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Fracking Company Has Made It Rain Toxic Water Upon New Mexico Without Penalty

Rain over New Mexico state flag as oil pipes and methane flare
Is New Mexico’s state government aiding and abetting fracking companies’ damage to humans and the environment?

BYDahr Jamail

Truthout

Penny Aucoin, her husband Carl Dee George, their son Gideon and their daughter Skyler have had their lives devastated by the fracking industry.

There was no oil and gas infrastructure where they lived when they moved to Carlsbad, New Mexico. But six years ago, during a massive expansion of drilling across the Permian Basin that spans West Texas and southeastern New Mexico — one of the most prolific oil and gas basins in the United States — the drilling began.

It was so loud they had to provide hearing protection for Skyler. Then when the flaring commenced, dead birds began literally falling out of the sky right next to their home, and one of their chickens died.

Shortly after that, Penny began feeling the health impacts. Blisters appeared on her face as more drilling pads were installed, some of them literally across the street from their home. Their bedroom walls shook as the drilling pads were constructed nearby, installing both a physical and psychological invasion on the family home. Skyler started having nosebleeds, respiratory issues beset them all, and Penny had ongoing headaches. Carl discovered a nodule on his tongue.

Then, when a pipeline near their home burst this January, they, along with their home and their animals were showered with toxic chemicals. When they walked outside to investigate the bang they heard, which was followed by gushing fluids, they believed it was raining. But what they thought was rain was, in fact, “produced water,” the byproduct of fracking. According to the American Geosciences Institute, this toxic byproduct is full of corrosive salts, oil residues (oil is a hazardous material), fracking chemicals, bacteria and dissolved organic compounds. These proprietary chemical blends created by industry and protected under trade secret law are highly carcinogenic.

Since then, the family’s days are filled with doctor’s appointments, and Carl, a veteran, regularly visits the VA in Albuquerque, hoping the nodule on his tongue doesn’t turn into cancer. Any dream of their life returning to what it was before the oil and gas invasion is long gone, and now it is a matter of survival.What they thought was rain was, in fact, “produced water,” the byproduct of fracking, full of corrosive salts, oil residues, fracking chemicals, bacteria and dissolved organic compounds.

They are just one family who are paying the price for a virtually unregulated drilling and fracking industry that has created one of the largest environmental disasters of modern times.

report by Physicians for Social Responsibility released in 2019 outlines, in detail, the dire health impacts caused by fracking. The many public health effects it cites include these examples:

In Pennsylvania, hospitalizations for pneumonia among the elderly are elevated in areas of fracking activity, and one study found significantly elevated rates of bladder and thyroid cancers. In Colorado, children and young adults with leukemia were 4.3 times more likely to live in an area dense with oil and gas wells. Drilling and fracking operations in multiple states are variously correlated with increased rates of asthma; increased hospitalizations for pneumonia and kidney, bladder, and skin problems; high blood pressure and signs of cardiovascular disease; elevated motor vehicle fatalities; symptoms of depression; ambulance runs and emergency room visits.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) recently released a Permian Basin-wide study on the emissions of methane and other volatile organic compounds. The study found methane releases across the Permian at a rate three times that which was reported nationally by the Environmental Protection Agency. Furthermore, the EDF found a leak rate 15 times higher than the goal set by the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, a group of 10 oil and gas CEOs representing one quarter of the industry’s entire global production. The group committed to investing in projects that will accelerate commercial deployment of low-carbon energy technologies. The amount of wasted gas alone could meet the energy needs of every home in Dallas and Houston combined, and the EDF estimates these methane emissions cost New Mexican taxpayers as much as $43 million in revenue, annually.

It is against that backdrop that a Harvard nationwide study recently revealed a link between air pollution and higher rates of COVID-19 deaths. “The results of this paper suggest that long-term exposure to air pollution increases vulnerability to experiencing the most severe Covid-19 outcomes,” the authors wrote.A Harvard nationwide study recently revealed a link between air pollution and higher rates of COVID-19 deaths.

Direct assaults from air and environmental pollution, noise impacts, and chemical exposure for anyone living within 200 feet of oil and gas infrastructure are known to bring cancer, respiratory diseases, asthma, heart disease, and injury to small children, pregnant women and fetuses.

Now, in addition to these health threats, Penny Aucoin and her family are faced with the reality that they are more than twice as likely to contract COVID-19 compared to people not living among oil and gas drilling and fracking operations.

Adding insult to injury, Williams Production and Exploration Energy, Inc. (WPX), based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the company responsible for the burst pipeline, offered to buy them a new chicken coop and water bowl, and told them to keep the chickens off the ground for five days. That advice was contradicted by people from the Department of Health, the Eddy County Extension Office (Agriculture), and their vet who all deemed their yard too dangerous for the animals. Aucoin moved the family’s chickens and goat to the vet after the pipeline burst. Those officials, and the vet herself, all told Aucoin to have the chickens put down and not to eat the eggs. “They also told us not to grow food on the land because it is contaminated,” Aucoin told Truthout.

While WPX paid for the boarding at the vet, “they only offered us an insulting amount of money for compensation for everything,” Aucoin said. “But that doesn’t compensate us for the property damage, nor does it take into account our ongoing sickness, or having to move and start all over.”

“Now, because the land is contaminated, we can’t grow food or eat from the animals,” Aucoin said. “But we are still here, seven months later, and we are still in it. They didn’t evacuate us, or remediate the property.”

WPX does not have to release relevant health and toxicity information to the family about the contaminated water that rained down upon them because the makeup of this so-called “produced water” is considered proprietary.

Aucoin and her family have received no assistance from the State of New Mexico, and no actions have been brought against WPX by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and her relevant governmental “regulatory” groups. The Oil Conservation Division (OCD) performed no independent investigation of the incident and closed the case against WPX without a warning, fine, civil or criminal penalty, or revocation of their permit to drill.

A History of Environmental Destruction

Since Governor Lujan Grisham took office in early 2019, there have been 87 incidents, some of them major, by WPX alone.

WPX has a history of egregious failures, which wouldn’t have been possible without complicity of several New Mexico authorities, including the governor.WPX does not have to release relevant health and toxicity information because the makeup of this so-called “produced water” is considered proprietary.

In July 2016, 36 of WPX’s oil and “produced water” tanks caught fire in San Juan County, setting off several explosions and causing the closure of a nearby highway. New Mexico’s OCD had approved the development of the site, despite warnings about the company.

“WPX Energy scored near the bottom of the industry in a recent scorecard report published by investors benchmarking 35 companies on their disclosed efforts to mitigate key impacts,” advisory firm Green Century Funds wrote in 2015, “and has faced controversy in the past over allegations that it irreparably contaminated local drinking water in Pennsylvania.”

In November 2019, a pipeline failure at a WPX well caused a large amount of “produced water” to be released into a nearby pasture. Despite the fact that an initial estimate of thousands of gallons of potentially carcinogenic produced wastewater were released onto an adjacent farm, neither the governor, New Mexico Environmental Department (NMED), Energy Minerals Natural Resource Department (EMNRD), nor OCD required WPX to even notify the adjacent property owner of the potentially hazardous release. OCD later downgraded the total amount of “produced water” that was lost to 1,260 gallons, but the case remains open.

Of the aforementioned 87 self-reported spills in New Mexico that have occurred since Governor Lujan Grisham took office, most of these have been fracked waste water and crude oil, with a total volume of at least 169,470 gallons, with WPX stating the majority of the incidents resulted from “equipment failure.”

Evidence gathered in preparation of a potential lawsuit by the Aucoin family, provided to Truthout, shows that WPX has repeatedly failed to take actions to mitigate harm to both people and the environment, and that the aforementioned New Mexico state entities, which are tasked with protecting citizens and the environment and overseeing the oil and gas industry in the state, have “repeatedly failed to hold WPX and other Oil and Gas companies accountable for committing that harm,” according to research conducted for the family.

The findings of the evidence also show numerous and egregious environmental violations WPX has carried out both in and outside of New Mexico.Since Governor Lujan Grisham took office two years ago, at least 901 incidents have been reported by the 10 largest companies operating in New Mexico.

WPX has been involved in numerous lawsuits that have alleged egregious environmental violations, particularly regarding water contamination. In one instance on February 27, 2017, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection fined WPX Energy Appalachia $1.2 million for contaminating drinking water.

In just one source alone, “Hydraulic Fracturing Tort Litigation Summary” published on July 15, there were at least three other lawsuits against WPX. One example that is eerily similar to the issues WPX is involved with in New Mexico, on page 52 of the document, reads: “On July 2, 2015, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection ordered WPX Energy Appalachia LLC to restore or replace the water supply of Virginia and Glen Kalp after determining that WPX’s fracking activities were responsible for contamination of the water.”

WPX is not alone in their malfeasance; since Governor Lujan Grisham took office two years ago, at least 901 incidents have been reported by the 10 largest companies operating in New Mexico. Other major violators include XTO Energy, which has had, at the time of this writing, 280 incidents in the same time period; Devon Energy, which has had 165; and Oxy USA with 153.

The findings also reveal that Governor Lujan Grisham and all the relevant state agencies responsible took “little to no action … to supervise, monitor, control, or penalize the companies,” even for “major” incidents” which were most commonly spills of “produced water,” natural gas, or crude oil.

Failure to Regulate

The State of New Mexico does not even have legal standards for some of the top carcinogens found in the toxic wastewater produced by fracking.New Mexico does not even have legal standards for some of the top carcinogens found in the toxic wastewater produced by fracking.

The State of New Mexico holds all natural resources within its borders in public trust for the benefit of the people of New Mexico. The way Penny Aucoin sees it, the State of New Mexico has, according to their complaint, “failed in its fiduciary duty to recognize and prevent substantial impairment to the environment, control of pollution and control despoilment of the air, water, and other natural resources in violation of its Constitutional and statutory duties, thereby injuring these Plaintiffs.”

The very agencies that are charged with the protection of New Mexico’s air, land and water, and are “obligated to monitor, regulate, control, and enforce against oil and gas pollution” have failed in that responsibility causing injury to Aucoin and her family, as well as all New Mexicans.

Due to WPX’s contamination of Aucoin’s family and property with toxic, carcinogenic and other ultra-hazardous materials, they have suffered the usual things people suffer from when they live in the impact zone of the oil and gas industry: loss of the use and enjoyment of their property and their living space, loss of health, loss of quality of life, emotional distress, and other damages. They have no idea what the long-term impacts of their exposure will be, but the risks associated with long-term exposure to volatile organic compounds like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes — including growth reduction, cancer and birth impacts like low birth weight — are well known.

What makes Aucoin’s potential lawsuit special is that it is challenging the entire fracking method of oil and gas extraction in New Mexico, as well as all of the state entities complicit with the oil and gas companies engaging in fracking.

In the company’s own words, WPX is “focused on profitably exploiting, developing and growing our oil positions in the Williston Basin in North Dakota and the Permian and San Juan Basins,” and includes ownership, operation, construction, drilling, hydraulic fracturing, production and maintenance of certain natural gas wells.

Aucoin’s and her family’s claims arise precisely out of these very activities.

The NMED, EMNRD and OCD are all obligated to monitor, supervise, regulate, control and enforce against oil and gas pollution. Yet they all have grossly failed their responsibility to do so. None of them ever issued compliance actions, required remediation plans, assessed penalties, suspended permits, or launched civil or criminal actions against WPX or any other bad actors in the oil and gas industry in New Mexico. This means that the government entities and their negligence of their official policy responsibilities have directly caused the harms to Aucoin and her family, as well as depriving them of their rights, which are protected by New Mexico’s laws and constitution.The harms aren’t just to human health. The toll on the state’s water resources is significant.

“Additionally, although not authorized by written law, such practices of extreme leniency,” reads the complaint, “including failure to investigate, failure to execute effective measures of enforcement or penalize violations, meaning that there are no proper proceedings for redress, by Defendant governmental entities, are so permanent and well settled as to constitute a ‘custom or usage’ with the force of law that encourage a ‘wild west’ or ‘anything goes’ environment that WPX and other oil and gas entities enjoy which caused the injuries to Plaintiffs.”

The harms aren’t just to human health. The toll on the state’s water resources is significant. New Mexico is already facing extreme water scarcity exacerbated alongside the climate crisis. Drilling one well required more than 11 million gallons of water per day in 2016, which is enough to fill 17 Olympic-size swimming pools, according to one study.

And for every barrel of oil produced, four barrels of toxic “produced water” come with it. “Produced water” presents a dangerous and costly waste issue. According to the NMED, in 2018, New Mexico wells generated 42 billion gallons of this toxic wastewater, which is enough to cover 8,000 football fields with a foot of water every day. High levels of carcinogenic and radioactive fracking waste have already contaminated New Mexico’s lands and waterways. According to the OCD, there were 1,523 reported spills in New Mexico in 2018, which is roughly one spill every six hours. Already in 2020, 1.6 million gallons of produced waste liquid have been released, according to industry self-reporting. These “spills” and “releases” are not considered a violation of any law, and operators face no punitive consequences.

What is the state’s answer to this ever-increasing waste problem? OCD released a proposed rule amendment in July with new mandates established in the state Produced Water Act, which was signed into law in 2019. The law was hailed by New Mexico House Speaker Brian Egolf as one of the greatest environmental achievements in the state’s history, but critics have raised concerns that the Produced Water Act and subsequent rule-making could open the door for carcinogenic and radioactive fracking waste fluids to be “re-purposed” in other sectors, such as road construction and management, and even irrigation. Whether that is the intention of the bill’s sponsors is unclear.

Speaker Egolf submitted written comments to the OCD, according to research for the Aucoin family, stating, “I urge you to take care in the crafting of these regulations to ensure that none of the rules and regulations adopted pursuant to House Bill 546 inadvertently allow or purport to permit any use, application, or discharge of produced water outside of oil and gas operations. The people of New Mexico will be best served by the adoption of stringent regulations of produced water that put public health and safety first and clearly state that any use of produced water outside of oil and gas operations is prohibited.”

However, a public records request revealed the OCD is working with industry on “pilot projects” for off-field application before the state’s Consortium on Produced Water has completed a public safety review. Experts at the two-day hearing also pointed out that restricting produced water’s reuse to the “oilfield” is a legal fiction: What constitutes the oil field? Penny, Carl, Gideon and Skyler’s home is technically outside of the well pad — but that didn’t protect them from the impacts of exposure. The Aucoin/George family, like tens of thousands of others, live inside a checkerboard of “oil and gas operations.”

Searching for Justice

Already in 2020, 1.6 million gallons of produced waste liquid have been released. These “spills” and “releases” are not considered a violation of any law, and operators face no punitive consequences.

When asked what WPX is doing to compensate or “make whole” the Aucoin/George family for their ongoing health issues, and the fact that the family no longer feels safe living where they do because of the proximity to the oil and gas operations, WPX spokesperson Kelly Swan told Truthout, “It’s difficult to ascertain the status of their health situation without undertaking an extensive discovery process, which would include an examination of historical medical records. However, a member of the Aucoin family publicly testified in October 2019 about blisters, headaches, asthma and nosebleeds. Those conditions obviously pre-date the rupture that occurred on our water line near their property in January 2020.”

Swan stated that since the accident, WPX has repaired the line and conducted safety and pressure tests, buried part of the line that was aboveground, and shut the oil well that fed the line. He also said soil testing and remediation was conducted, and the results were reported to OCD.

“Data from this work confirms that any misting from the tear in the line that may have impacted the family’s property has been remediated and cleaned up to NMOCD standards,” Swan said. “On Aug. 4, the NMOCD approved the completion of our remediation work.”

When asked what his company is doing to remedy what appears to be a history of accidents, spills and contaminating water sources, Swan said:

In 2019, WPX had 366 spills while managing more than 188 million barrels of produced water and oil on our drilling and production sites in Texas, New Mexico and North Dakota. That’s enough liquid to fill about 12,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Of that amount, we kept 99.988% of the water and oil where it was supposed to be — in pipes, tanks, equipment, trucks, etc. In addition to state reporting requirements, we make this information publicly available in an ESG report on our website.

He added that his company spends millions of dollars on prevention, maintenance, training and research into the causes of spills, and that in 2019, WPX reduced the volume of its spills by 29 percent compared to 2018.

As for what WPX is doing to compensate the Aucoin/George family, Swan said, “WPX had someone on-site to shut-in the well and stop the release within 24 minutes of learning about the incident. We have remained engaged with the family ever since and will continue to address their claims.”

Meanwhile, Penny, Carl and Skyler’s nosebleeds, headaches and rashes continue. Gideon, their son, will soon have his nose cauterized again in an attempt to stem the nosebleeds, and Carl’s skin rashes have spread across his back and shoulders.

Aucoin wants WPX to make things right, but also simply wants acknowledgement of the suffering that has been caused to her family.

“We want them to realize we are people, and that they’ve ruined our lives,” she said. “They need to get us out of there and move us to a safe place.”

Carl told Truthout that WPX needs to “replace all that we’ve lost,” including the loss of his family’s home, and strained relations within his family.

“This has ruined our lives in so many different ways,” Aucoin said. “Our health, family relations, financial problems, literally all aspects of our lives. It has become a living nightmare. It’s like the company does not realize how they have impacted and changed every aspect of our lives.”

New Mexico is faced with this fundamental issue: Does it fill its coffers with blood money, sacrificing the health of its people in order to reap funding from the oil and gas industry? Or does it hold accountable an entire industry that is poisoning its people and the Land of Enchantment?

New Mexico’s current administration has chosen the former.Sooooo close!

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Venezuela leads the way in hurricane relief efforts

Jamier Sale

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Barbuda: Damage caused by Irma

After Hurricane Harvey left thousands of homes underwater, Venezuela pledged $5 million to aid in relief through its oil company Citgo as well as providing free fuel for relief workers in the area.

First with Harvey and now with Irma, Venezuela has demonstrated the true meaning of solidarity with its response to the devastation left by the two historic tropical storms. The tiny island of Barbuda lay in ruins after enduring the Category 5 hurricane with winds over 175 mph. It is reported that St. Martin is 95 percent destroyed, and more damage is expected on other islands as Irma continues its path of destruction.

Within 24 hours of speaking with officials from Barbuda, Venezuela began delivering urgently needed medical supplies, beds, and water to the hard-hit Caribbean island. They also provided two military cargo planes to be used to get supplies from neighboring countries.

As this is being written, Venezuela stands as the first, and to-date only, nation to provide this vital support needed for those in the wake of the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic. Cuba, with its legendary medical aid to many countries during disasters, is itself hunkering down as the monstrous hurricane approaches the island.

This spirit of solidarity that has been shown by Venezuela is a reflection of the humanitarian values of the Bolivarian Revolution. At the same time as the reactionary opposition is engaged in an economic war against the Venezuelan government and masses, with the support of the U.S. government, humanitarian support with no strings attached for those in need remains a high priority.

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Gov’t silent as climate change unfolds

Tina Landis

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San Francisco skyline tainted orange from wildfire smoke, Sept. 9

As I write this article from San Francisco, Calif., the sky is dark orange and I need to have my desk lamp on to see, despite that it’s midday. There is so much smoke in the atmosphere above the summer fog layer that only the orange light gets through to the ground. 

From megafires, extreme heat waves, summer snow storms and hurricanes, millions across the United States are witnessing the effects of climate change first hand. California broke record temperatures again over Labor Day weekend while fires burned from Alaska to Mexico and around the globe. Colorado went from record high temperatures over Labor Day weekend to a snowstorm on Tuesday with a 60 to 70 F drop in temperatures within 24 hours.

Northern California is currently experiencing three of the four largest fires in the state’s history, burning over 2 million acres — an area more than twice the size of Los Angeles — since Aug. 18 with hundreds of smaller fires dotting the state. Over 100,000 have been evacuated and thousands have lost their homes, all during an unprecedented economic crisis and a pandemic with no end in sight.

The majority of fires were triggered by a rare weather anomaly. A tropical cyclone off the California coast clashed with a prolonged heatwave, causing an atmospheric disturbance and over 11,000 dry lightning strikes within 72 hours beginning on the night of Aug. 18. This came while the state is in a drought with vegetation prime to ignite. The frequency and severity of tropical cyclones and heat waves in the region is growing with climate change making a repeat of this weather anomaly likely. 

Currently, there are 89 large fires burning throughout the western United States. The 367 fires that were sparked by the lightning strikes overloaded already stretched CAL FIRE crews. Other states that generally send crews to support California were tied down with their own fires. The impossible task of containing so many massive fires at one time was even more dire due to a lack of inmate firefighters who annually supplement CAL FIRE crews. 

As part of an early-release program to reduce COVID-19 risk in prisons, formerly incarcerated fire crew members were unable to serve due to felony records, despite years of experience fighting wildfires. The state has since passed AB-2147, which will allow those formerly incarcerated firefighters to serve on CAL FIRE crews after release.

Longest streak of poor air quality

The densely populated San Francisco Bay Area is currently experiencing the longest streak of poor air quality in history — at 23 consecutive days as of this writing. The fires have forced people to stay indoors to avoid smoke exposure in the time of COVID-19 when protecting our respiratory health is even more crucial. But due to the extreme heat wave making it unsafe to keep windows closed without air conditioning, many have no choice but to suffer through the smoke. 

Immigrant farm workers throughout the state are being forced to work not only in extreme temperatures but also wildfire smoke. These super-exploited workers face eviction and starvation if they don’t go to work. 

Wildfire evacuees face the choice of risking exposure to COVID-19 in shelters or paying for hotel rooms. Although evacuation centers are limiting the number of people per center to maintain social distancing, reports state that enforcement of masks is spotty, forcing working-class people to choose between sheltering in their cars during high temperatures and smoky air or risk COVID-19. 

This is the class war on display, which will become heightened as climate change unfolds while the government does nothing significant to protect the most vulnerable. Every year, wildfires are becoming more frequent, larger, and more destructive, yet the state has done little to prepare and protect the population. 

Until the 1800s when colonizers banned the practice, the indigenous people of California annually held controlled burns to clear vegetation and reduce the spread of wildfires. In recent years, the state has increased efforts to clear vegetation in advance of fire season. But with climate change exacerbating fire risk, aging electrical infrastructure, and extreme weather events like the one that caused the current fires, those efforts fall short. 

At the same time as the fires raged, Hurricane Laura — one of the strongest hurricanes to reach landfall in Gulf Coast history — pounded southwestern Louisiana with 150 mph winds leaving 100,000 without power, cell service, or clean water for more than two weeks now. A dangerous heat wave that followed the storm caused more deaths than the hurricane itself. 

After the initial impact, the media has been largely silent on the devastation that the community of the Lake Charles region is facing. Liberation News sent a team of journalists to provide aid and give voice to those impacted. The team discovered that residents have seen no government relief workers and have no access to shelters despite widespread devastation.

Scientists have a hard time predicting exactly how fast climate change will unfold and the extent of the effects. We are currently only at 1 C warming and already experiencing extreme weather and devastation around the globe. The much-touted Paris Agreement’s voluntary commitments have us on target for 3 C warming, when scientists warn that staying below 1.5 C warming is what is needed to avert catastrophe. 

Despite being in charge of the wealthiest country in the world, the U.S. government — Democrat and Republican — is doing nothing to mitigate or prepare for the looming catastrophe. Even in to liberal bastion of California, state leadership is not taking the crisis seriously. California is the fifth largest economy in the world, yet there is no money for people’s needs while Big Tech gets tax breaks.

If humanity is to survive this crisis, we must immediately put all resources into preparing for what’s currently unfolding and what’s to come. We must immediately transition off fossil fuels and restore ecosystems that capture carbon from the atmosphere. We must protect the population from climate disasters and provide real relief for people in the aftermath. 

Capitalism has proven time and again that it is incapable and unwilling to meet the needs of the people. If we don’t uproot the system that has created the climate crisis, that continues to ignore it and go about business as usual, the majority of us face a truly dire not-too-distant future. The people have the power to change the path we are on — to share the challenges together and build a better world for all. 

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A Green New Deal for Workers

By Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker

The World Economic Forum and powerful financial interests are proposing a “Green New Deal” which is “not Green”.

What is proposed below is a Green New Deal for Workers  ( M.C. GR Editor)

***

Workers in 2020 have a unique opportunity to vote to put two fellow workers in the White House. Howie is a recently retired Teamster and Angela is a dump truck driver. We know the economic realities that working people face in the United States. This Labor Day we call for a better class of people in the White House than the corporate crooks and flunkies that have been occupying it.

The COVID pandemic and economic collapse have highlighted the race and class inequalities in our society. With more than 35 million jobs lost, millions have lost their employer-connected health insurance in the middle of a pandemic. COVID-19 deaths are disproportionately afflicting working-class people, particularly Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people. The case for universal healthcare through a publicly-funded Medicare for All has never been stronger.

As income disappears, the rent — already too high — has become impossible for many to pay. The threat of eviction is with many of us every month. Even if eviction has been stopped by a temporary moratorium for some of us, we see our rent piling up each month so that we will be evicted anyway when the moratorium ends. We need a federal emergency housing relief program that helps people make their rent and mortgage payments during the emergency. To fix the fundamentals of the housing crisis requires a major investment in public housing, this time not just as segregated housing for the poor but as high-quality mixed-income developments that include middle-income workers and professionals.

Congress and the president are responding to the economic collapse so poorly that the nation is falling into a depression. A poll this week reported that 50% unemployed workers, 8.3 million people, were unable to cover their basic expenses in August.Workers Need More Rights and Economic Democracy

Trump and Biden rely on private enterprise alone to pull us out of this economic hole. Their public economic recovery spending proposals feature corporate welfare grants, loans, and tax breaks that will supposedly trickle-down to working people as new jobs. But with working-class consumer demand depressed, it is too risky for corporations to make job-creating productive investments. Instead, they will again invest their stimulus money in stocks, bonds, and derivatives, just rearranging and further concentrating who owns the productive assets we have rather than creating new ones.

Our alternative is large-scale public investment in new public enterprises and services to benefit the working-class majority. Our ecosocialist Green New Deal will create 30 million jobs in manufacturing, construction, transportation, energy, and agriculture to rebuild our production systems for zero-to-negative carbon emissions and 100% clean energy by 2030. It provides for a Just Transition of up to five years wage and benefits maintenance for workers displaced by this economic transition, but few will need it for very long with all the new jobs that will be created.

We create 8 million more jobs with an Economic Bill of Rights to a living-wage job, a guaranteed income above poverty, affordable housing, universal health care, lifelong tuition-free public education, and a secure retirement for every senior by doubling Social Security benefits.

The two corporate parties, who represent their Wall Street and big business donors, continue to undermine the rights of workers and let employers get away with breaking labor, health, and safety laws. It is time to repeal repressive labor laws, starting with the Taft-Hartley law that restricts labor’s ability to organize, act in solidarity, and engage in political activity. We need to enact new laws that enable union organization, including card check union recognition and the repeal of anti-union “right-to-work” laws.

We call for a Workers Bill of Rights, including workers rights to unions, to living wages, to portable defined-benefit pensions, to information about chemicals used at work, to refuse unsafe work, and to participate in enterprise governance. In order to increase economic security and strengthen workers’ power, we must replace employment-at-will laws, which let employers discharge workers for any reason or no reason, with just cause termination laws, where workers can only be fired for nonperformance or economic reasons. We must extend constitutional rights into the workplace, including free speech, association, and assembly, and freedom from warrantless employer surveillance, search, and seizure.

Even before the pandemic health and economic crisis hit, three super-rich Americans owned more wealth than the bottom 50% of the population, who earn a poverty-level median income of $18,000 a year.

Now, mounting COVID-19 deaths, economic depression, accelerating economic inequality, and climate collapse are all reasons to restructure our economy into a socialist economic democracy where the working-class majority is empowered to protect its interests and receive the full value of its labor. The first step is the ecosocialist Green New Deal for economic recovery as well as climate recovery.

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Mining the Deep Sea

by JULIA BARNES

They want to mine the deep sea.

We shouldn’t be surprised. This culture has stolen 90% of the large fish, created 450 deoxygenated areas, and murdered 50% of the coral reefs. It has wiped out 40% of the plankton. It has warmed and acidified the water to a level not seen since the Permian mass extinction. And indeed, there is another mass extinction underway. Given the ongoing assault on the ocean by this culture, there is serious question as to whether the upper ocean will be inhabitable by the end of this century.

For some people, a best-case scenario for the future is that some bacteria will survive around volcanic vents at the bottom of the ocean. Deep sea mining is about to make that an unlikely possibility.

It’s being touted as history’s largest mining operation.

They have plans to extract metals from deposits concentrated around hydrothermal vents and nodules – potato sized rocks – which are scattered across the sea floor.

Sediment will be vacuumed up from the deep sea, processed onboard mining vessels, then the remaining slurry will be dumped back into the ocean. Estimates of the amount of slurry that will be processed by a single mining vessel range from 2 to 6 million cubic feet per day.

I’ve seen water go from clear to opaque when an inexperienced diver gives a few kicks to the sea floor.

Now imagine 6 million cubic feet of sediment being dumped into the ocean. To put that in perspective, that’s about 22,000 dump trucks full of sediment – and that’s just one mining vessel operating for one day. Imagine what happens when there are hundreds of them. Thousands of them.

Plumes at the mining site are expected to smother and bury organisms on the sea floor. Light pollution from the mining equipment would disrupt species that depend on bioluminescence. Sediment plumes released at the surface or in the water column would increase turbidity and reduce light, disrupting the photosynthesis of plankton.

A few environmental groups are calling for a moratorium on deep sea mining. Meanwhile, exploratory mining is already underway. An obscure organization known as the International Seabed Authority has been given the responsibility of drafting an underwater mining code, selecting locations for extraction, and issuing licenses to mining companies.

Some companies claim that the damage from deep sea mining could be mitigated with proper regulations. For example, instead of dumping slurry at the surface, they would pump it back down and release it somewhere deeper. Obviously, regulations will not stop the direct harm to the area being mined. But even if the most stringent regulations were put in place, there still exists the near-certainty of human error, pipe breakage, sediment spills, and outright disregard for the rules. As we’ve seen with fisheries, regulations are essentially meaningless when there is no enforcement. 40% of the total catch comes from illegal fishing. Quotas are routinely ignored and vastly exceeded. On land, we know that corporations will gladly pay a fine when it is cheaper to do so than it is to follow the rules.

But all this misses the point which is that some activities are so immoral, they should not be permitted under any circumstances. Permits and regulations only serve to legalize and legitimize the act of deep sea mining, when a moratorium is the only acceptable response.

Canadian legislation effectively prohibits deep sea mining in Canada’s territorial waters. Ironically, Canadian corporations are leading the effort to mine the oceans elsewhere.

A spokesperson from the Vancouver-based company Deep Green Metals attempted to defend deep sea mining from an environmental perspective, “Mining on land now takes place in some of the most biodiverse places on the planet. The ocean floor, on the other hand, is a food-poor environment with no plant life and an order of magnitude less biomass living in a larger area. We can’t avoid disturbing wildlife, to be clear, but we will be putting fewer organisms at risk than land-based operations mining the same metals.” (as cited in Mining Watch https://miningwatch.ca/news/2020/6/16/deep-sea-mining-environmental-solution-or-impending-catastrophe).

This argument centers on a false choice. It presumes that mining must occur, which is absurd. Then, it paints a picture that the only area affected will be the area that is mined. In reality, the toxic slurry from deep sea mining will poison the surrounding ocean for hundreds of miles, with heavy metals like mercury and lead expected to bio-accumulate in everyone from plankton, to tuna, to sharks, to cetaceans.

A study from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences stated that “A very large area will be blanketed by sediment to such an extent that many animals will not be able to cope with the impact and whole communities will be severely affected by the loss of individuals and species.”

The idea that fewer organisms are at risk from deep sea mining is an egregious lie. Scientists have known since 1977 that photosynthesis is not the basis of every natural community. There are entire food webs that begin with organic chemicals floating from hydrothermal vents. These communities include giant clams, octopuses, crabs, and 10-foot tube worms, to name a few. Conducting mining in these habitats is bad enough, but the effects go far beyond the mined area.

Deep sea mining literally threatens every level of the ocean from surface to seabed. In doing so, it puts all life on the planet at risk. From smothering the deep sea, to toxifying the food web, to disrupting plankton, the tiny organisms who produce two thirds of the earth’s oxygen, it’s just one environmental disaster after another.

The most common justification for deep sea mining is that it will be necessary to create a bright green future. A report by the World Bank found that production of minerals such as graphite, lithium, and cobalt would need to increase by nearly 500% by 2050 to meet the growing demand for so-called renewable energy.

There is an article from the BBC titled “Electric Car future May Depend on Deep Sea Mining”. What if we switched the variables, and instead said “the future of the ocean depends on stopping car culture” or “the future of the ocean depends on opposing so-called renewable energy”. If we take into account all of the industries that are eviscerating the ocean, it must also be said that “the future of the ocean depends on stopping industrial civilization”.

Evidently this culture does not care whether the ocean has a future. It’s more interested in justifying continued exploitation under the banner of green consumerism.

I do not detail the horrors of deep sea mining to make a moral appeal to those who are destroying the ocean. They will not stop voluntarily. Instead, I am appealing to you, the reader, to do whatever is necessary to make it so this industry cannot destroy the ocean.

Posted in USA, EnvironmentComments Off on Mining the Deep Sea

Ocean Heat: From the Tropics to the Poles

by MANUEL GARCÍA, JR.

Warming Pacific from Yaquina Head, Oregon. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

The heat being captured by the increasing load of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is subsequently transferred into the oceans for storage. This process — global warming — has raised the temperature of the biosphere by 1°C (or more) since the late 19th century.

Heat introduced into any material body at a particular point will diffuse throughout its volume, seeking to smooth out the temperature gradient at the heating site. If heat loss from that body is slow or insignificant, then a new thermal equilibrium is eventually achieved at a higher average temperature.

Thermal equilibrium does not necessarily mean temperature homogeneity, because the body may have several points of contact with external environments at different temperatures that are held constant, or with other external thermal conditions that must be accommodated to. Equilibrium simply means stable over time.

The heat conveyed to the oceans by global warming is absorbed primarily in the Tropical and Subtropical latitudes, 57% of the Earth’s surface. The Sun’s rays are more nearly perpendicular to the Earth’s surface in those latitudes so they receive the highest fluxes of solar energy, and oceans cover a very large portion of them.

That tropical heat diffuses through the oceans and is also carried by ocean currents to spread warmth further north and south both in the Temperate zones (34% of the Earth’s surface) and the Polar Zones (8% of the Earth’s surface).

What follows is a description of a very idealized “toy model” of heat distribution in the oceans, to help visualize some of the basics of that complex physical phenomenon.

Heat Conduction in a Static Ocean

The model is of a stationary spherical globe entirely covered by a static ocean of uniform depth. The seafloor of that ocean is at a constant temperature of 4°C (39°F), the surface waters at the equator are at 30°C (86°F), and the surface waters at the poles are at -2°C (28°F). These temperature conditions are similar to those of Earth’s oceans. These temperature boundary conditions are held fixed, so an equilibrium temperature distribution is established throughout the volume in the model world-ocean. There is no variation across longitude in this model, only across latitude (pole-to-pole). (See the “Notes on the Technical Details”)

Figure 1, Isotherms Pole-to-Pole.

Figure 1 shows contours of constant temperature (isotherms) throughout the depth of the model ocean, from pole to pole. The temperature distribution is shown as a 3D surface plotted against depth, which is in a radial direction in a spherical geometry, and polar angle (from North Pole to South Pole).

Figure 2, Isotherms in Three Zones.

Figure 2 is a different view of the temperature distribution. Three regions are noted: The Tropical Zone (from 0° to 23° of latitude, north or south) combined with the Subtropical Zone (from 23° to 35° of latitude, north or south); the Temperate Zone (from 35° to 66° of latitude, north or south); and the Polar Zone (from 66° to 90° of latitude, north or south).

The model temperature distribution is perfectly stratified — isotherms uniform with depth — in the Tropical-Subtropical Zones, from 30°C at the surface at the equator, to 4°C at the seafloor. On entering the Temperate Zones, the isotherms arc up into a nearly radial (vertical) orientation. In the small portions of the planetary surface covered by the Polar Zones the isotherms are now more horizontally stratified because the surface waters are chillier that the those at the seafloor.

Figure 3, Heat Conduction Streamlines.

Figure 3 shows the streamlines of heat flow (the temperature gradient) for this temperature distribution. At the equator the heat is conducted down from the 30°C surface to the 4°C seafloor. As one moves further away from the equator the streamlines become increasingly lateral, until they are entirely so at 35° of latitude (north or south) where the model surface waters are at 19°C. The heat flow is entirely horizontal at this latitude, which separates the Subtropical and Temperate Zones; tropical heat is being conducted laterally toward the poles. In the Polar Zones the heat flow is up from the lower depths because the surface waters are chiller than those at depth, and because there is too little temperature variation with distance along the surface to drive a lateral heat flow.

Thermally Driven Surface Currents

Much oceanic heat is distributed by currents, and many of these occur along the surface.

The average speed of the Gulf Stream is 6.4km/hr (4mph), being maximally 9kph (5.6mph) at the surface but slowing to 1.6kph (1mph) in the North Atlantic, where it widens (information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA).

Heat-driven equator-to-poles surface currents on the model ocean were estimated from the combination of the pole-to-pole surface temperature distribution, and thermodynamic data on liquid water. (See the Notes on the Technical Details)

The pressure built up by tropical heat in the model ocean’s equatorial waters pushes surface flows northward (in the Northern Hemisphere) and southward (in the Southern Hemisphere): from a standstill at the 30°C equator; with increasing speed as they recede from the equator, being 2kph (1.3mph) where the surface waters are at 25°C (77°F); a continuing acceleration up to a speed of 2.8kph (1.7mph) at the 35° latitude (the boundary between the Subtropical and the Temperate Zones); and an ultimate speed of 3.6kph (2.2mph) at the poles.

The currents are converging geometrically as they approach the poles, so a speed-up is reasonable. Logically, these surface currents are legs of current loops that chill as they recede from the equator, plunge at the poles, run along the cold seafloor toward the equator, and then warm as they rise to the surface to repeat their cycles.

An equator-to-pole average speed for these model surface currents is 2.8kph (1.7mph). Their estimated travel times along the 10,008km surface arc (for a model world radius of 6,371km, like that of a sphericalized Earth) is 3,574 hours, which is equivalent to 149 days (0.41 year).

Greater Realities

The model world just described is very simple in comparison to our lovely Earth. Since it does not rotate, it does not skew the north-south flow of currents that — with the help of day-night, seasonal, and continental thermodynamic inhomogeneities — creates all of the cross-longitudinal air and ocean currents of our Earth.

The irregularity of seafloor depth on Earth also redirects cross-latitudinal (pole-to-pole) and cross-longitudinal bottom currents, as do the coastlines of the continents; and the very slight and subtle changes in seawater density with temperature and salinity — neither of which is distributed uniformly throughout the body of Earth’s oceans — also affect both the oceans’s volumetric temperature distributions, and the course of ocean currents.

Recall that the model ocean is bounded by constant imposed temperature conditions at its seafloor (4°C) and surface waters (a particular temperature distribution from 30°C at the equator, to -2°C at the poles). Since this model world is otherwise suspended in a void, if these boundary conditions were removed the oceanic heat concentrated at the equator would diffuse further into the watery volume, seeking to raise the temperatures of the poles and seafloor while simultaneously cooling the equatorial region. The ultimate equilibrium state would be an ocean with a constant temperature throughout its volume.

Additionally, if it is also assumed that the now “liberated” model ocean-world can radiate its body heat away — as infrared radiation into the void of space — then the entire planet with its oceanic outer shell slowly cools uniformly toward -273.16°C (-459.69°F), which is the “no heat at all” endpoint of objects in our physical Universe.

When our Earth was in its Post-Ice Age dynamic thermal equilibrium, the “heat gun” of maximal insolation to the Tropics and Subtropics warmed the oceans there; a portion of that heat was conducted and convected into the Temperate Zones and toward the Poles; where the “ice bags” of masses of ice absorbed seasonal oceanic heat by partially melting — which occurs at a constant temperature — and then refreezing. Also, the atmosphere did not trap the excess heat radiated into space. In this way cycles of warming and cooling in all of Earth’s environments were maintained in a dynamic balance that lasted for millennia.

What has been built up in the atmosphere since about 1750 is an increasing load of carbon dioxide gas and other greenhouse gases, which have the effect of throwing an increasingly heated “thermal blanket” over our planet. Now, both the heat conduction pathways and the heat convection currents, described with the use of the model, convey increasing amounts of heat energy over the course of time. As a result the masses of ice at the poles are steadily being eroded by melting despite their continuing of cycles of partial re-freezing during winter, and additional melting during summer.

Simple mathematical models can help focus the mind on the fundamental processes driving complex multi-entangled physical realities. From there, one can begin assembling more detailed well-organized quantitative descriptions of those realities, and then using those higher-order models to inform decisions regarding actions to be taken in response to those realities, if responses are necessary. This point of departure from physics plunges you into the world of psychology, sociology, economics, politics, and too often sheer madness. I leave it to another occasion to comment outside my field of expertise about all that.

Notes on the Technical Details

The cylindrically symmetric equilibrium temperature distribution for a static ocean of uniform depth, which entirely covers a spherical planet, was solved from Laplace’s equation. The temperature of the seafloor everywhere is 4°C, the surface waters at the Equator are at 30°C, and the surface waters at the poles are at -2°C. The variation of surface water temperature with respect to polar angle (latitude) is in a cosine squared distribution. Displays of the 3D surface T(r,ɵ) show isotherms down through the ocean depths at all polar angles (ɵ). The contour lines on the stream function associated with T(r,ɵ) are heat flow streamlines, the paths of the heat gradient (which are always perpendicular to the isotherms).

Bernoulli’s Theorem was applied to surface flow from the equator to the poles (no radial, nor cross-longitudinal motion) for incompressible liquid water with thermal pressure given by:

P(T°C)=[62.25kg/m-sec^2]*exp{0.0683*[T(R,ɵ)-Tp]}

for R equal to the planetary radius to the ocean surface; Tp=-2°C; and using thermodynamic data for water between 32°F (0°C) and 100°F (37.8°C) that indicates a thermal pressure equal to 62.25kg/m-sec^2 in liquid water at 0°C; and that the density of water is essentially constant at 1000kg/m^3 (for the purposes of this model) within the temperature range of the data surveyed.

Inserting P(T°C) into the Bernoulli Theorem definition of equator-to-pole lateral (cross-latitudinal) velocity gives a formula for that velocity as a function of polar angle:

v(ɵ)=±sqrt{(2*[62.25kg/m-sec^2]/[1000kg/m^3])*exp[0.0683*(Te-Tp)]*[1-exp(-0.0683*[Te-T(R,ɵ)])]}

v(ɵ)=±(1.0523m/s)*sqrt{1-exp(-0.0683*[Te-T(R,ɵ)])}

for Te=30°C, and ± for northward (in the Northern Hemisphere) or southward (in the Southern Hemisphere) surface flows.

Posted in Environment, HealthComments Off on Ocean Heat: From the Tropics to the Poles

Trump’s War on the Environment and Its Inhabitants

by MELVIN GOODMAN

Oil wells on federal lands in Colorado. Photo: BLM.

There are no limits to the pernicious ugliness of Donald Trump and his  administration.  We have examples of personal ugliness toward the late Senator John McCain and his family as well as the treatment of the Gold Star family during the 2016 presidential campaign.  There is policy ugliness in the racist Muslim travel ban, which the Supreme Court upheld, and the cruel separation of families at the U.S.-Mexican border, with children held in isolation from their parents. The use of federal forces against peaceful protestors in Washington, D.C. in June and in Portland in July are fascist in their intent. The director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Government Secrecy Project, Steven Aftergood, remarked that the “use of military aircraft in a domestic operation should set off all kinds of alarm bells.”

Trump’s lack of responsibility for the dangers and deaths of the pandemic should ensure his defeat in the 2020 presidential election, but there are no certainties in American politics.  Trump’s ignorance and indifference toward the novel coronavirus, which is causing tens of thousands of additional deaths, is ironic, given his attacks on Barack Obama for the Ebola outbreak in 2014.  Trump proclaimed that “President Obama has a personal responsibility to visit & embrace all people in the US who contract Ebola.”

The most loathsome aspect of Trump’s pathological behavior is related to the pandemic.  Covid-19 is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).  And yet Trump continues his attack on bedrock environmental regulations established over the past fifty years.  During the 2015-2016 presidential campaign, Trump promised to dismantle most of the key climate and environmental policies that were in place.  He has been enormously successful, according to the New York Times, with more than sixty environmental rules and regulations officially reversed, revoked or otherwise rolled back.  An additional 34 rollbacks are in progress even during the pandemic.

“Science denialism” is one of the worst aspects of the current political climate, and Trump and Vice President Pence are leaders of the movement.  A key indicator of Trump’s hostility to science, his anti-intellectualism, was the two-year delay in appointing a director to the White House Office of Science and Technology, the science adviser to the president.  Until Trump entered the White House, the record for presidents without a science adviser belonged to George W. Bush, who went nine months without one.  Trump’s adviser, Kelvin Droegemeier, a meteorologist, was not confirmed until January 2019.  He is conspicuous by his absence in the current health crisis.

Trump’s climate denial has made the United States an environmental “pariah state” in a global community committed to addressing the problem of climate change.  Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris accord made the United States the only nation in the world to reject the climate accord.  The two original outliers—Syria and Nicaragua—have joined, and Nicaragua stayed out initially because the agreement didn’t go far enough.  Trump has undermined the rich legacy of the Obama administration in the environmental field, which included getting the world’s other major polluters—particularly China and India—to agree to reduce their emissions.

The reversals of Obama’s legacy have worsened the environmental degradation at a time when the respiratory impact of Covid-19 is unabated. Transportation and the production of electricity are the greatest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, accounting for more than half of the total.  Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency has severely weakened the Obama-era fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for passenger cars and light trucks.  The EPA revoked California’s power to set stricter tailpipe emissions standards than the federal government, and withdrew the legal justification for limiting mercury emissions from coal power plants.  The Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which set strict limits on carbon emissions from coal- and gas-fired power plants, was replaced by a ruling to allow states to set their own rules.

Meanwhile, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany argued last week that “science should not stand in the way” of the full reopening of schools, meaning “kids being able to attend each and every day at their school.”  Accordingly, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, reversed direction and played down the health risks of returning to school.  As the pandemic began, Trump tried to cut the CDC budget, arguing that the charge Covid-19 would be worse than the flu was the Democrats’ “new hoax” designed to unseat him.  After accepting the validity of the pandemic, Trump touted ineffective drugs as a miracle cure and even suggested that injecting bleach into the body could cure the sick.  His ignorance and contempt for science is endless.

(For the Record: As of July 25, 2020, more than 4 million people in the United States have been infected with Covid-19, and more than 149,000 have died.  China with three times the population of the United States reports 86,000 infections and 4,600 deaths.)

His authoritarian contempt for the U.S. rule of law is contributing to the violence and discord in U.S. cities where Trump has employed unidentified federal law enforcement officers, unmarked cars, helicopters, and aerial surveillance to end peaceful protest.  The helicopters deployed a downdraft tactic designed to terrorize peaceful protesters in Washington, D.C., and the Air Force deployed a surveillance aircraft in Portland with state-of-the-art sensors typically used in war zones.  The aircraft is outfitted with long-range surveillance equipment that supports U.S. Special Forces on their ground operations.

Steven Aftergood has asked the right questions on the use of the surveillance aircraft: “What is their mission?  Under what authority are they operating, and who authorized them?  It seems like the administration is pushing right through what had been established norms of transparency and accountability.”  Similar questions must be asked regarding the immigration law enforcers—trained for shootouts on the Mexican border—now being deployed in Portland and Kansas City.  The Pentagon seems to object to using the military in these domestic situations, but there is no sign that the Department of Homeland Security has any qualms about the misuse of their capabilities.

The acting secretary of the department, Chad Wolf, is a former lobbyist and congressional staffer without experience in any of the functions of DHS.  He has no law degree, no experience in law enforcement, and no military background.  The Federal Protective Service (FPS) is in Portland as an unidentified force in unmarked rental vans.  It has taken on agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Border Patrol who have been given sweeping powers.  Thus, Trump has sent a force reminiscent of the military’s Delta Force to patrol American cities under the guise of protecting federal property.  “The scandal isn’t what is illegal,” said the journalist Michael Kinsley.  “The scandal is what’s legal.”  The DHS, which has had five directors in Trump’s three years, is only too glad to do Trump’s dirty work.

Along with Wolf at DHS, Trump has the politicized support of Attorney General William Barr and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.  Barr is operating Operation Legend, a federal interagency law-enforcement effort, active in Portland and Kansas City; there are plans to place agents in Albuquerque, Baltimore, Chicago, and Philadelphia.  The inspectors general of the DHS and the Department of Justice are investigating the deployment of federal forces to U.S. cities led by Democratic mayors.

Azar is a former pharmaceutical industry lobbyist and executive with strong conservative credentials.  He worked for several years under Ken Starr in the Whitewater investigation, and he clerked for Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.  Azar is providing guidelines for the pandemic that are consistent with the political demands of Trump’s policy advisers and inconsistent with the demands of the public health and scientific community, including his own CDC.

The corruption of Donald Trump means that lives are being lost and laws are being broken.  There is no sign of congressional oversight and accountability for the excessive actions of the Trump administration.  The Senate is firmly in the hands of Trumpian loyalists, who are blocking legislation that would address the economic and social costs of the pandemic.  The House of Representatives is in the hands of Nancy Pelosi, but the legislation that comes out of the House sits on the desk of Senator Mitch McConnell.  Who knew that “one man; one vote” actually meant that McConnell is The Man?  So “one man; no vote.”

Posted in USA, EnvironmentComments Off on Trump’s War on the Environment and Its Inhabitants

Nazi regime turning mosques into synagogues, bars

The Omari Mosque in Tiberias, built by Zahir [Wikipedia]

The Omari Mosque in Tiberias, built by Zahir [Wikipedia]

One of the landmarks of Tiberias, the mosque, also known as the Zaydani mosque, was built on the Mameluke architecture, with a big dome and a minaret.

“Like most Palestinians, the Tiberias residents have fled to Syria and Lebanon following the Nakba,” Kamal Khatib of the High Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens, told Anadolu Agency.

“The Zaydani family, however, moved to the adjacent city of Nazareth,” he said.

Khatib said the Zaydani family had asked the Nazi authorities to give them permission to renovate the Umari mosque.

“The Tiberias Municipality, however, refused, arguing that it would renovate it, but nothing happened,” he said.

“Even since the mosque has been closed with ‘Israeli’ authorities banning worshippers and visitors from entering it,” he said.

The study also showed that 40 mosques were either destroyed, closed, or abandoned, while 17 others were turned into bars, restaurants, or museums.

For example, the Al-Ahmar Mosque in the northern town of Safed was turned into a concert hall, while Al-Jadid Mosque in the city of Caesarea was changed into a bar, according to the study.

Khatib recalled that mosques in the pre-Nakba era were teeming with worshippers. “After the Nakba, however, mosques were destroyed, particularly those in villages. Other mosques were either turned into synagogues, bars, museums, cafes or restaurants.”

Khatib lamented that the Israeli policy “disregards the sentiments of Muslims”, citing the al-Isaaf cemetery in Jaffa, where tombs were razed despite protests from local residents.

Khatib said Israeli authorities have enacted legislation to confiscate the property of Palestinians, who fled their homes.

“The Knesset (Israel’s parliament) passed the law of absentees, under which Israel confiscated buildings and property of Arab citizens [who left their homes to other areas],” he said.

The Nazi regime denies the accusations of using mosques for other purposes than worshipping.

In October 2015, the Nazi Foreign Ministry said there were around 400 mosques in ‘Israel’ and that the number of worshippers doubled five times over the past 25 years.

Khatib, however, dismisses the Nazi claim, saying “The Israeli government has never built a mosque in the country’s history”.

Judaisation of Jerusalem - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Posted in Palestine Affairs, ZIO-NAZI, Environment, Human RightsComments Off on Nazi regime turning mosques into synagogues, bars

Thawing Arctic Permafrost

by ROBERT HUNZIKER

Photograph Source: Steve Jurvetson – CC BY 2.0

It’s no surprise that first prize, or the blue ribbon, for exceeding 2°C above baseline goes to the Arctic with permafrost that covers 25% of the Northern Hemisphere. Recognition is long overdue, as it’s been totally neglected far too long by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

This crucial nugget of knowledge comes by way of a recent virtual science session (1:27 in length) sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences.

The webcast is entitled: Thawing Arctic Permafrost: Regional and Global Impacts, hosted by John P. Holdren, Teresa & John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

The timing couldn’t be better. The Arctic Circle has been very newsworthy. As such, people must be wondering what to make of the disturbing news that’s unsettling, to an extreme.

According to Euronews, as of July 14th:

“The extreme north and beyond the Arctic Circle has this year registered record temperatures. On June 20, the meteorological service of Russia recorded a peak of 38°C in Verkhoyansk, the highest recorded temperature since records began in the late nineteenth century.”

“This is contributing to the rapid melting of permafrost, the region’s frozen ground, on which are built many industrial construction sites and buildings, many for mining hydrocarbons,” Ibid.

“The melting of the poles that act as temperature controls for atmospheric currents has consequences for the entire climate,” Ibid.

Decidedly, what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic.

According to Professor Holdren: “Temperatures across the Arctic are increasing 2 to 3 times faster than the global average… The Arctic will continue to be the leading edge of climate change.”

The first speaker on the virtual webcast was Dr. Susan M. Natali, Associate Scientist and Arctic Program Director, Woods Hole Research Center, an Arctic ecologist focusing on the ecosystem and carbon cycling consequences of permafrost thaw.

According to Dr. Natali, the Arctic temperature anomaly is already 2°C warmer than the long-term average. The consequences include sea ice loss, melting of Greenland ice sheets, and permafrost thaw.

Permafrost thaw is monitored by boreholes drilled at depths of 20 meters (66 feet) throughout the Arctic. Thus, measured temperature changes avoid seasonal dynamics. These deep permafrost temperatures, in some instances, have been measured for up to 40 years. Results: Permafrost temps are markedly warming across the board, regardless of season.

Of note, Northern Hemisphere permafrost contains 1100-1500 billion tonnes of carbon in the form of ancient organic matter. For comparison purposes, this is twice the amount of carbon already in the atmosphere, and it is three times as much carbon as in the world’s forest biomass.

An obvious implication of Dr. Natali’s statements is humanity is playing with fire in a very big way by allowing anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (cars, planes, and trains, etc.) to run wild, increasing by the month, by the year, by the decade with absolutely no end in sight, none whatsoever. At some point in time all of those billions of tonnes of carbon stored in frozen permafrost will start breaking lose beyond normal background rates and humanity will find its goose cooked, maybe well done.

According to Natali, permafrost carbon emissions are not included in the IPCC’s global carbon budget that targets 2°C or below, preferably below 1.5°C. Well, maybe a suddenly overheated Arctic will bring on an eventual recalculation of how the IPCC looks at and calculates the carbon budget. Better late than never.

And, here’s the distressing part (one of many): Fieldwork by scientists proved that permafrost is already a “net emitter of CO2,” this after thousands of years as a “carbon sink,” but no longer! As such, thousands of years of one of the largest carbon sinks on Earth erased by recklessness of human-generated over-heating ecosystems.

Not only that, according to Natali, permafrost thaw alone is equivalent to ~25% of the IPCC’s allowable emissions to stay below 1.5°C. Yet, the IPCC does not include permafrost in its carbon budget, meaning there’s a very nasty surprise down the line for the rah-rah climate mitigation crowd.

The second virtual speaker was Katey Walter Anthony, Aquatic Ecosystem Ecologist and Professor, Water and Environmental Research Center, University of Alaska/Fairbanks.

Dr. Anthony has done fieldwork throughout Russia with a lot of work in Siberia (a hothouse nowadays). Her research focuses on thermokarst, lake formation, and greenhouse gas methane.

Per Dr. Anthony, current climate models in the world do not include carbon emissions from thermokarst lakes. Yet, they’re plentiful with millions of thermokarst lakes expanding and releasing methane all across the Arctic.

Not only that but permafrost soils contain 1500 gigatons of carbon, which according to Dr. Anthony, equates to 150 years of fossil fuel emissions under present conditions. Imagine turning lose a sizeable fraction of that carbon. Once again, nation/states’ carbon emission mitigation plans are dead certain to come up real short of professed goals.

Field tests on thermokarst lakes are conducted by lowering a bubble trap into the water to trap microbial methane seeps as the methane bubbles year round. Bubble traps exist in over 300 lakes throughout the Arctic.

It was 14,000 years ago, as the climate warmed, when permafrost thermokarst lakes flared up on the landscape, bringing 4°C warming over a period of 8,000 years. Nowadays, according to Dr. Anthony, a similar 4°C warming will likely occur over only 80 years in sharp contrast to 8,000 years in the paleoclimate record. Obviously, without her stating as such, it implies a climate system that’s on turbo charger training-wheels, real big ones.

“We are standing at the threshold of abrupt change in permafrost carbon emissions.” (Anthony)

Mercy! And, all of those mitigation plans by 195 nations, but did they ever really get off the ground? The truth is emissions relentlessly climb upwards, ad nauseam. Thus, questioning who’s seriously watching the store?

John Holdren wrapped up the virtual session: We’re probably looking at 80 to 100 gigatons of carbon released from permafrost over this century. In turn, this takes a big bite out of the global carbon budget. According to Dr. Holdren, that prospect is in addition to a global temperature increase, to date, of 1.1°C to 1.2°C above baseline.

Permafrost, which is not included in the global carbon budget by the IPCC, could add 25% to 40%. That’s an enormous problem that lends itself to big trouble down the line. What’s a nation in the throes of carbon emission mitigation plans to do?

Nevertheless, Dr. Holdren, who co-chaired Obama’s President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, says it is still possible to mitigate enough to hold temps to 2°C. But at a cost of ~3% of world GDP. Ahem! He further nearly apologetically suggested that the hit to civilization for failure to mitigate would far exceed that cost, which happens to be 3% of $85T or a whopping $2.55T (that’s trillions). Hello, anybody still out there?

Meanwhile, after years of handwringing and gushing teardrops of green sympathizers, the world is still 80% dependent upon fossil fuels, a fact revealed by Dr. Holdren at the close of his presentation. That’s very troubling.

That’s the same 80% as 50 years ago and a clear signal of absolute failure by governments around the world and a resounding failure by the IPCC to fully implement/organize/promote its heavenly Paris ’15 plans to save the planet. It’s disgraceful!

As for final questions/thoughts via the virtual webcast:

According to Dr. Anthony: The East Siberian Arctic Sea is a place where “we’ve seen really large numbers of CH4 release.”

The following was not discussed in the webcast: Temperatures were recently 30-34C (86-93F) in the East Siberian Arctic Sea (ESAS) region, which region is equivalent in size to Germany France Gr Br Italy and Japan combined and with 75% of the area in 50-80m, shallow waters, allowing quick and easy CH4 release from the subsea permafrost without oxidation. Drilling by other scientists has discovered enormous quantities of frozen methane, and noticeable thinning of the subsea permafrost. Trusted sources that closely follow CH4 emissions in the ESAS region are of the opinion: “It may be out of control.” But, it’s important to note that’s anecdotal information.

Also, disconcertingly, the heaviest season for methane release into the atmosphere has only just begun.

Making matters even worse, at the Top of the World, Arctic Ocean sea surface temperatures, which this time of year are typically 0.3°C (32°F) were recently 12°C (54°F). That’s downright spooky!

Postscript: Scientists have identified the first active methane gas leak in Antarctica, announced July 22nd, discovered by researchers led by Andrew Thurber/Oregon State University, who commented: “I find it incredibly concerning.” (Source: Andrew R. Thurber, et al, Riddles in the Cold: Antarctic Endemism and Microbial Succession Impact Methane Cycling in the Southern Ocean, The Royal Society, July 22, 2020).

Speechless!

Posted in EnvironmentComments Off on Thawing Arctic Permafrost

The Coronavirus-Climate-Air Conditioning Nexus

by STAN COX

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

A wave of persistent, intense heat and humidity has enveloped the Midwest, South, and Northeast in this second half of July. By the time it subsides, more than half of the U.S. population will have been hit with heat indexes above 100; for many, the heat wave will last for several days.

The severe heat is driving almost all social gatherings and group activities into enclosed, air-conditioned spaces. That’s been the American way for more than fifty summers now, but this summer is different. Getting together these days in the cool indoor world can dramatically raise the risk of coronavirus infection.

For the duration of this pandemic, it will always be riskier to gather indoors than outdoors. In a paper published by the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases last month, more than 240 scientists warned that in an enclosed space, airborne, virus-laden “microdroplets” exhaled by an infected person can easily travel the length of a room and be inhaled by another person. Social distancing of six feet between people, they wrote, offers little protection in such a situation.

One of the scientists’ chief recommendations was to keep occupied rooms well ventilated with outdoor air, most effectively by keeping windows open. But air-conditioned spaces have to be zipped up tight, allowing airborne droplets to accumulate.

Air conditioning raises the risk further by lowering the indoor relative humidity. Studies show that coronaviruses in general, including those that cause the common cold, SARS, and MERS, remain viable and infective longer when humidity is low, whether they’re in the air or on surfaces.

There’s more. When humidity is high, exhaled virus particles are carried inside bulky droplets that fall to the floor or other surfaces within seconds. But with low humidity, they are in much smaller droplets called aerosols that can stay aloft in an enclosed space for as long as 9 minutes, waiting to be inhaled.

Some types of cooling systems also serve to circulate aerosols very efficiently and infect large numbers of people. A widely cited case study found that in January, one customer at a restaurant in Guangzhou, China infected nine other diners at three different tables with coronavirus. The breeze from an air conditioner near one of the tables had efficiently distributed virus-laden droplets along a twenty-foot-long path.

Air conditioning also can aggravate more routine maladies, including nasal congestion, asthma, and allergies. Studies in North and South America and Europe have found that people employed in air-conditioned workplaces have more health problems than those who work in non-cooled spaces.

Despite such impacts, air conditioning is customarily viewed as a net health benefit, because it can help prevent deaths during heat waves. However, research shows that heat deaths occur predominantly in marginalized, economically stressed urban areas with too much concrete and too little vegetation, often in communities of color who have inadequate access to services, especially health care.

Those who die in heat waves also are often elderly and/or have preexisting health problems, and they may be unable to afford the electricity to run an air conditioner. Not coincidentally, these communities and individuals who are most vulnerable to heat waves are also the most vulnerable to the coronavirus.

To be clear, air conditioning can indeed help keep people alive under harsh conditions, and that is no small thing. Nevertheless, it is important for us to acknowledge that in that role, the air conditioner is an in-case-of-emergency-break-glass tool. It’s not designed to fix the underlying social and economic injustices from which people need to be rescued, whether it’s from extreme heat or a viral pandemic.

Air conditioning is increasingly viewed as a key technology for adaptation to climate change, which is ironic because it also accelerates greenhouse warming. It accounts for 17 percent of year-round home electricity consumption and the resulting emissions; furthermore, the Energy Information Agency predicts that U.S. energy use for air conditioning will grow faster than any other use of energy in buildings of all kinds in coming decades.

The chain of causation forms a perfect circle. Greenhouse emissions from past decades (including billions of tons of carbon dioxide emitted by air conditioning, aircraft, and other technologies that also happen to be implicated in the pandemic) have made summers hotter than ever, prompting even more air conditioning use, which will further increase greenhouse emissions. Those emissions will help ensure that future summers are even hotter and future air-conditioning systems are pushed even harder.

Ending the climate emergency will require the rapid, mandatory reduction of fossil fuel use to zero and a complete overhaul of our built environment—including good, affordable housing and a healthy environment for all.

Meanwhile, we can at least curb the short-term damage. Home air conditioning should be turned off on those many days of the year when shade and fans can provide sufficient comfort. Offices should never be so frigid that workers resort to wearing sweaters or keeping space heaters under their desks in July. Every building should have windows that can be opened and that stay open as much as possible.

And, at least for the rest of this summer, let’s all get together outdoors.

Posted in Environment, HealthComments Off on The Coronavirus-Climate-Air Conditioning Nexus

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