Monday, March 30, 2009

Beautiful Alberta

I've been writing about the Alberta Oil Sands and the new film Downstream recently, so I thought I'd see how Alberta likes to present itself to the world, compared with pictures of Alberta I've been seeing recently, like this lovely picture of a fishing lake ruined by oil.

The website Alberta, Canada has lots of lovely pictures of gorgeous scenery, positive green energy (windmills, for example) and certainly wants you to come for a visit. Or you can see even more at Alberta

Maybe you'd like to go fishing? Look what lovely fish you can catch!

Or perhaps you'd like to see the lovely wide-open spaces. Just forget that this used to be forest lands, home of the First Nations, where they could hunt and fish, and enjoy the sunset!

Imagine Clean Energy from Michigan

Now people are thinking positively!
Let's not think about lost jobs when a coal plant or dirty industry dies.

Imagine that!

Coal River Wind Project

This is how mountains should be used to generate electricity - proudly standing with a crown of windmills along their crests.

Certainly not by tearing them down!

For more about coal, read my many blog entries on the subject.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Why "Clean Coal" is being abandoned

I just read an excellent article in US News and World Report about "clean coal" technologies and why they won't work : Why Clean Coal Is Years Away But the author doesn't really believe what he's writing.
Coal is here to stay.... America runs on coal. It's cheap, plentiful (at least for another 100 years or so), and comfortingly domestic. Two hundred years ago, it powered the industrial revolution. Today, it spits out nearly half of the country's electricity.
And then after telling how impossible it all is, he writes:
But given just how reliant the nation is on coal power, the only real question seems to be how clean it will eventually become.
The man has blinders on, and can't even understand what his research is telling him!

In a link next to the article I found this encouraging short message, which is Obama finally becoming realistic:
Clean Coal Program Shift Flawed: By Henry J. Reske, Posted March 16, 2009
A Department of Energy decision to alter course on a program to develop a clean coal power plant potentially involving some $1.3 billion in federal funding was "not well considered." That is the conclusion of a Government Accountability Office study entitled "Clean Coal: DOE's Decision to Restructure FutureGen Should Be Based on a Comprehensive Analysis of Costs, Benefits, and Risks." The Energy Department's FutureGen program was originally unveiled in 2003. In partnership with the electric power industry and later with the coal industry, it set as its goal the designing and building of the "world's first coal-fired, zero-emissions power plant." The report finds that the decision to shift from what was originally a research and development project to a commercial demonstration project was not based on a "comprehensive analysis of factors, such as the associated costs, benefits, and risks." The GAO called on DOE to re-examine its decision based on those factors.
So let's use all that DOE research money on renewables, so that even more jobs become available like the one in the next entry!

Renewable Energy Made In America

This video shows what the Obama green jobs should be all about. Creating jobs for people in areas that have lost jobs from the "old economy" and building up the mass of available renewables, so that the price will fall because of economies of size. I received the video through this link: Repower America, who have a petition for you to sign at that location.
Congress must support bold national policies this year to transition to a clean energy economy and help solve the climate crisis. We urge you to cap carbon pollution to help create the jobs and businesses that will Repower America.
Now that we're finally getting Big Coal backed in a corner, there will be more money available for supporting these really green jobs.

Poll on Mountaintop Removal

If you should happen to see this today, Friday, March 27, then please go to and participate in their little poll, which is located in the center column about half way down the page (you have to scroll.) Please vote "No!"

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Great News from the EPA about Mountaintop Removal

On March 24, the EPA decided to halt some new mountaintop removal projects because of their impact on water: streams, lakes and drinking water. In a news release EPA Acts to Reduce Harmful Impacts from Coal Mining they state:

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has sent two letters to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expressing serious concerns about the need to reduce the potential harmful impacts on water quality caused by certain types of coal mining practices, such as mountaintop mining. The letters specifically addressed two new surface coal mining operations in West Virginia and Kentucky. EPA also intends to review other requests for mining permits.
They appear to have updated the EPA web page on Mountaintop Removal as well.

This is fantastic news! Maybe we can see the end of coal in this country. The website I Love Mountains, a major hub for activity against mountain top removal, is ecstatic!

The latest Sierra magazine has an article Killing King Coal about how some local activists stopped the construction of the Holcomb Station power plant near Garden City, Kansas. As a sidebar to the article, there is an excellent timeline about the use of coal in this country. The last two entries are:

2003 Bush funds the FutureGen Alliance's "clean coal" carbon capture and storage project. Its funding was decreased in 2004, reinstated in 2005, and cut completely in 2008.
2008 Barack Obama is elected president. During the campaign, he supported "clean coal" and the construction of five new carbon capture and storage coal plants.
Let us hope that the next entry reports that President Obama has realized the destruction coal costs neighbors, habitats and the earth.

Another short article in Sierra It Takes a Little Village tells about a young organizer Marisol Becerra, cofounder of Young Activists Organizing as Today's Leaders, from the Little Village district of Chicago. She was incensed at the health problems caused by

two coal-fired power plants in Little Village and nearby Pilsen, ... responsible for 41 premature deaths, 550 emergency-room visits, and 2,800 asthma attacks per year, according to a 2002 Harvard School of Public Health report.
The future will definitely be brighter when we work together to stop coal and dirty oil, replacing them with energy efficiency and renewables.

Downstream from Alberta Oil Sands

The Oil Sands in Alberta, which are the source of a large portion of the oil we use in this country, are polluting streams that lead to the Great Lakes, and killing off large numbers of birds who are loosing their northern habitat to oil, according to an article Bird Alert in the NRDC's magazine OnEarth.

In the vast boreal forests of Alberta, Canada, as many as 166 million birds - including the Canada warbler (Wilsonian canadensis) - could die within the next 50 years, predicts a December 2008 NRDC report. The cause: the extraction and production of oil from the province's huge tar sands reserves.

A new documentary Downstream about the Oil Sands in Alberta shows how they are also causing drastic health problems for the native Americans living downstream. The video clip above is the trailer, so you can get an idea about the film, and the devastation going on to provide us with oil. Here is part of the PR I received about it:

Controversial environmental documentary Downstream by filmmaker Leslie Iwerks {Academy Award® nominated for "Recycled Life") is a world-wide exclusive feature on independent Web TV service Babelgum which enters the U.S. market this week with a tailored version of its mobile video application and a redesigned Flash-based website. The 2008 Oscar shortlisted film ... relates how one courageous doctor fights for the lives of the aboriginal people residing downstream from the oil sands of Alberta, one of the most polluting and burgeoning oil operations in the world.

"Downstream" has already exposed the 'downstream' health issues of the oil production to a wider audience, and also vexed Alberta's government when they realized their Alberta Film Development Fund had subsidized $67,000 of the film. Intense national discourse and debate over future arts funding and freedom of artistic expression ensued. Due to overwhelming positive feedback from the Canadian premieres earlier this month, the MP leader of the democratic party in Ottawa, Olivia Chow, is hosting a public screening of the film in Toronto on April 14th. The film also screens tonight at the Burbank International Film Festival.
You can read the full press release here. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has this to say about Downstream.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Naked Binder

I just found out about another company besides Terracycle that is using all those recyclables we put into the container to make attractive and useful products - this time binders from recycled paper.

The Naked Binder writes about its products here:
Made from100% recycled board, 97% of which is post-consumer waste with no decorations, plastics, toxins or vinyl. The board is acid free, so it won't harm your contents - whether you are preparing for tax season, working on your novel or storing your child's artworks.

Naked Binder's mission is to create the highest quality and most sustainable products, constantly striving to do better and work to preserve wild and undomesticated nature. We are members of the 1% for the Planet and donate in support of the wilderness.

We believe that good design incorporates function, aesthetics and sustainability so we designed what may be the most eco-friendly binder in the world - strong, good looking and 100% recyclable. Naked Binders feel good in the hand, look good and being made from 100% recycled board our binders have no plastics, no vinyl and no printing. Safe for you, your children, pets and loved ones.
I just ordered a couple to try them out. They look perfect. I hate all the old vinyl ones I have on my (lowest) shelves! Since I will be starting my new teaching career, I'll be needing more binders, so this is my start.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Going through old emails

Last week was non-stop studying math, so there is an enormous backlog of interesting (and otherwise) emails in my in-box. Several of them are about coal, so I thought I'd list the links I find among the emails that pertain to mountaintop removal and other coal issues.

Most recently is an editorial in today's New York Times: Appalachia’s Agony, which remarks:
The longstanding disgrace of mountaintop mining is now squarely in President Obama’s hands.

A recent court decision has given the green light to as many as 90 mountaintop mining projects in Appalachia’s coal-rich hills, which in turn could destroy more than 200 miles of valleys and streams on top of the 1,200 miles that have already been obliterated. The right course for the administration is clear: stop the projects until the underlying regulations are revised so as to end the practice altogether.
Then there was a petition from The We Campaign to promote the carboncap
Limiting carbon pollution is the next step in the plan to Repower America.

Acting on our scientists' advice to cap carbon dioxide emissions will usher in a new economic era -- creating jobs, launching new businesses, and bringing struggling communities back on their feet -- all while addressing the climate crisis.

Today, we are seeing opponents spin mis-truths in order to scare the public. They deny the need for change. They say we should keep polluting our air.

They're wrong. Clean energy works for America, and it's working.

It's working in Newton, Iowa, which could have been devastated in 2007 when Maytag closed down a major manufacturing plant that had anchored the town for a hundred years. Today, Newton boasts two wind energy farms and opened a new turbine manufacturing plant last year, even amidst grim news from other areas of our economy. That's new jobs for the people of Iowa.

It's working in Greenville, Michigan, where United Solar brought new green jobs in 2006, after Greenville's Electrolux plant announced their move to Mexico. United Solar has expanded in Greenville and will be building another manufacturing facility in Battle Creek.
Friends of the Earth were elated when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called for the U.S. Capitol power plant to stop burning coal.
Friends of the Earth has been working to green the U.S. Capitol complex for years, and last year, we defended Speaker Pelosi's "Greening the Capitol" initiative from attacks by Republican Representative Vernon Ehlers.
And the Sierra Club reported a NYT article Leaked EPA document shows greenhouse gas endangerment finding on fast track with the good news that the EPA is
"fast-tracking its response to the Supreme Court's 2007 climate decision with plans to issue a mid-April finding that global warming threatens both public health and welfare."
Climate Ark has an Action Alert: Coal Kills -- Time for People Power to Protect the Climate about the successful Capitol Climate Action, saying "Today is the beginning of the end to coal."

That really cleaned out my InBox. I hope you'll find some of it interesting, too!

Fighting the coal industry

In the LinkedIn group "Clean Tech," Marguerite Arnold contributed the following ideas for fighting Big Coal. I thought I'd pass them on here (slightly edited:)
There is no such thing as "clean" coal. Stop the mining and destruction of the mountaintops.

Bruce Vento and Daniel Inouye will be good targets. I worked with them when I saved the largest area of pristine high desert ecosystem in the lower 48, home to 12 endangered species and an Indian Tribe from the Air Force who wanted to turn it into a bombing range.

Also, it's very effective to start carpet bombing the Department of the Interior, the Department of Energy, and of course the White House on these issues (I don't mean that literally of course). When you call the White House, ask for the Council on Environmental Quality Nancy Sutly and send an email to the White House. When you call the agencies, ask to speak to the heads of the departments. Clog the phone lines and send emails. It's not just Congress anymore.

Also...start a UTube viral campaign. Easy to shoot and distribute - do it on your camera. Very effective, particularly on college campuses, particularly because there's no such thing as "clean coal" - a lesson our President apparently needs to be taught from the grassroots up.

I used to love catching the military dumping mustard gas chemicals into the Chesapeake Bay and showing archival FOIA footage of how they tortured animals in nuclear and chemical gas attack tests on national TV. Trust me. Viral video works. Any of these sites near or in Indian reservations or home to endangered species? Just a few ideas to get you thinking. Transpose that with Exxon footage and you have a winner.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Did the "impossible!"

One thing that seemed impossible (OK, not really) was taking the California Subject Examinations for Teachers in Math so I can become a HS Math teacher at a mature age when everyone else is retiring.

But I took it yesterday (using every minute available) and survived and probably passed. I'll know the results in about 3 weeks.

There is one more math test - in Trigonometry and Calculus - and the History of Mathematics!(!) that I'm aiming to take in May.

After that I will be taking my teaching internship through Claremont Graduate University, also working with an organization called EnCorps, whose purpose is to help the lack of math and science teachers in California public schools by helping to get retirees with math and science knowledge into the classroom.

I will probably start writing about my thoughts on teaching here as well sometime soon, or maybe I'll start a teaching blog. We'll see.

Wish me (and my future students!) luck!

I did start a new blog, and it's called To Do the Impossible. Check it out!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Doing the impossible

My Sierra Club Daily Ray of Hope today has a very important quote from Nelson Mandela.
It always seems impossible until it's done.
Here are a few things that seem impossible right now:
  • Stop using coal
  • Create all our energy from renewables
  • Ensure that everyone gets the education that will give them opportunities to use their talents and skills for their own and the common good. (Whatever that may be!)
  • Convert our agricultural system to one that provides nutritional foods to everyone using sustainable methods - without using artificial fertilizers that weaken plants so they require artificial pesticides, and where possible sourcing our food locally. (I know it's hard to source coffee, tea, spices and bananas locally to the US, for example.)
  • Peace in our time!
So let's get going to get them done!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ashley Judd asks us to end the destruction of her home in Kentucky

I thought this was a very appropriate little video today to add to the anti-coal story.

Particularly after I received an email today from Jennifer Pierce, Vice President of Communications & Investor Relations of the Canadian power company TransAlta, in response to an email I sent to her through Credo. She mentions the company Report on Sustainability available on their site. Their CEO Steve Snyder has also just held a recent speech on alternative energy, the future of coal and the long-term potential of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies.

In her email, Jennifer told that "renewable energy accounts for more than 15 per cent of TransAlta’s generation capability", which is laudable, and that they are investing "hundreds of millions in green energy projects over the next five years." But she continues:
But as much as we support and grow renewables, it is a reality that building renewables alone will not solve the climate change problem. Coal and other fossil fuels represent over 60 per cent of the global electricity supply. We must address emissions from this huge installed capacity which will continue to operate for decades.

At the same time as we pursue investments in renewable energy, we continue our work to address the impacts of the fossil fuel side of our business. On the climate change front, one of the most promising new developments is the emergence of new carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. CCS captures CO2 emissions and stores them permanently in deep underground geological formations. It is our view that CCS is one of the few technologies that can make major greenhouse gas reductions globally in the next 10-15 years, and be applied both to new and existing power plants.

Both the U.S. and Canadian Governments have announced massive CCS initiatives. President Obama recently committed US$3.4 billion to accelerate CCS technology, while Canadian governments have announced CDN$2.8 billion for the same purpose.
The trouble is, the technology won't be available for 10-15 years on any scale, if it can even do that, and in the meantime we could be using that money and brainpower to figure out how to replace those coal-fired plants instead of just patching the leaks.

Let's support Ashley Judd, and make sure the Obama Administration knows we want Moountaintop Removal coal mining banned, coal fired plants retired ASAP, and the money dedicated to CCS used on sustainables instead.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Call to Action on Global Warming from Dr. James Hansen

Be sure to go to to read a lot more about the action today, and to pledge your support.

Let's go Coal-free - today!

I just got an email from Bill McKibben about the big Coal-Free protest today (see at the coal-fired Capitol Power Plant, which I've written about elsewhere. He asked me to go to to sign a petition of support that says:
I share your vision of a coal-free future and a safe climate, not only in Washington DC--but all over the world. I stand in solidarity with the coalition of citizens working for a clean energy future for the entire planet.
As I've mentioned many times before, President Obama doesn't get it yet that coal is really dirty! The protest is to help him also understand this important part of the environmental message that he's otherwise been quite receptive to, and working actively to improve. He has two lovely daughters who will be inheriting the mess we've made. Here's some more from McKibben's email:
Here's the backstory: Washington DC has seen its share of big protests over the years, and most of them center on the White House, the Mall or the Capitol.
But today's event is just a few blocks a way from the White House at the the Capitol Power Plant--a dirty symbol of the dirtiest business on Earth, the combustion of coal.
In that one plant -- owned and operated by our senators and representatives -- you can see all the filth that comes with coal. There are the particulates it spews into the air and hence the lungs of those Washington residents who enjoy breathing. There are the profits it hands to the coal industry, which is literally willing to level mountains across West Virginia and Kentucky to increase its fat margins. And most of all there is the invisible carbon dioxide it spews each day into the atmosphere, drying our forests, melting our glaciers and acidifying our oceans.
So please go to Washington today - if you live nearby - to join the protest, and all the rest of us can sign the petition at to show our solidarity!
Here are some pictures from the headquarters and power plant - and later from the action itself.