Category Archives: Opinion Pieces

What global warming and mortgages have in common

subprime
image from ANVRecife

Will the financial crisis wake us up to the climate crisis?

It may be difficult to see how the two are related, but this week we’ve learned that Americans were so concerned with how much money they had at Wall Street’s closing bell that they didn’t hear the floundering stock market’s warning bells.

Those bells fell on deaf ears, and the environment is especially telling when it comes to how deaf we’ve become: We were so concerned with the price at the pump that we missed how much we are consuming at the expense of the environment. Sound familiar?

Unless the United States starts addressing global warming now, we might have to spend $700 billion to bail out the planet, too. But $700 billion is a nice figure compared to the $19 trillion estimate from the European Commission.

The subprime mortgage crisis came from short-term thinking. The number of subprime mortgages increased dramatically from 1990 to 2000, mostly from increased competition from online lenders, according to the Home Buying Institute. This meant that lenders had to broaden their scope and give loans to people who usually would have been turned away because of bad credit scores or previous foreclosures.

So the quest to make an extra buck is going to cost the entire country a few hundred billion.

As usual, the truth is in the numbers. The number of home foreclosures in the United States has climbed year by year. So far in 2008, about 1.4 million homes have been foreclosed on. But 1.2 million homes were foreclosed on in 2006, and the economy survived that.

The media (finally) did their math and are ringing the alarm bells. But when the same information is presented to them about global warming, why do they seem to ignore it?

When Jim Hansen, a researcher at NASA who is known for his testimony to Congress about climate change in the 1980s, visited the University Sept. 22, he nearly spoon-fed the alarm bells to the audience. He said that we’ve passed the safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and that we are approaching the point of irreversible changes. No country in the world has taken steps to drastically reduce its carbon emissions, and we keep burning fossil fuels even when we’re told we are doing harm to the entire planet.

So why isn’t anyone talking about this?

Because global warming can’t put up foreclosure signs around the neighborhood, we don’t seeing anything in our backyards yet. And unfortunately by the time we do notice, it will be far too late. We see distant problems — the Arctic ice cap melting, a higher rate of species extinction and higher global temperatures — but it’s difficult to relate those problems back to the individual.

Just like in the subprime crisis, only when the for-sale signs started to appear did people start wondering. And only then did we realize how far back the problem went.

With the defeat of the House bill two days ago, Americans are finally starting to realize that we can’t just keep thinking in the short-term when dealing with problems that affect the entire nation.

Now, how long will we remember it?

originally published in The University Daily Kansan on Oct. 1, 2008. Click the link for the print edition.

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Don’t Make Holcomb Another Crime Scene

crimescenetape
image from smithy

This tiny town in western Kansas is known by the crimes that have been committed there. It was the location of the Clutter family murders in 1959 that Truman Capote popularized in his work “In Cold Blood.”

Since the book’s 1964 publication, those crimes in the town of Holcomb have mostly faded from the public’s mind. But a new crime is on the verge of being committed, this time by Sunflower Electric, a Hays-based power company that is trying to build two 700-megawatt coal-fired power plants in Holcomb.

Carbon dioxide is one of the main culprits of global warming, and electricity generation from the proposed coal-fired generators in Holcomb would emit 11 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. This much carbon dioxide would negate green initiatives taken by the New England states and make Kansas home to the one of the largest single sources of carbon dioxide west of the Mississippi River.

Despite its crimes, Sunflower Electric hasn’t been stopped dead in its tracks.

Opponents of the plant thought their battle was over when Roderick Bremby, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, rejected Sunflower’s application for air quality permits. He cited concerns about carbon dioxide emissions and relied on the Supreme Court’s 2007 ruling that declared carbon dioxide a pollutant.

But supporters of the plant are ready to fight to the death, and they have a nice helping hand from the leaders of the Kansas House and Senate, who are both from Western Kansas. After Bremby rejected the permits, the debate moved to the Legislature, which passed two different bills stripping Bremby of his regulatory authority and allowing the plants to be built.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed both bills, but last week the Senate was able to gather enough votes to override the first veto. Since then, the action has been like watching the most time-consuming game of tennis: The complete override of the first veto failed in the House. The Senate overrode the second veto, which the House is scheduled to vote on Friday. Just this past Tuesday, the Senate passed yet another version of the bill, this time tacking a few more “economic development initiatives” onto it.

Although Western Kansas needs an economic boost, a coal-fired power plant is not the way to bring in money. Instead, the Legislature should be sponsoring initiatives to promote energy conservation or for funding for green energy projects like solar panels or wind turbines. These projects look progressively into the future, instead of forcing Holcomb residents to live in the shadows of an outdated coal plant.

In addition, most of the plant’s electricity would be sent out of state, leaving only 15 percent for Kansas, but the state gets to keep 100 percent of the pollution.

Some argue that if the plant isn’t built here, the project will be moved to a neighboring state. But in the wake of Bremby’s decision, other states and energy companies have been paying close attention to the debate. Bremby said 20 projects to build coal-fired power plants have been canceled, three have been delayed and others have been denied at the state level.

It is horrifying that so many members of the Legislature have supported these bills and are neglecting the long-term needs of the state in terms of environmental protection and economic prosperity, which are not mutually exclusive.

The Kansan editorial board supports Marci Francisco, the state senator from Lawrence, and Barbara Ballard, the area’s state representative, who both voted to uphold Sebelius’ veto and protect the environment and the health of all Kansans.

originally published in The University Daily Kansan, May 8, 2008. Click the link for the print edition.