Tag Archives: environment

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.

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Snakes on a Plain

python_1
image from Capitan St. Lucifer

Forget Hollywood. Global warming is making horrible movie sequels better than those hotheads in the hills can.

Soon coming to a Midwest near you: An Inconvenient Truth 2: Motherfuckin’ Snakes in the Motherfuckin’ Great Plains.

That’s right. But why exactly are there snakes on this Plain?

According to a study by the U.S. Geological Survey, the python’s habitat is expanding northward with the increase in temperatures caused by global warming. As the Midwest warms up, our grasslands, previously uninhabitable to such snakes, could become home to the 23-foot-long creatures.

“If we had normal, cold winters, that snake probably wouldn’t survive, but we haven’t had winters like that for a long time,” says Joe Collins, a herpetologist with the Kansas Biological Survey.

Researchers first discovered a Burmese Python invasion in Florida in 2003. The Burmese Python, a type of Indian Python, is an invasive species, meaning that it is not native to the United States, and researchers think that the growing python population came from the offspring of a pet that someone released into the wild. The colony of pythons is now self-sustaining.

Climate models for the year 2100 show the python’s potential habitat slithering north and putting a stranglehold on the eastern half of Kansas, including the Lawrence area.

“The Indian Python is loose and breeding in the Everglades,” Collins says. “It could go as far north as Kansas, but that’s a hypothesis based on guesses. We aren’t sure that it’s going to happen.”

The habitable areas for reptiles are always based on temperature because these animals are cold-blooded and must have warm weather to survive.

“Reptiles are temperature-dependent,” Collins says. “If it goes down to freezing, they can die. If we have global warming, the mean annual temperature would increase so that the habitats would creep upwards.”

Collins says he received a call about a year ago from a farmer who lived south of Lawrence who said he had a snake problem. The farmer mailed him the shedded skin of a large snake, which Collins says was that of an Indian Python and was about 11 feet long.

“The farmer said, ‘All of my cats and small dogs are gone. What can I do?’” Collins says.

These snakes typically live underneath buildings and come out during the night.

“As far as I know, that Indian Python is still down there,” Collins says. “The snake could have been a pet that got turned loose or escaped. It’s a good example showing that it’s just not cold enough up here anymore.”

Collins said that other invasive reptile species have already been seen on the KU campus. Species like the Italian Wall Lizard, which can now be found in Lawrence, originally came from Europe.

“There are lots of species that come in through the South, a lot of those from Florida,” Collins says. “There are 64 kinds of invasive species in the U.S., and many have been moving north.”

Collins says Mediterranean Geckos were discovered two years ago in Lenexa. The geckos were crawling under warehouse lights in the business district.

“There is a lot of lumber here from Florida,” he says. “The animals can escape when packages or crates break. Florida has a big, big problem. All kinds of things are loose down there.”

As Kansas’ climate gets warmer, the eastern part of the state would provide a better habitat to animals previously found in wetland-filled areas like Florida.

“It’s more humid here in the eastern part of the state, so we would have more tropical animals,” Collins says. “Desert animals would probably do better in the western part.”

Calling these recently moved-in species invasive is somewhat misleading. At least with amphibians and reptiles, Kansas’ ecosystems have not seen many negative impacts, Collins says.

“There are no problems that we know of,” he says. “We could not find any bacteria or diseases. Many think that the python poses a danger to humans, but I don’t think so. But who knows what will ultimately happen. This definitely changes things.”

originally published in Jayplay magazine on March 27, 2008 (PDF). Click here for its original online home.

The Forgotten Greenhouse Gas

vegetarian
image from gogreen

“Too chicken to go vegetarian?”

A recent batch of ads sponsored by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) asks this question.

Though PETA’s primary concern is for the animals, eating meat is actually deadly for the planet, too. One of the leading contributors to climate change is the amount of methane gas released by current methods of agricultural production.

Methane is the chief component of natural gas, but the place that it’s coming from these days seems anything but natural. One cow farts and burps out more than 63 gallons of methane daily. Multiply that by the 1.3 billion cattle in the world, and the planet is going to need a bit more than a dose of Gas-X to cure this problem.

Not surprisingly, several so-called environmentalists have had trouble addressing this problem. Not once in his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, did Al Gore mention methane, probably because it’s the most inconvenient truth of all. Your flesh-eating tendencies are killing the planet (among other things).

The beef industry gets a prime cut of the blame, but the other industries are guilty as well. The production of two pounds of beef releases more greenhouse gases than taking a three-hour drive in your Hummer while leaving the lights on back home, according to New Science magazine.

It can be a lonely world come mealtime for us vegetarians in the Midwest (motto: Beef, it’s what’s for every meal of the day). Even food that appears to be vegetarian is sometimes cooked in animal fat or contains traces of meat.

Fortunately, dining services on campus have been receptive to the needs of vegetarians and others looking for the occasional meat-free meal.

“We are always looking for vegetarian recipes,” says Nona Golledge, director of KU Dining Services. “Even though someone may not classify themselves as a vegetarian, they still want healthier options.”

Golledge estimates that about 26 percent of Dining Services’ 5,000 recipes are vegetarian.

For students who don’t want to make the full transition, residence hall dining facilities serve soy Boca burgers and black bean burgers.

On-campus dining selections have a huge influence on what students eat. Golledge says that on an average day, the 20 on-campus dining operations serve about 10,000 people.

KU Dining Services recently introduced organic foods into select venues, and meat from Local Burger—a restaurant that serves only locally raised meat­—is offered in The Market in the Kansas Union. As consumers, we should buy organic and local products whenever possible because doing so cuts down on pollution while also supporting our local economy.

Becoming a full-fledged vegetarian is a bold and difficult move. I don’t know how many more films like Fast Food Nation and Super Size Me or visits to TheMeatrix it will take for people to make the move to eating less meat, but we can’t keep farting around with such a serious environmental problem.

originally published in Jayplay magazine on Feb. 21, 2008 (PDF). Click here for its original online home.

Who is the greenest presidential candidate?

snowman
image from Breitbart

Next week, Kansas Democrats and Republicans will rock out with their caucuses out to choose a candidate for the presidential election.

Unfortunately, little has been brought up at either side’s debates about the environment, excluding a snowman that apparently posted video questions on YouTube for one of the first Democratic debates this season.

Here is a quick look at how green each of the remaining candidates are.

Democrats

Hillary Clinton
hillary-walmart

image from AverageBro

Policy Pro: Clinton has spent her Senate years as a member of the Environment and Public Works committee, so she understands the need for change.

Controversial Con: She was on Wal-Mart’s board of directors from 1986-1992 and may still be bogged down by “big business.” She probably won’t find global warming solutions in Aisle 5.

Barack Obama
obama
image from Earthfirst

Policy Pro: Obama received endorsements from the Sierra Club and The League of Conservation Voters for his position in the Senate. He has fewer ties to polluting industries and should be able to choose better advisers.

Controversial Con: He supports the now-typical cap-and-trade program to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050, a lofty (and easily avoidable) goal.

John Edwards
edwards_convention_5
image from The Washington Note

Policy Pro: First candidate to make his campaign carbon-neutral and the first to propose many touted talking points, such as the 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050.

Controversial Con: Support of ethanol as an alternative fuel source, even though its efficiency and cost-effectiveness have been called into question.

Mike Gravel
mike_gravel_offical_photo
image from Greenhome

Policy Pro: Work with other countries to reduce emissions, outlaw coal as an energy source.

Controversial Con: Is anyone sure he’s still running for president? I think he just likes seeing himself on YouTube.

Republicans

Rudy Giuliani
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image from USLiberals

Policy Pro: Um, turn the lights off when you leave the room?

Controversial Con: Supports an increased reliance on coal and domestic oil. At least the haze from unregulated greenhouse gases should avert potential terrorists.

Mike Huckabee
GYI0000628879.jpg
image from Gregqualls

Policy Pro: Draws in the much-needed Evangelical conservatives with the 11th Commandment: Father God created Mother Earth.

Controversial Con: What would Jesus do? I suppose He would support coal pollution and be vague about setting goals.

Mitt Romney
mitt-romney
image from TheBrownSpectator

Policy Pro: Supports plans for energy independence and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Controversial Con: After claiming that people don’t want change in the White House and being tied to a global warming denier group, he’s not too interested.

Ron Paul
ron-paul
image from GreenDaily

Policy Pro: Would end subsidies to the oil industry and believes that war is a contributor to pollution problems.

Controversial Con: Paul’s campaign is determined by the free market.

John McCain
mccain
image from The Guardian

Policy Pro: First Republican to talk seriously on the issue and to understand the connection between global warming and national security.

Controversial Con: Ironically, the driver of the Straight Talk Express hasn’t mentioned any specific targets to combat climate change.

Candidate information from Grist.

originally published in Jayplay magazine on Jan. 31, 2008 (PDF). Click here for its original online home.

How To Bring the Environmental Message to Conservatives

bush
image from National Post

Finally, something may exist that both environmentalists and George W. Bush can agree on: the ineffectiveness of fear mongering.

Because of the fake severity of their message, “doomsday” environmentalists who claim that the world will end in a few years if mankind doesn’t act quickly have turned many people off to caring about the world around them.

You don’t necessarily have to care about polar bears, how quickly Greenland is melting or how fast the ozone is depleting. But you should realize how your actions tie into environmental changes we see locally and globally.

Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh started the countdown on a doomsday clock after the release of An Inconvenient Truth because he claims that the documentary warned that global warming will kill us all in 10 years. I would tell you the time we have left to live on this earth, according to Limbaugh’s clock, but unfortunately I cannot access it on his Web site because I’m not a Rush 24/7 Member. Damn.

Do you care about the world around you? Well, let’s just say that you don’t.

And you don’t necessarily have to.

To live green, your motivations can be entirely selfish. You only need to care about yourself, your wallet and your species’ ultimate survival.

Although green living and the belief in global warming usually go hand in hand, you don’t have to get married to the idea. You don’t necessarily have to care about polar bears, how quickly Greenland is melting or how fast the ozone is depleting. But you should realize how your actions tie into environmental changes we see locally and globally.

Yes, you’re right. I will probably pimp Al Gore at the drop of an Arctic ice sheet because I think he has done a wonderful job of bringing visibility to a previously downplayed issue.

However, this is a problem that transcends political boundaries, and I want to bring as many viewpoints to the table as possible.

What many people have a problem with is the confusing wording used by the scientific community when describing the problem.

Isn’t global warming only a theory?

Exactly.

In science, everything is theoretical, and nothing can ever be completely proved or disproved. A mere hypothesis can only move into the upper echelons of being a theory after numerous tests, experiments and other hypotheses have failed to falsify the evidence.

Check out any 100-level chemistry or biology course.

Everyone seems to be content with many other theories that we deal with daily, such as the theory of gravity. Maybe when Americans can see climate change in their everyday lives will we finally commit to living a greener lifestyle.

Even if you still think that global warming is caused by a bunch of liberals blowing hot air, that’s fine.

Whatever your political viewpoints, your background, your socio-economic standing or your Facebook status, you can all be green with me.

originally published in Jayplay magazine on Jan. 24, 2008 (PDF). Click here for its original online home.

4 Things You Need to Solve Global Warming

global-warming
image from recon2020

Today I would like to say a few words about global warming.

And now that I’ve lost half my readers, let’s get down to business.

Concerns about global warming have fueled the need for fundamental changes in daily life. The green movement is emerging everywhere, and businesses are finally picking up on the trend.

As college students, we know the value of a dollar, especially because we usually don’t have one. A common misconception about switching to a more environmentally friendly lifestyle is that it will be outrageously expensive and too time-consuming to fit your busy schedule.

Not true.

Whether being green is something you’ve been practicing for awhile, something that you set as a New Year’s resolution or something that you think is a huge crock spun by Al Gore, there is one facet of it that college students in particular will love: Going green means saving green.

The first and best thing you can do is to admit the problem. This does not necessarily mean that you have to believe in global warming (so I will spare you a lecture on receding glaciers and the changing chemical composition of our atmosphere), but it means that you must realize the excess and mindlessness that is plaguing modern American culture. Behind all the science and terminology of global climate change is stuff you care about, such as saving money and being able to breathe.

Here are a few items to pick up when you’re ready to start your journey into the green beyond:

Your brain. Always helpful when stepping out of the status quo.

“An Inconvenient Truth.” This documentary has become one of the most visible elements of the modern environmental movement, thanks in large part to its speaker, former vice president Al Gore (ctrl-alt-del the “inventing the internet” jokes). Gore bridges the gap between scientists and the common people by translating the heavy, technical language of science into something the public can easily understand.

A recycling bin. An excellent first step to reducing waste.

A good pair of walking shoes. The absolute best way to avoid high gas prices and to not contribute to them.

originally published in Jayplay magazine on Jan. 17, 2008 (PDF). Click here for its original online home.