Category Archives: environmental news

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.

Mr. POTUS, you are utterly disgusting

Mr. President, I just saw the above message on one of my social media networks.

I want to say that your ability to denigrate the office you occupy knows no bounds. You disgust me in the extreme.

Why in the name of human decency would you take time from your effort to “make America great again” to level this kind of cheap, gratuitous and disgraceful message at a 16-year-old girl who has been honored as Time magazine’s “Person of the Year”?

Greta Thunberg was honored for her efforts to call attention to the existential threat that climate change is posing to the entire planet. She should be saluted, not ridiculed.

And you, our head of state/government/commander in chief saw fit to denigrate this young woman’s high honor. Oh, but your base loves this kind of churlishness coming from the president of the United States.

Mr. President, you sicken me to my core.

Toilet-flushing gets POTUS’s attention?

I am trying to understand this one, but so far it escapes me.

Donald Trump, who says climate change is a “hoax” and who yanked the nation out of the Paris Climate Accord, now says people are flushing their toilets too many times. They’re wasting water. He wants the government to look into ways to make, um, more water-efficient toilets?

Well, I’ll be flushed.

The president told a gathering at the White House late this past week that people are flushing toilets “10 to 15 times.” Huh? Who does that?

To be sure, I don’t know the toilet-flushing habits of others, but I have trouble believing that flushing frequency presents the kind of existential threat to our water resources that Trump seems to portray it.

The consequence is the lack of water pressure, he said. “You can’t wash your hands practically, there’s so little water coming out of the faucet,” Trump said.

I guess I need to get out more, or perhaps understand better what at times flows through Donald Trump’s noggin. I just don’t get this one.

Of all the threats to our way of life — carbon emissions, deforestation, pollution, wasteful irrigation — Donald Trump has taken aim at the number of times many of us (he says) are flushing their toilets.

Go … figure.

So very thankful for news out of Golden Triangle

I have been watching the news out of Mid-Jefferson County, Texas, with great interest and keen anticipation.

A refinery in Port Neches exploded and caught fire this week. My wife and I have many friends in that part of Texas, owing to the time we lived in nearby Beaumont for nearly 11 years.

I am grateful beyond measure that no one died in that horrific blast and inferno. My jaw has dropped when I watched video of the explosion that propelled large pieces of debris into the air. I am stunned not only that no one died, but that only a handful of folks suffered what officials have called “minor” injuries caused by flying glass.

The best news is that firefighters have controlled the blaze, giving me a chance to offer high praise yet again for the first responders who have this uncanny ability — not to mention willingness — to thrust themselves into harm’s way.

I hear reports now about the plant that exploded being in violation of Environmental Protection Agency safety standards. That issue needs maximum attention, to be sure, if there will be any chance of that plant being brought back into full operation.

Until then I am merely going to offer a word of thanks and expression of relief that our friends are safe.

Texas is becoming the ‘windy state’

We’re No. 1! It’s a common refrain heard on fields of athletic competition in Texas.

However, Texas has achieved a top-tier ranking in a most fascinating — and one might say unexpected — category. Texas has become the most wind-powered state in the Union. Texas is known more for its pump jacks that pull oil out of the ground. They’re still doing all over the state, but wind power is not to be denied.

I just posted a blog item lamenting the lack of discussion about climate in the upcoming presidential campaign. Here, though, is a reason to hope that Texas might become a leader in the discussion and promotion of wind energy.

The Electrical Reliability Council of Texas reports that wind has replaced coal as the leading provider of electricity in this state. Yes, natural gas remains a huge energy source. Texas, though, has seen a skyrocketing rise in wind energy over the past several years.

I am happy to report that my wife and I have sat at a ringside seat while Texas has become a major wind-power producer. We used to live just a bit east of the wind farm in Adrian pictured along with this blog post. We’ve since moved on to the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, but the wind energy industry is continuing to grow significantly along the High Plains of Texas.

This is exciting news.

Wind power remains a costly endeavor. It is expensive to produce and store electricity generated by wind. Believe me, though, the Texas Panhandle has an infinite supply of wind, which to my mind is the cleanest possible energy source possible. Whereas petroleum, natural gas and coal are finite resources, the wind will always blow.

I usually am quite critical of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, however, I want to give Gov. Perry — who is soon to depart as secretary of energy — a proverbial high five for presiding over much of Texas’s wind-power development during his lengthy stint as governor. And, no, it didn’t hurt a bit to say something good about the man the late columnist Molly Ivins dubbed “Governor Goodhair.” 

So, the wind will blow in Texas. The state’s growth will require more electrical use. The wind will continue to play a growing role in fulfilling those power needs … and our precious environment won’t suffer a bit.

Climate change needs candidates’ attention … all of it!

When in the name of environmental sanity are the candidates for president of the United States going to devote their attention to what I believe is the world’s greatest existential threat?

Climate change, man!

Accordingly, Donald Trump — one of those presidential candidates — has declared that he has made the greatest mistake of his presidency. He said via Twitter that he has begun the nation’s formal withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. The United States was among more than 200 nations to sign the agreement to aggressively battle the effects of climate change and global warming.

So help me, this is the action of an incompetent fool. An imbecile. The president of the United States has turned this nation into effectively an “outlaw state” in the fight to stem the devastating impact of a changing global climate.

What in the world are any of the men and women who are seeking to defeat this goofball going to do about it?

I want to hear from all of them that they intend to sign an executive order the moment they sit down behind the big desk in the Oval Office that restores this nation’s commitment to fighting climate change.

I also want to hear specifics on how they intend to restore our nation’s commitment to alternative energy sources. I want them to tell us how they intend to replace fossil fuel-producing jobs with jobs related to the development of certifiably clean energy sources.

If we are able to get past this impeachment madness and if we ever could get Donald Trump focused on issues that actually matter and yanked away from the nonsense that pours routinely out of his mouth, then there might be a serious discussion and search for answers for what I believe is the issue that threatens every human being on Earth.

Let’s get busy!