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aaaEnbridge(Photo: shannonpatrick17)The Straits of Mackinac is a narrow waterway that separates Michigan’s lower peninsula from its upper peninsula. The straights connect two of the Great Lakes: Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. But underneath this iconic part of the Great Lakes are two 62-year old pipelines.

The pipelines have never been replaced, despite the well-documented risk of a rupture. “If just one of the pipelines ruptured, it would result in a spill of 1.5 million gallons of oil—and that’s if Enbridge, the company that owns them, is able to fix the pipeline immediately,” says Motherboard. “I can’t imagine another place in the Great Lakes where it’d be more devastating to have an oil spill, University of Michigan research scientist Dave Schwab told Motherboard.

Enbridge does not have a good record when it comes to spills either. It’s responsible for more than 800 spills between 1999 and 2010, totaling 6.8 million gallons of spilled oil. And in 2010, it spilled more than 800,000 gallons into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan—creating the biggest inland oil spill in the country’s history. It did not receive as much national attention because the country was fixated on another oil spill: the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Published in Guest Commentary


Reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

In a first for the country, California’s Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) has issued plans to list glyphosate—the toxic active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide—as known to cause cancer.

According to a “notice of intent” issued last week by the Cal/EPA’s California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), the effort falls under California’s Proposition 65, in which the state is required to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm.

The same law, otherwise known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, also requires that certain substances identified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)—the World Health Organization’s cancer arm—be listed as known to cause cancer.

The state agency’s Sept. 4 announcement follows a classification of glyphosate by the IARC as “probably carcinogenic to humans” in March.

“Case-control studies of occupational exposure in the USA, Canada, and Sweden reported increased risks for non-Hodgkin lymphoma that persisted after adjustment for other pesticides,” the IARC said about the herbicide. There is also “convincing evidence” that it can cause cancer in laboratory animals.

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaCrossBerk(Photo: Dustin Johnston)As if there weren't enough Christian evangelical groups beating the drums against the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Iran, another one, American Christian Leaders for Israel (ACLI) has joined the fray. Last week, ACLI, a networking project of the U.S. branch of International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), sent a petition to the White House railing "against any agreement that does not dismantle Iran's nuclear program," according to an ACLI Press Release. The press release claims that "Some 650 Pastors and Christian leaders representing tens of millions of grassroots Americans have signed onto that letter."

"Through this joint initiative, we want to demonstrate that this is not a partisan issue, nor a Jewish issue, nor only an Israel issue, but it is an American issue, and millions of grassroots Americans are opposed to this disastrous deal," stated Susan Michael, U.S. Director for the ICEJ. "This network of Christian leaders in support of Israel is unprecedented," added Michael, "and reflects the gravity of the situation. We are asking all members of Congress to set aside partisan issues and vote against the agreement."

So while it appears nearly certain that Christian Zionists, along with the conservative pro-Israeli lobbying group AIPAC, the Republican Party and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have lost the battle over the nuclear deal with Iran, Christian evangelicals are vowing to fight on.

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaCoinDebt(Photo: United States Mint)Even though the U.S. Supreme Court has said it is unconstitutional, Louisiana still puts hundreds of people in prison every year just because they are too poor to pay court-ordered fines, court costs and costs of probation, according to a recent investigative report by the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

This misuse of the criminal legal system, often called “pay or stay” is flatly illegal. The U.S. Congress outlawed the use of debtors’ prisons — jails for people too poor to pay off their debts — under federal law nearly 200 years ago in 1833.   The U.S. Supreme Court followed suit in 1983.  

But in a survey of six weeks of court records from last year, the ACLU found that hundreds of people in Louisiana were given pay-or-stay sentences and well over a hundred people were jailed for unpaid fines or court costs. If this many people were wrongly sentenced and jailed in just six weeks, that means thousands have been illegally jailed annually.

The report tells the story of Dianne Jones, a grandmother of three, who was arrested in New Orleans for possession of marijuana. She was given the choice of six months’ probation and paying $834 in fines and costs, at a rate of $150 per month, or spending every weekend in jail for six months. She protested that she did not earn enough to pay off $150 a month. Ultimately she had to accept the payment plan anyway because she was helping care for her grandchildren on the weekends so her daughter could work. Unable to pay off the last $148 of her $834 because of unanticipated moving costs, she was arrested and jailed under a $20,000 bond.   She stayed in jail until a community group took up a collection to pay off the remaining $148.

Published in Guest Commentary
Tuesday, 01 September 2015 13:55

What the World Would Look Like Without Humans


aaaElephantEcowatch(Photo: EcoWatch)Researchers out of Denmark have found that without humans, the world would have a lot more large mammals roaming around. “In a world without humans, most of northern Europe would probably now be home to not only wolves, Eurasian elk (moose) and bears, but also animals such as elephants and rhinoceroses,” researchers said in a statement.

Yes, you read that right. Northern Europe would be home to elephants and rhinoceroses. The study, conducted by researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark, investigated “what the natural worldwide diversity patterns of mammals would be like in the absence of past and present human impacts, based on estimates of the natural distribution of each species according to its ecology, biogeography and the current natural environmental template.”

And it’s not just northern Europe that has seen a dramatic decrease in mammal diversity. “In most places, there’s a very large deficit in mammal diversity relative to what it would naturally have been,” said Professor Jens-Christian Svenning, one of the coauthors of the study.

The report is a follow up to a previous analysis which found that the expansion of Homo sapiens across the planet and not a changing climate was to blame for the mass extinction of large mammals in the last 100,000 years.

The current world map of mammal diversity shows that Africa is virtually the only place with a high diversity of large mammals. There’s been a dramatic decrease in North and South America, which historically had very high levels of large mammal diversity.

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaWalrus(Photo: EcoWatch)In what has now become a regular occurrence, thousands of walruses are being forced ashore on a remote barrier island in Alaska, threatening their survival. Walruses use sea ice to rest and feed. But with Arctic sea ice hitting a new low this past winter and fears that the Arctic could be entirely ice-free in summer months by the 2030s, walruses have no choice but to crowd ashore in mass numbers.

The first reported sighting this year was earlier this week. Gary Braasch, an environmental photographer, told The Guardian he first spotted the walruses coming ashore on the southern end of the barrier island, about two miles from the hamlet of Point Lay. The mass stranding comes ahead of President Obama’s visit to Alaska to shed a spotlight on the toll climate change is taking on the Arctic region.

Last year, upwards of 35,000 walruses were forced ashore, setting a record. U.S. government agencies and the Native village of Point Lay ask that the media refrain from visiting the community to film or “sightsee” as “the walruses need space to reduce disturbance and possible trampling of animals.” Since at least 2007, due to the loss of sea ice in the Chukchi Sea, “walrus females and calves are coming ashore in the late summer/early fall in large numbers near the community,” said U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Geological Survey in a joint statement.

The site has been occupied by as many as 20,000 to 40,000 animals at its peak, according to Jim MacCracken, supervisory wildlife biologist with the USFWS. Scientists worry that any disturbances could lead to large stampedes, which injure and kill some walruses, especially calves.

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaDrilling(Photo: TheConduqtor)Activists in Santa Barbara, California took to the sea this past weekend to take a stand against offshore oil drilling. The kayaktivists paddled out five miles and unfurled a 70-foot floating banner that read: #CrudeAwakening.

Their aim was to “raise awareness and generate action in support of four critical bills currently moving through the State Assembly,” the group said in a statement. The activists said the Refugio Oil Spill off the coast of Santa Barbara this past May was a “rude awakening” for them. The spill ended up blanketing the shore and coastal waters with 140,000 gallons of crude oil.

“It shut down beaches, greased marine protected areas and killed or injured several hundred birds and marine mammals,” said Patagonia. “The effects continue to linger and likely will for some time. If there’s any upside to this horrible mess, we now have a good opportunity to stop future spills.”

The event was organized by the Surfrider Foundation, in collaboration with PatagoniaEnvironmental Defense Center and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper.

According to the groups, the bills currently moving through the State Assembly would:

  • stop new oil drilling in the Marine Protected Area at Tranquillon Ridge, in the Santa Barbara Channel.
  • improve oil spill response off our coast.
  • require oil companies to use “best available technology” on their pipelines.
  • improve requirements for pipeline inspection.
Published in Guest Commentary


aaaBadJesus(Photo: Toby Hudson)Here's a simple question: Have you ever heard of Christian Reconstruction, Rousas J. Rushdoony, or one of his most influential works, The Institutes of Biblical Law? Probably not! Christian Reconstruction, is a religious belief system, set out by the late Rushdoony, which maintains that every aspect of society – church, state, family, economy -- should be based on Biblical law. It is evangelical Christianity's right-wing fringe, yet its tentacles reach deep into the Clown Car that is the Republican Party's field of presidential candidates. Is Christian Reconstruction so fringed out that it is not worthy of attention? Not according to Julie J. Ingersoll, author of the new book, Building God's Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction, who posits that Reconstructionists' "biblical worldview" played, and continues to play, a highly influential role, although subtle and often hidden, in contemporary right-wing politics.

When Christian Reconstructionists say God's law -- as it is revealed in the Old and New Testaments -- should control every aspect of life, they mean every aspect, interpreting the Bible as mandating a challenge to the legitimacy of democracy, justifying slavery, and advocating the stoning to death of homosexuals, adulterers, and Sabbath-breakers. If any of this sounds familiar, you might be thinking Taliban and/or ISIS.

As investigative reporter John F. Sugg pointed out in a 2004 extensive piece in Tampa, Florida's Weekly Planet, "Most churchgoers have never heard of Christian Reconstruction or theonomy. Believers would be hard-pressed to define 'dominion theology,' 'covenant theology,' 'pre-millennial,' [or] 'post- millennial.' ... Nor would most Americans reflexively embrace a 'theology' that denounced all government social programs, public schools, environmental protections -- a religion that promoted mass executions for sins as minor as swearing at parents, ..."

While a number of investigative reporters, researchers and writers such as John Sugg, and Chip Berlet, author of Eyes Right! Challenging the Right Wing Backlash, and Frederick Clarkson, author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, have delved deeply into this movement over the years, perhaps no one has been as immersed in it as Ingersoll.

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaHKatrina(Photo: NASA/GSFC)This week is the 10th anniversary of the destruction of the southeastern gulf coast by Hurricane Katrina.

More than 1,800 people died. There is no estimate for the number of pets and wildlife. Damage was estimated at more than $100 billion.

About 80 percent of New Orleans was flooded. In Mississippi, the water surge flooded as much as 10 miles from the beaches.

The Category 3 storm should not have caused that much damage, but it exposed poorly-designed levees that should have protected New Orleans.

Sanctimonious critics, many of them conservative politicians, claimed that if the residents had evacuated New Orleans like they were ordered, the death toll and suffering would have been significantly less.

What they didn't say, however, was that almost all roads were blocked or destroyed. Even if the roads weren't damaged, evacuation would have been difficult. Many of the residents who remained were poor, Black, an often relied upon public transportation, as do many residents of urban areas. Hundreds of school buses that could have evacuated the residents were in the flood. Even if they weren't, there weren't enough drivers—most were in their own houses, which were flooded, or at the SuperDome or Convention Center, both of which sustained damage.
The media—and numerous conservative radio and TV pundits—reported looting.

But, most was for food and supplies needed to sustain the people through what would be several days of terror. Not reported was that the stores would have had to throw away the food and supplies, but would still get insurance reimbursement, whether the supplies were damaged by the flood or taken from the shelves by the storm victims.

Published in Guest Commentary
Monday, 24 August 2015 00:00

Happy 99th Birthday National Park Service


aaaNationalParks(Photo: EcoWatch)On Aug. 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Organic Act, which created the National Park Service (NPS), a federal bureau within the Department of the Interior designated to protect and maintain the 35 national parks and monuments under the supervision of the department at the time. Today, there are 408 national parks covering more than 84 million acres of land across the U.S. To commemorate the day, the National Parks will be offering free admission to each of the 408 parks.

“The National Park Service’s 99th birthday is an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the role of national parks in the American story,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis. “And it’s also a time to look ahead to our centennial year, and the next 100 years. These national treasures belong to all of us, and we want everyone—especially the next generation of park visitors, supporters and advocates to discover and connect with their national parks.”

Earlier this year, the NPS kicked off the Find Your Park campaign, a social media and marketing movement to connect the parks to the millions of Americans that don’t know about them or have yet to visit one of their national parks. The largest advertising campaign in national parks history utilizes technology to encourage Americans to engage and interact with their local national parks, leading them to discover and explore even more.

Published in Guest Commentary
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