Being candid on obvious concerns

Last night, “60 Minutes” did a piece on the continuing forest fires in Australia. The risk has heightened due to climate change on this very hot and dry continent.

One of those whose home has been destroyed is incredulous by the lack of planning and execution by the prime minister and government. She said our country is on fire and the risk will continue and they cannot focus on that? Another person joined others and refused to shake the prime minister’s hand saying “you’re an idiot, mate.”

Not to be outdone, former conservative PM Malcolm Turnbull noted climate change is making the Australian forest fires worse. He referred to climate change naysayers in his own party as “idiotic.”

Their candor is needed. In the US, Republican lawmakers are now pushing the planting of a million trees. This is a good start, especially after twenty years of varying degrees of climate change denial, but addresses only one side of the issue. We need to also stop putting so much carbon and methane into the atmosphere as well as taking carbon out of the air with more trees (and other measures).

I am not advocating the use of derogatory terms like idiot or idiotic, but in the case of the current Australian PM, Scott Morrison, many would not shake his hand after he took a planned vacation to Hawaii while the fires were raging back home. That was not the wisest of moves.

Dark Waters is a must see

On Friday, I went to see the movie “Dark Waters” about a long uphill battle some West Virginia families had against Dupont. Mark Ruffalo stars and co-produces the film, playing the attorney, Rob Bilott, who fought so long and hard as a favor to his grandmother. The movie also stars Anne Hathaway as his wife, Tim Robbins as his managing partner and Bill Pullman and is directed by Todd Haynes. Some of the families impacted by Dupont and involved in the court cases show up in cameos throughout the movie.

The movie is a must see. Your emotions will flow with Bilott’s throughout the movie. You will be inspired by his courage and tenacity and that of the first client a farmer named Wilbur Tennant, ably played by Bill Camp. You will also be saddened by how a company could cover-up for decades they were harming their employees, community and the buying public. Yes, we too, are also impacted by this story. Not to spoil the plot any further, but the word “Teflon” plays a key role.

Like “Erin Brockovich” before it, these movies should not have to be made. Companies need to do the right thing. Yet, when government agencies ask the companies and industry to police themselves, short cuts are made and information is hidden. Think Boeing for a recent example. Dupont is not very happy this movie was made. They should not be as it paints them many times over in a very poor light. They had many opportunities to do the right thing, but did not until their hand was forced. Even then, it had to be reinforced.

I will stop short here. Please go see it. Make sure the kids see it, as well. This is why our voices matter.

These Alaskans moved their village due to climate change

Climate change is no longer a futuristic concern. People, governments and businesses are responding to issues today whether it is sunny day flooding in coastal cities, increased magnitude and frequency of forest fires or stalled weather patterns causing more flooding or droughts.

Venice is an important face of rising sea levels, but Miami is the most at risk major city in the world say climate scientists. Yet, a town in Alaska has been forced to plan and move their town inland today.

An NPR story by Greg Kim earlier this month was entitled, “Residents Of An Eroded Alaskan Village Are Pioneering A New One, In Phases.”

“It’s finally moving day in Newtok, Alaska, the village where erosion has already claimed several homes and the river is banging on more doors. Newtok is sending a third of its residents across the Ninglick River this year, to its replacement village, Mertarvik. Decades of planning have built up to this moment.”

An earlier story from September noted, “In mid-October, Newtok will move one-third of its roughly 350 residents to a new village currently under construction on higher ground 9 miles away. The move will mark a sober milestone: Newtok residents will be the first Americans to be relocated because of the effects of climate change.”

Two things stand out. The Newtok citizens have been planning this move for over 25 years. While that may surprise some folks, we have known about climate change and rising sea levels for some time. Exxon Mobil is in court for misepresenting the impact of climate change to shareholders, but much of the prosecutor’s data comes from suppressed data from Exxon Mobil scientists. These scientists used to speak to groups about climate change concerns until management told them to stop. Shell Oil even produced an educational video on climate change concerns in the 1990s.

While these firms have moved to a naysaying strategy fueled by a Public Relations firm, they know the hard truths. And, if they forget, their shareholders voted that management tell them.

Newtok will not be the last US town or city which may need to move. Please remember the term sunny day flooding, as it represents days when sea water leave standing water in the streets of these cities.

You don’t have to be an expert to make a difference

“You don’t have to be an expert to make a difference.” Gerald Durrell

Who is Gerald Durrell? If you watched the BBC show “The Durrells in Corfu,” you would know Jerry was the young boy who loved all animals, birds, reptiles and insects. This true story was based on this progressive zookeeper’s book “My family and other animals,” which was a best seller in the UK in the 1950s.

The context for the quote was his warning that humans were destroying the forests to harvest the wood and farm the land. We were killing off the homes to many animals. This was prescient and could reemphasized today.

Yet, the quote applies to so much more. We do not have to be expert on climate change to make a difference. We do not have to be expert on the long lifespan of plastic to use fewer plastic contsiners. We do not need to be an expert to know we need to use our water resources wisely.

And, to Durrell’s point, we do need to be an expert to preserve and replenish forests. Trees, mangroves, etc. are also carbon eaters, so it is not just the animals we are protecting. Remember the title of the best seller above.

The Good and Bad

Several stories crossed my screen, so I decided to pair good and bad news items on related topics.

Good: Ford and Volkswagen are co-investing in developing electric vehicles sharing development costs.

Bad: In spite of the significant decline in bee populations, the Trump administration has approved a bee-harmlng pesticide.

Good: The American economy is now into its 121st consecutive month of growth with nine straight years of 2 million plus jobs created.

Bad: The 2019 economy has softened some from 2018 due to trade/ tariff concerns, slowing global markets, waning impact of the 2017 tax law, growing US debt, and increased uncertainty which impedes investment and it should slow even more as predicted by economists.

Good: The interest in space travel and exploration involves an increasing number of countries – Japan and China have gone to the moon, eg. That spawns more interest in science which is terrific.

Bad: With the heavy cost of space travel, why don’t countries share the burden as Ford and Volkswagen are doing above? There is a lot of dupication of effort requiring money that could be invested here on earth to address water, food and climate issues.

Good: In spite of the US announcing a withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Accord, other countries, states, cities, investment groups, companies and innovators continue to execute ideas that are addressing the issue.

Bad: The US federal governmenf needs to do more, not less to abet these efforts. Yet, another concern is getting little notoriety – the global water crisis, which is made even worse by climate change. Another city in India of 5 million people is in dire straights as its reservoir has almost dried up.

We should celebrate the good, but address the bad. We seem to be ignoring too many signals. It is hard to move forward, if we only look in the rearview. mirror. Food, water, climate, debt are signaling needs that must be addressed.

 

 

 

Rachel Carson, a silent, but forceful hero

It is hard to go against the grain. It is especially hard when you are a 5’4″ woman in a man’s scientific world that boldly said we can tame nature. Yet, when Rachel Carson wrote her provocative book “Silent Spring” in 1962, she rocked the world of the chemical industry. PBS’ “American Experience” has an excellent episode on Carson.

While her book was fiercely discredited by various “throw something against the wall” attacks by the chemical industry, it helped define how we need to proceed with more precaution. It laid bare the hubris of those who felt they could control nature.

It also started a grassroots environmental movement. Within ten years, the toxic chemical DDT would be banned and the Environmental Protection Agency would be created. Her testimony to Congress abetted these efforts. The Cuyahoga river in Cleveland catching fire also was a clarion call. Yet, she would not live to see them. She had cancer when she was being interviewed and testifying to Congress dying in 1964.

“Silent Spring” was her fourth best seller. The first was her “The Sea Around Us” published ten years earlier. Her first topic called upon her marine biology degree and work at the National Wildlife and Fisheries Department. Her first published book in 1941 called “Under the Sea Wind” was re-released after the second one’s success and sold well. Her “The Edge of the Sea” published in 1955 also was a best seller.

Her voice came at a time when “more chemicals” was the answer to any question. She was troubled that our arrogance was getting ahead of our wisdom. Her voice gained footing when it became apparent some fishermen had radiation poisoning from drifted winds from a hydrogen bomb test. But, she had been concerned about the unbridled use of pestiides for years.

A few chapters of “Silent Spring” were printed in The New Yorker and caused such an uproar that a Science Commission was set-up even before the book was released. President Kennedy made reference to Carson in a Q/A with reporters. She understood the use of pesticides is necessary – her main thrust is we need more testing before they are used. The chemical industry went after her and said she was undermining progress. She was called a communist and her data was more anecdotal. And, the fact she was a woman unnerved industry scientists, who felt she was infringing on their turf.

The book was a runaway best seller. It was highlighted in 70 newspapers. When she answered her critics, only then did they realize the power of her calm and informed voice. They were unable to silence her, though they gamely tried to stop a CBS Special Report featuring an interview with Carson. While two sponsors were pressured to drop out, CBS held their ground. For every question answered, there were 100 more raised.

The CBS Special Report was seen by as many as 15 million people. Carson was quite believable.  It was so impactful, a Congressional Committee was set-up the next day. A few months later, the earlier established Kennedy commission verified her findings as vindication.

As she told Congress we must measure the hidden costs against the potential gains. Shouldn’t we do that with every issue? And, for that she was vilified. However, her most telling testimony is our children have been born into this chemical age and we don’t know the full impact on their lives. As one historian noted in the “American Experience” documentary, she caused a “paradigm shift.” Thank you Ms. Carson.

Citing climate differences, Shell walks away from U.S. refining lobby

Last month. Reuters wrote an article entitled “Citing climate differences, Shell walks away from US refining lobby.” Here are the lead paragraphs.

“Royal Dutch Shell Plc on Tuesday became the first major oil and gas company to announce plans to leave a leading U.S. refining lobby due to disagreement on climate policies.

The review is part of Shell’s drive to increase transparency and show investors it is in line with the 2015 Paris climate agreement’s goals to limit global warming by reducing carbon emissions to a net zero by the end of the century.

It is also the latest sign of how investor pressure on oil companies, particularly in Europe, is leading to changes in their behavior around climate. Last year, Shell caved in to investor pressure over climate change, setting out plans to introduce industry-leading carbon emissions targets linked to executive pay.”

Shell is not the first oil company to cave to investor pressure. Exxon Mobil and Occidental Petroleum (along with utility PP&L) have to inform shareholders of their progress to addressing climate change after shareholder votes required them to do so. Exxon also has two lawsuits it is dealing with accusing them of misleading investors on the financial impact of climate change.

Climate change is real and is impacting us now. The greater number of sunny days coastal flooding, increased number of droughts, increased and more severe forest fires and the added flooding due to slow moving storns are traceable to the impact of climate change, so says climate scientists. I encourage you to ask politicians what they propose to do about this existential threat to our future. If they do not respond or fail to offer any tangible ideas, do not vote for them. We must move forward as we have squandered much of our window to act.