Poll: Majority of people are concerned about "fracking"

The Civil Society Institute has released its poll data and report titled, "'Fracking' and Clean Water: A Survey of Americans" (pdf here). The findings:
  • 57% of Americans had at "least some awareness of fracking as an issue," including 19% “very aware," and 25% as “somewhat aware." Only 13% reported being unaware.
  • 69% are “very concerned” (40%) or “somewhat concerned” (29%) regarding water
    quality issues. Only 15% answered that they are “not very concerned” while 16% reported being “not concerned at all” (16%).
  • Between the political parties, Democrats reported the highest concern at 86%. Independents reported concern at 74% while Republicans, though least concerned, still answered with a majority at 57%. Interestingly, this is a bipartisan concern.
  • "Nearly three out of four Americans (73%) very/somewhat aware of fracking wouldbe 'very concerned' (58%) or 'somewhat concerned' (15%) to 'have such an energy project close enough to your home that there was even a small chance that it could have an impact on your drinking water.' A majority of Republicans (56%), Independents (86%) and Democrats (91%) would be concerned to 'have such a project near their home.'"
  • 69% of Americans say that they would involve themselves in a "community project to raise concerns about a fracking project" "if one was“proposed close enough to your home that there might be an impact on the quality of [their] drinking water.”
At the end of the report, they report a very interesting tie between energy and environmental concerns:
  • Americans have a hard time choosing between climate change (6%) and protecting our drinking water (18%) as the most urgent concern today. Most (66%) believe both are of equal concern.
Regarding drinking water, the Civil Society provides some commentary on their webiste:
Pam Solo, founder and president, Civil Society Institute, said: "Clean energy production is strongly favored by Americans over energy sources that create a danger to human health and safe drinking water in particular. Fracking is a perfect illustration of the fact that Americans don't think of an energy source as 'cheap' or 'clean' if there is a hidden price in terms of safe drinking water and human health. The message from our new survey is clear: Americans of all political persuasions prefer to see clean energy development that protects water supplies over traditional fossil fuel production that endangers safe drinking water and human health."

Commenting on the survey, Anthony Ingraffea, PhD, P.E., Dwight C. Baum professor of engineering, Cornell University, said: "The results of this survey indicates that the public has been educated and sensitized to the issues arising from tradeoffs among energy production, the environment, and health. Americans now understand that, especially with the allure of gas production from unconventional gas plays, even 'getting it right' from a technical and regulatory point of view might still be wrong in terms of clean drinking water. The public is increasingly ready to commit to change in its energy use patterns, invest in its children's energy futures, and is no longer willing to accept the notion that a corporate business plan is the same as a national strategic energy plan."
Does this mean anything for you and your community's decisions regarding energy use, climate change, water quality and natural environmental quality?

What is the balance between a national strategic energy plan, a corporate business plan, and a community's and ecosystem's well-being?


Penn State's Strategic Plan & Sustainability

This just in from Penn State's Office of Sustainability:
What would a sustainable Penn State look like to you? This is the key question to an ambitious sustainability strategic planning effort that was kicked off this fall with all the University’s top leadership—and the guidance of some of the world’s leading sustainable businesses. Town hall meetings and various other forums are being planned now to gather input. For more information, and to contribute, visit: http://www.green.psu.edu/SustPlan/default.asp
What do you think Penn State needs to do?


"It's not all that it's cracked up to be..."

But maybe it's all that it's fracked up to be.

Is the profit from gas worth the price of destroying tradition?

Are we in a third world country inside of a first world country? Why are farmers left to this? Are we left to "hoping" for clean water?

Thanks to Susquehanna River Sentinel for the post.

Is this the future of sustainability? The local and regional?

How will we adapt to peak oil? To climate change? To the fact that we are overworked and dependent? If you look at global happiness, "We the people" may have life and we may have liberty in purchasing, but our pursuit of happiness has been compromised by too much work and too much consumption. That consumption has been tied to toxification of our shared environment with plants, animals, and the microbes that support us all and none of that can last in a finite world. What is the future of human happiness?

On today's show we talked about biofuels and the future of regionalism: watersheds, foodsheds, and energy sheds. Is that our future?

Is the collapse of oil the end of nations as we understand them and the emergence of some new political, economic, and biological organization? Tell us what you think.

New shows up: Biofuels, Penn State's Strategic Plan, and Students for Sustainability

How do people tackle sustainability in the Centre Region? We have had some really great guests on the last few shows. We've had students fighting sweatshops, dirty fossil fuels, and climate change. Well what's Penn State's response as one of the biggest institutions in our state? And how is business in our area working toward cleaner and more sustainable energy? Listen in to see how students, institutions, and businesses are tackling the pressing issues of our day.

What do you think we need to do? What presses you?


Industrialized forests

There is a lot of concern about the speed of the shale play development in Pennsylvania. In fact, last night I was talking to a man from Renovo who said that the municipality has to spend roughly $10,000 to monitor their drinking water source now and in the future to check against possible contamination by nearby gas wells that are being put it. For a small rural community, every dollar counts. He wondered why the gas company doesn't pay for it if they are creating the jeopardy by creating an industrial wasteland nearby.

Industrial wasteland? That's what some people are seeing. They are watching tracts in the state forests like Sproul and Tioga State Forests turn into industrial parks that strip the trees from the land, disrupt human and non-human animal habitat, and interfere with animal corridors. PennEnvironment has posted short video piece about this featuring retired forester Butch Davey.

Is it really the responsibility of regulators to control this? Is it yours? The gas companies responsibility?


Going after the ostriches

A November 10th Daily Collegian featured a story titled, "Student project aims to prove global warming is occurring." The story describes an advanced undergraduate engineering class in which the students were challenged by their professor, Rick Schuhmann, to disprove climate change. If they could do it, they would win dinner at a local Thai restaurant. You think they could do it? The article reports

“The class found more than enough evidence to prove global climate change is occurring and humans are causing it,” Beatty said, referencing her project.

Rick Schuhmann, director of engineering leadership development, gave the students several sources for researching, including United States Senator Jim Inhofe, who said in a speech that global warming is a “hoax” and was proven to be a hoax by the nation’s top scientists.

Inhofe is one of the most politically powerful ostriches in the country, if not the world and he has become infamous for his hard-ball tactics with climate scientists and environmentalists. He has called for Al Gore to testify before congress for his "science fiction movie," An Inconvenient Truth. He has also advocated a criminal investigation into so-called "Climategate."

His ostrich and hoax work is not surprising. He is the biggest recipient of oil and gas industry money and lobbying. According to Common Cause, Inhofe received $630,000 in contributions from oil and gas groups in the first half of 2009 alone.

So this class poses a real challenge to students. It confronts them with effectively sorting through data, through rhetoric, and through a lot of information and making an informed judgment. And the students found that there was no scientifically credible argument against climate change. The story quotes one student, David Leaf, as saying “Global warming is happening. There is just confusion from unreliable sources and politics."

Leaf's group set up a Facebook page you can join called GLOBAL WARMING: Know your facts. Check it out.

The ostriches came out swinging. Samuel Settle of Penn State's chapter of Young Americans for Freedom sent a letter to the editor (the link is currently down) of the Collegian, arguing that people should be skeptical of human-induced climate change. In it he urged readers to view the scientific peer-review process as something of a flawed cabal of the same people continually rubbing one another's shoulders, essentially just telling each other what they want to hear.

This is an interesting thing for a political science major to make. The legitimacy of his field of study rests, in no small part, on the effectiveness of the peer-reviewed literature that it generates and the effectiveness of its predictions, explanations, and descriptions. In fact, the same statistical methods that inform climate science are used in Settle's favorite areas of study - political science and economics - but with less precision and certainty. There is nothing that we know of (and correct us if we are wrong) in Political Science so settled as the scientific certainty of climate change.

In November 11th's Collegian, a Gilman Ouellette, a senior in climatology and physical geography, responded to Settle's argument. Ouellette writes,
[Settle] goes on to misconstrue the peer review process, suggesting that the same conspiring climatologists review every climate change-related article and reject alternative views. In reality, the scientists who contribute to climate research come from a multitude of scientific disciplines, and many peer-reviewed articles on climate change are not published in specific climatology journals. Perhaps it isn’t obvious, but “colluding for political purposes” is an impossible feat when dozens of distinct scientific disciplines are purportedly involved. The letter further displays a lack of factual basis when it is suggested that “Climategate” stands as evidence of corruption among climate scientists. In reality, three separate investigations have found the scientists involved in “Climategate” to be innocent of scientific misconduct.
We've been pretty fortunate to have some pretty excellent people on this show regarding climate change. In February we had Ed Perry, the National Wildlife Federation Global Warming Outreach Coordinator, on the show. He detailed the ways that the climate denialists have manufactured a political controversy that looks like a scientific controversy. As Naomi Oreskes showed in a 2004 article grounds for “skepticism” have been soundly refuted; of 928 papers on climate science published between 1993 and 2003, there was no significant dissent from “the consensus view…[that] climate change is caused by human activity” leading to the conclusion that the evidence for human-induced climate change is “clear and unambiguous." In the six years since that paper was published, that consensus strengthened. An interesting discussion of Oreskes' work can be seen at Skeptical Science: Getting skeptical of global warming skepticism.

Richard Alley explained to us that climate change is basic physics. To paraphrase: People put more CO2 in the atmosphere. CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Adding a greenhouse gas traps more heat in the atmosphere. More heat in the atmosphere changes the climate. This climate change results in problems for the entire biosphere. The consensus around human-induced climate change is overwhelming.

And Michael Mann, the center of the Penn State manfuactroversy - he was cleared of all charges - explained this very clearly in an October op-ed piece in the Washington Post. Regarding the utterly baseless witch hunts that Settle and others associated with "climategate" have startedm Mann wrote the following:
Nonetheless, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is investigating my previous employer, the University of Virginia, based on the stolen e-mails. A judge rejected his initial subpoena, finding that Cuccinelli had failed to provide objective evidence of wrongdoing. Undeterred, Cuccinelli appealed the decision to the Virginia Supreme Court and this week issued a new civil subpoena.
So let's see Settle and his friends deal with this issue. It is settled (but not Settle'd) science and sadly the ostriches are doing us a great disservice. Mann's advice?
My fellow scientists and I must be ready to stand up to blatant abuse from politicians who seek to mislead and distract the public. They are hurting American science. And their failure to accept the reality of climate change will hurt our children and grandchildren, too.
How about you too? Do you have more wisdom than the ostriches?


What's worse? Public nudity or dirty fossil fuel?

In the U.S. we have lots of prohibitions about dirtiness and a lot of that is related to sex and body image. I remember listening to an interview with the philosopher Peter Singer about ethics and the interviewer asked him about morality and he talked about the ethics of eating animals and harming the environment. Sex or sexual "dirtiness" were not much of a concern.

Well what is dirty? Coal. Natural gas. Oil. At least, that's what EcoAction said in a protest yesterday at Penn State's University Park campus. The Daily Collegian reports:

Eco-Action members said they are concerned the university is not seriously considering using renewable energy.

“The West Campus Steam Plant consists of 95 percent of all campus heat and hot water. We want the university to do more extensive research on all of the different types of renewable energy like wind, thermal or geothermal energy,” Eco-Action Vice President Stefan Nagy (junior-economics) said.

One month ago, the club marched to Penn State President Graham Spanier’s office to voice its concerns. A coalition was formed between the students, faculty and administration to create goals for reducing carbon emissions, Nagy said.

“The march was a big success, but we don’t want our progress to be forgotten in the public’s eye so we came up with the idea for this protest,” he said. “A lot of issues still need to be resolved and we don’t want our voices to fade out.”

That's one way to keep attention up.

Stephanie Hallowich discusses water issues due to hydraulic fracturing

Penn Environment has just posted this video and it is really rather compelling. This is one of the more unconscionable things we've seen so far.

Benzene doesn't just show up in water. It is a carcinogen put in the hydraulic fracturing mixture. According to the EPA, it has been found in concentrations over 60 times the legal safe limit for drinking water. These children are showering in it. Learn more about this issue at PennEnvironment.

What would you do?

Penn State seeing what sustainability curricula it has

Some good news is in on this good day of days, Education for Sustainable Development Day. This just in from the Penn State Newswire:

To date, colleges and universities have had no standardized, comprehensive way to compare their sustainability efforts across institutions. The growing demand for such a system has led to the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS), developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). STARS is a voluntary, self-reporting framework for recognizing and gauging relative progress toward sustainability among institutions of higher education.

The PSU Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) Sustainability Course Survey seeks to identify academic offerings in sustainability across Penn State’s colleges and campuses. In support of Penn State’s current efforts to develop a strategic plan for sustainability, the participation of Penn State faculty members, instructors and graduate assistant instructors is sought.

The participation of full-time, part-time, adjunct, and graduate-student course instructors is encouraged. It is important that all those who teach resident instruction courses at Penn State have an opportunity to respond to this assessment survey and share their efforts in education for sustainability.

I know about this because I am working with the Center for Sustainability on these efforts. Next week, we'll be talking to Dave Riley from the Center for Sustainability and Erik Foley-DeFiore to talk about these and other developments. Stay tuned.


Food Safety Modernization Act passes

Yesterday, November 30, the Food Safety Modernization Act (S.510) passed the Senate, 73-25. This was a pretty big victory for local, sustainable, organic growers sellers. Bryan Snyder of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture writes :
But consider this . . . just a couple years ago, no one anywhere would have guessed that we, along with our partners across the country, could have the impact we did. Even a couple weeks ago the Tester-Hagan provisions looked very much in doubt. What we have going for us now, however, is a very credible and genuine movement of people who believe strongly in building and preserving more locally-based and sustainable food systems for all to enjoy.
The bill now waits a vote in the House. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition reports:

The bill still faces the hurdle of final House action. Top House Democrats have agreed to consider passing the Senate version to avoid lengthy reconciliation negotiations that would prevent the bill from becoming law and force the next Congress to start the entire process from scratch.

NSAC issued a press release following the Senate vote urging speedy House action to approve the Senate bill and send it on to the President for his signature.

Do you support small sustainable farmers?


Nova Scotians Petition for a Frack Ban

The oil & gas industries are seeing fights against fracking everywhere, even in Nova Scotia, Canada. "On behalf of over 1,000 signatories, a petition to ban hydraulic fracturing" was presented to the Nova Scotia Legislature by the Council of Canadians, an organization that fights corporate exploitation of water and organizes people for water access, health, and democracy around the world. They believe that water is a human right and that its transformation into a commodity - whether a for-profit venture from the tap, to bottled water, to its transformation into a toxic cocktail that can get back into public water - is a violation of our rights, not to mention the well-being of the ecosystems in which we live.

The petition itself reads as follows:
• Whereas Petroworth Resources Inc. has indicated that it intends to drill for oil along a seismic line between Lake Ainslie and Mull River in the ‘Ainslie Block’ that extends from St. Rose to Port Hood and east to Whycocomagh in Inverness County, and
• Whereas this exploration may lead to the discovery of shale gas (i.e. natural gas obtained from underground shale formations) as well as oil, and
• Whereas Petroworth Resources Inc has used the technology known as hydraulic fracturing (hereafter referred to as fracking) in the extraction of shale gas in New Brunswick and has not ruled out its utilization in the Ainslie Block, and
• Whereas fracking involves injecting, under very high pressure, millions of litres of water, sand and proprietary chemicals into a large number of underground rock formations, and
• Whereas some of these chemicals can lead to serious health problems, ranging from eye and respiratory disorders to cancer, and
• Whereas fracking in other parts of North America has already resulted in the contamination of underground sources of drinking water and other environmental concerns,
• Whereas other rural communities across North America have reacted to these threats to drinking water and human health by demanding an outright ban on the use of fracking,
• We the undersigned, in the interests of all residents of Nova Scotia, demand a province- wide ban on the use of fracking as described above.
Is this the kind of mobilization people are looking for to slow down the rush into the Marcellus Shale?


Democracy Now! Manfred Max-Neef and Derrick Jensen

Democracy Now! is something of our big sister program. For a number of years they have spearheaded the progressive radio and internet movement by bringing the world to us, the world as it is often unseen by the dominant corporate media.

On November 26th, they hosted two really compelling leaders, thinkers, and actors on sustainability. Watch it here.

The first is Manfred Max-Neef, a Chilean economist who has worked to understand poverty as it really is instead of an idealized version that we can create by valorizing it or by thinking that it is universally horrible. If you listened to our show with Donaldson Conserve and Shanai Haywood these issues of poverty came up strongly. And, if you listened in just a couple of weeks ago, you heard my interview with Alfredo Sfeir-Younis, also a Chilean economist who is working on some of these same issues. For both, sustainability is a central issue to any kind of development. And sustainability means doing less while being in love and loving everything. "We all know exactly what should not be done but we do it. How do you change that?"

Then Derrick Jensen came on the show and in typical fashion dropped proverbial and verbal bombs about modern society. In short: the modern industrial state must be stopped by people resisting it.

Where are we going? More importantly, what do you think of Max-Neef's assertion that the university is where we need to change things?

World Sustainable Development Teach-In Day

This coming Friday, December 3rd, marks World Sustainable Development Teach-In Day.
Sustainable development is an issue all countries in the world are currently looking at. The degree of emphasis and the level investing resources invested however varies from one country to another; but regardless of whether we are talking about industrialized or developing countries, the quest for environmentally sound, socially just, economically viable and ethically acceptable development needs to be regarded as a priority by all nations of the world.

For many years now, a large number of initiatives have been carried out throughout the world to attempt to stoke up awareness about sustainable development and promote initiatives to achieve it.

The 1987 Report "Our Common Future" produced by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), "Agenda 21" produced by the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and the "Johannesburg Declaration" produced following the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 are examples of the type of initiatives being worked on internationally. These have been complemented by the various "National Sustainable Development Strategies" produced prior to UNCED and after Johannesburg.
As a show committed to sustainability, this marks a great opportunity for us to talk about this thing called "sustainable development."

What is being developed and what is being sustained? So far, much of sustainable development seems to have been a global corporate-governmental collusion that has served the advantage of the already wealthy and powerful. Looking at just water issues in India, Bolivia, and Africa, the idea and practice of sustainable development might seem an oxymoron. There is no doubt we have a conundrum on our hands if we hope to bring health and material prosperity to ~6.8 billion people and counting.

Follow Paul Ehrlich's equation:
Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology
The United States has over 300 million people living here, <5% href="http://www.jameslovelock.org/">James Lovelock, father of the "Gaia theory" has called a "sustainable retraction." Maybe it's time to get in on the Transitions Initiatives. Maybe we all just need lifeboats for a coming dog-eat-dog world. Or maybe there is not really much to worry about and the Earth's carrying capacity will hold all of these developed people.

As part of the media we have a significant role to play. What do we hope to sustain? Who do we develop? What and whose purpose does all of this serve? In a world of uncertain futures, how and for whom do we conceive of our teaching?

What should sustainable development look like right here in Central Pennsylvania?


Pittsburgh says "No!" to fracking

This was a landmark occasion. The city council of Pittsburgh, Pa unanimously voted for an ordinance banning natural gas drilling in the city. Yes! Magazine reports:
The ordinance sponsor, Pittsburgh Councilman Doug Shields, led the charge to ban drilling, and was later joined by five co-sponsors. During the months leading up to today’s vote, Shields passionately advocated for the ordinance, saying that the city is “not a colony of the state and will not sit quietly by as our city gets drilled.” He sees this fight as about far more than drilling, saying “It’s about our authority as a community to decide, not corporations deciding for us.”

Drafted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), Pittsburgh’s ordinance elevates the rights of people, the community, and nature over corporate “rights” and challenges the authority of the state to pre-empt community decision-making.
These issues have come up elsewhere and will likely escalate. We can expect that more local governments will take up this CELDF ordinance to resist corporate encroachments on their communities and their environments. A lot of the outrage in Pittsburgh has been the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, that has granted corporations more rights than its citizens. Corporations are individuals with more legal and procedural power, freedom, and rights than you and your neighbors (image courtesy of Yes!). The Pittsburgh ordinance confronts that face-on:

As Councilman Shields stated after the vote, “This ordinance recognizes and secures expanded civil rights for the people of Pittsburgh, and it prohibits activities which would violate those rights. It protects the authority of the people of Pittsburgh to pass this ordinance by undoing corporate privileges that place the rights of the people of Pittsburgh at the mercy of gas corporations.”

Provisions in the ordinance eliminate corporate “personhood” rights within the city for corporations seeking to drill, and remove the ability of corporations to wield the Commerce and Contracts Clauses of the U.S. Constitution to override community decision-making.

So what do you think? Should people press these onward at multiple levels? Or should there be some more moderated approach through stricter or more efficient regulation?

Pittsburgh says


Shale Gas: Jekyll and Hyde

Last week, we encouraged you to watch the 60 Minutes piece on shale gas extraction. We've included it below for you to watch again. A lot of the issues we've discussed on the show were front and center. From the need to reduce carbon emissions to the national security/military issues associated with oil to the dreadful costs to communities and ecosystems in terms of water pollution and truck traffic, this feature gets into a lot of the things we've questioned our guests about.

What do you think of Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon's statements comparing Drano and frack water? If we are willing to clean our drains in our own houses with toxic chemicals, why not do it in a massive industrial process? If we use lawn killers and other toxins in our everyday lives, do we have the right to go after natural gas companies? What's the difference?

Sierra Club director Michael Brune argues that natural gas is the future and it has to be more tightly regulated. Some of our guests think it can't be. If he's right, do we have to deal with our own Jekyll and Hyde? What do you think we should do to make sure this is done "the right way?"

Marcellus trucks overwhelmingly in violation

The Philadelphia City Paper reports that "Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Pennsylvania State Police announced yesterday that a crackdown on trucks hauling wastewater from Marcellus Shale drilling operations yielded the following results: of 1,175 trucks inspected, 1,057 were found to be violating state laws."

The DEP's "Operation FracNET" which ran from October 25-27 placed "207 [trucks]...out of service because of safety concerns. Fifty-two drivers were also removed from service...The most common problems involved unsecured loads and inoperable vehicle lights and lamps."

What is trucking like in your area? What impacts have you seen? Have the police been effective in maintaining your community's safety?


Hiking? Drilling?

In April, Curt Ashenrood of the Keystone Trails Association spoke in favor of Pennsylvania legislature's House Bill 2235 that placed a "moratorium on leasing State forest lands for the purposes of natural gas exploration, drilling or production; imposing duties on the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; and providing for report contents." The bill passed with Governor Rendell's signature and you can watch Ashenrood's testimony here, courtesy of Faces of Frackland.

Now it seems that we are in a less certain place. According to the Centre Daily Times, Pennsylvania's governor elect "lift Rendell's executive order preventing the issuing of any more drilling leases in state forests." According to Common Cause, as of May, Corbett was the "recipient of $361,207, with 93% of these contributions coming since January 2008." By the time the campaign ended the Centre Daily Times reports that he received nearly $1 million in campaign money. And now we have president Obama joining the cause according to NPR's Living on Earth who, following the recent "shellacking" by the Republican party, has decided to endorse natural gas development.

This is all potentially bad news for hikers, bikers, hunters, and fishermen and the plants and animals they so enjoy in Pennsylvania's expansive state forests.

Are you a hiker? What do you think about the moratorium?

60 Minutes piece on the Marcellus Shale

The Sierra Club has just sent out a media alert. This Sunday evening, November 14, the top-rated CBS program 60 Minutes, will be featuring a piece investigating the environmental damage caused by inadequate regulation in the natural gas industry. Lesley Stahl interviewed Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune extensively for the story.

Sierra Club is one of the most vocal and powerful environmental conservation groups in the country and has been committed to fighting for effective natural gas regulation in the face of the massive and barely controlled rush, including fighting to keep the oil and gas industry out of areas where drilling and production poses unacceptable risks. To learn more about their efforts, go here and get news, views, and ways to connect with other concerned citizens. If you want to involve yourself with central Pennsylvania's chapter, go the Moshannon branch of the Sierra Club's website here. Their members are hosting free screenings of Gasland in the coming couple of weeks.

Check your local listings to tune in to 60 Minutes this Sunday.


Tracking the Fracking

What kind of tracking information is available for us on the natural gas development of the Marcellus Shale play? Just a few months ago, some people in and around State College were wondering how to track the scope of the problem and lamenting that they didn't have the time or the infrastructure to do something that seemed so necessary. But as it turns out, there is a large amount of data out there.

The Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC) of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health has developed FracTracker:
In response to the growing concerns regarding Marcellus Shale gas extraction's impacts...FracTracker is a combination of a web-based DataTool for tracking & visualizing data related to gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale region, & perhaps in other shale regions in the future, & a blog for synthesizing data.
As you may know from following much local media in Pennsylvania and from talking to your friends, neighbors, and family members across the state, the natural gas industry is impacting Pennsylvania enormously. While some people are making a fortune, others are being exposed to the produced water from the fracking process, workers have died, cows have been quarantined, wells have blown out, water has been contaminated with gas from leaking wells, children have gotten sick, communities and ecosystems have been disrupted by noise and traffic, and roads have been crushed by truck traffic.

Maps and analysis can help us get some handle on the scope of these issues. For example, you can view this map of recorded violations from 1-1-2007 and 9-30-2010 (pictured at left - taken from FracTracker). Like we've been doing with some bloggers who live in Marcellus production areas, some on-the-ground interviewing is illuminating as well (watch this interview with exposed to contaminated water).

That's why we will be talking to Samantha Malone (Communications Specialist for FracTracker) on our show this week. We will talk about Frac Tracker, why it's needed, what it's showing about the Marcellus Shale play development, and how it compares to other places in the United States that have had long-term shale gas drilling.

Listen in on Friday November 11th from 4-5 pm on The Lion 90.7 fm.


Ignorance. Want. Needs.

Earlier this month, Peter and Mike did a show on the recent Marcellus Summit 2010 hosted at the Penn Stater Conference Center. During that show, Peter spoke about some of his experiences at the conference, his thoughts on who was represented and who wasn't, and what the goal of the conference seemed to be. In part, he found the talk of John Felmy (featured on our YouTube page) to be particularly disturbing.

As a follow-up and an expansion on that episode, Peter wrote an op-ed piece on the most recent Voices of Central Pennsylvania. Here is a brief excerpt:
It takes no leap of imagination or some profound and deep thought to see that the gas-infatuated and addicted industries equate their “wants” with our “needs.” I hope that they are wrong.
Felmy, encouraged the faithful attendants to use “facts,” and hopefully “the same facts,” in their deliberations on these matters. Having listened to his presentation several times, I think the gathered were to conclude that those who prescribe to the high faith of fossil–fuel-addiction-meets-growth-economics jargon that “projections” that “show” gas gas “needs” that increase industry profits are, in fact, “facts.”

Consider some projections regarding climate change and extinction, facts that are both reliable and valid. The Earth, on average, will warm 6.4-degrees Celsius (11.5 degrees Fahrenheit) by century’s end. Over a billion climate refugees will migrate. Water scarcity – fueled in some small part by hydraulic fracturing – will plunge nations into civil and regional wars over water. The rainforests and boreal forests will nearly disappear. The oceans will further toxify and acidify. Less than 50% of species alive today will be extinct. Earth will be ecologically impoverished. Bladerunner meets The Stand perhaps?

What are your thoughts on our energy "needs" and our future?


PSU graduate working toward sustainable culture in Mexico

This is a really interesting story from today's Centre Daily Times:
Graduating from Penn State in 2009 with a master’s degree in civil engineering wasn’t enough to help one alumnus find a job.

But David Vargas’ next decision — moving back to his birthplace of Mexico with his girlfriend to backpack, travel and visit his family — would completely change his fortune.

“We wanted to volunteer with nonprofits and organic farms and do whatever we could to just get by. We started talking about my thesis on rainwater harvesting and everybody was super-interested, and we started building systems for contacts that were interested,” said Vargas.

“Once we put up three rainwater harvesting systems, we decided we better start a business and nonprofit here, and that’s when we met my business partner (Enrique Lomnitz) and we joined forces.”

Bravo to Vargas!

We might see more initiatives like this coming from Penn State graduates in the future. PSU is formulating its strategic plan around sustainability and a huge component of that is developing skilled people who teach for sustainability, students who learn for sustainability, and graduates work for sustainability across the board. Vargas is on the cutting edge.

Moving on

A few months ago, we hosted Katherine Watt of the local Transition Towns initiative on the show. We talked about energy decline and climate change as opportunities for local, regional, and cultural transformation.

As a follow up, you can check out her recent piece in the Centre Daily Times, "Transition planning moves on":

What ideas are lying around for us? There are two dominant competing visions of the Centre County future. One is thousands of drill towers, concrete pads and pipelines ripping down the woods; thousands of semis rumbling along formerly quiet country roads; potential widespread water contamination and depletion; carbon flying skyward; and a steady flow of gas and profit heading east to investors in New York, London and other world financial capitals.

The other vision is food, farms and forests, and no matter how many times the drilling proponents repeat their reassuring lies, once the water’s a mile underground or contaminated, it’s unusable. Once the trees and roots are gone, so are the living ecosystems they support.

My friends working in the local sustainability movement say people “get it.” They’re sick of the talk and want to see more action. Transition planning, as pioneered in England by Rob Hopkins, has a dozen or so interwoven components for building resilient communities for the post-carbon age.

Read more here.

Two things come to mind: First, what are you doing to work toward this transition? Second, do you know how to get involved? If you don't, you can start by connecting with Transition Centre!


Sustainable Politics

Given the recent state and national election results, today's show was timely. Perhaps not timely enough given the highly charged atmosphere and the anti-climate change mood in much of the country, but timely in talking about what sustainable politics could be.

It was our good fortune to host three pretty engaged women. For the first few minutes talked with Jennifer Wagner-Lawlor (Assoc. Professor of Women's Studies) who has arranged the TEDxNorthPacificGarbagePatch event being aired at the Berg Auditorium in the Life Sciences Building at Penn State's University Park campus. You can get a sense of the problem by watching the following TED Talk and checking out the plasticpollutioncoalition.org.

Then we talked about sustainable politics with Rosa Eberly, a self-described free-range rhetorician who teachers Communication Arts and Sciences at Penn State and deals with civic engagement each and every day. We also were joined by State College mayor Elizabeth Goreham. What is a sustainable politics? Well, it involves engagement, good information, alertness, and staying engaged.

Listen to the show HERE.

The great Pacific garbage patch - TEDx Talk at Penn State

If you aren't aware of it, there is a continent of trash in the North Pacific Gyre about twice the area of the state of Texas. How did we get this thing? What is it doing? What can we do about it? How can we change to prevent more of it?

On Saturday, November 6th, at 11:30 a.m. you can join the TEDxGreatPacificGarbagePatch Watch Party at PSU! at the Life Sciences Building, Berg Auditorium (RM 100).

Here's the flier.Today, on Sustainability Now radio, the PSU organizer for this event, Jennifer Wagner-Lawlor will join us for a few minutes to discuss the event and answer a few questions. Tune in from 4-5 pm on The Lion 90.7 fm.


Sustainable Penn State

Penn State is a mammoth institution. We hold the biggest Pepsi contract in the state of Pennsylvania as far as we know. Approximately 42,000 people attend this school at University Park each year and close to 80,000 each year across the whole system. Let's face it. What we do as an institution matters.

Well...what is happening? According to a recent video at Penn State's Center for Sustainability website, We Are! Penn State! is getting closer to the mark. Watch.

We hope to have some of the people on this video on our show to talk about the future of the world according to Penn State's vision of sustainability. Where are we going to shape our technologies? Our politics? Our economy? Maybe most importantly, how do we participate in our culture in meaningful ways to care for the seventh generation and beyond?


The guys at Freeze Thaw Cycles recycle hundreds of pounds of aluminum

A couple of weeks ago we had Jordyn Drayton, the co-owner of Freeze Thaw Cycles in State College, Pa. This morning, they sent off hundreds of pounds of used wheel rims, handlebars, cranks, stems, seat posts, and more to a metal recycling facility in Lewistown, Pa. Check it out.

Disclosure: Peter Buckland races for Freeze Thaw.


Expanding Sustainability: Rights, Global Economics, and Human Transformation


Expanding Sustainability: Rights, Global Economics, and Human Transformation
A Public Talk with Chilean Environmental Economist, Diplomat and
Spiritual Teacher Alfredo Sfeir-Younis

Tuesday, Oct. 26
Noon —1:30 PM
124 Sparks

Brown Bag Lunch Talk (drinks and dessert provided)
Sponsored by
Penn State’s Center for Sustainability & Global Studies Institute

"It is impossible to attain the aims of a sustainable civilization without agreeing on a bundle of rights, be it for this generation or future generations. Sustainable Development embodies a social contract which must unfold from a vision and a set of human values that prove essential to human transformation in our global reality.”
—Alfredo Sfeir-Younis

Learn more about our speaker at: http://www.policyinnovations.org/innovators/people/data/07539


One community split over gas drilling

In Lehman Township, Pennsylvania, the community seems to be divided over the costs and benefits that natural gas drilling will bring. These uncertainties have brought about the "Lehman Township Community Water Rights and Self-Government Ordinance" which has been drawn up Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund and presented by the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition and signed by nearly half of the community. Citizens Voice reports that the ordinance came up for a vote on Monday, October 18th.
After two hours of discussion on subjects from hazards to residential water wells - including the fact that many of them have contamination issues even without any gas drilling - to whether natural gas drilling lowers property values, the supervisors failed to make a motion to move forward on the ordinance, or even to hold a special meeting for further discussion.

"They completely ignored the will of the people," Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition co-founder Dr. Thomas Jiunta said afterwards, noting that about 510 out of the township's approximately 1,200 residents had signed a petition in favor of the ordinance. "Basically, they (the supervisors) abdicated their responsibility."
But the issue is much more complicated. Regulations across the board, from federal and state levels, might make this ordinance impossible and even unconstitutional. Citizens Voice further reports:

Planning and zoning Solicitor Jack Haley said that in proposing that the rights of corporations be subordinated to those of individuals, proponents of the ordinance forget that Lehman Township itself is a state-chartered corporation.

Making the township and its people the top governing body could have unintendended consequences, Haley said. It could lead to secession not only from the state, but from the U.S., he said. Or it could be used to deny people their rights based on factors such as religion or ethnicity, or, by prohibiting pollution lead to a ban on cars.

This presents an enormous challenge to communities and their rights. Because they are subsumed within larger public bodies (counties, states, and the nation) they are subject to governmental laws, regulations, policies, and procedures that can overrun their local right to self-governance and self-determination. It may be that self-determination is not a right in these cases because, for example, "eminent domain" can be invoked by regulatory departments working with industries (pipelines, roads, or perhaps even gas wells themselves) have determined that it is in the interest of the largest body (state or federal levels) to put in the pipeline, road, or gas well. Local people's interests can lose.

Do you think that the ordinance should be passed?


"...Cabot wells are the source of the contamination" in Dimock, PA. Who will pay?

On our last show, I (Peter Buckland) referred to this very issue about gas migration into local water sources. During the show, I discussed Pennsylvania's regulators' responses this issue. The town of Dimock, Pennsylvania was featured in the film Gasland and has been in the news repeatedly because of its water and gas problems.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has had to deal with this issue and has taken action against the accused company, Cabot Oil and Gas. But Cabot is, apparently, not responding as responsibly as they should. DEP is stepping in to fix the water problem because Cabot will not.

Well, DEP's Secretary John Hanger has responded. Read below:
DEP Secretary Issues Open Letter to Citizens of Susquehanna County Community Impacted by Ongoing Gas Migration Issues

HARRISBURG -- Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger today issued the following open letter to residents of Dimock, Susquehanna County:

To Whom It May Concern:

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently announced a permanent solution to the drinking water problems in Dimock caused by gas migration from Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation wells. DEP was forced to take action since Cabot continues to deny responsibility for the contamination, despite overwhelming evidence of its responsibility. Since that announcement was made, Cabot has launched a public relations campaign and much misinformation has been brought forth concerning who will be party to that solution and who will end up paying for it.

Cabot is responsible for the gas migration that has caused families to be without a permanent water supply for nearly 2 years and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will seek court orders to make Cabot pay for all costs. But we cannot wait for Cabot to fix the problems it caused and to do the right thing. In the interim, PENNVEST, an agency that finances water and sewer infrastructure projects, will be asked to provide funds to pay the estimated $11.8 million cost for Pennsylvania American Water Company to construct a new, 5.5-mile water main from its Lake Montrose treatment plant to provide water service to the residents of Dimock. Again, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will then aggressively seek to recover the cost of the project from Cabot.

No one in Dimock or Susquehanna County will pay for it and local taxes will not be increased as the result of it. Residents along Route 29 will have the option to tap into the line if they so choose. No one will be forced to hook up to the new public water supply. The new water line will also boost the value of homes and businesses near it.

This action is being taken based on overwhelming evidence that proves the Cabot wells are the source of the contamination. DEP has collected ample evidence tying methane found in private water supplies to Cabot’s wells. We have witnessed and chronicled bubbling gas and high pressure readings from a number of wells that prove poor well construction, and taken readings that show excessive gas levels that could only exist in wells that are leaking. Sophisticated testing has “fingerprinted” gas samples and matched the gas found in five homes to the gas leaking from the nearby Cabot wells. Additionally, the gas wells in many cases are less than a thousand feet from the homes where, by law, it is presumed gas drilling caused any pollution of water wells that may result.

The residents of Dimock have already paid a high price for Cabot’s unwillingness to accept responsibility and provide a satisfactory solution. Cabot will be the one paying the final bill. Perhaps next time Cabot will do the job right the first time and avoid expensive repairs.

John Hanger, Secretary

What do you think Cabot should have to do? What can this tell us about our energy uses? What price will we pay? Can we pay? Should we pay?


The Marcellus Impact Goes Beyond the Marcellus

Penn State is reaching out and out across the Marcellus Shale. And the impact of how the natural gas in the Marcellus Shale is "developed" will ripple out across the planet. PolicyInnovations.org shows how shale play development is playing out across the planet from Pennsylvania and New York to Poland to China. It is possible that what Pennsylvanians do and don't do can be imitated the world over.
Whether the American shale gas experience can be a model for environmental best practices in other countries is debatable. Professor Terry Engelder of Pennsylvania State University told the Financial Times in an interview this June that industry-wide standards are difficult to enforce because fracking techniques will vary based on geological differences and local conditions surrounding the shale formations. He also said that developing best practices would require industry leaders to "experiment" and that a zero-tolerance policy toward environmental damage is unlikely to be achieved.

If environmental and health problems are considered inevitable side effects of shale gas drilling, municipalities may have a hard time embracing the resource. Amid the global hype, signs of resistance to shale gas development are emerging overseas. Hundreds of South Africans protested the exploitation of the country's Karoo shale reserves, citing concerns over water supply.

Will companies and governments learn to avoid past mistakes and take advantage of shale gas without collateral damage? Will public fear become more widespread and bring exploration and development efforts to a halt? On a global scale, questions remain as to whether shale gas can fulfill its potential as an energy miracle or if it will instead become another resource curse.
What's happened already might indicate that the best practices aren't good enough. What do you think?


Our YouTube Channel

We've started a YouTube channel, SustainNowRadio, that will be updated as we do more traditional on-the-ground journalism as well. Sign in, subscribe, and feel free to leave us feedback!

Marcellus Summit 2010

On Sustainability Now, we've covered issues surrounding the natural gas rush in Pennsylvania. We in Pennsylvania live above the massive Marcellus Shale formation, a deposit of shale over one mile underground that the natural gas industry estimates to hold upwards of 250 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. This volume has earned the Marcellus region the title of "the Saudi Arabia of natural gas." As natural gas companies have rushed in to get into the shale play, all kinds of worries have erupted. Most of those have been about water use, waste water disposal, water pollution, human health concerns, and community integrity. The recent film Gasland has brought many people a great deal of concern.

On October 10th - 12th, Penn State and the Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission co-hosted the 2010 Marcellus Summit: Building a Sustainable Future. The event hoped to "identify the challenges, opportunities, and common goals among key stakeholders." Sustainability Now's Peter Buckland was able to go to a good portion of the event and talk to a lot of people, see a lot of the tables, hear a few keynote speakers, watch a few panel sessions, and ask some question. So what happened?

On today's show, we'll cover some of what happened. We'll provide an overview of the event, its sponsorship, and its attendees. We'll talk about a collaborative initiative in Louisiana's Corrizo-Wilcox Aquifer area that prevented some water problems and that Tom Murphy (Penn State Cooperative Extension and noted natural gas drilling advocate) vaunted as a "model" of cooperation for Pennsylvania (watch video here).

Two regulation panels gave the audience a sense of what federal and state regulation is right now for natural gas wells and pipelines. Most importantly, we will talk about a few of the keynote speakers and their presentations, in particular, John Felmy the Chief Economist for the American Petroleum Institute (videos here and here).

For a taste of our new YouTube site follow those video links and subscribe.

Listen today on The Lion 90.7 at 4 pm. Call in at 865-9577.


Is "fracking" THE environmental issue for Pennsylvania? Or is it for all of us?

We've done a few shows on the environmental issues associated with hydrofracture drilling (here, here, here, and here) - so called -"fracking" - in the Marcellus Shale. This is a process whereby energy companies extract natural gas that has been sealed in shale deposits that are up to and beyond a mile below Earth's surface. While alleged to be highly lucrative to the state's economy, the whole process brings with it multiple economic, social, and environmental costs.

Some, like Sandra Steingraber think that fracking and the whole network associated with it, present the whole problem in one go. She has written an article at Orion Magazine that you might want to consider:

THE ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS can be viewed as a tree with two trunks. One trunk represents what we are doing to the planet through atmospheric accumulation of heat-trapping gasses. Follow this trunk along and you find droughts, floods, acidification of oceans, dissolving coral reefs, and species extinctions.

The other trunk represents what we are doing to ourselves and other animals through the chemical adulteration of the planet with inherently toxic synthetic pollutants. Follow this trunk along and you find asthma, infertility, cancer, and male fish in the Potomac River whose testicles have eggs inside them.

At the base of both these trunks is an economic dependency on fossil fuels, primarily coal (plant fossils) and petroleum (animal fossils). When we light them on fire, we threaten the global ecosystem. When we use them as feedstocks for making stuff, we create substances—pesticides, solvents, plastics—that can tinker with our subcellular machinery and the various signaling pathways that make it run.

But don't skip the end.

This year I’ve attended scientific conferences and community forums on fracking. I’ve heard a PhD geologist worry about the thousands of unmapped, abandoned wells scattered across New York from long-ago drilling operations. (What if pressurized fracking fluid, to be entombed in the shale beneath our aquifers, found an old borehole? Could it come squirting back up to the surface? Could it rise as vapor through hairline cracks?) I’ve heard a hazardous materials specialist describe to a crowd of people living in fracked communities how many parts per million of benzene will raise risks for leukemia and sperm abnormalities linked to birth deformities. I’ve heard a woman who lives by a fracking operation in Pennsylvania—whose pond bubbles with methane and whose kids have nosebleeds at night—ask how she could keep her children safe. She was asking me. And I had no answer. Thirty-seven percent of the land in the township where I live with my own kids is already leased to the frackers. There is no away.

Please read on.


Bill McKibben coming to Penn State on October 4th

Noted environmentalist and author Bill McKibben to speak on October 4, 2010

Bill McKibben will speak on the University Park Campus on Monday October 4, 2010 as part of the annual Colloquium on the Environment Speaker Series. His lecture, “The Most Important Number in the World,” is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. in the Auditorium of the HUB-Robeson Center. A book signing will immediately follow his lecture. The event is free and open to the public.

Bill McKibben is an American environmentalist and writer who frequently writes about global warming and alternative energy and advocates for more localized economies. In 2010, the Boston Globe called him “probably the nation’s leading environmentalist” and Time magazine described him as “the world’s best green journalist." In 2009 he led the organization of 350.org, which coordinated what Foreign Policy magazine called “the largest ever global coordinated rally of any kind,” with 5,200 simultaneous demonstrations in 181 countries. The magazine named him to its inaugural list of the 100 most important global thinkers, and MSN named him one of the dozen most influential men of 2009.

“Penn State continues on its path to achieve a 17.5 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2012 and is currently working on the next plan. We are looking forward to Bill McKibben’s presentation and hope to be inspired to do even more,” explained Steve Maruszewski, Assistant Vice President of Physical Plant and Manager of the Finance & Business Environmental Key Initiative.

McKibben is the author of numerous books. His first book, The End of Nature, was published in 1989 is regarded as the first book for a general audience about climate change. In March 2007, McKibben published Deep Economy: the Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. It addresses what the author sees as shortcomings of the growth economy and envisions a transition to more local-scale enterprise. In April of 2010, he published Eaarth. In Eaarth, he insists, we need to acknowledge that we’ve waited too long, and that massive change is not only unavoidable but already under way. Our old familiar globe is suddenly melting, drying, acidifying, flooding, and burning in ways that no human has ever seen. We’ve created, in very short order, a new planet, still recognizable but fundamentally different. We may as well call it Eaarth.

He is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College and lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter.

The annual colloquium is sponsored by Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment and the Finance and Business Environmental Stewardship Strategy at Penn State. This year’s event is also sponsored by the Center for Sustainability and Penn State Outreach. The event has brought numerous high-profile guests to campus including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Christine Todd Whitman, William McDonough, Amory Lovins, and David Suzuki.

Contact for more information:

Patricia Craig

Paul Ruskin

Milea A. Perry
Program Coordinator
Penn State University
Campus Sustainability Office

1 Land and Water Building
University Park, PA 16802
Email: map40@psu.edu
Phone: 814-865-2714



Human Faith and Nature's Place in Belief and the Faithful's Actions

In poll after poll, the United States' population (the human one that is) repeatedly asserts its religious convictions. According to Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life data, about 83% of Americans affiliate with some religion. 80% of Americans report being Christian. Religious life in America seems so important that former Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney gave a speech on religion in 2007. Faith matters.

But what is the content of that belief? How does it inform their actions and choices? Does what people believe about the divine and their relationship to it matter when it comes to how they treat nature? Can faith inspire sustainability? Can it do the opposite?

We hope that Sylvia Neely (Associate Professor of History - Penn State) can help us answer these and other questions about faith. She and others are starting a Penn State chapter of Interfaith Power and Light. The organization recognizes that global warming constitutes a civilization challenging situation. They write:
Global warming is one of the biggest threats facing humanity today. The very existence of life — life that religious people are called to protect — is jeopardized by our continued dependency on fossil fuels for energy. Every mainstream religion has a mandate to care for creation. We were given natural resources to sustain us, but we were also given the responsibility to act as good stewards and preserve life for future generations.
How is this panning out? What are their challenges? How can sustainability come to the forefront for more of the faithful? Can it?

Consider the challenge posed by the Southern Baptist Convention in particular and the Baptist denomination in general. In 2008 Jonathan Merritt, a 25-year-old student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., garnered media attention by releasing "A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change." It was signed by 46 leading SBC representatives. It stated, "Human beings have a responsibility to care for creation and acknowledge their participation in environmental decline." That decline includes climate change. Merritt wrote,
Though the claims of science are neither infallible nor unanimous, they are substantial and cannot be dismissed out of hand on either scientific or theological grounds. Therefore, in the face of intense concern and guided by the biblical principle of creation stewardship, we resolve to engage this issue without any further lingering over the basic reality of the problem or our responsibility to address it. Humans must be proactive and take responsibility for our contributions to climate change—however great or small.
The notion of stewardship, in part, comes from Genesis 2:15, which states "The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." For Merritt, and Interfaith and Power and Light, this care means addressing the degradation that humans have induced on nature.

But the SBC wrote in 2007 that they were skeptical of climate change, advising that members
"proceed cautiously in the human-induced global warming debate in light of conflicting scientific research." This statement came despite the overwhelming consensus view among relevant scientists that industrial humans have induced climate change. This naturally followed:
RESOLVED, That we consider proposals to regulate CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions based on a maximum acceptable global temperature goal to be very dangerous, since attempts to meet the goal could lead to a succession of mandates of deeper cuts in emissions, which may have no appreciable effect if humans are not the principal cause of global warming, and could lead to major economic hardships on a worldwide scale;
To our knowledge, the SBC has not officially changed its position and joined Merritt's call.
Given that Southern Baptists account for nearly 7% of America's believers, this tension has consequences. (Image taken from Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.) Though we should doubt that all Southern Baptists are united under a monolithic views of nature, stewardship, climate change, or environmental ethics, the flock has been charged with following its shepherds. We have good reason to believe that the climate skepticism of leaders represents broader views. But is that tension a reason to hope for sustainability in America's big religion?

Can Interfaith Power and Light help? Given that they have successfully worked with churches across the nation to embrace renewable energy initiatives, reduce carbon emissions, and develop sustainability and environmental education initiatives, we might think they can.

Join us with Sylvia Neely this Friday, September 17th from 4-5 pm to find some answers. Call 865-9577 to voice your views.


What is sustainability?

What is sustainability? Mike and I started this radio show because we realized that we were taking a lot for granted or assuming things that we didn't know we were assuming when we used the word "sustainability." People mean different things when they use it and depending on what they are talking about. It's loaded.

That's why we always ask our guests the question, "How do you define sustainability?" And you'll notice as a listener that people mean different things by it. Some think it doesn't really matter that much. Don Brown has called it "an orienting concept." Others have used quite specific references to reducing suffering, to providing for present and future generations of humans and others, or to bring about "the possibility that humans and other life can flourish on Earth forever." The iterations seem endless.

And we aren't the only ones who have decided to explore this issue. At Orion magazine, Eric Zencey has engaged the same line of thinking, noting 18 iterations of sustainability as word, concept, line of action and more.

For example:
[3] AN ACT, PROCESS, OR STATE of affairs can be said to be economically sustainable, ecologically sustainable, or socially sustainable. To these three some would add a fourth: culturally sustainable.
Read on at the link above. What do you think?

The energy crisis is here

A few weeks ago we hosted Katherine Watt on the show to talk about localism and the Transition Towns initiatives in central Pennsylvania. As we collectively face the reality of peak oil will we face the challenge intelligently?

Katherine wrote a piece for the Centre Daily Times reflecting on the peak oil problem and the urgent need for us to move to regional and local economies of scale.

Wednesday’s Sustainable Centre County page is all about energy, with columns on how to build a regional energy system around the sun, food and biodiesel crops. Bustling as it seems, I think the Marcellus methane-energy boom will fizzle out soon. Investing time and money to release colossal Earth farts is a luxury, and we’re not a rich society anymore.

Growth won’t restart because oil prices will keep rising. As we revisit the Dow milestones of the past few decades — heading back down — physical and biological imperatives will be far more pressing than the political and economic calculations underpinning the gas boom. Complex institutions will break apart, replaced by simpler regional cooperatives now rising from grass roots.

We’ll stop digging up dead things to sell and burn, and return to the most basic elements of human life: taking care of each other by working with surrounding life-support systems that provide water, food and shelter.

Read on here.


National Wildlife Federation's "Extreme Heat in Summer 2010"

This in from the National Wildlife Federation:

The National Wildlife Federation has released “Extreme Heat in Summer 2010.” This summer is the hottest on record so far and a sign of more to come. The Eastern and Southern United States are especially suffering, with many states having one of their hottest summer months on record. A new analysis from National Wildlife Federation finds that summers like the current one could become the norm by 2050 unless steps are taken to curb global warming. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are on a list of those cities most vulnerable to heat wave effects as the planet warms. Approximately half of the residents in both cities have relatively high levels of vulnerable populations and low rates of air conditioning.

The analysis comes a few weeks after the U.S. Senate shelved action on comprehensive climate and energy legislation.

The State College community is better equipped than most to deal with extreme heat because most residents have air conditioning. However, many communities are not so fortunate. Our failure to take action on global warming will affect those who can least afford to deal with extreme temperatures. It is the poor, elderly, and those with health problems who will bear the brunt of the expected extreme heat events.

When: August 25, 2010, 10:30am

Where: Schlow Memorial Library, Community Room

Who: Dr. Michael Mann, Director, Earth System Science Center, Penn State University
Prof. Sylvia Neely, Creation Care Coalition, Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light.
Arno Vosk, MD, Fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians
Peter Buckland, President of Environment - Ecology - Education, Penn State University and co-host of Sustainability Now Radio

Contacts: Ed Perry, National Wildlife Federation, Phone - 814-880-9593


What the frack?

Citizens concerned about the threat that Marcellus Shale drilling has and will have on their communities' well-being are taking matters into their own hands. Literally. Across Pennsylvania and New York, bloggers and independent journalists have been tallying and analyzing how gas wells, rigs, frack water, gas and water trucks, and more affect life above the Marcellus Shale.

We are really excited this week to host an independent journalist and two Pennsylvania bloggers who have covered the Marcellus Shale issues on the ground.

Hannah Abelbeck, who joined us last month, has worked for Voices of Central Pennsylvania covering environmental news for the last year. She has done two in-depth stories on the Marcellus and interviewed a few dozen people from several counties in Pennsylvania and New York.

Don Williams keeps his eye on the effects of Marcellus activities at his blog Susquehanna River Sentinel. He was born in northeastern PA not far from the heart of the Marcellus Shale Zone. I don't think it would be much of a stretch to say that Don is outraged at what he sees as the degrading effect that the natural gas industry has had on Pennsylvania. He uses his training in Earth and Environmental Science to look at water and land issues especially.

Karen keeps a quite different blog at Frack Country Blues. While she is certainly concerned and perhaps outraged, she writes, "Because sometimes all you have left is gallows humor…" Her blog uses comics to illustrate the problems that Marcellus drilling industry is creating, particularly in the Tioga State Forest near Wellsboro, Pennsylvania about 100 miles north of Penn State University Park.

She combines the comics with news stories and commentary to "to raise awareness about the consequences of natural gas drilling and the plight of the communities that live above the Marcellus shale – a plight that echoes the experiences from the gas fields in the western states where the air quality can be worse than Los Angeles’ and where the water is not just toxic, it’s flammable."

Flammable? Yes. Flammable. Watch this trailer for the movie Gasland.

Yes. Flammable.

Maybe that's an anomaly.

Guess not.

Hopefully today we will be enlightened further on what's going on at these places and what we might be able to do about it.

Listen in today on The Lion 90.7 from 5-6 pm to get more up to speed on this sustainability issue.

We hope to continue this conversation next week with some other bloggers and community activists in New York and Pennsylvania as well.


Don Brown @ DotEarth

A few months ago we did a show with Don Brown (Asst. Professor of Science, Technology and Society and lead blogger at Climate Ethics) on the ethics of climate change. On that show, we talked about how and why climate change is a moral issue and what people can and ought to be doing about it.

Always a busy man, Don was recently interviewed by Andy Revkin over at Dot Earth about why an academic has started blogging:
My blog is a way of focusing on actual arguments about climate change policies as they unfold, teasing out these arguments the often hidden ethical questions, and inviting the world to see these questions not as “value neutral” scientific or economic questions but as ethical issues. A blog is the only way to do this that I know of that is relevant and timely to many of the climate change issues as they unfold. Most academic environmental ethics is neither relevant to actual public policy disputes nor timely. (It is often also far, far too abstract.) There is a huge need to do ‘applied’ climate change ethics as most ethical analysis in the academy on environmental issues has not engaged policy-makers or the general public. Yet climate change and several other global environmental issues are raising civilization challenging moral, justice and ethical questions that need to be teased out of policy debates.
I (Peter Buckland) have worked with Don on several occasions and have found this to be one of the most rewarding and refreshing aspects of working with him. His work is at the front what might be our largest collective problem - climate change - and it is confronting its hardest challenges. As he did on our show, Don focuses us on how our language controls our thinking about something and how in the case of economics and science our "value neutral" thinking and talking has actually landed us in some big problems.

Read on at DotEarth.


Michael Mann's name cleared by Penn State investigation

This in from Climate Science Watch, the New York Times, and DotEarth: Michael Mann, a climate scientist and professor in Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences has been exonerated of the charges that he had violated accepted scientific practice. This is only the end of this part of the climate denialism movement though.

Watch an interview conducted with him yesterday on his exoneration.

We dealt with this topic earlier this year when we hosted Ed Perry of the National Wildlife Federation who called so-called "Climategate" a sham. Listen here.

What is Penn State doing about sustainability?.

This question is the elephant in the room for us. Penn State University owns an enormous amount of property, runs one of the highest energy bills in the state, uses vast amounts of water, tens of thousands of people, and schools about 80,000 students each year. That's a lot of resources to move that comes with a sizable ecological footprint.

How does something so big move on a more sustainable path?

How does it reduce its carbon footprint when its main campus is running on coal, some of which has recently been traced to mountain top removal?

How do you mobilize employees to become less wasteful? To reduce, reuse, and recycle?

What research is and can be coordinated at a university to reduce its and its graduates' ecological impact and expand human capacities within reason?

How do you try to get sustainability into the broader curriculum?

The list can go on and on.

Today we are going to learn how some of this, and much more, is happening. We have the good fortune of hosting Erik Foley-DeFiore, Penn State's Manager of Sustainability (pictured at right with his co-workers Milea Perry and Lydia Vandenburg). Hired last year, Foley-DeFiore has an MBA from St. Francis University and has worked extensively on funding enormous wind power projects in Pennsylvania. He was recently elected as President of the Pennsylvania Environmental Resource Consortium, a coalition of over 50 Pennsylvania colleges and universities that have made a commitment to sustainability in some fashion.

Listen today from 5-6 pm on The Lion 90.7. Call in to ask questions at 865-9577.

What is Penn State doing about sustainability?.


A more sustainable diet

We can have more control over our diets than almost anything else we do. It's hard for a non-expert to control the fuel efficiency of our cars and trucks or the distances we are compelled to travel for our jobs. Face it, most of us feel pretty powerless when it comes to whether or not our power comes from coal, natural gas, or wind energy. But we have lots of control over what we eat.

One of the biggest impacts Americans can have on their diets is to reduce or stop their consumption of animal products. Suffice it to say that the total energy inputs that go into livestock like pigs, cows, and chickens are astronomical in comparison to grains, fruits, and vegetables. Additionally, the pollution side effects of intensive livestock operations can be remarkable, including watershed crippling fecal runoff from dairy farms to the infamously toxic feces lagoons at hog farms. Chicken farms where chickens are raised to get maximum breast size and weight receive enormous amounts of antibiotics, thereby driving antibiotic resistance (picture courtesy of Johns Hopkins Magazine). Simply put, the factory farm industry jeopardizes ecosystems' health across the country.

And this says nothing about the ethical implications of what the philosopher Peter Singer might call unimaginable animal suffering (see this blog about Singer's visit to Penn State last year). Animals in "factory farms" are sometimes beaten, are kept in filthy conditions that are highly toxic, and kept from having any pleasant contact with their own species.

Finally, the health effects of a meat-intensive diet are by now well-documented. Heart disease. High cholesterol. Increased exposure to lethal E. coli.

Today's guest, Mick Kunz, president of the Penn State Vegetarian Club, will talk to us about why people choose to forgo animal-intensive diets. We will talk about the difference between vegetarianism and veganism and the range of differences in there including so-called "freegans." Whatever the range, the average vegetarian's diet has a smaller environmental impact than the average American meat eaters. Kunz will walk us through the moral, environmental, and personal health reasons people hold for going vegetarian and vegan and provide us with some tips on what we can do to reduce or eliminate our animal product intake.

Listen in today from 5-6 pm on The Lion 90.7 fm. Have questions or a comment, give a buzz at 865-9577 or send an email to sustainabilitynowradio@gmail.com.