Category Archives: Environment

Had he only studied philately instead…

Yesterday I mentioned TIbbles the Cat who is the only creature known to have single-handedly caused the extinction of an entire species. Today I’ll talk about another rather extraordinary individual.

If I asked you what human being has caused the most environmental damage in history, you may think of the famous industrialists of the 1800s and early 1900s such as Henry Ford or Andrew Carnegie, or possibly the Koch brothers of our time (if you don’t know about the Koch brothers, take a minute to look ’em up). But you probably would’t think of Thomas Midgley.

Back in the early part of the 1900s it was discovered that adding iodine to fuel reduced engine knock just a bit. Thomas Midgley Jr., an engineer and chemist working for General Motors, decided to look into the situation further and after experimenting around a bit found that adding lead (tetraethyllead, or “ethyl,” commonly referred to as TEL) to gasoline worked much better.

Of course within just a few years people realized that leaded gasoline was a potent neurotoxin and a deadly pollutant (Midgley himself suffered lead poisoning in 1923 and had to move to Florida for fresh air), but lacking governmental oversight the petroleum industry, notably ExxonMobile, pushed to use the additive. GM and DuPont built a plant to produce TEL in 1923, but halted production after ten people at the plant died of lead poisoning. In 1924 ExxonMobile built a their own chemical plant to produce TEL, but by mid-year the workers were suffering from hallucinations, insanity, and five more folks died of lead poisoning. At a press conference later that year Midgley poured TEL over his hands and breathed the fumes to prove how safe it was. He had to take a leave of absence a few weeks later to recover – again – from lead poisoning.

A few years later in 1926 a special government committee declared that there were no good grounds to ban TEL, but should its use become more widespread further study would be necessary. In a sweeping and generous wave of compassion, GM, DuPont, and MobileExxon funded all studies of TEL for the next forty years…

(It’s since been shown that as well as being a deadly toxin, even very low exposure to airborne lead significantly lowers a person’s IQ and has other adverse effects on people – especially children. TEL has also been linked to violent crime, but that’s another story.)

That was the first of Mr. Midgley’s inventions… There’s more.

After he recovered from lead poisoning, GM moved Mr. Midgley to their Frigidaire division, where he worked on air conditioning and refrigeration systems. At the time the refrigerants used were all highly toxic and in some cases flammable. Mr Midgley, possibly in an effort to atone for the damage caused by his previous work, decided to find an inert gas to replace the dangerous refrigerants. His research quickly led to dichlorodifluoromethane – the very first chlorofluorocarbon or CFC. He named the safe gas “Freon.” Freon and other related CFCs were soon widely used as refrigerants and in spray cans…

And, as we now now, CFCs very quickly destroyed the ozone layer, causing all sorts of environmental havoc and health issues.

So, Mr. Midgley was single-handedly responsible for two of the largest ecological and health blunders in history.

The Prairie that Was My Yard

Yea verily, it has been a full week since I ordered parts for my beloved lawn mower. (I need a spindle assembly and a couple bolts. I ordered fifteen extra nuts and bolts just because they were like twelve cents each and why not.) I’m not saying my yard is overgrown, but I went outside and threw the frisbee for our golden retriever – she got lost in the weeds not fifteen feet from the house. I just saw a confused gentleman wander past mumbling something about, “Livingston, I presume?” The neighbor called and asked if I wanted him to bale my front yard. My wife took a machete with her to get the mail. I think there may be a family of bison living behind the garage.

ANYway, so I e-mailed the parts company and asked them if they’d shipped my stuff yet as I’d not heard anything from them. Turns out my order was being held as two twelve-cent bolts were on backorder… “Keep the two bolts! Ship the rest!” I cried. The guy agreed that they could probably do that.

So, with luck, the savannah shall be tamed.

My Beloved Six-Foot Scag

My Beloved Six-Foot Scag

Untitled Rambling #12

We’re still doing this? Really?

I heard on the radio a day or two ago that the United States Supreme Court told the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that by law they must actually do something. I guess the EPA has been dragging its heels since George Walker Bush was declared president in 2000, reluctant to take a stand on limiting greenhouse gases for some reason. This morning I read in Century of the Common Iowan that Alliant Energy is planning to build a coal plant in Marshalltown, Iowa.

The EPA hasn’t been regulating us for six years? We’re still building coal plants? Whaa…? In this day and age of shrinking ice caps, drowning polar bears, impending drought, increased storm activity and threat of rising sea levels we’re STILL building coal plants? Aren’t they, like, bad for our health?

(Position statement: I do believe the 99% of scientists who say global warming is real and is caused by human activity are right. But even if they’re wrong, it’s clear that the climate IS changing nonetheless, and we have the capacity to do something about it. What are the costs of rebuilding New Orleans? I dunno… But multiply that by thirteen zillion — if sea levels rise even a small amount we’ll be rebuilding Miami, New York, Boston, San Francisco… Just about every coastal city, town and village will be in trouble. There’s a community in Alaska that’s already relocating due to the changing climate eroding the foundations of their town into the sea. Even if humans aren’t the cause of the climate change, we do have the capacity to do something about it. Is that playing God, this mucking about with nature? No. If you’re going to use that argument to keep on polluting, you’re barking up the wrong tree. God gave us dominion over the animals – that means even if we choose to shoot ourselves in the collective foot, we’re supposed to protect the animals by saving their habitat, and He gave us the intellect to do so. To follow that argument through to it’s conclusion, it’s therefore a sin to pollute the environment.)

It’s time to do some research on this… I need to know more. And I just read that Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards denied today that he snorted his father’s ashes. That just HAS to tie into all this somehow, doesn’t it…?

What’s up with the EPA?

According to National Public Radio, the Bush administration’s argument was that the EPA did not have the authority to regulate greenhouse gases, and therefore could not require automobiles to reduce emissions. Several states and environmental groups sued the EPA, saying the EPA did indeed have that power. The Supreme Court ruled against the Bush administration.

It was kind of like when Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz learned she always had the power to go home. The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency does, in fact, have the authority to regulate the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

The ruling paves the way for individual states to regulate greenhouse emissions from automobiles on their own.

I guess the anonymous person who wrote this article for the Clovis News Journal in New Mexico doesn’t like the ruling much, though:

Unfortunately, in Massachusetts et. al. v. Environmental Protection Agency et. al. a Supreme Court divided 5-4 engaged in precisely the kind of judicial activism that people on all sides of the ideological spectrum correctly deplore. In short, the popular passions around global warming carried the day, rather than calm legal precedent and thought.

The author then continues, pointing out that the Clean Air Act of 1970… “says the EPA administrator ‘shall by regulation prescribe (and from time to time revise) … standards applicable to the emission of any air pollutant … which in his judgment cause, or contribute to air pollution’ coming from new cars.” The author’s argument being that the EPA administrator is not required by law to set standards for C02 emissions, and the Supreme Court is trying to push the administrator into making a judgment he doesn’t want to make.

I disagree. I think the Supreme Court did right. The EPA now has control over it’s mission once more (with congressional oversight, I’m sure), and individual states are therefore free to legislate the issue as the voters in those states see fit. It’s American democracy at its finest. As was said by New Jersey State Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa Jackson, this is “good news for New Jersey and other states trying to be proactive on climate change and greenhouse-gas emission reduction.” source

But what about the coal plant?

Oddly enough, the Supreme Court handed down two separate rulings on coal plants earlier this week as well as the EPA ruling. According to National Public Radio, the Supreme Court said that old coal fire power plants must install new pollution controls if they make big repairs and increase the pollution they release. The other ruling “blocked a Bush administration policy to permit coal mining companies to remove the top of mountains in Appalachia and deposit leftover rock in valley streams.”

Neither of these rulings directly affects the proposed new coal power plant here in Iowa, but the indirect ramifications are apparent — it’s going to be more expensive to run a coal plant in the future because the American people are calling a stop to the ruination of our environment.

Here’s a question for you. Does it make sense to build a new coal plant in a state that has no coal, but rather has an abundance of wind power available? Personally, I like clean air. And why pay another state for coal when we can hire Iowans to build wind turbines?

So what’s your point?

Simple. As I alluded to earlier, it seems that the nation is finally starting to realize that we’ve only been given one earth and we’d better take care of it. The Bush administration has been running roughshod over environmental restrictions for the last six years in the name of big business, but the people are speaking through both the legislative and judicial branches of government, saying that it’s time to stop with the pollution and time to start planning a viable future for our children. In the past few weeks, the Supreme Court has given the EPA it’s teeth (and dignity) back, and put a dent in using dirty old coal as energy.

The times, they are a-changing. And so, unfortunately, is the climate.

But what about Keith Richards?

I’m still not sure what to think about that. But I do know that Keith Richards is one of only a handful of people who would actually have to deny snorting his father’s ashes… There just has to be a tie-in there somewhere, I just can’t find it.

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