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Obama Keystone Action a Veto not a Pledge 0


As we reported was likely, Congress’ passage of a bill to construct the Keystone XL Pipeline has proven to be symbolic. President Obama today vetoed the measure, an action more directed at protecting presidential authority than the environment.

The administration has long maintained that because the pipeline traverses the international border with Canada, approval rests with the executive branch not the Congress. A January 7 Statement of Administration Policy said such congressional action:

[S]eeks to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether cross border pipelines serve the national interest by authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline project prior to the completion of the Presidential Permitting process.

The New York Times reported today:

By saying no to the legislation, Mr. Obama retains the authority to make a final judgment on the pipeline on his own timeline. The White House has said the president would decide whether to allow the pipeline when all of the environmental and regulatory reviews are complete.

Said one tweet by 350.org, a prime opponent of the pipeline:

Today the President defended his right to make the final call on KXL. He can still approve, or reject it.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised a veto override vote by early March, but it is unlikely he has the necessary 2/3 majority.

Below is the full text of President Obama’s veto message:


I am returning herewith without my approval S. 1, the “Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act.”  Through this bill, the United States Congress attempts to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest.

The Presidential power to veto legislation is one I take seriously.  But I also take seriously my responsibility to the American people.  And because this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest — including our security, safety, and environment — it has earned my veto.


Virtual Reality by Andy Singer 0

Palmer Luckey, chief executive officer of Oculus, the virtual reality company Facebook bought for $2 billion in 2014, told The Guardian, “People are narcissists and they want people to see what they think are their amazing lives.”

Virtual Reality by Andy Singer. Via Cagle Cartoons. Used with permission

Virtual Reality by Andy Singer. Via Cagle Cartoons. Used with permission

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Andy Singer_smFrom Everydaycitizen.com: Andy Singer is a freelance artist whose work can be seen in publications like Z Magazine, The Funny Times, The Bay Monthly, and the Eugene Weekly, Andy Singer’s comic “No Exit is a surreal cartoon that offers an incisive critique of the values that underlie our present consumer society. He has two cartoon collections: Attitude Featuring: Andy Singer ‘No Exit published in 2004 by Nantier, Beal and Minoustchine; and CARToons, cowritten with Randy Ghent, published in 2001. Andy Singer holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and a Bachelor of Arts in art history from Cornell University.

For Andy Singer’s website follow this link.

For an interview with Andy Singer follow this link to Everydaycitizen.com.

W.V. Oil Train Derailment: Worry Closer to Reality on the Hudson 0

Overnight, the fireball of the West Virginia oil train derailment alongside the Kanawha River gave fresh credence to year-old demands by Hudson River environmentalists for greater controls over the “virtual pipeline” of crude oil traveling by freight rail through the Hudson and Mohawk River valleys.

The environmental organization Riverkeeper wrote in a February 18 statement:

Every year, billions of gallons of oil move through states like New York – over crumbling bridges, through pristine ecosystems, and alongside schools and businesses. New federal safety rules for the surging industry of rail shipment of crude oil are due out this May – months after they were originally slated to be published. But the plan is riddled with loopholes, and the most obvious step – taking the worst-designed, most dangerous rail cars out of service – wouldn’t happen for years.

In West Virginia, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency. Up to 300 people were evacuated, the public water supply was shut off due to contamination, a home was destroyed and oil spilled into the Kanawha and tributaries.

The consequences of a derailment along the Hudson could be eerily similar. The freight line runs through densely populated areas and critical environmental habitat, and the communities of Poughkeepsie, Lloyd, Port Ewen and Rhinecliff depend on the river for their water supply.

Riverkeeper has called upon the State of New York to suspend all oil rail traffic headed to the Hudson River Port of Albany and require a formal environmental impact review and statement prior to resumption.

In addition,  it has demanded that the U.S. Secretary of Transportation:

  • Institutes a speed limit, taking into account rail conditions, environmental and public health risks, and community vulnerabilities, that protects the public.
  • Limits the length of these trains, as Riverkeeper and the Center for Biological Diversity requested last year, in order to limit the devastation which could result from the next rail disaster.
  • Prohibits the use of the 23,000 tank cars identified by the NTSB and PHMSA as being the most vulnerable and least resilient tank cars on the rails. These “worst” tank cars – which include both CPC-1232s and DOT-111s – should not be permitted for use in hauling any other hazardous liquids (such as tar sands crude oil).
  • Requires that railroads immediately develop comprehensive spill response plans keyed geographically to each county through which these trains travel. Such plans are required for vessels carrying crude oil, but not for trains – an unacceptable loophole that needs to be closed.

For a full listing of Riverkeeper comments on crude oil transport by rail follow this link.

Sentient Being by Rainer Hachfeld 0

On January 28, the French National Assembly voted to change the status of animals from “furniture” to “sentient beings,” a long overdue reform of a policy that dates to Napoleonic timesMore from RT.com.

Sentient Being by Reiner Hachfeld. Via Cagle Cartoons. Used with permission

Sentient Being by Reiner Hachfeld. Via Cagle Cartoons. Used with permission

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rainer_hachfeld_072_smRainer Hachfeld was born in Ludwigshafen in 1939. He is a German playwright and political cartoonist. Having studied art in Berlin, he began his career as a caricaturist in Spandauer Volksblatt in 1966, and then in EXTRA-Blatt. He has also contributed to Stern and Der Abend. Since 1990, he has worked with the socialist daily Neues Deutschland.

Local Polystyrene Ban Brings American Chemistry Council to Putnam County, NY 0

While I was en route to hear the American Chemistry Council argue against a proposed ban on polystyrene in Putnam County, NY, National Public Radio broadcast a story about Jenna Jambeck of the University of Georgia whose study, published this week in Science, calculates the amount of plastic that enters the oceans annually:


Styrofoam (polystyrene) crumbles easily, as anyone who has played with some knows. Eventually it will crumble into nanoparticles of one ten millionth of an inch that are dangerous to fish life.

“In 2010 there were 8 million metric tons of plastic entering the ocean globally,” she says. That’s plastic bottles, candy wrappers, laundry baskets, synthetic rope, and syringes. According to Jambeck’s calculations, that’s like putting five bags of plastic trash on every foot of coastline in the world.


“If you have waste that’s free in the environment, on the land mass that’s in close proximity to the ocean,” she explains, “it’s going to be blown or be washed into the ocean. It also could be washed into rivers and then flow from there.”

Also part of that waste load are polystyrene products, such as clamshells, coffee cups, and “peanuts” used for packing material — items we most often refer to as Styrofoam®, though that is a trademarked term of  the Dow Chemical Company. This “plastic tsunami,” as NPR called it, is an issue of worldwide concern, tackled mostly by local governments.

Michael Levy, director of the Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group of the American Chemistry Council, travels far and wide to defend the polystyrene industry. No community is too small for him to make his case. Any town could tip the balance toward a regional or statewide avalanche of prohibitions and regulations.

Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra, is passionately leading the ban effort in Putnam, the third smallest county in physical size in New York State outside New York City. In fact, 81% of the nation’s counties are larger. So small is Putnam, or so large is ACC, their budgets are comparable, though ACC reaps its revenues from a relative handful of chemical companies compared to the number of Putnam County taxpayers.

Putnam County Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra. Via PutnamCountyNY.com

Putnam County Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra. Via PutnamCountyNY.com

Some comparisons:

The annual budget of Putnam County is $145,460,348.00, with a population of 99,645. County Executive MaryEllen Odell is paid $148,635. County Legislator Scuccimara is paid $35,136. (See: Putnam County 2015 Budget)

The annual budget of the American Chemistry Council is $121,261,865 with a membership of 150. President and CEO Calvin Dooley is paid $2,627,921. Michael Levy is paid $308,126. (See: ACC 2013 IRS Filing)

For now, if implemented, the proposed county ban  will only pertain to county facilities — a further measure of how determined Levy is to use ACC’s considerable resources to head off opposition, no matter how small. Importantly, Scuccimara’s district covers the western side of the county embracing the tidal Hudson, a major estuary that interacts constantly with the Atlantic. During the last two decades, the river has seen a significant increase in plastic waste on its beaches, embayments, inlets and marinas.

Levy arrived in Putnam fresh from a major defeat at the hands of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who announced, over Levy’s objections and $1 million dollar lobbying effort:

[A]s of July 1, 2015, food service establishments, stores and manufacturers may not possess, sell, or offer for use single service Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam articles or polystyrene loose fill packaging, such as “packing peanuts” in New York City.

Happy woman holds polystyrene cup. Via American Chemistry Council

Happy woman holds polystyrene cup. Via American Chemistry Council

Last Thursday, Levy argued his case to Putnam’s Rules, Enactments & Intergovernmental Relations Committee. He said that polystyrene is non-toxic, more climate-friendly than paper, and takes up less space in landfills than most waste. It is not difficult to find evidence that contradicts each of his claims, such as a Harvard University fact sheet that also concludes:

Over 100 US and Canadian, as well as some European and Asian cities, have banned polystyrene food packaging as a result of the negative impacts to humans and the environment.

But most of Levy’s presentation was focused on the dual issue of solid waste and recycling, even offering Putnam assistance with the establishment of a polystyrene recycling facility to keep the material out of the solid waste flow. Oddly, he also testified that polystyrene is an insignificant constituent of the solid waste flow. There is no national recycling campaign by ACC; it is a recommendation it introduces when communities try to ban polystyrene.

New York City’s Department of Sanitation concluded it could not successfully recycle polystyrene. And the one supposedly successful recycling effort cited by Levy in the City of Los Angeles seems to have failed.  The sheer number of containers contaminated by grease and food proved too much for LA’s recycling program, according to The New York Times:

[O]fficials there said they tried doing so, but stopped because “the end product was coming out contaminated,” said Michael Lee, that city’s project manager for curbside recycling. Los Angeles does recycle clean foam like packing materials, but “anything contaminated with food waste, oil grease, we don’t accept it,” Mr. Lee said.

Noticeably absent from his presentation was a discussion of plastic contamination of the aquatic and marine environment, such as the Pacific Gyre, where it is estimated that a gathering of plastic occupies an area of ocean the size of Texas. But one need look no farther than the Hudson River, right outside Putnam County’s door –  that is, if you can even see the worst of the plastic pollution.

Polystyrene crumbles easily, as anyone who has nervously played with a Styrofoam cup knows. In the environment it continues to crumble to the microscopic stage. A January 6 study published in Environmental Science and Technology concludes that nanoparticles of polystyrene, particles in the range of one ten millionth of an inch, pose a significant risk to fish:

We found severe effects on feeding and shoaling behavior as well as metabolism of the fish; hence, we conclude that polystyrene nanoparticles have severe effects on both behavior and metabolism in fish and that commonly used nanosized particles may have considerable effects on natural systems and ecosystem services derived from them.

If past contamination issues are any indication, similar findings regarding other forms of wildlife, and humans, will not be far behind.

Levy was unable to sway legislator Scuccimarra or her colleagues. By unanimous vote, the Putnam County Rules, Enactments & Intergovernmental Relations Committee agreed to send the polystyrene ban to the full county legislature for approval.

Saddest Show on Earth by Y&R for PETA 0

Via PETA. For information about the Y&R creative team, follow this link.

Via PETA. For PETA on circuses, follow this link. For information about the Y&R creative team, follow this link.

Out of the Public Eye, the Global Economic Community Plans for Environmental Disruption 1

By Tehniyatshaikh (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Sign outside Armed Forces Medical College, Pune India, a common message worldwide. By Tehniyatshaikh (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The global water crisis and climate change receive equal billing with unemployment and cyber security in the World Economic Forum report Global Risks 2015:

As last year, concerns about environmental and economic risks remain, in particular around failure of climate-change adaptation, water crises and unemployment and underemployment, reflecting concern about how little tangible action has been taken to address them. At the same time, cyber attacks remain among the most likely high-impact risks.

By SuSanA Secretariat [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Boiling water at a public latrine with a biogas stove in Ullalu near Bangalore. By SuSanA Secretariat [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The report “completes a decade of highlighting the most significant long-term risks worldwide, drawing on the perspectives of experts and global decision-makers.”

Those who follow global business and economic trends are unsurprised that WEF reports are increasingly dominated by environmental issues. While public attention and media are  riveted by empty political debates about whether climate change is real, and whether God would allow humans to affect the planet negatively, the smart major corporations are figuring global environmental disruption into their long-term business plans.

In 2008, IBM issued its Global Innovation Outlook report that sounded an alarm about water:

[T]he future of the world’s most basic resource is changing in unprecedented ways. Immigration, population growth, and climate change are affecting the way we all think about our relationship with the world’s water supply. And by 2050, when the world’s population is expected to peak at about 9.4 billion people, it is conceivable that water could become one of the scarcest and most valuable commodities in the world.

When Jeffrey Imelt took over as General Electric’s CEO, one of his early actions was to ask his engineers and scientists to report back to him on whether climate change was real. Their finding was an unambiguous yes. On January 24, 2013, GE published the following on its Citizenship blog:

The year ahead will be dominated by growing tension between ever-stronger evidence of climate change and the inadequacy of the global policy response. Drought in the USA in 2012 highlighted the vulnerability of commodity prices to intensified weather risk, and 2013 is set to be another year of above-average global temperatures. But global greenhouse gas emissions are continuing to rise, putting the world on track for overshooting the 2ºC “safe” target and ending up in a 4ºC world.

There has been a slow, quiet revolution inside Fortune 500 companies. As they explore market opportunities for innovating adaptations that address the water and climate crises, they discover the inescapable links to public health, poverty and the developing world. From the GE Sustainability website:

Finding ways to help emerging economies meet rising demand for energy—set to grow 40% over the next two decades—is essential for bringing those economies out of poverty and improving human development. But at the same time, expanding fossil-fuel use is leading to increased greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, which threatens future development.

Of course, the argument can be made that companies make the connection between global economic welfare and environmental and social problems in order to eke every dollar out of any crisis. But these issues are inseparable, if we accept that innovation is a crucial element to solving global problems, the marketplace is an essential delivery system for innovation, and that business is not immune to the same disruptions.

Waterfootprint.org makes the point that our water future may depend on companies that make those connections:

Risks can turn into an opportunity for those companies that proactively respond to the challenge of global freshwater scarcity. Frontrunners that create product transparency before others do, that formulate specific and measurable targets with respect to water footprint reduction, with special attention to areas where problems of water scarcity and pollution are most critical, and that can demonstrate actual improvements, can turn this into a competitive advantage.

As important, water and climate issues have arrived on the doorstep of major corporations in ways that were once unthinkable. One example: on April 13, 2013, the Poughkeepsie Journal in New York topped its front page with this unusual headline: “IBM Demands Fewer Chemicals in Water.” The City of Poughkeepsie, NY supplied the treated water used in the company’s microchip fabrication plant in East Fishkill. The water originates from the Hudson River. In a letter made public, IBM told the city it required cleaner water for its chip manufacturing, even though the company performs its own additional filtration at the facility.

Those who live in the Hudson Valley are far more accustomed to the reverse — headlines that demand better environmental behavior from the region’s companies, including IBM. But the story is in keeping with a trend global in scope. Water conflicts, often with local communities, are determining forces in energy production and manufacturing, even in a company’s decision about what locale will be most accommodating to a new workforce.

Slowly, quietly, environmental affairs, water and climate in particular, have become big news inside the business world, and for every reason imaginable, from smart investments to overregulation to global security. For example, in the last two months alone, Forbes magazine has published six major stories about water — on policy, innovation, international affairs, poverty, Texas and China. (see links at conclusion of this post)

Though smart businesses appear to be on their own track, mostly out of public view, WEF observes that innovation is not keeping pace with profound global challenges. Also included in its latest findings are dire warnings about biodiversity, overfishing, deforestation and resource mismanagement. The conclusion of  the Global Risks 2015 report  warns that if short-term thinking delays adaptation it will be at great global peril:

Ten years of “doing risks” has also led to the recognition that a short-term vision prevents addressing long-term issues. Some slower-moving trends have continued inexorably: the last 10 years have brought conclusive proof that the earth’s climate is changing and that human activities are to blame – yet progress to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions remains frustratingly slow. This lesson is reflected this year in the introduction of different time horizons and the differentiation between risks and trends. Hopefully these innovations will help many public and private organizations around the world address this aspect of human nature in mitigating risks and building resilience.

In an upcoming post: the World Economic Forum’s deep dive into water issues.

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World Economic Forum Global Risks 2015

Forbes water articles,12/14 – 02/15:



Climate News by Adam Zyglis 0

Climate News by Adam Zyglis. Via Cagle Cartoons. Used with permission.

Climate News by Adam Zyglis. Via Cagle Cartoons. Used with permission.

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zyglis_smAdam Zyglis is the staff editorial cartoonist for The Buffalo News, his hometown daily newspaper. He accepted the position fresh out of college, after winning 3 national awards as a college cartoonist. In 2004, he graduated summa cum laude from Canisius College with a BA in Computer Science and Mathematics.

His work is internationally syndicated through Cagle Cartoons and has appeared in publications such as USA Today, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and MAD Magazine. After 2 years as a professional he won 3rd Place in the 2007 National Headliner Awards. Learn more about Adam at the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. See more of his work at Cagle Cartoons. More

Thomas Merton at 100 and His Still Perfect Ecological Theology 0

Thomas Merton and the 33 year-old Dalai Lama, 1968.

Thomas Merton and the 33 year-old Dalai Lama.  From the Thomas Merton Center: “His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Thomas Merton met in November 1968 in Dharamsala, India where the Dalai Lama was living in exile. . . In his autobiography, Freedom in Exile, the Dalai Lama described Merton’s visit as one of his ‘happiest memories of this time.’” For more follow this link.

I am a Roman Catholic. Like many, I have struggled with the dilemma of marrying ecological and spiritual principles. It is possible to coax instructive interpretations from the texts of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. But it is a largely unsatisfying effort. This leaves us with the writings of the scholars, philosophers and mystics who followed.

I turn to Thomas Merton, who would have been 100 today. He was the Cistercian Trappist monk who attained unusual fame for his bestselling 1948 autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, and in the 1960s for his writings on peace, civil rights, violence, nuclear disarmament, the Vietnam War and more.

Merton also blended his personal Christianity and love of nature into a seamless whole, an ecological theology that was the forerunner of the religion and environment movement that would only find fruition decades after his death.


Abbey of Gethsemani. Via Trappists.org

I came to Merton’s teachings twenty years ago, thanks to a Franciscan friar friend at the Graymoor monastery in Garrison, NY. Knowing of my work, he gave me an audio-tape of a lecture Merton delivered in the early 1960s to novices at the Abbey of Gethsemani outside Louisville, Kentucky.  He said if I listened carefully I would hear what I was seeking.

This is what Merton, the novice master, told his novices:

Some people think creation happened back in the beginning only.  Creation is taking place now. At every minute. At every second. Creation never stops. It is going on all the time

And later this:

In nature, every single moment every single thing around you is doing the will of God perfectly. Everything is in perfect obedience to the will of God. This makes things very simple for you, because it leaves one little spot for you to fit into and if you fit into it you are keeping the will of God too

It is a perfect ecological theology. It advises us that we have a special place in the order of things, and if we find that place order will remain. But one need not employ the vocabulary of “God” or “Creation” to grasp its profundity. The life cycles of the planet never end. We have a choice. We can be passive beneficiaries, voyeurs, exploiters, saboteurs, or honest participants. If we choose the latter, we will perfectly carry on the work of Earth as well.

Merton influenced a generation of Roman Catholics to look at their religion with fresh eyes, and introduced many to the ancient Christian roots of meditation and contemplative prayer. He was a committed advocate for peace, and a prolific author of books on Christian thought and discernment, deep theology, Eastern religion, the desert fathers and more. He was a published poet. Posthumously, seven volumes of personal journals were released, along with a large collection of correspondence, much of it with some of the great thinkers of the day. Merton’s influence carries on still. His books all remain in print. Countless workshops and seminars are offered each year. Centers are dedicated to his teachings. See links below.

In his later years, Merton assiduously pursued the harmonization of Western and Eastern religions. It was at a Bangkok conference on the subject that he died of accidental causes on December 10, 1968.

Merton and the Env_DeignanIn her beautiful collection, When the Trees Say Nothing, my friend Sister Kathleen Deignan of Iona College sifted through Merton’s works for his writings on nature. From her beautiful introduction:

What he heard in the murmurings of wilderness were “the sweet songs of living things” whose choirs he joined as a solitary monk offering a psalm of glory and thanksgiving on behalf of humankind. In time his own center became “the teeming heart of natural families” as his unique subjectivity opened to the cosmos in wonder and awe, sounding a silent interval of praise in the rapturous hymn of creation.

Turn to a random page in Merton’s voluminous personal journals and you are likely to find the day’s reflection led by the recounting of a scene from the woods around his hermitage at Gethsemane, set off by a contrasting juxtaposition, in the Eastern poetic style.

In Merton’s entry of January 31, 1968, his final year on Earth, the beauty of the rural Kentucky hills collides with the cacophony of nearby Fort Knox, a disturbing irony that regularly punctuated the journals and life of this man of peace:

Clear, thin new moon appearing and disappearing between slow slate blue clouds — and the living black skeletons of the trees against the evening sky. More artillery than usual whumping at Knox. It is my fifty-third birthday.

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Iona Spirituality Institute

International Thomas Merton Society.

The Thomas Merton Center.


Senate Passes Symbolic Keystone Pipeline Bill 0

Keystone pipeline protest, August 22, 2011. By chesapeakeclimate (8/22/11Uploaded by Ekabhishek) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Keystone pipeline protest, August 22, 2011. By chesapeakeclimate (8/22/11Uploaded by Ekabhishek) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Although Senate sponsors will deny it, the passage of a bill to force the approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would deliver petroleum from the tar sands of Canada to a port in the Gulf of Mexico, was largely symbolic. President Obama has repeatedly promised he would veto the measure and promised again following the Senate vote. The House passed a similar bill November 14.

However, it is not certain whether the president’s resolve is based on constitutional or environmental reasons.

The New York Times reports:

Mr. Obama, who currently retains authority to approve or deny the permitting of the pipeline because it crosses an international border, is expected to veto the bill because it would remove his executive authority to make the final decision.

But pressure is mounting on him from both sides to at last make that decision, which has been pending since he first took office.

Mr. Obama has repeatedly said that he was waiting for all reviews and processes to be completed before he made a final decision. In 2013, Mr. Obama said that his verdict on the pipeline would be based on whether or not its construction would worsen climate change. But an 11-volume State Department environmental review of the proposed pipeline, released last year, concluded that its construction would not significantly increase the rate of planet-warming pollution into the atmosphere.

For the full Times article follow this link.