Tuesday, June 1, 2010

On the BP spill being the fault of "environmentalists"...

I've seen a number of emails and conversation threads over the last 10 days that go something like this:

"If you see an environmentalist, give him a good smack in the kisser for this BP tragedy."

The argument, then, goes something like this:
  • Environmentalists don't want oil companies to drill in ANWR, so they have to drill in the deep ocean.
  • If they were allowed to drill in ANWR, they could cap an oil leak like this in minutes.
  • Environmentalists also apparently don't want oil companies to drill in shallow waters, where they can also cap accidents like this easily. Environmentalists are - somehow - forcing oil companies to drill in these deep-water wells, where they don't know what they're doing - hence the BP disaster.
The problem with this approach is simple and straightforward:
  • There are actually ~4,000 active drilling sites in US waters. Only 25 of those are active deep water wells. Production has been stopped in 33 such wells by Obama, which includes some that were set to go online. Point? Deep water wells are a small percentage of active offshore drilling sites. You can see the exact breakdown here. The 4,000 number is from NOAA, here.
  • As of 2004, the costs of deep-water oil and gas development have fallen by a factor of three over the 15 years previous to 2004, making it more profitable for oil companies to pursue these wells. These are typically the less profitable of their wells, so some companies, as they invest in alternative fuels, lose their incentive to pursue new deep-water rigs. The government or environmentalists have nothing to do with the equation. This is oil looking for new revenue streams, and deep-water has become easier to obtain.
But, as usual, the blame on "environmentalists," who somehow control where a company that made $13.96 BILLION in profits in 2009 drills their wells, should spread like wildfire through usual channels of misinformation, hysteria, and drama.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Rush Proves the Opposition's Point Perfectly with Oil Terrorist Comment

I heard today that Rush Limbaugh suggested that the oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico could be the work of domestic terrorists who don't want offshore drilling. You can read the entire transcript in full directly from Rush's website here. You could read the whole thing, but here's the gist of it:

"RUSH:  I want to get back to the timing of the blowing up, the explosion out there in the Gulf of Mexico of this oil rig.  Since they're sending SWAT teams down there now this changes the whole perspective of this.  Now, lest we forget, ladies and gentlemen, the carbon tax bill, cap and trade that was scheduled to be announced on Earth Day.  I remember that.  And then it was postponed for a couple of days later after Earth Day, and then of course immigration has now moved in front of it.  But this bill, the cap-and-trade bill, was strongly criticized by hardcore environmentalist wackos because it supposedly allowed more offshore drilling and nuclear plants, nuclear plant investment.  So, since they're sending SWAT teams down there, folks, since they're sending SWAT teams to inspect the other rigs, what better way to head off more oil drilling, nuclear plants, than by blowing up a rig?  I'm just noting the timing here. "

Set aside the fact that Rush is speculating here and currently the cause of the explosion is not known and is thought to be an industrial accident of some type.

The beauty of Rush's statements is that he proves the problem with oil perfectly. The problem with offshore drilling, oil refineries, pipelines, oil shipments on tankers, and security for oil rich nations and regions is that they are all extremely ripe terrorist targets. Period. Doesn't matter if the terrorists are "hardcore environmental wackos" as Rush calls them, or international terrorists from Al Qaeda or wherever. The result is the same regardless of who blows the target up.

With the case of an oil drilling rig, you get millions of gallons of crude oil spilling into already strained and dying ecosystems. It will cost millions of dollars to clean up, money that is wasted with no return on investment. It will damage ecosystems that are not, unfortunately, valued with human currency values. Local economies will be impacted, and investments, plastic/materials production, and other economic impacts will occur.

That vulnerability = weakness, plain and simple. If you're vulnerable, you're weaker than you would be if you were not vulnerable. And if prices and everything else we do is dependent on that resource, then we're even more vulnerable because our production and our economy are also vulnerable. That's why oil is such great terrorist target. A person with a rifle can shoot the Alaska pipeline - it's been shot over 50 times - or you could blow it wide open and lock up supply for a good while as you damage a large area of pristine wilderness, all for the cost of a bomb and some hiking gear.

Now have a terrorist group blow up 1 wind turbine. Or 10 turbines. You get 10 busted turbines, which would likely be insured, and you'd get X amount of lost power supply to what hopefully would be a dynamic and integrated power grid system. No environmental damage to speak of. No big dramatic clean up costing millions of dollars, risking people's lives, and risking the performance of investments and markets. Same is true with a solar array.

Oil has provided humanity with great things, and it will continue to help us, but it needs to be in a steady decreasing capacity. It's moving into the category of stone tools, spears, bows & arrows, and whale oil. These things had value, but we've moved on to better things. Most importantly, oil has gone from our lifeblood to a liability, and a very serious liability at that. The negatives outweigh the positives. And to continue using it while avoiding implementation of sustainable power is to basically promote and amplify our own weakness, based on domestic security and market security alone - that doesn't even include the pollution and biodiversity impacts of burning fossil fuels.

(Two excellent books on the topic are Brittle Power, and Winning the Oil End Game, both of which were written in conjunction with the US military.Brittle Power is written specifically to the issue of energy security and, even though it was written in the 90s, it's all still relevant today - which is a red flag, of course.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Buff Jesus

Had a Jehovah's Witness guy come over the other day and he left some literature. I didn't get to talk to him about fossils, but I enjoyed this pamphlet. I'm noticing a few trends with mainstream religions these days. One is Jesus is getting whiter and whiter all the time. His hair is also getting shorter, although it is a bit longer than the Jehovah's Witness handout I received in 2008 (see post Nov 2008).

Now a new thing, as you can see in this image, is that Jesus is getting more buff. Those arms are getting thicker, the muscle tone is tremendous, and the hands powerful and large. He's starting to look like a John Buscema illustration of Conan.

I don't really have a point here. I guess different religious groups like to think of Jesus in their own way, blacker or whiter, thinner or thicker, long haired or nicely groomed.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Abortion in the Healthcare Debate

The context of abortion in the US health care debate shows how too often we Americans tend to frame the problems of our time incorrectly. Today, there is tension and anger over "public funding of abortions," or tax money going towards women's abortions. In many cases, such as with international financial support to other countries, this extends to other services like contraception and sex education as well.

When you trace this conflict back to the source, the opposition to abortion is nearly always religious in nature - or "the right," and those in favor of abortion rights are typically women's rights groups and other "liberal" organizations.

But really, aren't we ALL in favor of fewer abortions? Fewer unwanted pregnancies? Nobody really wants an abortion, and nobody really wants to perform them either. Women seek abortions because of the circumstances they find themselves in. So, if we were to reframe the idea, "What is the best way to minimize the number of abortions?," then we would look at those circumstances and work on those.

Many would like to outlaw abortions, but currently about 70,000 women die each year worldwide from unsafe abortions, which are typically performed in countries where abortions are outlawed. That's a lot of people, and when those women die they impact their children that are already born and their families and jobs, etc. The rate of abortions in almost every nation is around 3% of women - regardless of whether or not the country has outlawed abortions or not. So outlawing abortion seems to keep the 3% rate the same while making the death rate of women much higher in nations where abortions are illegal. Therefore outlawing abortions doesn't minimize the number of abortions, but rather increases the deaths of women who are seeking abortion. Are we trying to kill more women? Or have fewer abortions? Additionally, the outlaw approach also leaves the circumstances that drive women to abortion untreated.

One place to start might be to look at the country with the lowest abortions world wide, and that country is currently, and has been for decades, the Netherlands. They come in at 1%, fully 2% lower than the rest of the world. They also lead the world in the lowest teen pregnancy rates. The Dutch and external research groups say these numbers are the results of things like sex education, readily available contraception that is fully covered by universal health care, more open discussion of sexuality, and a general trend towards understanding and accepting things like human sexuality, the need for contraception, and the details about abortion.

When comparing the Netherlands to a poor African nation, you'll also find a ton of other differences and variables as well. But the health care approach, especially in this country, is a good place to start because it's readily attainable and quantified. 

Abortion should be dead-center in our health care debate - yet it's a hot potato because of misguided religious forces. Do Christians want fewer abortions? If so, then they should fully support the most effective system in the world, which is currently a universal health care system that fully supports sex education, contraception, and access to safe abortion. Saying abortion is wrong doesn't lower the number of abortions. Action does.

If not, then one has to ask what the real motive is here. Is it the welfare of the citizens of the United States? Or is it a religious objective?

Abortion should be a common-ground rallying point for all Americans. Instead it remains a divider that is holding this country back.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Pew Research Test

Pew has as short interactive quiz on current event knowledge, real basic stuff in the news.  66% of the general public people that have taken this quiz (as of 2/13/10) got more than half of the 12 questions incorrect. This has to have a large impact on how people see issues, regardless of politics.

This takes about 60-90 seconds to complete, and it's pretty interesting to see where you fall and where the rest of the public falls on these questions.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Some context on misinformation, a brief look back

About 16 months ago, there were all sorts of claims about Obama that I think are interesting to look back on now.

For example, a big one was that Obama will not put his hand on a Bible, since he's Muslim and will only put his hand on the Qur’an. Except, of course, that he's Christian and put his hand on Lincoln's Bible when he was sworn in. But, that emotional, dramatic misinformation was held to be truth by many who were against him, and was one of the primary rumors circulating through blogs, word of mouth, television, and mass emails leading up to the election.

Another one circulating at the same time was that Obama would not say the Pledge of Allegiance or put his hand over his heart during the National Anthem. We heard that he was a "radical Muslim" who "will not recite the Pledge of Allegiance." Misleading photographs and text were mass emailed all over the place, and discussions of this stuff wound up on blogs and TV. That was wrong, too.

We heard that Obama had no birth certificate and was therefore not a US citizen and therefore could not be the President. Obama provided a copy, and the Hawaii state government confirmed his certificate. You and I need so show our birth certificate just to get a passport! Why would the CIA, FBI, and all the other government powers not have checked this out before letting anyone be the president of the US?

Then there were all the claims that Obama is/was the anti-Christ. I guess we'll just have to see on that one. Snopes has a great long list of these things that you can scan in a minute or two here.

But the most important thing to take away from all this misinformation, emotion, and drama is this: The same folks in the mainstream media that were happy to puff up these lies leading right up to the election are the same folks that you'll hear today going on about death panels in health care (and the long line of other ridiculous claims about health care reform circulating out there) and many other claims. However, considering that most everything said previously has been proven false, I'd recommend looking at multiple, varied sources before taking something hook, line and sinker. And look at the source. Is someone who said that Obama wouldn't put his hand on a Bible the same one telling you that the new health care plan will kill old people? If so, you may want to find a new source of information so you can make informed decisions as a responsible citizen of the greatest democracy in the world.

If you don't like Obama and/or his policies that's fine, just please make sure you form your opinions based on skeptical thinking and reasoning.  It's for the good of the country.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Another Beef Recall

These seem to be cropping up every month like clockwork, sometimes every two months. This time it's from a slaughterhouse in Missouri.

For those who haven't seen it, put Food, Inc on your Netflix list. It's not gruesome or PETA-flavored, but a business-view on food production in the States. It does show nicely how you buy chicken that's been treated with ammonia to kill all the bacteria that result from filthy meat processing plants, where production has exceeded human ability to inspect and clean the meat before it's processed.

Another book that is more gruesome, but still wonderfully vivid and eye-opening is Slaughterhouse by Gail Eisnitz. I'll have to do a longer review here but it's a great read if you want to know how the packing industry works.