Is the current economic crisis, an ecological crisis? This is essential the question Thomas Friedman is asking in his latest NY Times Op-Ed:
What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.”
I’m sure that the green energy subsidies will substitute, at least for a time, for policy that addresses climate change. Some basic analysis shows that $37.5 billion in green energy subsidies will lower energy prices, relative to what they would have been otherwise, and increase energy usage putting relatively little price pressure on dirty energy usage. It is cheaper to tackle climate change head on by raising energy prices with a carbon tax or cap-and-trade than to deal with them indirectly in the market for green substitutes. The higher prices could be phased in so that they wouldn’t slow down economic activity during a recession.
This absolutely infuriates me. From CNN, “a coalition of Democrats and some Republicans reached a compromise that trimmed billions in spending from an earlier version of the Senate economic stimulus bill. Some of the cuts:
• $3.5 billion for energy-efficient federal buildings (original bill $7 billion)
• $200 million from Environmental Protection Agency Superfund (original bill $800 million)
• $55 million for historic preservation
• $65 million for watershed rehabilitation
• $98 million for school nutrition
• $50 million for exploration
• $200 million for National Science Foundation
• $100 million for science
• $1 billion for Energy Loan Guarantees
• $25 million for Fish and Wildlife
• $20 million for working capital fund
• $165 million for Forest Service capital improvement
• $16 billion for school construction
• $3.5 billion for higher education construction
• $1.25 billion for project based rental
• $2.25 billion for Neighborhood Stabilization
• $1.2 billion for retrofitting Project 8 housing
• $40 billion for state fiscal stabilization (includes $7.5 billion of state incentive grants)
I’ve heard the arguments repeated again and again that government can’t create jobs and stimulus money will only impact the economy if it is funneled directly to the private sector (as if McDonalds and Walmart should take precedent over Syracuse University and Superfund clean-ups). But these are the cuts? Really? I’m mean fucking really? Cuts to construction and science? And I know its a stretch in the feeble minds of republicans to imagine that watershed rehabilitation may actually create a job or two, that Energy Loan Guarantees may be an economic multiplier, etc. etc. Sorry but this just sent me over the partisan ledge.
NY Times science has a good article on the science of stream restoration. Reading this I couldn’t help but think of The Onondaga Creek Conceptual Revitalization Plan. The best approach for stream restoration “is to create landforms and water flows that streams can maintain naturally. But how you translate that into action” is the main problem. It easy to see how restoration might work in rural settings, but Onondaga creek is split into an urban and a rural/suburban component of roughly equal size. Its certainly easier to see how how urbanization altered a waterway than to find ways of “fixing” damage that might have been caused. Here is an interesting link to the history of Onondaga Creek Channelization (pdf) showing the extent to which the creek has been artificially altered, natural meanders straightened, etc. It unlikely (but not out of the realm of possibility) that these natural meanders would be restored in the urban environment; but other water management solutions are more likely.
Restoring the health of the waterway also means buffering the urban inputs into the creek. Now that the decision has been made to to scrap plans for a downtown sewage treatment plant, alternative means of storm water management on the west side are being discussed. Sunday’s Post-Standard has an article by John Mariani that details these “first steps toward creating a green solution to Onondaga Lake’s sewage issues” using rain gardens, trees, and similar means: →
I happened to catch a little of our favorite urbanist, Richard Florida, on talk of the Nation yesterday. In case anyone is interested here is the NPR link- Why ‘Where’ Is More Important than ‘Who’ or ‘What’ - this contains a link to the radio stream and some other content.
Florida’s contributions to urban planning and economic geography are undeniable, but some of his ideas about the “creative class” and mega-regions have just always rubbed me the wrong way; and I’m never exactly sure why. But listening to him yesterday finally brought into focus what bothers me the most; its this perspective that a city or region is like a economic commodity that can be “purchased” like a car – used up and thrown out when it no longer suites our needs. There is an inauthenticity in this commodification of community that brushes aside the very real, existential commitments we have to our “place” in this world. However I will backtrack a little on this today, now that I’ve listened to the whole interview.
At the beginning of the discussion Florida addresses some of the real life considerations that affect our decisions to move from place to place. He even addresses some of the attempts to bring the extended family to bear on determining the economic value of place. For what its worth, hearing him address this side of the equation gave me a better appreciation of his academic perspective.
I grabbed this from Wired Science, “Scientists Unveil High-Res Map of the U.S. Carbon Footprint” and I think it provides some context of recent revelations of Central New Yorks poor per capita carbon footprint ranking relative to other metro areas. Don’t get me wrong; this is an issue for this area, but it is the “per capita” side of the equation which is out of whack compared to other areas. The significant finding in this study is that “previous CO2 estimates that used population as a proxy for emissions overestimated the Northeast’s greenhouse-gas generation, while underestimating the coal-heavy Southeast’s contribution.”
There is a lot of justifiable concern that environmental stress and large-scale diversions to more arid regions of the country could threaten the health of the Great Lakes and surrounding communities. That is in a nut-shell the reason for being of The Great Lakes Basin Compact - to ban diversions outside the Great Lake Basin (except for very limited exceptions) and there is a growing optimism that the Compact will become the law of the land; 5 of the 8 Great Lake states have joined the compact. New York signed on earlier this year and Wisconsin most recently approved the compact and legislation is pending in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. →
Syracusans contribute more per person to global warming than the residents of any other major city in New York, and far more than people in smog-filled Los Angeles, according to a study released today by the Brookings Institution.
Residents of the Syracuse metropolitan area—including Onondaga, Madison and Oswego counties—annually produce 2.68 tons of carbon per person from transportation and household energy use, the report said.
Syracuse’s carbon footprint ranks worse than two-thirds of the nation’s largest 100 cities, the study said. Los Angeles, by contrast, produces just 1.41 tons of carbon per capita.
The analysis was conducted by a team of researchers led by Marilyn Brown, a professor of energy policy at Georgia Institute of Technology. Other authors were Frank Southworth, of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Andrea Sarzynski, senior research analyst at the Brookings Institution.
Of course this is all over the newswires with some cities preening (hey Vegas ain’t so bad) and others, like Baltimore, sharing Syracuse’s “shame”. A news peg like this is ripe for misinterpretation, so maybe I’ll revisit it in a few days or months after more information is released.
And this map (pdf warning) from the Cleveland Plain Dealer shows an Appalachian connection.
I’ve always been fascinated by crow intelligence and at the same time amazed how few people recognize this intelligence especially since, according to some cognitive research, theirs exceeds that of dogs. This video lecture from a writer Joshua Klein, who has been involved with an amateur study of corvid behavior, highlights this.
Of course a crow vending machine seems like a rather preposterous idea for dealing with a crow nuisance; but somehow after watching this the reaction to a crow problem in cities like Auburn seems equally dense.
Sean Kirst asks whether the recent annual recurrence of January thaws is a sign of global warming or simply part of the natural variability of our upstate winters. The answer is both: as a singular event a warm winter spell or even a entire warm winter season is not outside the realm of natural variability. But looking at seasonal trends in the aggregate, anthropogenic global warming suggests that statistically, Northeast winters should experience an increase in extreme warming events. This is especially the case when additional warming factors such as El Nino are in play; this point was made in detail at Real Climate in response to last year’s anomalous winter:
...one cannot attribute a specific meteorological event, an anomalous season, or even…two anomalous seasons in a row, to climate change…But one can argue that the pattern of anomalous winter warmth seen last year, and so far this year, is in the direction of what the models predict.
In reality, the individual roles of deterministic factors such as El Nino, anthropogenic climate change, and of purely random factors (i.e. “weather”) in the pattern observed thus far this winter cannot even in principle be ascertained. What we do know, however, is that both anthropogenic climate change and El Nino favor, in a statistical sense, warmer winters over large parts of the U.S. When these factors act constructively, as is the case this winter, warmer temperatures are certainly more likely. Both factors also favor warmer global mean surface temperatures (the warming is one or two tenths of a degree C for a moderate to strong El Nino)....
These statements hold up for this year as well. This is a critical point to understand about anthropogenic global warming because it underscores the complexity of the climate system and impossibility of ascribing specific weather events to climate change even though the general trends and basic physics are absolutely on solid ground forming the basis of the scientific consensus on global warming. And it is the isolated uncertainty of singular climate phenomenon that global warming contrarians have been most successful at exploiting. But it is also environmental advocates that contribute to this misunderstanding when they too cherry pick extreme weather events to promote action on global warming – whether a January thaw or Hurricane Katrina (as Gore famously did in “An Inconvenient Truth”).
Coincidentally I’ve just began reading “Storm World” which documents the scientific controversy surrounding global warming and hurricane prediction. The author, Chris Mooney, recently commented on his disappointment “with the way that some environmental advocates indefensibly exploit individual events to make a case about global warming.” But at the same time he stresses:
When it comes to wildfires, or hurricanes, or droughts, or many other weather related phenomena [like a January thaw], there is strong published research suggesting that global warming ought to be changing these events in some way in the aggregate, even if we can’t detect such changes in any individual occurrence (for basic statistical reasons). This research makes it more than fair to at least raise the subject of climate change when such events occur — with the appropriate caveats, of course.