Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Michigan's own little BP oil disaster! How cute.

Nearly one million gallons of oil has leaked into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River from a 30 inch pipeline carrying oil from Indiana to Ontario.

If we would replace the massive subsidies for oil with subsidies for biofuels and energy conservation instead, maybe this would have happened anyway. But it does point out the continuing environmental and public health costs of our reliance on fossil fuels. Police manning river access points. Dead fish washing up on riverbanks. Warnings not to fish in or have contact with the river. (photo courtesy Battle Creek Enquirer).


Monday, July 26, 2010

Cost of poisoning our kids with cheap stuff: $6 billion. Let's pay for safer kids' products rather than treating illness caused by cheap toxic crap

The Ann Arbor Based Ecology Center, using a formula from the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, has put a price tag on the cost of childhood illnesses attributable to environmental toxics in Michigan. It's just under $6 billion, or about 1.5 percent of the state's annual gross domestic product. If you want the short version and not the PDF file, and aren't reading this months after it was posted, the the Michigan Network for Children's Environmental Health site has it on the front page.

This will be useful data the next time legislators doing the bidding of industry lobbyists tie up bills that would allow parents to know what's in their kids' toys or stop the use of dangerous chemicals on kids' scalps or phase out toxic flame retardants in favor of safer alternatives.

Of course, opponents will cry that it will cost consumers more money (at the cash register) to make products that are safer for children. Which is a damn sight better than making consumers pay (through health insurance premiums) to care for kids made sick by their cheap, crappy, toxic products.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lead poisoning: How much of a factor in delinquency and violent crime?

Millions of children, including tens of thousands in Detroit, are afflicted with an illness that permanently lowers their IQ; damages their neurological systems and makes them prone to erratic, aggressive and violent behavior.

The affliction is lead poisoning, and we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that many of our children are suffering from it – through exposure routes including lead paint dust in old homes,contaminated soil in (mostly) urban areas and even children's toys. About 1 in 25 children tested nationally have elevated lead levels, more than 3 million kids. If this travesty were the result of bad children's vitamins or contaminated applesauce it would be front-page national news. Instead, it's been a slow, painful struggle to reduce kids' exposure to lead.

We’ve made great strides. Leaded gasoline was banned in the 1970s (over the strenuous objections of industry) and lead paint was banned in 1977 (over the strenuous objections of industry) and we’re cracking down on lead in children’s toys, too (over the strenuous….oh…you know the rest).
Yet there’s enough old lead hanging around to ruin the lives of families across the nation.

In 2002 I helped write a lengthy series of stories in the Detroit Free Press on lead poisoning in Michigan. During the course of research, we found a lot of evidence that lead poisoning was a significant factor in juvenile delinquency: Kids with this poison coursing through their veins were more prone to learning disabilities, violent outburst, anti-social behavior, etc.

That sort of thing is hard, perhaps impossible, to quantify. And it goes against the popularly held wisdom that delinquent children in the inner city are necessarily the result of single-parent households, the welfare state, or Democrats.

So I found it fascinating to read a short segment in "The Week" Magazine, exploring various explanations for recent decreases in crime nationwide:

One intriguing hypothesis about why Americans were so prone to violence in the 1980s was that many young people were suffering the effects of lead poisoning. The link between lead poisoning and aggressive or impulsive behavior is well established. And peaks in children’s exposure to the toxic metal, first due to lead paint and then to leaded gasoline, were followed roughly 20 years later by two of the 20th century’s worst crime eras. Under this theory, the phasing out of lead paint and leaded gasoline explains the reduction in crime.

It probably cost consumers some money, at least initially, to buy gasoline formulated without lead, and then lead-free house paint. Who's to say how much money we've saved by not having to treat -- both medically and criminally -- the damaged lives that would have resulted otherwise?


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Been away doing Pure Michigan (and why are Kroger and Meijer doing Pure Washington State?)

Mitten State has been vacationing on beautiful Hubbard Lake near Alpena this past week, and expects to be back posting regular items soon. It was surely a Pure Michigan week in a part of the state that I was not familiar with, including swimming in Hubbard Lake, snorkeling a Lake Huron shipwreck off Alpena, and picking the last of the U-Pick strawberries and raspberries.

The culmination was to have been my first charter boat scuba dive on two wrecks -- the Flint and the Montana -- off Alpena. But after getting fully geared up and in the water, my rented equipment failed and scuttled the trip. It was however, fortunate that the stuck regulator -- blasting out the contents of my air tank so fast that the hardware on the top of the tank literally froze solid -- decided to go haywire on the surface rather than 70 feet below.

On an unrelated note -- how is it that the Gaylor Meijer store has only Washington State cherries at a time when the Traverse City Cherry Festival is going on only 60 miles away? Same with my local Kroger store tonight? Washington cherries. In the middle of a Michigan summer?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

PSC analysis: Holland coal plant expansion unecessary: Cheaper and more efficient options available (hey, where have I heard that before?)

The Michigan Public Service Commission on Wednesday issued an analysis of a proposed coal-fired power plant expansion in Holland. Because the Holland Board of Public Works (HBPW) plant is a municipal utility, the Commission does not regulate it, so its report is, I suppose, advisory in nature.

But the analysis essentially says what proponents of energy efficiency and renewable power have been saying for years: There are cleaner, cheaper and more efficient options than coal-fired power plants.

Power providers have been lighting coal on fire to turn turbines for more than a century. It’s difficult to break that ingrained mindset. “This is the way we’ve always done it” is a powerful and lazy rationale for any organization. Additionally, companies make no money by helping customers SAVE energy, a powerful disincentive for energy efficiency programs that are the cheapest, cleanest and fastest way to meet energy needs.

But each new analysis, study and business plan that incorporates a better way adds a little more pressure for the utilities to change. We can all do our part by voting for elected officials who support that change, and speaking out whenever we can in favor of sensible and pragmatic alternatives to setting dangerous, expensive stuff on fire to turn turbines.

You can read the report, which is long and wonky. Or you can read the following quick and dirty summary provided by Anne Woiwode of the Sierra Club's Michigan Chapter:

- HBPW failed to “adequately demonstrate the need for the proposed facility” for a number of reasons. “Under-estimating the potential impact of energy efficiency in future years, coupled with an overly optimistic load forecast results in a projected capacity need which may not fully materialize.”

- Analysis of options and scenarios were very limited: “Scenario analysis should be employed across a wide range of variables and sensitivities including: future load levels, fuel prices, renewable energy penetration levels, energy efficiency penetration levels, and other variables which impact future resource planning in order to properly evaluate the associated risks.”

- Alternative ways of meeting their power needs exist, and in fact “Other less costly alternatives were noted in the EGAA and could be selected to meet HBPW’s expected capacity shortfall, if so desired.” These included purchased power, combined cycle natural gas, energy efficiency, and renewables.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

That igloo was funny! Hey Sen. Inhofe, where the #@!% are you now? (and some yucky science stuff for the rest of you)

That was so damn funny when the family of climate skeptic Sen. James Inhofe built an igloo near the Capitol during record snowfall in February!

Well, where the #@!* are you now Sen. Inhofe? Haven’t heard much from him, nor from the usual suspects whose decibels rise whenever it’s cold out – Detroit News cartoonist Henry Payne; WJR talk show host Rush Limbaugh Frank Beckmann, or our friends over at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Maybe it’s because they realize that a week-long stretch blistering heat in the American Midwest has no statistical significance when analyzing long-term global temperature trends. And now they feel foolish having used similar stretches of abnormally low temperatures to crow about the climate conspiracy (since they have precious little science on their side).

NAW! Didn’t think so.

To speak a little science (some of you can log out now: Science stuff, yuk!) you’ll recall that NOAA recorded the hottest global temperatures on record for January through April of this year. Now they’ve release May, 2010 data. Yep, hottest May on global record.

Planet to Sen. Inhofe: “How do you like me now?”


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A scientific reason to hate this 90-degree unfit for humans weather: Ozone Action Day

Tomorrow is SE Michigan's first Ozone Action Day, when dangerous levels of ground level ozone (smog) create health risks, especially for children, the elderly, and people with lung ailments or compromised immune systems.

It sounds like a damn good reason to me to watch baseball on TV rather than mow my lawn (with my low-ozone battery mower!)

I assume SEMCOG meant to say Wednesday, July 7, not Saturday. You can sign up for your own e-mail alerts at the links below.

SEMCOG, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, announces that Saturday(sic), July 7, 2010, is the first Ozone Action day of the year. This is the 17th year of the voluntary program that helps keep Southeast Michigan's air clean.

Several days of hot, humid weather, high temperatures, little wind, and little chance of rain have contributed to the high concentrations of ground-level ozone expected tomorrow.

Here are some things Southeast Michigan residents can do to help keep the air clean on the region's first Ozone Action day of the season:

* Try not to refuel on Ozone Action days. If you need to refuel on an Ozone Action day, fill up in the evening when the weather is cooler and don't "top off" the tank.
* Reduce automobile use on Ozone Action days. Plan to carpool, use public transit, or walk.
* Relax on Ozone Action days. Choose the lawn chair over the lawn mower.

Additional information and tips are available online at www.semcog.org (look for Ozone Action under Hot Topics on the home page) or at 800-66-33-AIR. Residents can also request e-mail notification of Ozone Action days. E-mail ozoneaction@semcog.org and put "Notification" in the subject line.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Phosphorus ban takes effect for dish detergent - one small step toward cleaner swimmin' holes

Michigan’s beaches and swimmin’ holes will be busy this weekend with 90-degree temps and an armada of Michiganders doing what Michiganders do best. Swimming in the world’s best freshwater ecosystem and, uh, drinking beer.

So it’s timely that one small step toward keeping our beaches clean took effect yesterday. That’s when it officially became illegal to sell automatic dishwasher detergent with phosphates in them. Phosphates, as Tina Lam’s excellent Detroit Free Press story explains, contribute nutrients to our waterways that result in runaway weed growth, algae blooms, and the depletion of life-giving oxygen in the water.

A similar ban on phosphorus in lawn fertilizers is pending in the Michigan House of Representatives. More than 95 percent of residential soils tested have more than enough phosphorus – the remainder runs off into storm sewers and, eventually, into creeks, rivers and lakes. It’s an especially quick assault on a waterway when lakefront property owners use phosphorus-laden fertilizers. There should be a special place in hell reserved for riparian landowners who fertilize with phosphorus to the water’s edge.

Anyway, Tina’s article points out that phosphorus detergents do get dishes cleaner, which is generally true. But as more states go to phosphorus-free, good old American ingenuity is already making better and better products.

It reminds me of the furor over low flush toilets that were mandated in the mid-1990s. Critics screamed that 1.6 gallons per flush could NEVER do the job. Then Congressman Joe Knollenberg of Farmington Hills was the loudest, speaking about "suffering Americans" forced to use “tiny toilets.” You don’t hear that much anymore. Seems our entrepreneurs were up to the task.

But even if it takes a while for the phosphorus-free detergents to catch up, isn’t it worth a extra minute of scraping dishes to protect our beaches and swimming holes?

Happy Independence Day weekend. And remember, we’re celebrating our freedom from political and religious oppression and taxation without representation. As far as I know, the Founding Fathers said nothing about freedom to pollute our lakes to escape the oppression of rinsing a dinner plate.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Al Gore: Crazed sex poodle?

A woman accusing Al Gore of sexually assaulting her described him as “crazed sex poodle,” http://bit.ly/9TydL1 and told him to “get off me you big lummox" http://bit.ly/b6bUMF which has the right wing Gore haters in a fine lather.

Al is definitely a big lummox. And could be a crazed sex poodle. But none of that has any bearing on climate change science. The latest from NOAA: “The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for May 2010 was 0.69°C (1.24°F) above the 20th century average of 14.8°C (58.6°F). This is the warmest such value on record since 1880.” http://bit.ly/ZYxCn