The battle over the fate of the Bristol Bay watershed in southwestern Alaska—one of the most abundant sources of salmon in the world, a boon to local native towns, and home to some of the largest untapped gold mines in the country—staggers on. In its waning days, the Bush administration submitted a plan to open up a million acres of the region to mining projects and oil and gas leasing. But in the latest development, a cadre of sportsmen and conservation groups are petitioning the Obama administration to ban those operations. They recently sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar expressing fear that the projects could damage the local fishing industry and leech the harmful, toxic kind of waste generated by industrial mines into the surrounding ecosystems. "We look forward to working with the BLM as we move quickly to reverse the wrong-headed decisions that were made in the closing months of the last administration and implement a common sense plan for fish and wildlife in Bristol Bay," the letter says, the AP reported.

This tussle over the fate of Bristol Bay isn't new. Indeed, one of the most incisive and vivid accounts of a similar struggle over the Pebble Mine, near the BLM's proposed mining area, appeared here in 2006, in a piece titled "The Midas Touch" by Kenneth Miller. Miller traveled to isolated Igiugig, Alaska to see the forces and characters at play (like fisherman, lodge owner, and former pro hockey player Brian Kraft) in this saga. He described their problem like this:

Kraft’s attachment to this stretch of clear, swift water goes deeper than the bottom line. “This river is a powerful living thing,” he tells me, a note of awe softening his usually blunt delivery. “It’s alive, and it’s carrying life. It’s in my blood.” It is also, he says, under mortal threat. At the north end of Iliamna Lake, a company called Northern Dynasty Mines aims to unearth what may be the largest gold deposit—and the second-largest copper deposit—in North America. The proposed Pebble Mine complex would cover some 14 square miles. It would require the construction of a deepwater shipping port in Cook Inlet, 95 miles to the east, and an industrial road—skirting Lake Clark National Park and Preserve and traversing countless salmon-spawning streams—to reach the new harbor. At the site’s heart would be an open pit measuring two miles long, a mile and a half wide, and 1,700 feet deep. Over its 30- to 40-year lifetime, the Pebble pit is projected to produce more than 42.1 million ounces of gold, 24.7 billion pounds of copper, 1.3 billion pounds of molybdenum—and 3 billion tons of waste.

More than three years later, it remains to be seen whether the Pebble Mine or the larger mining area under review by the BLM will get the green light or not. The latter decision, a Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman told the Anchorage Daily News, rests in Salazar's hands now. As Miller points out, the consequences of allowing more industrial mining into Bristol Bay could be disastrous not just to the environment, but to life as those who live there know it. Here's hoping Salazar is bearing that in mind.

Further to Andy Kroll's blog post on artificial trees... that report from the UK's Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IOME) argues that without geoengineering it will be impossible to avoid dangerous climate change. The report includes a 100-year roadmap to decarbonize the global economy and suggests implementing three geoengineering projects based on low-carbon technologies:

  • Algae-coated buildings: The engineers envision attaching transparent containers filled with strips of algae to the outside of buildings and since algae naturally absorb CO2 in the course of photosynthesis, the strips could be harvested periodically from the surfaces and used as biofuels.
  • Reflective buildings: The report suggests reducing the amount of solar radiation absorbed by the earth’s climate and, hopefully, cooling the planet. This could be achieved simply and quickly by making building surfaces more reflective. Some of us have've written here about the potential for cooling in white roofs and better highways.

The IOME report forecasts 1 to 2 million new green jobs in the UK by 2050 based on these three initiatives alone. So many good ideas. So few implemented. Let's change that.

 

 

Joe Romm says that although the Cash for Clunkers program was never meant to be a cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions, in the end it turned out to be very effective indeed:

In the real world, the public has mostly turned in gas-guzzlers in exchange for fuel-efficient cars — which perhaps should not have been a total surprise since oil prices are rising, gas guzzlers remain a tough resell in the used car market, and most fuel-efficient cars are much cheaper than SUVs.  So as a stimulus that saves oil while cutting CO2 for free — it has turned out to be a slam dunk, far better than I had expected.

....Let’s assume the new cars are driven nearly 20% more over the next 5 years [compared to the old cars they replace], and that the average price of gasoline over the next five years is $3.50.  Then we’re “only” saving 140 million gallons a year or roughly $500 million a year.  The $3 billion program “pays for itself” in oil savings in 6 years.  And most of that oil savings is money that would have left the country, so it is a (small) secondary stimulus.

Using a rough estimate of 25 pounds of CO2 per gallon of gas (full lifecycle emissions), then we’re saving over 1.5 million metric tons of CO2 per year — and all of the ancillary urban air pollutants from those clunkers — for free.

I wouldn't make a habit out of supporting targeted industry programs like C4C, but it was wildly popular, provided a modest but noticeable amount of economic stimulus, and helps reduce U.S. oil consumption.  Not bad for $3 billion.

Could a forest of fake, CO2-gobbling trees save the planet? 

On their own, no. But if successfully deployed, they might buy the planet some precious time as we try to end our addiction to fossil fuels and curb dangerous greenhouse gas emissions. At least that's what a new report released by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers says. The report's support for artificial trees (the scientists say about 100,000 would suffice) is the latest in the ongoing debate over geoengineering—the deliberate modification of the planet's atmosphere to slow global warming.

While earlier geoengineering schemes focused on blocking out solar radiation to reduce the heat trapped near the Earth's surface, current proposals like the one outlined in this new report are aimed at actually pulling existing CO2 out of the atmosphere. Which makes sense, because even if we stopped emitting carbon today, the CO2 already floating around could continue global warming for another 1,000 years. Those geoengineering trees, it seems, can't come soon enough.

England will be sending four clubs to compete in the European Champions League tournament, which begins group play next month.  Matchups were announced today, and apparently the topic on everybody's mind is whether they have to play anyone more than 90 minutes away:

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez: "The important thing as always is that the travelling isn't too bad. We don't have too far to go for any of the games."

Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon: "There isn't a lot of travel, though, so we have to be reasonably pleased with the draw."

Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis: "It is good to have relatively short travel times, that's something that Arsene (Wenger) thinks about a lot."

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson: "These are difficult ties, especially the trips to Russia and Turkey."

Seriously?  Anything more than a 2-hour plane ride is supposed to be a major drain on these guys?  Are they flying RyanAir or something?

Editors know that counterintuitive headlines sell magazines. They also know that making wildly exaggerated claims can damage their credibility. Writing a headline is often a balancing act between these two factors. So when you see a magazine like Forbes say that ExxonMobil is "Green Company of the Year," as it did this month, what it's really saying is that it's hurting. With advertising pages way down this year, the magazine feels the need to sell off its long-term credibility with some readers for the short-term gain of boosting page views. That, at least, is my take on what Forbes was thinking. Because there's simply no way that any serious reporter would wrap Exxon in a shroud of green.

Here's Forbes reporter Christopher Helman's argument in a nutshell: By next year, Exxon will become the world's top non-governmental producer of natural gas. Natural gas can replace coal in power plants, resulting in a 40 to 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. This would be the most cost-effective way to start addressing global warming. Therefore, Exxon is "Green Company of the Year."

Helman is not wrong, until he gets to the last part. His leap in reasoning is like saying that a military dictator is "Humanitarian of the Year" because he built 10 new hospitals, but failing to consider that he conducted a genocide. If that sounds a bit harsh, then consider the truly abysmal nature of Exxon's broader environmental record:

1.  Exxon has a long history of funding climate change deniers. And despite a 2008 pledge to discontinue contributions to groups "whose position on climate change could divert attention" from the need for clean energy, the company went right on funding them.

2.  Exxon is a leading opponent of the Waxman-Markey climate bill, the very legislation that would begin to price dirty coal out of the market. In May, the Exxon-funded Heritage Foundation released a wildly exaggerated study claiming that an emissions cap will kill millions of jobs and send gas to $4 a gallon (The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found middle-class households would pay only $175 a year more in 2020 because of the legislation).  And on August 18th, 3,500 energy workers rallied against the climate bill in a Houston demonstration organized by--you guessed it--Exxon and other energy companies, a leaked memo from the American Petroleum Institute reveals.

3.  The Exxon Valdez oil spill. See dictionary entry for "environmental genocide."

4.  Exxon is an aggressive player in Canada's tar sands, the world's top producer of ultra-dirty oil.

5.  The natural gas pumped by Exxon still contributes to climate change. Indeed, natural gas is currently responsible for about 20 percent of US carbon emissions. Curtis Brainard points out in his own takedown of the Forbes piece in the Columbia Journalism Review:

A recent study by Carnegie Mellon projected that replacing all coal burning with natural gas would significantly reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, but not enough to meet scientifically recommended targets for mitigating climate change. Moreover, it’s fairly ridiculous to suggest, as Helman does in the beginning of his piece, that natural gas will replace all coal burning any time in the near future.


Brainard goes on to point out that natural gas is a "bridge fuel," tiding us over until we're able to ramp up lower carbon alternatives. The race to create those alternatives and dominate an emerging global market in clean tech will be the biggest business story of the next decade--a story that Forbes seems to have forgotten.

Of course, the Forbes' approach clearly isn't about putting forth a coherent argument or roadmap to the future. Adding another layer of weirdness, there's an accompanying editorial that argues that "environmentalism is a religion, not a science" and "the very thesis that environmental carbon is bad is a matter of faith, not science." Really? So then why is Forbes hawking a 2,000-word feature on how Exxon is so great at cutting environmental carbon? Probably for the same reason that Exxon is pumping natural gas: Because there's money in it.


 

In his latest cartoon, satirist Mark Fiore takes on two types of Americans: Those who want guns, and those who want health care reform. Which is the most patriotic? Watch below to find out: 

Conservative historian Michael Knox Beran writes about Barack Obama and the Kennedy family:

President Obama may in time find it to his — and to his country’s — benefit to fix his gaze not on Ted, but on Jack. For in addition to his more superficial graces, President Kennedy possessed a degree of wisdom, which might be defined as grace of judgment. John Kennedy’s sentiments were liberal, but he knew that a wise president must have the country in his bones, must feel, as by instinct, the temper of the people, and must know what they will bear and what they will not. He was annoyed by those who, like Arthur Schlesinger Jr., urged him to be another FDR. Schlesinger, he said, wanted him to act as if it were 1932. But three decades had passed since 1932; the mood of the people, President Kennedy knew, had changed.

President Obama, if he reverences the memory of Ted Kennedy, would do well to eschew his politics. In joining the battle for health-care reform, Obama has entered on what promises to be the climacteric of his presidency. At so critical a juncture he needs to emulate, not the intoxicated extravagances of the late senator, but the sober moderation of his older brother, who knew that the world has indeed changed since 1932.

Actually, that's what I'm afraid of.  Like Obama, JFK had a charming manner, good judgment, a cool temperament, and liberal instincts.  What's more, as the Cuban Missile Crisis showed, he wasn't afraid to stand up to his advisors.  Obama has all these qualities too, which is why he so often seems like JFK's political heir.

But JFK was also famously cautious, dangerously mainstream on military and national security issues, better able to deliver inspiring speeches than to genuinely move public opinion, and had little sense of how to bend Congress to his will.  In the end, he left behind few accomplishments — a fate Obama risks sharing if JFK becomes too much a role model and too little a warning beacon.  Sober moderation may have its virtues, but worshipping at its altar isn't the stuff of great presidencies.

Are America’s law-and-order pols finally getting some humanity? Well, at least this week, at least in New York state, where Gov. David Paterson has signed a bill banning the shackling of incarcerated pregnant women during labor and recovery. Ever give birth? I haven’t, of course, but my wife can tell you it pretty much sucks. Now try it while cuffed to a hospital bed. At the time, our 2008 prison package, entitled Slammed: The Coming Prison Meltdown, noted that 48 states allowed shackling, which the College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist noted puts “the health and lives of women and unborn children at risk.”

This week, the American Civil Liberties Union told the Associated Press that, with New York, six states—including Texas, Illinois, California, Vermont, and New Mexico—will have prohibited the practice; two others, Massachusetts and Tennessee are considering bans. (The New York law still allows women to be shackled if their behavior is deemed a threat to hospital or prison guards, which is reasonable enough, although in the AP article, an ACLU laywer cited continuing complaints of shackling even in states where it is limited.)

In any case, it's a small, humane step for a very, very troubled American institution.

Follow Michael Mechanic on Twitter.






 

GQ has just released the first ever list of 25 Douchiest Colleges. Introducing its "heavily researched, possibly stereotypey, but still accurate guide," the editors write, "The question isn't whether you're a douche bag when you go to college. We were all kind of douche bags when we went to college, if we're going to be honest about it. No, the question for America's youth is: What kind of douche bag do you aspire to be?" According to their results, you should attend #1 Brown University if you are a "limousine liberal" douche bag who's interested in such courses as "On Vampires and Violent Vixens: Making the Monster Through Discourses of Gender and Sexuality."

GQ's list brings up some important questions that students should think about before they apply to colleges. For example:

Where can you go if you want to major in Jet Skiing? How about if you're a trust-fund type but are embarrassed about it? What if you want to lord your intelligence over people for the rest of your life, in the form of a bumper sticker?

It likely won't surprise you that many of the top scorers on GQ's list also rank high on US News & World Report's annual list of top colleges and universities. But none of 'em made it onto the 2009 "MoJo Mini College Guide," complete with some of the best schools you've never heard of that won't destroy your wallet, the best jobs that don't require a college degree, and some of the more... uh... creative funding options out there. Think of it as a college roadmap for the thrifty, progressive douche.