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Tom Turner's blog

One of the vexing problems associated with urban sprawl is the associated, call them ancillary, maybe secondary, effects that no one takes responsibility for.

In this particular case, we speak of traffic.

It's a particularly severe problem out near Fresno and Bakersfield, where air quality is famously terrible. One expects smog in Los Angeles and other urban areas, but not in the agricultural heart of the nation. But pollution there is, serious pollution that has a shocking fraction of kids carrying inhalers to school.

My friend Ken Brower has a fascinating piece in The Atlantic Monthly for December on the visionary astrophysicist Freeman Dyson. Ken has known Dyson for years and wrote a wonderful joint profile of Freeman and his then-estranged son, George, titled The Starship and the Canoe.

As Ken writes, Dyson belongs in the same company as Einstein and other certifiable geniuses for his contributions to physics and other fields, including medicine.

But Dyson is also a climate denier, arguing that global warming won't be all that bad. Ken evidently saw Freeman being interviewed by Charlie Rose, spouting all this indefensible claptrap, and couldn't let it pass. It's a fascinating piece with plenty of useful observations. I recommend it.

Reporters speak of a story having legs, meaning that it is likely to continue over an extended period. Spotted owls have legs.

The story began in the late '80s, when it became evident that out-of-control logging in ancient forests in the Northwest was about to extinguish the owls. Earthjustice sued, and managed to achieve Endangered Species Act protection for the owls.

End of story? Not quite.
 

You may have seen pictures of hundreds of huge fuel transport trucks stranded on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The border was closed by the Pakistani government following a drone attack that killed several suspected terrorists. The trucks are a handy target for marauding insurgents, who sneak in and torch them under cover of darkness.

There may be something of a silver lining, however.

In a speech in Oslo on September 6, John Holdren, President Obama's science advisor, suggested that 'global warming' be replaced by 'global climate disruption' as a more accurate expression. As The New York Times reported it, "changes to the climate are rapid when viewed in terms of the capacity of society and ecosystems to adjust; the impact is distributed unevenly; and the outcome will be overwhelmingly negative for most of the globe." Global warming implies slow changes that might even be benign.

Holdren (an old friend of mine and one of the smartest people in the universe) has long been a lightning rod for the right wing climate deniers owing largely to his long association with the population biologist Paul Ehrlich, with whom he wrote several books. Following Dr. Holdren's speech, the right blogosphere immediately accused the administration of playing politics, of trying to "rebrand" the subject preparatory to another push for a climate bill next year. The administration denied there's any rebranding going on.

I'm no expert, but John's suggestion makes good sense to me.

"I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole world affords."

Thus spake Mark Twain of Lake Tahoe, the magnificent high-altitude lake nestled in an alpine cup between Nevada and California.

But, as with so many other places, Tahoe's fatal beauty has led to too much development—too many homes, too many casinos, too many cars, too many piers, and too many boats. The clarity of the water has suffered, as has the purity of the air.

The White House has reportedly said thanks but no thanks to the offer, reported here, by Bill McKibben and 350.org to return one of the solar panels installed on the White House roof during the Carter administration 35 years ago. No explanation was given (that I know of). One can think that it might be because McKibben was harshly critical of President Obama's role at the Copenhagen meeting last year, but that's only conjecture. It does seem to be a missed opportunity for some good press, which the administration needs just now.

About 30 years ago, after some prodding from environmental groups, Jimmy Carter had solar panels installed on the roof of the White House. He gave a ringing speech at the time, hoping that this gesture would help build a solar revolution. He established a Solar Energy Research Institute and put Denis Hayes, the director of the first and subsequent Earth Days in charge.

I'm just back from vacation and came across a clipping I've been carting around for a month. It's a column by Jack Hart that appeared in the Oregonian newspaper on Aug. 1. It is titled, "The fallacy of growth in a finite world."

Mr. Hart, by the way, is no shrieking greenie, he's a former managing editor of the Oregonian, now an author, teacher and writing coach. A cynical, hard-bitten newsman, in other words.

In one sense, Mr. Hart's thesis is a truism: Perpetual economic growth is impossible. Eventually the planet will run out of oil, clean air, potable water, natural gas, or a hundred other resources--or the ability to absorb pollution. The popular mantra of the moment--sustainable growth--is an oxymoron if there ever was one.

But challenging the idea of growth is only rarely spoken in public. Heretical, impractical, political suicide. But someone's got to do it, and I tip my hat to Mr. Hart, a brave man. I hope this piece gets circulated far and wide.

A few months back we reported on a campaign led in North America by Richard Cellarius of the Sierra Club to discourage the new conservative government in New Zealand to back away from a plan it had floated to open some of its national parks to mining, for coal and other minerals.

Well, sometimes you win one.

Today (July 20) comes news from Dr. Cellarius that the Kiwi government caved. It will not move to open any of the parks to mining. Many international groups and individuals weighed in to oppose the scheme (including a few of you, perhaps), along with a reported 37,000 New Zealanders. Bravo!

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.