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Environment

Austin Stahl | as506610@ohiou.edu | @AustinStahl24

A recent Post letter caught my attention. It was written by Dylan Gustafson, a sophomore studying finance and the communication chair for the OU College Republicans, and talked about global warming. It can be read here.

Last week, the Ohio University College Republicans hosted Robert Wagner, a professor at Ohio State, to give a talk about global warming as part of their Conservative Week. The letter said“Professor Wagner himself is a skeptic of global warming and has gone around the country explaining and debating his own theories about certain occurrences in nature and their relation to the activities of the human population.”

Unfortunately, I had class and was not able to attend the presentation, but I decided to do some background research. The letter did not mention that Wagner is a professor of finance and economics at Ohio State University and is not an expert in the field of climate science.

Gustafson also claimed, “the topic of global warming and its validity isn’t going away anytime soon.”

I agree and disagree. Global warming certainly isn’t going away anytime soon — the earth will continue heating up whether we like it or not. However, the validity of it has already been established. There really is no debate over whether the earth is heating up; every temperature record will show that. The question is, how much of it is caused by humans?

Even here, scientists are almost unanimously in agreement that we are indeed contributing to climate change. According to a study published in the National Academy of Sciences, 97-98 percent of top climate scientists agree that global warming is attributable to human activity.

Gustafson also wrote, “It was rare that you turn on a television and saw a scientist or a professor talking about the facts in context or without political motivation. Most of the time, it was a politician and some piece of legislation he or she was going to bring to the floor of the House or Senate.”

Bingo. We have arrived at the problem. By continuing to make the debate political instead of scientific, we are hindering progress toward addressing the problem. If it were kept scientific without these outside political factors, there really would be no debate. The scientists are already in agreement.

Gustafson’s statement may be true, but I find it misleading, making it sound like all scientists and professors have political motivation behind their work. Perhaps it is rare to find something unbiased on TV, but there are many scientific articles and countless scientific studies that have nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with science.

It’s 2012 — one would hope we would have reached a consensus by now and be moving forward as a society, collectively working together to fight climate change. Instead, it remains a political football, where science is sometimes ignored in favor of “skeptics.”

Meanwhile, the earth continues to heat up, and more extreme weather events occur. Good luck, kids!

Austin Stahl | as506610@ohiou.edu | @AustinStahl24

Domestic drilling, a new way of providing solar energy, and the relationship between universities and corporations are examined in today’s articles.

 

1. “CBO Report: Boosting Oil Production Won’t Protect Americans From Gasoline Price Shocks

A report by the Congressional Budget Office shows that increasing domestic oil production does not decrease gas prices here in the U.S. If this is the case, why then would we push for domestic drilling like the Keystone Pipeline considering its severe consequences for the environment?

 

2. “How Your College Is Selling Out to Big Ag

Some major agricultural research universities see a major amount of their funding come from corporate agribusinesses. Is this a good thing, providing money for research? Or is it compromising the integrity of the schools and researchers?

 

3. “Solar Installers Offer Deals, Gaining Converts

Solar power offers probably the greatest potential of any renewable energy. Read how some solar companies are making it easier to get solar panels in homes. If we learn how to efficiently harness any substantial portion of the sun’s energy, we could solve all our energy problems.

Austin Stahl | as506610@ohiou.edu | @AustinStahl24

In case you haven’t already, check out today’s professor piece on the science and misinformation of global warming and climate change here. In light of this, global warming will be the focus of today’s articles.

1. “State of Charge: Electric Vehicles’ Global Warming Emissions and Fuel-Cost Savings Across the United States

Choosing what vehicle to drive is one of the biggest determining factors of our carbon footprints. Switching over to an electric vehicle can led to a significant reduction in both greenhouse gas emissions and fuel costs. However, much of it depends of how the electricity for your vehicle is sourced. This report breaks down the power grids in the U.S. and crunches the numbers for electric cars in terms of emissions and fuel costs.

2. “Heartland Institute Jumps the Shark

The Heartland Institute, a conservative and libertarian think tank that tries to undermine climate science and environmental regulations, ran a billboard that equated believing in global warming to being a terrorist. The sign said “I Still Believe in Global Warming, Do You?” with a picture of the man infamously known as “The Unabomber,” Ted Kaczynski. This witty column delves into the absurdity of the tactics and reasoning of this denialist group. Clearly, believing in science and global warming makes you a terrorist. Oh yeah, the Heartland President Joseph Bast didn’t apologize for the billboard either.

Here’s a picture of the billboard:

3. “Carbon Footprint Reduction

Lastly, here are some ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

Over the last decade, global climate change (often referred to as ‘global warming’) has moved considerably into the public’s attention. The concept, being both scientific and political, has not only been a topic of increased research, but has appeared in presidential debates, T.V. adds, numerous movies, and even charity work. Given its increased prominence in society, one would think that many would have a more complete understanding of the fundamental truths that encompass this broad area, but this is not the case. Perhaps due to the very media and politicians that have popularized the term, a large percentage of Americans remain skeptical about the issue, many without a firm reasoning to do so.

 

As a scientist who has studied climate change in the remote places of the Earth for over a decade, I stand firmly that the scientific evidence supporting climate change to be a real and potentially dangerous threat is overwhelming; that climate change is indeed occurring, and that man is the main mechanism to blame.  I am not alone in this belief, despite the fact that media and other popular outlets may try to convince you otherwise.

 

Ultimately, the debate about climate change isn’t usually about whether or not the Earth is warming; nearly every scientist studying the Earth’s climate and the majority of non-scientific lay people agree in this assertion, despite (small and inconsequential) errors in observations over the last century. Based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body of the top climate scientists worldwide, the Earth as a whole has warmed 0.74°C (1.33°F) over the last century, and this warming rate is accelerating each decade. Using ice cores and other long-term measurements that are natural recorders of temperature changes, there is less than a 10% chance that any other 50 year period during the last 500 years has been as warm as the last 50 years. In a long-term record from an Antarctic ice core, the last century clearly stands out as unusually warm compared to the temperatures during the last 600,000 years. These, and other telling pieces such as sea level rise, glacial retreat, and permafrost melting, are strong evidence that the world has indeed been warming.

 

The debate then stems to the causes of such warming, and herein resides the divide among a few scientists, as well as the lay public. Still, despite what public sources may have you believe, the majority of scientists believe that man, through increases in heat-trapping greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) spurred primarily from fossil fuel combustion, is the main cause. A considerably smaller sanction of scientists, as well as a large population of the American public, endorse the idea that the warming observed in the instrumental and other records is due to natural cycles in the Earth’s climate rather than any dominant man-made component. While it is very true that natural variability plays a large and central role in the climate from one year to the next, long-term trends in temperature from natural variability arise primarily from glacial (ice ages) to interglacial (ice-free) periods in Earth’s history. Those supporting the claim that the ongoing warming trend is due to natural causes largely suggest that our warming is tied back to the fact that we are still emerging out of the last ice age, which ended roughly 20,000 years ago.

 

Who are we to believe? Scientists make their assertions that man is primarily to blame through investigating numerous computer simulations of Earth’s climate, both from the past as well as several centuries into the future. These simulations are done by climate models, which attempt to predict climate by incorporating parameters and variables known to influence changes in the Earth’s atmosphere, ocean, land surface, and ice cover. The major benefit of using these simulations is that each component can be added or removed from the simulations in order to quantify that particular component’s role in forcing changes. Using these so-called sensitivity simulations, climate scientists have determined that changes in greenhouse gas concentrations are the dominant mechanism leading to the observed changes, and that natural mechanisms in the Earth’s climate system (those that exist independently of man) cannot alone explain the magnitude of the changes. Although these simulations are not perfect, the results are confirmed from over 5 dozen simulations from nearly 2 dozen different models generated by multiple countries worldwide. Indeed, being one of the few tools we have to attribute changes in temperature, the fact that these simulations all tell that greenhouse gases (and primarily carbon dioxide) are the dominant mechanism clearly demonstrate man’s important role in changing climate.

 

What then shall we do about this potentially dangerous crisis? First and foremost is increased education and awareness. We must continue to advocate good, credible science and increase awareness about this issue, including our own continuing education as research quickly progresses. Second, we must take our own steps to reduce, reuse, and recycle so that our carbon footprint is reduced; if multiple people adopted this mindset, the global demand for energy and resources could be substantially reduced. Lastly, we must continue to endorse leaders who have the same concerns for the environment as we do, hoping that long-term change and policy may eventually result. Altogether, we must strive to make this planet better. Indeed, when the 2007 IPCC report was a co-recipient with Al Gore of the Nobel Peace Prize, it was recognized internationally that understanding and promoting climate change is a prominent way to achieve global peace, avoid conflict, and protect and preserve the planet we all call home.

 

Dr. Ryan Fogt is an Assistant Professor of Meteorology in the Department of Geography.  He is also the director of the Scalia Laboratory for Atmospheric Analysis.  His research interests span a wide range of topics on climate variability and change, with a particular focus on Antarctica.

Austin Stahl | as506610@ohiou.edu | @AustinStahl24

Two days ago I wrote about a study examining the relative costs and benefits of organic and industrial agriculture. Today we will revisit that issue and look at some responsible business practices, activism and Warren Buffet.

1. “Time to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Industrial Agriculture?

Industrial or organic? That is the question. Tom Philpott breaks down the study that was published in Nature, a prominent scientific journal. For you science lovers, you can check out the study here.

2. “Extended producer responsibility gains traction in the US

What the heck is extended producer responsibility? Good question. Basically, it has to deal with companies taking responsibility for the waste they create. See what companies like Coca-Cola, Starbucks and Stonyfield are doing in this article.

3. “You shall not pass: Activists to block Warren Buffett’s coal trains

Cinco de Mayo isn’t the only thing happening this Saturday. Activists are also uniting around the country for Connect-the-Dots day.

Extractive industries, including coal and gas, figure prominently in the environmental history of Athens County. The social and physical landscape of our county is a testament to the enduring ramifications of the boom and bust fossil fuel economy. Coal mines brought jobs to the area and fueled the expansion of bustling mining communities one hundred years ago. However, the coal operations suddenly went elsewhere and left our region to grapple with unemployment and a tremendous amount of environmental degradation. Today, Athens County is home to small towns that never fully recovered economically from the loss of extractive industry. Our environment here continues to suffer from acid mine drainage into streams and rivers while high walls and other coal mine artifacts litter the landscape. Alleviating the injustices of poverty and environmental contamination has proven to be anything but assured nearly a century after the first wave of extractive industry left Athens County behind.

Today, extractive industries are paying renewed attention to Athens County and much of Southeast Ohio, and it seems energy companies make headlines everyday in our community. News reports tell us a corporation leased the right to extract coal from a proposed strip mine in Joy Hollow while other energy companies leased nearly 1/3 of Athens County for hydraulic fracturing. These economic developments have stirred up a tremendous amount of controversy in our county. Fracking in particular has caused a great deal of angst, pitting city against countryside and neighbor and against neighbor. Concerns about renewed fossil fuel extraction in our county have part of their basis in the consequential legacy of past extraction. Proponents of increased mining and drilling note that our economically depressed area never recovered from the boom days of coal mining and therefore needs new jobs from the same industry. Opponents are fearful these new energy companies will damage our water and air and then leave the county with high levels of unemployment once the fossil fuel resources are tapped out.

The decisions that govern the extraction of fossil fuels in Athens County are extremely localized- yet also made far away from our community. On the one hand, private property rights provide individual owners of land and mineral rights much leeway in terms of what they do with their property. In other words, the holder of these rights is generally not restricted from making a profit by selling his or her resources to another party. Preventing a landowner from disposing of his or her property is often considered an injustice within the framework of our private property laws. On the other hand, the regulation of extractive industry is found primarily at the level of state government. Governor Kasich and his colleagues in the state legislature are busy working on legislative actions that facilitate the extraction of shale gas specifically. In this instance, people in Athens County have relatively little ability to impose regulations on the fracking industry as state government consolidates its own power to regulate energy companies. This is important because concentrated regulatory power within the current state government likely translates into little regulation and oversight being placed on extractive industry in our community and region.

This focus of decision-making power is simultaneously in the hands of individual property owners and with ‘corporation-friendly’ state government, leaving communities within Athens County with little political clout to prevent the imposition of potentially damaging industries. This, I argue, is a form of environmental injustice whereby a group of people with collective and significant environmental concerns is left relatively powerless within formal channels of environmental governance. Of course, it is difficult to blame individual landowners in Athens County for seeking prosperity through the sale of their resources. However, the politics and power of decision-making in Ohio individualize the potential economic benefits of extractive industries while collectivizing the inherent risks like water and air pollution. Hypothetically speaking, it is difficult to imagine how landowners’ financial profit from leasing land to a fracking company justifies potentially contaminating an entire community’s water supply. Of course, the energy companies tell us their extractive methods are safe and that we need not worry about this kind of scenario.

Citizen groups in Athens County who are concerned about fracking and coal mining in our community are not willing to take industry and state agencies at their word. Instead, I believe these groups are working toward a common concept within the environmental justice movement called the Precautionary Principle. Under the Precautionary Principle industry and government should have to prove to communities before drilling or mining occurs that it will not cause harm to either the environment or to people. For this principle to be successful, however, individual communities will have to be able to garner more power over decisions regarding the imposition and regulation of extractive industries. This is no small feat, but through grassroots forms of direct political action, it is possible to put pressure on state politicians and landowners to consider community wellbeing before leasing lands to extractive industries. Environmental justice advocates would likely also remind us here that we cannot sacrifice human prosperity in economically depressed regions for the sake of environmental preservation alone. Therefore, the task of achieving democratic environmental decision-making is linked to new forms of community empowerment and development. All around us in Athens County and Southeast Ohio there is evidence that this kind of political mobilization is happening.

For more information visit:

http://lookbeforeyoulease.org/

http://ruralaction.org/

http://www.athensinteractivist.com/spring11-stories/mining.html

Harold Perkins is an assistant professor in the Geography Department at Ohio University. He conducts research on the political economy of environments, including claims for environmental justice.   

Austin Stahl | as506610@ohiou.edu | @AustinStahl24

Today’s first article shows that serious discussion was being had in the past about pursuing renewable energy on a larger scale. Five years later, as the central debate for today’s energy supply revolves around shale gas, I wonder what has happened. Are we regressing, relying more on fossil fuels just because we found a new supply of natural gas? It is worth taking a look at and giving some thought. The story of a school district and the enormous footprint of humans round out the rest of today’s environmental news.

1. “What’s So Bad About Big?

If alternative energy is going to compete cost-effectively with fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, it is going to have to be produced on a large scale. This article shows how some major wind and solar projects are underway to “scale up” the production of renewable energy. This article was written over five years ago, so my question is, where are the results? Why are we still pursuing new methods of fossil fuel extraction like hydraulic fracturing instead of aggressively pursuing renewables to meet our energy needs?

2. “Loveland High School Wins Prestigious Green Ribbon School Designation

It’s time for me to brag a little bit about my former school. The School District of Loveland, an eastside suburb of Cincinnati where I grew up, has proven itself a leader in green initiatives. Check out what they are doing in this article.

3. “Generation Anthropocene: Students grapple with our global impact

Have you ever stopped and really thought about the impact that humans have had on the earth’s environment? Our influence has been so big that science might soon recognize us with our own age, similar to the Ice Age or the period when an asteroid took out the dinosaurs. But we should not get too cocky – we are just a blip on the earth’s overall calendar.

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