Blowout by Rachel Maddow

One of the most impressive parts of Rachel Maddow’s book Blowout is the end. No, not the index, but the twenty pages of “Notes on Sources.” I had often found myself thinking as I read the text, “How could she possibly know this level of detail?” but I know that Rachel Maddow and her staff are very dedicated to research and accuracy, so I didn’t doubt the veracity of the stories she was relating. I was pleased to see the “Notes on Sources” because she lists the books, papers, interviews, news stories, videos, magazines, etc. that she had used to find the facts, giving readers a chance to learn more and showing that she and her staff had, indeed, been diligent in their research.

The full title of the book is Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth. That industry is, of course, the oil and gas industry.

Because of my many years in the anti-fracking and climate justice movements, I was familiar with the broad outlines of much of the oil and gas industry story. I appreciated the abundance of details on topics such as Oklahoma, the depths to which it rises or falls on fossil fuel dollars, earthquakes and induced seismicity, and the rise of Oklahoma City, including its entance into the world of big-league sports. I knew that Russia used its fossil fuel exports as a cudgel and that Putin and his oligarchs ran roughshod over whomever stood in their way, but hadn’t realized all the factors involved, including the immensity of the impact of US sanctions that stopped Rex Tillerson’s ExxonMobil from assisting Russian Arctic drilling and spearheaded Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

I was less familiar with the expressions of the “resource curse” in other parts of the world, such as Equatorial Guinea. These stories illustrate how the proceeds of the oil and gas industry flow to the already powerful leaders of government and industry and not to the general populations of the countries, who often remain mired in poverty and ecological devastation.

While I brought a considerable amount of personal background/geekery to my reading, the book is equally as enjoyable and informative for those who know little of the industry. Maddow’s writing is clear and compelling. Much of the book reads like literature, with compelling, recurring characters, rich details, and unexpected plot twists. That the stories are all true heightens their impact.

That we are continuing to deal with the repercussions of the events in this book makes reading it that much more important.
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Please join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/06/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-6th-2020/

mostly fossil-free home!

A project that B and I have been working on for years is finally complete. With the installation of a geothermal heating/cooling system, we are able to disconnect our home from the methane infrastructure, which in our area means that we are no longer burning fracked gas from neighboring Pennsylvania in our home. Because we had previously installed a hybrid electric/heat pump hot water heater, our furnace had been the only thing still attached to the gas lines. Now that it is gone, we won’t have to pay for methane, which is relatively low-priced at the moment, or the delivery charges, which are relatively expensive in New York. Those savings will help with our electric bill, which will go up, although our panels in a community solar array generate a good chunk of our electricity. In our region of New York, changing from methane to geothermal for heating is considered a wash in terms of cost, but our air conditioning costs will be much lower with the heat pump than with our outdoor compressor unit.

We have done other projects to make our home more efficient, such as changing to LED lighting and adding more insulation. We use a rechargeable battery-operated lawn mower and electric leaf blower. The only two household things that will still use fossil fuels are our propane grill and our gasoline-powered snowblower, which is only needed a handful of times a year, if that.

We have also cut way back on our use of gasoline for transportation, driving an all-electric Chevy Bolt and a plug-in hybrid electric Chrysler Pacifica. We only use gasoline when we take the Pacifica on longer trips. It gets 30ish miles on battery. When it is running on gas, some of the engine power re-charges the battery, so even when we have no plug-in charge remaining, a quarter to a third of our miles will still be battery powered. It could be even more than that if we are driving on roads with terrain or lots of stop signs/lights because the braking is regenerative, meaning the energy from slowing the car goes toward charging the battery. It’s possible that, as rapid charging stations become more available, we may be able to take longer trips in our Bolt, which would cut our gasoline usage even further. (I know some of you urbanites are wondering why we don’t use mass transit. Unfortunately, our area has almost no mass transit available.)

We have tried to cut down our fossil fuel usage and control our total energy usage as much as is practicable, but I know there is one sector where our carbon footprint will become heavier rather than lighter. I have not been a frequent flyer in my first almost-six decades, but I am likely to be flying several times a year for the foreseeable future. With daughter E and granddaughter ABC’s recent move to London, I see a fair number of airplane flights coming.

The first one will be next month.

SoCS: hole in the ground

For the last three days, there has been a crew in our front yard drilling a 500-foot hole in the ground. That’s about 150 meters for all you people who live in the metric world, which is almost everyone except the US…

The reason for this is not to find water, which happened well before they hit rock at 80 feet. Instead, this very deep hole is to install a geothermal heating and cooling system.

I’m excited because, after the new system is in, we will be able to permanently disconnect our house from the methane supply system. Our cooling costs will also be much lower because geothermal systems are much more efficient than the typical central air conditioning unit.

I will be glad not to be using any fracked gas which has caused so much trouble for our PA (Pennsylvania) neighbors and the climate. We will also helping to support the New York State version of a “Green New Deal”, moving to renewable energy in a way that is supportive of impacted workers and communities.

At the moment, though, we just have a very deep hole in the ground with two tubes coming out of it – and a very, very muddy, messy yard.
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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “ground.” Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/10/11/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-oct-12-19/

Climate Strike!

The day after I wrote this post lamenting the lack of a local climate strike action, I got an email from a local climate champion saying that there would be an event in Binghamton on Friday, the day that millions of people took part in thousands of actions around the world.

We met in front of the building that houses Senator Schumer’s office. As Senate minority leader, he is our most influential representative in Washington. In keeping with the youth leadership of climate strikes, this was organized by local university students, with lots of energy coming from the students who gathered. There were also a number of allies, many of whom were veterans of the fight against fracking in New York State.

I was pleased to be able to attend and lend support and happy to be part of three generations in my family there. Daughters E and T were both there; granddaughter ABC, at two years old, was the youngest attendee. Several people commented that we were gathered there for climate action for her and her generation, so that they will have a livable planet.

Our climate strike event on Friday was very grassroots, with the co-organizers speaking and then offering the mike to anyone that wanted to speak. Next Friday, September 27th, will be a larger and more formal event with several local organizations as sponsors, featuring speakers, music, tabling, and food. I hope to be able to attend that, too.

There is a lot of work to do in order to keep global temperature rise in check, so much that it often seems impossible, but I am more hopeful than I have been for a while. With young people around the world rallying and demanding action, maybe national leaders will finally find the political will to make a rapid and just transition to a sustainable, though still damaged, world.

Sixth Blogiversary!

(I enjoy the way spellcheck corrects my spelling of blogiversary, as though it were a real word.)

WordPress helpfully reminded me that I started Top of JC’s Mind six years ago today.

Six years ago feels like a different world, in ways both small- and large-scale.

Six years ago, B and I both still had our moms.

L and daughter E were in Hawai’i, still in their first year of marriage, never dreaming that the first two years of their daughter’s life would be spent at our home in upstate New York while L worked in London toward getting a spousal visa for E. The visa should be arriving soon. B and I will have an eerily quiet home when E and ABC leave at whatever point in the coming weeks…

During the last six years, daughter T has completed a master’s in conservation biology of plants – and has faced an administration that has ignored her field of study at a time when it is most needed.

Six years ago, Barack Obama was president of the United States. Even though the Republicans in Congress blocked a lot of things that would have been helpful for the country, we, at least, had a sense of pride in our nation on the world stage and an absence of scandal. With Donald Trump as president, there is a general sense of fear and apprehension and the United States has lost its leadership position; there seem to be multiple scandals every week.

Six years ago, we were fighting in New York for a ban on shale fracking. Amazingly enough, New York instituted a regulatory ban, which is still holding. Given that New York has just recently enacted the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, it would fly in the face of our climate goals to begin fracking, even under a future governor.

Meanwhile, the global climate situation is becoming more and more dire. While I was encouraged by the Paris climate accord, the time since has been difficult, with DT ready to pull the US out of the accord in November, 2020. Many states, cities, companies, and individuals have stepped up to continue working toward net zero carbon goals. Our family is doing its part by changing to LED lighting, increasing our insulation, buying panels in a community solar installation, and driving a fully electric Chevy Bolt and a plug-in hybrid Chrysler Pacifica.

Some things have stayed constant over these six years, though. I am grateful for my loving family and safe home, for a faith that remains despite challenges, for music and poetry, and for the opportunity to share my thoughts here.

My hope is that I will be able to continue writing – and that, at least, a few of you will continue to visit me here at Top of JC’s Mind.

Fracking update

I spent a lot of time involved with the eventually successful efforts to ban high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for fossil fuels in New York State. Meanwhile, from my town on the NY/PA border, we have watched a host of negative consequences unfold for some of our PA neighbors. I am also only an hour or so from Cornell University, home to some of the leading researchers on fracking. I was privileged to see these professors speak a number of times, both on campus and at community events.

One of these researchers, Dr. Robert Howarth, has just published a new paper in the journal Biogeosciences about one of the most unfortunate environmental effects of the fracking boom, the release of methane to the atmosphere. Global atmospheric levels of methane are at all-time highs since recording began. The levels started a steep rise in 2006, just as the fracking boom in the United States was picking up.

Having heard and seen so much evidence of methane leakage from fracking, I had already assumed that the two were related, but, in this paper, Dr. Howarth explains the evidence by measuring the amount of 13C present, allowing him to determine the part of the global rise in methane related to fracking, most of which was emitted in the United States. The industry tries to tell us that they are controlling methane emissions through detecting and fixing leaks on the wellpads, but there are many other ways in which methane is released, including venting and flaring at the site, especially in areas where the methane is released when the company is primarily drilling for oil; well leakage that develops over time as casings fail; methane that seeps through the ground to the surface, similar to the way radon reaches basements when it originated thousands of feet below; abandoned wells when fractures intersect with them; compressor station leaks and releases; leakage from transmission and delivery pipes, some of which are over 100 years old; and the production, transport, and use of LNG.

Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide but is relatively short-lived in the atmosphere. This makes reducing it quickly imperative in the effort to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

It is also why the more ambitious climate plans in the United States, such as those of Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Bernie Sanders, call for a ban on fracking.

The sooner this happens, the better. The economics of fracking are already poor, with a number of companies going bankrupt because of it. In many markets, renewable energy is cheaper than fossil fuel energy already and energy storage technology is progressing rapidly while falling in price. It’s time to ban fracking and new fossil fuel infrastructure and go all in for renewable energy, energy storage, and energy efficiency.

We need to do all we can to keep the planet livable for people and all other life forms. Banning fracking would be a great step in the right direction.

SoCS: social justice

During the struggle against fracking in New York, one of my roles was writing comments on related articles. I was part of the rapid response team, so I spent a lot of time doing it, so much so that if I was at an in-person event that drew people from around the state, people recognized my name if we were introduced. I had done a lot of research, so I was able to present my point of view on many different aspects of the effects.

What I seldom wrote of was the personal basis of my views, which was Catholic social justice doctrine, which was always in my heart, even as my mind was filled with science and statistics and personal stories from our neighbors in Pennsylvania.

As time has gone on and my public role has lessened, I have more often spoken of the role of social justice in my life. This became easier when Pope Francis published his encyclical Laudato’ Si. While people knew that it would be about climate change, they didn’t realize how much of it would center around human relationships with each other. Francis calls this approach “integral ecology” and it demonstrates one of the basic tenets of social justice doctrine, care for creation, and another, care for other people, especially those most vulnerable. These are viewpoints that many people of good will hold and there are many routes to them; I just want to acknowledge the impact of Catholic social doctrine for me, which combined with other influences to bring me to this point.

(The link above has the entire text of the encyclical with the option to read it in about a dozen languages. It was written prior to the Paris climate change meetings which led to the accord signed by over 190 nations. Francis addressed it to “all people of good will” because climate change affects everyone on earth.)
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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “social.” Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/06/14/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-june-15-19/

SoCS badge by Pamela, at https://achronicalofhope.com/

Two Poems for the Marcellus

In April 2014, I changed the original post below when I submitted my poem to an anthology. It wasn’t selected, but I never reposted with my poem included. When I ran across this copied into my drafts folder today, I figured it was time to put it back out there. It a good reminder to me that, even though there is a lot more work to do, we have made some progress since November 30, 2012.
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I had to share this link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sandra-steingraber/marcellus-shale_b_1428030.html, which leads to an essay and poem by biologist/poet, Dr. Sandra Steingraber.  She is one of the heroes in the fight to keep unconventional fossil fuel extraction, aka fracking, out of New York State and to rein in this and all toxic industrial activity everywhere. The poem is mind-blowing for me, partly because of its depth of composition and partly because I have spent a lot of time in the fight, too, although in the role of citizen advocate/commenter, not expert/lecturer/author.

This seems a good opportunity to share a poem I wrote, right after the announcement that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation was putting out final drilling regulations for comment, despite the supplemental generic environmental impact statement not being complete. The good news is that we mobilized to submit over 100,000 public comments and the DEC let the proposed regulations lapse. The SGEIS is still incomplete, pending a health review from the state health commissioner, and we still do not have high volume fracking in New York State.

Novermber 30, 2012 – After DEC Regs

Watching the silent snow,
The voices recede.
The hills are shrouded,
The innocent land
Unaware of the impending attack.
The crows circle,
Seeking carrion.
The cold creeps into our bones.
The land shivers,
Resting now from the furrowing of the plow
Under its snow blanket,
Dreaming of spring.
Will the thaw bring warmth and greening
Or drilling and destruction?

Disturbing fracking news

I am a veteran of the fight against shale gas development in New York State, and, more broadly, against unconventional fossil fuel development and for a rapid increase in renewable energy in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions and keep global warming as low as possible.

I am fortunate to live in the Binghamton area, not that far from Ithaca, where several prominent scientists and professors work. They often came to speak at events in Binghamton and I sometimes would travel to Ithaca for lectures. I learned a lot from them and would use their research in commenting on news articles and in writing blog posts.

One of my favorite speakers is Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, Dwight C. Baum Professor of Engineering Emeritus at Cornell University. His specialty is rock fracture mechanics and he had done hydraulic fracturing research for many years, putting him in a unique position to anticipate the dangers of combining high-volume slick-water hydrofracking with long laterals in shale. He teamed with Dr. Robert Howarth, an environmental scientist at Cornell, in the first major paper raising an alarm about methane leakage from shale oil/gas development; the paper was controversial, but prescient, with subsequent research affirming levels of methane leakage much higher than industry and government projections.

This newly released twelve minute video with Dr. Ingraffea shows the climate consequences of the decision to develop shale gas. This blog post by Sharon Kelly gives some further background and also has a link to the video, in case the embedded one below isn’t working. 

SoCS: ecology

I have long had an interest in ecology and environmental issues. In recent years, I have done a lot of advocacy in opposition to fossil fuel development and in favor of renewable energy. I’ve also taken a number of steps to do my part in fighting climate change, such as driving an all-electric vehicle, buying solar panels in a community solar array, adding home insulation, switching to a hybrid heat-pump electric hot water heater, and moving to LED lighting.

I have also participated in and then led a study group on Pope Francis’s encyclical “Laudato Si'” which uses the term integral ecology to connote practices that are good for both the planet and for people, especially those who are most vulnerable.

One of my closest connections to ecology, though, is my daughter T, who hopes to build a career in ecosystem restoration. She has an undergrad degree in the Science of Natural and Environmental Systems and a master’s in Conservation Biology of Plants. Unfortunately, the current administration in the US is not keen on environmental restoration. We hope states and foundations will step in to fill the void.

Our country and planet really need people working to help the natural world as much as possible. All our lives depend on it.
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The prompt today was “eco.” Join us for Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday and/or Just Jot It January! Details here:
https://lindaghill.com/2018/01/05/the-friday-reminder-for-socs-jusjojan-daily-prompt-jan-
6th-2018