We are truly entering Orwell’s age of doublespeak ( i.e., language used to deceive, usually through concealment or misrepresentation of truth). One such example is the Trump Administration’s deletion of the term climate change from government websites (and funding agencies are suggesting that applicants do the same in their federal grant proposals), so it is up to the rest of us to keep this term in the public’s eye. Yes, the vast majority of us believe that climate change is occurring as we witness extreme weather events and fires in the west.
Long before producing hydro-electric power, the Allegheny was one of our original producers of petroleum. The Bradford oil field was founded in 1875. By 1881 it was the world leader in oil supply, producing over 90% of U. S. oil (26 million barrels per year); oil production
continues to this day (750,000 barrels per year, compared with 24 billion barrels worldwide). As I hiked along the North Country National Trail, I came upon an oil well. At first, I thought it was an abandoned relic until I noticed a modern electrical panel and motor. You could smell crude oil around the area. As I continued hiking I came across yet another, also with the smell of crude.
Today, a large refinery sits on Route 6 in Warren with large tankers coming and going. Given that the river wraps around two sides of the refinery, and busy Route 6 on the third side, the only vantage point for a photograph was at the west end. Unfortunately, with employees coming and going, and the security related to refineries, I felt pretty uncomfortable taking photos (I’ve previously been approached by security people photographing other facilities). The Kinzua Dam was an exception since it accommodated visitors and photos outside its gates.
Even if we had known early on how burning fossil fuels would change the planet, given that evolution has wired us to pursue short-term benefits for survival, and our transition to an industrialized economy enabling a higher standard of living for some, I suspect that we would have continued down this road, just as we have done over the past 40 years.
Our intelligence and our technology have given us the power to affect the climate. How will we use this power? Are we willing to tolerate ignorance and complacency in matters that affect the entire human family? Do we value short-term advantages above the welfare of the Earth? Or will we think on longer time scales, with concern for our children and our grandchildren, to understand and protect the complex life-support systems of our planet? The Earth is a tiny and fragile world. It needs to be cherished. (Carl Sagan, Cosmos, New York: Random House, 1980, p. 103)
I will show some photos of the flora I encountered along the North Country trail in my next post.
On reflection of the first detonation of an atomic bomb at New Mexico in 1945, the then head of the Los Alamos Lab, J. Robert Oppenheimer, remarked that this event brought a passage from Hindu scripture to mind, "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds." Today, In an interview regarding North Korea, Trump remarked that if North Korea continues missile launches it will see fire and fury from the United States. Such rhetoric can only escalate a volatile situation putting people across national borders at risk.
As if this doesn't pose enough risk to humanity there is his failure to address climate change, in fact, promoting policies that will speed it up. A draft Federal climate change report made available by the Internet Archive and reported by the New York Times is awaiting approval by the Administration. The report presents detailed data showing that the average U.S. temperature has risen rapidly since 1980 and recent decades have been the warmest in the past 1500 years.
The most vulnerable and first to die as a result of climate change will be the poor in undeveloped nations. Eventually, all will suffer as global populations plummet.
This is not an issue of liberal versus conservative, it is an issue of the survival or non-survival of our children and subsequent generations.
A little while ago President Trump announced that the U.S. will be pulling out of the Paris Agreement on climate change. By so doing, we join Syria and Nicaragua as the only non-participating countries to this agreement. As the U.S. is the second largest global polluter, other countries might be discouraged from putting long-term considerations of climate ahead of short-term considerations of economic growth. Alternatively, China might take the lead and thus increase its global leadership over the course of this century. However, Trump’s decision might be offset by states such as New York and California, along with many cities that are implementing their own sustainable energy policies. Governor Jerry Brown of California has even stated that California will do all it can to encourage other states and businesses to go with renewable energy, something that is clearly underway (U.S. coal is in structural decline, due to its higher cost than competing energies and foreign competition).
So, although today’s decision may not have much effect on the future of climate change (scientists say it’s nearly too late to avoid catastrophic change), it reinforces the already sent signal that the U.S. is receding from the western alliance. As our global influence comes to rely more on our military might we risk becoming perceived more as a global threat. It also sends the signal that the U.S. cares more about protecting multinational corporations and the one percent that reap most of the former’s profits and less about future generations. The sixth extinction of species will likely accelerate.
In the meantime, it is more important than ever to photograph the changing landscape so future generations can better assess what we are doing.
After a spring of unusually heavy rain throughout the Northeast, many lakes and streams have risen to flood level. This is particularly
problematic along the southern shore of Lake Ontario when there is a strong North or Northeast wind. Although I could not get to the exact same position, due to flooding, the photos show Durand-Eastman Beach is essentially gone for most of this season. This flooding event is politically controversial because it pits U.S. Ontario and Canadian Montreal residents, and conservationists against each other. As reported in Rochester’s City Newspaper, Lake Ontario’s level was 33.1 inches above its long-term average on May 17, according to the IJC. However, in Montreal Harbor the water was 55.5 inches above average, causing evacuations of several neighborhoods. Although wider opening of the Moses-Saunders Dam’s floodgates would have lowered Lake Ontario a little faster, greater flooding would have resulted in the Montreal area.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and environmental scientists say that
heavy rain is the major contributor to flooding. However, U.S. Lake Ontario residents do not accept the scientific data. Instead, they claim flooding is the result of Plan 2014. Scientists project a $20 million loss under this plan, compared with $18 million under the previous Plan 1958DD. Therefore, if Plan 1958DD was still in effect, it would only reduce shoreline damages by 5%.
The primary reason for implementing Plan 2014 was to restore the lake shore habitat. The wetlands developed over centuries, through constant shifts in the lake’s water levels. However, in the late 1950s, U.S. and Canadian public power utilities built a large hydroelectric dam (the Moses-Saunders Dam) between Lake Ontario’s eastern outlet and the St. Lawrence River to minimize fluctuations in water level. The result is that Lake Ontario cattails have taken over vital coastal wetlands, leaving important species such as muskrat and northern pike without critical habitat.
The Nature Conservancy predicts that healthier wetlands will improve fishing, hunting, and other outdoor activities, along with greater economic returns. Healthier, diverse wetlands, especially healthy ones that are not overcrowded, filter nutrient pollutants – animal waste and all fertilizers – out of the water. Those pollutants encourage algae and bacteria growth in the waters near the Lake Ontario shore. Research indicates that healthier, more diverse wetlands could help reduce pollution, something that cattails are less effective at.
Even though property losses have dropped since the introduction of the dam, the IJC has to balance the need for environmental conservation with the needs of lake and river shore landowners. Unfortunately, landowners in each environmental area feel their property should be fully protected—an impossible task. When I discussed this with people I know, one said the shipping interests are the ones the governments are trying to protect, another said, you can’t believe what the government tells you. Although it is generally true that laws and regulations typically favor the moneyed interests, in this case the primary concern for governments is to balance the environment, commercial, and landowners’ needs based on what the current environmental science tells us about the shores of the Great Lakes. Ignoring this risks our grandchildren’s generation.
As I write this, the Trump Administration has not included monies for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Although it has been reported that his budget proposal is “dead on arrival”, it remains to be seen whether this initiative will continued to be funded at an adequate level.