Archives for category: Renewable Energy

An Earth Day Yarn and The Real Deal

Earth Day is a time of celebration, recounting the past, assessing the present, and pointing the way forward. Those attending the April 21, 2018 Earth Day Mayor for the Day program in Naugatuck Connecticut were subjected to an alternate – read false – story having to do with the past.

Connecticut State Assemblyman David Labriola (R) claimed that the Bush family, namely Barbara Bush, was responsible for activities that led to the first Earth Day. We all enjoyed a tall tale in our youth but to pass off such a false narrative as true was both disingenuous and dangerous.

First, let’s get to the real Earth Day story.

In the fall of 1956, there was a meeting in Saint Louis, Missouri, about milk. The connection here was to strontium-90, a “fallout” radioactive material from nuclear weapons testing out west. Was this dangerous substance making its way into cow’s milk?

Eighteen women sent a letter to the U.S. Health Department and to the Saint Louis Health Department. Edna Gellhorn was one of the women. She had earlier led a similar campaign for pure milk. The International Ladies Garment Workers Union, led by Virginia Brodine, lent organizational help. Washington University scientists, including seminal work by Barry Commoner, aided with the science. (See The Closing Circle.)

It was also Commoner who had the idea of citizens and scientists working together to inform the broader public. This gave birth to the Greater Saint Louis Citizens Committee for Nuclear Information (CNI). Two women, Gloria Gordon and Judy Baumgarten, played important roles that kept CNI rolling for the next five years.

The Cold War atmosphere made none of this work easy. To question anything the U.S. government was doing, particularly military, would quickly bring out the “communist” charge. What helped to break down some of this toxic atmosphere was the civil rights movement then gaining momentum in the south. The exposure and censure by the U.S. Senate of arch-anticommunist Senator Joe McCarthy also helped.

To help spread the message and dangers of radioactive material finding its way into ecosystems, including humans, was a group of twenty scientists. The alliance of grassroots environmentalists, union, and scientists led to the publication of the magazine, Nuclear Information. In 1964 it became Scientist and Citizen. (See New Solutions 8:1:17-25 1998.)

It was around this time that a woman scientist became the talk of the country and world. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring burst on the scene. Carson combined the skills of a seasoned writer with her science background as a government biologist.

She cautioned about pesticides via a fictional silent spring when no birds sang. Carson followed this with real data and spoke on the Audubon circuit. She immediately drew venom from chemical companies and government bureaucrats. Former Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson, said “ . . .she was probably a communist.” (Lear, Linda.   1997.   Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature. 429).

Others picked up this vicious red-baiting. Here’s a period Letter to the Editor in the The New Yorker.

Miss Rachel Carson’s reference to the selfishness of insecticide manufacturers probably reflects her Communist sympathies, like a lot of our writers these days. We can live without birds and animals, but, as the current market slump shows, we cannot live without business. As for insects, isn’t it just like a woman to be scared to death of a few little bugs! As long as we have the H-bomb everything will be O.K. (Smith, Feminist Studies 2001, 27:741).

It would take another blog to unpack the anticommunist, anti-women venom here. You have to wonder whether the writer ever ate insect pollinated fruits e.g. an apple? Rachel Carson persevered these hateful attacks and is often cited as a key contributor to the origin of Earth Day and the modern environmental movement.

In the early 1960s, President Kennedy (D) sent the first U.S. troops to Vietnam. President Lyndon Johnson (D) followed by President Richard Nixon (R) greatly expanded the U.S. War in Vietnam. Anticommunism was resulting in a bloodletting. In his 1968 famous Riverside speech, Martin Luther King, connected the devastation in Vietnam and killing of its people to the oppression of the poor and people of color at home.

Then came the revelations of the cruel and genocidal use by U.S. forces of the chemical defoliant Agent Orange. Dow Chemical and Monsanto reaped megaprofits from this chemical warfare. Uniroyal Chemical was also a producer. Environment, war, and human rights were all coming together. The demonstrations in Washington D.C in 1968, 1969 and 1971 grew in size and effectiveness.

In 1969, Scientist and Citizen changed its name to Environment and quickly became the most prestigious journal in its field.

It was at this time that Senator Gaylord Nelson (D) of Wisconsin took the initiative to pull together many of these struggles and movements. He wanted a grassroots approach similar to the anti-war “teach-ins” on college campuses. Nelson hired Denis Hayes, a former Stanford student president and now Harvard Law School student. Hayes smartly hired a team of activists steeped in civil rights, the Chicano movement, and the Robert Kennedy (1968) presidential campaign. The result was various grassroots gatherings of 20 million people on April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day.

The action didn’t stop there. In 1971, word spread that the military was planning a nuclear weapons test on Amchitka Island in part of the Aleutian Archipelago off Alaska. A group of activists set off in an old fishing boat to stop the test. While initially unsuccessful, it led to the international organization Green Peace with 2.9 million supporters in 40 countries. Amchitka Island is now has a bird sanctuary*.

  • Dozens of Amchitka workers and Aleuts have died from leaking radiation from the 3 underground nuclear tests there.

 

Landmark legislation followed the first Earth Day such as the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act.

Soon after all this activity, there gained momentum to impeach President Richard Nixon for high crimes throughout his presidency. He was driven out of office in 1974. There are many lessons here as mass actions call for the impeachment of Donald Trump.

 

The dishonesty of a false narrative of Earth Day origins by a state legislator is easy to explain but why dangerous? I say this because if we don’t paint accurate pictures of how such a momentous event as how the first Earth Day emerged in April 1970, attempts of other needed social/political changes e.g. renewable energy, will lead to dead ends. Such changes have some shared, distinguishable characteristics.

Attempts to rewrite history, and grossly distort it, are legion. The movie Rebirth of a Nation (1915) is good example. When the film came out, President Woodrow Wilson (D) had a viewing of it in the White House. It gave this racist movie an unfortunate legitimacy.

This skewed view of U.S. history included vicious stereotyping of slaves and black people generally. Wilson was also responsible for resegregating Washington D.C. and disastrously led the USA into WWI after running on a peace platform. (See Dead Wake, Larson).

President Trump is a chief follower of those who rewrite history to fit their fancy. Having a picture of President Jackson prominently displayed in the White House is symbolic of his white nationalist ways. President Jackson was a slave owner and instigator of genocide against native peoples. The promulgating of his image along with praising Jackson’s presidency speaks volumes about Trump’s ideology and the politics that follow in its train.

Trump’s policies and approach to politics is to disunite our people and country. Misogyny, male chauvinism, and anti-immigrant ideas have a present currency. Oliver North’s recent anti-youth statements pointed at the students of South Park Florida, who are leading the struggle against gun violence, are a recent example. Racism and anticommunism are often the ideological bulwarks behind disunity.

The 2020 50th anniversary of Earth day will be here in a blink of an eye. It is also a presidential election year. There is a need to bring this true history forward versus those who would rewrite it with a false narrative. Unity of people with different political persuasions and with all people regardless of color and sexual orientation is a must to win back our country of the United States of America.

 

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The Many Faces of Systemic Breakdown

It was a Sunday morning. Going out to get the morning newspaper is a daily routine of mine. In early morning reverie, I forgot that I dropped my subscription to the Sunday regional paper. It did not matter. What I saw did.

There were waves of water lapping at the foot of my home’s cement stairs. You read that right. Waves. I blinked. There they were. Not living along the Connecticut shore, or any other body of water, you can imagine my stunned amazement.

By the end of the day, the water main break under our street was mended, damage to the land and my cellar totaled, and life continued. My family was experiencing an example of the crumbling infrastructure in our country.* Donald Trump says he has the answer.

What’s Trump’s solution to crumbling infrastructure? Like so much attempted by his Administration, it involves a bait and switch.

The time-honored deal for large construction projects was 80 percent federal dollars matched by 20 percent local monies. The infrastructure trick here would turn that on its head by forcing state and local governments to come up with 80 percent of the cost to win 20 percent from the feds.

My town of Naugatuck, Connecticut had to take $480,000 from reserve funds just to cover the present shortfall of state funding. How could my “distressed” town, with 11.4 % unemployment, ever hope to participate in such an upside down arrangement?

Recent events in Naugatuck are very much related to this overarching topic of systemic breakdown. There have been four pollution episodes in the Naugatuck River in the last 10 months. Three events involved sewage spills from the Waterbury Sewage Treatment plant. The largest of those killed 100s of fish and other living beings in the river.

In addition to these, on January 20th, 2018, there was an oil spill by Somers Thin Strip brass plant in Waterbury. Thousands of gallons of hydraulic oil made its way to the river. Pictures of the sheen (less than 0.01mm) moving across different sections of the river can be seen here.

https://youtu.be/AU_p_cTtGHQ

As part of the Clean Water Act, the Oil Spill Pollution Act (1990, 1994) asserts that a company must have a detailed containment plan to mitigate a spill. It must also have a cleanup plan. Did Somers have these in place? Trump has promised and has been implementing cutbacks to the same Clean Water Act.

My first wage-paying job was delivering grocery orders. In the early 1960s, I delivered such orders to the same Somers family that owned this plant. Global Brass and Copper Holdings Inc. of Kentucky now owns the Somers plant.

Were there periodic checks of the Somers plant by the Ct Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP)?

When motivated to do “periodic checks”, our country marshals the wherewithal to do them. There’s an historical example from our constitutional history. Let’s see if there are any connections to another example of breakdown of a different nature.

Systemic breakdown has many faces. Direct violence has always been part of the scene in the USA. School shootings are another horrific form of that violence. The killings of students and teachers in Florida are the latest example.

Three of the largest mass shootings in USA history have happened in the last five months (as of March 2018). There have been 300 school shootings since Newtown, Ct.

An historical framework always helps. This is what has been mostly absent in news reporting and discussions of young people with state and federal representatives.

The Constitution of the USA was ratified on September 17, 1787. The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments, wasn’t ratified until December 15, 1791. It took considerable compromises to get them passed by Congress.

The framers of all this used the term “Country” in the Bill of Rights. But when it came to the 2nd amendment that did not happen. Why?

The reason the Second Amendment was ratified, and why it says “State” instead of “Country”, was to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states. (The Second Amendment Was Ratified to Preserve Slavery by Thom Hartmann, 1/15/2013 www.truth-out.org

A crumbling infrastructure, pollution episodes out of the 1950s, and killings in our schools are all part of systemic breakdown.

Contained in what appears to be a local story along the Naugatuck River, is the kernel of another symptom of systemic problems. That holdings Co. mentioned above is also into munitions.

Whether those munitions end up in the Mid-East, the encirclement of China / Russia, or on our streets/schools will need further research. The killer in the Florida high school shootings had Nazi swastikas etched into the munitions he used. A mental health problem, maybe. A political problem, definitely.

Cutting the military budget, restoring personnel cuts to DEEP, releasing funds for the Clean Water Act and beyond are demands all movements must bring forward in some way. The proposal for solar panels, with federal and state help, on a superfund site in Naugatuck would add much needed jobs, reduce energy bills, and help local budget woes.

Making these connections of systemic breakdown and organizing fight-backs/solutions locally are the order of the day. It will take unity of all movements going into the 2018, 2019 (local) and 2020 elections.

* The same water main burst again, in a different place in front of my home, two years later.

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.

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?