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aaaPopeFrancisEcoWatch(Photo: EcoWatch)Excitement and speculation have been building for months around Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change, which is due to be released on Thursday following a noon press conference. Now a leaked draft of the document, published Monday in Italian Magazine L’Espresso, has given Vatican watchers and environmentalists something to sink their teeth into, although the Vatican cautioned that this was not the final version, which could be similar or substantially different, and had asked that details of the draft not be published.

The contents of the leaked document, said to be called “Laudato Si (Be Praised), On the Care of Our Common Home,” won’t surprise anyone who has been following the stream of statements the Pope has been making on the environment. But by putting it in the form of an encyclical, the Pope gives official weight to the opinions he’s been expressing in many contexts.

The document addresses the role of fossil fuels on climate change and its outsized impact on poor nations, chastising wealthy countries for their disposable lifestyle. He calls for reducing carbon emissions by developing policies that hasten the switch to clean, renewable sources of energy to stave off the “unprecedented destruction of the ecosystem.”

“Humanity is called to take note of the need for changes in lifestyle and changes in methods of production and consumption to combat this warming, or at least the human causes that produce and accentuate it,” he wrote, according to a report by The Guardian. “Numerous scientific studies indicate that the greater part of the global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases … given off above all because of human activity.”

The Pope does not enumerate or analyze the scientific basis of the climate crisis in detail but rather reflects on the moral aspects of humanity’s care for the Earth.

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaHuck16(Photo: Gage Skidmore)Republican 2016 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee appears to be, to borrow a phrase from Sarah Palin, "palling around with" child molesters. First it was his vigorous defense of Josh Duggar, and now reports have surfaced that the co-author of two of his books, was excommunicated from his church for being a child molester.

After information that Josh Duggar -- the oldest child in the Duggar family of the television show 19 Kids and Counting – had sexually molested several of his sisters and a babysitter when he was a teenager, Huckabee came forward to vigorously defend Josh, who at the time of the revelations, was a high-profile spokesperson for the Family Research Council, a Washington, D.C.-based Christian conservative lobbying outfit.

On May 22, a day after reports that Duggar had molested his sisters came out, Huckabee posted on Facebook: "Let others run from them. We will run to them with our support."

Last week, during an interview with the Fox News Channel's Megyn Kelly, he said that it was all about the media "exploiting" the family. According to the Christian Post, Huckabee "suggested that the family is being targeted for their Christian views, and argued that if the story concerned liberals, it would not have created such a media stir."

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaPopeFAO(Photo: EcoWatch)Ever the planetary steward, Pope Francis stressed the importance of food security, good nutrition and reducing food waste at the 39th United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) conference at the Vatican yesterday.

“Statistics on waste are very concerning: a third of food products end up under this heading,” the Pope said in front of representatives from more than 120 countries, citing FAO data showing the magnitude of edible food produced on the planet that is lost or wasted.

The Pontiff also voiced concerns over large-scale acquisitions of agricultural land by multinational companies and governments.

Climate change rightly worries us, but we cannot forget financial speculation,” he continued, explaining how both global warming drives world hunger, as well as speculators who drive up market prices of basic foods such as grains, rice and soybeans purely for their own economic gain.

“It is unsettling to know that a good portion of agricultural products end up used for other purposes, maybe good, but that are not immediate needs of the hungry,” he said.

He emphasized that access to basic foods as “a right of all people.”

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaLakeMead(Photo: EcoWatch)Lake Mead, America’s largest U.S. reservoir when at capacity, is about to hit a critical new low. The reservoir near Las Vegas on the Colorado River has been in decline for decades because the reservoir and the larger Colorado River system has been over-allocated for many years. As of yesterday, the elevation of Lake Mead was 1,075.96. The reservoir is only days away from hitting 1,075 feet, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s projections. That number is the threshold set in a 2007 agreement as part of the U.S. Department of Interior’s Colorado River Interim Guidelines, which calls for delivery cuts if water levels in Lake Mead drops below that level.

These cuts will be the first set of mandatory water delivery curtailments to Lake Mead. Should the water levels continue to drop, as they are expected to—due to the prolonged drought, climate change and poor water management—more cuts will be required. The Western Water Policy Program and the Bren School of Environmental Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara recently released their spring report, The Bathtub Ring, which examines the impacts as Lake Mead levels decline to 1075 feet, 1050 feet, 1025 feet and 1000 feet.

The Bureau of Reclamation predicts the first round of cuts could take place in January 2017 with Arizona and Southern Nevada seeing the biggest cuts. Arizona plans to curtail “groundwater recharge efforts” and cut “deliveries to farmers with low-priority rights,” according to the Las Vegas Sun. Arizona’s cities “would be unaffected, at least initially.” Southern Nevada, for its part, “has prepared with conservation, saving enough water that residents and businesses won’t be affected if a portion no longer is available.”

Published in Guest Commentary
Tuesday, 09 June 2015 12:25

Is the Fracking Boom Coming to an End?


aaaFrackWellhead(Photo: Joshua Doubek)Since fracking began its boom period in the last decade, its supporters have promoted it as the answer to all of  the U.S.’s energy issues. It would free us from dependence on foreign oil, they said, thereby strengthening national security. And in fact, the U.S. has become the world’s largest exporter of fossil fuels, while prices at the gas pump have dropped steeply as fracked oil and gas production has exploded. States like Texas, Colorado, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Ohio have welcomed frackers to their shale deposits, even though others, such as New York and Maryland, have resisted the lure due to concerns about fracking’s impacts on human health and the environment.

But could the gravy train be derailing? While production is still at record levels, there are signs that should worry any company or economy that is heavily invested in the fracking process.

Compared to conventional wells, fracked wells tend to be initially productive but taper off quickly and then are shut down as operators move to new locations. And that is starting to catch up with them.

“Production has to come down because rigs drilling for oil are down 57 percent this year,” James Williams, president of Arkansas-based energy consultancy WTRG Economicstold Bloomberg News. “Countering that is the fact that the rigs we’re still using are more efficient and drilling in areas where you get higher production. So that has delayed the decline.”

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaHastert(Photo: Neutrality)Late last week, the Associated Press' Mary Clare Jalonick reported that a Montana woman interviewed by the FBI claimed that "her brother was sexually abused while in high school by [former House Speaker] Dennis Hastert, the wrestling coach who would become speaker of the House."

According to the AP story, Jolene Burdge of Billings, Montana, said "that the FBI interviewed her in mid-May about Hastert. She said her brother told her before he died in 1995 that his first homosexual contact was with Hastert and that the relationship lasted through all of his high school years."

Burdge, who in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America" identified her brother as Stephen Reinboldt, "said Hastert had been a father figure to him at high school. But she also said she believed that relationship had caused irreparable harm. 'He damaged Steve, I think, more than any of us will ever know,' she told the morning show," AP reported.

Too much time has passed for Hastert to be indicted on sexual abuse charges, but he has been indicted on charges "accus[ing] Hastert of evading bank regulations in withdrawing hundreds of thousands of dollars and lying to the FBI about the reason for the withdrawals. The document says Hastert agreed to pay a total of $3.5 million to someone identified only as 'Individual A' to 'compensate for and conceal (Hastert's) prior misconduct' against that person. But it does not go into any detail about the alleged misconduct."

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaDevilsTower(Photo: VaderSS)In my last Buzzflash at Truthout piece, Oil Kills Everything It Covers, I wrote about Plains All American’s horrific oil tragedy that happened on the 19th of May off Refugio Beach, north of Santa Barbara. It could have been prevented if Plains had installed a state-required automatic shut-off valve. But in the 1980s, Plains won a lawsuit that gave regulatory control of the company to the federal government, which didn’t require an automatic shut-off valve. Why? Security maintenance is “unprofitable”. Consequently, an estimated 105,000 gallons of crude oil gushed into the Pacific Ocean from a ruptured, eroding pipe. Tar balls are currently washing up on favorite, southern California beaches. In a twist of irony, angry reporters have been barred from inspecting the on-going damage, a blatant violation of their First Amendment rights. Talk about distorting the Bill of Rights, an oil corporation can exercise “freedom of speech and freedom of the press,” but apparently, those rights and protections are not afforded to individuals or journalists.  

Many of these oil & gas pipelines are over 30 years old in the U.S. It should be a mandatory requirement to replace them all. Or better yet, replace fossil fuels with solar and wind energy. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said that “this oil spill off the Santa Barbara coast is tragic. This highlights the dangers posed by these pipelines and underscores why I have spent decades fighting against oil drilling off the California coast.” Plains’ long delay and clean-up response have been described as “shockingly insufficient.”  

The heartbreaking part of this tragedy is that this oil spill is going to kill a lot of whales, dolphins, seabirds and much more...

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaIndiaHeatWave(Photo: Hinode JAXA/NASA)The heat wave that has been ravaging India in recent weeks has now killed more than 2,500 people, making it the fifth deadliest on record. “If the death toll reaches more than 2,541, it will become the fourth deadliest heat wave in the world, and the deadliest in India’s history,” says Think Progress.

After the Indian government made an announcement today that the country was entering its first drought in six years, India’s Earth sciences minister blamed climate change for the heat wave and the deficient monsoon rains. “Let us not fool ourselves that there is no connection between the unusual number of deaths from the ongoing heat wave and the certainty of another failed monsoon,” Harsh Vardhan told Reuters. “It’s not just an unusually hot summer, it is climate change,” he said.

The minister’s statement reflects the findings of the U.N. International Panel on Climate Change, which has predicted that “India will be hit by frequent freak weather patterns if the planet warms,” according to Reuters. And, of course, India is not alone. Scientists report that extreme weather, including droughts, floods and heat waves, will increase in frequency due to climate change. On the other side of the world in the U.S., cities such as Houston, Texas were inundated by floods last week and Oklahoma City had its wettest month ever with almost five times the amount of rain it normally sees in May. Again, scientists have confirmed that this heavy downpours are increasing because of climate change.

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaFalwell(Photo: Liberty University)The Rev. Jerry Falwell envisioned a university. That university would bring young Christian men and women to a beautiful campus in his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia. The student body would multiply and the campus would expand. But due to Falwell-esque hubris, and the sexual scandals that took down fellow televangelists Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker, that university would be brought to the edge of financial ruin. The Unification Church's Rev. Sun Myung Moon, would help bail out that university, and it would again grow, adding students, professors, and more buildings. Falwell's university would develop a first class athletic program, with a new football stadium seating over 19,000 people.

University leaders envisioned the future, and that future was online. Now, the little institute of higher learning that the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, the founder of the Moral Majority, envisioned as being the pride of Lynchburg, Virginia, and the Petri dish for developing conservative true believers and activists, has grown to be the largest Christian university in America, and has the second largest enrollment in online education courses for any non-profit university in the world.

Welcome to Liberty University, where they are "Training Champions for Christ," and where a few months back, those "champions" were mandated to hear Senator Ted Cruz announce his presidential candidacy and, later, during graduation season, many "champions" heard Jeb Bush deliver a commencement address.

Not only is Liberty University the largest private, nonprofit university in the nation, the largest university in Virginia, and the largest Christian university in the world, but it has also become an online Goliath.

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaNeil(Photo: Ole Hagen)Sorry Taylor Swift, it looks like Neil Young is most definitely not a “Starbucks lover.” Young released a new anthem last week decrying Starbucks for its alleged support of Monsanto and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). “I want a cup of coffee, but I don’t want a GMO. I’d like to start my day off, without helping Monsanto,” Young sings.

Young and the band The Promise of The Real debuted an acoustic version of the song, “A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop,” in Maui, Hawaii at “OUTGROW Monsanto,” an event put on to call attention to Monsanto’s destructive practices in Hawaii.

Hawaii is considered the global epicenter for GMO seed testing, according to Paul Towers of Pesticide Action Network. Corporations based around the globe test and grow GMO seeds in Hawaii, which can be grown year-round in the islands’ tropical climate, before shipping them to places like Iowa to sell to U.S. farmers and across the globe, according to Towers. Earlier this month, a jury awarded 15 residents $500,000 in damages for pesticide contamination from the biotech company DuPont-Pioneer.

Young’s new song is part of his upcoming album “The Monsanto Years,” due out June 29. Young has been a food advocate for years. He’s the co-founder of Farm Aid, and when it came to light that Starbucks was supporting Monsanto in fighting Vermont’s GMO labeling law last fall, Young publicly declared he would be boycotting Starbucks.

Published in Guest Commentary
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