Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Storm of a Century Every Year

I noticed that we keep on hearing the news say that this is "a storm of a century" or "a once in generation event" when it comes to natural disasters and the weather. The problem is that they seem to be saying that all too often. Perhaps, we should consider that these events are no longer a nominally, but rather a permanent change in the weather. Like 50 million other Americans on the East Coast, I got up close and personal with Hurricane Sandy, aka Franken Storm or the Super Storm. These names are effective for good headlines, but we should look at the facts here. Here in the northeast corridor of America, we had hurricane Irene last year and Sandy this year. We have become the Florida of north for Hurricanes without the nice warm weather or the early bird dinner specials. Prior to last year, we had a record breaking amount of snow and then last year we broke a record with the lowest amount of snow fall. We are getting hotter summers, longer Falls and shorter Springs. Half the country is going through a record breaking draught and the other side is deluged with an amount of rain that would have any rationally thinking person of building an ark. We all know what is happening here and, yet, we cannot talk about it. Heck, none of the presidential and vice president debates discussed the bogeyman, the white elephant in the room or the Lord Voldemort of the twenty first century. It is climate change. Let's drop the reference to global warming and just call it climate change. That is what it is here. And any person who denies it is, quite frankly, a moron. I am sorry to insult a half of the American population, including politicians running this country, but you are. I am amazed how the rest of the world acknowledges climate change, but a portion of America still remain in this "Denial of Climate Change Bubble". Of course, that same bubble is in black and white, has Leave it to Beaver and still thinks the Soviet Union is our biggest threat. Look, we have a major problem here. We can worry about the economy, birth control, the right to chose and same sex marriage. However, if we do not have a serious adult discussion about climate change here, there will be no economy to worry about, no birth control needed because human procreation will be irrelevant with the human species being wiped out and marriage will not be an issue because humans will just be trying to survive as opposed deciding to who the want to spend the rest of their lives with when they may not live to se the next day. I hate writing this "end of the world", "red alert", "Danger Will Robinson" blog entry, but I have no choice. We all should be doing the same. I spent 48 hours or more watching the Weather Channel about Hurricane Sandy. Perhaps, that is too much time. But, it worked. Tt scared me enough to get really prepared for this storm and thank goodness I did. If the news can successfully do that for a hurricane, why can't they do it for something bigger like climate change? Perhaps, I should start a blog about that. I just need to get some readers. It reminds me of that old chinese proverb: "If a man rights a blog and no one reads it, will he be heard." The answer is no, but at least I have company with the issue of climate change. I really should start building that ark.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Unlike the President, Climate Change Never Showed Up to the Debate

For the environmentalists out there, it was another disappointing debate. No, I am not talking about whether or not a certain candidate "won" the debate. One of the most important issues within this decade was not asked by the moderator or any of the attending audience of this town hall debate. That issue would be climate change. In fact, it was not asked in the previous presidential debater nor the one and only vice presidential debate. There was discussion about energy in this debate, but such discussion never broached the topic of climate change. Chris Hayes of MSNBC described it best by saying "To discuss energy without discussing climate changes is like discussing smoking without discussing cancer." Unfortunately, the last presidential debate is on foreign policy and most likely climate change will not be asked unless there is a question about how the change of the climate will impact our foreign policy with respect to protecting natural resources. It is a real shame here. Mitt Romney is part of the deniers of climate changes and President Obama has not done enough to bring this issue to the forefront. I would have loved if someone asked Governor Romney on why he does not believe in climate change and how he plans to combat it when this myth becomes a reality. If the person seeking one of the most important jobs is not asked in his "interview" about how he would deal with climate change, how can we really expect that he will do anything about it. This seems another issue that will be kicked down the road to be discussed at another time. Sooner or later we are going to have to deal with it. At least in the 2016 election there will be discussion about this issue because I believe by that time global warming will be having a significant impact on the US economy and the world. Unfortunately, any policy to address it will be reactionary as opposed to preventive. Let's just hope that the next president believes this is an important issue even if he media does not. Unfortunately, I believe only one of them believes it is an important issue. That same person also believes that in the science of climate change.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Bill on Bill

I am watching Bill McKibben on Bill Maher. Here is some interesting facts: 1. The average temperature has been higher than recorded temperature from the last century for 330 consecutive months; 2. Only 25% of the Arctic Polar Cap remains; and 3. 60% of the US suffered a drought this past summer. Unfortunately, there is still one party in the US and a Presidential candidate that does not believe in climate change. The issue is how we get over this divide. There is a not a Republican Senator that believes in climate change. I guess we can push them out or wait until they come around. It seems to me that the environmentalists are too weak and timid on this issue. They need to learn from the counterparts and take more aggressive tactic to change peoples' minds. One way to convince them is to prove that green technological will also benefit the economy. There is a current belief by many in the business world that green technology is a money loser. In fact, Mitt Romney criticized the President in the Presidential debate this week of the money wasted by the government in green technology. Then again he worked for Bain Capital, which had as many failures as successes. Does anyone remember what happened to KB Toys? The point is that there needs to a be a new message from the environmentalists. Here are some suggestions: 1. The climate is changing and you can either believe in the supporting science or ignore the science and continue believing in unicorns and leprechauns; 2. Green technology will help the economy and America grow or we can let it die on the vine and watch China, Brazil and India become the new environmental superpowers; 3. Taking care of mother earth is not a democratic, republican or patriotic thing. It is just a human thing. 4. I told you so!!!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

republican party and global warning

I find it somewhat disheartening that Mitt Romney, potentially the next president of the United States,mock President Obama in his speach about his efforts to fight global warming. Is it not time to stop this and acknowledge that the climate change is and will be a serious issue. We have all heard the statistics about how rapid the planet is warming,yet we have people who may run our government ignore it. I heard the best solution from the actor Jason Alexander. Put all the naysayers on an iceberg and if in five years they and the iceberg are still there, then they are right and the rest of us will apologize. I recommend that the bring some life jackets. It is this myopic backward thinking that will hurl us into the dark ages. I am sharpening my broad sword and shining my chiainmail now.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Health Care Law, the Supreme Court and the Environment

Another politically charged week here in the US and as the weather heats up, so will the political rhetoric being that it is a presidential election year. The Affordable Health Care Act ("Obamacare") has survived via the Supreme Court ruling in a 5 to 4 decision upholding its constitutionality. What does this mean for America and why I am talking about this on an environmental blog? The law itself is not the issue here. The significance is the ruling. Many Americans, particularly, the liberal base have questioned the Supreme Court's activities because they have viewed it acting more of a rulemaking branch of the conservative party. Perhaps, the conservatives had said the same thing forty years ago. In fact, maybe they are saying that now. Nonetheless, in order for this democracy to function, there has to be faith in the three branches of government. Clearly, the American public's level of confidence with the other two branches, Congress and the President, is at an all time low, but to lose the faith in the Supreme Court could be cataclysmic. Perhaps, some people who are against the ruling have lost faith in the highest court of the land; however, it was Chief Justice John Roberts whose decision broke the tie brand more importantly, he wrote the decision upholding the constitutionality of the Act, specifically as it relates to mandatory coverage. Again, so what does this have to do with the environment? Well, in the near future the government will have to take action in regard to the environment that will impact many lives, which will result in many legal challenges by both the liberals and the conservatives. Therefore, it is important that Americans believe in the legal system. This means that they must accept the decision of the courts and follow the legal process as permitted under the law to challenge these decisions. However, once the highest court has made a decision or they exhausted all procedures for appealing or overturning the decision, they must abide by the decision. They do not have to agree with the decision, but they must abide by it. It is unfortunate that the people who we have elected to uphold the constitution and the laws of the land have somehow forgotten this principal at times. Again, you do not have to agree with the decision, but as a representative of the public, an elected official must uphold these principals. Without them, we do not have a democracy. Perhaps both political parties can take a look at what Chief Justice Robert did as an example. He made a decision on the law. He was doing what he swore in his oath as a supreme court justice and he did it. He did not let his personal views impact his decision. That is what Congress and the President must do. They must perform the services that they swore to when the accepted the position. Let's put all of that bipartisan personal emotional crap aside and get to work. We got a lot of issues that we need to work together to get done, especially with the changing global climate. Over the horizon I see a big storm coming and we are going to need each other to get through it. Seriously, I actually see a big storm coming from the West due to this heat wave in the East. I better turn off the computer, grab a flash light, a snickers bar and head to the basement. I just hope that my cell phone get reception in the basement because I think it might be a long night.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Insurance Industry: How strong is that safety net?

Among the fallout of natural disasters is the cost of rebuilding. Where does a lot of that financing come from? The government is one of the primary sources; however, the insurance industry is another source. Japan's earthquakes may cost insurance companies up to $34 billion. These insurance companies are also insured by reinsurer companies. They basically insure the insurance companies. This is a small group of companies and this coverage helps keep insurance companies' coverage lower.

It has been a tough 2 years for the insurance industry with disasters in Australia, Chile, New Zealand and now Japan. Fortunately, they are wellfunded; however, with a growing population, especially in areas known for natural disasters and the uncertainty with climate change, these well funded coffers may start shrinking. The result may be us paying more in insurance coverages. These expenses can grow significantly if any of the reinsurer companies go under, which at this time is not an issue. Also, the current expense for Japan may increase depending how the nuclear reactor situation plays out. Let's just all hope that we continue to remain in good hands.

What floated up on the shore? A Brand New Harley Davidson

I always wanted a Harley Davidson. Actually, I am lying. After my disastrous experience at summer camp where I lost control on the Honda 75 bike and wound up in a lake, I have this phobia of riding motorcycles. Nonetheless, one lucky person somewhere on the Alaska shoreline happened to come across a ship cargo container. Inside that cargo container was, you guessed it, a Harley Davidson. Either the person had the same experience that I had with motorcycles or was just an honest person. They ended up reporting this discovery to the local officials. I am not sure if that Harley and the real owner were ever united. Actually, it sounds like a good reality show on network TV, Harley and Me: Reunited. So how in the world did a cargo container with a motorcycle windup on the Alaskan shorelines. Was there some capsized ship in the area holding this cargo? Actually, this cargo originated from Japan. Yes, Japan. Apparently, the West Coast of the United States is coming across many floating items washing up on the shore from Japan. The cause of this beachcomber bounty is the 2011 Tsunami in Japan. Thousands of thousands items from Japan were sucked into the Pacific Ocean as a result of the Tsunami last March. They are slowly floating toward America. Many of these items are on the surface, but there is a lot that are floating underwater. Experts expect that over the next two to two and a half years, the coastlines of California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska will be getting more and more surf with this refuge. It is uncertain whether or not these items would have any significant radiation levels due to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant accident. So next time you are surfing in Huntington Beach and you feel a large object hit your leg, don't worry, it is not a shark. It is probably a Smart Car from Japan. Let's hope that they have perfected the water resistant and impervious Smart Car. If so, you could be driving a brand-new car out of the Pacific onto the sunny shores of California. Also, considering the odds are extremely low that a US customs official will be hanging out on the shoreline to meet you, this is also a great way to avoid any U.S. import tax.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Soft Winter Results in Hard Cash

Ignoring the unnerving sense that the climate may be going through drastic changes, there were many benefits of this past mild winter. Chiropractor visits were down due to the reduction in pulled out backs due to shoveling. The number of magical snowmen was reduced in size, which allowed the police force to spend more time on addressing day to day safety and security issues as opposed to fielding calls about snowmen in top hats prancing and dancing down the town streets. On average, many cities in the US saw less than half their average snow. New York City's annual snow average is 25.1 inches. This past winter it was 7.4 inches. Boston has an annual average of 43.8 inches and ended this year with only 9.3 inches. Salt Lake City and Minneapolis average 55.8 and 54.4 inches, respectively. Minneapolis only saw 22.3 inches and Salt Lake had 24.8 inches. The result of these seasonally lower snow falls is more cash in the city's budget because they did not have to spend money on salting the streets and removing snow. In fact, the last two years before this year, many cities were in the red because of the expense of snow removal. In fact, some had to get emergency funding from the state. For example, Lake Tahoe spent about $700,000 this year on snow removal or 24% less than last year. Milwaukee came $2 million under budget for snow removal. Iowa spent only $19.4 million in snow removal this past winter compared to $31.6 million the year before. Also, the cost of maintenance of the streets has reduced because the harsh winter cause wear and tear on the roads, which creates potholes. The other benefits is that many road projects where able to get a jump start this year due to the mild winter. It is easier to do road work when it is 40 degrees and clear skies vs. 10 degrees and driving snow. Unfortunately, the industries that rely on snow for tourism did suffer. And that does has an impact on the states' and cities' tax coffers due to lower taxable revenue. Therefore, for some of these cities, the budget windfall was reduced by the decrease in taxable revenue. In the end, this mild winter provided some form of relief to city and state budgets and the backs of many Americans. Does this mean that cities and states are reducing their snow removal budgets for next winter? The answer is no. In this environment, the only thing that we can count on is the weather is never predictable. Personally, I would not mind another snow free winter. No offense, Frosty. Source: Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, May 1, 2012.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Derailed in America

Considering that it was the railroad that help propel this country into a mega economic power and connect the west to the east, it is somewhat perplexing on why many states have stalled or cancelled projects to build high speed rail lines that connect cities throughout the state.

Last year, Florida turned down federal funding for a high speed line. The governor claimed that it was cost prohibitive based on a incomplete analysis.

California is facing funding issues for its bullet train from Southern California to the Bay Area. As a result, that program is on hold.

Now, Honolulu may be facing delay or cancellation of an elevated train project. This project has been in the making since 1968. The ex-governor of Hawaii, Ben Cayetano, is running for Mayor of Honolulu and he is against this project. He claims that it will not alleviate the increased congestion on the major highways and the $5.2 billion in funding could be spent on updating the cities water and sewage infrastructure. He has vowed that if elected, he will prevent this project from being completed. Regardless of his campaign commitments and potential victory of the mayoral seat, it is uncertain that this project can be stopped by this former Governor because of the momentum and push to get this done by other external forces. The first phase of the railway will be in service by 2015.

This does bring up a general question about America. Why do we not like having a fast efficient rail system? It can promote economic growth by reducing traffic and congestion on the highways. Many work hours are lost due to traffic congestion. It also will help the environment by offering a form of transportation that is low pollutant. In addition, it will save people money considering that gas is averaging close to $4 a gallon. Most important, we are not reinventing the wheel here. We can look to the successes in Europe, South Korea and Japan where there are efficient fast rail systems.

If we want to continue to progress and maintain our economic superpower status, we need to stop having a myopic point of view of things. It seems that we are taking steps back instead of forward. We currently have to rely on the Russians to send us into space because we have do not our own rocket ship to send our own astronauts into outer space.

I am not asking for us to shoot to the moon here. I am just asking to get me from LA to San Fran in 4 hours. Is that too much? Apparently, in this climate, it is.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Energy Industry: The New Job Creator

There is an industry in the US that growing jobs at an accelerated rate. It is not IT industry or the financial sector. And it is not the renewable energy sector; however, you are getting warmer, no pun intended.

The gas and oil industry is going through a major resurgence on US soil. I know that we heard about the record breaking profits of oil companies and have never heard how those profits benefit the US, especially considering the subsidies they receive and the prices at the gas pump continue to rise.

According to the Wall Street Journal, this new energy boom has helped add about 158,500 new oil and gas jobs. This is the result of new drilling techniques to tap oil and gas in shale rocks. This has created jobs in the oil and gas fields, but it also has created job at the companies that provide the equipment and machinery to this industry. In addition, it has brought in revenue to the local communities where the drilling is occurring.

So is this good for us? Clearly, it is good for the oil and gas industry. There is an initial benefit in discovering more local resources of energy. It keeps the natural gas and oil prices lower. I would argue that that natural gas prices are lower than oil prices. It can also bring in tax revenue for the states and local communities. However, in places like Pennsylvania, the have not taxed this industry until now. Even with the new legislation, it is a flat fee that the state would charge, a minimum of $190,000 a well and a maximum of $355,000. Of course, the person who owns the land and leases it to the natural gas companies will benefit from the gas and oil royalties. And as I mentioned before, companies like the ones who provide the drilling technology, trucks and even the prefab housing for the workers in the fields benefit because of the increase in purchase orders from the oil and gas companies.

On the other side, there is the potential of people being hurt We all know about the documentary, Gasland, which showed a person lighting their faucet of running water on fire. It was believed that the nearby drilling for the natural gas was contaminating the local communities drinking water. In addition, a town in Arkansas suspended drilling because of the increase in seismic activity following the commencement of drilling in the area. Also, there is a real risk of a boom and bust cycle in these small towns. They reap the immediate profits with the industry being there drilling new wells, but once all the wells are complete, these companies will leave along with the potential revenue for the local business.

I am not saying this is a bad thing. I believe it does make sense to find local energy resources. I also believe that one solution to our energy problem is not feasible. Also, natural gas as an alternative to coal make sense. It is cleaner than coal. Furthermore, drilling for more oil makes sense because oil is used in many of our products and were are never going to get completely off of oil as an energy resource in the near term. However, we have to balance all of this with smart choices, including instituting appropriate environmental controls. Also, local communities should develop a rainy day fund for when these industries go away and there should be a reoccurring tax revenue from this business to cover any aftermath expense that these companies may cause to the communities, such as water contamination or other unforeseen problems. In addition, even though Pennsylvania is providing statewide ordinance requirements, I believe it really should be left to the local communities. They know better than anyone else what local ordinances are needed.

Of course the contrarian will say that if you place all these restrictions, these company will never want to drill. The one thing you have and they don't is the natural resource. These companies are not going to give up the opportunity to make millions. Sure they can go to another town over; however, if there are certain standards set at the state level to protect communities from not sacrificing its future for short term gains and some flexibility to control its ordinances, in the end these companies will accept these regulations and taxes and not walk away. It is just good business sense.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A New Ice Age?

I just read an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about whether we are approaching another Ice Age. That is hard to imagine considering I saw some people wearing shorts in mid-December in the Northeast. However, according to the article, it has been as warm as this or warmer for less than 10% of the time over the past million years. Ironically, Newsweek in the 1970s had an article in which lead climatologists were fearing another Ice Age. Of course, if you talk to people in Eastern Europe right now, they would say that we are already in an Ice Age with record low temperatures.

There are theories that the Earth's climate in more prone to Ice Ages. This has been tied to the salinity levels in the ocean. In fact, there are theories that as the fresh water glaciers melt in Greenland and run into the Atlantic Ocean, this will reduce the salt water levels in the ocean. As a result this could slow down the conveyor belt effect in the Atlantic Ocean that brings the warm waters from the Gulf of Mexico, which in turn keeps the temperature levels higher in the Atlantic Ocean, which avoids us going into a deep freeze. Some scientists claim this is already happening. It has been reported there is a fresh body of water the size of Lake Victoria coming down from the Greenland.

So who would be impacted more by this? It is believed that Northern Europe would feel this deep freeze effect, especially in the UK and Scandinavia. It does seem counter intuitive with rising temperatures and more mild winters that there is a threat of an Ice Age, but then again who could really predict the weather anyway.