paper over a week. If these occurred on February 2 – Groundhog’s Day – the critter would have gone back in his hole. This is the bigger context for why our country needs to do something. I said it over the summer after Aurora in “Another day in America: a sixteen year-old kills thirteen year-old friend.” If you do not care about the adult shootings at least care about the kids – per the same study which I cited the 80% statistic above, it is not the worse one for the US. 87% of all children gun deaths of the top 23 wealthiest countries are in the US. And, there have been over 119,000 children and teen gun deaths in America since 1979.

As a parent and citizen, I find these numbers shameful for America. Countries around the globe think the US is the wild, wild west. Guns have always been a part of our fabric, but due to market segmentation and money, gun ownership has become a wedge issue and something that has gone way beyond the intent of the Second Amendment. Since Constitutionalists like to cite the purity of the Second Amendment, then we should use the context of when it was written to say the following:

If the Second Amendment need not be reviewed in the context of today’s time and must be viewed in the context of the time of our founding fathers then it could be argued that women nor African-Americans of any gender have the right to own a gun. The constitution was written for a free white male society, so if we want to be literal about the Second Amendment, then we need to be literal about everything. So, women and African-Americans you are not afforded the same rights as white men and cannot own a gun.

My point is all laws have to be reviewed over time. Slavery was wrong and after a painful war and 100 ensuing years, African-Americans were afforded the same liberties as others. We still have issues, but the Civil Rights Act remedied constitutional shortsightedness. The same could be said about Women’s Suffrage. It took almost 150 years for Congress to remedy the slight to women on voting rights. The Second Amendment served a purpose, but the NRA and its more strident followers seem to believe what they think it intended need not be reviewed and reconsidered. The current context does not preclude the duty to rethink our laws and their applicability.

Last night on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Sam Harris who has angered both sides of the gun control issue said basically gun ownership should be more like getting a pilot license. You should have to go through a thorough background check and be trained before you get one. There should be no exceptions. I agree. The police want us to register the bullets so crimes can be solved more easily. I agree.

We also need more training in schools and by parent(s), teachers, clergy, Sunday school teachers, mentors and other adults, that civil discourse is needed. It is OK to argue, but do not feel you are being treated without respect if someone disagrees with you. We need to openly discuss how to argue and advocate for your position. Gun deaths are occurring more often due to access to guns following heated arguments.

We also need better access to mental health treatment and remove the stigmas. 20% of people will need mental health assistance or medication during their lifetime. 10% of any employer’s health care members are taking medication for a mental health issue. I have noted before my concern over weapons on college campuses where depression has a higher propensity. Kids get away from parents and think the world is their oyster and realize they have to work hard to succeed and not everything is as imagined. All it takes is one impulsive, bad decision married with gun access and a student’s life is over. Not off the subject, but there have been studies that show the presence of a gun heightens suicidal tendencies.

We need to look at the violence of movies and video games. There is a correlation in our society, but is it causal in any way? Is it causal when other factors are present? I do not know, but this something we need to look into. I go back to the late 1970’s when gun deaths started ending crime shows as it tied up the bad guys in a neat fashion. Now, everyone is slaughtered by guns. Yet, as I have pointed out to my kids, have you noticed the good guys always shoot straighter than the bad guys in the movies? It does not work like that in real life. The bad guys can shoot as well.

We need to think about where we want to restrict guns. Guns should not be around bars or restaurants or any venue where alcohol is served. Period, end of story. Guns, testosterone and alcohol do not mix. Someone will get needlessly killed when these three ingredients are mixed. We have already seen an increase in fan violence without guns. It gets back to the civil discourse where arguments ensue over sports teams, usually with drunken patrons. At a NC State University football game two years ago, a drunken man was endangering others by driving fast around a parking lot. After being confronted by two good Samaritans, the drunk driver, went home, got his gun, came back and killed the two good Samaritans. Access to guns. Access to guns. Access to guns.

So, for all of us groundhogs and our groundhog children, please let’s address our runaway gun problem in America. It is shameful to be number one on the list of leaders in gun deaths. Most responsible gun owners agree.

Rainy Day People – Tribute to Gordon Lightfoot

With it raining cats and dogs outside tonight, this title has greater meaning. “Rainy Day People” is not necessarily my favorite Gordon Lightfoot song, but it describes my bride of 27 years. Why you might ask? Here is a glimpse of Lightfoot’s magical pen in this song:

Rainy day people always seem to know when it’s time to call

Rainy day people don’t talk…they just listen til they’ve heard it all

Rainy day lovers don’t lie when they tell you they’ve been down like you

Rainy day people don’t mind if you’re crying a tear or two.

My wife embodies rainy day people. She is a listener who people feel comfortable in being around; comfortable in confiding in. Gordon Lightfoot’s talent and the reason we both love his music is his ability to capture who we are. We saw him perform a few years ago. We enjoyed his music, but also his storytelling between songs. A man who could have many did not seem to have any airs.

His most famous song is “If You Could Read My Mind.” I think even non-Lightfoot fans could sing many of the lyrics of this song. Since it is so popular, I will skip over it to some of his lesser known, but also great songs. Another favorite is “Circle of Steel” because it tells a painful story of an alcoholic mother whose husband is incarcerated and who will lose her child in a week. The gripping, soulful lyrics include:

A child is born to a welfare case…where the rats run around like the own the place

The room is chilly, the building is old….that’s how it goes

A doctor’s found on his welfare round…and he comes and he leaves on the double.

The subject of the song is not heroic, but the words tell a story of how people struggle. Most of us don’t live in gated communities. Life is very hard for many.

For the romantic side in each of us, he write songs like “Beautiful” which has words like:

At times I just don’t know….how you could be anything but beautiful

I think that I was made for you and you were made for me

And I know that I will never change…’cause we’ve been friends through rain or shine

For such a long, long time.

He has written so many songs that were so well-loved others also recorded them. “Early Morning Rain” was sung by Elvis. “For Lovin Me” was sung by Peter, Paul and Mary. He also added a second song to the back of that one as the first part talked disdainfully to a woman scorned when the man said “that’s what you get for lovin me.” The added song he recorded had a lament “Did she mention my name” as the person who scorned his lover was feeling great remorse later on. Other great songs of his include:

“Whisper My Name”

“Sundown”

“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”

“Carefree Highway”

“Cotton Jenny”

“Old Dan’s Records”

“Summer Side of Life”

“Cold on the Shoulder”

And, countless others, that should not be construed less by my failure to list them. Yet, let me close with a self-portrait of Mr. Lightfoot, at least by my interpretation – “Minstrel of the Dawn.” In it he says:

The minstrel of the dawn is here….to make you laugh and bend your ear

Up the steps you’ll hear him climb….all full of thoughts, all full of rhymes

Listen to the pictures flow….across the room into your mind they go

Listen to the strings…they jangle and dangle…while the old guitar rings.

Words and music. To me this is what it is all about. Gordon Lightfoot would have been an excellent poet without his music. He was lesser known, but may have rivaled even Bob Dylan on his penning of songs. Maybe the fact one was from Canada and the other from Minnesota meant they had time to collect their thoughts when it was too cold to venture outside. Yet, with his music and armed with a better singing voice that Dylan could only dream of, he was the minstrel to all of us.

For our younger readers who may not know him as well, I would encourage you to take a plunge. You can start with the songs above, but that is only sticking a toe in the water. I invite other Gordon Lightfoot fans to offer their favorites whether listed above or not. “If you could read my mind love, what a tale my thoughts would tell….just like a paperback novel, the kind the drugstore sells.”

Gasland – A View of the Real Fracking Story

About this time last year, I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Sandra Steingraber speak to a group brought together by Clean Air Carolina and the Catawba Water Conservancy. I had been aware of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and had concerns, but came away with an epiphany. Dr. Steingraber, a biologist, ecologist, bladder cancer survivor and mother of two, has written two books “Living Downstream” and “Raising Elijah” and has testified in front of Congress, United Nations and European Union Parliament about the impact of chemicals in the environment. And, she will tell you fracking is one of the worst things we can do on our planet, unless your goal is to poison people. Two days ago, I had a second epiphany on the subject when I saw “Gasland,” a HBO documentary on the real story on fracking.

If you have not seen “Gasland,” I would encourage you to watch it and draw your own conclusions. It was conceived and directed by Josh Fox, who is a resident of Pennsylvania (PA) where fracking abounds. Yet, his film does not focus only on PA, as he travels the country to areas where fracking has been in existence for a few or many years. For those of you who get Time Warner Cable, it is in the free on-demand section of HBO under Feature Film Documentaries as of this writing. The movie is more poignant given its independent, low-budget approach of a young man talking with people whose lives have been changed forever. Of course, he could not talk with people no longer with us or the spokespeople of the companies who made a fortune fracking at the expense of others who elected not to speak with him.

If you do not have time to watch the film and want to get a quick view of the concerns over fracking, you are welcome to click on a post I wrote back on April 22, 2012 called “The Perils of Fracking.” There are some other posts you could check out, but another post written on June 8, 2012 you may want to pay attention to came from Steingraber’s “Living Downstream” which is entitled “The Precautionary Principle.”

I don’t want to take away from the power of Fox’s movie “Gasland.”  These stories need to be seen and heard. These are the real people impacted by fracking that have been purposefully lied to and ignored and until they became a nuisance and were paid a pittance to be quiet as the fracking company moved on. Or, they may have been provided with some make-shift filtering system that could not possibly filter out the danger. I came away sad, mad and disillusioned that our country could let these people down like this. How could our country purposefully pass legislation giving fracking companies a “Get Out of Jail Free” card?

What do I mean by this statement? Our former Vice President Dick Cheney used to be CEO of Halliburton, the pioneer in fracking technology. In addition to having petroleum lobbyists lead the White House Council on the Environment, where they deleted any references to “global warming” or “climate change” in scientific papers, there were two major actions that gave free rein to the fracking companies, one of which was Halliburton. The first came when Cheney helped get a law passed the sold mineral rights on our public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. On our public land, fracking companies now had the right to come in a frack. This land was garnered in large part by Teddy Roosevelt to protect water sheds and create public parks open to the public. As we know, water is kind of important.

The second came as very brief provision of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 signed by President George W. Bush. Cheney was able to convince a friendly Congress to include a provision in the Act that prohibited the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating the frackers under the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. And, it was noted the fracking companies did not need to disclose the chemicals they added to the fracking water to make it easier to frack as they reduced friction, killed algae, broke down minerals and deposits.

Please re-read the bold language again as you likely did a double take as I did. You see the fracking water is so poisoned, it cannot be allowed to go back into the water table. But, water finds a way and it does get into the pure water shed. And, among many other toxic chemicals, glycol ethers are present which are as about as harmful chemicals to humans as you can find. According to Dr. Theo Colborn of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange in Colorado (she has degrees in pharmacology, epidemiology, toxicology, and water chemistry), these toxins cause the very maladies that have stricken the people living near fracking sites. And, she adds it is not just the water they drink. These people breathe the air 24×7 which is filled with the toxins released by the water blasted minerals. Ft. Worth, Texas has twice the level of air pollution that would be in evidence by their normal automobile traffic due to the thousands of fracking sites nearby.

Yet, with all of this said, I have even a greater concern over the use of water in the first place. It takes between 4 and 6 million gallons per fracking well per fracking episode. And, I learned from the movie that fracking wells are fracked up to as many as ten times. Water is very dear around the world and in this country. With the droughts in Kansas and Texas this summer, frackers were fighting farmers over water usage. People will say this does not affect them, but for you folks in Florida, your water was being trucked to Kansas to frack with.

At the end of the day, the Oil/ Gas Industry has a powerful lobbying effort and funds politicians in a significant way. That is why I asked you to read “The Precautionary Principle.” We need to do what other countries do and place the onus on the developer who will make the profit to prove that what they are doing is not toxic to humans. Their data, which is used in GOP led legislatures like in NC (who just approved in fracking) and  in wonderful TV commercials with an attractive spokesperson, is biased and misleading at best. These companies have a vested interest in the outcome. To state it simply, fracking is using our water with chemicals harmful to humans to do something. To have it not subjected to Safe Drinking Water Act is not only unethical, it is criminal and immoral.

So, please watch the movie and be diligent against more fracking. Water finds a way. So, do well compensated politicians. We have to be mindful of both.

Gun Deaths and the Bigger Context

As a parent, I am both saddened and angry over the tragic gun related deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary. Any senseless death is troubling, but when kids are murdered at such a young age, it goes beyond belief and we can only look to the heavens and ask why Lord? Yet, as tragic as all of these deaths are, a greater tragedy occurs everyday in America that when added up dwarf these deaths. Due to the accessibility of guns in our country, coupled with humans who get angry, impulsive and depressive, gun related deaths occur that could have been avoided if the guns were not at hand.

In August, I wrote a post called “Another Day on America – 16-year old kills 13-year old friend.” This post was written after the Aurora and Wisconsin shootings that occurred earlier this year. This post has been getting more hits of late, as it attempts to speak to this broader context. I would encourage you to scroll back and read the earlier post as I have some statistics that might be of interest. I will cite some of them below.

I am writing this now for two reasons. First, we can no longer tolerate the number of gun deaths we have in America. We are beyond the tipping point and must act. Second, some of the ideas thrown out to remedy the Sandy Hook type massacres will actually not solve that problem and will create far greater problems down the road. We have to look at the greater context at what is happening everyday in America.

Let’s set the stage with a couple of statistics noted earlier. Per the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery and Medicine, the United States has:

– 80% of all gun related deaths when measuring deaths in the top 23 wealthiest nations;

– 87% of all gun related children deaths of these same 23 countries; and

– 14 gun related deaths per 100,000 people as compared to Mexico with 13, Canada with 4 and Great Britain with 1/2;

The comparison to Canada is very pertinent as Canadians love their guns like Americans. Yet, we have over 3x the gun related deaths that they do. There are many reasons noted in the earlier post – but Canada has better gun laws, less poverty and better access to mental health care as three of the reasons.

Quoting the NRA who likes to pontificate “guns don’t kill people – people kill people” I find this trivializes the point. The more true phrase is people who have access to guns kill people. And, generally, the converse is true – people who do not have access to guns don’t kill people. The greater context to this issue is humans are an impulsive, imperfect lot. As noted earlier, we get angry with family, friends, acquaintances, enemies and people who we perceive as treating us with disrespect. Every day in America, someone has killed another person as he or she has acted impulsively and was in close proximity to a weapon. Someone got mad in a Pizza parlor the other day, went out to his car, retrieved a gun, went back inside and killed the person who offended him.

However, it goes beyond this. In my previous job, I sometimes consulted with a Behavioral Psychologist who helped employers provide improved mental health benefits in their healthcare plans for employees. She often cited two statistics that resonated with me – 20% of people will at some point in their lives have mental health issues needing treatment. At any given time, 10% of an employer’s healthcare plan participants will be accessing mental healthcare treatment. This treatment may be as simple as being prescribed with antidepressants or it may include ongoing therapy. Her modus operandi was to get people with antidepressants prescribed by a medical doctor to also see a therapist. The meds help, but the care by a professional psycho-therapist is crucial.

With access to guns, people who have been or are subject to depression, could act on an impulse and take their own life. Or, if affronted, could possibly take the lives of others. This is a key reason letting kids have guns on college campuses is about the dumbest idea possible. You marry complex social circumstances with kids being away from home and without fully developed brains, the kids could more easily act out an impulse and their life is over.Without the gun, the suicide may be avoided. I know of one college close to where I live that has allowed guns on campus. So, the outside chance of preventing a rare Virginia Teach shooting, may lead to more gun related suicides and homicides.

So, our leaders need to focus on the bigger context. We know where the NRA stands – they want to sell more guns. Everything else said by the NRA is dwarfed by that mission. People wanting to arm everyone should be thanked for their comments and then quickly ignored as those ideas are ill-conceived. You give a teacher a gun and I can assure there will be more children deaths due to kids finding a loaded gun in the classroom. In Gun Ownership 101 it says keep loaded guns away from the kids.

At its simplest, getting a license for owning a weapon that kills, should be harder to obtain than other licenses. Gun licensing needs to have a longer waiting period and thorough background checks should occur. To do otherwise is irresponsible, end of story. If you are under psychiatric care on meds, you need to bring a note from a psychiatrist or psychologist or no gun for you. We won’t let people in the military for some mental health reasons, but they can get a gun here. And, no one in America should have an automatic assault weapon. If you do and are not in law enforcement, then I question your motivations. The Brady Law which was let to expire in 2004 will address some of these issues, if reinstated. Yet, law enforcement officers have suggested another item that will reduce guns deaths – register the sale of bullets. The police say encoded bullets will become traceable and help solve crimes, yet the NRA is against this practice. If I were a leader, I would listen to my police force who does not have a vested interest in any decision.

However, as noted above, this is only half of the story. The other half is we must encourage better access to mental health care. If you are on meds prescribed by a MD, please go see a psycho-therapist, as well. A Medical Doctor is not trained in psychiatry or psychology. Further, please take your meds. This could be said about any medicine, but people in need often stop taking their meds to save money. The Affordable Care Act will help in this regard extending healthcare coverage. Finally, referencing the 20% mental health prevalence statistic noted above, please help eliminate the stigma around mental healthcare issues. Every family has or knows someone who needs recurring mental healthcare help. Living with mental illness is something that is and can be dealt with.

Let me conclude with two final contextual points. First, poverty is rampant in America with almost 50 million people in poverty. As a result, the opportunities for gun related crime are increased in America. This issue is complex and deserves its own post, but the distance between the haves and have nots in our country is not healthy for many reasons. We have to afford opportunities to work for reasonable pay.

Second, we have a more violent culture in the US than in other countries. We have far more violence in movies and TV and we have greater access to violent video games. This prevalence of exposure to violence in entertainment is highly correlated with gun deaths. Is it causal? More than likely. To demonstrate a point for the younger readers, in the 1970’s TV crime shows rarely ended with the death of the criminal – the criminal was taken off to jail. Yet, toward the end of that decade, the trend changed where the shows concluded more and more with the good guy killing the bad guy. Now, we have video games, where your character is the bad guy killing others.

This is a complex issue and deserves concerted attention. Yet, it also requires a focus on the greater context. Who, where, why and how are the gun deaths occurring across America? As tragic as the events of Sandy Hook, Aurora, Wisconsin, and Virginia Tech are, they are dwarfed by the many gun related deaths which occur every day in America. That has to be the focus of our mission to reduce gun related deaths.

Some More Good Economic News

For those outside of North Carolina, I apologize for this NC-centric good news report. Yet, I saw four articles in today’s paper that show continuing evidence of our improving economy or better stewardship. The first three of the articles are directly related to job creation. What caught my eye is the nature of the jobs – they were all manufacturing jobs being created in NC. I will save the fourth story on stewardship until later.

Three Job Creation Stories

As reported in The Charlotte Observer:

– Herbalife, a nutrition firm based in Los Angeles, is purchasing a closed Dell processing facility in Winston-Salem, NC which totaled 750,000 square feet and will be refitting it to be an East Coast production facility. They plan to employ 500 people over the next three years. This firm produces weight-loss, nutritional and personal care products.

– A subsidiary of Canadian based Gildan Activewear called CanAm Yarns LLC will be opening a new yarn spinning  facility in Salisbury, NC revamping a 400,000 square foot building. This is their third facility in NC and will employ 170 people.

– Paumac Tubing who manufactures steel, stainless steel and aluminum tubing for agricultural, heavy truck and bus markets is opening a new plant in Statesville, NC. This 75,000 square foot plant will employ 75 people. Paumac, a Michigan based company, is the second national metalworking company to open a plant in Statesville in three months.

By my count that tallies to 745 jobs, which is not a huge amount, but shows the path forward for many companies. The continuing recovery will be built on these smaller types of expansions, although 500 jobs for one company could be viewed as more than small. The fact they are manufacturing jobs is also telling as there is a building movement to create more manufacturing jobs on these shores. It also shows the global nature of our economy as one of the companies is a Canadian company.

Fourth Good News Story is a Cautionary Tale

The last story is not about job creation, but is about making someone pay for fraudulent activity at worst and poor stewardship at best. A few weeks ago I reported on the “Health Care Industrial Complex” which discussed the business of health care. The point of that post is hospital management oftentimes is motivated to improve revenue with less concern for quality of care. In today’s edition of The Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News and Observer, it was reported that one hospital has agreed to pay a fine for such behavior. WakeMed based in Raleigh agreed to pay $8 million to settle an investigation into its practice of billing Medicare for expensive overnight stays when the patients were discharged the same day. Per The Charlotte Observer article, while the President of the hospital said no criminal activity occurred and it was all a misinterpretation, the court documents indicated “some WakeMed managers were aware of the billing practices.”

I thought I would italicize and embolden the last statement. When I hear people say we do not need regulations, this is representative of the kind of stories we should point to. By the way, since we pay a half the cost of Medicare through payroll taxes and our employers pay the rest, the hospital is in essence defrauding us.

So, good news abound, except for our WakeMed management who at best showed poor stewardship. If they did know, then it is fraudulent behavior. Yet, having worked for various companies for 33 years, I am certain the other employees of WakeMed are glad that someone is highlighting and hopefully stopping the bad behavior that occurred within their ranks. I am certain they take more pride in their organization than certain leaders who were gaming the system. But, let me close with pending congratulations for the 745 new hires that will be occurring due to the job growth news above.

 

Per Bloomberg – “It’s Global Warming, Stupid”

The above was the title of the most recent Bloomberg Business Week report. As many of you know, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City publicly endorsed President Obama late this week primarily due to his position and work to date on addressing the impact of global warming with mpg standards and investment in alternative energy sources. I am hoping this is a tipping point for our country.

In earlier posts, I have noted the positives in the President’s record, but as a country we should be doing even more. Yet, when contrasted with an opposing party who will not publicly recognize what the rest of the world knows that global warming is here, man-influenced and a problem, the President is light year’s ahead of Governor Romney and his party. My broken record commentary regarding my greatest concern for a GOP White House is retrenching on any efforts to combat global warming. Germany is ten years ahead of us which is about the same number of years President Bush was in office where we did little in this regard.

Rather than repeat earlier posts, I am going to highlight a few that people may want to look over. I did want to speak clearly that what is happening in the northeast is no longer an anomaly and the “storms of the century” are happening at a greater clip. I watched “Real Time with Bill Maher” last night. First, there was James Balog, the most prolific global warming photographer, on the show who scrolled you through comparative pictures of global warming impact. Second, one of the Republican guests noted we had a period in the 1950’s when a couple of severe storms hit in close proximity, so he was not sure what is different.

That comment understates the current problem. First, the storms are more severe and frequent than before. Second, as reported by PBS Newshour a few months ago, a climate scientist stated the rising sea level is like elevating a basketball court. So, when the hurricanes blow ashore, the water is starting at a higher level, so using his analogy it is easier to dunk a basketball with an elevated court. The high tides from the hurricanes do greater damage and the water stays when the tides retreat. This is what is happening in New Jersey and New York City.

I would encourage you to read a few past blogs. I am going to start with a monetary one based on a global study by Mercer Investment Consulting and major pension trust fund managers around the world. Why? Because the cost of not acting will cost more later than by planning ahead and I thought this might appeal to people who don’t want to lose their money.

July, 2012 Archives – Climate Change and Your Money

October, 2012 Archives – Global Macro Trends we need to discuss more

September, 2012 Archives

– What do 97% of Scientists yet only 26% of Congressional Republicans Believe

– Romney mocks Obama on his pledge to slow the rise of the ocean

– Two More Good News Stories (previous good news stories in June and August)

July, 2012 Archives

–  An Oasis of Innovation in Texas

– When the well runs dry, we learn the value of water

June, 2012 Archives

– As a Little Island is Consumed

– The Precautionary Principle

May, 2012 Archives

– Climate Change – It’s Time we got Serious

April, 2012 Archives

– Conservation is the Key to our Future

March, 2012 Archives

– Environmental Crisis – Raising All of our Elijah’s

There are more stories peppered throughout and before March of this year. Yet, the above will give you the gist of my concerns. You will note, I have packaged together what Dr. Sandra Steingraber has raised as a major concern. As the planet continues to heat up, the crock pot of chemicals we have in our water and earth will cook as well, so we are in greater danger than is just envisioned by more obvious climate issues.

For my Republican friends who may be condescending and use that “tree hugger” label to belittle these concerns, I have a few comments. First, I strongly encourage you to read the aforementioned Mercer study under “Climate Change and Your Money.” We are talking about real money here. Second, you are damn right I am a tree hugger and why aren’t you? If you read Dr. Steingraber’s books, you will have an entirely different perspective on your oil/ gas industry and petro-chemical industry friends and know why they are spending so much money in this election and why they want to hobble the EPA.

Folks, this is important. And, if we don’t get this right, the other issues won’t matter. We are not just talking about impacting our kids and grandkids anymore. It is here.