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Tipping Point 2012: Irreversible Climate Change 12 December 2007

Posted by Todd in Environment, Politics.
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If any of you are following the most recent developments in the Global Warming catastrophe, the IPCC released a couple weeks ago it’s fourth report synthesizing the scientific findings concerning the human connections to global warming and the accelerating effects. If you are concerned at all about this issue, please put links on your blogs. This report got almost zero press coverage in the U.S. (no big surprise) and, Katie Curic’s grilling (snicker) of the candidates last night notwithstanding, Americans as a whole remain blissfully ignorant as they stroll casually into irreversible environmental damage.

This most recent report says that if the trends continue at the current pace, we will have passed the “tipping point” by 2012. I’m not much of an alarmist, but the more I learn, the more freaky this gets.

Here’s a brief salon.com article running down the high points. And here’s the IPCC report itself.


Population, Immigration, and Environment 20 June 2007

Posted by Todd in Commentary, Environment.
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I’m posting this partly to be provocative, to explore an idea which may feel offensive. But I sincerely have this question and I do think it needs to be discussed openly and seriously.

Over the weekend, I watched an interview with Laura Dunn, documentarian, on PBS’s “Now“. The interview has been haunting me for the past few days. I’m teaching a course this summer about the relationship between human culture and their ecologies (i.e., their physical environments), so some issues have been front and center the past few weeks. Dunn’s most recent documentary, The Unforeseen, covers the massive upsurge in development around Austin Texas, especially the degradation of the watershed, vital to the ecology of the region. Dunn has a gift of treating all sides with respect and compassion, and although it’s clear what the environmental (and ultimately social) outcome of uncontroled growth is, there is a brilliant even-handedness in her presentation.

But it was precisely the massive impact that such a huge population growth is having on the Austin area that stuck with me. Populations have differential effects on their enviroments, depending on their “footprints”, which is their patterns of consuming resources. But in America we are left with a culture that values space, which is paradoxically reflected in our tendency toward sprawl and away from density. And yet, as Dunn points out, our desires for space are actually consuming the space we desire.

Population increases, especially given the way that Americans consume, are changing our landscape, indeed, destroying it. Native-born Americans only reproduce slightly more than enough to replace the population; and yet the population of the United States has doubled since I was born. The wild spaces I used to go to as a child no longer exist. Our suburban sprawl has more than doubled since I was born.

Regular readers know that I’m not politically opposed to immigration and think most immigration hysteria is absurd. Yet you also know that as a sociologist, I believe we must face honestly the social costs of immigration. Immigration does indeed impact the social structures and economies and cultures of the nation. It does no good to pretend otherwise.

But I have never seen anyone talking about the environmental impact of immigration or, by extension, the massive population increase of the U.S. over the past 40 years. In California, we just keep talking about how the state will have 50 million residents by the middle of the century. Why aren’t we talking about the impact 20 million more people will have on our land? Why aren’t we talking about how to curb that population growth? Loss of land, degradation of air and water, loss of wilderness, loss of space, lass of species will ultimately harm everyone. And uncontrolled population growth must be considered as a major culprit. And given where most of the American population growth comes from, we have to be talking about immigration when we talk about sprawl, environment, and population.

Big Oil Price Gouging 22 May 2007

Posted by Todd in Commentary, Environment, Law/Courts, Politics.
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Moveon.org is reporting on a bill up for voting in the Congress to make petroleum price gouging a federal offense. I don’t mind having higher gas prices (we have incredibly cheap fuel in the U.S.), but I’d rather have the prices be because of taxes that go for maintaining roads and for research into alternative energies, etc., like other more civilized democracies. However, in the U.S., oil companies continue to increase prices for no good market reason other than that they can. Price gouging has been a common practice, and for an industry that has been making record profits for two years running, a bit of a mystery. This is why I can never be an economic libertarian: Some markets simply dont’ function on idealized supply-demand models, because the supply is controled by monopolies or because there is a captive demand. The oligopoly that controls petrol in the U.S. needs outside restriction to ensure fair market prices.

My preference would be for alternative, cleaner energy sources; but in the meantime, we need a regulation to prevent consumer gouging, which is already against the law in other areas, so why not oil too?

Here’s the text from the Moveon.org campaign letter, with references at the end:

As of yesterday, gas prices are the highest in U.S. history—we just passed the 1981 record, even adjusted for inflation.1 Prices could reach $4.00 per gallon in parts of the country, just in time to crimp summer vacation plans. As consumers suffer, the oil industry continues to reap the windfall—breaking profit records on an almost quarterly basis. It’s outrageous!

Enough is enough. Hearings start today on H.R. 1252, a House bill that would make gas price gouging a federal crime, punishable by 10 years in prison. Speaker Pelosi has said she’ll move the bill to a vote this week—if there’s the two-thirds majority required to fast track the bill through the process.2

Oil company lobbyists are frantically trying to stop the bill. Your representative needs to hear from you today. Will you sign our petition asking Congress to pass the price-gouging bill—and then send it to your friends?

“Gasoline price gouging should be made a federal crime before the summer price increases hurt more American families.”

Sign the petition:
Rep Bart Stupak (D-MI), sponsor of the House bill said this of his motivation to introduce the legislation:

“In April … crude oil was $7 a barrel cheaper than last year (but) gas prices were almost 50 cents a gallon higher. Clearly there’s more at play than simply the world crude oil market.”3

In April, more than two-thirds of Americans reported that their gas bills were causing financial crunches, with a full third saying it was having a “serious” impact on their families.4

That same month, the top two US companies, Exxon-Mobil and Chevron-Texaco, announced a combined $14 billion in first quarter profits.5

It seems like even the oil industry has gone too far this time, and it’s time to balance the scales. The Senate passed a price-gouging measure out of committee last week, and the House bill now has over 100 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle.

The oil industry is nervous. They’ve sent their lobbyists to the Hill in full force to stop—or at least weaken—these bills, and they’re pulling out all the stops. The American Petroleum Institute, an industry front group of more than 400 oil and gas companies, even threatened that new laws could increase gas prices more.6

Enough is enough. This summer, we can stop Big Oil from profiting at the expense of American families. Can you sign the petition to ask your representative to make gasoline a price gouging a federal crime now?

Sign the petition:
Don’t forget to pass it on to your friends—this week is an historic opportunity to send Big Oil a message that we’ve had enough.

Thanks for all you do.

–Ilyse, Natalie, Eli, Tom, and the MoveOn.org Political Action Team
Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007


1. “U.S. gas prices jump more than 11 cents,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 21, 2007

2. “Debate on [H.R. 1252], offered by Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak, D-Mich., will kick off Tuesday with a hearing in Stupak’s subcommittee. It is possible that an Energy and Commerce markup will follow. But Democratic leaders might opt to bring the bill up to the floor under suspension of House rules by Wednesday.”
Excerpted from National Journal’s Congress Daily, Monday, May 21, 2007

3. “Lawmaker Links Gas Prices to Investments,” Houston Chronicle, May 16, 2007 http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/fn/4810598.html

4. “As Gas Prices Rise Again, Democrats Blame Big Oil,” Washington Post, May 11, 2007 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=2591&id=10387-7015053-oeq6HW&t=7

5. “Lawmaker Links Gas Prices to Investments,” Houston Chronicle, May 16, 2007 http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/fn/4810598.html

6. “Lawmakers’ blood pressure rises with prices at the pump,” TheHill.com, May 17, 2007 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=2586&id=10387-7015053-oeq6HW&t=8

California High Speed Rail Now! 28 March 2007

Posted by Todd in Commentary, Environment, Urban Planning.
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