Connect the Dots
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Political and social activists often pick an issue and focus on it tunnel-vision style, failing to connect to related issues, and many environmentalists are no exception. When Ann Eagan invited me to speak to her groups in a way that connected issues, I did not hesitate to say yes.
The issues I connected are:
This was from a free event on Thursday, July 12, 2012, 7 pm at All Saints Episcopal Church hall, 43-12 46 St., Sunnyside, Queens (#7 train to 46 St/Bliss St., (only a few stops from Manhattan) walk 1/2 block North
Sponsors: West Queens Greens, Sane Energy Project, NYC Friends of Clearwater, Sunnyside-Woodside Peace, Occupy Wall St. Environmental Solidarity Working Group
The talk wwas about two hours, including Q & A , but here are a few details and highlights:
* Fracking is hydraulic fracturing for "natural gas," aka methane, which is destroying drinking water supplies, air quality and property values throughout the country, including Pennsylvania and upstate New York. It is a method used to get the "domestic gas" that politicians love to tout. The "Halliburton Loophole," inserted into the 2005 Energy Policy Act, exempts hydrofracking from the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Air Act protections. All the environmental safeguards were removed by vice president Cheney when the Pentagon was making War for Oil in Iraq - a war that benefited Halliburton, by the way. All the oil and gas companies are benefitting by this loophole. Tell the governors not to allow this pollution. We already do without that gas, we cannot do without the water.
* There are corporations that want to build new, large, high pressure pipelines into New York City, entering in the West Village, Rockaway & Jamaica Bay and the Bronx. Spectra in the West Village is the best-known. Such pipelines have already exploded in other parts of the country, most notably San Bruno, California, killing at least eight people and leaving a crater four stories deep. Imagine such an explosion in New York City. Now call your city council member and ask them to keep it from happening.
* Radon is a radioactive inert gas that is the #1 cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. It is found in the fracked gas in New York state, Pennsylvania and Ohio that will be sold to New York City and shipped here via the pipelines I mentioned above. Eventually, it will be sent to other areas of the northeast. Radon is a heavy gas, so it won't just go out the window or exhaust fan, but stay in your kitchen. A recent study from Dr. Marvin Resnikoff of Radioactive Waste Management Associates (http://www.rwma.com/) concludes that the influx of radon from fracked gas could lead to as many as 30,448 new lung cancer deaths per year.
* A new law in New York City gives landlords and home-owners three years to convert from #6 fuel oil to something cleaner. The Bloomberg Administration is pressuring landlords and home-owners to convert their boilers and furnaces from oil to methane. The cost of the conversion is thousands of dollars, with a claimed "payback rate" of 3-7 years. That's the same payback rate for converting to solar thermal, coincidentally enough. Most large buildings in New York City have duel fuel boilers, enabling them to burn oil OR gas. Why the pressure to convert to gas only? Well, the supply of methane is so great, it outstrips the demand, thus the current low price. A new market the size of New York City would raise the price considerably and the new pipeline would enable the gas companies to send the gas to liquification plants for export to Europe, where the price is higher. Total boiler and furnace conversions would make switching back to oil too costly for most people. There may not be any payback at all. Follow the money.
* One of the main places in the U.S. that uranium mining has taken place is Navajo land. Uranium miners have very VERY high lung cancer rates. A few years ago, the Navajo banned uranium mining on their land and that happened right about the same time that there was an increase in fracking leases in New York state. The wording of the leases is "oil, gas and all mineral rights." The Reading Prong is a geologic formation that overlaps the Marcellus Shale, and has such a high uranium content that several companies were looking to mine uranium in the Catskills in the early '80s until citizen activism brought a ten year ban on uranium mining in the state of New York.
* Several months ago I went to a panel on electric cars and found it to be a pro-fracking panel with Con Ed waving a flag for the electric cars, as you might expect, but also waving a warning flag for what electric cars would do to electric grid reliability. With current electricity sources being fossil fuel and nuclear, electric cars would simply move the pollution from the tailpipe to the power plant. The energy you get from a power plant is 1/3 to 1/6 of the energy in the fuel, due to transmission, distribution and conversion losses. (This also means every watt you save through conservation and efficiency is three to six watts not burnt.) I feel that there should be electricity conversion from fossil fuel and nuclear to renewable energy before we as a society go after electric cars in a big way. Not the other way around. However, about 80% of all individual electric vehicle owners also have solar panels.
* Methane pipelines have a habit of blowing up every once in a while. They also leak. The main way industry prevents the pressure from getting too high so they explode is to relieve the pressure by venting the methane to the air. Methane is a greenhouse gas 20-100 times worse, molecule for molecule, than carbon dioxide, the most common and best-known greenhouse gas. Burning methane also contributes to global warming & climate change through putting more carbon dioxide into the air. Greenhouse gases are called that because they act in the atmosphere like the glass or clear plastic roofs of greenhouses.
* The solutions are common ones: renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy conservation. The cheapest way is to use less energy in the first place. More efficient appliances and light bulbs, sure, but more efficient buildings especially. Windows are a major energy waste for most homes and offices. They need to be improved. The energy savings might be so great that they'll pay for themselves in a single year. As some energy experts are fond of saying, "There are two types of windows. Windows that leak and windows that will leak." Your air conditioning and heating costs will plummet when your heating or cooling is not going out your windows. Your energy savings is also a sign that you are helping the planet because less fossil fuel is being burnt to heat or cool. The solar permitting process in New York City has greatly improved this past year. Not as good as Long Island's, but a fraction as bad as it used to be. Solar thermal (heat and hot water from the sun) is cheaper than photovoltaic (pv - solar electricity) and saves more energy through the year. Interestingly enough, there are more pv installers than solar thermal installers, a job niche begging to be filled.
* A combination of efficiency, conservation, solar thermal, pv, wind power, tidal power and geothermal (as ground source heat pumps) can meet all of our energy needs. The combination depends on where you live. Except for efficiency and conservation, which work everywhere and are cheapest, not all renewable energy sources work for all areas. Houses and apartment buildings can be built so well that they need very little energy to operate. They can be heated, even in cold climates, by the heat from the people and appliances inside. Such buildings are called "Passive Houses" (please google that or look on youtube) and are becoming so common in Germany that they're sometimes known as German Passive Houses, despite the fact that they were developed in Illinois. The "technology" of those houses (which can be large apartment buildings or private homes) was all available in the '70s. The innovation is in putting everything together in one place.
* So we don't need fracking. We don't need nuclear power. We don't have to have radioactive radon in our kitchens. It takes political will and a re-prioritization of how America spends its money. Subsidies (from our taxes) for fossil fuels and nuclear and invading other countries for their fossil fuels is how political leaders do things now. Or we can get free energy from the sun, wind, tide and earth. We can get free energy by using less by using it wisely. For more information on just how your tax dollars pay for pollution, go to www.greenscissors.com.
And listen to Eco-Logic! Past shows are archived and I have direct links on my web site.
Special thanks to Ann Eagan for organizing the evening.
WBAI is a 50,000 watt station in the Pacifica network broadcast from midtown Manhattan so our signal gets to New Haven, Trenton, Putnam County and the Poconoes and on the internet live stream and podcasts even further, of course.
When the air or water are clean, thank an environmentalist. If not, become one.
A video version of this, all two hours of it, audience questions included, is available from WBAI