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Canada Pays Environmentally for U.S. Oil Thirst

Doug Struck, Washington Post
Huge Mines Rapidly Draining Rivers, Cutting Into Forests, Boosting Emissions
FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta — Huge mines here turning tarry sand into cash for Canada and oil for the United States are taking an unexpectedly high environmental toll, sucking water from rivers and natural gas from wells and producing large amounts of gases linked to global warming.

The digging — into an area the size of Maryland and Virginia combined — has proliferated at gold-rush speed, spurred by high oil prices, new technology and an unquenched U.S. thirst for the fuel. The expansion has presented ecological problems that experts thought they would have decades to resolve.

“The river used to be blue. Now it’s brown. Nobody can fish or drink from it. The air is bad. This has all happened so fast,” said Elsie Fabian, 63, an elder in a native Indian community along the Athabasca River, a wide, meandering waterway once plied by fur traders. “It’s terrible. We’re surrounded by the mines.”

…Operators of the mines, which have helped make Canada the largest supplier of oil to the United States, believe they can find technological solutions to the environmental problems.

“There is a whole lot of work being done,” Charles Ruigrok, chief executive of Syncrude, one of the largest companies, said at his corporate headquarters in downtown Fort McMurray. “I do believe technology will fix it.”

The oil companies point to steady reductions in the amount of water and natural gas used to produce each barrel of oil, for example. But those efficiency gains have been wiped out by the rise in the number of barrels produced. Increasingly, environmental organizations are calling for a moratorium on the growth of the mines.
(31 May 2006)

Too many folk on a planet too hot for comfort

Bruce M. Dinham, The Age
While focusing attention on greenhouse emissions and climate change, Tim Flannery (“Let’s talk about nuclear power and other energy sources“, Opinion, 30/5) ignores or overlooks a range of other problems we face or from which we already suffer. These include, as well as greenhouse emissions and climate change: holes in the ozone layer, reactive nitrogen, restricted water supplies, electricity shortages, urban sprawl, traffic congestion, increasing pollution, overstretched health and education systems, overfishing, river and dry land salinity, soil degradation and diminishing oil and gas reserves.

All of these have a single underlying cause: people, or to be exact, too many people. They are, in fact, symptoms of a fundamental problem: overpopulation.

There seems to be a strange reluctance, especially on the part of governments, to face up to this and do something about it. A common response is that science and technological developments will provide answers. This is wishful thinking. There can be no guarantee that such developments will occur.

In any case, those in the past have depended on cheap and plentiful oil and natural gas supplies. There is a growing expert consensus that these supplies, coming as they do from finite resources, are reaching a global peak and will begin to reduce with increasing rapidity and run out in the not too distant future.

Unless we do something to reduce population, worrying about greenhouse emissions and nuclear power is a waste of time and only diverting attention from the real problem.
(31 May 2006)
As a thought experiment I tried replacing the word ‘population’ with ‘consumption’, and the letter reads quite well. It’s a reminder that both consumption and population levels are complimentary issues. -AF

Drought worsens China water woes

Daniel Griffiths, BBC News
Parts of China are suffering their worst drought in over 50 years. But in the cities, demand for water is increasing as China’s economic boom continues.

Environmentalists warn current levels of water consumption may not be sustainable.

There are more than 300 million people in China live in rural areas short of clean drinking water. Pollution is so severe the government estimates 40% of water in the country’s major rivers is fit only for industrial or agricultural use.

More than a decade of near double-digit economic growth has put serious strain on water demand in China, which has only 7% of the world’s total water resources, compared with more than 20% of the global population.

But get back to the capital and you would never know there was a crisis. In the parks of downtown Beijing the sprinklers are all on and the gardeners are watering their plants. The government gives big cities top priority for water. The countryside and smaller towns are the losers.

“In the area where Beijing and Tianjin are located there are some cities which in five to seven years will run out of water. We’re talking about a time bomb and one day it will be too late to go back.”
(31 May 2006)
As another part of the article reminds us water shortages might be exacerbated by energy shortages, as the drought forces villages to drill deeper and deeper for ground water. -AF

Atlantic Hurricane season opens

Giulianna Lamanna, Anthropik
Today marks the beginning of the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season. According to Jeff Masters at The Weather Underground,

This is the highest level of activity [the forecast team at Colorado State University] have forecast in their 23 years of making these predictions. They put the odds of a major (Category 3-4-5) hurricane crossing the U.S. coast at 82% (average for last century is 52%). The U.S. East Coast (including Florida) has a 69% chance of a major hurricane strike (31% is average), and the Gulf Coast, 38% (30% is average). In addition, there is an above-average risk of major hurricanes in the Caribbean.

Which sounds horrifying enough. But wait – it gets better. Last year, CSU’s May 31st forecast called for 15 named storms, 8 hurricanes, and 4 major hurricanes. As you may recall, we ended up with 27 named storms, 15 hurricanes, and 7 major hurricanes, 4 of which were category 5.
(1 Jun 2006)
Original title ‘Helene is Coming to Kill You All’ but you’ll have to read Giulianna’s tangental comments on the popularity of baby names after a hurricane to see why. -AF

Bush administration censors scientists again

Original: “Salmon talk restricted”
Washington Post via Bellingham Herald
SEATTLE – The Bush administration – having made it hard for federal scientists to talk publicly about global warming – appears to have decided that loose lips are also bad when they talk about salmon.

The Washington office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has instructed its representatives and scientists in the West to route media questions about salmon back to headquarters. Only three people in the entire agency, all of them political appointees, are now authorized to speak of salmon, according to a NOAA employee.
(1 June 2006)
The Seattle Times has a longer related article: Longtime salmon spokesman silenced.

In the Nation: Science and the First Amendment.

The continued harassment of scientists is reminiscent of totalitarian regimes. Shame on the Bush administration and the officials who acquiesce. In a time when we need objective scientific information – for global warming and energy alternatives – this censorship is a crime against the public interest. -BA

A Bestiary of Skeptics

Kevin Drum, Washington Monthly
John Quiggin provides a handy summary of Joel Achenbach’s recent piece in the Washington Post on global warming skeptics. Here it is:

  • Richard Lindzen, prominent MIT climate scientist, is an irresponsible contrarian, who’s prepared to defend an implausible position on the off chance of being right when everyone else is wrong

  • The Competitive Enterprise Institute, well-known Washington thinktank, is a set of industry shills who will say whatever Exxon pays them to say
  • William Gray, respected hurricane expert, is a raving loon who thinks climate change is a conspiracy to bring in world government and compares Al Gore to Hitler (as Achenbach notes, it’s almost impossible to keep the Nazis out of the discussion in GW-sceptic circles)
  • All these guys know the score as regards the others.

John’s summary motivated me to read Achenbach’s piece, and I think he has it exactly right: the contrarians come across as obvious shills and buffoons. If you want to watch Achenbach talk about these guys in person, his conversation with Robert Wright is here.
(1 June 2006)
Achenbach’s Washington Post piece is a fascinating personality study of what makes climate skeptics tick.

I tend to agree with Matt McIrvin’s critique: “It’s written as a more or less unjudgmental personality piece, of the ‘I can’t evaluate what these brainiacs are saying but it sure is interesting’ variety. I frequently like Achenbach’s writing style but this kind of coverage of science drives me nuts.” -BA.