With late winter, sunlight returns to the North Pole, revealing an ice-bound ocean that looks deceptively like it always has—a frozen, pristine wilderness. Deceptive, because profound and rapid change is underway from the forces of climate change and our relentless quest for energy.
The Bush Administration's hostility to environmental protection is not news. But seeing the numbers in black and white (or, as in this chart, in red and green) is startling. Created by the Appropriations Committee of the U.S.
We've had a spate of stories here in northern California about the crash of the fall run of king salmon returning to spawn in the watershed of the Sacramento River. Historically, many hundreds of thousands of the fish would return annually; this year the count was around ninety thousand, which spells disaster for salmon fishermen up and down the coast. It is also one more indicator that the river system, and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in particular, is very sick, largely because of the enormous volume of water diverted via giant pumps for agricultural and domestic use.
If the polar bears aren’t drowning it's flooding somewhere and drying to dust somewhere else. Or, as a folk group from my youth sang, "They're rioting in Africa. . .and Texas needs rain." Plus ça change.
The old energy economy—oil and gas—is booming in Colorado, driven by high prices and the Bush administration's push to aid America's addiction to fossil fuels. Thousands of new wells have been drilled—many on public land—and ranches, hunting opportunities, wildlife, air quality, public health, and the wildness of the West have all suffered.
The stimulus package has pretty much disappeared from the front pages with Super Tuesday upon us and the New York Giants pulling off the greatest upset since David smote Goliath. But, in case you missed it, the suggestion we echoed last week that this moment offers a rare chance to get some green projects going quickly is being trumpeted in the Senate. The House has already passed a single-purpose show-me-the-money bill that would give most of us a few hundred bucks to stimulate with. The Senate Finance Committee, meanwhile, has approved a bill that includes cash for us taxpayers but also would provide some $5.5 billion in renewable energy tax credits, energy bonds, and other encouragements to renewables and energy efficiency. Here's what like-minded groups think about it. And a recent study by the Blue-Green Alliance, a Sierra Club-United Steelworkers project, suggests that such federal encouragements could create upwards of 820,000 new jobs to boot. The President will scorn this approach no doubt, but it'll be interesting to see whether the Senators hold firm. This really is one of those historic opportunities, or so it seems to us—a chance to make concrete the argument that combating global warming offers great economic opportunities.
I'm writing this a few hours before the State of the Union is assessed (for the last time!) by President Bush, so can't be sure of what he'll say. But if I were writing it for him (fat chance), here's what I'd say, cribbing heavily from Eileen Appelbaum, Dean Baker, and John Schmitt of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC.
This town is obsessed with the coming election. I guess most everyone is, but here, not surprisingly, it's topics A, B, and C. Every conversation I had quickly turned to the primaries, and there was no consensus about what would or should happen. At the gift shop at my hotel you could buy buttons and bumper stickers for Obama, Clinton, Romney, McCain, and all the rest, including those who have called it quits. Collectors' items someday, perhaps. In my experience, however, campaign trinkets like that are passed out free gratis for nothing.
Another domino has toppled from the ranks of the most virulently anti-environment members of Congress. The election of 2006 took out Richard Pombo, then chairman of the House Resources Committee. Last week came the news that his comrade-in-chainsaws, Rep. John Doolittle, will retire at the end of this congress. Mr. Doolittle, who represents northeastern California, is being investigated for ties to Jack Abramoff and has chosen not to seek reelection under heavy pressure from fellow Republicans, who feared losing the seat to a Democrat.
The biggest story around here lately has been the tiger attack at the San Francisco Zoo, and what a muddled tragedy it is. Spokespersons for the zoo couldn't even say how tall the wall the tiger got over was for a while. Were the victims high and drunk, as has been alleged? Did they roar at poor Tatiana, even attack her with slingshots? The rumor mill has been churning. And now the survivors have hired Mark Geragos, defender of Scott Peterson and Michael Jackson, the guy who gives lawyers black eyes by the dozen. Meanwhile, I'm wondering, along with many others, whether it's time to close all zoos. The pro-zoo faction argues that they're good for public education, recruit defenders of wildlife, and are a genetic reservoir of disappearing species. Others say that the animals you see in a zoo behave nothing like the way they do in the wild so the education is minimal and skewed, that you can learn more about tigers from Animal Planet, that a zoo is really just entertainment for humans, like a carnival midway. My kids loved going to the zoo, I'm quick to admit, but maybe it's time to close them down and turn our attention to preserving habitat so all those amazing creatures will survive on their own.
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I hate to throw stones, but I can't help but wonder how on earth the Sierra Club decided to give its David Brower journalism award to Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist. It's true that Friedman has been singing green tunes recently about energy and climate. It's also true that he has been the most strident and bombastic proponent of the World Trade Organization and free-trade-at-all-costs, the-environment-and-labor-be-damned. His best seller, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, for example, quoted dozens of bankers and corporate bigwigs on the greatness of trade (a rising tide lifts all boats, they say, which is fine unless you're tied up to a pier) and not a single one of the scores of able, even brilliant, critics of trade as currently practiced. I do not think Mr. Brower would be pleased.