Category Archives: environmental news

Littering provokes militancy

SEA RIM STATE PARK, Texas — I am married to an anti-littering militant.

I have known it for the nearly five decades of our married life, but I saw it on full display on a morning walk along the Texas Gulf Coast.

We sauntered onto the beach from our fifth wheel. Immediately, she became incensed at what she saw … and what she began to collect on our stroll. I figure we must have picked up close to a 40 pounds of trash on our walk of several hundred yards.

I am proud of her, as you might surmise.

The point she made struck home with me. Why come to the great outdoors, enjoy nature and then soil it with this kind of trash? We understand fully, though, that a lot of trash washes ashore from offshore — from seagoing vessels and from the oil platforms one can see from the beach.

In the early 1980s, the General Land Office launched its anti-littering campaign, labeling it “Don’t Mess With Texas.” The phrase over time has been perverted to connote some sort of macho statement about Texas and Texans. However, it means simply that we shouldn’t toss litter onto our landscape.

I get it, and I assure you my bride certainly gets it.

Let me be clear on this matter: We are proud supporters of our state parks. We intend to see them all before we no longer are able to haul our fifth wheel around our immense state. I also am proud of the way Texas Parks & Wildlife cares for our parks. TP&W does a stellar job of keeping them well-groomed, which makes them so attractive to us.

It’s no one’s fault here at Sea Rim State Park that the beach is littered with too much trash. The fault lies with the nimrods who come here, as my wife says, to “enjoy nature” only to sully it with their trash. The fault also lies with the seagoing vessel crews and the dipsticks who work on those platform way out there on the horizon.

To those who aren’t as careful as they should be about disposing of their trash, be forewarned: Don’t mess with Mrs. Kanelis.

‘Vancouver, Vancouver … this is it!’

When you grow up in a part of the world full of natural beauty highlighted by snowcapped peaks all along your eastern horizon, you take for granted that they’ll always be there … as in always.

Forty years ago today, that notion changed for those of us who lived west of the Cascade Range, a long string of volcanic peaks stretching from British Columbia to Northern California.

Mount St. Helens blew apart on May 18, 1980. I was at home in Portland, Ore., about 50 miles south-southwest of the peak. We couldn’t watch the event occur in real time, as the sky was overcast that Sunday morning (yes, imagine that, if you can). But oh brother, we knew about it.

There are things in life you really don’t expect to witness or experience up close. An erupting volcano, to be honest, was not on my list of life experiences. However, that day it damn sure did etch itself into my memory.

The peak began rumbling to life in March. The ground beneath the then-9,677-foot summit in southwest Washington was quaking regularly. The peak began collapsing as craters formed atop the pristine summit of Mount St. Helens. I was editor of a small daily newspaper in Oregon City. We felt compelled to cover the story as it was developing. One of our reporters, David Peters, drove to near the peak with his fiancée to visit with a young man assigned by the U.S. Geological Survey to study Mount St. Helens’ evolution from dormant to active volcano.

The young man was David Johnston. He gave Dave Peters a statement that proved hauntingly prophetic, which was that if the mountain were to blow up then and there, they all would be killed. Happily for my friends, it didn’t. They returned home and Dave wrote a wonderful story for the newspaper.

I had another thrill, flying in a single-engine airplane over the summit that day as the mountain was quaking and shuddering. Only after we returned to my acquaintance’s hangar in Mulino, Ore., did I learn that federal aviation officials clamped a no-fly restriction for miles around the summit. They didn’t bust us, for which I will be grateful.

Then came the blast that changed the history of the Pacific Northwest. The mountain’s north face slid away from a huge earthquake, releasing an torrent of ash, fiery gas and rock. Thousands of acres of virgin timber were destroyed. Spirit Lake filled with logs and all manner of volcanic debris.

David Johnston radioed immediately to his USGS headquarters, “Vancouver, Vancouver … this is it!” 

Then he was gone. The pyroclastic flow from the beastly mountain incinerated the young volcanologist in an instant.

Oh, man. The memory of it all.

Happy Earth Day … if only we could cheer it this year

I have been fond of wishing everyone a Happy Earth Day, which I have done repeatedly on this blog.

This year it’s different. It’s vastly different, in fact. We acknowledge the 50th anniversary of Earth Day under a severe, foreboding and ominous cloud brought to our good Earth by the coronavirus pandemic.

Fifty years ago we began setting aside a day to celebrate the only planet we have. Earth is home. That’s it. We have to care for it. President Nixon founded the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, vowing to exert greater emphasis on ways to protect our precious Earth.

Here we are today. Our worldwide economy has effectively been shut down by the viral infection that has killed hundreds of thousands of human beings.

The “good news,” if you want to call it such, is that our air has gotten much cleaner as we have driven far less. We have nowhere to go. Our motor vehicles are parked.

OK, so the air is cleaner. We still have water pollution issues. We have deforestation that leads to global warming and climate change. We’re still throwing too much trash into landfills. We still are using too much fossil fuel that also spews pollution into the air.

Our minds and hearts, at the moment, are directed at fighting the pandemic. I am all for that effort, to be sure. I do not want to rush into a return to “normal living” while the virus is still infecting and killing human beings.

I do want to wish everyone once more a Happy Earth Day, although I understand completely that our attention is being diverted to more immediately urgent matters.

OPEC to cut production; get ready for a price increase at the fuel pump

As a red-blooded American consumer of goods and certain commodities, I cannot endorse a nearly 10 percent reduction in the production of petroleum products.

You see, I am one of those Americans who has no problem watching the price of automobile fuels plummet. I looked today at the price of gasoline and diesel in Princeton, Texas, and saw the gas price at $1.41 per gallon, with the price of diesel at $2.11.

Not bad, eh?

The plummeting fuel prices are a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Motor vehicles are becoming a rare sight on our streets and highways. Businesses are shuttered. Employees have lost their jobs. The economy is tanking.

Are we supposed to be salute OPEC and other oil-producing nations — including the U.S. of A. — for enacting a policy that is going to bite a bit more deeply into our budgets? I won’t do that.

I’d rather take the longer view.

I would prefer to see fossil fuel companies reinvest their still-substantial largesse into alternative energy sources. I am a bigger fan of renewable energy — wind, solar and hydropower — than I am in depleting fossil fuels, which I hasten to add is a finite resource.

Donald Trump hailed the reduction in output as a boon to the oil industry. I guess it is. However, we are going to pay a price farther down the road as we continue to guzzle this resource and, dare I say, pollute the air we breathe.

Does this pandemic have a positive impact on anything? Well, yes

One can run a terrible risk of shortchanging the tragedy that comes from crises while looking for any positive outcomes.

With that said, I want to offer this item, understanding that some might think I am seeking to minimize the sadness being played out all over the world.

The coronavirus pandemic could possibly result in the most dramatic reduction in carbon emissions since World War II.

Reuters News Service reports: “I wouldn’t be shocked to see a 5 percent or more drop in carbon dioxide emissions this year, something not seen since the end of World War II,”  (Rob) Jackson, a professor of Earth system science at Stanford University in California, told Reuters in an email.

The cause of such a decline isn’t hard to figure out. Motor vehicle traffic is way down. Everywhere on Earth. China, where the pandemic originated and where air pollution has become almost legendary, reports remarkably clean air over major urban centers. The same is being said in India and in major European cities.

I live in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex and I am quite certain that carbon emissions here are registering historic lows as millions of us around here are obeying stay at home directives issued by Gov. Greg Abbott.

As Reuters points out: But the improvements are for all the wrong reasons, tied to a world-shaking global health emergency that has infected more than 950,000 people — while shuttering factories, grounding airlines and forcing hundreds of millions of people to stay at home to slow the contagion. 

Just a side note: The number of infected human beings has zoomed well past a million people since this article was published.

I am left now to wonder whether this result might persuade some notorious climate-change deniers to rethink their environmental idiocy. If we are seeing this singular positive result from this pandemic, it well might be a reduction in carbon emissions that — according to scientific research — contributes to the other existential threat to humanity: worldwide climate change.

Ready for the best season of the year

(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

You hear it on occasion: This is my favorite time of the year. My favorite season of the year. Most folks I know keep saying it’s the autumn.

Why? They’ve been through a grueling, boiling-hot summer. The cooler temperatures are a welcome respite from the heat.

That’s not for me. My favorite time of the year is about to arrive. I love the spring. In Texas, spring produces an unusual and often unpredictable series of events.

We have spent 36 winters in Texas. We came initially to the Golden Triangle on the Gulf Coast. Winter in Southeast Texas occasionally was, well, rather un-winterlike. We spent our first Christmas in Beaumont — in 1984 — lounging around in shorts and t-shirts.

Nearly 11 years later we gravitated to the opposite end of the state, settling for 23 years in the Panhandle. The winter there was, shall I say, more like winter in most regions of the world. It got cold … damn cold at times! We had winters with heavy blankets of snow. We also had one hideously dry winter that didn’t produce a single drop of precipitation.

We have moved to the Metroplex. This is our second winter here. It’s been a bit chilly, although not as cold as it often gets up yonder on the Caprock.

Spring is about to arrive. The grass will snap out of its dormancy. The leaves will produce buds. It’s a time of renewal. A time of rebirth. A time that will give way to the fruits and flowers of the season.

Spring in the Panhandle occasionally produces some explosive weather. The wind howls. The storm clouds swirl. It rains hard, man. It would hail on us.

The Metroplex occasionally produces that kind of frightening weather. However, I look forward yet again to the time of year when we spring forward and emerge from our winter doldrum.

It’s my favorite time.

Is there an option for states to take the lead on climate change?

If Congress and the president aren’t going to take a serious interest in climate change, isn’t there a place for states such as Texas to take the lead on what I and others believe is an existential threat to the nation?

I get that Texas’s Legislature isn’t exactly a haven for environmental activism, given its strong Republican majority in both legislative chambers. However, the state does possess the world’s 11th or 12th largest economy; its carbon footprint continues to be bigger than it should be.

Yes, some of the Democratic candidates for president keep talking about the need to tackle climate change head-on. They profess concern for the dire peril that Earth faces if we don’t do all that we can as human beings to curb the human impact on the changing climate.

The current president, of course, remains ignorant about that danger posed by deforestation, carbon emissions and the warming of our atmosphere. Given that he has no interest in science or any other fields of study dedicated to this condition, I cannot possibly expect Donald Trump to take the necessary lead as the nation’s president.

Texas, though, faces an existential threat all by itself. Our state’s coastline is receding every year a little at a time. The tides are rising as well, largely because of melting ocean ice at both of our poles.

Texas and other states — especially those states with political leadership that takes this threat seriously — can do what they can individually or perhaps in conjunction with each other to wrestle with this burgeoning environmental crisis.

It would take a miracle, I suppose, but I am going to hope that Texas legislators can appreciate the impact they could have on national policy if they were to take the lead on dealing head-on with this national emergency.

That ‘organic’ smell might be harmful to your health

When my wife and I moved to the Texas Panhandle in early 1995, we thought we were relocating to a place where the “smell of money” had a more, um, organic origin … that it wouldn’t be harmful to the health of those closest to it.

We had lived for nearly 11 years in the Golden Triangle, the heart of the Texas petrochemical and oil refining industry, where the smell of money was full of cancer-causing agents.

It now turns out, according to the Texas Observer, that the Panhandle’s money smell is, shall we say, not so healthy after all.

It’s called “fecal dust,” with the incessant wind blowing clouds of dirt filled with cattle dung particles. The result has been increases in respiratory illness, extreme discomfort and a smell that forces feedlot employees to shed their clothing the minute they go home after working among thousands of head of cattle.

The Panhandle produces roughly one-fifth of the beef consumed in the United States. The beef, as we know, comes from cattle that are sent to feedlots to fatten up prior to the beasts being “processed” into the meat we enjoy at our dinner tables.

It’s what they do in those feedlots that is the center of the Observer’s investigation. There’s no nice way to say it: They crap on the ground inside the pens; the wind blows the dirt across the sprawling, open landscape. Those who are near the source suffer from assorted respiratory ailments.

As the Observer reported: “You go outside and it’ll just burn your nose and your eyes,” (Lawrence) Brorman says. The dust brings foul odors so pervasive that they can penetrate the Brormans’ farmhouse even when the doors and windows are closed. Lawrence and his wife, Jaime, use a more explicit term for the fecal dust: “shust,” a portmanteau of “shit” and “dust.” (Other folks who live here are partial to “shog,” a mashup of the same first word and “fog.”)

Read the Observer story here.

This story alarms me. It concerns me because I have friends who live near those feedlots. My wife and I have dear friends who live in Hereford, which is the undisputed, if unofficial, “capital” of the cattle-feeding industry in the Texas Panhandle.

There needs to be a careful monitoring of that fecal dust matter, for sure. Let us hope Texas environmental regulators are keeping an eye — and a nose — open to what’s transpiring up yonder on the Caprock.

Indeed, “organic” doesn’t always mean “healthy.”

Wind power … what is to understand?

Donald Trump is known for, among other things, a remarkable “ability” to string sentences together without ever making any sense.

He said something this week about wind energy. I don’t know what in the world he was trying to say. A certain portion of his wind energy riff is getting the most social media attention. Here is what the president said:

We’ll have an economy based on wind. I never understood wind. You know, I know windmills very much. I’ve studied it better than anybody. I know it’s very expensive. They’re made in China and Germany mostly — very few made here, almost none. But they’re manufactured tremendous — if you’re into this — tremendous fumes. Gases are spewing into the atmosphere. You know we have a world, right? So the world is tiny compared to the universe. So tremendous, tremendous amount of fumes and everything. You talk about the carbon footprint — fumes are spewing into the air. Right? Spewing. Whether it’s in China, Germany, it’s going into the air. It’s our air, their air, everything — right? So they make these things and then they put them up.

Ladies and gentlemen, that came from the mouth of the president of the United States of America … the man elected in 2016 because he, um, “tells it like it is.”

Bad optics? Do ya think, mate?

Well, you have “bad optics,” and then you have this.

Australia is enduring some of its worst wildfires in recorded history as the blistering summer heat is taking its toll Down Under. Where was the country’s prime minister, Scott Morrison?

He was vacationing in Hawaii with his family while firefighters were risking their lives, while scores of homes were being destroyed and while several Australians have died as a result of the flames.

Not surprisingly, news of Morrison’s whereabouts has gone over badly among Australians. The media have torched the PM over his extremely poor timing to vacation with his wife and children.

To make matters worse, Morrison’s staff denied initially he was vacationing in Hawaii. Then pictures emerged showing the Morrisons doing exactly that. Busted!

OK, the prime minister has apologized. He said in hindsight he would have made a different choice. It’s not clear whether the Australian public is going to accept the PM’s apology.

I have some friends Down Under who are likely to be pretty steamed over the prime minister’s initial decision.

Still, it’s time for the prime minister to get back to work and start acting like someone who cares that his country is burning. That’s what leaders are supposed to do.