Republican Political Hysteria About Gasoline Prices: A Coming Crisis of Their Own Making

John Boehner – Photo Credit AP

There is a most remarkable story in this morning’s New York Times about gasoline prices. In the report, John Boehner and Republicans in Congress are gearing up for a  political battle over gasoline prices. It is the worst and most irresponsible politicizing of energy issues ever seen from a political party caught on the edge of hysteria:

In a closed-door meeting last week, Speaker John A. Boehner instructed fellow Republicans to embrace the gas-pump anger they find among their constituents when they return to their districts for the Presidents’ Day recess.

“This debate is a debate we want to have,” Mr. Boehner told his conference on Wednesday, according to a Republican aide who was present. “It was reported this week that we’ll soon see $4-a-gallon gas prices. Maybe higher. Certainly, this summer will see the highest gas prices in years. Your constituents saw those reports, and they’ll be talking about it.”

Republican Presidential Candidates Debate In Las Vegas

For a political party full of climate change deniers, Peak Oil deniers, and environmental polluters, I find their hypocrisy staggering. Their desire and willingness to make this a political issue by blaming our present administration for rising oil prices, is at best adolescent, and at worst, willingly ignorant. They know very well that our country represents only 5% of the world’s population, and yet, arrogantly uses over 30% of the planet’s energy resources. Republicans ignore the fact that gasoline, even under $5.00 a gallon, is relatively cheap. Moreover, they ignore the fact that this planet’s cheap light sweet crude oil is all but gone, leaving only expensively extracted heavy crude oil, and environmentally destructive oil sands and oil shale.

Wafra boilers to heat heavy oil undergroundLast year I wrote about huge, natural gas burning water boilers, that are sitting on top of the Wafra Oil Field in the middle of the desert, on the border between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. These boilers are used to create steam that will be sent down into the desert sands to liquify remaining heavy crude oil now that all the sweet, and easily extracted light crude is gone. The Republican Party is in deep denial about how we got to this point of rising gasoline prices, over which neither they nor our present administration has absolutely no control. Continue reading

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Why This Generation of Young People Want the Older Generation to Hurry and Die Off: The Times Are Changing

Bob Dylan wrote the following lyrics many years ago for a generation lost in an immoral war in Vietnam and an immoral cultural war against civil rights. His words are perhaps more important today, as this generation confronts a war on our current culture and on the global environment:

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

Utah Delta Power Plant

Utah Delta Power Plant

I recently read what I considered (at first) a shocking piece in Grist entitled, “Cohort replacement’: Climate deniers won’t change, but they will die.” It goes without saying that Grist is an environmental website run by and visited mostly by those of a younger generation of environmentalists. I despair that some in this recent generation feel that the only way out of the environmental crisis at hand is for the older generation to hurry and die out. But while I despair that things are this bad between generations, I have

Republican Presidential Candidates Debate In Las Vegas

Republican Presidential Candidates Debate In Las Vegas

come to agree with the notion. Climate change deniers are not going to change because doing so will harm their present bottom line. All that is left for them is to finally die off. They have created conditions in our environment that have convinced our young people that they — the deniers– must die out and soon.

Police pepper-spraying students at UC Davis


Think of it. Most young people believe that those who are climate change deniers, who believe in raping and polluting the planet for profit, must die off — and sooner than later — before we can save this planet. This is a tragic rupture in our cultural fabric and is sure to foster more environmental “Occupy” movements over these next few years. Only this newly created Occupy movement will occupy more than silly little city parks. Those in this movement will occupy state legislatures, state capitols, college campuses and even the national capital if need be, much like those of us who did so during the 60s and 70s to stop the war in Vietnam. They will not stand idly by while their environmental future is destroyed to create obscene wealth for the few.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert AP Photo by Alex Brandon

Politicians in Washington, and in state legislatures across the country, will certainly not change because they are in the pockets of major corporations that make a profit from polluting the environment and keep them in office with obscene amounts of political campaign contributions. But the real tragedy, perhaps their ultimate betrayal, are those college and university administrators around the country who send police in to pepper spray them when they demonstrate for social equality and responsible environmental behavior.

I have come to believe that those who are waiting for “cohort replacement” are right. This older generation, for the most part, really doesn’t get it. They have buried their heads in their pocketbooks and campaign coffers, and will stand in the way of any legislation destined to save the planet from environmental collapse. So in that spirit I’ll add my name to those who want these older people to either die out, or retire to a condo in Arizona or Florida, sit out on a park bench, and keep their mouths shut. Continue reading

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Rick Santorum, The Pope, The Mormon Church, and Utah’s Environmental Disaster

Rick Santorum Addressed His Supporters in St. Charles, Mo. Photo Credit Dilip Vishwanal for The New York Times

It was a scene of expected hubris and environmental stupidity in this Republican primary season. We have over these past months, finally been spared the intellectual bottom feeding of  Republican candidates such as Christine O’Donnell, Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Donald Trump and Herman Cain. Each one along the way, has revealed him or herself to be intellectual black holes, representing the worst in American politics. But the Republican clown car has not yet fully emptied itself into the center ring, not by a long shot. Following his Republican primary victories this past week, Rick Santorum told the nation just how proud he is of his staggering environmental ignorance. Chiding those other primary hopefuls leftovers from the Republican clown car of candidates, Santorum proudly proclaimed:

Speaker Gingrich has supported cap and trade for more than a dozen years. Now, he wants business incentives to go along with cap and trade, but he supported cap and trade, and sat on the couch with Nancy Pelosi and said that global warming had to be addressed by Congress,” Santorum said. “Who is he or who’s Governor Romney to be able to go after President Obama? I’ve never supported even the hoax of global warming.

The Environment and The Catholic Church

Galileo Before The Pope

This of course is nothing new for either Santorum, or for his conservative fellow Republican candidates. Santorum has made it clear that he does not believe in environmental responsibility or stewardship, proclaiming in no uncertain terms that he does not believe in the hoax of global warming or the preservation of the planet’s environment. Fair enough. There are many in our culture who still believe that President Obama is not an American. These are usually the same people who hold misguided beliefs that climate change is not happening. Santorum reminds me of the Catholic Pope Urban VIII, who during the 16th century refused to believe, or perhaps better put, refused to admit, in the face of Galileo’s scientific evidence and observations, that the earth was not the center of the universe. Parochial thinking, superstition and scientific blindness were nothing new to the Catholic Church at the time.

Pope Benedict XVI - AP Photo - Pier Paolo Cito

But the Catholic Church has come a long way since Galileo’s time and one would expect its members to have come along with it. Such is not the case with Santorum, a practicing Catholic. During his New Year’s message on January 1st, 2010, his holiness Pope Benedict XVI declared, For the Celebration of the World Day of Peace:

At the beginning of this New Year, I wish to offer heartfelt greetings of peace to all Christian communities, international leaders, and people of good will throughout the world. For this XLIII World Day of Peace I have chosen the theme: If you want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation. Respect for creation is of immense consequence, not least because “creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God’s works”, and its preservation has now become essential for the pacific coexistence of mankind. Man’s inhumanity to man has given rise to numerous threats to peace and to authentic and integral human development — wars, international and regional conflicts, acts of terrorism, and violations of human rights. Yet no less troubling are the threats arising from the neglect — if not downright misuse — of the earth and the natural goods that God has given us. For this reason, it is imperative that mankind renew and strengthen “that covenant between beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying. Continue reading

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Of Mercury Contaminated Fish and Toxic Air in Utah

Toxic Air and Mercury Contaminated Fish in Utah

Utah Fish Advisory Map Mercury Contamination

Utah Governor Herbert Proudly Displays New Sate Gun

As our state legislature prepares for its 2012 session, sate residents keep getting more and more environmental bad news. Most alarmingly, for a state that prides itself on its natural beauty, great skiing, wonderful hunting and plentiful fishing, we now have nineteen (19) state fisheries where it has been posted to not eat the fish because of mercury, arsenic, selenium, and PCB contamination. It simply boggles the mind to know that this contamination of our fresh water fisheries was occurring, while our state legislature spent time during last year’s state legislature session, adopting a state gun. Imagine, our state is suffering environmental collapse, and state leaders spend time and money passing legislation to adopt the Browning M1911 as a state symbol. As a state, a culture, and a people, I believe we have truly lost our way by allowing corporate pollution for profit. And on top of everything, our state has become a national laughing stock.

State of Utah Mercury Contamination

Our own State of Utah website, “Utah Fish Advisories” has published the following:

Fishing is a fun and relaxing outdoor activity that you can enjoy with your family and friends. Whether you are fishing to enjoy the outdoors, to spend time with family, or to catch dinner, you should always be safe.

However, some fish may not be safe to eat because they accumulate environmental contaminants from the water in which they live or from the food they eat. These environmental contaminants may accumulate to levels that may be harmful.

Utah Coal-fired Power Plant Near Delta, Utah

We know that some mercury contamination occurs naturally, but most comes from coal-fired power plants. The NRDC website informs us:

Coal is naturally contaminated with mercury, and when it is burned to generate electricity, mercury is released into the air through the smokestacks. The bulk of this mercury pollution could be eliminated with the installation of pollution-control devices. Similar devices have proved very successful on municipal incinerators, which were once a significant source of mercury pollution.

But here in Utah, we have no such pollution control devices on our coal-fired plants. Right now, mercury is being released daily to blow northward into the Wasatch Range from seven coal-fired power plants in our state, with one more just over the border with Arizona. There are two more proposed coal-fired plants slated for construction in southern Utah.

The Coal Hollow Mine south of Alton in Kane County, Utah

But more terrifying is a proposal, supported by Governor Herbert and state legislature Republicans, to side with the federal government to drastically expand coal strip mining at the Alton Coal Mine located just ten or so miles from Bryce Canyon in southern Utah. The sate of Utah, in a not so surprising move, approved the mine’s expansion into federal land  last year, even though there was considerable public opposition. It was reported that Governor Herbert approved the expansion after receiving a $10,000 political campaign contribution from Alton Coal Development. He of course denied the story and stated that the contribution had nothing at all to do with his decision. Yet again, this feels like state officials allowing corporate exploitation of land in Utah for profit. Or perhaps he believes the commercials trying to advance the obscene idea of so-called “clean coal.” Continue reading

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State Politics and Corporate Polluters in Utah

Salt Lake City Air Pollution Dec 26 - 2011 - Photo Credit Erin R Silva

It is the Day After Christmas and Toxic Air Returns to Salt Lake City

Toxic poisonous air has returned to Salt Lake City. As I look out my condo terrace toward the west, I can only see part of downtown Salt Lake City. On a clear day, I would be able to see the Oquirrh Mountain Range to the west. But not today, and not for the past few weeks. All I can see is that blanket of filth blocking my western view.

If it were at all possible, these are the days our local chambers of commerce would hide. There is a visible stench in the air from auto emissions, the Kennecott mining operations on Salt Lake Valley’s western bench, toxic emissions from local gasoline refineries in the valley’s north end, air borne emissions from any number of small manufacturing businesses in the valley, and tailpipe emissions from freedom-loving Americans who ignore published burning bans, and continue burning coal and wood in their outdated dirty fireplaces, and who continue to drive their cars up and down the Wasatch Front. And what a wonderful sight it is. A layer of poisonous smog hanging over the valley like smoke from a forest fire.

Frustrated by coughing and tasting this air-borne crap, I wrote a Letter to the Editor that was published in the Salt Lake Tribune this past weekend, copied intact below:

Dirty Politics

Here we are again, stuck in the middle of inversion season. We have some of the most polluted air in the country, while no one in state or county governments is doing much about it — not the governor, Legislature, not even our local county governments. They do nothing because environmental issues in this state have become politicized.

People in this state fail to understand that toxic air is poisoning everyone and cleaning up the environment should not be a political issue. Rather, it is a matter of survival for everyone, regardless of political persuasion.

Toxic air especially hurts the very young and the elderly, who have little or no voice in the matter. But their voice, is, or should be, the people’s voice. There is much that can and must be done to clean up our dirty air, but in a state where environmental issues have become a matter of politics, people continue to suffer because those in power lack political will. This is wrong.

It is time for our governor, Legislature and county governments, along with our cities and universities, to lead our state out of environmental disaster.

Salt Lake City Air Pollution - photo #2 Tom Smart Deseret Morning News

Faced with such dirty toxic air, you would think that local chambers of commerce, local restaurant and hotel associations, and common citizens, would be up in arms about the pollution, knocking down the doors of state and local politicians to do something about it. But they are not. No, this is an obedient population here in Utah, afraid to rock the boat or to criticize the powers that be. Instead, most people have given up, like one who responded to my letter this weekend:

I can see your concern, but I am not sure how government can solve the problem. We have populated the valleys with so many people how do you solve it? We have had years and years of large families and stuffed 10 people in a 5 people bag. We are stuck with this pollution unless it rains or snows once or twice a week. The building and building in the valleys has got to slow down. Continue reading

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Climate Change Denial and Disaster Capitalism in America

Hurricane Katrina and the Politics of Disaster Capitalism

Hurricane Katrina Aftermath

During the summer of 2005, I was in Europe doing research for my architectural classes I teach at the University of Utah College of Architecture + Planning. After making my way south from Paris and over the northern border of Spain, I ended up in the university town of Salamanca. The day after my arrival, I found an internet cafe where I could catch up on email. While I was sitting at the computer, ready to download my email, an American gentleman next to me asked what I thought about the disaster back home. Because I had been on the road through France and northern Spain, I had no idea what he was talking about. “What disaster?” I asked. Surprised by my question, he quickly explained that  a major hurricane had smashed into New Orleans, leaving in its wake major property destruction and loss of life.

President Bush Flies Over Katrina

I was shocked and in a state of semi-disbelief until I saw online news photos of people standing on rooftops and gathered at the Super Dome waiting for help. I use the word shocked because it is the only word that adequately describes my reaction to what I was seeing on the computer screen in front of me that late August afternoon. How was it possible for our government to allow such a thing to happen, and why did it take so long to respond to basic human needs after the disaster?

I found a partial answer in the Introduction to Naomi Klein’s fine book, The Shock Doctrine – The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. On page 4 she discusses Katrina and its aftermath:

The news racing around the shelter that day was that Richard Baker, a prominent Republican congressman from this city, had told a group of lobbyists, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” Joseph Canizaro, one of New Orleans’ wealthiest developers, had just expressed a similar sentiment: “I think we have a clean sheet to start again. And with that clean sheet we have some very big opportunities to start again. And with that clean sheet we have some very big opportunities.” All that week the Louisiana State Legislature in Baton Rouge had been crawling with corporate lobbyists helping to lock in those big opportunities: lower taxes, fewer regulations, cheaper workers and a “smaller, safer city” — which in practice meant plans to level the public housing projects and replace them with condos. Hearing all the talk of “fresh starts” and “clean sheets,” you could almost forget the toxic stew of rubble, chemical outflows and human remains just a few miles down the highway.

Shocking words from those who should know better. Terrifying words coming from those charged with protecting the Constitution and serving our citizens. It would be easy to believe that these reactions to Hurricane Katrina  represent an anomaly, something in our past from which we as a country could and would learn. But this is not the case. Disaster capitalism is alive and well and still hard at work in Congress and on Wall Street.

Environmental Disaster and the Politics of Greed

Mitt Romney

As I have thought about reasons politicians might deny climate change, there is one I simply could not allow myself to believe because it was so monstrous, so evil, and so callus: It has nothing to do with what they call bad science or dubious climate modeling or the possibility of scientific corruption among those scientists who tell us we are headed for global environmental collapse. What is becoming clear to me now, is that current conservative Republican politicians see environmental collapse as yet another opportunity to wipe the slate clean so that huge profits can be made. Continue reading

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Before The Breathing Air Is Gone

Before The Sun, Is Just a Bright Spot In the Night Time

While I was still in architectural school at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, in 1970,  Three Dog Night produced an album entitled, It Ain’t Easy. On the album was a track written by Paul Williams entitled, “Out In The Country.” Its chorus runs:

Before the breathin’ air is gone
Before the sun
Is just a bright spot in the night time
Out where the rivers like to run
I stand alone
And take back something worth remembering

Salt Lake City Air Pollution December 2011 – Photo Erin R Silva

Here in Salt Lake City, we’ve reached the most dreaded time of year, when winter inversion causes some of the worst air in the United States. Yep, clear up here in the Rocky Mountains, where one might expect lots of fresh mountain air, depending on the day, we have the worst air in the country. This past week was like living back in Los Angeles, where I grew up during the 1950s. The air is so foul here, it hangs like dense fog over the Salt Lake Valley. I live in a condo building up on what they call one of the benches above the Salt Lake Valley by the University of Utah, where the view off my terrace faces south, and I can see much of the valley from the Wasatch Range on the east, to the Oquirrh Mountains on the west. On a clear day, I swear I can almost see forever. But on these inversion days, which seem to be growing both in number and intensity, I can see only about three quarters of a mile in any direction. It is air pollution so dense and toxic, that we are told on the local news, that state agencies are suggesting we stay inside. But staying inside doesn’t solve the problem.

Salt Lake City Air Pollution – photo Jacob Hodgen

Seeing the air pollution is not the real problem here. The real problem is breathing toxic air. When the air goes bad in the Salt Lake Valley, it is like having a severe cold. Your eyes burn, your nose runs, and you develop a cough just like you were down with the flu. But it’s not the flu. It is bad air, and no one in the state, from our governor, to our state legislature, to local county governments, is doing anything about it. And from everything I read and know about our state government, it is all political. That’s right, the conservative politics of our state is keeping the air bad on purpose. Because to take measures that would clean up the air, our resident student council of Republican state legislators would have to pass measures that simply don’t fit within their parochial political thinking. I think they would rather die, than curtail personal freedom here in toxic air quality hell.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert – AP PhotoAlex Brandon

Are these stupid people? I don’t think so, but their politics make them look stupid. Their powers of reasoning and critical thinking have simply been hijacked by a conservative ideology, that has taken away any good sense of how to govern. They believe in free-market capitalism, which means to them, no or very few government regulations. And it most certainly means no restriction of their perceived personal freedoms when it comes to the environment.

Oh, they will restrict your personal freedom all right, when it comes to socially conservative issues dictated by their state religion like same-sex marriage or the restricted and controlled sale of alcohol through state stores. But when it comes to clean air, clean water (we now have 19 state fisheries where, “Do not eat the fish” signs have been posted), CO2 emissions into the air, or CO emissions into the air, they won’t take the first step to insure that people who live here in the Salt Lake Valley (and other valleys located along the Wasatch Front) have clean air to breathe. You should see the opposition to an anti-idling ordinance the City of Salt Lake is trying to pass. So much for the state buzz word, “family values.” In other words, our Utah state family values doesn’t and won’t ever cover clean air, that would ensure a healthy environment for their children to live in (and believe me, there are plenty of children in this state). And all this is because none of this is included in their so-called conservative, Republican mindset.

Davis County (Utah) Traffic Congestion Into Salt Lake City

No, these are not stupid people. These are people who have been blinded by conservative politics and by their dominant culture religion, that generally accepts conservative political positions. But more than anything, they are blinded by their own unwillingness to understand that the airborne pollution they see and feel inside their lungs, comes out of a car’s tailpipe. And in this state, the car is the ultimate symbol of freedom. In fact, there could very well be a bumper sticker here in Utah that reads, “The only way they will ever take away my car, or  curtail its use, is to peel my cold dead hands from the steering wheel.

Whenever I need to leave it all behind
Or feel the need to get away
I find a quiet place, far from the human race
Out in the country

Before the breathin’ air is gone
Before the sun is just a bright spot in the nighttime
Out where the rivers like to run
I stand alone and take back somethin’ worth rememberin’

Whenever I feel them closing in on me
Or need a bit of room to move
When life becomes too fast, I find relief at last
Out in the country

Before the breathin’ air is gone
Before the sun is just a bright spot in the nighttime
Out where the rivers like to run
I stand alone and take back somethin’ worth rememberin’


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Ending a War of Shame – Leaving Iraq

Ending a War That Will Have No End

This will be the most difficult and painful blog post I have yet written.

Photo - Carolyn Cole - Los Angeles Times

Yesterday, December 15, 2011, the United States of America officially ended an immoral and shameful war in Iraq. But for many families, both here and abroad, leaving Iraq has a very different meaning. Leaving Iraq for these people means leaving behind a son, a daughter, a mother, a father, a wife, a  husband, or a friend. As a bereaved parent, I know what it feels like to have lost a son. He was not killed in a war, but in an automobile accident here at home. Nevertheless, the grief shared by the bereaved is the same. Our loved one is gone and will never be coming home. Moreover, the grieving process, as most bereaved must admit, will continue for the rest of their lives. For in very truth, there can be no closure to such losses.

Lies and More Lies

President Bush and Mission Accomplished

Our country was led in to that shameful war by irresponsible and incompetent men who gave in to their own personal fears. Moreover, they were backed and supported by an entire country, lost in feelings of fear and vengeance following the attacks of 9-11, 2001. The worst part is that we were indeed taken in by fear and lies. No one can dispute the fact that our president, my president, and his administration, stood in front of the American public and lied us into war. Our president stood on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, after flying onto the carrier as though it were a movie set, to proclaim “Mission Accomplished.” Yet another dreadful lie.

Colin Powell in Front of the United Nations General Assembly

And for all the respect I have for General Colin Powell, he was forced by immoral leaders to play the good soldier, stand in front of the United Nations General Assembly, and perpetuate lies about weapons of mass destruction that did not exist, and that sent so many combatants and innocent citizens to their deaths. He later admitted that this was the lowest point in his life, but the damage had already been done. So now our country’s shared pain of loss has been magnified by the shameful historical knowledge that so many of our young Soldiers, Sailors and Marines died in vain. They died in vain because they were sent to war by the manufactured lies of vain and immoral men and women. Continue reading

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