20 December 2011

Buy A House

I'm a little blue. Circumstances have conspired so that I must leave a house that I love. We have all been there. And of course, the consolation is that this is a great time to buy a house, or so they say. I want to stay in New York State, and Westchester is too expensive, so I am looking north. There are some great places on the market: nice houses, large properties, old farms. I look at the listings and imagine myself there - a beautiful picture. Then I look them up on the map, and my heart sinks, as I cross-reference each location against a map of the existing gas drilling leases in New York State. The sad fact is that much of New York State has been leased for gas drilling, and as a prospective buyer of property, there is no way I would buy something that might have hydro-fracking near it.

Admittedly I have a good understanding of the process, and thus the risks inherent. But even for the layman, all one needs to know can be summarized in this editorial by an environmental engineering technician: “Hydraulic fracturing as it’s practiced today will contaminate our aquifers.” Why would I, as a home buyer looking to invest life savings in a property, buy something that will have poisoned water?

The question arises whether I should believe this technician or the glowing industry reports (from an industry that has wheedled exemptions from the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, and hopes to get in and profit and get out). I will err on the side of caution, thank you very much. And of course I feel badly for those who were duped into signing leases for their land, and even worse for those that live adjacent to leased land. Caveat emptor.

01 December 2011


No battles are fought alone, least of all mine. Aside from the fantastic team that works with me on a daily basis, there are the resource partners, and the project-specific partners. In the former category are the environmental groups, engineers, scientists, and lawyers that give me background and breaking developments on the various issues on which I'm working. So much of my work depends on information: technical details about the industries and the specific public health issues related to each, and changes in technologies that affect them. There are images for which there is no explanation, which leads to a mystery needing diagnosis, and others for which the obvious explanation does not quite fit. And there are the legislative angles: looming battles in which the friends of polluting industries are subversively working to enact or repeal laws for special interests that will significantly undermine public health.

Some of the most important partners are the pilots that volunteer their time, expertise, and equipment, most notably SouthWings, LightHawk, and Motorfluggruppe Grenzland. Recently, after an exhibit in Amsterdam, a Dutchman named Leo Westerkamp called asking if there might not be a project for which he would be essential. As Germany was next on the itinerary, a revisit to the giant open-pit brown coal mines at Garzweiler seemed to be in order.

So many have questioned my grip on the slippery concept called reality, that it's rare for me to doubt another's grip must mean they are in an extreme. Leo flies a kite. With a big fan. In the winter. Somehow I let him talk me into it.

I had to run from my exhibit at Flo Peters Gallery back down to Nürnberg to teach at Städtische Berufsoberschule für Sozialwesen, and we agreed that I would then train it up to Dormagen where he would meet me. On the internet I located rooms at Nikolaus Kloster for a reasonable rate where we were blessed by the Pater. The next morning broke clear and blue, but a little windy. Turns out the kite can only fly in very still air. So we spent much of the day driving around through the ghost towns slated for demolition prior to removal from existence for access to the coal below.

This woman was one of the last residents of Frimmersdorf, but in true German pride, was still sweeping the street in front of her house. Finally, the wind subsided enough to allow flight, but only for an hour plus before sunset.

On each flight, I usually find at least one answer, and in this case it was the disposal of the ash from the trio of power plants fed by the mine. Regular readers of this rant (and other properly concerned citizens) know too well about coal ash and its threats to our health.
As I suspected, the lovely power provider in question is dumping it right back in the mine, unlined from the water table, thus allowing the lead, arsenic, uranium mercury, selenium et al found therein to leach into the groundwater. Glad I don't live near there.

When doing these projects, the faithful, ancient GPS always accompanies, and a quick mark of the point of departure seems a sensible precaution. Nothing like a trail of bread crumbs. As the sun was setting and the cold intolerable, I called for home, and Leo averred that he had it under control. In good faith, I allowed him to set the direction, but always the dubious, I cast a glance at my bread crumbs, which oddly went the other way. Upon query, Leo assured me all was under control, but when the mine appeared through the haze in front of us, I knew that my suspicions, though founded on crumbs, were credible. Visions of spending the night in some field huddled next to Leo, wrapped up in his giant kite were not comforting. Fortunately, Mr. Magellan, old as he is, guided us straight back to the air field, though I could hardly get off the kite when we finally bumped to a halt.