Friday, February 25, 2011

Update: WJR's Paul W. Smith's response to my old-fashioned snail mail letter asking him to stop repeating harmful light bulb urban legend

Writing a letter to Chuck Gadica reminded me of the letter I wrote two months ago to WJR Radio talk show host Paul W. Smith. That’s the one where he's asked to stop repeating the urban legend about HazMat cleanups and broken light bulbs. The legend that makes it easier for fearmongering "contractors" to scam people out of hundreds of dollars.

For responsible journalists, prompt acknowledgement and correction of errors of fact is a ethical and professional obligation. So far, this is all I’ve heard from Paul W.

A letter to WDIV Channel 4 Meteorologist Chuck Gadica

Chuck Gadica

Thank you very much for the piece you did tonight (Thursday, Feb. 24 on the 11 o’clock) about why a warming planet may result in more precipitation. Using the sponges with the demonstration made it easily understandable for a lay audience (I might steal the idea myself!)

It surely helped inform the shrill dialogue over whether more snowstorms and rainfall amounts disprove climate change theory. They don’t.

I was stunned, however that you referred to rising global temperatures twice as an uncertain proposition. (“…if we are warming…”) Even the most skeptical scientists now acknowledge that the climate has been warming for some time. Dr. Patrick Michaels – a leading skeptic and one of few climatologists who openly challenges the IPCC report  – told a panel discussion audience in Detroit two years ago that the planet was most assuredly warming, (although he believes mankind may not be a significant driver in that trend). He told the audience that making the argument that ‘the planet is not warming’ is a discredit to the skeptics’ cause because it is so easily and thoroughly disproved.

The data is unambiguous. NOAA reports that 2010 tied for the warmest year on global record, and that it was the 34th consecutive year that global temperatures exceeded the 20th Century average. (emphasis mine). 

The question of how significant a contribution mankind’s greenhouse gas emissions make to this warming climate; and the ranges of temperatures and changes we might see in the future are addressed most rigorously in the IPCC report, which concludes both the contribution and effects are/will be significant. Of course, there are no precise answers to these important questions.  

However, the simpler question of whether the planet is warming -- or not -- is abundantly clear through NOAA’s recorded data and that of other agencies throughout the world.

Your help in explaining science to your viewers is invaluable, and you do it very well….but I hope in the future you will make it clear to viewers that the data show unambiguously that the earth is getting warmer, and has been for many decades.

 Thank you very much for your time,

Hugh McDiarmid Jr.
Farmington Resident\15 year WDIV viewer
(Phone number)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

RoboCop won't keep our best and brightest here; Woodward Light Rail might

Your move, creep!

Today’s news was peppered with puffery about the ridiculous flap over the Detroit RoboCop statue. But if you were diligent, you could find real news in the form of this story on the exciting light rail project that looks (finger crossed) like it might actually happen along Woodward Avenue in Detroit. There’s a video, too.

Yes, it’s expensive. So are roads. So is owning, maintaining and insuring a personal vehicle (which 25 percent of Detroiters don’t have). Light rail critics don’t seem to have any alternatives better than shuffling along with a broken status quo that isn’t working for many, many people in this proud city and the inner-ring suburbs that neighbor it. “Just say no” is not a plan.

RoboCop won’t keep our young people from fleeing to cool cities like Chicago. A modern public transportation system might. This is a start.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Northern Michigan gas well leak should strengthen calls for public discussion of fracking regulations, impending natural gas boom

Photo (not the leaking well) Heather Rousseau, Circle of Blue

Earlier this week a natural gas well in northern Michigan was abruptly shut down after hazardous toxic chemicals leaked from it. There will be an investigation and follow up to ensure that nearby water wells are not poisoned.

Natural gas is the only fossil fuel that provides Michigan with some measure of energy independence. (That is, we import all our coal, and almost all our oil but 25 percent of our gas is from in-state wells). We’ve done gas extraction for decades with minimal problems save for the marring of landscapes with access roads, pipelines and processing stations. It’s ugly and intrusive, and it’s part of the tradeoff (it’s near zero degrees as I write this, with the furnace furiously burning the stuff.) 

But there are significant environmental and health risks, including the danger of water contamination from toxic chemicals involved in the extraction technique known as underground hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The federal Environmental Protection Agency is proposing a study of the full range of fracking’s environmental risks.

In Michigan those risks may soon increase exponentially. A huge new boom in natural gas extraction is on the horizon, foreshadowed by natural gas rights auctions in 2010 where speculators spent seven times more money buying gas drilling rights than ever before. The gas they want is far deeper underground than the traditional deposits we’ve mined, meaning up to 100 times the volume of chemical-laced water must be used. Some of that chemical broth is left underground. The rest must be recovered, stored, transported and disposed of in deep injection wells. The kinds and amounts of the chemicals used are a trade secret.

I did some reporting on the issue for the Michigan Environmental Council in a 2010 two-story package here and here. At that time, Hal Fitch, the head of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Geological Survey, told me he believed the state’s existing rules were adequate to protect drinking water, lakes, and streams should a new frenzy of more intensive gas drilling take place.

Fitch says that Michigan has better regulations than many other states where fracking leaks and spill have had disastrous consequences.

Even so it seems reasonable – even incumbent – on the state and the industry to explain the new natural gas landscape to Michiganders as we prepare to push into a new, uncharted era of drilling intensity. A robust series of public meetings could both educate the public and provide citizen input to state regulators. If the rules are indeed adequate they should stand up to public scrutiny.

To date, however, neither Fitch’s agency nor the industry have seemed eager to begin a public dialogue. Maybe the Benzie County spill will change that. Indeed, the initial Associated Press story indicates that regulators will “likely…review some drilling regulations.” 

That review should be transparent, in public, and with citizen participation. Not behind closed doors.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Climate conspiracy theories fall like snowflakes from Detroit News columnists' keyboards

On Feb. 2, Detroit News Opinion Page Editor Manny Lopez took his favorite whipping boy, Al Gore, to task for Gore’s suggestion that the recent Midwest snowstorm may have been intensified by climate change. He lectured “Goreacle and his lemmings” that the storm had nothing to do with climate, but was “part of that pesky little thing called weather.”

Only two days later, Detroit News cartoonist Henry Payne, who sits on the News’ editorial board with Lopez, wrote that, because of snowfall in Dallas, “global warming” had been “debunked on the grandest stage of all: The Super Bowl.” It was, he wrote, “an embarrassment of Janet Jackson-like proportions” for Gore.

Discerning readers may be puzzled how the News’ braintrust can simultaneously declare both that the snowstorm had no bearing on climate change theory and that it debunks climate change in a most humiliating way. But regular readers of the News’ editorial columnists and bloggers are not surprised.
In a  Feb. 3 column, Payne tells us that the only people left supporting climate change theory are "the elites and their crony capitalist backers" who are sucking up taxpayer subsidies for windmills (presumably they, not the poor little coal and oil industries are calling the shots in Washington now), asserts that a cold spell in parts of America has climate change adherents “in a panic” and spins the usual climate conspiracy theory involving thousands of crooked scientists worldwide. Plus, there’s a bonus conspiracy theory! A worldwide coordinated cover up of "the scientific scandal of the century"  by the world’s media.

Possibly the frenzy has something to do with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s recent data showing that 2010 tied the  warmest year on global record. Or, perhaps someone is angling for an invitation to a guest spot on a Fox News pundit shoutfest. Either way, News readers deserve less hysteria and more level headedness from their opinion leaders. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

John Engler takes helm of CEO group pitching energy efficiency, addressing climate change: Is the world spinning off its axis?

Gov. John Engler
As governor of Michigan from 1991-2003, John Engler won few fans in the environmental community. Under his tenure enforcement of environmental laws was anemic, citizen input into natural resource decisions was squelched and important programs to protect citizens and resources were eliminated.

Michigan’s energy efficiency programs were among the casualties of Engler-era cuts. It was a penny-wise and pound-foolish move. Every dollar spent on efficiency programs typically results in $3 saved by businesses or homeowners on their utility bills. Many millions of dollars in unnecessarily high bills have been shelled out by Michiganders over the intervening decades – mostly to out-of-state coal companies – as a result.

Engler most recently was CEO and President of the Washington D.C.-based National Association of Manufacturers. Environmentalists said, “well, that figures.” The NAM has never seen an environmental rule or regulation that it’s not willing to bury with an army of lobbyists and a slew of campaign contributions. Even NAM member Duke Energy, which operates coal power plants, quit the group in 2009 partly because of NAM’s Neanderthal-like position on climate change.

In January, Engler changed jobs, becoming President of the Business Roundtable (BRT), an association of the CEOs of the nation’s top companies – firms with a collective $6 trillion in revenue and 12 million employees.

“Well, that figures again, right”? You’re damn straight. I mean right there on the Business Roundtable web site you can find reprehensible positions like…….like…..wait , what the....? 

Under the “energy” tab of BRT’s Sustainable Growth section there’s this: “Business Roundtable members have committed to aggressive energy efficiency programs and recognize the important role of energy savings in improving the bottom line. We encourage the development of policies that promote significant energy efficiency increases in our residential and commercial buildings and encourage improvements in the efficiency in industrial processes.”

Does Gov. Engler know about this? Hmmm…maybe he figured it was a bone to toss the public while the BRT pursued its ultimate mission of crushing attempts to regulate carbon pollution. So, back to the  Sustainable Growth page we go and find..….oh my! “Business Roundtable was the first broad-based business group to agree on the need to address climate change through collective action, and we remain committed to limiting GHG emissions and setting our nation on a more sustainable path. The environmental and energy challenges facing the world are serious obstacles to economic growth and can only be managed by thoughtful and far-sighted government policies and business strategies. Threats to water quality and quantity, rising greenhouse gas emissions and the risk of climate change – along with increasing energy prices and growing demand – are of great concern.”

There’s more of this tree hugger stuff sprinkled throughout the site, including video of the member CEO’s talking about sustainability and talk about the tremendous potential for new clean energy technologies to create economic growth.

Maybe it’s all greenwashing. Maybe Engler is actually intends to banish such socialist babble from the BRT’s platforms. Maybe the wisdom of old age and hindsight have changed the man’s views. And maybe this notice listing Engler as a speaker at something called the Great Energy Efficiency Day on Capitol Hill is some kind of bizarre hoax.

In any event, it will be interesting to see if the former governor changes his tune on key energy issues during the next few years. And if he does, if Michigan’s environmental community will warm up to him, at least a little?