Oregon, Oil and Acid Indigestion
November 14, 2005
By David Helvarg
“In Sea change, new homes swamp Oregon’s coast,” read the front page headline of the Oct 23rd Oregonian, the state’s largest paper. That Sunday was also the last day of the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition’s (http://oregonshores.org) annual conference in Newport, Oregon, a meeting of over 100 citizens dedicated to protecting the natural and cultural heritage of the beaver state’s world-class beaches, coastline and ocean.
I was honored to give a keynote speech and participate in some workshops at this gathering of seaweed activists (including seaweed and marine algae specialist Melinda McComb). Arrived on Friday for a bracing dip with attorney/surfer Bill Kabeiseman at Emerald Beach – piney cliffs, skies littered with seabirds, surfing wahinees in wetsuits…By Saturday the seas were 16-20 feet and the conferees, led by interim E.D. Sylvia Shaw, were working hard on figuring how to influence local towns and counties, state legislators and the public on ways to protect public beach access, create offshore wilderness parks (marine reserves) and stop the kind of 2nd home golf resort growth that destroys rather than enhances coastal Oregon’s unique graces. Sunday the conference moved to the Hatfield Marine Science Center (http://hmsc.oregonstate.edu/) amidst fog and drizzle that confirmed we were actually on the Oregon coast. Oregon Shores’ CoastWatch volunteers had a discussion led by Phillip Johnson, myself and others on how to combine their biological observations with public advocacy to protect the shore and help build a blue movement. It’s from this kind of bottom-up effort that national campaigns are born. Remember: Blue is the new Green.
Pombo Springs a leak
On Thursday November 10th the House of Representatives was unable to pass a “budget reconciliation bill” designed to cut federal spending by $50 billion, mostly by reducing programs that benefit the working poor, students and the elderly while keeping upper-income tax-cuts in place. The main reason they couldn’t pass their bill seemed to be provisions added by Dick Pombo, Chair of the House Resources Committee, to open up the Arctic Wildlife Refuge and long-protected Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) waters to oil drilling. GOP moderates refused to endorse his plan. Nor would Florida’s GOP congressional delegation who rejected a deal cut between Pombo and Governor (lame ducks don’t have to keep their pledges) Jeb Bush that would have led to new offshore drilling. A number of right-wing republicans from Western States said they wouldn’t vote for the bill unless it included more oil drilling (leading to more fossil-fuel fired hurricane disasters giving them more excuses to reduce social spending).
Like Social Security, the existing moratorium on offshore drilling looks like it’s becoming not the third-rail, but the electric eel of politics, able to shock any politician that tries to mess with it. Dick Pombo’s anti-environmental efforts have even begun to put his own 2006 re-election in California’s conservative central valley in doubt.
Blue Frontier is willing to provide a free Seaweed Rebel T-shirt to whoever sends us the best recipe for salt-oiled Pombo. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll run the winning recipe in our next Blue Notes.
Science discovers the Obvious
The October 29th issue of Science magazine (www.sciencemag.org) included a report by scientists from Denmark, India, Malaysia, Britain and the U.S. that found coastal areas of Asia that had intact mangrove swamps and trees were “markedly less damaged” during the massive tsunami of Dec. 26, 2004 than those areas where mangroves and other protective wetland habitats had been cut down for development. This is similar to a study that found policemen wearing bulletproof vests “were markedly less damaged” than those not wearing vests in cases of bullet-related impacts.
From Acid Rain to Acid Seas
In the 1960s scientists began to wonder why fish were dying in apparently pristine lakes in New England and the Adirondacks, also Sweden and Norway. They soon tracked the problem to acid-forming pollution, particularly sulfur dioxide or SO 2 from coal-fired power plants that formed acid rain. As the evidence (and damage) accumulated in the 1970s and ‘80s the coal industry dismissed the science as “misleading publicity” and under President Ronald Reagan little or no action was taken. Today President Bush is reversing some of the subsequent gains made (by his father among others) in combating coal-fired pollution. At the same time he and Dick Cheney have carried industry’s water (oil actually) in denying the impacts of fossil fuel driven climate change.
In the 1990s one of science’s mysteries was why the climate wasn’t heating up as fast as computer models of industrial carbon emissions suggested it should be. The recently discovered answer is that the world’s oceans have been capturing a large part of human-induced greenhouse gasses, particularly carbon dioxide or CO2, thus slowing global warming. Unfortunately this extra CO2 entering the seas is producing carbonic acid, which is corrosive to shell forming creatures ranging from certain planktons to clams to corals. Last week I heard a talk by Ken Caldeira, one of the co-authors of a report issued by the Royal Society (Britian’s scientific academy) that predicts if greenhouse emissions continue to rise at their present rate the oceans will be saturated by 2100 (unable to absorb any more CO2) and also more acidic than at any time in many millions of years. The depressing part of the talk is that we don’t have to be destroying our seas the way we are. A political choice has been made. We have a president, vice-president and Secretary of State who are all oil-industry alumnae and who seem to believe that an industry that has contributed so generously to their careers couldn’t also be contributing to global warming. Unfortunately, the longer we wait before transitioning to new non-carbon energy systems, the greater the devastation we’ll bequeath to future generations.
As we did in the fall of 2003, with an ‘Oceans of Trouble’ special issue, Blue Frontier Campaign (BFC) has co-edited the new edition of the public-interest magazine, Multinational Monitor. Its theme – “The Disaster After the Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and its Aftermath.” Along with MNM’s usual readership of thousands BFC will have hundreds of extra copies of the magazine for distribution to interested parties.
I’ve also written an opinion piece on the absurdity of FEMA’s national flood insurance program that will run in the Currents section of the Los Angeles Times on Sunday November 20th.
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Regards and full sails,