Archives for category: Climate Change

My Grandmother’s Radio

My maternal grandmother’s radio was a fascination of my beginning years in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Out of this mysterious box, which was about as big as I was, came “The Lone Ranger Rides Again” and “The Shadow Knows.” I waited every night with bated breath, as if on a magic carpet, to be swept away on some surprise adventure.

Like some creepy Cyclops, the radio had a single eye. It seemed to follow me no matter what corner in our living room I attempted to hide. My gosh, the eye even turned colors!

We were the beneficiaries of this wonderful entertainment because my grandparents were living with us. One day I asked my Mom why they didn’t have a house of their own. After all, I was always told of their business acumen. They had owned a small shoe store. I got a two-word answer. “The Depression.” It was followed by, “They lost everything.”

I grasped the answer easily. I had the evidence in front of me. My grandparents once had a large house on the south side of Waterbury, Connecticut. Now, they lived in one room of our rented apartment in the working class north end. Economics 101. Easy.

 

What I came to know gradually over decades is that both my grandmother and that radio held some other important historical lessons. For more context let’s zoom ahead to 2006.

I was fortunate to be in Oxford, England for a gathering of science educators from all over the world. My wife and I met a Japanese couple whom we exchanged life stories. We were riveted to the woman’s story from her youth.

Tiffany was kept in an interment camp during WWII. She did not dwell on it but the stories made a lasting impact on me. (Don’t miss the impact of the camps on a crew member of the Starship Enterprise https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeBKBFAPwNc   ) My mind drifted to my grandmother, an immigrant of Italy.

In the early 1940s, I’m told secret service agents visited our home. They confirmed my grandmother’s immigrant status. The agents then proceeded to solder a section of the radio’s dial that could pull in foreign signals. Apparently they were concerned Mussolini’s fascist diatribes would reach our families ears. I can imagine my grandmother’s horror and dismay. Did she feel responsible for the chaos and invasive action of those agents?

What those agents didn’t know was that my grandmother was apolitical. She once implied that the Kaiser (See previous blog.) was the reason she left Italy. That’s it. I don’t recall another political utterance.

The latest immigrant scapegoats are followers of Islam and Mexicans. Protecting them is one aspect of save-guarding the constitutional rights of all of us.

The husband of that Japanese couple is, besides a botanist and educator, an accomplished plant photographer. We received a wonderful gift from him. It was a picture of a series of flowers.

Every time my eyes glance at that photograph, I also see Tiffany and sense some of the indignities experienced in those camps. I see my grandmother. Then the millions trying to escape the ravages of war and climate change from Africa, Syria, and points eastward, come into view.

Can we call ourselves human beings if we just continue with our daily lives in face of these human and environmental disasters? Do we sit idly by while a sad and dangerous character, who wants to promulgate all these, walks the halls of the White House?

That’s the misogynist who says he doesn’t believe in climate change as if science was a belief and not about data and theories that congeal out of that data. Climatologists don’t believe in anthropogenic climate change. They accept the inferences that flow from data. The burning of fossil fuels is causing rapid climate disturbances.

Yet the President of the United States does not believe in climate change. In the background, I hear Pete Seeger singing, “When will they ever learn.”

There are many marches and demonstrations now in our country. It’s not just what people know, it’s how quickly they will come to know and act on that knowledge. Much to do.

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It was a disastrous election. There’s no doubt about it. We need to make sense out of the mess in order to move forward. Here’s just a beginning.

The Rs pursued a classic tactic. As soon as Barack Obama was elected in 2008, they declared noncooperation. Massive gridlock followed. These reactionary forces then pointed to Washington D.C. and said, “See. It isn’t working.”

The Rs pursued more antidemocratic approaches. They set up the American Legislative Action Committee (ALEC) and moved at the grassroots and state-level. Taking people of color off voting roles was a major weapon nationally.

There are names that go along with all this. John Piscopo, State assemblyman from Thomaston, Ct, is a former president of ALEC. Assemblywoman Rosa Rebimbas of Naugatuck, Ct, scrupulously followed the ALEC agenda to the tune of a 55% voting record on the environment.

The political agenda had ideological components. Talk radio led the way. A visiting nurse from Watertown, Ct, told me that, “Obama lives in a black house.” Anyone supporting the environment was called an “elite.” And on and on the racism and anti-environmentalism went.

T.V. supplied Donald Trump with ample exposure, no matter how negative. A CNN executive admitted that Trump was good for “ratings.” Ex CIA, ex FBI, and retired generals supplied an analysis that justified every USA invasion and bombing run. Talk radio supplied vile Islamophobia and anti-Mexican rhetoric.

While Hilary won Ct, Trump’s vote total here was 2% higher than Romney’s in 2012. That kind of erosion probably cost State Senator Dante Bartolomeo her election to reactionary Leonard Suzio (R) by 300 votes. Bartolomeo had a 100% voting record on the environment and was very good on union issues.

Now, some rays of sunshine. Myrna Watanabe (D) challenged reactionary John Piscopo (R) for his State Assembly seat. She lost but in the process raised a very progressive agenda, including on the environment.

Maine won ranked choice voting. For example, you could vote for the Green Party. If no candidate wins a majority of votes, in a second round of voting your second candidate choice comes into play with the two top vote-getters. LePage (R), the Tea Party Governor, would never have been elected under this system. (See http://www.fairvotemaine.org)

Lastly, all us gray hairs have to pass on to the Millennials what happened in those rock & roll years of the early 1970s. Richard Nixon (R) won reelection by a landside in 1972. I well remember the impeachment march through downtown Waterbury, Ct, in 1973. Nixon was driven out of office in August of 1974.

Pass it on.

 

Climate change, environmental history, pollution from a proposed dirty fossil fuel power plant, democracy, and a vigorous response at the grassroots, are the topics of the March / April Blog.

The famous Spanish historian, Jorge Santayana, said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” While such repeated events can be farcical, they can also be tragic. While there is not much comedic about what is happening in Naugatuck, Connecticut, these days, it is repeating history. Once again the environment and the health of the people there and elsewhere are in jeopardy.

In the not so distant past, the colossus in Naugatuck was the U.S. Rubber and Chemical Company. Starting in the 19th Century and well into the 20th Century, for the most part, the company dominated everything, including town politics. It was, in the worst tradition of the word, a company town.

That remained the case until the 1930s when the union movement that swept the country blossomed in the Naugatuck Valley. Five unions eventually established themselves at the Rubber Shop. Some of the wealth, which previously flowed mostly to the captains of industry, made its way to the workers at the Rubber Shop. The company became Uniroyal Inc. in 1961.

By the middle to late 1970s, the owners had enough of those pesky unionists who demanded a modicum of work place democracy and a living wage. On top of that, pesky environmentalists demanded the pollution of the Naugatuck River stop. The Corporation, in a fit of anti-patriotism, flew to the Philippines and South Korea in search of a place where it was harder for people to organize. They also wanted to shake those pesky greens.
But struggles with a company town tradition and mentality were not over. The chemicals from the runaway shop, and other manufactories, sat on a landfill perched atop a mountain. It was given the benign name of Laurel Park. What was occurring was anything but benign.

Benzene’s, toluene’s and dioxin made their way into surface and ground water. Grassroots organizing fought the landfill company and the “company mayor.” It became a superfund site by 1983.

Here’s some of the more immediate story.

A proposed dirty fossil fuel power plant in 2014 along the Oxford/Naugatuck border in Connecticut (CT) has raised a firestorm of debate. Competitive Power Ventures (CPV) of Mass. has proposed a methane (CH4) driven plus oil plant (805 Megawatts) based on a 1999 approval of a smaller construction (around 500 Megawatts) by the CT Siting Council (CSC). The new, larger plant is before the CSC. The financial backing is from the hedge fund of Warburg/Pincus with monies from the USA, Brazil, India, and Asia.

Why are people up in arms over a start-up methane plant now versus 1999? Because we have learned so much more about dirty fossil fuels, pollution, and climate change since 1999. Here’s some data.

An article in the March 6th, 2002 issue of the American medical Association (AMA) found that with each 10-micrometer increase in one cubic meter of air in fine particles of soot and sulfur dioxide-related pollution per cubic meter of air, the risks of heart and lung diseases increase, including an 8 percent increase in the risk of lung cancer. In fact, the study’s authors were quoted as saying that the higher risk is equivalent to living with someone who smokes cigarettes. The research involved 500,000 subjects. That is a study of high power. Data and conclusions are considered very reliable.

The Oxford plant is projected to generate particulate matter (PMs) = PM2.5 micrometers. These PMs are extremely small and therein lays the danger. They are invisible. The particles can go into the blood steam to our organs, including the lungs. So with a simple calculation, if the Oxford plant gives off 4 or more PMs/cubic meter of air, we can expect increase risks of heart and lung diseases. That includes the 8% increase on lung cancer. CPV projects a pollution radius of 10 miles, so that includes Oxford, Southbury, Middlebury, Beacon Falls, Naugatuck, and parts of Waterbury, CT. Of course, prevailing winds and weather patterns come into play.

Concerning heart disease, we know soot (basically carbon) can play the same role as cholesterol in the coronary blood vessels that surround and give oxygen to the heart. The soot begins blocking the arteries leading to heart disease.

I have statistics for asthma cases in Naugatuck and they are not pretty. In the Naugatuck Valley (2005-9), Naugatuck was second to Ansonia with 777 asthma emergency room visits. Naugatuck had the highest number of asthma hospitalizations at 193. The Gunntown Passive Park & Nature Preserve is only 1.2 miles from the projected utility plant. The Southwood Apartments are only about 2 miles away. Hundreds of people live there including many elderly and young working families. The elderly and young people are most affected by this kind of pollution. Environmental injustice comes to mind.

The lack of credible information on the effluent is astounding. I sat in on a Water Pollution Control Board meeting and the lawyers from CPV could not answer this most basic question. They do state over 6,470 gallons per day would be headed to Naugatuck Waste Treatment Plant. But what is in it? Further complicating this is that the Treatment Plant is not owned by Naugatuck. Viola, an international company based in Paris with over 300,000 employees worldwide, is at the controls. The company is in a court case for ripping off the town of Naugatuck. Yikes.

The proposed state cutbacks by the Malloy (D) Administration are another concern. Open space funding is to be cut by 10 million dollars. Environmentalists understand that one of the best ways to protect waterways is to protect the land it runs through. As pipelines do break on occasion, how will this mysterious effluent be handled on both public and private open space? No answer.

The combustion process that is employed by these methane driven utility plants contributes 30% of the chemicals driving climate change. The methane itself that is combusted with oxygen under high heat, upwards of 2000 degrees F., escapes early in the fracking process. Whether living in the Oxford / Naugatuck area or not, upwards to 5.0% of the CH4 releases to the atmosphere. Methane molecules are 34X, and some authors put it as high as 100X, more powerful as a climate changer than carbon dioxide (CO2). In total quantity, it is the number three cause of climate change. We have to be concerned because in the community we are connected to what goes on elsewhere. The atmosphere is our commons.

The combustion process generates the pressure to turn the turbines which then generate the electricity. It’s a chemical to mechanical to electrical energy transfer. It is the same process utilized 50 years ago. The two large byproducts of combustion are CO2 and H20. Incomplete combustion generates the soot mentioned above.
The mega amounts of CO2 released travel around the planet in two weeks. It is the second leading cause of climate change. The mega amounts of water vapor released are the number one leading cause of climate change. The weird weather and vicious storms, hurricanes Katrina and Sandy for example and others internationally, generated by these chemicals, kill.

Dangerous Territory – The Company Organizes Workers Against The Community

In the early 1980s, the company owning the Laurel Park Landfill brought in truck drivers to harass Mary Lou Sharon, the leader of the first environmental group in Naugatuck, at town meetings. Now we have the construction company, CPV, bringing in job hungry construction workers to flood Town meetings. Meanwhile, the Carbon Lobby with funds from people lathered in oil, like the Koch brothers, are working overtime in Washington D.C. to block carbon standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Can you hear the wheels of the system grinding?

In both the 1980s landfill pollution battle and the present day struggle around the dirty fossil fuel power plant, collusion with the local mayors were obvious. The company organizing workers against the interests of the community and those same workers families is very dangerous territory. A hallmark of the process of fascism in the 1920s and 1930s in Italy and Germany was the organization of workers by corporate funded elements.

Of course, we don’t have fascism, which was roundly defeated worldwide in the 1940s. We are addressing a dangerous process between a company, a Mayor, and certain unions. So in the present day fight, what spooked this cabal? The Western Connecticut Central Labor Council supported the Naugatuck Environmental Network in its efforts to block the project earlier in the year. The company and local Mayor went into overdrive to both split the Labor Movement and split the Labor Movement from local greens.

So we have the Naugatuck Mayor, usually quite logical in argumentation, picking up on the company line. One of them is that everybody pollutes with their cars and with home heating arrangements. Really? This piling on argument is as illogical as condoning one’s throwing trash out a car window because “everyone does it.” This is a blaming the victim(s) argument. No thanks.

The other company line is that the federal government isn’t doing anything for renewables and the environment so why should we do this arduous task locally. A quick look at the national scene quickly shows where the real “hold up” is. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency put forward the first regulations for carbon e.g. think methane (CH4). The carbon lobby e.g. Koch Brothers, have seen to it that this proposal has not seen the light of day. So we are to kow-tow to the oil boys. No thanks.

Of course, renewables are sweeping the world. A renewable energy committee, with Naugatuck Town Burgesses and local greens participating, will generate green, sustainable jobs. It isn’t just solar and wind. Tidal power is churning out electricity in Maine. The Northwest Central Labor Council had it right. The Climate March in NYC (2014) had it right. The Peace & Planet March on April 26th, 2015, NYC had it right. Labor, Peace, Social Justice, and Environmental movements united are an unstoppable force. The clock is ticking for the Carbon Lobby. The question is how long will it take and at what cost to the environment, people, and other living beings?