Analytics

One of the nice things about WordPress, is that I can look at the data for my blog and see what entries people are clicking on, what countries they are from, what days of the week they visit, what search terms they use, what links they click, and more.  I can compare readership year over year and also tell if a single visitor went to more than one blog entry and such.  It is all anonymous, but interesting data to look at regardless.  Some of it does not align with what I would have expected, for instance the majority of the views I get are on Wednesdays which I found surprising since many of my posts are done on Thursdays or Fridays.  Some things make me laugh like when someone uses their browser to search for “my 2008 hummer is beeping” and they are directed to my humorous beeping bleeping hummer entry.  I am uncertain how the one person from Iceland, six in Russia, or seven from Saudi Arabia found my blog; but it is interesting to view the details from the map picture above regardless.  The most clicked on entry was in late December of 2016 and it was a satirical article, channeling my comedic desire to write for the Onion.  I think the provocative picture is really what prompted the clicks.

I sometimes think about what my audience might like to hear, but more often lately I am paralyzed with what to say.  There is so much ‘bad news’ on environmental topics in the U.S. lately that carving out a sliver of hope or positivity is difficult.  At the same time, drudging on and whining about what corrupt idiots are leading this nation is unsatisfying.  As ideas pop in to my head about topics, I add them to a list.  Below is a snip of some of those thoughts, please let me know if any of these or any other ideas are of interest to you.  Thank you!

  • The false dilemma, the economy or the environment
  • Whataboutism
  • The truth about water
  • Fracklahoma
  • Waste
  • Main Stream Media
  • Regrets
  • An interview with a climate change skeptic
  • Glacierless National Park
  • We all live downstream – NIMBY
  • Educating habits
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Dropping the A

Make America Great Again (MAGA) is a catchy phrase and one that if simply looking at the words seems like something everyone would want to support.  Like most things, the issue comes when you start looking at the specifics.  The word “Again” gives the impression of reverting to a previous time and opens itself up for numerous arguments about what timeline we are hoping to move back to and creates a natural issue of negating progress we as a country have made.  No matter the time in history that anyone would say is when America was best, there were large fundamental problems then which are improved now.  Was America great when women could not vote, when we had leaded gasoline and leaded paint, when no water and air protections existed, or when slavery existed?  No, it is better now in those and many other regards because of progress and innovation.  MAGA has its nostalgic merits, but when the conversation deepens most sane people would concede that the slogan should lose the A.  If our POTUS and his administration were to focus on just ‘Make America Great’, things would be a lot simpler and we could be moving forward to make more progress as opposed to moving backwards.

There are several ways that the “Again” is being implemented and reverting us, as opposed to moving us forward and helping us transform and modernize.  The Brooking Institute, Columbia, Harvard, and many others all track new, repealed, and modified rules and policies and I have leveraged some of their data to create a list of environmental changes and updates you might not even be aware of because we are too busy worrying about the countless scandals or offensive tweets of the day.

  • The social cost of carbon is an estimate of the monetized damages caused by a one-ton increase in greenhouse gas emissions in a given year. On March 28, 2017, POTUS issued an executive order which states that, when monetizing the value of changes in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from regulations, agencies should instead follow earlier guidance from September 2003.
  • In July 2015, the Department of the Interior (DoI) proposed the Stream Protection Rule, which required that land within 100 feet of a stream could not be disturbed by surface mining activities, including the dumping of mining waste.  Two days before that law was to take effect (1/19/2017), several coal producing states filed a lawsuit and shortly after resolution went through the house, senate, and was signed by POTUS nullifying the rule.
  • Among all industries regulated under the Clean Water Act, steam electric power plants contribute the greatest amount of toxic pollutants discharged to surface waters. The power plant water pollution rule establishes limits on the amount of toxic metals and other harmful pollutants that steam electric power plants are allowed to discharge into surface water. The rule was finalized in 2015 but new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced that the EPA would reconsider the rule and has delayed its implementation so they can revisit the impacts to industry.  Compliance dates for some of the more stringent portions of the rule dealing with flue-gas desulfurization wastewater and bottom ash transport waste, which both come from the burning of coal have been postponed.  The EPA is now being sued by several organizations regarding its lack of environmental protections.
  • A rule to improve the competency of certified pesticide applicators of restricted use pesticides was halted from going in to effect via executive order and the implementation delayed by Scott Pruitt as it did not promote agriculture and rural prosperity.
  • Corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards require vehicle manufacturers to achieve an average fuel efficiency over their fleet, or else pay a penalty. The rule was delayed indefinitely, pending reconsideration.
  • In February 2017, POTUS issued an executive order directing the Interior Secretary to review the oil and gas fracking rule, which requires disclosure of certain information by fracking companies to ensure adequate environmental protection. The Department of the Interior then proposed to rescind the rule, noting that it imposes burdensome reporting requirements and other unjustified costs on the oil and gas industry.
  • In March 2017, POTUS issued an executive order to reduce regulatory burdens related to energy production. In response to the order the DoI rescinded the oil, gas, and coal lease valuation rule, which sought to increase royalties paid to the federal government by companies extracting resources on public lands.
  • In June 2017 the EPA published a notice of its intent to extend their deadline for ensuring a portion of the Clean Air Act was being followed.  The specific rule is in regards to national ambient air quality standards for ozone and the EPA is supposed to identify areas of the country not meeting those standards in order to protect of public health.  In August of 2017, sixteen states filed lawsuits contesting the delay. In response, the EPA withdrew the extension.
  • The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act established a set of performance measures for state departments of transportation (DoTs) to use in assessing the performance of interstate highways in regard to, among other things, environmental sustainability. The greenhouse gas emissions measure requires state DoTs to establish targets and report on progress in reducing carbon dioxide emissions using this measure. In July 2017, several environmental groups sued the DoT for illegally suspending the greenhouse gas emissions measure, and in response, the DoT reinstated them.  A few days later, the DoT officially proposed to repeal the greenhouse gas measures.
  • Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable gas at room temperature that has a strong odor and is found in certain resins used in the manufacture of composite wood products, including plywood, fiberboard, and particleboard. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen that can cause cancer if inhaled. In September 2017, the EPA extended the compliance date for the formaldehyde emissions standards to December 2018.  The rule reduces exposure to formaldehyde during manufacture of certain wood products.
  • A rule requiring resource extraction issuers to disclose information about payments made to governments for the purposes of commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals was nullified in February 2017 by POTUS.  Advocates of the rule claimed that it prevented companies from bribing foreign governments and engaging in other forms of corruption. Detractors argued that the rule placed an excessive burden on companies.
  • A rule addressing mercury waste discharged from dental offices into publicly owned wastewater treatment plants was rescinded by the EPA in January 2017.  In February 2017, the National Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit, claiming the EPA could not rescind the rule absent a notice and comment period. In response to the suit, the EPA reinstated the rule in June 2017.
  • A rule to improve safety at facilities that use and distribute hazardous chemicals was put in place in response to an April 2013 explosion at the West Fertilizer facility in Texas.  In March 2017, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced he would delay the rule.  In July 2017, eleven states sued the EPA for delaying the rule.
  • The “Methane Rule” regulated the gas released into the atmosphere during oil and natural gas production through venting (the controlled release of gases into the atmosphere), flaring (the controlled burning of natural gas), and equipment leaks. In January 2017 House of Representatives passed a resolution to nullify the rule but it was then defeated in the Senate.  In March of 2017, POTUS signed an executive order and the department of Interior indefinitely suspending the requirements.
  • In August 2015, the EPA proposed new source performance standards (NSPS) for methane and volatile organic compounds to include several emission sources not covered by the current NSPS. These included fracking wells, which were required to use a process called “green completion” to recover natural gas during flowback. Oil and gas industry firms petitioned EPA and Scott Pruitt proposed extending the implementation of the standards for two more years.  Several environmental groups immediately sued and won and the updated NSPS standards are in place.
  • The goal of the Clean Power Plan (which was finalized in October of 2015) was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector, which is responsible for approximately 30 percent of America’s overall greenhouse gas emissions. In March 2017, POTUS issued an executive order directing the EPA to review the Clean Power Plan and the EPA has since proposed rescinding the plan.

The summary of the above detail is that if you want the EPA to enforce and protect your air, water, and land; you are likely going to have to sue them to get them to do so.  The second takeaway is that moving forward and progressing to a cleaner standard of living is up to us.  We cannot rely on our (U.S.) elected and appointed officials to do the right thing for humanity, they have prioritized profits over people and believe any environmental ‘ burdens’ on the most profitable industry in the world should be removed.    There has been a long existing myth that the only way to improve the environment is to negatively impact the economy and that is simply not true.  There are countless solutions, studies, and historic examples that say otherwise.  Having to decide if you want a sustainable planet or a strong economy is a false dilemma.

It is incredibly frustrating to see every other nation in the world moving forward while in the U.S. our leadership continues to promote, protect, and subsidize a dying industry with a finite amount of product that we know is doing us harm.  It is embarrassing to be represented by leaders who are so foolish and short sighted.  So, let’s remove the A.  Let’s Make America Great by transforming while economically flourishing.  The alternative is to fall behind and watch every other nation kick our asses on clean energy as their disdain for the U.S. grows.

Sustaining Changes

In my efforts to get healthier, I have changed some habits which are having positive results; most notably what and how much I eat.  It is clear that if I sustain these changes, it will continue to benefit me by reducing my likelihood of some diseases, making clothes shopping less depressing, and in aligning me closer to my self-image.  Making these changes has been a challenging endeavor which requires a heightened sense of consciousness to avoid falling in to old habits.  As an example, yesterday I went in to a gas station to say hello to a neighbor who works there and I needed to fight my urge to buy some junk food and a sugary beverage which is exactly what I used to do.  I browsed around the store and ended up buying a small pack of almonds and refilling my stainless steel water bottle.  As I drove home and ate my almonds, I thought they tasted delicious and that is one of the more notable things with my efforts, the foods I am eating taste better than they used to.  Some days I am tempted by unhealthy foods but mostly I do not miss them.  I miss the habits and situations that used to accompany them, so I am making new habits and new associations, ultimately re-training my brain which is an iterative process with it’s up and downs as you can see from my daily weigh ins above.  Some days I take a few steps up the down escalator but most importantly, the escalator has continued in the desired direction.

Today, Earth Day 2017, I was thinking about the importance of sustainable changes like the ones I making towards better health.  The mindset required for making more environmentally conscious decisions also requires a sense of consciousness and will require breaking some old habits.  This can mean different things to different people but what is one sustaining change that you can make to help improve the long term sustainability of our planet?  I am genuinely interested in your ideas and resisting my urge to list a plethora of examples / choices.

The human disposition

My wife recently discovered a lump on my body and a closer inspection found a second one. This was a concerning discovery and I scheduled a doctor’s appointment for later that week. In the days leading up to my appointment I had some internal angst, worried about cancer and various other potential issues. This got me to thinking more about death and I recalled a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency blog I had seen detailing options for ‘dying greener’.

Conventional funerals, burials, and cremations are typically not environmentally friendly. According to the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Minnesota, cemeteries across the U.S. each year bury 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid (includes formaldehyde), 2,700 tons of copper and bronze (caskets), 30 million board feet of hardwoods (caskets), 1,600,000 tons of reinforced concrete (vaults), and 14,000 tons of steel (vaults). Flame-based cremation is typically the best of the three traditional methods but is also energy intensive and little regard is given for the release of mercury and other emissions that come from the process.

Our traditional means of human disposal is not at the top of the list of environmental concerns, but like many things it presents an opportunity to improve. Over 10 years ago The Mayo Clinic created a process called Alkaline Hydrolysis as a means of disposing of cadavers more efficiently. Today that process is becoming more mainstream with progressive funeral homes offering it as a ‘green option’. It is sometimes called bio cremation, green cremation, or flameless cremation. The process places the deceased in to a steel cylinder that is filled with 95% water and 5% alkali which are heated to 350 degrees. This makes complete decomposition, which would normally take about 25 years, only take about 2-3 hours. The end result is nothing but some soft bone fragments and possibly mercury cavity fillings remaining, everything else is dissolved in to a sterile solution. Dexter Morgan could have really benefitted from having access to this technology.

At the doctor, my lumps ended up being nothing to be overly concerned about (lipoma, a benign body fat tumor). Regardless, it is good to know that when my time comes I can be taken to the Bradshaw Celebration of Life Center in Stillwater and boiled in to dust using less energy and emitting 75% less carbon than alternatives. I also saw a video about burial pods on my nieces Facebook feed recently. That is an interesting thought as well and could transform would be cemeteries in to forests.

Ikea revisited

In 2013 I blogged about (and tainted) Ikea for their lack of environmental sustainability. They recently joined a growing list of companies who are upstaging governments and have pledged over a billion dollars to help fight climate change and they are making numerous steps to improve their business practices which were previously lacking. Ikea Chief Sustainability Officer, Steve Howard, has been given the latitude to assemble a team to make real progress and improvements. The key to validating improvement on most things is to measure it, make educated decisions on where to apply effort, apply effort, and re-measure. That is the simplistic approach Howard is taking and he is the first to recognize it is an iterative process. He discussed this in part at his TED Talk.

Where some companies seem to talk sustainability for marketing purposes, Ikea’s commitment is genuine. In 2014, 42% of their total energy consumption came from renewables. With over 700,000 solar panels installed on Ikea buildings and a commitment to own and operate 224 wind turbines, they have quickly outpaced their competitors. They are well on pace with core things like water and energy conservation but more importantly have taken serious stock in obtaining materials from sustainable sources. In 2014, that was 41% of their wood and 75% of their cotton as examples. They are also shifting their portfolio of products to help home owners be more sustainable.

Recognizing that ‘A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step’, I hereby approve shopping at Ikea again if you are unable to re-purpose or salvage something.

Turning down the service

In the late 90’s or early 2000’s I took a work trip to Chicago and stayed at the Omni Hotel on Michigan Avenue. At that time the hotel was better known by the phrase “Guests of the Oprah Winfrey show stay at the all-suite Omni Hotel” which concluded each episode of Oprah. Fast forward ~15 years and a work trip brought me back to the Omni Hotel. The hotel truly is a luxury hotel in a great location and not too long ago it went through an $11M renovation. The public information about the renovation boasts about the upgraded public spaces, new guest and specialty suites, and a unique blend of modern and historical charm.

Returning to my room one evening is what first got my attention to their lack of sustainable practices. As I entered my room I found the TV on the relaxation channel, several lights on, the furnace on, and my ice bucket filled up. All of which had been off / empty when I left my room. It seems the turn down service attendant had followed protocol and prepared my room for me to turn in. Upon closer inspection I noticed that the lamps in the room all contained incandescent bulbs. It seems the $11M renovation did not include any modernizing of the room lighting. In hindsight, I should have done more research prior to booking my stay.

I reached out to the front desk and was told to leverage my do not disturb sign to avoid turn down service and was referred to the website for contacts to discuss sustainability practices further. I voiced my concerns respectfully to their leadership, asking them to consider making the turn down service an opt in practice. The next day I received a call saying that they would flag my account if I wanted and then would not change my bedding, towels, or turn down my room going forward if desired. I had them go ahead and do so, but the person on the phone was not the right resource to discuss the broader issue.

Most hotels these days have an Environmental Mission Statement and have instituted numerous things to help reduce energy consumption. Next time I will do more research first and likely stay at a Wyndham, Marriott, Starwood, InterContinental, Fairmont, or Hilton who are all more invested in environmental stewardship and sustainability. In a city as green as Chicago, where there are solar powered trash and recycling compactors on most blocks, the Omni hotel is a disappointment. Lastly, I should mention that the Omni Dallas made great investments while being built in order to achieve LEED certification; including capturing rain water for irrigation use, automated lighting and thermal controls, automated guest room energy management systems, water saving fixtures, low VOC products, recycled building materials, and more.

See something, Say something

The “If You See Something, Say Something” mantra became commonplace after 9/11 and there is still an active campaign by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which they licensed from the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The campaign includes signs stating this near airport entrances, public service announcements, partnerships with various agencies, and more. At the core of the DHS initiative is the idea that “It takes a community to protect a community. Informed, alert communities play a critical role in keeping our nation safe.” After watching a Frontline episode last night (American Terrorist) which outlined the story of David Headley and the failures of intelligence analysis to prevent the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the need for everyday citizens to speak up when something seems wrong is critical. Despite their best efforts, security agencies cannot effectively review the 3 million e-mails sent every minute and the countless other online communications to keep nations safe from terrorism. They require the help of everyday citizens to speak up.

At the start of today, I found myself very frustrated. It is Earth Day and the amount of fanfare and conversations about it seem very limited. Many folks I have encountered seem to have no knowledge of it and give it no more thought than National Candy Corn Day, Peculiar People Day, or Talk like Shakespeare Day. Yes, those are all real “days”. On the one hand it is sad that we need an Earth Day and that every day is not spent helping to better promote caring for the one planet we have. On the other hand, we will see an increase in some media coverage today regarding the importance of mitigating our use of fossil fuels which might spark some healthy dialogue. Unfortunately much of the media attention today thus far has been focused on the differing opinions and giving equal airtime to those opposed to action despite the overwhelming evidence that the time to act has been in hand for a long time. One example is president Obama giving an address on the importance of taking action while in the Florida Everglades today. The leading media outlets are busy talking about how the fossil fuel funded presidential nominees are responding and the uncertainty they feel there is on man’s impact to the warming planet. The story should be as simple as 13 of the 14 hottest years on record have occurred this century, the last global cold temperature record was in 1911, the greenhouse effect has been well understood for nearly 200 years, and more than 97% of peer reviewed papers on the subject agree that global warming is real and being caused by human activity. Global warming is not something to believe in or not believe in, it is a scientific explanation for the facts.

Part of my frustration stems from a lack of meaningful action being taken by society as a whole, or I should clarify, the frustration stems mostly from a lack of meaningful action being taken by the U.S. Working towards handing future generations a planet thriving and sustainable should be a core priority to be taking the lead on. Instead, we (the U.S.) consistently see profit margins and the economy taking priority over the environment. One recent example is the desire by some in Congress to turn over the federal public lands and national parks to states to manage. This includes a provision allowing the states to privatize the land for mining, drilling, and to sell portions to real estate companies in the name of economic progress. Sure, selling some of the northern Minnesota forests to a paper mill might create some jobs and additional tax revenue, but what if every state acted selfishly like this and did not consider the broader impacts? If we want economic benefits and a healthier planet, the answer is a carbon fee and dividend program which will help gradually shift us away from fossil fuels while not punishing taxpayers.

So on this Earth Day, let’s not lose sight of our moral, spiritual, and personal responsibility to care for this pale blue dot. We as a collective society need to do more of See something, Say something. There is a fine between bringing a concern forward and getting traction versus appearing like a crazy person. I have had various successes and failures in this area and have no doubt a few people I have engaged view me as radical, in part because my approach was not as respectful and articulate as it should have been. Implementing an environmental See something Say something campaign could be trying to get your local sports facility to recycle, getting your kids school to stop using polystyrene, or trying to get your company to investigate the ROI on installing solar panels where the typical ROI is now 7-10 years. Regardless of your passions, establishing a constructive dialog is usually the first step in making improvements so on this Earth Day and every day that follows; let’s not be afraid to use our voice.