SoCS: causes

I’ve spent decades now advocating for change on a whole raft of social justice and environmental issues.

There has been some progress in some areas, but I admit that there are times when I get tired, times when I realize that a change we’ve been working on for decades still hasn’t happened or where there’s been backsliding on a right that we thought had been secured.

Some days, I want to just throw in the towel.

But then I think about it and realize that a lot has been accomplished by so many people working together. The progress is often slow and incremental. When a change seems sudden, it’s usually the result of years of groundwork laying the foundation.

When I get discouraged, it’s often a comment from a friend that helps me realize the importance of the work, even when it seems we aren’t getting anywhere and even when the hoped-for change is unlikely in my lifetime. (This especially applies to my work on gender equality in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church tends to think in centuries.)

So, at least so far, though I do change the issues I concentrate on from time to time, I keep at it.

Keep on keeping on.
*****
Linda’s Prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is to use “throw in the towel” at some point in the post. Join us for Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday and/or Just Jot It January! Find our more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/27/the-friday-reminder-for-socs-jusjojan-2023-daily-prompt-jan-28th/

not cooking with gas

I have never been one to cook with gas.

I grew up in a rural area where there was no methane infrastructure, so I learned to cook on a GE electric range. In adulthood, we have had electric stoves in the two houses we have owned.

I have had occasion to use gas ranges, in rental apartments or homes of family members, but I never liked them. I’m not a fan of flames in the kitchen and it often seemed impossible for there not to be small leaks of methane that I could smell because of the odor that is added to the gas.

When I became involved in the anti-fracking movement, I learned that not only do gas ranges leak methane which is detrimental to the climate but also other gases that are harmful to human health, such as radon and benzene.

I was, therefore, unsurprised at the release of a recent report attributing 12.7% of current cases of childhood asthma in the United States to the use of gas stoves. This is similar to the figure attributable to second-hand smoke exposure.

Nationally, gas stoves are used in 40% of homes, although in some states the percentage of use is much higher. For example, in California, the rate is 70%. That adds up to a lot of emissions of methane, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, benzene, radon, particulates, and other harmful substances.

Proper maintenance of equipment and increasing ventilation can help mitigate some of the health effects, but the best remedy is to switch to cooking with electricity. The faster and most energy-efficient electric cooking today is induction. For those who can’t afford to replace a gas cooktop with an induction one or who are renters, a good alternative is to buy a portable induction burner unit. You will need to use cookware that has iron in it but the nice thing is that the burner itself does not get hot, so there are no worries of burning yourself by touching the unit after you’re done cooking.

In order to make the transition to cooking with electricity, some places in the US have begun to ban gas hook-ups in new construction. In order to promote both human and environmental health, it’s likely that regulation will expand over time to eventually eliminate cooking with gas indoors.

Some people are very upset about it and complaining loudly in the press and on social media.

I invite those people to join the 21st century and give induction a try. Energy technologies and sources evolve over time. We used to use candles or whale oil for lighting our homes. We used to use wood or coal in our kitchens for cooking. We moved on to cleaner, healthier alternatives. It’s time to again move away from burning things in our homes for energy and onto using increasingly clean electricity to power our lives.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/20/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-20th-2023/

delayed, partial justice for Dimock

I live in Broome County in New York’s Southern Tier. My town is on the border with Pennsylvania. During the early years of the fracking boom – technically, horizontal hydraulic fracturing with long laterals or shale gas drilling – I was involved with efforts to keep fracking out of New York and to support our PA neighbors who were being devastated by it. My main role was providing factual comments on articles in the media and reading research and articles to make sure I was accurate and up-to-date.

I also attended rallies, panels, and press events, with a bit of bird-dogging on the side. (Bird-dogging is the practice of showing up in places where a public official is speaking or visiting with signs for your cause in order to increase your visibility with the official and, if you’re lucky, the press. It is not illegal or disruptive.) Through these events, I heard from the people of Dimock, PA, which is about thirty miles south of my home, and their allies about the horrible environmental impacts and suffering that fracking was causing there.

Cabot Oil & Gas was the company that was drilling there at the time. In 2008, they contaminated the water supply but refused to take responsibility for the damage. The elected officials and Department of Environmental Protection did not intervene as they should have. Cabot did settle with some people whose homes were affected but with gag clauses that prevented them from saying anything about the situation, although the fact that some houses were torn down and that the lots were restricted from new construction spoke volumes. Meanwhile, other neighbors continued to live in houses without usable water, their properties basically unsaleable. Cabot was eventually restricted from further drilling in a nine square mile section of Dimock, but the damage had already been done.

Finally, on November 29, 2022, Coterra Energy, which includes what had been Cabot, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor violation of the PA Clean Streams Law, even though they had originally been charged on fifteen counts, including nine felonies. They are ordered to pay $16 million for a water system to bring fresh water to Dimock, which, like many rural towns, has gotten its water from individual water wells. Coterra will also pay the water bills for 75 years for current and future residents.

I found out about the plea from this video by area resident, fracktivist, and citizen-journalist Vera Scroggins. It shows the press conference from the courthouse. The main speaker is Josh Shapiro, current attorney general and governor-elect of Pennsylvania. His office brought the charges against Cabot in 2020, before the merger that formed Coterra. Also speaking is Victoria Switzer, a Dimock resident who has been a leading voice in the cry for justice. After the press conference, Vera includes clips from a rally at the courthouse, featuring more familiar faces and voices from the anti-fracking movement.

I appreciated seeing the people who fought so long and hard for some measure of justice for the affected residents of Dimock, even though it is fourteen years late. As Victoria Switzer pointed out in the news conference, some people have passed away in those years. Others were forced to move out of the area. The fractures among townsfolk may never be mended, as some who had leased their property for drilling became hostile toward those whose water was contaminated because Cabot had to stop drilling and, therefore, paying royalties.

I am sickened to learn this week that, on the same day the plea was entered, the Department of Environmental Protection changed the order regarding gas extraction in the nine square mile area in Dimock. While Coterra may not drill vertically in that area, they are now allowed to drill horizontal laterals into it. These miles-long laterals will be burrowing into the Marcellus shale from vertical wells outside the exclusion zone and then explosive charges will fracture the shale to release fossil methane and potentially other types of hydrocarbons. Theoretically, that methane is then collected from the well for use. In practice, though, some of it also migrates through the rock layers for thousands of feet where it can contaminate aquifers or even reach the surface and cause atmospheric pollution. Additionally, fracking can mobilize radon and other naturally occurring radioactive elements, as well as waste products from the fracking fluids and brine. I am dumbfounded that DEP is risking further pollution in Dimock when so many have already suffered so much.

Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution states, “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.” It’s (past) time for the Pennsylvania government to honor that Constitutional provision.

Review: The Letter

At the Vatican on October 4, 2022, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, a new film premiered, entitled The Letter.

The Letter in the title refers to Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home, Pope Francis’s 2015 papal encyclical which was addressed not only to Catholics around the world but also to all people of good will. Its release in May helped to build momentum for the Paris climate talks that fall that resulted in 196 countries signing onto the landmark agreement on climate change.

Laudato Si’ espouses integral ecology, which involves both care for the earth and care for all people, especially those most vulnerable. The encyclical cites science and various faith traditions to build a framework for fighting climate change and for lifting up those dealing with hunger, poverty, dislocation, water scarcity, and other challenges.

The film’s title has a second meaning, as the first part of the film shows five people around the world receiving a letter from Pope Francis, inviting them to the Vatican to discuss the issues of Laudato Si’ with him. Together, they represent both “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” It is these five people and the communities they represent that form the bulk of the film.

They are:
~ Cacique Dadá, an indigenous leader of the Borarí people from the Maró Indigenous Territory of Brazil, representing indigenous communities
~ Arouna Kandé, a climate refugee from Senegal, representing the impoverished
~ Ridhima Pandey, a teen-aged climate justice activist from India, representing young people who are inheriting a world that has been damaged by prior generations
~ Greg Asner and Robin Martin, a married couple from Hawai’i in the United States, who are both marine biologists studying the impacts of climate change on ocean ecosystems, representing the voice of nature

The stories of their native places are stunningly conveyed by director Nicolas Brown and the team of Off The Fence Originals, in conjunction with The Laudato Si’ Movement. I especially appreciated the segments from the Amazonian rain forest and the Pacific marine environments.

I also appreciated the diversity of age, race, gender, country of origin, and faith portrayed in the film. While Pope Francis and the Vatican officials are, of course, Catholic, we see participants who follow other faiths, including Islam and indigenous traditions. It is a true reflection of the encyclical being addressed to “all people of good will.”

In keeping with that diversity, people in the film speak in their native languages with subtitles and narration available in English, French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese. There are also subtitles available for the entire film in many other languages. You may watch the film free of charge at the link in the first paragraph of this post or on the YouTube Originals channel. Details about offering a free screening for groups can be found here.

My hope is that many people around the world will view the film and take action on social and environmental justice issues. We are one human family and we must together care for each other and our common home.

SoCS: methane

Over the last ten or so years, I’ve spent a lot more time thinking about methane than most people.

This is due to the fighting against fracking here in my region with the Marcellus shale, in the shale plays in the US, and the export of the technology around the world.

I will spare you all the detailed things I learned about fracking and methane’s effects on climate from Bob Howarth, Tony Ingraffea, Sandra Steingraber, Walter Hang, and so many others back in the thick of the fight in New York State, which led to first an administrative ban and later a legislative one. One of my roles at the time was to comment on media articles as part of a rapid response team. I learned to argue from economic, health, environmental, social, and other perspectives, depending on the circumstances.

Fun times.

N0t really. It was super stressful. It was also important to get accurate information out into the public and I was very grateful that we were able to get some better policies in place.

Unfortunately, the damage done by fracking and by methane leakage is still with us, widespread and massive.

Atmospheric methane levels are at record highs and are part of the supercharging of global warming that we are seeing now. As a greenhouse gas, methane is more short-lived in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide but it is much more powerful in the near term. In a ten-year timeframe, methane is about a hundred times more powerful than carbon dioxide, so it is imperative to cut emissions of it now to avert various tipping points.

There was a major methane reduction initiative signed last year, which is good. The problem is that emissions have not been carefully measured or monitored by governments and the fossil fuel industry and estimates have been much lower than what some scientific studies have shown. I was just reading about a study earlier in the week and will try to insert the link after I’m done stream-of-conscious-ing.

It’s cold comfort that the problems the scientists and environmentalists have been pointing out for years are finally being more widely acknowledged when so much damage that could have been averted has already been done.

We need to stop adding fossil methane to our climate system in order to have any hope of meeting the 1.5 degree C level in the Paris accord.

I am very distressed about the breaks in the Nordstream pipelines. Every time I see video of the roiling, methane-saturated sea water, I feel sick, knowing how dangerous it is. It’s especially upsetting to see it in juxtaposition with the footage of the devastation caused by hurricane Ian. Most media coverage is finally acknowledging the role of climate change in supercharging storms but I wish they had been doing it years ago when it would have been easier to avert this level of greenhouse gases. We finally have some decent federal legislation in place but the scope of the problem outstrips that level of spending. The damage estimates from Ian will be higher than the climate spending in the law.

Our family over these last years has taken steps to stop using methane. When we installed a geothermal heat pump a few years ago, we were able to disconnect from the methane system. Our electricity comes from either our solar panels or a 100% renewable grid supplier, so we aren’t using electricity generated from burning fossil fuels. I continue to advocate for the transition away from methane and other fossil fuels.

It can’t come soon enough.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week was to base your post on “me” or a word that begins with “me.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/09/30/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-oct-1-2022/

build back smarter

The United States is having a rough couple of weeks on the hurricane front. First, Fiona caused major damage in Puerto Rico, and now, Ian has cut a huge swath of destruction across Florida and is making a second landfall in South Carolina.

There have been massive flooding, wind damage, and major infrastructure impacts, including roads, bridges, and electrical, water, and communication systems. Sadly, there have also been injuries and deaths attributed to the storms and their aftermath.

Aid is being rendered by governments at all levels, by utilities, by charitable organizations, and by volunteers.

After the immediate emergency needs are met, attention will turn to rebuilding.

The first question to ask is “Should we?” There are places where the answer may be “No.” I’m thinking about places like barrier islands and directly on shorelines that are geologically unsuitable, being vulnerable to both storms and sea level rise. Further, the sand that characterizes these areas is meant to move and their natural structure serves to help protect inland areas from the worst of the storm surge and winds. Building there is asking for trouble and re-building there is setting up for losses in the future. With stronger and more frequent storms forecast due to global warming, it may be wisest at this point for government and insurers to buy out property owners in these vulnerable places so that homes and businesses can move to safer locations inland.

In other places, rebuilding may be possible but with much stricter requirements. For example, buildings can be elevated so that flood water can rise beneath them without damaging living space. Structures can be designed to be wind-resistant so roofs don’t blow off during storms. Mobile homes, unless they really are mobile, i.e. on wheels so they can be easily relocated away from danger, should not be allowed at all in storm zones.

It’s vital to rebuild infrastructure with resilience in mind. Five years ago, hurricane Maria destroyed the power grid in Puerto Rico. It was still fragile when Fiona hit but locations that had switched to solar power with battery backup were able to keep their power on. Tropical coastlines are great places for solar power and also for offshore wind, which could have the added benefit of reducing wind speeds from storms.

These changes won’t be easy but they are necessary. The alternative is to continue the cycle of destruction and expensive rebuilding over and over again.

Some of you may be thinking that I don’t understand the difficulty and trauma of leaving a beloved location instead of trying to rebuild there, but I have seen it up close in my town. After the last two record floods of the Susquehanna in 2006 and 2011, many people here faced the decision to rebuild in the same place, perhaps with elevation, or move elsewhere. If people took buyouts, the sites of their former homes were converted to greenspace. There are two neighborhoods near me that are dotted with these lots that used to be homes and yards.

My family lives with the realization that our home, on which we carry flood insurance even though we are not technically in a flood zone, could be impacted in the next record flood. (We are just a few blocks from places that flooded last time.) Depending on the damage incurred, we could be faced with the same decision to take a buyout or repair and elevate our home. It’s painful to think about and I don’t know which we’d choose.

We’ve been here for over 35 years. It would be hard to leave the neighborhood. I do know, though, that we wouldn’t ignore reality/risks and try to rebuild as we are now.

I opt for safety over sentiment.

One-Liner Wednesday: Pakistan

A third of my country is under water right now – bridges, roads, schools, and other critical infrastructure sinks, and people run to evacuate their homes.

Anam Rathor, writing about Pakistan in this important post

Note: In the comments, there is a link to a post from Sadje with information on organizations that are helping Pakistan. Check it out here: http://lifeafter50forwomen.com/2022/09/07/my-country-needs-your-help/ and help if you are able.

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/09/07/one-liner-wednesday-alert-creature/

a helpful provision

When I wrote this post on environmental policy in the United States, I hadn’t realized an important section of an earlier House version on Environmental Protection Agency regulation of greenhouse gases had made it into the final version of the Inflation Reduction Act.

The language amends the Clean Air Act and is very specific that the EPA has the authority to regulate all greenhouse gases and to reduce them through the promotion of renewable energy.

This should blunt the impact of the Supreme Court decision in West Virginia v. EPA which held that the Congress had not been explicit enough in defining the scope of the EPA’s work in moving the country away from fossil fuels in order to limit global warming.

One more step in the right direction…

inflation and energy

As the United States Senate passed a major budget reconciliation bill dealing with climate change, energy sources, health care, and corporate taxes this weekend, there has been a lot of public whining from Republicans and industry, saying that the bill will increase, not lower inflation.

Judging from my family’s experience, the bill will lower inflation by decreasing energy costs.

As regular readers may recall, my household has spent years in efforts to reduce our carbon footprint. We have electrified everything in our home, including a geothermal heating/cooling system. We reduced our demand by increasing our insulation and installing LED lighting. We drive our fully electric Chevy Bolt for local driving. (For trips over 200 miles, we drive our plug-in hybrid Chrysler Pacifica, which gets better mileage in gasoline mode than the non-hybrid version.) We own panels in a solar farm because our home was not a good candidate for rooftop panels.

So, this summer, our monthly electricity bill is $17.35, which is the delivery charge from our electric utility. This covers all our household lighting, cooling, laundry, electronics, water heating, etc. plus all our local and short-trip driving.

Meanwhile, many households are burdened with paying $100 to fill their gas tank for the week, plus the cost of their household electricity and methane, propane, or other fuels that they use for heating water, cooking, drying clothes, etc.

A large share of recent inflation is due to increased fossil fuel prices. For our family, that has been felt mostly in the higher cost of food, which is largely driven by the expense of fuel.

I realize that not every household will be able to follow our exact path to be nearly free of fossil fuels but the Inflation Reduction Act just passed by the Senate, which is expected to be passed by the House and sent to President Biden to sign into law later this week, will go a long way to reducing expensive fossil fuel use for residents. As more renewable power comes on line, electricity costs will come down because it is cheaper to produce than fossil fuel electricity. There are rebates targeted at lower-to-middle income folks to help move to electric vehicles, which are much cheaper to run than internal combustion engines. As battery costs have fallen, electric cars are already around the same price as some conventional cars/trucks, so the rebates may make them cheaper to buy.

It’s true that inflation will not suddenly disappear, but this bill has provisions that will bring it down and will help to decrease future inflation spikes by removing inherently volatile fossil fuel prices from the center of our economy. The bill is projected to save average households about $500/year in energy costs. Some households, such as ours, will be able to save much more than that.

So, let’s get this done and enacted! The sooner we do, the sooner it will help people and the planet.

heatwave kitchen

I did something I seldom do this morning.

I wore an apron.

Like many other locations in the Northern Hemisphere, this week we are having a heat wave. It was already 90 F (32 C) by 11:00 AM, so two hours before solar noon, given Daylight Saving Time. Not quite as bad as daughter E in London which set an all-time record at 40 C (104 F) earlier this week, but hot enough that I wanted to get kitchen work that involved heat out of the way this morning.

When I was at the farmstand earlier this week, they were selling beets for only a dollar a quart, so I bought some to roast. I decided to peel and cut them in chunks before roasting. Because I didn’t want to risk splattering my cream and blue print sundress with red beet juice, I donned the apron that B wears sometimes when he is baking.

While the beets were roasting, I made cooked butterscotch pudding for a pie. When I was growing up, my mom used to make pudding pies or sometimes fruited jello pies in the summer. I think that it isn’t a very common practice anymore because there were no pie directions on the pudding package. I remembered the modifications well enough, I hope, that the pie should set. Bonus: I had a graham crust in the cupboard so I didn’t have to bake one.

Admittedly, I don’t have to worry about our kitchen getting unbearably hot because of our air conditioning, provided very efficiently by our geothermal heat pump system. (Geothermal heat pumps use much less energy than conventional central air systems but I wanted to get my electric cooktop and oven work done early so as not to add to the electricity burden which rises in the late afternoon/evening.)

As I keep hearing about people in Europe and the US suffering from extreme heat, my mind goes to heat pumps which will keep them warm in the winter without burning methane and safely comfortable in the increasingly hot summer heat waves, all while helping to combat the greenhouse gas emissions that worsen climate change. Bonus: Heat pumps can break the stranglehold that Russia and other oligarchies have over fossil fuels, promoting peace and economic stability. So much conflict has fossil fuels as an underlying cause. We would do well to stop using them as quickly as possible, so, for peace and the planet, let’s transition to heat pumps NOW.

%d bloggers like this: