Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The continued fracking debate...

Today, we got into it on Facebook about this video looking at the supposed health concerns caused by hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus shale region. This post is merely to show the dialogue of this conversation (with people's names kept anonymous) and to spur a possible conversation. Please email me here to let me know your thoughts.

My original posting text in response to video: I saw this posted and I really can't believe it (I mean, I don't believe its claims one bit)...but more I can't believe people would believe any of the unscientific claims made in this video. Show us the scientific evidence that these claims of cancer were caused by hydraulic fracturing and then we have an argument. Otherwise, this video is completely falsified. What if I claimed that being in close proximity to the fracking fluids actually solved some sort of medical malady? According to this video, I don't even need a doctor to verify it and you have to believe it. I'm all for appealing to the heart of people...but this stretches it a little. It's the same sort of stuff Josh Fox claimed in Gasland which numerous non-profits and private firms have found to be false.

Commenter #1: Kind of like the guys' wife that Mitt killed Cory.. unbelievable how they come up with this crap!!

Commenter #2: mmm I'm going to disagree. There are 'unknown' chemicals likely carcinogens in fracking fluid. Livestock that are exposed to fracking water spills show illness and miscarriage. I doubt every health problem stated is caused by fracking but water isn't renewable.

Commenter #3 (who was also the original poster of the video on their page): Because flaming water is normal? Tested water contaminated with natural gas isn't scientific proof? Just coincidence that people and aminals are sick? Would you drink that water? Chemicals forced at 9000 PSI wouldn't disrupt our water tables? I guess common sense isn't common anymore..

Commenter #4: I believe that fracking is very dangerous Cory. You are welcome to your opinion but so am I. We can agree to disagree, I guess. ♥ (with link to this video that I haven't yet had time to watch)

My rebuttal comments: 
It's not a perfect system and I never would argue it is. Keep in mind, I come at these opinions from an educational background that is strictly against these methods...yet it was their lack of being able to accurately explain themselves tha
t led to me to actually look at "the dark side." There are going to be accidents, there are going to be spills, and yes...some water will get contaminated. The only way to develop a more environmentally sound method is through trial and error. As I say many times in my blog, The car wasn't perfect the first go around, but it got perfected over time. The other problem we have is the lack of viable alternatives. Without a solid natural gas supply, we will still be dependent on international imports of oil where prices are determined by speculators. Notice the prices go up 15 cents yesterday? Speculators were worried about Hurricane Isaac so cut our supply. I believe natural gas needs to be developed and taxed, with 100% of that tax going towards the develop of renewable and alternative forms of energy (mainly hydro, wind, solar, and geothermal)...but unfortunately the technology isn't there at this point to supply nearly any of the demand that we have. Gas will soon be at $8, $9, $10 dollars a gallon if we are not careful to develop alternatives. Yes, we need to develop alternative energies and I am 100% for a petroleum-based fuel free economy. I am for local foods, home grown goods, small town shops, do-it-yourself..sustainability (as Commenter #2 can attest to) but what is our alternative in the mean time?

I just believe there is propoganda on both side. There was Gasland and then the pro-drilling side released Truthland. There is this Woodlands story and I promise I could find a rebuttal video if I had a few minutes to look. My argument isn'
t necessarily for or against fracking..we are each entitled to our opinion....but more for the fact that this video presents no solid science, sources, etc. If a video can come out and support things with scientific fact...then I'll listen to it. Let's not also forget that, as a Christian, I am a steward of the environment and a steward of the resources God gave us.

But I guess I should preface all by saying that I completely am a fan of a well-rounded and educated argument and I know that at least the 3 of you who commented have most likely dived into the topic (I know Commenter #2 and Commenter #4 have for sure and
 Commenter #4, I can imagine living in Vermont there are a lot of resources up that way). Everyone is surely entitled to their own opinion. And this is actually a topic my dissertation may look at...human perceptions of natural gas drilling in the Appalachian region.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Climate Change Communications

It is interesting to note that in this present day, we are still weary of talking about a changing climate. With hundreds, if not thousands, of scientists devoting a lifetime of study to looking at how humans have impacted the natural world, you would think this would not be such a taboo subject. In a recent New York Times article, Zoos and Aquariums Struggle With Ways To Discuss Climate Change, we read that, while some zoos across the country are tackling such topics as human-induced climate change, many don't because of the backlash they feel they will receive from their customers and visitors.

We live in a day and age where natural lands and opportunities to connect with nature are being pushed to the wayside in exchange for ever-increasing access to large box stores, suburban environments, and replicas of the city life that has been so romanticized throughout film. With this, zoos, parks, and other public owned green spaces need to be at the forefront of the climate change movement. As I have seen through my research into state park sustainability, parks and zoos may be the only interaction that people ever have with nature and every opportunity needs to be taken to make sure that we, as scientists and enthusiasts, can impact the world in the biggest ways.

95% of scientists now agree that climate change is real and is caused by human influences, such as automobile emissions, agriculture, and more. Who are we to argue against this science because we do not want to put the blame on ourselves? Buy into the "Climate Gate Scandal" from a few years ago all you want, but the science is still out there. It is sad that zoos are afraid of what their customers will say, so they shy away from presenting these messages.

I spent the summer in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park as the Climate Change Intern and have recently started my Ph.D. in Geography at Kent State University. Do you honestly believe that, in a public-urban park such as Cuyahoga, I did not come across any climate change skeptics? I did...but I didn't back down. It's a matter of knowing your facts, understanding both sides of the issues, and being able to present a decent argument (although constantly doing it respectfully) about why climate change is real and what we can do about it. The science is there blaring in front of our faces, yet our public institutions are too scared to accurately present it.

Let's not be stupid. Besides, even if I'm wrong (which I don't think I am), does the thought of healthier air and water, safer neighborhoods, and healthier foods sound better? That's all we are arguing for in sustainability. Using our resources in a manner that our future generations can have them (or my caveat, have the resources or have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to develop viable alternatives). I do not shy away though from anything that may be seemingly controversial. If I did, you wouldn't see me in the field I am today.

It's time for a wake up call, a call to action, and a return to sound science where we can see that the climate is changing, we are to blame, and we are the solution. Don't forget, I'm a scientist, but first and foremost a man of God. We are called to be stewards of our environment and protect His creation.....and that starts with the atmosphere and our climate.

Monday, August 20, 2012

An Improving Atmospheric State?

United States CO2 emissions on the decline, but this does not account for phantom methane emissions from natural gas.

According to the Rachel Nuwer of the New York Times, annual atmospheric carbon emissions are lower than anytime during the previous two decades. It's an interesting face to note in this article that they attribute this to the rise in natural gas production and usage. Pennsylvania has played a key role in this growing industry over the past few years and it will be interesting to see what will happen with future carbon emissions as our natural gas consumption goes up and coal-based fuels go down. According to the article, natural gas now accounts for 30% of electricity and coal-based has fallen from 40% to 34% (industries such as solar and wind account for roughly 5%). Should we not see the writing on the wall that we do need to phase out coal-based electric production, phase in natural gas even more, and tax this industry at a reasonable level with that tax 100% going towards to research and development of renewable and alternative forms of energy?

In a recently blog post on natural gas flaring, I discuss what this article describes as "fugitive methane" or unexpected/unaccounted for emissions of methane from flaring and hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking). This is true that these emissions are not accounted for, so maybe Ms. Nuwer should account for these emissions if they are such as worry before making bold statements about the atmospheric state? Methane is, in fact, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide so we should be worrying about these phantom emissions, but I am not sure (although this article does a good job at summarizing the different viewpoints and facts on this issue) of the validity of these fugitive claims. It is reported to be up to 72 times more potent over a 20 year time frame, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Click here to email me and let me know your thoughts on these issues.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Demise of the human condition

I am continually amazed and appalled at what I consider the stupidity of mankind and, what I feel is appropriately termed, the demise of the human condition. I spent the afternoon today at the Akron Zoo with my girlfriend, her sister, and her sister's two children. Now, I will preface by saying I am a huge fan of zoos! I am one of those people that will read every sign and soak in as much information as I can about all of the animals. I believe that zoos do a lot of good in preserving species, promoting conservation, and educating the public...which (hopefully) instills a conservation ethic in the visitors. I know it was many trips to the zoo as a child, and environmental education centers where I was in contact with wild animals, that contributed my my studies in the environmental and sustainability sciences. What I saw today, while possibly stupid to others, bothered me to no end because it is something I saw throughout the summer in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Let me begin with a simple picture:

This is not the trash bins that were at the zoo, although very similar. In fact, the bins at the zoo had compost (including pictures of what could and could not go in there), recycling (including the different recycling numbers), trash, and a few others. They were very descriptive and easy to see what was supposed to go where. They were even designed just for the zoo, so the pictures were zoo concessionaire specific products.

What I saw absolutely appalled me. First were children, approximately 12 years of age, coming up and throwing their recycling into the compost bin. Then came adults who were throwing their food waste into the recycling. The big kicker at the end was the teenager who came up and did her best to divide up her items, but her dad came up behind her and put everything (yes, including the non-disposable serving tray) into the recycling bin. We are living in an age of stupidity or total apathy where people just don't care. As long as it's not in their hands anymore, they don't care where their waste ends up. It would take approximately an extra 20 seconds out of your time (maximum!!) to correctly divide up your waste. 

Not only this, but as soon as we go out of the car in the parking lot I saw a woman just throw her trash on the ground and walk away. I almost picked it up and threw it back on her. It's laziness, stupidity, and an utter lack of responsibility.

In an day and age where we are constantly engrossed in the latest social media, YouTube videos, news,  drama, and more, we are moving at an ever faster pace that has caused us to lose touch with the world around us and think about the life-cycle of where our products end up. Those plastic bottles in the composting bin do not decompose, but will only destroy the  newly created soil and contaminate the plants that will use this product. It may not seem like compost items in the trash is a big deal, as it will end up in the landfill, but it is contributing to an ever growing epidemic of landfills across our nation. We have the opportunity to create a change in our nation and our world by being able to slow down. This encompasses not only where our food comes from (Slow Food International) but also where it will eventually end up. Waste is piling up on our roadways, in our parks, throughout our waterways and oceans, and in our atmosphere. Just because you may not see the biproduct of burning fossil fuels (although I am a proponent of natural gas drilling) does not mean it isn't waste. I am urging anyone who reads this to take a moment to think about the life-cycle of our food system. 

I highly recommend reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, a wonderful book that describes the state of the food system in the United States. Other popular documentaries include:
I present these titles not as a means to go vegan or vegetarian, but as a way to show you that we need to be aware of the life-cycle of our choices. Where do the parts and materials that make up our cars and our computers come from and where do they go when we are done with them? Where do those plastic six-pack holders come from and where do they go (Yes, I cut mine even if I recycle them in case they end up somewhere they shouldn't so they don't hurt animals)?

It's a matter of being smart, slowing down, and stepping back to read the signs that point us to where to put our waste and also strive to educate us. If it's a food item, it can be composted. If it's plastic or metal, it can almost always be recycled. Pretty much everything we use can be recycled in some way, if you're willing to turn over the can or plastic bottle look where it goes. When you turn over a bottle, you'll most likely see something like the images below or some variation that will point you in the right direction:

Now, today's idiots didn't even need to look on the bottom as it was recycling numbers 1-7 in the same bin...they were just lazy and irresponsible. I took it as a lesson to educate my girlfriend's niece on where our trash goes and why. Hopefully we can begin a societal shift where our next generation will have a care for the natural world around them and the ability to think clearly and concisely, slow down, and realize the impacts their simple choices may have.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Marcellus Shale News Updates

If you are interested in many of the articles and issues surrounding the Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling, check out the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Pipeline Community. It is a great resource to see all of the things that are happening throughout western Pennsylvania and the rest of the Marcellus Shale plays. Don't be afraid to voice your opinion, read both sides of the argument, and make your own decisions. Challenge opinions. Learn. Know why you believe what you believe. Don't be a passive bystander, but an active participant in life.

Get Outside! The Restorative Power of Nature

One of my friends posted this picture on Facebook this morning and I was immediately struck by it. As you know, I do spend most of my time outside and I have seen the importance of spending time outside. Whether you are a Donald Miller fan or not (I happen to be a huge Donald Miller enthusiast), it's a wonderful quote. When you look at the Bible, you see that God made nature, then made man, and put man in complete control of the natural world. God did not intend for us to sit in front of our computers all day (if it's your job then okay, but get outside when you are done!), watch movies non-stop, or never get out and enjoy the wonderful benefits of spending time in His creation.

I've traveled to 38 states and 4 countries so far, which I know may not be a lot by others standards, but I enjoy traveling and in all of those trips I have spent time exploring the beauty that God created. I spent two summers watching the geysers of Yellowstone erupt as herds of bison grazed on the prairie, I've watched the sunset over the Caribbean and the mountains of northern Haiti, I've rented a convertible and driven up the California coast, and I've skied the Green Mountains of Vermont, the Big Sky area of Montana, Wasatch Mountains in Utah, Jackson Hole in Wyoming, and all throughout Colorado's Rocky Mountains. It's traveling and enjoying God's creation that should be put far above watching re-runs of television shows (although I'll admit I've been working through "Lost" on Netflix, but only when it's dark or stormy out).

There is an immense restorative power to spending time in the natural world. When I was deciding whether I wanted to accept the job at the church a couple of years ago, I went camping by myself;  when I was deciding to leave that job, I went camping by myself; when I went through bad breakups and was saddened, I moved to Wyoming to enjoy the mountains for a summer. In nature is where I find my peace and's where I find the Lord. Walking along the banks of a stream, stopping to watch a hawk swoop down to get prey in a field (which I did this morning on my way into work), sitting and listening to the wind...there is power in God's creation if you will only allow Him to quiet your mind and soul to listen.

You don't have to be a die-hard eco-liberal or a devout Christian to enjoy the environment and enjoy God's creation. I am a Christian, mostly conservative, but with very liberal views on the environment. Working for big oil company, you can't tell me you don't enjoy the beautiful plains of Texas, the mountains of West Virginia, the sunset on the ocean off of your deep-water rig, or the prairies of the Dakotas. If you're not stopping for even one minute to enjoy these gifts, you're missing out on an essential part of life.

I will not even get into the physical and mental benefits of spending time in nature, but I highly suggest you check out the Children & Nature Network with work done by journalist and author Richard Louv. His books, "Last Child in the Woods" and "The Nature Principle" (which I'm currently reading), discuss the benefits of getting children and adults in nature to reduce diabetes, obesity, depression, anxiety, and more. This coined the term "Nature Deficit Disorder". The great thing is, this doesn't have to be long hikes and camping trips! Plant a garden, enjoy a local park, walk through the city, or a whole number of outdoor things! I have recently come across this idea of cities as the new wilderness, which describes urban areas as a wilderness area to be explored. It's true! With parks, animals, streams and rivers, beautiful views (mountaintop vs. top of a building doesn't matter to me...just enjoy that sunset for what it's worth!), cities are an awesome place to explore the natural world around us and how humans interact with that environment. Every city has parks....and I mean Every Single City. Think New York's Central Park, the Pittsburgh City Parks, Washington D.C.'s National Mall and Memorial Parks, Cleveland Metroparks (designed by Frederick Law Olmsted's [designer of Central Park] sons), and Akron's Metro Parks Serving Summit County. Those are just a few of the ones off the top of my head but I can think of a ton more. Want to know what is in your city? Then Email Me with the name of your city and I will find all the great parks near you.

Get out. Enjoy nature. Enjoy creation. Use it as an act of worship.

Additional Links:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Natural Gas Twitter Accounts

Interested in following some of the news coming out of the natural gas industry and seeing some one the viewpoints that I tend to adhere to on the Marcellus Shale and hydraulic fracturing debate? Check out the following Twitter accounts:

Saga of the Yellowstone Bison and Ecoterrorism

This article recently came out on the recent proposal that bison will have year-round protection in the Gallatin National Forest outside Yellowstone. Anyone who follows environmental news, especially throughout the western United States, has seen the numerous headlines surrounding the battle between ranchers, government officials, and the bison herds of Yellowstone National Park. I had the opportunity to spend two summers in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, working for the concessionaires in Yellowstone and as an interpretive ranger for the U.S. Forest Service in West Yellowstone, MT (Gallatin National Forest-Hebgen Lake Rangers District). I have spent plenty of time in bison country and seen the problems that arise.

On one side, you have the ranchers who claim that bison leaving the park and entering US Forest Service lands, which are open to grazing permits from ranchers, are carrying a disease called Brucellosis and transmitting it to their herds. On the other side you have conservationists, Native American tribes, and others arguing that the bison have a right to travel where they please. Working for the Forest Service, we were trained on some of the "eco-terrorism groups" throughout the area, people that will physically harm another human to protect a natural resource. Many of these groups would stuff shards of glass and human feces into the locks on our gates so that when we tried to open them, we would cut our hands and get feces into the cuts (never happened to me luckily). There were many times when I would be driving my government vehicle and they would be following my closely behind to make sure that I wasn't harming the bison. There would be instances where the Forest Service would get on horseback and wrangle the bison into pens to test them for brucellosis and kill the ones who tested positive. It's been a long ongoing battle, but one that is very interesting with many different sides and interested parties. Bison originally roamed throughout the whole country, yet today have been virtually exterminated and only occupy small regions throughout North America:

It is sick and saddening to me that we live in an age of eco-terrorism and that arguments like these are still continuing. I see the value in preserving the life of all wild animals (but, yes, I am a hunter/fisherman), but I also value human life even more and would never knowlingly harm someone over these issues. There are battles like this raging all over the country and I highly advise you to become up-to-date on these issues. Even in my own local Allegheny National Forest (my family has a camp in Tionesta, PA), eco-terrorism struck in the form of arson when the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) burned a research lab causing $700,000 in damages. All this over logging in the forest (See article here).

I do not personally believe that the fight over bison will ever be over. As population continues to grow, more beef is needed as food supplies and we will see the expansion of grazing ranges. There are bound to be impacts and conflicts, much like the reintroduction of wolves in 1996 to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. No one will ever be fully satisfied, but I believe that we need to approach these issues with respect for both parties and come to a meaningful consensus. Violence will not work and is not a solution to our current environmental problems. If you look at the history of the United States, it was violence against native tribes that to forcibly take over lands for our own uses that have ultimately perpetuated our current degrading environmental state.

Whether you believe politics works or not, shards of feces-fill glass does not solve anything but enhances the problem. Politicians need to be willing to sit down (as we can see they did in the aforementioned article) and discuss both side...but we need to sift through the red tape and actually make decisions and implement changes. We can't sit idly back while Congress throws in their own bills and desires, but we need to push them forward to do something. Politics, in the truest sense, does work. But that debate,  my friends, is for another day.