'/> Uncommon Hours: 2012
Blogging on culture, politics, and the environment since 2008.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

‘Chasing Ice’: Passion and Purpose



James Balog in Chasing Ice
Chasing Ice: Passion and Purpose
By Bob Sommer

A century ago historian Henry Adams attempted to synthesize history and physics in a “scientific theory of history.” He concluded 1) that history would accelerate dramatically toward the end of the twentieth century, ending in chaos, and 2) that his experiment was a failure. He might not have thought the latter if he’d been able to compare his graph of history’s projected curve with a graph of the acceleration of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere over the past two decades, with its dire implications for rising global temperatures.
 











Nature photographer James Balog brings an equally ambitious historical sensibility to his film Chasing Ice, which premiered early this month and received the Excellence in Cinematography Award at the Sundance Film Festival. In the images of dying glaciers throughout the Arctic regions, from Greenland and Iceland to Alaska, Balog recognized, he said, “a powerful piece of history unfolding.” This would be the last chance in history to record the melting of the planet’s great glaciers. His Extreme Ice Survey undertook a three-year project to place dozens of cameras in some of the harshest locations on earth and record, in tens of thousands of photographs, glaciers thinning, receding, and for some, disappearing forever.

Chasing Ice blends passion and purpose. Its grand story is the alarming tale of industrial mankind’s damaging impact on the planet, as the consequences of excessive carbon emissions play out in the receding and melting ice sheets of the Arctic. The film also tells the story of Balog’s passion to record and share the images of this reality. Thus the film also tells the story of the story.

Balog portrays an even more rapid acceleration of disappearing ice than he’d anticipated. The film records the largest calving of a glacier ever captured. I’d avoid a cliché like “jaw-dropping” to describe this scene if my mouth hadn’t literally fallen open as I watched it.

This movie renders climate change deniers irrelevant. The only debate that matters now is how to take action, not whether to do so. The first action is to see the movie—and bring some friends. Fortunately, for a short time the Kendeda Foundation has made that easy by offering complimentary tickets. See below the trailer for more information. See the movie! This matters!
 
 
Chasing Ice official website: http://www.chasingice.com/

Sunday, December 2, 2012

‘C’mon, baby, light my fire!’: Appearance at All Souls Unitarian Church

 
I enjoyed a warm reception at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Kansas City this morning to discuss the implications of a declining interest in reading and literature. The talk will be rebroadcast on KKFI, Kansas City Community Radio, on Thurs., Dec. 20th, 12:00 noon CST.

Here's the link for the text: "'C'mon, baby, light my fire!': The Rise of the Fall of Reading and Its Implications."

Here's a brief excerpt:
 
"The world of 1984 appears alien to us because it is based on a communist rather than a free-market model. Still, we are living in a parallel universe. False-equivalencies, flawed analogies, straw-man arguments, ad hominem attacks, political buzzwords, misinformation, and the institutional/corporate effort to keep us all thinking and talking about the same scandal or political gaff or wardrobe malfunction at the same time are eroding our ability to interpret reality and diverting our attention from uncomfortable truths that range from the damage we’re doing to our planet to the social and economic inequalities of our society to the unending wars in which we’ve engaged.…We are absorbing the language—and thereby the thinking process—of those who benefit politically and economically from diverting us away from our cultural heritages and our moral and intellectual capabilities and potential."

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Whirlybird Press publishes new anthology of work by Kansas City writers

It's finally here—The Whirlybird Anthology of Kansas City Writers—edited by Vernon Rowe, Maryfrances Wagner, David Ray, and Judy Ray, and released this November by Whirlybird Press. The editors' concept was to bring together contributions and excerpts from writers with a Kansas City connection.
 
The Whirlybird Anthology of Kansas City Writers presents poems, stories, and memoir selections from 95 writers who have lived or worked in the Kansas City area, many of whom have earned widespread recognition in this country and internationally. 

Poet David Ray, one of the anthology's editors, said, "I'm sure this book will have widespread appeal far beyond its geographic limits. Both the contributors and editors should be proud of every page."
The anthology includes selections by Ernest Hemingway, James Tate, David Owen, Robert Stewart, Hilary Masters, Dan Jaffe, Frank Higgins, Stan Banks, C.W. Gusewelle, Bill Trowbridge, Richard Rhodes, and many more.
 
Also, it's not a little humbling to be able to add that an excerpt from my current work-in-progress, a memoir of my late son Francis's life, is included in this collection.
 
The book lists for $15.00. To order click here or email whirlybirdkcanthology@gmail.com

Click here to visit Whirlybird Press

Release Party!
 
A release party planned for November 30th is open to the public. Here are the details:
 
 

http://www.whirlybirdpress.com/http://www.whirlybirdpress.com/index.php/books/literature-fiction/the-whirlybird-anthology-of-kansas-city-writers.html/http://www.whirlybirdpress.com/index.php/books/literature-fiction/the-whirlybird-anthology-of-kansas-city-writers.html/

Friday, September 14, 2012

With 92 workers laid off in South Dakota, nearly 2,300 American jobs lost thanks to wind industry tax credit delays

Washington, DC – This week, Molded Fiber Glass, a wind turbine blade manufacturer in Aberdeen, South Dakota laid off 92 of their 370 employees due to uncertainty around the renewal of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy. These latest layoffs bring the total number of jobs lost in the wind industry due to layoffs, furloughs and canceled projects since the beginning of 2012 to 2,299.

According to data compiled by the Sierra Club, 15 companies across 14 states have already threatened layoffs, announced layoffs, or canceled projects due to uncertainty around the wind industry tax credit.

“It is disgraceful that Republican leadership in Congress is playing politics with Americans’ jobs,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “Wind energy is replacing dirty fossil fuels across the country, but that clearly doesn’t sit well with the Big Polluters that are bankrolling these Republicans. Instead of standing up for American workers, Republican leadership is bowing to these special interests and turning a blind eye to the thousands of jobs that are on the line.”

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Kansas Supreme Court hears the Sierra Club’s petition to block Holcomb II

Kansas Judicial Building
(Photo by Bob Sommer)
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment wants that coal plant
By Bob Sommer

Aug. 31, 2012. Topeka, Kan. – One of the most troubling aspects of the Kansas Supreme Court hearing in the case of Sierra Club versus Robert Moser, et al was underscored by the appearance of Assistant Attorney General Steve R. Fabert before the panel of seven justices on behalf of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE). On the face of it having a lawyer from the AG’s office represent the defendant, Dr. Robert Moser, Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2011 appointee to head KDHE, makes perfect sense. But why was the state of Kansas aligned with utility companies – one of them from out-of-state – rather than advocating for the health and environmental concerns of the people of Kansas?
 
Fabert’s argument highlighted the most curious and without doubt contentious elements of this case – how the permit to build a new coal plant in Kansas came to be issued and the political pressure to build the plant.
 
This hearing represents the endgame of a long and tortuous effort by Sunflower Electric to build an 895 megawatt coal plant, known as Holcomb II, in western Kansas. Most of the electricity from the proposed plant will be sold to Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a Colorado cooperative, while the toxic damage from the plant’s carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, mercury, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter emissions will drift across the Kansas plains, contributing millions of tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere annually. Not only is there no current need for the additional electricity in Colorado or Kansas, but the financing for the project appears shaky at best.
 
Fabert was one of three attorneys to speak in favor of the plant’s construction. The other two represented Tri-State and Sunflower Electric. Fabert was there to defend KDHE and the Brownback Administration.
 
The points of law in question in the hearing regarded the legitimacy of the permit issued by KDHE for the plant’s construction and the standing of the Sierra Club to bring suit. Amanda Goodin, a Senior Associate Attorney for Earthjustice, described these issues in her argument on behalf of the Sierra Club. The permit issued by KDHE, she said, failed to comply with specific requirements of the Clean Air Act and the Kansas Air Quality Act in limiting air pollutants, testing for noxious chemicals like nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide, and using the best available technology to control emissions. Her oral argument made no mention of the political gamesmanship of Brownback’s predecessor, Gov. Mark Parkinson, in late 2010 to approve the permit.
 
Yet Fabert tacked straight into those choppy waters.
 
Describing what he called “allegations of improper political influence” in the Sierra Club’s petition, he told the Court, “It is not clear to me that the issue has been abandoned.”
 
He was referring to sections of the petition that laid out the sequence of events leading up to the construction permit’s issuance. The permit was first denied by then-KDHE Secretary Roderick Bremby in October 2007 and later approved in a compromise plan reached behind closed doors between Gov. Parkinson and representatives from Sunflower and the Kansas Legislature. No one with scientific expertise on the dangers of coal-plant emissions was present in that room. The meeting, announced abruptly and conducted quickly, took place while a legislative vote loomed that likely would have ended for good Sunflower’s bid to build the plant. (For further background on this deal click here.)
 
Still, what lay ahead was a public comment period on the plant.
 
According to the Sierra Club’s petition, “On September 13, 2010, Sunflower directly contacted state legislators and executive officials via email to request that KDHE be urged to limit the public’s opportunity to comment on the permit and to expedite the permitting process.”
 
Three days later, a spokesman for KDHE announced that the public comment period would last just thirty days. Despite the shortened comment period, nearly 5,900 public comments were submitted to KDHE.
 
Just over a month later, on Nov. 2, 2010, Secretary Bremby was fired. 
 
Describing the hurried approval process at a public forum at Kansas City Kansas Community College on Feb. 10, 2011, Bremby said, “The process was not a benign, routine, pristine, pure process. Unfortunately, there were abuses.”
 
“Look at the influence of lobbying dollars in this process,” he added. “It’s staggering.”
 
The reason for the hurried comment period in late 2010 was clear. Federal regulations for large-scale construction projects like the Holcomb II coal plant were about to change. Further environmental study would be needed if the permit were delayed until new, more stringent guidelines became law. Conservatives in the Kansas state legislature had no interest in seeing the EPA delay this plant, which they were promoting to the public as an economic boon. The state went so far as to join a 21-state lawsuit to block the imposition of EPA regulations in Kansas. Climate change deniers and conservative interests throughout Kansas, funded by Koch Industries, Peabody Energy, and other sources, have conducted an on-going assault on science and public health since Holcomb II was first proposed over five years ago.
 
Steve Fabert’s mission in the Kansas Supreme Court was clearly to limit any potential damage the written petition might cause as the seven justices reviewed the case. The background and sequence of events leading up to this hearing were laid out in the petition, which, although it had little discussion in the hearing itself, nonetheless formed part of the case the justices would review.
 
On the face of it, Fabert was there to defend the impugned reputation of the Brownback and Parkinson administrations. He even—in what can only be characterized as a “Hail Mary” pass—suggested that the state’s treasury would be threatened due to potential litigation over the alleged lack of due process in issuing the permit. So, the justices should infer, financial jeopardy may result if the state has to answer for not following the law. A strange way of justifying why the Kansas Supreme Court should rule in favor of the state—to protect the state against possible liabilities from its own prior alleged illegal action.
 
Perhaps most troubling and even surreal about Fabert’s portion of the defense was seeing a representative of the state government – specifically there to represent and defend the Kansas Department of Health and Environment(!) recommending, even encouraging and speaking on behalf of, building a new coal plant. If there were ever a doubt that the Brownback and Parkinson administrations had aligned themselves with fossil-fuel interests and against the people they’re supposed to represent and protect in Kansas, this was surely the proof.
 
Bob Sommer serves on the Executive Committee of the Kansas Sierra Club as Political Chair. His new novel, A Great Fullness, is slated for publication in 2013 by Aqueous Books. He is currently writing a memoir about his late son and his family's experience of ten years of American war.
 
 
Links of interest:
 
Audio archive of the hearing, Aug. 31, 2012. Docket #105,493. Petition for Judicial Review. Sierra Club, Appellant. Robert V. Eye. v. Robert Moser, et al., Appellees. Steve R. Fabert; James D. Oliver; W.C. Blanton.
 
Sierra Club Petition:
 
KDHE Secretary Dr. Robert Moser:
 
Court hearing report, Lawrence Journal World, Aug. 31, 2012:
 

Friday, August 31, 2012

Sierra Club responds to Romney's RNC speech

San Francisco, CA -- In response to Mitt Romney's speech Thursday night at the Republican National Convention, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune released the following statement:

 "Mitt Romney's speech Thursday night marked an all-new low for the candidate. His comments added insult to injury for the millions of American families and businesses affected by devastating events like this summer's drought and Hurricane Isaac. Make no mistake - we are witnessing the effects of the climate crisis today. Americans need bold action and solutions to mitigate the threats of climate disruption - not glib mockery and denial of the problem.

 "Romney spoke of the need to keep energy jobs in America, but he failed to mention that he opposes vehicle fuel efficiency standards that have resurrected the American auto industry and put thousands of American workers back on the job. Despite paying lip service to renewables, Romney opposes the wind production tax credit and seems unconcerned about losing the 75,000 American jobs supported by the wind energy sector.

"If there were any doubts about Mitt Romney's allegiance to fossil fuel interests, they've now been erased."

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sierra Club reacts to Romney's choice for veep

Washington, DC – Today, Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced that Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan would be his running mate in the 2012 election.

“There is a reason big polluters have given Paul Ryan hundreds of thousands of dollars and why the Koch Brothers are one of his top donors," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. "He’s tried to turn their wildest fantasies into law. From rejecting the reality of climate disruption to attacking good-paying clean energy jobs to trying to gut the EPA’s ability to protect our air, our water, and the health of our families, Ryan operates out of the dirty energy playbook.

"Big polluters have been financing Mitt Romney’s campaign," Brune continued, "calling the shots on his energy policy, and even serving as his debate surrogates. Of course, Mitt Romney could not add a Big Oil or Big Coal executive to his ticket, but by picking Paul Ryan, he’s done the next closest thing.”

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

'What we're seeing now is the future ... this is just the beginning.'

Over 3,200 heat records were broken or matched in the past month. Still, the connection to global warming and climate disruption gets almost no mention in coverage of the storms, wildfires, extreme temperatures we are now experiencing.

Friday, June 15, 2012

2,000th U.S. soldier dies in Afghanistan

Yet another grim landmark has been reached this week, as the 2,000th U.S. soldier died in Afghanistan. Over 3,000 NATO troops have died during this decade-long war, and countless civilians have been killed by both enemy fighters and American and NATO attacks.

In Iraq, where some 3-4,000 American troops are still stationed, nearly 4,500 troops died, while modest estimates put Iraqi civilian deaths at well over 100,000.

The U.S. has committed to remain in Afghanistan for another ten years following the official NATO withdrawal, scheduled for 2014.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

'Don't know much about history...': 'U.S. History Lesson' video removed from YouTube

Hmm...seems the "U.S. History Lesson" video of high school kids stumbling through a few questions from the test taken by applicants for U.S. citizenship, which I reposted here, has been removed from YouTube by whoever first posted it. Maybe a little too scary even for the World Wide Intertubes. Or maybe the firestorm it created was just too hot for the poster. Scariest part being that most of these kids didn't even care that they couldn't answer these few basic questions.

Here are a few of the questions that were just too hard for these "students":
What Democrat is running for President of the U.S.?
(No clue. One kid guessed Romney.)
Who is Vice President of the U.S.?
(Again, no winner. Dick Cheney and Hillary Clinton were as close as anyone came.)
What countries border the U.S.?
(Guesses included Florida, Texas, and Maine. But you guessed it, no winner.)
Name a country that begins with the letter U.
(Utah seemed to be the concensus, but Utopia also received an honorable mention.)
In what war did the U.S. gain its independence?
(Blind stabs into the murky darkness of history included WW I, WW II, the Civil War, and the Cold War. No one answered correctly. One kid kept asking, "In what aspect?"--whatever that meant)
How many stars are on the U.S. flag?
(51? 52? who knows? whatever...wait, just got a text.)

Updated 6/17/2012

Friday, May 25, 2012

'Soular': A new voice for the environment



'Soular,' the duo of Craig Wolfe and Randy Deutch, may do for the cause of saving our planet what singer/song-writers like Pete Seeger and Neil Young did for the the antiwar and civil rights movements more than a generation ago.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Kansas Voices 2012 recognizes a story of the Iraq War

“Echoes in the Static” is one of several stories I wrote about the Iraq war in 2006, when the delusion of an easy victory and exit from Iraq was already long past for all but the most hard-line of the Bush and Cheney faithful. By then “Mission Accomplished” was already a punchline and Cheney’s 2004 comment about the insurgency being in “its last throes” had conveniently been forgotten by his mouthpieces at Fox News.

The story was rejected by several literary magazines. This might have irritated me less—or caused me to question more the story’s merits—if I had seen other, better stories about the experience of war, of this war, portrayed in these magazines. Rather, I consistently found the topic neglected in favor of stories that lacked substance—love triangles, dead pets, writers writing about being writers, academic writers writing about being academic writers while entangled in love triangles as their pets died, so forth. (Hyperbole, maybe, but there’s more truth than exaggeration in it.)

I’ve sometimes speculated that if American literary magazines during the first decade of this century were all that remained a thousand years from now for historians and archeologists to assemble a history of this period, they’d have little way of knowing that the U.S. had engaged in the two most protracted and expensive wars in its history—or even that both our economy and planet had melted down, the latter literally.

“Echoes in the Static” sat in a drop file for five years, until I sent it to the Kansas Voices 2012 writing competition, where it got a blind reading and resurfaced with an honorable mention. I’d like to believe that my sense of vindication is more than just vanity. Only a thin sliver of this country’s population has experienced these wars firsthand. Perhaps this recognition is further evidence that there's something wrong with that picture—and with these wars.

The story is included in a printed collection of the 2012 Kansas Voices award winners. For more information, click here. I’ve also posted a copy in a PDF file, which is available by clicking here: “Echoes in the Static”

I am grateful to the Winfield Arts & Humanities Council for sponsoring Kansas Voices, sharing this story, and giving me an excuse to share the story of the story.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Flip-Flops for Francis Day!

Friday, May 4th, is "Flip-Flops for Francis Day" at Ray Marsh Elementary School in Shawnee, Kansas. Students, teachers, and staff will be wearing flip-flops to school and supporting the Kansas City VA in Francis’s memory.

What a great way to remember Francis—and support a great cause!

He'd have loved it!

To learn more, visit http://www.francisfund.org/

Monday, April 2, 2012

Sierra Club: Coal plants emit excessive pollution in Kansas City, Kan.

Sierra Club plans legal action against BPU for air permit violations that may harm public health

Kansas City, Kan. – The Sierra Club will today notify the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities (BPU) that it intends to file suit against the utility to address excessive amounts of air pollution from the smoke stacks of its Nearman Creek and Quindaro coal-fired electric plants in Kansas City.

“The amount of pollution these plants are currently emitting into the air residents breathe exceeds a permit limit set by state and federal agencies,” said Scott Allegrucci, Campaign Representative for Sierra Club. “This limit was established to protect public health, and BPU needs to address the violation.”

The Sierra Club’s notice of intent to sue charges that BPU frequently exceeds the 20 percent opacity limit specified in BPU’s air quality permits, based on evidence from BPU’s own pollution monitors. Opacity monitors in the stacks of each power plant continuously project a beam of light across the inside of the stack to measure the darkness of the plume, and therefore the amount of particulate matter. If more than 20 percent of the light is absorbed or deflected by the pollution, the opacity limit has been exceeded.

“BPU is using the same type of particulate controls that it installed over forty years ago at Quindaro,” said Craig Volland, Chair of the Kansas Sierra Club Chapter’s Air Quality Committee. “It’s time for BPU to join the modern world of pollution controls.”

Unlike many other power plants in the country, BPU has not installed the latest technology at Nearman Creek and Quindaro.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), particles, especially fine particles, aggravate asthma, decrease lung function, and can lead to chronic bronchitis, irregular heartbeat, nonfatal heart attacks and premature death in people with heart or lung disease. Children and older adults are the most vulnerbale to particle pollution exposure.

“My daughter has asthma and it upsets me that BPU is emitting any more pollution than their permit allows,” said Delores Daniels, a member of the Executive Committee of the Kansas Chapter of the Sierra Club. Daniels lives less than two miles from the Quindaro Power Station.

Both the Nearman Creek and Quindaro power stations are located in the Missouri River valley, just north of the most densely populated part of Wyandotte County, Kansas. There are no monitors in the immediate vicinity of either plant that could measure the particle concentrations at ground level where people breathe the air.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Senate Rejects Effort to End Tax Breaks for Biggest Oil Companies

Washington, D.C. – A minority of U.S. Senators have blocked legislation that would end the costly and unnecessary tax subsidies currently doled out to the nation’s five biggest oil companies.

According to the Congressional Research Service, ending these tax breaks would have “little to no impact” on gas prices, while maintaining the handouts to BP, Exxon, Shell, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips will cost taxpayers an estimated $24 billion over the next ten years.

In response, Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, issued the following statement:

“Today’s vote is the latest reminder of what we knew all along: big oil companies and their lackeys in Congress will do whatever it takes to squeeze every penny possible out of American families, whether it’s shirking taxes or price-gouging at the gas pump.

“It is obscene that a handful of wealthy oil executives are demanding billions in handouts from the government while ordinary Americans pay their fair share of taxes on top of four-dollar-a-gallon gas. And, it is shameful that a minority of obstructionist Senators are doing big oil’s bidding against the will of their constituents – the majority of whom support ending unfair tax subsidies for big oil.

“Big oil companies and speculators who are driving up prices at the pump don’t need any more of our help. We need our leaders to focus on real solutions to break our dangerous dependence on fossil fuels, and invest in clean energy solutions to ease Americans’ pain at the pump and create jobs. Unfortunately, the Senate missed an opportunity today to take an important step in moving beyond oil.”

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Conservatives’ ‘climate-gate’ gets less attention than a few emails did

"Conservatives’ ‘climate-gate’ gets less attention than a few emails did"
By Bob Sommer


The only good environmentalism is “free-market environmentalism,” that is, if you must have any environmentalism at all.

You can find lots of other great nuggets like that at The Heartland Institute’s website.

Never heard of The Heartland Institute? This conservative Chicago-based “nonprofit research organization” is dedicated to promoting “free-market solutions to social and economic problems.” It’s got a long list of admirers, too, including the bard of anti-tax pledges, Grover Norquist, as well as Tea Party favorites Sen. Jim DeMint and Sen. James Inhofe, and dozens of other right-wing heavy-weights whose incomes and campaign coffers would be seriously jeopardized if more voters began to understand how dangerous fossil fuels are to civilization as we know it.

Two years ago, conservatives were quick to inflate a few emails written by scientists at Britain's Climate Research Unit into a scandal with its own ‘gate’ moniker: “Climate-gate.” The question now is whether they’ll show similar umbrage to The Heartland Institute’s own “climate-gate” scandal.

Leaked documents have shown that The Heartland Institute allegedly paid a federal employee about $1,000 per month to discredit climate science. Indur Goklany, a policy analyst for the Department of the Interior, was commissioned by Heartland to write a chapter for an Institute-sponsored book intended to refute the findings of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). If the allegation is proven, Golkany could find himself in a lot of trouble. Such payments are illegal. Arizona congressman Raul Grijalva has called for hearings to determine whether Goklany was paid by Heartland and who else may be involved.

Also implicated is Department of Energy contractor, David Wojick, who allegedly received $25,000 per quarter for his efforts to revise school curricula to conform to the Institute’s free-market ideology while refuting the research of thousands of scientists who contributed to the IPCC’s findings on climate science.

Heartland won’t tell you who their donors are. In fact, their website takes a defensive tone on the subject of publishing donors’ names, though many non-profits proudly do just that. Publishing the list of donors, they claim, would only encourage critics to believe that donors might be paying for phony research and influence pedaling.

But the leaked documents reveal that that’s precisely what Heartland is doing. Not surprisingly, one of Heartland’s leading contributors is the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. Other large donors include Altria, parent company of cigarette-pedaller Philip Morris, as well as Microsoft and Eli Lilly.

One anonymous donor, according to the documents, gave $1.3 million to the climate change disinformation project, whose purpose is to develop curriculum guidelines that refute climate science in much the same way that religious groups have attempted to introduce alternate “theories” of evolution into science classrooms.

Heartland and its supporters have taken the low—and tediously predictable—road of attacking their critics and not the issue. Their leverage—and focus—is the revelation that these documents were obtained fraudulently by climate scientist Peter Gleick, who worked for Heartland under a fake name in order to gain access to this information.

One conservative editorialist for The Kansas City Star logged over two dozen columns filled with umbrage over the paltry—and ultimately discredited―claims against the so-called “climate-gate” scientists. And after all the sound and fury, even he finally had to concede in an April 16, 2010, column that the scientists involved in the incident had been unfairly accused. He was but one of many who kept attention on this puff of smoke. 

So now, where is the outrage by him or others over payments to federal employees by a think-tank whose mission is undermining decades of peer-reviewed research by thousands of scientists whose findings indisputably prove a link between human activity and the immanent threat to civilization from climate change?

Don't hold your breath. I'm not.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Shell Oil Plan to Drill off Arctic Coast Advances

Shell Oil is one step closer to drilling in the pristine Arctic waters of the Polar Bear Seas.

The Obama administration has approved an oil spill response plan for Shell's proposal to drill in the Chukchi Sea, which lies in the Arctic's westernmost sea. The Chikchi Sea supports approximately one-tenth of the world's remaining polar bear population and is an important migration route for endangered bowhead and beluga whales.

"We are deeply disappointed in the decision to approve Shell's oil spill response plan,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said. “The risk to fragile natural systems and native communities is clear.”

Brune pointed out that significant questions still remain about whether spill prevention, containment and response systems are equipped to work in challenging Arctic conditions.

“Big Oil's dismal spill record belies their continued assurance of safety,” Brune continued. “The unproven technology proposed in Shell's plan will not protect the irreplaceable scenery and wildlife of the Polar Bear Seas. Shell and other oil companies should not be allowed to move forward with risky, dangerous plans to drill in this pristine area.”

Big Oil, he added, should not be entrusted with the future of one of our last wild frontiers and the communities that rely on it for subsistence.

Friday, February 10, 2012

'Elegy for Francis': One Year Later


Francis David Sommer
May 12, 1983 - February 11, 2011
  Elegy for Francis
(On the first anniversary of his death, February 11, 2012)
by
Bob Sommer

In the tangle of cottonwoods along the stream,
I discover, after standing a moment to watch,
the subtle movement of quiet life within the nettled branches,
barren now in February, the month when you were lost.

Nothing is right with this scene.
February should be cold, but it’s not.
A tepid chill, as if winter could not
make up its mind to be cold, as if
it got lost among the wars and disasters
that are now the season of our lives.

A year with neither flow nor rhythm―
we laughed without joy and wept in sorrow so deep
it altered our very nature, transformed us
into new and unfamiliar beings, strangers to ourselves,
like winter, which is no longer itself,
changed forever from the season we knew,
into a volatile thing, frightening in its mildness,
harsh & oppressive when it is cold.

One could pass the gray cottonwood grove in full stride
& never notice the dark-eyed juncos and
black-capped chickadees flitting among the branches,
or the rustle of squirrels and rabbits in the dry leaves,
but they’re there, sometimes gone before
I spot the place they were, so well do they blend into
the impenetrable jumble of boughs and branches,

As you are, some days, when the flash of your
silhouette appears across a room or in a passing car,
and my pulse quickens & I shudder
with a terrifying rush of hope
that dissolves before it becomes itself, the thing it is,
like winter, which is here but not here,
present, yet absent. This is how we suffer,
in the presence of your absence, the winter that isn’t winter,
for what will spring be without ice and snow,
without deep and lasting cold to preserve the life that must sleep,
or signal to others, those bluebirds and finches I’ve seen,
that they don’t belong here now and should be gone?

Farther on, along the path, the glare
from the pond as the sun rises
is nearly blinding. A gaggle of geese glides
over unfrozen water, which ripples in countless
starry flashes of light—false light
that should reflect from crystalline snow and gray ice―
so the geese appear in silhouette too,
cardboard cutouts of themselves. (Why are they still here?)

I’d like to tell you how the shimmering light
and graceful motion of geese on the water
offer the promise of hope, of a new beginning,
or maybe inspire a serene spiritual image
to lift my mood and liven my step;
oh, but that’s too maudlin for you, too sentimental;
too laden with the phony glow of a Hallmark movie―
soul-candy, I’d call it. You’d like that.

No, your ‘spirit’ inhabits us in surer ways,
in memories we keep, stories we tell;
in the new people we’ve become
by knowing you in this new way.
We keep you with us as the cottonwood grove
keeps the quiet life within, the rustlings
and flittings, the persistent flow of change,
as seasons change, not from one to another,
but each within themselves.

You taught me to hear the earth breathe,
and so it does, & so do we, with you
to sustain us as life persists. Through us
you live; as we breathe so do you, quietly,
as you inhabit this strange and awful
winter of our lives.

© Bob Sommer 2012
Also posted at CounterPunch

To learn more about Francis, please visit The Francis D. Sommer Memorial Fund for Homeless Veterans.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A win for the good guys: Kansas coal-fired plant blocked by the court

Kansas coal project will face thorough environmental review, new administration decision

Washington, D.C. — Judge Emmett Sullivan in the federal district court today effectively blocked an 895-MW coal-fired power project in western Kansas—the notorious Sunflower expansion—until a thorough environmental review of the project is finalized. The decision emphasized the significant impacts to human health that would arise if the project was constructed.

The ruling is the latest chapter in a lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club against the Rural Utilities Service (“RUS”), an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, over its ongoing financial support for and approval of the Sunflower expansion. In March 2011, the court found that RUS had failed to consider environmental impacts of the proposed Sunflower plant expansion, in violation of federal law. The government has a financial stake in the plant because of loan arrangements made with plant owners by the federal Rural Utilities Service.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sierra Club Applauds President Obama for Rejecting the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

State Dept. Determines Project is Not in the National Interest

Washington, D.C. – Today, the Obama Administration determined that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in the national interest and announced that it will formally deny a federal permit for the proposed pipeline put forth by Canadian oil giant TransCanada. The 1,700-mile pipeline would run through six states, carrying toxic, highly corrosive tar sands crude from Alberta, Canada, to refineries and ports in Texas.

In response, Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, issued the following statement:

“The Sierra Club and our 1.4 million members and supporters applaud the President today for delivering a decisive victory to Americans who want clean air to breathe and safe water to drink. Today’s decision represents another down payment on the Administration’s plan to move our country beyond oil. To paraphrase Vice President Biden, today’s news is a Big…Deal.

“President Obama’s announcement is an outright rejection of Speaker Boehner’s cynical attempt to play political football with Americans’ health. Unfortunately, we know that Big Oil and their cronies in Congress will not give up their endless pursuit of profits at the cost of Americans’ health and prosperity.

“We thank the President for listening to the concerns of American farmers, landowners and people who care about clean air, clean water and our climate future."

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Paul Rieckhoff: Our Troops Aren’t Political Props

A Message to All Candidates: Our Troops Aren’t Props
By Paul Rieckhoff 

Paul Rieckhoff
Our troops are many things to many people. Heroes, parents, diplomats, victims, villains, victors. But as the GOP Primary races roll through New Hampshire this week, there is one thing that all of America must understand they're not: political props.

And that's not just my opinion, it's the law.

This is why so many of us in the military and veterans community were so shocked and outraged last Tuesday night when we saw Corporal Jesse Thorsen step up to the microphone in uniform and endorse Ron Paul for President. We know the law—the military law under the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice). We know Article 88 of UCMJ prohibits contemptuous speech by commissioned officers against the President and certain elected officials at penalty of court-martial. We also know that service members are only allowed to attend political rallies as spectators, according to Department of Defense Directive 1344.10, which states, “In keeping with the traditional concept that members on active duty should not engage in partisan political activity, and that members not on active duty should avoid inferences that their political activities imply or appear to imply official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement…” And we troops and veterans understand why this directive exists.