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http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/science/earth/17gas.html?_r=1&ref=waterpollution

After Wednesday’s presentation on fracking this crazy hot button issue has been on my mind. I looked for some more hard numbers on fracking and found this article. It details the findings and consequences of a Congressional investigation of fracking across several states. I noticed that the documentary Gasland, or at least the clips we saw, only took place in Texas. I know Texas has a lot of other drilling going on so that is expected, but I didn’t know that fracking was going on across 13 states. Also astonishing were the numbers the study found. Between the 14 biggest natural gas companies across the nation, 866 million gallons of hydrofracking fluid was used last year, not including water. The House Energy and Commerce Committee also found that a large proportion of this fluid contained anything from unidentified chemicals to known carcinogens to instant coffee (what?).

Okay, so, nothing we haven’t talked about before. But, as I was writing this post I happened upon another NYTimes article about controversy surrounding hydrofracking that provided some more insight. New York state has sued the federal government in an attempt to force an environmental impact statement to be done on a proposed fracking operation in the Delaware River basin. Seems like fracking projects are popping up all over.

The suit was filed by Eric Schneiderman who is quoted saying something I had suspected, but did not know for sure. In short he says that it’s about time the big companies stop drafting their own rules and regulations without a thorough environmental impact statement. Seems like a no brainer to me. With all the publicity and research going into this form of natural gas procurement, I don’t see how this unregulated drilling can continue like it is. There is just so much uncertainty surrounding the process and chemicals involved that I think it definitely warrants a better look by the government. These two articles together sum up my opinions on hydrofracking. Just follow the dollar! The companies making the profits, who are also making the rules, and only thinking about short-term gains. It’s too bad the legal system doesn’t force the companies to not only be more transparent, but to prohibit use of potentially harmful chemicals whose long term effects on the environment and human health. The legal system we operate today has so many loopholes and works so slowly we cannot keep up with sneaky corporations.

PS here’s the link to the second NYTimes article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/01/nyregion/new-york-sues-to-slow-rules-for-new-gas-drilling.html?ref=science

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http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304520804576345300167187410.html

This article describes Sweden’s decision, made today, to decide on an exit strategy to phase out all nuclear power supplying the country, “to ensure a secure and autonomous supply of energy,” says Energy Minister Doris Leuthard. She goes on to say the reason that sparked the decision was security concerns over the meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant. So, only by seeing the risks posed by a nuclear meltdown–after one has already happened–is a decision made that maaaybe nuclear power isn’t the best source of long-term energy generation.

Still, good for Sweden. They currently receive 40% of their energy from five nuclear plants around the country, but promise to begin searching for new renewable, sustainable sources of energy. Since so much of Sweden’s energy is generated with nuclear reactors the government is hoping to be completely independent of nuclear power by the year 2040. Great start, but from today’s date it is hard to see if that goal is attainable.

Sweden’s Energy Minister says that the shift away from nuclear power will require tons of money up front to begin research and development of new energy generation strategies. They plan to start by introducing wind and solar power, increasing hydropower, and even resorting to fossil fuels (temporarily). While all four of these are viable alternatives to nuclear power, they each have environmental problems of their own. I suppose Sweden wishes to minimize its environmental impact while looking forward to long-term solutions. Energy Minister Leuthard says a large investment will need to be put forward initially, possibly including the use of fossil fuels as a band-aid solution until new energy programs get running, but that these are necessary steps in securing sustainable energy for the country in the future.

I agree with the idea of preparing now for the long road ahead no matter how daunting it may seem. Considering the world’s not-so-shiny record maintaining nuclear power plants, it’s amazing how we are just now fed up with nuclear disasters. We’ve detailed a few in class, but it seems the idea that nuclear power isn’t safe as a long term energy source may be catching on. Japan’s recent meltdown has also prompted their Prime Minister to being to look into other energy sources, seeking to increase Japan’s “share of green energy to 20% of total power supply by the early 2020s.” Great move, after the worst possible scenario just played out. Goes to show that until a disaster hits home, it’s hard to start caring about the unknown. Sweden is being proactive on this front, thinking ahead far into the future and protecting its citizens now.

Can a nuclear phase out work in the US? Sweden relies on 40% of energy generated by nuclear power to 20% by the US. Well, the US has a population over 33 times larger than Sweden’s. The problem of sheer scale makes it real hard for Americans to start thinking about wide-spread change. Still, I believe Sweden’s decision sets a precedent for countries relying on nuclear power to shift towards more sustainable forms of energy.

We talked in class today about indigenous knowledge. I feel that, especially for assistance in biological research, indigenous knowledge is a priceless resource.

Indigenous knowledge itself is in many ways more practical than our Western way of thinking. For example, instead of giving a two-part scientific name to each and every species, Native Americans of the Northwest have names for plants and animals that reflect their use or function. In this way indigenous knowledge does not, I guess, waste time and space with frivolous information. Also, as Harry pointed out today indigenous knowledge is accumulated over generations and thus reflects the growing body of knowledge of a culture over time. Anyway, back to the point:

The article on street science we discussed today, I believe, raises some important points about indigenous knowledge but also misses a crucial piece. It’s a great idea to get information from locals, as they are the experts on the goings-on of their neighborhoods. Who knows the block where you grew up better than you? I also like what was said about expert knowledge in class today: an expert is an expert because they hold the best source of knowledge on a particular subject. So, by this definition it is hard to see how local knowledge is so often overlooked in science. Of course not everyone in Williamsburg, NY has the degree to get funding for scientific research, but the local’s view of the situation is indeed important. I believe getting the “inside scoop” from locals, as is the aim of street science, empowers otherwise silenced people, giving them a voice that can make real changes in their community.

I think where street science falls short is taking the use of indigenous knowledge one step further. The author only talks about indigenous knowledge as a tool that scientists from the outside can use. This is a big mistake in my opinion. I believe that training of locals, especially in third world countries and specifically for biological research, can empower those people and give them opportunities to help make their own communities better places. Biology students in the United States take years and years of classes to acquire knowledge about the plants and animals locals interact with every day. If more scientific education and training was focused in countries where a lot the research takes place it would directly benefit local communities.

Street science offers a good basis for making science more interdisciplinary and relatable to people not traditionally trained in the sciences. However, it still promotes the idea of scientists looking from the outside in as the experts on a complex situation they might not know everything about. Consideration of local knowledge can help bridge this gap, but street science still falls short of connecting the unique body of local knowledge to the scientific “expert knowledge.”

http://www.eugeneweekly.com/2011/05/12/coverstory.html

Here’s a local story from the Eugene Weekly. The Seneca Sawmill, just outside Eugene city limits, just opened their brand new biomass plant. The biomass plant generates energy for the sawmill as well as the surrounding area of Eugene. Even EWEB is buying energy from Seneca. This article presents arguments from two well-established sides on environmental issues: the activists and the big corporations. A group of protesters gathered outside the gates of the biomass plant with signs trying to shed light on what they feel are shady business practices by the Seneca Sawmill.

The new energy generation plant is said to draw fuel from a renewable resource: Oregon’s forests. I read this thinking, great, renewable energy. But from our forests? I understand how trees are a renewable resource, they add a growth ring every year and new seedlings pop up all the time. Renewable, yeah, but that doesn’t make them sustainable. I’m not an activist or anything, but I know some history of forest management by big companies and their track record isn’t great. This article even acknowledges that old growth wood may end up as fuel for the energy generation plant.

It seems that Seneca is taking advantage of every loophole they can. First, they avoid Eugene air-quality regulations by being located just outside city limits. Second, they consider the sawmill and the new energy generation plant to be separate entities even though they are situated in the same building. This allows the emissions of the two discrete parts to be evaluated separately by the EPA. Turns out each individual part produces emissions at or below the legal standards. If the sawmill and the generator’s emissions were counted together they would likely be higher than the legal limit. This is just one example of how corporations have their way with local and federal laws. Seneca found loopholes in Eugene’s air-quality regulations that allow them to maximize their emissions and impact on our forests.

The protester who bike-locked himself to the car bumper reminded me of the time Tre Arrow came to my middle school and talked at a morning assembly (without wearing shoes). He’s an environmental activist who actually made the FBI’s most wanted list for acts of ecoterrorism like blowing up logging trucks here in the Northwest. Nothing that drastic happened in this case, but it goes to show how far some environmental protesters will go.

Here’s my idea of a TOXIC COMMODITY! My sister and I occasionally enjoyed Pokemon time growing up, and a previous post of Mr. Yuk reminded me of THIS charismatic character:

Umm, so, this is Grimer and it’s a Pokemon made of toxic sludge.  Literally sludge. Back in the day I didn’t think twice about how Grimer’s physiology and behavior can really be seen as a metaphor for human pollutants; that’s probably a concept that’s over a lot of kid’s heads. Here’s the specs:

“Grimer emits a very pungent, noisome odor. Since Grimer’s body lacks a solid form, it can slip through the smallest of openings. Grimer’s germ-infested entrails cause the ground that it passes over to be unable to bear any plant life… As it moves, it loses bits of its body from which new Grimer emerge (Bulbapedia).”

Man-made pollution works in this same way. You can’t always see it, smell it, or sense it, but it permeates all parts of our modern world.  This is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of pollution today.  Just like Grimer, our pollution slips through the smallest spaces unnoticed, accumulating with no end in sight.  Its constant presence in our daily lives, everything from trash on the streets and exhaust from our cars, is not a reminder of our pollutin’ ways, but it’s more comforting than anything.  It’s a sign that everything’s currently going smoothly, normally.  Likely none of us can imagine a life without pollution, I know I can’t.  In Oregon we have it easy, too.  You go to a huge metropolitan area like New York City and you can’t help but stepping over garbage left and right.  Grimer’s gotcha!  Today our man-made pollution has evolved into something much more sinister and irreversible, much like Grimer evolves into Muk at level 38.  We as a society need a major wake-up call if our idea of pollution as something normal is going to change.

p.s. My Pokemon information came from this website:

http://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Grimer_%28Pok%C3%A9mon%29