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A protester cools off in the fountain at Franklin Square.
//photo by Liz Visser.

The Stop the Frack Attack march ended fittingly, with perhaps a dozen hot, sticky protesters slipping into the basin in Franklin Square and splashing around under the fountains. Some raised soggy signs that said, “Keep the Frack out of my Water.” Someone yelled, “Whose water?” and the crowd around the edges of the pool yelled back, “Our water!” “Whose water?” “Our water!”

This day in the nation’s capital was about water. About protecting it from the certain damage done by hydraulic fracturing. We couldn’t stop thinking about water. And the relentless sun only served to remind us how much we need clean water. Water to drink, water spritzed on us by sympathetic bystanders. Water from ice cubes handed out by volunteers along the march route so we could rub them on our arms and faces and necks.

And a chant rose up from the crowd:

Poison water

poison air

we get sick

and they don’t care

“Anyone thirsty?” “Gasland” filmmaker Josh Fox deadpanned to the crowd. “Here. I brought some water from Pennsylvania.”

From Maryland, Ohio, New York, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Texas, Michigan and other states, and even Australia, people concerned about fracking’s effects or already harmed listened Saturday afternoon to speakers and music and then marched from the U.S. Capitol to the offices of the American Petroleum Institute. Although people in numerous states have protested locally, Stop the Frack Attack was the first national rally against fracking.

Our Maryland contingent had a pre-rally at Spirit of Justice Park, a few blocks from the main rally on the west lawn of the Capitol. As we stood in the shade of a few trees, Mike Tidwell, director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, listed some of the planet’s warnings: last month’s derecho storm that brought all the impacts of a hurricane but none of the warning, our winter that never was, last fall’s damaging Tropical Storm Lee, a March that broke warm temperature records for April, flooding in Beijing, droughts out West. Everywhere, it’s “too hot, too dry, too wet,” he said.

Driving all this extreme energy is extreme energy extraction, from “barbaric” mountaintop removal that crushes communities before the extracted coal is even burned; to drilling in the ocean with rigs the size of the Eiffel Tower; to tar sands oil extraction that requires “peeling back” the surface of land; to fracking, which causes forest fragmentation, contaminated water, earthquakes from reinjecting toxic wastewater, endless truck traffic over country roads and water from faucets that bursts into flame. And if we burn all that natural gas from shale, Tidwell said, and send all that methane into the atmosphere, we will raise the temperature of the planet 6 degrees F by 2100. What we thought was a bridge fuel to renewables is instead going to cook the planet and wreck the climate.

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CCIHC members attended the Stop the Frack Attack rally.
//photo by Ruth Alice White

He said that Delegate Heather Mizeur will introduce a bill in the next General Assembly that will call for a statutory moratorium on fracking. Garrett County and parts of Allegany in Western Maryland lie atop the Marcellus Shale. Unless the oil and gas companies can prove that no harm will result, fracking wouldn’t be allowed, Tidwell said. In the last General Assembly, the American Petroleum Institute “parachuted in and told our legislators that Western Maryland doesn’t care about clean water,” he said, “and Montgomery County doesn’t care about climate change.” As a result, 11 bills that would have regulated fracking died during the session.

API will call us radical, Tidwell said, “but what could possibly be more radical than changing the atmosphere?”

We marched together to the main rally, where hundreds, maybe thousands, had gathered. Some people huddled at the tree-lined edges of the lawn, desperate for a bit of shade. But then one of the rally organizers said that unlike the oil and gas industry, everyone should “get out of the shadows.” So, into the sunlight we moved.

“We are standing together for justice in our country’s oil and gas communities,” said Gwen Lachelt of EARTHWORKS. “We are honoring Americans who bear the impacts of energy development. We want a new energy economy.”

Kari Matsko, a landowner from the Marcellus Shale region of Ohio, was among the harmed. Six years ago, she told the protesters, she awoke in severe pain, unable to move. She was in her 30s and had been healthy; a series of tests produced no diagnosis. But her home was 2,500 feet from a hydraulic fracturing site, and her windows had been open during those July days. Soon, she learned that a neighbor’s children had been rushed to the hospital the same week. That family lived 1,000 feet from the drilling site. Hydrogen sulfide gas, a natural byproduct of some wells, was the culprit. It can cause symptoms from dizziness and headaches to breathing difficulties and even death. We have all seen the warnings that accompany television ads for medications, Kari said, but the oil and gas industry, in its promotions for natural gas, never says “may cause imminent death.”

A sign along the way:

It’s hard to live well next to a live well.

Laura Amos of Colorado came with her daughter Lauren. “Ten years ago, the gas companies proved that if something can go wrong, it will go wrong,” she said. Her family’s water well blew up during drilling on her land, she wrote in an EARTHWORKS essay. The water in their previously abundant well turned gray and bubbly and smelled awful. They didn’t even own the mineral rights.

The industry turned their neighborhood into an industrial zone, she said. “We’re afraid to drink our water. We’re afraid to breathe the air. We’re afraid to let our kids play outside.”

“We found out you’re not good neighbors,” she said of the oil and gas industry. “We’re afraid of living with you, but we are not afraid of you.”

Water is our right. 

Josh Fox asked the crowd if anyone had been to a fracking site. Some hands went up.

Well, everyone has now, he announced, “because this is the biggest frack site in the country.” The Washington Monument looks a lot like a drilling rig, he said. After much investigating, he’s figured out that T. Boone Pickens and other oil and gas executives must have drilled down through that monument, then drilled horizontally under the Capitol and injected money. Lots of it. And with that money, they bought exemptions from the Safe Drinking Water Act and other environmental laws. We might not have an extra $747 million to buy back our government, Fox said, but “we have bodies, and we have minds and we have hearts.”

Fox also had some advice. He had spoken with a landowner in Arkansas whose artesian well had been contaminated from fracking. The landowner spoke not of “America” but of “our America.” “Who’s going to fight for our America?” he would ask. That landowner also said to never look at the size of the enemy.” If you think you can win, you will.

The solution, Fox said, is solar and wind energy. “We can do this now, and in the process we can change the world.”

“We can take back our power. We can take back our America,” Fox said.

“We are fighting the biggest fight human beings have ever fought,” said Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org. The fight will be close and hard, and we will have to go to the core, the heart of the oil and gas industry, he said: “If [they’re] taking away our planet and our future, we’re taking away their money. … Money is the only thing that hurts them.” He seemed dismayed that more people weren’t there to fill the lawn. Next time we will, he said.

Jameson Lisak from Pennsylvania spoke in particular to the teens and 20-somethings in the crowd, saying, “It’s for us that everyone is fighting.” He and his generation wonder what life will hold if the water is contaminated and the climate damaged. “I don’t want to be here [at the rally]. … None of us wants to be here,” he said, “but we don’t have the option to sit at home safe … because we fear losing our water, we fear losing our land, we fear losing our health.”

Respect existence or expect resistance. 

Catherine Thomasson, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said the protesters would save more lives than doctors, because changing policy saves lives. She encouraged everyone to get five more people to fight fracking. “We’re here to demand change,” she said.

In 2009, Doug Shields was a Pittsburgh councilman when the mayor started rhapsodizing about the jobs from fracking. The mayor assured the council members, “We would prepare for well fires and pollution and other disasters.”

“I’d say, ‘I’d rather not.’ ” Shields said. “We want to prepare for future generations.” Pittsburgh is now a frack-free zone, having passed legislation making it the first city east of the Mississippi to ban the drilling.

The oil and gas industry has always said it needed predictability and uniformity, Shields said. So does he. “I like to be able to predict that when I turn the faucet on, that water will come out,” he said. “I need predictability. And I need uniformity of the application of our laws.” He decried the “arrogance of the oil and gas industry” and its friends in government. “We don’t have an oil and gas problem. We’ve got a democracy problem here.”

I stand with Dimock.

And then we marched and chanted to the front of the impassive, glass-windowed headquarters of the American Petroleum Institute on L St NW. Some protesters held signs up to the doors. Others knocked over a replica paper drill erected for the protest. A participant was supposed to leave a gallon of fracked and brown faucet water that no one would dare drink, but no one from API was there to receive it.

Heading to Franklin Park and buses or the Metro home, protesters listened to Ohio folksinger Zach Freidhof, who had biked to the protest from Williamsport, MD, with Tour de Frack. From atop the Bus for Progress, he sang what should be the anthem to the anti-fracking movement, although the sound was not quite loud enough. “I Want a Future Too” needs a bigger audience, so here it is once again: 

I Want a Future Too
(c) Z. Freidhof 2012

Dont tell me that its alright
I know the truth inside
Don’t tell me about oversight
I know the truth you hide

This heres a beautiful place
This heres my only home
No time to make mistakes
No time to get it wrong

Chorus:
I don’t want your poison
I don’t want your money and crew
I don’t want your future
I want a future too

Don’t tell me that the waters safe
That the smell wont sicken me
Don’t wanna explode my place
Trying to make some tea

Well this heres a beautiful place
Its home to more than just me
Once you break this place
No fix we’ll ever see

Chorus

Ohh oh-oh oh oh ohh oh-oh oh

Don’t tell me about the jobs
That youre gonna bring
This town needs sustainable work
Not raping and pillaging

This heres a beautiful place
Our own liitle Shangri-la
You wont move into this place
So take your trucks & get off our lawn

Chorus
I want t a future too

Ohh oh-oh oh oh ohh oh-oh oh …

–elisabeth hoffman

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Jason Bell holds up tap water from Butler County that’s been deemed
safe to drink. //photo by Ruth Alice White

Here’s how testing companies determine if your water has been contaminated by fracking. First, they don’t step foot on the property.  The drilling company provides all the information, such as about the geology of the area, and then the testing company decides whether the  water was likely to have been contaminated by fracking. In the case of families from Connoquenessing Township in Butler County, north of Pittsburgh, the testing company determined that the drillers could not have contaminated the water because the drilling operation was downhill from the wells. Based on that report, the state determined the water safe to drink. And the driller stopped providing substitute water.

This is the procedure Jason Bell described when he visited Williamsport in western Maryland Sunday afternoon at a stop along Tour de FRACK’s 400-mile bike trek to Washington, DC, for the Stop the Frack Attack protest July 28. He carries with him 6 gallons of brown, murky, “safe-to-drink water” from tap water near a fracking site in Connoquenessing Township, PA.

Jason, Mike Badges-Canning, Tom Jefferson and Ping Pirrung rode into Williamsport after a miserable and sleepless night in Hedgesville (thanks to very noisy campers nearby). Their bikes are muddy but holding up well.

“It’s very moving for me. You think you are alone,” Mike said, until you realize that so many others share the understanding that fracking is a threat to water, land, air and communities.

The riders, along with family and friends who are accompanying them by car, appeared at the Desert Rose Cafe to tell stories about families harmed by fracking. Activist and folksinger Zach Freidhof also drove from Akron, Ohio, to join them and sang a powerful anthem for the anti-fracking movement.

In a skit at the Cafe, the Tour de FRACK riders and friends told stories from families affected by fracking. They spoke for a farmer who has dead cattle and has lost the use of a hayfield. They spoke for families who have spent hundreds, even  thousands of dollars for water testing, water filtration and medical bills.  One family has a hole in the ground with a foamy, smelly fluid oozing up. Another speaks of a silent woods once full of song birds, raccoons and deer. Some have rashes and peeling skin, stomach aches, seizures. Often, when they have been sick, a doctor has told them to drink lots of fluids. But the more water they drink, the sicker they feel.

“We started over a week ago in Butler County…to make the people who have been harmed by hydraulic fracking heard. What has happened on the trail has been truly inspirational, “ Jason said at the Cafe.

They have “traveled through some of the most spectacular scenery,” he said, and they have seen “the power of water and how clean water is essential to life.”

He and Mike poured some water from the Desert Rose Cafe into a jug of pure water they are collecting along the way. If any of the water along the route were to become contaminated from fracking, Jason said,  “all of these sources would become contaminated. We all live downstream.”

Here are the lyrics to Zach’s powerful song, “I want a future too.”  He said he’ll also be singing this at the Stop the Frack Attack protest Saturday. (If you want to carpool to the protest with CCIHC, email  hococlimatechange@gmail.com)

“I Want a Future Too”

Don’t tell me that it’s alright
I know the truth inside
Don’t tell me about oversight
I know the truth you hide

This here’s a beautiful place
This here’s my only home
No time to make mistakes
No time to get it wrong

Chorus:
I don’t want your poison
I don’t want your money and crew
I don’t want your future
I want a future too

Don’t tell me that the water’s safe
That the smell won’t sicken me
Don’t wanna explode my place
Trying to make some tea

Well this here’s a beautiful place
It’s home to more than just me
Once you break this place
No fix we’ll ever see

Chorus

Ohh oh-oh oh oh ohh oh-oh oh

Don’t tell me about the jobs
That you’re gonna bring
This town needs sustainable work
Not raping and pillaging

This here’s a beautiful place
Our own little Shangri-la
You won’t move into this place
So take your trucks & get off our lawn

Chorus

I want  a future too

Ohh oh-oh oh oh ohh oh-oh oh …

Thanks to CCAN videographer Leslie Morrison,  you can watch Zach singing this amazing song.  

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Zach sings at Desert Rose Cafe in Williamsport. He’ll be biking the rest
of the trip.//photo by Ruth Alice White

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Ping Pirrung (from left), Mike Badges-Canning, Jason Bell and Tom Jefferson
are ready to rest for the night.//photo by Ruth Alice White

–elisabeth hoffman

.

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Keith Harrington of Chesapeake Climate Action Network made this illustration based on thousands of pages in the state’s draft plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Find out more at meetings tonight in Silver Spring and Thursday in College Park.

Hot enough? Dry enough? Consider this the prequel for life on this planet as our SUV-economy, fired by fossil fuels, changes the climate into something much less habitable. The Maryland Department of the Environment has a draft plan, to be finalized by December, that would reduce by 25 percent over the next seven years the greenhouse gas emissions we are pumping into the atmosphere. Is this enough? Will the programs in the plan work? 

Public meetings are scheduled tonight and Thursday where you can learn more and so make more informed comments about the plan to state officials.  At the meetings, representatives from Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Sierra Club will talk about the plan’s good points and shortcomings. The meeting tonight is from 7 to 8:30 at the Silver Spring Public Library, 8901 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. For more information, contact Keith Harrington from CCAN at 204.396.1985. The meeting Thursday is from 6 to 8 p.m. at College Park City Hall, 4500 Knox Road. For more information about that meeting, contact Chris Hill of Sierra Club, chris.hill@sierraclub.org

Email your comments to the state Department of the Environment at climate@mde.state.md.us by Aug. 17. 

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Poster by Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

The stories of bad air and water caught Michael Bagdes-Canning’s attention. His Cherry Valley, PA, home was atop a Marcellus Shale “gold mine,” he said, but his interest in tapping the gas turned to heartbreak when he met families living near rigs in southern Butler County whose homes had black and purple water flowing from taps.

“The air smelled of diesel fumes and the folks complained of headaches, rashes and nosebleeds,” he said. He noticed the stadium lighting piercing homes through the night, the “incessant noise that kept people up all night and the breakdown of community, pitting one neighbor against another.”

“I couldn’t just sit back and let the threat go unanswered,” he said. “I want to tell folks what I’ve seen. I want to raise awareness. I want to stop this thing dead in its tracks.”

Mike, along with husband and wife Jason Bell and Jill Perry, is organizing  the Tour de FRACK: Freedom Ride for Awareness and Community Knowledge. The three started making phone calls and collecting stories in January for the 400-mile bike ride that begins Saturday and ends two weeks later, July 28, at the Stop the Frack Attack protest in Washington, DC.

Mike and his wife, Karen, have long been environmentalists, but the birth of their two grandchildren energized them. In an email, he said: “We want to leave them a world at least as nice as the one we inherited from our parents. I fear my generation has not been good stewards. I remember the first Earth Day. It’s not like we weren’t made aware of the consequences. That’s why we feel called to act. That’s why we’re on the Tour. We think if people become aware of what’s at stake, what’s already being done, they will rise up and say NO!”

“I’m looking forward to sharing our experience,” he said. “Each of the riders has interviewed one of the harmed, and we’re going to be telling their stories. Many of us are community organizers in the shale fields — we’ve been dealing with folks put in harm’s way.”

Jason and Jill’s land is not being drilled, but they are nevertheless surrounded by fracking’s long shadow.  Five miles from where they live, in the community of Woodlands, 11 families started complaining of smelly and discolored water and illnesses in early 2011. The families later learned that Rex Energy had had problems with cement well casings, which separate the drill from the aquifers it penetrates, on at least two wells in the area in 2010. Rex Energy supplied replacement drinking water to the families until February 2012, when the state Department of Environmental Protection declared the water safe to drink. Spurred on by protests by Marcellus Outreach Butler (MOB), Jason worked out a water delivery schedule involving several churches. In a trailer attached to his bike, Jason will be carrying a gallon jug of this DEP-certified safe black water.

Jason, in a recent blog on the Tour de FRACK website, wrote: “Western Pennsylvania was once synonymous with sweet water creeks for kayaking, local ponds for fishing, and slow winding roads for bicycle rides. Is it any wonder why in 2009 tourism overtook agriculture as Butler’s top industry? But what was oft described as an outdoorsman’s paradise now has this new demarcation and all that comes with it. We are promised jobs, environmental stewardship, and sensitivity to the community. More often than not, what we find are industrial shortcuts, unintended consequences, snarling traffic, fractured communities, and an erasure of our outdoor heritage. It must stop!”

Mike, Jason and four other riders form the core of those who will travel the entire route, going 30 to 40 miles a day through rural areas of Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia. They will mostly follow the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal Towpath, staying overnight with hosts, in hostels or campgrounds. Along the way, they will participate in concerts, presentations, movie screenings and webcasts. After the rally in DC, the group plans to lobby at the Environmental Protection Agency, the White House and Congress.

The ride “is designed to educate, unite, and empower the citizens of the shale fields,” Jill said in a video on the Tour de FRACK website. “By participating, you will amplify the voices of those who have experienced and understand the true human, economical and societal costs of high-volume, slick water, hydraulic fracturing otherwise known as ‘fracking.’ ”

“We are undertaking this effort because it has become painfully clear to us that local concerns and circumstances are being steamrolled by powerful out-of-state corporations, their lobbyists and compliant politicians,” she said.

Bikers, experienced or not, are welcome to join at any point, and some local groups have arranged for large  teams to jump in along the way.  The Tour makes two stops in Maryland: Thursday, July 19, in Cumberland and Sunday, July 22, in Williamsport. Welcoming the riders into the state, Save Western Maryland will join Tour de FRACK at 6 p.m. July 19 at the trailhead in Frostburg, adjacent to 10109 New Hope Road, for the 14-mile ride into Cumberland parallel to the historic Western Maryland Railroad. From 7 to 9:30 p.m., music by Nathan Friend and stories are planned at the Canal Place Festival Grounds in Cumberland.

In Williamsport, Chesapeake Climate Action Network is host for a concert by Zach from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Desert Rose Cafe, 42 N. Conococheague St. (To carpool with CCIHC from Columbia to Williamsport or the rally in DC, email hococlimatechange@gmail.com).

In Maryland, only Garrett and parts of Allegany counties have shale entombed miles below the surface. The state is not issuing permits for drilling until Gov. Martin O’Malley gets a final report, due in December 2014, from the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission that he appointed in June 2011. An interim report on best practices is due this December.

Mike admitted: “I’m a little worried about the ride. I’ve never been responsible for a whole group of people on a trip like this before. It was my job to plan the route and I’m hoping I carried that out well — some of our riders have never done a bicycle tour before. None of us are hard-core bike riders. It will be challenging on many levels. It will also be interesting to see how we gel as a team.”

Along the way, they will collect more stories from people hurt by fracking as well as “wish ribbons.” In the Tour website blog, Jason said: “The wish ribbon is a Brazilian tradition where a personal wish is made while tying a ribbon to a fence outside of a church. Our wish is an end to toxic fracking. … We will attach your wishes to our bikes and carry them with us to the rally on the national mall on July 28.” Jason said he will carry two ribbons, one for each of his daughters. (Ribbons should be at least 12 inches long and sturdy enough to endure the ride; include your name and personal wishes.)

In the days leading up to the ride, Mike said in an email: “I guess I’m optimistic about changing the trajectory of extreme energy extraction but I’m also realistic. We’re up against a multibillion-dollar industry with very deep pockets and lots of paid public relations experts. We’re a group of 3 volunteers who started with nothing but an idea, no budget, and full time jobs. … We think we have truth and justice on our side. We think we have compelling stories. We think that when people see Kim’s black water, when they hear how Terry’s and Marilyn’s farm animals died, how Janet’s health has suffered, they’ll know that something is terribly wrong. They’ll know, intuitively, that any government that allows [its] citizens to be treated like that is broken. We believe that we have environmental problems because we have a democracy problem. We also believe that the political upheaval on both the left and right are signs that many people have lost faith — that change is needed. We want to be part of that change.”

Here’s one other item the bikers will collect on their journey: water. They will gather samples from clean rivers, lakes or streams along the way. “We’ll mix them together as we go,” Mike said. “ We’re all downstream. If one source of water is polluted, they are all polluted.”

–elisabeth hoffman

Tour de FRACK is also accepting donations.

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Protesters blockade access to a fracking site in Moshannon State Forest, PA
//photo by Marcellus Earth First!

Marcellus Earth First!, an activist group fighting fracking operations in Pennsylvania and New York, reports that it has blocked access to a well pad set up by EQT in Moshannon State Forest in Clearfield County, about 25 miles northwest of State College, PA.

The group has been posting updates on its website since about 10 a.m., when it announced that it had set up the blockade and that 40 supporters, who turned away a Halliburton truck, were holding a rally nearby. At 7:40 p.m., they reported that the Pennsylvania State Police had ordered the 40 supporters to leave and that “arrests were imminent.”

Drilling operations at the site were set to begin next week. By 10:10 a.m., the protesters reported that they had a slash pile and tree sitters blocking the access road: “The blockade is trying to stop the further destruction of Pennsylvania’s state forests—more than half of which have already been leased for drilling—and call attention to the devastating effects of hydrofracking on the state’s communities. The sitters’ anchor lines are blocking the road by crossing each other and the road, and if an anchor line is cut a sitter will fall.”

By 12:45 p.m., they reported: “SITE COMPLETELY SHUT DOWN. State police had escorted all the workers from the site, the group reported, although later posts indicate that police said 25 more employees were trapped by the blockade. “The workers were very friendly and people talked with them extensively,” the protesters said.

Marcellus Earth First! also included these remarks from farmer Jenny Lisak, who said she grew up adjacent to the park: “Having grown up enjoying Moshannon State Forest in so many ways, I am absolutely appalled at the ongoing destruction. The once narrow and inviting oak-shaded lanes are now being replaced by dust and traffic choked roads for chemical laden trucks – there are no words to describe the injustice of taking public land, meant to provide a source of beauty and wilderness for all and turning it into an industrial zone. Jobs? Those can be found just as readily in the green energy sector. To relentlessly ignore the science is a crime. This extreme extraction method is contributing to the climate crisis and that alone is reason to stop. Having suffered an impacted spring on our own property from a Marcellus well that had violations for the improper use and storage of fracking waste and knowing how the larger community is being harmed though, I know that this activity has too many known and unknown risks to be allowed to continue.”

This is the latest of several recent fracking protests, including a nearly 2-week-long encampment at the Riverdale Mobile Home Park in Jersey Shore, PA. Aqua America purchased that land to set up a pumping station along the Susquehanna River to supply water to the fracking industry. Also, the Tour de FRACK (Freedom Ride for Awareness and Community Knowledge) bike ride starts July 14 in Butler, PA, and ends at the Stop the Frack Attack Protest in Washington, DC, on July 28. Tour de FRACK will make two stops in Maryland, in Cumberland and Williamsport. To carpool with CCIHC to the protest in Washington or the bike stop and concert July 22 in Williamsport, email hococlimatechange@gmail.com More details on these events will be in future blog posts.

–elisabeth hoffman

 

 

 

climate checkmate

July 7, 2012

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The path a week ago of the heat-fueled derecho.//photo from National Weather Service, Storm Prediction Center.

Really, it’s too hot to think clearly. The forecast for this weekend shows the temperature reaching 103 degrees F in my community of Clarksville, MD. A couple nights ago, the last of our climate refugees departed our home, including my twenty-something daughter and her dog and numerous friends of my teenage son who were left without power and sometimes water for days after the violent and sudden derecho a week ago. That storm was fueled along its 600-mile course by energy from an intense heat wave that stretched from Illinois to DC. The ferocity of the June 29 event has some scientists calling it a “super derecho.”

Superlatives are super common these days. Weather.com says, “The number of record highs tied or broken across the nation is staggering” in the last two weeks. “4500 record highs and counting,” its headline says.

NOAA says 15,000 high temperature records were set during March for the contiguous states. May was the second warmest on record. All those high temperatures made for the “warmest spring, warmest year-to-date, and warmest 12-month period the nation has experienced since recordkeeping began in 1895.”  NOAA said the cold season, defined as October 2011 to March 2012, was the second warmest on record for the contiguous United States, topped only by the season of 1999-2000. Perhaps NOAA will soon have to call those months the season formerly known as cold.

At the same time, in Colorado, that state’s most-destructive wildfires were brought on by a deadly combination of lightning, persistent drought and heat. In the last two years, other record-breaking fires burned in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. And in the past decade, record fires have burned across 10 states, most in the West. Researchers from the University of California, in a study in Ecosphere, concluded that “almost all of North America and most of Europe is projected to see a jump in the frequency of wildfires, primarily because of increasing temperature trends.”

Breaking temperature records is expected, but as Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO, said on NPR: “There should be an equal number of highs and lows. And in the 1950s and the ’60s and ’70s, that was the case. But by the time we got to the 2000s, the ratios of highs to lows was about two-to-one and this year so far it’s running at about a ratio of ten-to-one. And so clearly this is just not natural variability anymore. There’s something more than that that’s rearing its head.”

At the same time,  scientists are detecting a “hotspot” of accelerated sea-level rise along the coast of North America, north from Cape Hatteras, NC.  Researchers in another study conclude that “aggressive mitigation” won’t stem the rising oceans, even if we are able to get temperatures to stabilize: “With little mitigation, future sea-level rise would be large and continue unabated for centuries. Though sea-level rise cannot be stopped for at least the next several hundred years, with aggressive mitigation it can be slowed down, and this would buy time for adaptation measures to be adopted.

Extreme storms? Check.

Hotter weather? Check.

Wildfires? Check

Prolonged droughts? Check.

All the consequences that scientists have said will come with climate change? Check.

This doesn’t bode well for civilization as we know it. As Dr. Ben Strauss, chief operating officer and director of Climate Central’s Program on Sea Level Rise,  said recently on WAMU’s “The Diane Rehm Show”: “Climate has varied naturally for all of Earth’s history and it’s undergone very great swings. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have the power to make a big change ourselves. Unfortunately, we do have that power, and we are making one. A very interesting fact is that the climate of the last six [thousand] to 10,000 years has been really abnormally stable. In the history of the Earth, it looks like a billiard table. I mean, the history of the Earth’s climate is like a roller-coaster. The last 10,000 years is like a billiard table. And that’s exactly when agriculture and civilization developed. I find it hard to believe that that’s a coincidence. So right now what we’re doing is we’re trying to bend that billiard table into a roller coaster again. Unfortunately all the evidence I’ve seen points to, you know, this time, it’s humans pushing the climate change.”

Sure, no one knows how much of any one storm or heat wave or drought can be linked to global warming, but scientists say that what they’ve been modeling is indeed happening. If you’ve been smoking for years and get lung cancer, you can’t be certain the cigarettes are to blame…. And the tobacco manufacturers would certainly like you to continue to doubt. We have been relentless in our assault on the planet, with the predictable results….and the fossil fuel industry would be happy if we fail to make the connection and keep on smokin’.

Be sure to check out Mike Tidwell’s essay published in the Baltimore Sun. More fossil fuels from the extreme extraction of natural gas is not the answer, he writes. Also Eugene Robinson at the Washington Post also finds that “the data are beginning to add up.”

-elisabeth hoffman

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Wheat berry salad/photo by Julian Hoffman-Mateya

If visions of hamburgers and hot dogs are dancing in your head this July 4th eve, you might want to consider that livestock and their byproducts contribute at least 32.6 billion tons of CO2 equivalents each year, or 51 percent  of  greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). That’s the number Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang arrived at in a report for World Watch Institute.  In their report, Livestock and Climate Change: What if the key actors in climate change are cows, pigs, and chickens?, they concluded that previous studies had  undercounted or overlooked many sources of emissions.  

Already taken into account in other research, chiefly a 2006 report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO),  were the emissions from land cleared to graze livestock and grow feed, and then to process and transport  those burgers and sausages. The FAO study concluded that 18 percent of GHG emissions were related to animal consumption. But that study discounted, for example, breathing by cows and even suggested that livestock, before they are consumed, are a carbon sink. Goodland and Anhang find that notion absurd, noting that the amount of carbon stored in grazing cows is “trivial” compared to the amount stored in the forests that had to be cleared. So breathing by cows doesn’t get a pass from them:  “Livestock (like automobiles) are a human invention and convenience, not part of pre-human times, and a molecule of CO2 exhaled by livestock is no more natural than one from an auto tailpipe.”

Some of the other GHG sources overlooked in the earlier studies: the higher temperatures needed to cook meat – often on charcoal (even at your cookout);  the disposal of GHG-emitting livestock waste in landfills; production, distribution and disposal of the packaging required for meats (which, for sanitary reasons, has to be more intensive than for non-meats); the use of fluorocarbons, which is needed  for cooling livestock much more than for non-meats (think large fans needed to keep pigs and cows cool); the reduction in GHG emissions from photosynthesis that is forgone because 26 percent of land worldwide is used for grazing livestock and 33 percent of arable land is used for growing feed; and the “carbon intensive medical treatment of millions of cases worldwide of zoonotic illnesses (such as swine flu) and chronic degenerative illnesses (such as coronary heart disease, cancers, diabetes, and hypertension leading to strokes) linked to the consumption of livestock products.”

So, meat consumption is bad for the planet, bad for human health, and, from the animal’s point of view, bad for animals. A trifecta.  Pick your reason to forgo meat …or pick your poison.

Philip Wollen, an Australian philanthropist and former VP of Citibank,  also has made a passionate argument for not eating animals. He notes, for example, “If everyone ate a Western diet, we would need 2 Planet Earths to feed them. We only have one. And she is dying” and “Greenhouse gas from livestock is 50% more than transport . . . . . planes, trains, trucks, cars, and ships.”

But what will you eat?

Here’s a simple yet colorful, delicious and filling recipe for July 4th that is better for the planet, you and the animals. It’s from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.  You could always have corn on the cob with it.

Wheat berry salad with peanuts and fresh and dried fruit 

3 ripe peaches (or more)

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

1/8 to 1/4 cup olive oil

2 T red wine vinegar

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups cooked whole wheat berries  (about a cup dried)

1/2 large or 1 medium red onion, halved and thinly sliced, separated into rings (or I use 4 or 5 green onions, chopped)

1/2 cup dried cranberries or cherries

1/2 cup roasted peanuts (or walnuts or pistachios)

1)      Whisk the herb, oil and vinegar along with some salt and pepper in a bowl.

2)      Cut up the peaches and add to the oil and vinegar mix  (cut peaches over the bowl so you use the juices)

3)      Add the cooked wheat berries, onion and dried fruit. Toss and adjust seasonings

4)      Serve topped with the peanuts (Best not to mix the peanuts into the salad because if you have leftovers, the nuts get soggy. blah)

Note for the wheat berries: I rinse about  1 1/4 c organic wheat berries and put them in a pot with enough water to cover the berries by about 1-1/2 inches. I bring that to a boil and cook for maybe 8  mins. Then I turn off the heat and walk away until I’m ready to assemble the salad. You don’t want the wheat berries to get too soggy, so don’t use too much water. The berries are chewy when done. With this method, you don’t have to leave the pot boiling for 40 or 45 mins., so you use less energy. Works with rice, too. 

Happy Fourth….

—Elisabeth Hoffman