31 October 2009

Can we learn a new trick?

Halloween is a bit like our current dilemma: we can have the treat now, and the trick later, or vice-versa. We can continue on our path of mindless indulgence now and act bewildered when draconian repercussions and emergency measures are forced on us, or turn the trick now, get sensible about our consumption and enjoy the treats later (like clean air and water, and presenting a world of wildness and beauty to our grandchildren).
Trick or Treat.

30 October 2009

The Wolf Conservation Center is one of the largest players in the effort to save the Mexican Wolf from extinction. As one of the first animals on the endangered species list in 1976 with only 7 remaining individuals, this animal is both a testament to man’s ability to correct wrongs and save an imperiled creature, and an icon of bureaucratic stasis and right wing obstructionism.

From seven founders, we now have a population of about 350, most in captive facilities, and about 50 in the wild. This is a program that could work, but during the Bush years, even though it is a federal crime, fanatics that shot them went unpunished, and the administration of the program was allowed to founder.
Our mission today was to catch, check, medicate, and weigh 15 wolves. No easy feat to run down an animal that is so elusive. But the crack team of staff and volunteers managed the task efficiently. So now 15 wolves are convening up the hill and reminding each other why they don’t like people.
Bravo to the staff and volunteers of the WCC, and especially to our vet of the day, Renee Gossett.


30 October 2009

Big news his week that the US economy grows again, a gift of mixed blessings. The Dow is back up around 10,000 and the bankers that sold a bill of goods to mortgage borrowers who are now on the street and then gambled on derivatives with all the money are back with comfortable salaries only to repeat their folly next time around while the fleeced huddle against the winter cold (thank God for global warming). Meanwhile, as we all feel more comfortable with our disposable incomes and buy new smart electronics, lowland gorillas will resume their march to extinction as the coltan is extracted.

28 October 2009

Water and Coal

How wonderfully concurrent that today is such an environmentally important day for water and coal. Yesterday the destruction of Coal River Mountain via Moutaintop removal began.
Coal is a tremendously thirsty energy source in all the stages of its life from mining to disposal.

Leaves in stream polluted by Acid Mine Drainage

As soon as mining begins, acid mine drainage starts poisoning the nearby streams.
Then tremendous volumes of clean water are mixed with chemicals to wash the coal, which is then stored in giant impoundments which burst with alarming frequency to wash away the poor citizens unfortunate enough to live below.

Coal Slurry

Half of all the fresh water used in the USA is to cool power plants (half of which are coal). And today the EPA released a report acknowledging that coal ash is an unregulated extremely dangerous polluter of groundwater (and surface water as anyone in Kingston, TN will tell you).

Turn off the lights. “Just say no” to coal.


28 October 2009

Rain again. Wasn’t it just raining? Hasn’t it rained all summer?
And the snow. What happened to snow up to our waists? I remember when New York was shut down with deep snow every winter. Now all we get is freezing rain. You may not mind, but I want my snow back. Same thing in Germany: "yes, now that you mention it, I remember when it used to snow in Koeln." The winter snow is what we drink in the spring and summer, btw. What if we all did something about it today? And tomorrow.

26 October 2009

Destruction of Coal River Mountain

Coal River Mountain before blasting.©2008 J Henry Fair

The long dreaded destruction via Mountaintop Removal of Coal River Mountain has begun, all to line the pockets of big coal and feed our heedless demand for electricity. This in spite of a viable proposal to place windmills on the peak that would provide energy for generation with no carbon footprint. Coal is the biggest single cause of global warming as well as a slew of poisonous elements released into the environment. Worried about the mercury in your fish? Turn off the lights.
The Appalachian mountains in West Virginia are home to some of the most beautiful and biodiverse forests in the world. The destruction of these mountains, forests and streams is one of the most egregious examples of our short-sighted demand for energy: a folly that is being repeated ad nauseam around the planet.
Like children, we want what we want and ignore the consequences. So that we can drive our SUV’s and leave our lights and air conditioners on, we blithely sacrifice the systems that sustain us with clean air and water. An even greater lunacy is our ostrich approach to climate change, an issue that is a clear and present danger to us all. Coastal areas around the world will be under water soon, rain patterns will change wreaking havoc on agriculture; and hungry, desperate people will descend on the “haves” and demand their share. And we will have to kill them. This is your children’s world.

Pay no attention.
Get in your car and drive.
Don’t forget to leave the lights on.

16 October 2009


Miranda Cuckson, violin
J Henry Fair, video production

15 October 2009

POLAR ICE: Who Needs It?

15 October 2009

A study released today announced that polar ice will be gone in 10 years. My initial reaction to such traumatic news is so often sarcasm, that I resist with great effort. The ramifications (those we can understand) are so far-reaching as to leave me a bit breathless. Let's not even talk about the polar bears, as they are already functionally extinct. The estimates I have seen predict that sea levels will rise 250 feet when all the ice has melted; goodbye New York City, Boston, Charleston, and all those places dear to me. It's hard not to think selfishly about these things; after all, we are each the center of our own universe. And therein lies the problem. I know plenty of good people that still drive SUV's and have houses that burn megawatts of electricity. I think we discount the larger effects of our own actions. We think to ourselves: because I can afford it, I am entitled to it. And there are so many rationalizations: "everyone else does it," "it's just a hamburger," "science will provide an answer." Comfort and desire are so seductive, and our contributions to the problem seems so small. Though we might have heard that livestock produce more global warming gas than cars and trucks, why should we deny ourselves that steak? After all, the world will end when we die, right?


21 October 2009

AEP, the largest producer of electricity in the USA, with a heavy investment in coal, announced the inauguration of the first carbon sequestration installation on one of its coal burning plants in West Virginia. The first phases of the project have cost nearly $13 million, and the pilot project has not even begun to scratch the surface. The USA gets about 50% of its power from coal burning, the largest single source of climate change, as well as a host of very toxic pollutants.

The capture and sequestration of carbon in underground cavities (old mines and wells, primarily) has been touted as the band-aid that will allow continued use of this disastrous fuel. There is no “clean coal.” Let’s examine: a mine has many openings... is there any reason to think that carbon, a gas, will just stay willingly underground? Water seeps out of these mines regularly. If we permit this practice and fill all the holes we can find with carbon, and it starts to leak - which it will - that becomes a time bomb of incalculable consequences. The people that are telling us this will work are the same who stand to make billions from the continued use of this fuel. Are they the ones whose advice we should heed on this?

Read the story.

Coal mining operation in West Virginia
Coal conveyors transport coal between two static points, eliminating the need for human-operated transport. The yellow liquid is either ground water, contaminated with iron pyrite, or a spilled chemical.

02 October 2009


2 October 2009

In these days of uncertainty about the stock and real estate markets, what better “hedge” than the art world. But value is really about what someone will pay for a given commodity, and who can judge the motivations of the buyer? It seems that art “theft” has become an increasingly prevalent occupation, but what do you do with the goods after the heist? It's not like you can take them to the fence. And of course, value is all about perception, whether it’s a legal transaction or not, meaning that it’s set by the ignorant majority (the nouveau riche looking to match the couch). The name becomes the meter of value, and thus Lautrec is worth more than Lissitsky, and far better to invest a lot in a mediocre work of the brand name, than a little in an excellent piece by an unknown. Of course, we only know when the market bottomed in retrospect.

Read about the Pebble Beach Art Heist.