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

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)
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.