Archive for April, 2010



April 30, 2010

Projections for the BP spill are that it will likely exceed the Exxon Valdez in damages to fisheries and wildlife, as well as to coastline. Expect to run your toes through oil and sand for the next few decades. While you’re at it, check out this compilation of facts from the Valdez spill. Here are a few points:

How many animals died outright from the oil spill?
No one knows. The carcasses of more than 35,000 birds and 1,000 sea otters were found after the spill, but since most carcasses sink, this is considered to be a small fraction of the actual death toll. The best estimates are: 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, up to 22 killer whales, and billions of salmon and herring eggs.

How are the animals doing now?
Lingering injuries continue to plague some injured species while others are fully recovered.  See the Status of Injured Resources section of this web site.

And then, there’s this:

Visitors today experience the spectacular scenery and wildlife of Prince William Sound and the North Gulf of Alaska. However, one of the most stunning revelations of Trustee Council-funded monitoring over the last ten years is that Exxon Valdez oil persists in the environment and in places, is nearly as toxic as it was the first few weeks after the spill.

This was not expected at the time of the spill or even ten years later. In 1999, beaches in the sound appeared clean on the surface. Some subsurface oil had been reported in a few places, but it was expected to decrease over time and most importantly, to have lost its toxicity due to weathering. A few species were not recovering at the expected rate in some areas, but continuing exposure to oil was not suspected as the primary cause.

Oil from the <em>Exxon Valdez</em> persists in a shallow pit dug on a beach in Prince Willaim Sound, summer 2004.In 2001, researchers at the Auke Bay Laboratories, NOAA Fisheries, conducted a survey of the mid-to-upper intertidal in areas of the sound that were heavily or moderately oiled in 1989. Researchers dug over 9,000 pits, at 91 sites, over a 95-day field season. Over half the sites were contaminated with Exxon Valdez oil. Oil was found at different levels of intensity from light sheening; to oil droplets; to heavy oil where the pit would literally fill with oil. They estimated that approximately 16,000 gallons (60,000 liters), of oil remained. The survey also showed a trend of an increasing number of oiled pits as they surveyed lower into the intertidal zone, indicating that there was more oil to be found lower down the beach. In 2003, additional surveys determined that while the majority of subsurface oil was in the mid-intertidal, a significant amount was also in the lower intertidal. The revised estimate of oil was now more than 21,000 gallons (80,000 liters). Additional surveys outside Prince William Sound have documented lingering oil also on the Kenai Peninsula and the Katmai coast, over 450 miles away.


High Octane Katrina

April 30, 2010

I’m sure I’m not saying anything novel here, but this massive oil spill in New Orleans is a big fucking deal. Given Obama’s slow response time, it well could’ve been, and maybe still well could be, Obama’s Katrina. Except for one, minor, thing.



April 29, 2010

As our semester winds to a close here, I’m hanging low and not doing as much posting as usual. Meanwhile, if you haven’t already been to Keith Kloor’s interview with Judith Curry, you should head over there and read the interview, as well as the comments. There are sparks. It’s fun.


Sickle Cell Mos-keeters

April 28, 2010

Reposting this guest-commentary (by Patrick Moffitt) from the Center for Environmental Journalism. As someone who has lived through two Russian summers, and thus witnessed the aggressive onslaught of the post-Soviet mosquito, I will tell you that, upon reflection, I find the core assertion of this article not surprising in the least. I recall one time in particular, as I was walking through a park during White Nights, that I could feel the mosquitoes batting into my legs with the force of thousands of blades of hostile grass. I have, as well, slept several nights in country Dachas, burying my head under the sheets in a vain attempt to keep the buzzing parasites from doing the nasty in my ear canal.

The malaria climate connection however raises important ethical questions. Malaria is too often framed as a “climate disease” by NGOs, regulatory agencies, media and some scientists. (See here and here.) This carefully constructed message implies the control of malaria requires that we control carbon dioxide emissions. This message is untrue, unethical and immoral.

Malaria is a preventable and treatable disease that we allow, by our inaction, to kill one million people and infect another 250 million to 350 million each year. (See this report from the World Health Organization.) These are not modeled deaths. Nor are they possible deaths related to some future carbon scenario. These dead had names, were loved, and are mourned. And nearly 80% of these dead are African children under the age of five.

Malaria, for some reason, seems to be the bugaboo of the anti-environmental community. Rachel Carson has certainly taken her lumps for allegedly “causing” the deaths of millions, a view that has been heavily disputed in many places, though usually on empirical grounds.

My view is that this is a straw man. Nobody but the most extremely silly in the environmental community actually argue that all pesticides and all spraying to eradicate a scourge like the mosquito is unacceptable. Most people take a considerably more measured approach. Even in Boulder, bastion of environmentalism, we spray for West Nile Virus. Frankly, as a one-time victim of meningitis, I’d like to see a bit more spraying for West Nile in Boulder. Alas, as luck has it, we have plenty of extremely silly people who fetishize one concern to the neglect of another. People do that with vaccines too.

It is, however, an important point: that not all environmental disasters are attributable to climate change, and once in a while it is important to just address questions in a more traditional context.

I’m not sure if there are more effective pesticides on the market than DDT, but certainly, if there’s an outbreak of malaria, it makes sense to spray. It just doesn’t make sense to spray indiscriminately. And it’s the spraying indiscriminately, it seems to me, that rankles the feathers of otherwise silent environmentalists.


Ski Constraints

April 27, 2010

The Denver Post opines on the recent decision by the Forest Service to restrict an expansion at Crested Butte:

Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Rick Cables, himself a skier, tells us that his agency hasn’t changed its process. Rather, he says, Colorado has changed.

In the last 10 years, Cables says, the state’s population has grown by more than a million, concerns about climate change have heated up, baby boomers are beginning to exit the slopes and many other uses of federal lands have become popular.

Add to that the tension over growth in mountain towns and the permitting process becomes far more complex than it was when lift tickets cost $7 and skiers could drive up Interstate 70 on Saturday morning without traffic.

As lovers of Colorado’s mountains, we think the Forest Service is correct to take these new pressures into consideration in its duty to protect our public lands.

That’s a lot of buck-passing. How about this: it’s not just that Colorado has changed, it’s that (a) we know more about the environmental impacts of our actions, (b) we ought to be concerned about damage to ecosystems and/or wildlife, (c) we ought to reflect a bit about the expansion of (what is effectively) a luxury industry at a time (i) when local actions are widely acknowledged to have global impacts and (ii) necessity industries may be more justifiable.

I’d take any of those.


Law and Border

April 27, 2010

Vodpod videos no longer available.


How to Avoid Racial Profiling

April 26, 2010

One of the major concerns with the new Arizona immigration law, apparently, is that it will inspire a wave of racial profiling. At least, that’s what everyone is saying.

I said a few days ago that racial profiling is not the major concern, and I stick with that point. Here’s another way of thinking about what I was saying before, and one that I think is actually implied by this law, if not an impending state of affairs if the law goes into effect.

One way to avoid racial profiling is to apply a law to all races (however described) equally. (Set aside, for the time being, the conceptual absurdity of racial categories.)

So, for instance, one can demonstrate that one is not racially profiling when pulling over speeders by showing that the number of speeders pulled over is roughly proportional to the racial makeup of the driving population. One can also avoid racial profiling at airports by running all passengers, say, through a metal detector before they get on an airplane.

Am I right? Yes, I’m right.

So, since there are no non-arbitrary features that implicate any given person as a citizen or a non-citizen based simply on looks or perception — skin color, accent, language difficulties, many people packed in a car (?), dirty shoes —  and since racial profiling is itself illegal, if law enforcement aim to get around the problem of racial profiling, they can just take all comers. Every person they stop, or ever tenth person they stop, should need to produce citizenship papers: whites, blacks, browns, tans — no problem.

Do I support this proposal? No. I don’t support the immigration legislation, and I don’t support this solution. But I don’t support the legislation in part because I don’t support this solution. I would be massively, hysterically, outrageously resentful if some law enforcement officer took it upon himself to ask me for my papers in my own country. I suspect many other Americans would feel the same way.

Further, and here’s one final thought, this law will be uncontested if it works out 100% of the time. If every person pulled over and asked for papers ends up being a non-citizen, then the police will have some serious powers of perception. What, then, of the time that it doesn’t work? The time that they stop a person in the street because they suspect he might be an illegal immigrant, and it turns out that he is not an illegal immigrant, but a full, tax-paying citizen. What will they appeal to? The color of his skin? His accent? His shoes? Seriously, how will they get around the non-arbitrariness charge?

This is an unenforceable and unethical law. It cannot be justified.