Wednesday, October 27, 2010

You want some input on utopia? Help Michigan Environmental Council craft the Michigan of 2060

The Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) has taken a big step back from the everday chaos of crises, pressing issues and deadlines to issue a draft Michigan 50 Year Vision  for public comment.

The Vision lays out specific goals for a Michigan, circa 2060, that will be vibrant, healthy and engaging. You know…strong central cities, virtual energy independence, clean lakes and rivers, reliable and affordable transit options. Utopia, basically.

The Vision was more than a year in the making, and kicked off online today with the unveiling of the Water Vision document. The Water Vision – and the five other visions that will be unveiled in coming weeks – propose ambitious goals for the year 2060 as well as intermediate policy goals at 2, 10 and 20 years.

MEC is asking for plenty of public input between now and December from every corner of Michigan. It’s an ambitious undertaking, directed by MEC President Chris Kolb, with whom I share an office wall and a combative sense of humor (we like to pick on each other).

Anyway, such big picture things aren’t usually my cup of tea. Mission statements, strategic plans, goal-setting …. anything that peers more than a week into the future makes me fearful and bored silly at the same time. I blame 22 years of deadline journalism. Give me a crisis and a figurative gun to my head and the job will get done. Give me three months to write something and I’ll noodle ineffectually for 88 days before cranking into a 48 hour burst of adrenaline and caffeine, the world’s most popular psychoactive drug!

But I’m pleased with the Michigan 50 Year Vision and its potential for catalyzing constructive dialogue about Michigan’s future. Please consider taking a look and providing some input. There are spots on the web site to enter comments, and to view comments that have already been made.

And, if this week’s Water Vision doesn’t float your boat (float your boat…get it?!) wait for our other releases: Energy, Great Cities, Sustainable Communities, Transportation and Agriculture/Natural Resources).

Oh yeah, about the input. We’re moderating it. So if you want to spew bile about race, the President’s birth certificate (Obama, not Kolb), or similarities between enviros and Nazis do it on one of the sites where they’ve already given up on civil discourse.

And, remember, by 2060, there will be no incivility. It’s gonna be great!


Monday, October 25, 2010

This just in! Feds award $150 million for high speed Detroit-Chicago passenger railroad link

Michigan has received $150 million in federal funds toward high speed passenger rail service between Detroit and Chicago. Read about it on the Michigan Environmental Council’s web site, which darn near broke the news in Michigan.

If we can get our legislators to cough up $30 million in matching money, we’re that much closer to a Detroit-Chicago express in less than four hours!


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Terror in Michigan! Oak, um, the Mackinac Bridge....maybe. Wait, rattlesnakes! Yes, rattlesnakes spread fear and wait, not death. But fear, yes! Be very afraid!

Leslie Pluhar died when her tiny car careened off the Mackinac Bridge in 1989.

Michael Jeffery died last year when an oak tree inexplicably fell on him as he was riding his motorcycle near Niles.

Debbie Luna died last month when a vehicle crashed into a gas pump near Grayling, sending the pump flying into her.

None of the deaths resulted in headlines that read “Mackinac Bridge creates panic among drivers” or “Oak trees strike fear into Michiganders” or “Gas stations and death: The untold story.” Yet rattlesnakes bite four people in Michigan this summer and we get: ”Massasauga rattlesnakes strike fear in region.”

Sweet Jesus! Grab the shotgun and bar the door! The Detroit News headline writers have told us what we should fear, and by gum, we're not going outside.

Michigan’s rattlesnakes haven’t killed anyone in at least 40 years, maybe more. They’re shy and sluggish and the smallest and least venomous of any in the U.S.. When they bite in defense they often don’t even release venom. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment has a  nice primer on the massasauga noting that the few bites that do occur often are the result of people trying to catch or kill the snake. Those folks are are Michigan's budding Darwin awardees.

Bullshit headlines like the News', and stories that fail to address the relative risk of wild animals contribute to the impression that the outdoors is a sinister, dangerous place to be avoided. 

As Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods” points out, exaggerated fears of both nature and strangers are conspiring to keeping children indoors – contributing to shorter attention spans, stunted imaginations, obesity and numerous other problems that could be treated by the balm of, say, spending the day building a fort in the backyard bushes with your friends. If it wasn't for the fact that your child would be KILLED INSTANTLY by a rattlesnake or CARRIED OFF IN THE FANGS of a coyote.

“The biggest barrier between kids and the outdoors is the fear that parents feel about strangers and about nature. All you have to do is watch CNN or Fox and you’ll see how they take a handful of crimes against children every year and repeat them over and over again. News media and entertainment media have basically scared us to death, scared us right out of nature.”

As for the stranger danger, what’s with that nasty Nancy Grace woman whose CNN Headline News show always seems to be scrolling “BREAKING NEWS: LANDFILL SEARCH UNDERWAY FOR 4-YEAR OLD BEAUTY QUEEN PENELOPE McTAVISH, STOLEN FROM HER PRINCESS-THEMED BED IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT BY STRANGERS!!!!” Sorry, that woman bugs me.

By the way, the EPA ranks indoor air pollution among the top five public health risks. Rattlesnakes aren’t even on the list.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

World's climate change panel due for an overhaul in wake of scandals that unraveled the whole rotten, global conspiracy

Had another interesting email exchange with WJR radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh Lite, Frank Beckmann in which he maintained that my belief that manmade climate change is occurring is because I’ve been “…duped by people who have conned us out of billions of our hard earned dollars through grants and regulations.”

Anyway, Frank and other climate skeptics have seized on each anomaly, inconsistency and error in the IPCC’s climate change theory as proof positive of a global conspiracy. Of which, presumably, I am a part.
Anyway, it’s important to remember that the granddaddy of these issues was the East Anglia email revelations, and that the authors of the emails were exonerated of wrongdoing in four separate investigations.

Skeptics who joyously told us the East Anglia emails were the smoking guns that were going to unravel the whole climate plot are apoplectic that it didn’t turn out that way. No worries….just more proof of the conspiracy, right?

Nonetheless, an overhaul of the way the IPCC operates, as outlined by the journal Nature is probably a smart move. Done right, it will increase transparency and bolster public confidence that has been eroded by opinion leaders, like Beckmann, who have convinced us that thug climatologists are in cahoots with Pruis owners and weak-kneed liberals to take away our guns and sell our children. Or something like that.

Meanwhile, 2010 tied so far for the warmest on record. 

You won’t hear that on Beckmann. Or Limbaugh. Or Hannity. Or Beck. Or FOX. Unless you hear only this excerpt: “Cooler-than-average regions included much of Australia, western Canada, parts of the northern United States, parts of western and central Europe, and central Russia.” Smells like a smoking gun to me.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Detroit News lets Frank Beckmann spew more unhinged nonsense; so is Stephen Hawking part of the climate change conspiracy?

Stephen Hawking enjoying the spoils of the climate conspiracy
Conservative radio talk show host and football announcer Frank Beckmann has penned another  wild, flailing assault on climate change science in today’s Detroit News. He’s strung together unrelated threads of  factually tortured conspiracy theory sandwiched around words like “bogus” “hoax” and “grant seeking environmental alarmists.”

Frank’s columns must be increasingly embarrassing for those at the News who still believe that even the most opinionated opinion columnists should be held to certain standards of intellectual honesty. But it may be par for the course for an editorial page that continues to promote as fact climate contentions that even the most celebrated climate change skeptic-climatologists have denounced.

It would take a huge word count to address each of Frank’s scattershot accusations and pseudo-facts that sail around untethered by accuracy or context. So I leave you with two links:

First, this link from NOAA where you can see lower on the page the “climate dashboard” that shows actual recorded observations for global temperatures, carbon dioxide, sun energy, Arctic sea ice and sea level.

Secondly, this video with Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan talking about the greenhouse effect.

Hawking says “…one of the most serious consequences of our actions is global warming brought about by rising levels of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels. The danger is that the temperature increase may become self-sustaining, if it hasn’t done so already.”

Hawking, of course, is a literal genius the world’s most celebrated cosmologist and physicist. But Beckmann might well categorize him as just another “environmental alarmist” who has “fouled the air with their fraud.”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

We're Number 27! Report shows unsexy efficiency program is working for ratepayers

Michigan’s energy efficiency requirements, passed in 2008, require our state’s major utilities to enact programs that make homes, stores and factories more energy efficient. And it’s paying off.

A new report from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy shows
Michigan moved up seven spots to number 27 on a ranking of the most energy efficient states.

That’s money in our pockets. Money we’re not spending on electric and gas bills.

It’s not as sexy as wind turbines or solar panels, but it’s the only energy solution that actual saves ratepayers money – roughly $3 in savings for every $1 invested in the program. It also holds at bay the need to build more power generation infrastructure – coal or nuclear plants, wind farms, etc. that drive up our utility rates.
We're talking programs that help businesses and homeowners afford smart low-energy lighting systems, boilers and furnaces that use less fuel, weatherproof windows and insulation to keep the cold out (or the cold in, depending on the season), etc. etc.

And, yes, there’s a line item on our utility bills for “energy optimization” to pay for the program. Seventy-nine cents on my most recent bill. That rankles some jerkwater bubbas.

But if we weren’t paying for efficiency, we’d be paying three times as much for new power production necessary to provide the energy we’re saving through the program.

Here’s hoping the next Michigan will push for even stronger energy efficiency program requirements. It isn’t sexy, but from what I’ve seen neither are they.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Update: MEC, MLCV weigh in on Michigan's gubernatorial debate

Update: Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan League of Conservation Voters  weigh in here on Michigan gubernatorial debate shortcomings.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

DEBATE FAIL!: Great Lakes? Energy? Transportation? Rebuilding cities? IGNORED.

Michigan is smack in the middle of the world’s most astounding water system – 18 percent of the world’s fresh surface water surrounds us. It provides 40 million people with drinking water; fuels our water-intensive industrial economy and fertilizes our farmers’ bounty. It is threatened by sewage overflows, deposition of hazardous chemicals, and by Asian carp and other invasives.

We are on the cutting edge of advanced automotive batteries, have a burgeoning clean energy technology industrial sector and a vital tourism economy (all are growing – the only economic sectors in Michigan to do so recently).

We have world-class sand dunes, vast forests, fertile farmland and fantastic hunting, fishing, hiking, birdwatching, boating, mushroom picking, frog-spearing, cricket listening and Petoskey-stone hunting. Stone skipping, too. We also have a few cool cities where smart young college graduates want to live work and play. But not nearly enough.

So how did an hour-long gubernatorial debate take place tonight without any…ANY…mention of the role Michigan’s natural resources play in our economy and quality of life?

Not. a. single. one. Not in their opening or closing comments. Not in the questions from the moderators. The Center for Michigan says you can find the replay right here starting Monday, if you have trouble getting to sleep.

Thumbs down to moderators Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press and Nolan Finley of the Detroit News for ignoring energy, transportation, vibrant cities, and the future of the Great Lakes in favor of queries like “would you forego your salary as governor?” (as if that would make a difference) or “are you tough enough” to play political hardball? (seriously Nolan, how could that question elicit anything other than a minute-long infomercial?)

And thumbs down to Virg Bernero and Rick Snyder for utterly failing to incorporate our state’s important natural assets into any of your answers.

Oh, wait. I rewound the DVR and did find that Bernero did mention “…the green automotive future, the green technology, wind turbines…” during a frenetic monologue about manufacturing. So…there you have it.

Should either candidate want to feign interest in Michigan’s water, land or air,here’s a start. Until then, the hell with it. If this is all you got, I’m leaving the governor’s ballot blank in November.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Rick Snyder's boilerplate agriculture plan virtually ignores pollution issues: Where is the insightful, original candidate we saw in the spring?

Michigan journalist/blogger Eric Baerren says in his recent column that Republican candidate for governor Rick Snyder’s plan for Michigan agriculture involves loosening regulatory reigns on corporate mega-farms.

Indeed, such farms bear no resemblance to the idyllic family farms that probably service your local farmer’s market. They unleash animal feces and urine in amounts equivalent to a medium sized city – with few of the environmental rules that govern the cities' waste. The result in Michigan too often has been horrific overflows of hormone-laced animal sewage that choke the life out of streams and ponds. Because these disasters often occur in sparsely populated rural areas, they don't get much attention.

The Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club has been at the forefront of tracking and detailing these disasters.

Sadly, Snyder’s recently released agriculture plan is filled with boilerplate Republican chatter about reducing red tape, streamlining regulation and how overly zealous inspectors have choked agricultural businesses in Michigan. Other than a couple vague throwaway lines about balancing environmental concerns with economic growth, it includes no acknowledgement of the tremendous challenges of containing and managing the vast amounts of dangerous waste produced by these animal factories.

Most disappointingly, the Snyder document contains none of the nuance and insight that Snyder demonstrated this spring during his excellent performance at an environmental forum for candidates.

I’m looking for reasons to vote for Rick Snyder in November …. I think he’s demonstrated a deeper understanding of the complex issues facing Michigan than has his opponent, Virg Bernero.

But if Snyder is going to abandon his keen insights in favor of letting his positions default into robotic and well-worn partisan grooves, then we’re back to business as usual.

And that would suck.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

MI Supreme Court to decide whether "any person" really means any person when it comes to law protecting Michigan's natural resources

There’s a law, the Michigan Environmental Protection Act,
(MEPA) which gives “any person” in Michigan the right to use the courts to protect “…the air, water and other natural resources … from pollution, impairment or destruction.”

If Acme Sand Mining is ripping up globally significant Lake Michigan sand dunes and regulators are doing nothing to stop them, I can file suit to stop it. If Acme then dumps its toxic waste in Lake Superior, I can sue. Even if I live nowhere near the affected dunes and own no Lake Superior frontage, the law presupposes, I have an abiding interest in their health and well being.

At least, that’s the way it is supposed to work. In recent years, conservative-activist Michigan courts have chipped away at MEPA. In several rulings, the law’s scope has been limited. Now, it seems, only persons directly impacted by environmental damage have the right to sue.

I’m not a lawyer. But I wonder what part of “any person” the judges who eroded our citizen rights didn’t understand?

A Michigan Supreme Court case heard Wednesday gives justices the opportunity to definitively decide whether citizens have the right to sue to protect the state’s natural resources.

My employer, the Michigan Environmental Council, filed a "friend of the court” legal brief arguing that the court declare the law means what it says.

Since it was written by a horde of lawyers, it might better for the rest of to read the fine analysis by Sandra Svoboda of Detroit’s Metro Times.

Finally, for those wanting more legal meat to chew on, the whole issue is analyzed here more precisely, and in a more lawyerly fashion by Noah Hall on his Great Lakes Law blog.