Archive for the 'Environment' Category

Terminate Fossil Fuel Subsidies

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017

Craig Generating Station, Craig, Colorado

            During a break at a renewable energy meeting sponsored by LPEA (our electrical co-op) several years ago, a friend and I discussed the pros and cons of generating power with coal. She said that she would favor renewable generation of our energy if it didn’t require subsidies.

We both are plagued by asthma and carry expensive inhalers to use if we have trouble catching our breath. My friend admitted that our air would be better if we weren’t downwind from coal burning power plants. However, it bothered her that some of the taxes she paid went to support a photovoltaic manufacturer that had recently declared bankruptcy.

She expressed surprise when I told her that fossil fuel companies also received tax support. Indeed, subsidies for fossil fuels are more than 5 times larger than subsidies for renewable energy! Worldwide subsidies cost an astounding $444 Billion. In the USA $24 Billion in taxes go to fossil fuel subsidies. That is more than $73 of our tax money for each American, every year!

But subsidies are not the only cost we pay to support the fossil fuel industries, which include coal, oil and natural gas. Burning fossil fuels also costs us all because they are one of the largest causes of climate change—but even that is not the most immediate cost. The most serious cost of fossil fuels is to our health.

It is estimated that 91,045 people die annually as a direct result of air pollution in the USA. In addition, air pollution increases the number of people who suffer from emphysema, heart attacks and strokes—and asthma. Figures from the World Health Organization state that 36% of lung disease deaths, 27% of deaths from heart disease and 34% deaths from strokes are caused by air pollution. That is a huge toll—much larger, but more insidious, than the death rate from terrorism.

What does this have to do with population? My goal is for people to be healthy and to have healthy children. Ideally children should be planned, loved and well cared for. This means that we need to keep our planet healthy, too. Access to voluntary contraception is one of the best ways of assuring these goals. It is also important to minimize our impact on the planet, for our children’s sake.

When people think that they are saving money by having inexpensive electricity, they don’t know the true cost of their power. What is on the bill from LPEA is only a small fraction of the real cost. It is estimated that health care necessitated by the air pollution from fossil fuel-generated power costs over 9 times what we pay the power company! The rate LPEA charges is 12.56¢ per kilowatt-hour. Therefore, the true rate is $1.14 per kilowatt-hour if you include the cost of health care necessitated by air pollution from conventional power sources.

What does this mean to our country? If you look at the period from 2007 to 2015, during which there was rapid growth of solar and wind generation, almost 8000 lives were saved by not generating electricity with fossil fuel. About $70 billion in health care costs was saved by this renewable energy rather than business as usual.

In addition to more immediate health costs, climate change is already causing damage through storms, forest fires and other destruction. It is difficult to put a value on money saved by averting greenhouse gas emissions, however the value of keeping 1 metric ton of CO2 out of the atmosphere is in the range of $35. The savings from slowing climate change in this 8-year period of increasing wind and solar is estimated to be $56 Billion!

Only about 7% of our nation’s “juice” currently comes from wind and solar. Think what a difference it would make to our health if 20% or even 50% of all the electricity used in the country came from renewables. A first step is to get rid of subsidies to the unhealthy fossil fuel industries.

I agree with what Davin Montoya, board president of LPEA, wrote last year: “In fact I think the entire board supports renewable energy; but it should be done in a responsible way. I will only support a program that benefits the entire membership not a select few.” My conclusion, knowing the hazards of air pollution from burning coal to generate electricity, is different from Montoya’s. Renewable energy benefits us all in helping us to be healthier and to spend less on medical care.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2017

Keep Public Lands Public

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

 

Preserve public lands for children yet to come

 We are fortunate to live in a beautiful part of the world, and also fortunate to have parts of the land preserved as national monuments. Several of these are under review, and it is concerning that the national parks and other protected areas may also be in political jeopardy. Protect them so our children can enjoy them.
Richard

Rio Grande Gorge by Daniel Schwen

You have fished for the trophy trout in the Rio Grande in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Or perhaps you’ve hiked Sand Canyon, a bit west of Cortez, and enjoyed the wonderful walking, spring flowers and ancestral Puebloan ruins.

You can kiss these amazing places goodbye if some of today’s politicians have their way. Both the above public lands are controlled by the federal government, as is much of the land in the West. The feds don’t do a perfect job of stewardship, but at least a certain minimum standard of protection is enforced. National monuments restrict and control grazing and extractive industries.

When he was campaigning, Donald Trump pledged to keep public lands under federal control. Unfortunately, ! he is reneging on those promises.

Trump has asked Ryan Zinke, secretary of the Interior, to review 27 of the largest and most recently designated monuments. The idea would be to either abolish these monuments or to decrease their size. It appears that Trump’s motivation is to alter the special monument status for commercial reasons. Yet it is essential that humanity not lose our connection to our land and to our past.

In addition, there are threats to turn control of monuments over to state authorities. At first glance, local control sounds as though it might be a good idea. There would be local or state governments controlling these beautiful parts of our wonderful country. Furthermore, the responsible people wouldn’t need to contact Washington every time they need to buy a new pencil sharpener.

The downside of local control is that local people may! lose sight of the purpose of monuments; they might sell off rights during a time of economic difficulty. Furthermore, locals often don’t have the resources or expertise and would be unable to administer the monuments properly. Many states lack sufficient funds to run their state parks well, let alone take responsibility for national monuments!

National monuments come in all sizes, from a single historical house to the mammoth Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. They were all created by decree by presidents of both parties, on territory that already belonged to the federal government. No president has ever ordered a review before.

Many of the 129 national monuments in the U.S. are of great aesthetic value. Their beauty attracts millions of visitors and is of great value to local economies. Exploration and drilling would spoil their bea! uty and trade short-run profit for long-run ruin.

Bears Ears National Monument was designated at the end of 2016 after years of consideration. It was established with the help of several Native American tribes, who are also involved in its administration. It is under intense scrutiny, probably because of a resolution passed by the Utah legislature “… urging the president to rescind the designation of Bears Ears National Monument designation.”

The response to Utah’s resolution was quick. Clothing giant Patagonia has moved the huge Outdoor Retailer trade show from Utah, where it has been held for 20 years. Other companies joined, and the trade show has announced that the next show will be in Denver. Conservation Colorado put advertisements in Utah papers saying, “We have stronger beer. We have taller peaks. We have higher recreation. But most of all we love our public la! nds.”

Establishing an! d protecting public lands (and oceans) became prudent as our population grew, and as we harvested increasing amounts of the bountiful resources. It is essential to have places for children to explore and for adults to reconnect to the land. In addition, some of the monuments memorialize cultural resources – for instance, Canyons of the Ancients protects more than 6,000 archaeological sites.

There are many good organizations that are monitoring and fighting the attempt to jeopardize public lands. I favor the San Juan Citizens Alliance (sanjuancitizens.org) and Conservation Colorado (conservationco.org). Both have information on their websites and advocate for public lands protection.

We are fortunate to live in a beautiful part of the world that also has copious resources. We should enjoy our surroundings and use the resources carefully but r! emember those who will come after us.

I would like my granddaughters to be able to fish the Rio Grande, hike Sand Canyon and camp in Bullet Canyon without the sounds of pump jacks and chainsaws.

Like you, I have explored parts of Cedar Mesa, which are now protected by Bears Ears National Monument – but perhaps we better hurry back while the monument is still undeveloped.

Or work harder now to preserve it.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2017

Responding to my Climate Change Denying Friends

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

Curves of pop & CO2 in air

Please note the two curves above. Although the graph of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere (Keeling curve) on the left starts in 1958 and the one on the right (human population) starts in 1800, they follow the same trajectory of steep increase over the past 50+ years.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Upton Sinclair

            A recent Letter to the Editor of the Herald got my attention. It would seem that its author and I are living on different planets.

The writer calls Dr. James Hansen’s statement that the world would “overheat” because of carbon emissions “a ridiculous assertion”. NASA has a web page devoted to statements from our country’s foremost scientific organizations. For instance, the American Association for the Advancement of Science states: “The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society.”

The LTE was in response to Herald article about the wager between Roger Cohen and me. Dr. Cohen (former manager of strategic planning at Exxon Mobil) earned a PhD in physics and is a member of the American Physical Society, which states: “The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring.”

Let’s go back to the other planet where the writer of the LTE seems to be living. He asserts that polar bears are thriving. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists the status of polar bears as “vulnerable”, This would not lead me to believe that they are thriving. Dr. Steven Amstrup, head scientist with Polar Bears International, wrote: “One of the most frequent myths we hear about polar bears is that their numbers are increasing and have, in fact, more than doubled over the past thirty years.”

“The polar ice caps, both of them, are robust” according to this LTE. Unfortunately, Earth’s ice caps are not healthy. Indeed, a large freighter recently navigated the fabled Northwest Passage through the Arctic Ocean!

There is mixed news from Antarctica. Although ice in west Antarctica is melting, the amount of ice is increasing over the continent. That is a bit of a paradox since the average temperature there has gone up by almost 1 degree Fahrenheit—but it is just so darn cold in Antarctica.

Studies find rising levels of CO2 help some plants but hinder others. Studies of phenology (when plants and animals wake up after the winter) find that climate change is already causing problems that may lead to decreased crop productivity. Many places in the world are experiencing decreased precipitation from climate change. Overall, the bonus of increased CO2 seems to be overwhelmed by other aspects of climate change.

The LTE ends up by stating “…the standard of living of some of the world’s poorest of the poor has risen because of increased vegetation to feed themselves and their animals….” Try telling that to the people who are starving in Madaya—where the Syrian revolution was triggered, in part, by drought caused by climate change. The Horn of Africa is also suffering from chronic malnutrition, as are many other places in Africa and Asia. Drought caused by climate change has worsened starvation in these places. Although the percentage of people who are undernourished in the world has decreased, the improvement is not generally attributed to increased CO2.

People are also suffering from climate change closer to home. Residents of Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana, will be relocated because their community is disappearing under the rising ocean.

What I find amazing is that, although people deny climate change (or perhaps deny that climate change is anthropogenic), I have yet to read any refutation of the observation that the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is rising, and that its rise is anthropogenic. We all understand that this gas, along with methane and water vapor, are greenhouse gases. Without GHGs our planet Earth would be 60 degrees Fahrenheit colder—and totally unable to support life. Doesn’t it make sense that, as the CO2 level rises, the temperature will also rise?

Perhaps we can excuse some of the denial of climate change thanks to the findings of a recent study of people’s reaction to the climate. Apparently the warming that we in the USA have experienced actually has made the climate more agreeable—although that is far from true in other parts of the world.

Greenhouse gases released by people cause climate change; the more people, the faster the climate will change. Family planning is part of the solution! Another part of the solution is convincing our political representatives to support legislation to slow climate change. The Citizens’ Climate Lobby (http://citizensclimatelobby.org) has an effective plan to do this. A local chapter has just been formed; you can contact them at: durangoccl@gmail.com.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2016

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States.