Archive for June, 2009

“Science”, “Journalism”, “Scandal”, “Irony”…

Friday I saw this headline from CBS posted at Huffpo:  EPA May Have Surpressed Report Skeptical Of Global Warming.  Shocking, yes?  After all that talk about evidence and science and facts leading to decisions, Obama might have let us down.  I cried a little inside in case it was true- after 8 years of not being able to believe a word coming from the administration, trust doesn’t come easily- but skipped reading the article until later, as I had actual work to do.

Got around to it yesterday and it does indeed sound bad.  CBS makes it sound very, very bad.

Back story:  in March, the EPA  issued a report instructing the government to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, since they endanger the US.  Historic, etc., helped lead to the initial passage of Waxman-Markey last week.  Here is the EPA page detailing that recommendation, providing supporting documents and such.  From here on, I’ll call that the ‘endangerment finding’.

Last week, a conservative think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, provided CBS with internal EPA emails that are the basis of this uproar.  An EPA employee, Alan Carlin- an economist, not a scientist- wrote a report critical of the scientific basis of the endangerment finding- which relied on the 2007 IPCC report on climate change- as being outdated.  He also contended that the cost of mitigating the impact of climate change would be less than the cost of regulating greenhouse gases.  The CEI’s emails from his supervisor seem to indicate that the report was not taken into account for the final EPA report on climate change sent to the White House a couple months ago.  The EPA says they did send his report around for peer review, however, and dealt with some of his objections in the final document.

The CBS article speculates that the EPA put out its report too quickly to be fully researched (you will find the same charge on the CEI website linked above), dwells on the irony of the new administration suppressing science (while hedging that it only ‘might’ have suppressed science, but wouldn’t it be ironic if they did!), and quotes several Republican congresspersons and a representative of CEI as decrying the EPA for ignoring the report.  Which again, the EPA says it didn’t.  CBS did not check the contents of the employee’s “suppressed” report against the published EPA report, to see if his concerns were indeed mentioned, as the EPA claimed.  CBS also did not double check to see if his “suppressed” report made any sense.

Shocking!  What depths will the EPA sink to next?  Bush and Co. suppressed real science, and now Obama’s suppressing…um, fake science.  Turns out that Carlin’s report was largely cut/pasted from a few anti-climate-science blogs and lobbyist groups, with pronouns changed.  Deepclimate has an article here and here detailing Carlin’s sources, and the good folks at RealClimate go more in depth here on the origins and veracity of the report  (if you just read one, read that one).  It’s ok for CBS to have missed that whole thing, since they don’t have access to the internet or basic accepted climate science or anything.  Bah.

And the charge the the EPA ignored Carlin’s report altogether?  Well, let’s head to the Federal Register the endangerment finding was reported in- Vol 74, no 78, from April 24th, 2009.  Middle column of page 18894 (or page 10 of this 26 page pdf excerpting that Federal Register that the EPA website above happily and transparently links you to) reads:

This addresses a number of concerns raised by commenters about the July 2008 version of the TSD, arguing that it relied too heavily on the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (published 2007), which some argued was either not current enough or not specific enough to U.S. conditions. We note that the IPCC North American chapter (of the Working Group II volume) on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability covers the U.S. and Canada (not Mexico) and that the general findings in that chapter (drawn from many individual studies for the U.S.) are indeed applicable to U.S. conditions. Even with more recent information available, the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report remains a standard reference, essentially serving as the benchmark against which new findings over the next few years will be compared. Therefore it also serves as a robust and valuable reference for purposes of this proposal. The TSD has also been edited or updated in a number of places to reflect specific comments received on the July 2008 version, and to reflect comments from an additional round of review by the federal scientists following the incorporation of the more recent scientific findings.

Sounds like they considered concerns that the 2007 IPCC report was not current enough to me.   And Carlin’s accusation that they hadn’t taken into account his cost analysis of mitigation vs. regulation?  From the same page 10 of that pdf, third column:

The Administrator also believes it is inappropriate, in considering whether greenhouse gases endanger public health or welfare, to consider potential private behavior aimed at alleviating some of the effects of climate change. Just as the Administrator would not consider, for example, the availability of asthma medication in determining whether criteria air pollutants endanger public health, so the Administrator will not consider private behavior in the endangerment determination at hand. On the contrary, ameliorative steps of that kind would attest to the fact of endangerment.

Brava- and oh snap, Administrator Jackson.

Ok, so Carlin’s report is lifted from lobbyists and science-challenged blogs, and doesn’t really address the EPA report question of whether greenhouse gases are a danger to human health in the US in the first place, and the EPA acknowledges his two main concerns in their report anyway.  Hasn’t stopped him or the CEI from making this a big deal, but now we know.

CBS: WHY would you report this story this way?  With your “well the EPA saiiiid, buuuuuuuut… all these other people said so who knows!?” It took me less than 10 minutes to find that EPA report, read the contents list, and double-check Carlin’s assertions.  AND I was drinking a beer doing it.  You people are supposed to be the reporters.  Report, don’t regurgitate.  Sheesh.  Makin’ me look stuff up when I could be watchin’ Star Trek.  Nuts to you guys.


ripe tomatoes

Climate Bill Squeaks* Through The House

It passed by 7 votes!  212-219!  It almost sounds like Congress was exciting today, and not in the embarrassing way!

There’s been a huge lobbying push behind this bill– also known as Waxman-Markey, this is the cap-and-trade plan- and no one was sure they had the votes until today.  It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing, and it’s got the support of a lot of the environmental groups.  Not Greenpeace (not enough for them, which I can respect), but the Sierra Club supports it, and the League of Conservation Voters even said it won’t endorse anyone for reelection that doesn’t vote for the bill.  Now, on to the Senate, than hopefully committee, then the President?  It if can somehow make it through those hurdles without being watered (coaled?  nucleared?) down even more, I’ll be not dissatisfied.

*Forgot the ‘u’ the first time out.  One day I’ll learn my lesson about posting sleepily.

Notes From a Party

1)  I had a little costume party last night.  I was Helen Clark dressed as Gandalf.  It was maybe a little conceptual.  Made the cloak myself, and realized I don’t actually own that many politician clothes.  Which is probably good.

2)  What with it being horrendous and moist out yesterday, the apartment was a sticky oven.  I’m used to it by now, but the visitors in costumes were not amused (we had two kiwifruits!).  I turned on the air conditioning for a couple hours to preserve the peace.  I don’t think it got noticeably nicer inside, actually, but I had on a beard for a while, so I might not be the best judge.  Summer resolution broken already, but I don’t like my friends sweaty and gross, so I’m ok with that decision.

3) I found organic gin!  Got it at the ABC by the Starbucks in Bailey’s Crossroads.  Life lesson, though: organic doesn’t prevent hangovers you deserve.

4) Found some great solar lighting for my porch and juiced it up for the party.  Got some of the long hanging tubes from Ikea- can’t find them at their website right now, but Inhabitat wrote of the whole line.  There’s also a little metal patterned lantern with a green glow that I found at TJ Maxx, of all places, but it keeps people from bumping into my bike.  Nobody was out on the porch last night, but if they had been it would have been all visible.  I hung up my LED Christmas lights inside- you know, for extra class.

5) Actually houseplants make every party classy.  Stick a tea rose by the gin.

Hope you had a good weekend too!

Climate Change Quantified For the US

The US government issued a report on the measured and projected effects of climate change in the United States- what we see, what we will see, and suggestions for how the worst impacts may be avoided or mitigated.  White House press release here, full report and summaries here.

It must be noted that this report has been compiled over a year and a half- that means that the Bush Administration was in charge during most of the research.  However, the report observations and conclusions vary from a report on a similar subject issued last year, during the that (adjectives, gerunds, and various expletives deleted to maintain semblance of journalistic objectivity) administration.  As reported by the HuffPo,

The new report differs from a similar draft issued with little fanfare or context by George W. Bush’s administration last year. It is paradoxically more dire about what’s happening and more optimistic about what can be done.

Might this report be helpful in strengthening the current climate change bill headed to Congress?  Resigned Baritone: Only Time Will Tell.

Progress: Wha?

I’m really glad I post once a month about what I’m supposed to be doing, because today I had to go back and check what I was supposed to be doing last month.  It appears I was supposed to be working on travel offsets, gardening, and talking to the apartment complex.  Right.

Well, I gardened- put up some pictures recently too- and I started some research on the carbon stuff, hopefully I can get up a post on my initial impressions on that tomorrow.  I did realize it’s a much bigger question than just picking a good offset group.

Didn’t do the apartment stuff at all, though.  Actually I haven’t talked to the apartment manager since then- and she definitely hasn’t sent out the recycling reminders she promised.  So, yeah.  I should probably get on that. Perhaps I will feel the motivation later.  Summers are good for building revolutionary tempers, right?

So, this month.  No big plans on my mind.  Keep gardening, finish up the offset stuff, plan my trip (I leave in a month!).  See if I can build up any anger about the recycling situation again.  Bleh.

Know what?  It’s too hot to care.  I’ve lived in VA my whole life, and the summers are getting more unbearable every year.  When we were kids, we spent the hottest month or so of the year with Dad’s family up in northern Wisconsin, so maybe I just didn’t notice it so much then.  And this year I’ve got two weeks in an antipodean winter to look forward to, but it got hot and humid again yesterday and I couldn’t stop thinking about armpits and despair.

So this month, while I bake in the heat and can’t care, let’s pretend it’s an environmental thing. I’m starting a No-AC-Summer Challenge.  Rules are easy: I’m not turning on my AC.  Instead, I will learn to deal.

My apartment is on the top floor, and has uninsulated windows that get full sunlight until about 1pm.  I pull in solar gain all day, then, plus heat rises up to me from apartments below.  I am up high enough to get some nice breezes, though.  So, my goal is to keep the sun out and the air circulating, so I don’t come home to an oven every evening.  My windows will stay cracked, then, while my curtains will remain drawn all day.  To save energy during the workday, I’ll only plug in the portable fans when I come home.  In addition, I’ll keep the ice cube trays full for when I need them, some water in the fridge, and popsicles handy.  Showers will need to be cooler.  And I’ll need to dress for the temperature inside- gym shorts, tank tops.  I haven’t had the AC on yet this year, so hopefully I can keep that up.  I’ll share other coping strategies as I come up with them.

The goal is more reactive than proactive this month, but its too hot out for that to bother me.

Review: Karen Dionne’s “Freezing Point”

A few months (a lifetime) ago, I received a review copy of Karen Dionne’s Freezing Point.  Ms. Dionne also sent me a swag chapstick, if you recall?  It was excellent chapstick-quite worthy of the book with which it came.

The novel centers around Ben and Zo, two idealists who have moved beyond their most starry-eyed phases.  Ben is an executive in a global corporation, selling water for profit.  Zo and her husband are researchers in an Antarctic base.  A cracking ice shelf, a mysterious disease, and entirely too many rats later, they discover a common cause.

Dionne’s basic premises resonate- the privatization of water resources and the unintended consequences of messing with nature- and give this light thriller a weightier backbone.  Her plotting is plausible and only occasionally overwrought, her language use well-considered, and her details convincing enough for me.  Basically, if you intend to have a beer near a body of water this summer, read this book while doing so.  It’s enjoyable, fast, and illuminates its message without too much preachiness.  Plus it’s very helpful if you’ve ever wondered what life would be like if rats tried to eat everyone you knew.  Teaser!

If you’d like your own copy, you can find Freezing Point at Amazon.  Visit Karen’s website to read about her next book, Boiling Point (of course!).

P.S. Yes, the book’s cover blurb reads only “Gangbusters!”.  In case you are wondering, this refers to a radio show from the 1930s.  The opening sequence had a very intense and exciting series of sound effects, and inspired the phrase.  Some days I don’t think I’d know anything without the internet.

Vermicomposting with WormEco

The Naturemill unit seems to have bought it after the last move- I am not pleased with that thing.  Given that it’s full of half-rotten stuffs now, I’m not excited about investigating its inner workings to fix the problem.  So when I got an email from WormEco last week, inviting me to a vermicomposting workshop, the timing was fortunate.


Elvira Jakovac, the founder and owner, gathered a few groups of people in a local park Saturday to demonstrate vermicomposting.  Basically, get some worms, make them a lovely moist home, and shove in your food scraps for them to eat from time to time.  In a few months, remove their poo.  Voila!  It looks more like regular dirt than poo, which absolutely helps the squeamish.

Elvira has bins for purchase, with bedding and about a half pound of worms she has raised herself inside, so all you need to do is add the food, check to make sure the worms are happy, and remove the compost in about four months- then repeat.  She will not only start them for you, she has fantastic advice on how to keep the worms going so they’ll multiply to eat all the food you give them (if there isn’t enough to eat, they’ll stop multiplying- no worries about some horror movie of forever-multiplying worms).  On Saturday, we were regaled with a short history of vermicomposting (Europeans brought worms on boats by accident!), and the story of her own work in the field- she weighs a lot of worms.  She’s also got environmentally friendly plans on how to deal with bugs and critters, and household chores- her presentation was informative, and a pleasure to listen to.

WormEco is only a few months old, but I hope it’s got a long and prosperous life ahead.  Elvira is serious about getting her green-living message to not only Alexandria, but the world- she’s entered in a National Geographic competition that will reward a person starting a movement in their local communities with a nice chunk of money to make it happen- and she’s promised to walk from Alexandria to DC to accept the prize, if she wins, and would like to invite us all to walk with her.

If you’re interested, check out her website to learn about upcoming workshops ($10 a person) and you may also buy pre-made bins or fresh compost from her directly.

Full disclosure:  I was invited to the workshop free as a guest.  I liked the idea and Elvira enough that I will buy my own bin.  If i get my Naturemill running again, I’ll have compost races!

Oh man a bin of worms!

worm bin

Much less creepy than you thought.


For the weekend.

sweet pea

My sweet peas bloomed, which is nice of them because I only staked them this afternoon.  I planted more, hopefully they’ll spread.

peas and spinach

Staked the eating peas, and the spinach is looking pretty sad.

Complete photos of the last couple weekends (and my tomatoes!) here.

Democratic Primary on Tuesday

The winner will go up against Bob McDonnell (Republican, unopposed in the primary) in the VA Governor’s election later this year.  Both primaries are being held on Tuesday, actually, and you can pick which one you want to vote in- doesn’t matter if you’re registered for a party or not, since VA has open primaries. More boxes to pick from on the Democratic ballot, though, making that one more fun.

Creigh Deeds, Terry McAuliffe, and Brian Moran are all running in the democratic primary.  I’ve linked there to their home pages (via their Energy and Environment platforms!  Creigh has both, Terry only has energy).  Read up, do some googling, and go vote, if only for the sticker.

My two cents:  I’ll be happy if McAuliffe loses.  The guy is the wrong kind of carpet-bagger.  I’ll be confident if Deeds wins, because I think he has the best shot against McDonnell in the statewide election, since he is the most suited for reassuring moderate Republicans it’s ok to go blue.  It’s the only reason he gets elected to anything in the first place- he comes from a very conservative area.  Also, both his names are awesome.

That said, Moran is the only candidate of the three to oppose offshore oil drilling and the new coal plant in Surrey, he’s got a 100% rating of environmental looooove from the League of Conservation voters, and his environment and energy policies are the best presented and most fleshed out of the three, on their websites.  He’s based in Northern VA, though, and I can very easily see the statewide race devolving into a continuation of the presidential election’s Real VA vs Fake VA mess.   Having had the good fortune to grow up in Real VA, I find it a nice place to be from, and I’d rather the politicians not have a particularly damaging arguement, pitting state against itself.  We know how the last war of northern agression civil war here ended.  ‘Course, Fake VA swung the state blue in Webb’s run, and Obama’s, and we’re a big part of the reason the last two governors have been Democrats, so I bet we could take them.  Bring it.

Check out more political analysis and some recent polls from DailyKos– Deeds is ahead in the primary, but about 30% of people are undecided and there’s probably going to be low voter turn-out- so yes, your vote does matter.

(Oh also there is a primary for Lieutenant Governor at the same time but I have no idea- you’re on your own.)

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