How Do Authorities and Businesses Protect the Air from Pollution?

Air Pollution

When most people think of the environment, pollution and the air around us, they think about all of the carbon dioxide that’s being released into the atmosphere – the gas, which will continue to contribute heavily to climate change for a very long time to come. What many people forget about however, particularly recently, is that the other chemicals and particles released by our consuming of resources can also pose a very significant threat. This one can be more direct too; physically causing harm to those that breathe it in large or even potentially small quantities. While switching off the lights when you don’t need them is one of the ways you at home are helping to reduce energy consumption and therefore emissions, what is it that governments and large businesses are doing to combat this increasingly important issue?

Government initiatives and incentives

For governments the world over, this is all about money, and some may argue that this is the best way of reducing those pollutants in the air – not new and fancy technology, but cold hard cash. Those individuals and businesses that cause the most pollution are heavily targeted by taxes, levies and charges to discourage them from producing lots of harmful gases and particles, and incentive them to find a better way of doing things. This is beginning to move down the chain even to the consumer level as we become more and more aware of the damage that air pollution can cause. In some Chinese cities for instance, where the smog is at its worst, respiratory diseases are some of the biggest causes of death.

Diesel cars and trucks are in fact one of the big contributors, pumping huge quantities of dangerous particles into the air, and as a result, there are many places where charges are being made to those that drive diesel cars in heavily urbanised areas such as city centres.

Corporate responsibility to the environment

Of course, discouraging people from creating the pollutants in the first place is only one half of the challenge. On the business side of things, they want to continue their normal operations, but through methods that pollute the air less. This means using technologies that attempt to cut out the harmful chemicals and particles before they’re released into the atmosphere. There are many such methods, depending on what exactly needs to be removed from the exhaust gases. As an example, if the danger is an organic particle, then thermal oxidisers are the best way of prepping the gases before they escape into the atmosphere.

The answer to solving the issues of air pollution is threefold. At home, we must be aware of what we’re doing and consuming that might cause the release of harmful pollutants, businesses must work on technologies to make their operations more efficient, and governments and authorities have to continue the discouraging of pollution, and the incentive of finding solutions to the problem.

Water, Water Everywhere but Not a Drop to Drink

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As we here at the homestead move through the summer being very careful to ration our water usage due to the cracked cistern, it’s not hard to see how it’s not just our bad farming practices that waste and pollute the earth’s water supplies, it’s also ourselves. Why doesn’t everyone have low-flow toilets and showers by now? Why doesn’t everyone use a flow meter to track how much water they are consuming? Why do we still fill big bathtubs high for lengthy soaks when a few inches of water would do the job of washing away the grime just fine? Why do we insist on those ridiculous manicured lawns that serve no purpose at all, when a nice veggie or flower garden would be much more inviting, and local, well-acclimated wild plants would make for a much more interesting landscape?

Serious shortages of fresh potable water across entire regions of the Middle East, Africa, central and south Asia have long been in the news as conditions grow worse with the advent of global warming. Extended droughts have caused increasingly destructive wildfires in Australia, Russia and here in the United States, where fires so far this year in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas have charred millions of acres of land.

To get a picture of how bad the situation is getting – and how agricultural policies, municipal waste and unsustainable consumption levels affect the clean water we Americans tend to take for granted, consider the fact that the mighty Colorado River no longer flows to the sea because every drop is diverted along the way. Running 1,450 miles through seven U.S. states and two Mexican states, the river and its tributaries have been impounded by 20 dams along its length to provide water to cities in the parched southwest and water for irrigation, golf courses, desert green-spaces and such. Some researchers are saying that Lake Mead, the source of water for 22 million people, may be dry by 2012.

Watercrisis

With the human population growing at an increasingly unsustainable rate, irrigation for growing crops around the world has also increased by millions of hectares, more than doubling from less than 150 million to 300+ million hectares since 1960. As the climate changes more rain will fall in some places while other places turn to desert, and no one seems to be paying enough attention to our bad agricultural practices and lousy dietary choices that pretend clean water is something we can all take for granted forever. It’s not just the fabled Colorado that is running dry – China’s Yellow River, which used to flood so severely every year that my childhood never saw a year when hundreds of thousands of people weren’t drowned, no longer reaches the sea and has been known to go completely dry. One of the two rivers that feed the Aral Sea is now completely dry for part of every year, even as the Aral itself shrinks alarmingly.

Lake Chad in central Africa has shrunk by 95% in the last 40 years, and the Punjab region of India is facing a vastly diminished water table, as is our own Great Plains breadbasket region as the vast Ogallala Aquifer is drained steadily to irrigate genetically engineered crops used to feed livestock raised in unhealthy CAFOs for meat rather than human beings.

As we here at the homestead move through the summer being very careful to ration our water usage due to the cracked cistern, it’s not hard to see how it’s not just our bad farming practices that waste and pollute the earth’s water supplies, it’s also ourselves. Why doesn’t everyone have low-flow toilets and showers by now? Why do we still fill big bathtubs high for lengthy soaks when a few inches of water would do the job of washing away the grime just fine? Why do we insist on those ridiculous manicured lawns that serve no purpose at all, when a nice veggie or flower garden would be much more inviting, and local, well-acclimated wild plants would make for a much more interesting landscape?

UK’s Independent published an article citing details of the World Water Development Report released this week, and the outlook isn’t good. Right now 1.1 billion people lack access to clean water, and nearly 2 and a half billion lack proper sanitation. Inertia among the world’s political leaders means that necessary efforts for conservation aren’t even starting despite the ever worsening situation. The projection is that by the middle of this century at least 7 billion people in 60 countries will face water scarcity. This adds up to hunger, disease and death.

What little fresh water the planet does have is being polluted unmercifully. Much pollution comes from chemically dependent agriculture, but in our haste to exploit energy sources the practice of fracking for natural gas is shocking in its gross disregard for environmental preservation. In some places water coming out of taps actually burns, and the chemical stews used in the process don’t even have to be reported for toxicity. The pollution is so shocking that the state of New Jersey this month passed a statewide ban on franking in order to protect their water supplies. Pennsylvania is considering its own ban, and more states are sure to follow.

At present more than 1,100 U.S. counties face water scarcity issues. That’s a third of all counties in the contiguous 48 – this is a very, very serious situation we should all be paying attention to. For homesteaders out here working hard to become as self-sufficient as possible, we might well begin to consider our own water supplies to be the most valuable natural resource of all in our efforts to protect and defend the land and our chosen way of life.

I know that our current water troubles here on my own homestead have certainly made me more aware of just how precious this resource really is, even though I do not irrigate my crops at all because there is no shortage of rainfall in these Great Smoky Mountains. I have been following the various models for projecting what is to occur as the climate changes, and have been somewhat gratified to see that while we can expect up to 4 degrees overall rise in annual temperature means, we are slated to also get about 4 inches more rain every year. I can always plant peaches, figs and pecans in the orchard if it gets too warm for good apples and pears, grow more watermelons and pumpkins for market. But ensuring the purity and continued flow of water through my land must become a passion that I’m as willing to pursue as my lobbying against GMOs to neighboring farmers in order to protect the value of my organic crops.

They attempted a couple of years ago to carve out sections of the National Forest we abut, so developers could create fancy log McMansion gated communities for wealthy people’s vacation comfort. These developments had carte blanche to divert the natural mountain streams that drain the eastern side of the divide for their own lakes and golf courses and such, which would discharge chemicals along with their sewage back into the streams uphill of us that then flow through my property. Every conservation group in the region got together, and with help from us landowners lobbied hard to the federal agencies who thought they could sell portions of our collective natural heritage to rich people just because there was lots of money involved. The very best thing to come out of the nationwide financial collapse – and real estate bust – was that this plan got shelved when nobody was buying. Though we are watchful, because once things pick up again they’ll be right back to buying up tracts of National Forest for their own amusement and dumping their waste on us.

This can happen anywhere there are state and federal lands, way too close to our beloved little plots of land we cherish so much. Even during times of economic distress like the current Great Recession bureaucrats may be moved to sell the water and mineral rights to irresponsible corporate interests for exploitation, and our water woes will get steadily worse. Look around closely at what’s happening in your state and area, and get involved with the conservation groups that are fighting this rape of the land and water. Don’t feel safe just because you no longer live in a city, or because your land abuts set-aside tracts of wilderness. We homesteaders must get active to protect it all, or one of these days we’ll wake up and it will all be gone.

Desperate for Fossil Fuels: King Coal

Now Destroying Mountains Once Merely Raped

Patriot Coal,I spent a lot of time in Eastern Kentucky growing up, it’s where my paternal grandparents, Aunt and cousins lived and where we spent vacations no matter where else in the country (or elsewhere) we were living at the time (Navy brat). I’ve no more relatives there, the last of them died a decade ago and none of us siblings chose to live there for raising our own families or even retiring in our old age.

I do recall several very nasty UMW strikes in the mining region around Harlan, and I recall the black moonscape on the Green River near Paducah’s western shipping point that stretched as far as the eye could see in all directions, the coal tailings having turned a lovely rolling greenscape into utterly depressing nothing. I also recall learning to shoot my father’s beautiful pearl-handled six-guns at the abandoned strip mine near Laurel, and one touristy adventure in a no longer operating underground mine where we rode through in one of those little coal rail cars as if it were an amusement park ride.

These days they do things a little differently, as the deep seams get harder to work (and miners become more rare, having been decimated by Black Lung) and the easy seams have all been stripped. Now they’re going for the mid-seams, the last of the stored coal, by simply blowing up the entire mountain to get to it.

It’s called Mountaintop Removal mining, and it’s utterly devastating the southern Appalachians in the traditional coal mining regions of Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. It’s a horror even worse than Mister Peabody’s tailings outside Paducah. It’s destroyed ~500 whole mountains so far, it’s polluting mountain streams that contribute to the primary water supplies for millions of people downstream, and it’s killing the abundant biodiversity these mountains are so very famous for. Most of all, for those of us who dearly love these gorgeous mountains, it’s very, very tragic. Some of the mines are as big as the Island of Manhattan.

map

When growing up with strong ties to Kentucky, I learned from my Aunt – a state social worker – that King Coal was an “economic boom” to the people who traditionally made their means by doing things for themselves with what the mountains provided. Yet what I saw was crushing poverty, Black Lung, and a hopeless generation of young people who couldn’t wait to get as far away from their family’s traditional homesteads as possible. It’s not like the miners and their families got any of the great wealth King Coal brought to the mining companies, their stockholders and the industrial consumers of the coal taken out of their ground.

When my family determined to move back to the land 16 years ago to see if we could re-invent self-sufficiency and commune with nature instead of a million-plus other humans in immediate proximity, we chose Western North Carolina instead of Kentucky. Or Tennessee. Or West Virginia, or even Virginia (the most perfectly beautiful and well-maintained state in the union, IMO). We chose it for being Appalachia and beautiful (tourism is our largest industry), for more sophisticated residents and politics, for then-reasonable land prices, and for not being enslaved to King Coal.

movementBut alas, this is the land of Duke Energy, and a thriving piedmont and coast full of large energy consumers. Turns out that North Carolina is the #1 consumer of coal mined by means of Mountaintop Removal. Thus I was greatly pleased when the NC State Legislature introduced a bill in May of 2008 to ban the use of coal mined by this method within the borders of our beautiful state!

There will be a lengthy legislative fight over the bill, but hope in the very fact that we did get a law back in 1983 banning development on high ridge lines – thereby destroying the mountain views from which a majority of residents make their living. Because the mountains are a gold mine simply for their beauty, there is strong incentive to keep them beautiful.

I realize that many or most of my readers don’t live in these mountains, but any of us who love the land and work hard to make our way lightly on this earth should get to know about how desperate the corporate evil-doers are to squeeze (and blast) the very last drop of profit from the earth, not caring how much irrevocable damage they do to it in the process. Educate yourself about the issue by perusing some of the great links below. Write to your state and federal representatives about your concerns, talk to activists about how to ban the burning of this ill-gotten coal in your state, and support some of these efforts to save the mountains. Please!

If there is no market for this coal, King Coal has no reason to destroy the mountains.

Links:

WattHead: Taking Mountain Top Removal On
Appalachian Voices: Geography of Mountaintop Removal
iLoveMountains: Mountaintop Removal
DKos: Mountain Mondays v 1.0
RAN: Bringing the Climate Fight to King Coal
Southern Environmental Law Center: Mountaintop Removal [TN]
NYT: Ravaging Appalachia
Stop Mountaintop Removal

“Protect America’s Pollinators Act”

H.R. 2692; 2013

Honey bees: About those neonics
Honey bees: About those neonics
The extermination of our priceless honeybees is proceeding apace, with devastating ramifications. Back when CCD – [Colony Collapse Disorder] first hit the news in 2006/7, it was reported that we were losing a third of our honey bee colonies every year [33%]. Today that figure it up to 45.1%, nearly half.

Many causes have been proposed over the years, and scientists with the USDA have been looking into four general categories to try and discern the most prevalent cause. Those are listed as:

1. Pathogens – Scientists are looking at Nosema (a pathogenic gut fungi) and Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus, amog other likely culprits. So far it does not appear that there is any one pathogen responsible for the majority of losses, although there does seem to be a higher viral and bacterial load in affected colonies.

2. Parasites – Varroa mites are often found in honey bee colonies affected by CCD. It is not known if the mites are directly involved or if the viruses that Varroa mites transmit are a significant factor in causing CCD.

3. Management Stressors – Among the management stressors that may contribute to CCD are poor nutrition due to apiary overcrowding and increased migratory stress brought on through transporting the colonies to multiple locations during the pollination season.

4. Environmental Stressors – These include the impact of pollen/nector scarcity, lack of diversity in nector/pollen, availability of only pollen/nectar with low nutritional value, and accidental or intentional exposure to pesticides at lethal or sub-lethal levels.

USDA colony surveys have revealed no consistent pattern in pesticide levels between healthy and CCD-affected colonies, and the most common pesticide found was coumaphos, which is used to treat Varroa mites.

A very good article by Tom Philpott for Mother Jones last month explains what, exactly, the scientists are looking at, and why they feel it’s a combination of environmental and bacterial, viral and fungal infections as well as the pesticides used to control them that are at fault in the CCD disaster.

Unwilling to wait for the government scientists to come up with definitive causes for CCD before acting to protect the bees, the U.S. House of Representatives is now considering an action bill, H.R. 2692: Protect America’s Pollenators Act of 2013. The bill is sponsored by Democratic congressman John Conyers of Michigan, and boasts 17 co-sponsors. It directs the administrator of the EPA (not the USDA) to take certain actions related to pesticides. Including neonicotinoid insecticides, a relatively new class of pesticides powerful enough to kill a songbird with just the amount coating a single kernel of corn.

Earlier in the year the European Food Safety Authority determined that the most widely used “neonic” pesticides pose unacceptable hazards to bees, so the European Union has suspected their use entirely on open-grown agricultural crops. But as hinted above in the ability to kill birds, neonics present clear and present dangers to other pollinating insects and beneficial insects like ladybugs and praying mantises. I have been unable to find information on neonic toxicity to hummingbirds and various species of butterfly, but if they can kill songbirds and ladybugs, neonicotinoids certainly seem like a strong suspect.

CCD should concern us all as homesteaders, happy rural dwellers, and as regular citizens. A full third of our food supply relies upon bees for pollination. Please call or write to your Congresscritter today and let him/her know that this is important to you and all your neighbors, urge them to vote for the bill.

The Last Mountain: A Call to Action

The Last Mountain is a new documentary film detailing the gross environmental destruction of mountaintop removal [MTR] coal mining, featuring interviews with some of the activists most involved in trying to save the beautiful Appalachian mountains from King Coal.

the-last-mountain-movie

The subject of MTR has been covered previously on this blog in a number of posts, including EPA Halts MTR Permits for Review, with information about EPA administrator Lisa Jackson’s attempt to slow the destruction – a task that has been less than successful due to the power of King Coal. Old King Coal vs. Reality talks about some of the legislative actions attempted by states impacted by MTR to prevent the continued destruction of mountains and entire watersheds – which have also been less than successful. Old King Coal, a Filthy Old Soul described some of the environmental horrors being visited upon the land, water and people of the Appalachian highlands by a coal mining method that has succeeded in eliminating 40,000 jobs for those same people while burying more than 2,000 miles of once pure mountain streams and flattening 500 mountains.

The film’s fine website includes links and outlines of ways you can help end mountaintop removal mining, something people even well outside the Appalachian region should support. We must not allow these most ancient and abundant mountains on earth to be utterly destroyed to serve the bottom line of criminal enterprises like Massey Energy – which racked up more than 60,000 environmental violations between 2000 and 2006 and criminal charges for violations leading to the explosion at its Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia that killed 29 miners in 2008.

It’s not easy to stand against King Coal. Just in the last two years more than 200 people have been arrested in civil disobedience protests just in West Virginia and Kentucky, two states that are suffering the bulk of destruction and the loss of more than a million acres of forest and dozens of towns. This extreme form of coal extraction has turned the coal fields of eastern Kentucky, West Virginia, eastern Tennessee and southwest Virginia into a moonscape of barren, toxic wasteland. What needs to happen, and needs to happen soon, is for so many people to make a stand that the unholy alliance of King Coal, state politicians on the take and law enforcement are forced to step aside.

Please see this film. Arrange a showing (can be done through the website) and invite all your friends and neighbors, maybe your co-workers and boss. Join or support some of the alliance groups that have supported the production of The Last Mountain. Some of these are listed and linked below.

If the Appalachians are destroyed for their coal thousands of homesteads will be destroyed along with them, along with the loving work all those homesteaders did to develop their little pieces of heaven on earth for themselves, their families, and all of us who are making the same effort in our own lives, wherever we are doing it. We all must stand with the people of Appalachia against the forces of destruction-for-profit. Thanks, Homesteaders! Let’s get together and end this outrage now, not later!

Alliance Links:

Appalachian Voices
I Love Mountains
Coal River Mountain Watch
Natural Resources Defense Council
Sierra Club
Waterkeeper Alliance
CREDO Action
Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition