Monday, November 28, 2005


Britain's coal industry could enjoy a resurgence with new mines created and existing pits re-opened in an effort to tackle the country's deepening energy crisis. A return to coal mining on a large scale has been put forward as a way of responding to Britain's growing demand for power and the soaring price of natural gas. The country's precarious energy provisions have been thrown into sharp relief this winter with fears that gas supply will not meet demand. And a greater reliance on coal is already being considered by the Government, which has pumped money into "clean coal" technologies to find ways of reducing pollution when coal is burnt.

Yesterday, Andrew Davies, the economic development minister for the Welsh Assembly, claimed the idea could mean a new era for Britain's mines. He said: "We have very limited stocks of oil and gas yet we have hundreds of years' worth of known coal reserves right on our doorstep. "Now that the value of coal has risen it's becoming a viable option again," Mr Davies added. "If it continues, then in five or 10 years we could have old mines reopened and new ones, too."

Currently, a third of all electricity generated in the country is obtained from coal-fired power stations, which burn 50 million tons each year. Twenty million tons are mined from eight deep mines in England and Wales plus a handful of smaller, open-cast operations. The remainder is imported. At the start of the 1980s, 219 mines were operational in Britain. By 1984, with cheaper imported coal available, the National Coal Board announced the closure of 20 pits it considered uneconomical. The closures prompted a bitter and protracted miners' strike and was followed by further wholesale pit closures.

But now a new mine could soon open at Margam in South Wales, where rising fuel prices have forced the steel giant Corus to consider extracting coking coal for use at its plant at Port Talbot. A spokesman for Corus said: "We are looking into the viability of opening a mine at Margam because our import costs have been going up. Coal prices have increased by 100 per cent in the last year." If the initiative goes ahead, Margam will be the first new pit to open in Britain since Asfordby, in Leicestershire, which opened in 1995 but closed two years later because of problems excavating the coal made it uneconomical to run.

The cost of opening a new mine could be up to œ500 million and the investment needed to bring a closed mine back into production would be almost as high. An announcement about the Government's future energy plans is expected this week yet already there are indications that a return to coal could be given the go-ahead. The Government has recently invested œ25 million in "clean coal" technologies, including plans to store carbon dioxide, which is produced when coal is burnt, under the North Sea.

Nigel Yaxley, the marketing director for UK Coal, Britain's biggest pit owner, said: "The price of coal has doubled in the last year so coal mined here is now competitive with imported coal, but the stumbling block is investment." A spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry said yesterday: "We are keen on cleaner use of fossil fuels and have invested in that sort of technology. "We have invested in the coal industry where there has been commercially viable proposals."



Is having a child -- even one -- environmentally destructive? Let's hope lots of Greenies think so. It would do no harm for all such simplistic thinkers to die out -- while the rest of us continue to have ever-better lives

"We can't be breeding right now," says Les Knight. "It's obvious that the intentional creation of another [human being] by anyone anywhere can't be justified today." Knight is the founder of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, an informal network of people dedicated to phasing out the human race in the interest of the health of the Earth. Knight, whose convictions led him to get a vasectomy in the 1970s, when he was 25, believes that the human race is inherently dangerous to the planet and inevitably creates an unsustainable situation. "As long as there's one breeding couple," he says cheerfully, "we're in danger of being right back here again. Wherever humans live, not much else lives. It isn't that we're evil and want to kill everything -- it's just how we live."

Knight's position might sound extreme at first blush, but there's an undeniable logic to it: Human activities -- from development to travel, from farming to just turning on the lights at night -- are damaging the biosphere. More people means more damage. So if fewer people means less destruction, wouldn't no people at all be the best solution for the planet? I've been thinking about this a lot lately because my wife and I have been talking about having a child. We're the kind of people who reduce, reuse and recycle. We try hard not to needlessly fritter away resources. We think globally and act locally in our day-to-day decisions. So while the biggest quandary of most couples in our shoes might be what color to paint the nursery, we have to ask ourselves, Is the impact of a new person justified?

The problem is stark: The United Nations estimates that the human population, currently at 6.5 billion, is well on its way to 9.1 billion in 2050. Many estimates place a sustainable population in which most of the people on Earth are able to enjoy their lives at between one and two billion. By nearly every measure -- pollution, carbon emissions, forest loss, fishery depletion, soil fertility, water availability and others -- the growing population is wreaking havoc on the Earth's systems. And it's setting our civilization up for a big, hard fall.

As it is, even with my vegan diet, avid bicycling, recycling and energy-conservation measures, if everyone on the planet lived the way I do, we'd need three more Earths. As far as I know, they aren't making any more of these. Meanwhile, almost 16,000 humans are born each hour. Regardless of the merits of reducing the population to nil -- as Knight advocates -- it's pretty clear that the world could do without any additional people.

Certainly without more Americans. In 1994, Charles Hall, an ecologist at SUNY Syracuse, performed a life- cycle analysis of the average American (PDF file) by determining each person's lifetime share of the nation's total consumption of various resources. It's the kind of study usually undertaken for assessing the impacts of a new product or policy, and the results are unsettling. Hall and his colleagues found that a single new American born in the 1990s will be responsible, over his or her life, for 22 million pounds of liquid waste and 2.2 million pounds each of solid waste and atmospheric waste. He or she will have a lifetime consumption of 4,000 barrels of oil, 1.5 million pounds of minerals and 62,000 pounds of animal products that will entail the slaughter of 2,000 animals. "In terms of energy usage alone, [which is] a convenient measure of environmental impact," Knight says, "the average Ethiopian uses one 310th of what we use. So when an American couple stops at two kids it's like an Ethiopian couple stopping at 620."

According to Knight, there are other ways people can have kids in their lives. "Adoption, foster-parenting, step-parenting -- there are a lot of opportunities for people who really do want to get involved with children." Knight himself is a substitute high school teacher in Portland, as befits his patient but forcefully clear demeanor. Knight takes care to point out that VHEMT isn't anti- child. Many of its members are parents. Some of its members are children. In many ways, the idea of reducing the world's population is as much about human quality of life as it is about the health of the planet. "May we live long and die out," says Naomi Thompson, quoting the VHEMT slogan. Thompson, who is in her late 20s and works as an analyst for Wells Fargo in San Francisco, has also concluded that childbearing is irresponsible. "It's not about wanting to kill people, but it's selfish to have a kid at this point when so many aren't getting the love and attention that they deserve." "I really do love kids," she continues. (Thompson and Knight say they were raised in large, happy families.) "I know it might seem odd for someone who really likes kids to have this stance on breeding -- women are mothering, nurturing people, and I definitely have that in me. But women in this society feel a lot of pressure to have babies, and I would like to see more people expressing that by adopting instead."

The question of having children gets to the heart of some of our most basic drives, a place where rationality can take us only so far. Though I can picture myself as a father, I just can't see myself adopting. I'm more like Mary and Mike Brune. The Alameda couple are longtime environmentalists. Mike Brune is executive director of the Rainforest Action Network, so he spends his entire workday thinking in excruciating detail about just how much trouble the planet is in. Like most environmentalists -- even most Americans - - the Brunes have taken steps to reduce their environmental impact. "We certainly do as much as we can to limit our consumption," says Mike Brune. "We made sure we live near mass transit. We have one of the new Priuses. We buy organic food almost exclusively. We feel that it's very important to connect our personal values to all aspects of how we live: where we work, what we eat, what we buy."

But when, after six and a half years of marriage, it came time for the couple to consider a child, those strong personal values came up against an even stronger drive. "I understand rationally the argument for not having children -- I can see the point," says Mary Brune, a technical writer and, since becoming a mother, co- founder of Making Our Milk Safe, an organization that monitors industrial toxins in human milk (watch this space for more on that issue). "I've talked to friends who have made certain that they can't have children so they don't bring another person into the world," she continues. "But for us there's a real primal need to have a child. For me, personally, I had a desire to bear my own child." So they went for it: Their daughter Olivia is now 15 months old.

At RAN, Mike Brune works to transform some of the most powerful elements of our society, going after oil companies and banks to change the way they do business. He says that for him this kind of big-picture environmentalism doesn't translate to the personal decision of whether to have a child. "The goal here isn't for Safeway to have one aisle of organic food -- it's to get to a point where all food is produced in a healthy way," he says. "The same would be true of hybrid cars: We don't want Ford Motor Co. to just have a few hybrid vehicles, we want to have every vehicle nonpolluting." For Mike Brune, the choice to have a child is a personal, emotional one that sits apart from the systemic change he's working for.

But does approaching the issue as an emotional question hinder our ability to address population problems? VHEMT's Knight says there's a taboo against talking about population control in what he calls our "natalist" culture -- a barrier that has resulted in many environmental groups either not addressing population or doing so inadequately. "Nobody will come right out and say that this is unsustainable, you can't do this," says Knight. "If you really are serious about the environment and your impact, zero is the optimal number of offspring that we should be producing." But the Brunes are sanguine. "We brought a new person into the world," says Mary Brune, "and we hope that she'll be one more soldier on the front lines who's going to fight for the Earth when she grows up."

Knight says even if little Olivia becomes the "firecracker radical activist" her father hopes, it's going to be extremely difficult for her to overcome the environmental original sin she embodies. "I do think that if you added up a whole lifetime of one person, even living lightly," he says, "reproducing would bump you up into the Hummer-driver category." Rather than focus on raising new people in a certain way, says Knight, "if you instead help other people become the people that you think we all should be, you can have far more impact." "In light of the number of species going extinct because of our increase, and the tens of thousands of children dying every day from preventable causes, there's just no good reason to have a child," adds Knight. "We have to ignore all those children to create another one. It's like saying, 'Well, they just don't matter.' But they do matter: They're all children in the human family." But breeding is anything but rational, which is why I'm having such a hard time figuring out what to do. I'm a pessimistic optimist, or maybe an optimistic pessimist. But that kind of nuance doesn't wash when it comes to raising a kid -- either you do it or you don't. Nothing could be more hardwired: Every single one of our ancestors, dating back billions of years, has successfully reproduced -- it's the essence of what living things do. It really comes down to whether you are an optimist about human nature. Having a kid is an implicit endorsement of the idea that it's possible to have a sustainable ecosystem that includes humans -- that it's possible to find a way out of the mess we've created. Knight doesn't think people can do it.

"Other than a few examples of tribal societies, we never have lived sustainably," he says. "We're so dangerously clever that we can become very civilized and industrialized and separate ourselves from nature. Most of the people who do live close to nature are just a hand ax and a shotgun away from starting on the slippery slope that leads to driving around and talking on cell phones." In many ways, it's an apples-and-oranges situation: The reasons not to breed -- stacked up next to the deep-seated biological and cultural satisfaction of having offspring -- can only illuminate the gulf between reason and emotion. It can't tell us which side of the gulf we'll spend the rest of our lives on -- only that we can't have it both ways. I still have no idea what we're going to do. At least by thinking about it and entering into it consciously or not at all, we're rising above mere biology and taking a real step toward overcoming the animal drives that are consuming the planet -- a step both Knight and the Brunes agree is important in the evolution of the human animal. "There's no end to the guilt you can feel as a parent, about everything as a person alive today," says Mary Brune. "But I'm grateful every day for being a mom and glad that she's here in our lives." But, she adds, maybe one is enough: "It is something to question if we should have another child. Adopting a child instead is definitely something to consider." Even Knight, in his oddly cheery brand of pessimism, thinks that the drive to breed may be insurmountable. "It's not too likely that the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement is going to succeed," he told me. "I don't think any of us are so naive as to think that 6.5 billion people are going to say, 'Yeah, let's stop breeding, this is great.' But it's still the right thing to do."



You could have fooled me! Calculating dubious savings into the distant future is no way to help get the poor into their own housing

City officials and others are recognizing that energy-efficient buildings, while they may cost a bit more to build, are far more affordable than traditional housing in the truest sense of the word. They cost less to operate and live in, and they provide tenants with a healthier atmosphere that can save on healthcare costs.

This fall, when reviewing certain grant proposals, New York City will start giving developers who want to build affordable housing "extra points" if builders pledge to incorporate green building principles. At the same time, Chicago is offering housing developers and apartment-building owners incentives if they build "green roofs," which are essentially roof gardens that help both insulate buildings better and improve overall air quality. And in Los Angeles, city officials have incorporated green standards into parts of the city's building code.

In the past year, the Enterprise Foundation, a leading provider of capital and expertise for the development of affordable housing, has helped start 77 green developments in 21 states, which will create more than 4,300 environmentally efficient homes for low-income families.

"If you just take the 4,300 homes in the pipeline right now, each year we will have $1.5 million of energy savings in those homes, more than 5,000 tons of reduced greenhouse-gas emissions per year, and 30 million gallons of reduced water use a year," says Bart Harvey, CEO of the Enterprise Foundation. "Those are remarkable savings, and they really reflect that the country needs to think and work in a different way: Green and affordable need to become synonymous."

The notion of green building is often associated with counterculture, leftist environmentalists of the 1960s and '70s. But during the past decade, green building principles have become increasingly incorporated into commercial buildings by corporations conscious of the bottom line. To encourage that trend, the US Green Building Council created the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a group that trains and certifies architects, builders, and designers.

More here

Activists Blocked New Orleans Levee Plan

A massive levee system, approved by President Lyndon Johnson and supported by the Army Corps of Engineers during the Carter administration, would have held back the flood waters from Hurricane Katrina and saved the city of New Orleans, scientists and engineers have concluded. The proposed levee system was abandoned after environmental activist groups sued to stop construction of the project.

The proposed levee system gained bipartisan support after Hurricane Betsy, a Category 2 hurricane, barreled into the Louisiana coast in 1965. Congress passed legislation authorizing the project, and Johnson signed the bill into law. In 1977, while the law was being implemented by the Carter administration, environmental activist groups obtained a court injunction to stop construction, arguing the levees would impede the flow of ocean water into Lake Pontchartrain and distress the lake's shrimp population. "If we had built the barriers, New Orleans would not be flooded," Joseph Towers, retired chief counsel for the Army Corps of Engineers New Orleans district, told the September 9 Los Angeles Times.

J. Bennett Johnston, a Democratic U.S. senator from Louisiana when the levee was approved by Congress and Johnson, agreed with Towers' assessment. "It would have prevented the huge storm tide that came into Lake Pontchartrain," Johnston told the Times. "My feeling was that saving human lives was more important than saving a percentage of shrimp and crab in Lake Pontchartrain," Towers told the Times. "I told my staff at the time that this judge had condemned the city. Some people said I was being a little dramatic."

Johannes Westerink, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Notre Dame, ran computer simulations of the Katrina storm surge, this time with the scuttled levee system in place, and concluded "it would have stopped that," according to the Times.

Save Our Wetlands (SOWL) led the opposition to the levee project. The activist group, which still raises significant money in pursuit of an extremist agenda, proudly proclaims on its Web site its role in scuttling the needed levees: "While politicians talk, SOWL sues! SOWL has been involved in countless lawsuits involving Lake Ponchartrain on every subject," including "New Orleans Mosquito Control Drainage schemes in wetlands of New Orleans East" and "Corps of Engineers Hurricane Barrier Project" ( "SOWL has always fought bitterly against the United States Army Corps of Engineers," the group's Web site boasts.

More here


Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

Global warming has taken the place of Communism as an absurdity that "liberals" will defend to the death regardless of the evidence showing its folly. Evidence never has mattered to real Leftists

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