29 March 2010


29 March 2010

The deep south is not known as a region of enlightened thought, yet some of our greatest artists and thinkers have emerged therefrom. The general population remains reactionary and rather averse to progressive ideas. One would certainly expect, though, that when presented with evidence, a parent wants to protect their progeny. One would then ask if the protection means from the direct visible threats (speeding cars), or the well publicized “known” threats (diseases.) Does that protective sentiment include the more amorphous, longer-term dangers? We would hope so.

No one welcomes the prophet of doom. It discomfits and frightens. The tendency is to dismiss and ignore. And why dwell on what we can’t see?

Since I got involved with the Kleerkut campaign, I have told my family (in the deep south) about the consequences of their paper purchases. And no, buying a roll of Cottonelle will not immediately endanger your children (like the careening car), but the long-term impacts will with a vengeance. So I was shocked to find bundles of this brand and its polluting cousin Kleenex in the house of my brother, and I ask myself: do they not get it? Do they resent my telling them about the consequences? Do they not believe me? Do my words go in one ear and out the other?

Is this a family thing, or a larger issue?

If the dark message were inevitable, this disregard would be understandable. If the catastrophe were ineluctable, no need to worry about it. But that’s not the case here; we can change this future, with little to no pain.

Buy Marcal, or Seventh Generation, or one of the many brands of paper products made from post-consumer material. Do it for your children. You can find NRDC's paper product shopping guide here.

16 March 2010


16 March 2010

Nothing is so enticing as the "easy kill."

“Consolidate your debt with one easy monthly payment!”

And of course, we want the easy fix for the climate problem (those that actually believe there IS one.)

After all, who really wants to change their comfort zone? What could be easier than throwing a bunch of iron scraps into the ocean, stimulating algae growth, which in turn absorbs CO2? What’s that you say, it stimulates a neurotoxin that poisons fish and sea mammals? Well, I guess someone has to pay.

We can solve this problem.

Turn off the lights.

12 March 2010

NC Coal Ash

12 March 2010

Mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, maybe uranium in the walls around you? Why should that bother you? Have you renovated in the last 10 years? Most brands of sheetrock use coal ash as a component, which is known to contain these byproducts. Somehow the coal industry has managed to keep coal ash designated as non-toxic waste, in spite of those toxins.

When I heard that the administration was close to considering the regulations for coal ash, I knew it was time to resume my photo project.

The logistics of doing an aerial shoot, especially in the winter, are tricky. The weather changes so fast, with so few windows of clear sunny days, that to plan a trip to a distant locale and book a private plane for the photo flight is a real crap shoot.

In this case, I made the decision from New York on Sunday to fly Monday in North Carolina. How can we thank the heroes at Southwings who mobilized a pilot for the project with just 24 hours notice? The seven North Carolina coal plants on the EP44 danger list make a dogleg line from Asheville to Greensboro, with the corner being right across the river from Charlotte Douglas Airport, one of the busiest in the country. It would be a miracle if air traffic control let us get to that one. As it is, FAA rules stipulate that there will be no “loitering” around power plants. Darwin, the pilot, suggested that I fly in and meet him in Ashville, and he would leave me in Greensboro after the last coal plant. Seemed pretty smart to me.

As usual, the weatherman was off the mark, and Ashville was cloudy with low ceilings.
I had a commercial flight back to NY at the other end of our journey, but we had some leeway to allow the possibility of waiting out the weather if there were any clear signs. There weren’t. In those cases, I always want to jump, in case it gets worse.

The Asheville coal plant is right next to the airport, which fortunately was not too busy. The lighting was pretty flat, with a good bit of snow on the ground. Amazingly, there were nice houses right under the ash ponds. The volume of crud in these things is staggering. If that earthen dyke bursts [there was nice steam coming off the water, which will someday perfectly illustrate a story on thermal pollution from power plants], that entire neighborhood will literally be buried by this poison-laden slurry. Good documentation images, but no “art.” And since we are forbidden to loiter, off we went to Charlotte. A pleasant surprise reared its smokestacks in our path: the Cliffside Expansion Project.

Cliffside is one of the largest carbon emitters of the US coal plants, and one of the worst producers of combustion waste. Since it is rurally located, it is not on the “EPA44” list, which is only plants with populations that would die if the coal ash ponds burst. Cliffside is on the list of groundwater polluters, as reported by Sue Sturgis, and at the center of a tremendous controversy around its expansion. As one of the most polluting coal plants in the country, a capacity increase is both a hazard to its neighbors and another jab towards our addiction to this dirty power source. As you might suspect, Dear Reader, the good lost again in this battle, and construction permits were issued. So, we zoomed in like a falcon after a mouse. And aside from the reportage shots that I told myself to get first on this trip (remember, we are trying to influence policy here) there were beautiful ash ponds with graduations of reds and blues to gold with seagulls flying over... Gorgeous. But alas, only two passes…
More to come…

05 March 2010

What Matters Most?

5 March 2010

The question, "what matters most?" has been addressed by many august personages, and each seems to espouse certainty that their chosen specialty is the first and most important need. And who could argue that we must attend to the world’s children, women, air, water, oceans, and animals; all seem to be in crisis. And of course, we in the developed world, especially in the USA, sit back lamenting that we certainly can’t act unilaterally, because it would cost us too much; furthermore, even if we change our ways, those Chinese will just continue polluting, and our righteousness will be rendered irrelevant. So we might as well continue in our indulgences; after all, they are comforting, and one person’s profligacies really don’t matter, do they?

I argue that they do matter, and greatly. Individuals must be responsible for their own actions -- this is part of living in a society. That means being responsible for the impact of one’s purchases. Toilet paper is the most mundane but real example: one brand promotes deforestation, climate change, habitat destruction, and another supports recycling. As it goes for the individual, so it must go for a nation. The world simultaneously admires the USA for its innovations and culture, and scorns us for our hypocrisy in being the world’s largest per capita consume and polluter as we lecture everyone else about the errors of their ways.

I think what matters most is for us as individuals to start being responsible for the consequences of our actions, and as a nation. I suspect that the other cultures of the world, who look to the USA for leadership, will gladly follow. Furthermore, rather than cripple our economy, it will drive a renaissance of American leadership.