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Weekly Mulch: House Republicans Push for Renewed Offshore Drilling

6:49 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Ed. note: This is the final edition of the Mulch. To keep up with the best environmental coverage the progressive media has to offer, follow The Media Consortium on Twitter or connect with us on Facebook.

House Republicans passed a bill yesterday afternoon that would require the Obama administration to expand offshore oil and gas drilling. As oil prices shoot up, Republicans have pushing for more domestic drilling, even as oil companies report record profits.

As Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard reports, oil companies have used those profits in record buybacks of company stock. “This spending spree comes not only as the gas price debate has resurged in Congress, but also as companies lobby to keep the $40 billion in tax breaks and loopholes that President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats want slashed from the 2012 budget,” Sheppard writes.

The long war

The most recent debates over off-shore drilling, oil profits, and oil subsidies are just one front in the long war to preserve the environment and push back against climate change. There are strategies available here that have yet to be deployed. At Grist, David Roberts offers four that could help fight climate change: put a price on carbon; deploy existing clean energy technology on a much more massive scale; invest large amounts of money in research and development; and invest in infrastructure.

As far as these four policy proposals go, he says, right now, “The U.S. is doing all of them poorly,” and he does not believe that it is possible any more to reverse climate change. As he writes, “Climate change won’t be solved, it will be managed, by us, by our kids, by our grandkids.”

Those kids, however, are not ready to accept their fate without a fight. Yesterday, a group of teenagers filed suit against the federal government for failing to guard a public trust—the atmosphere. As Alec Loorz, who is sixteen years old and a plaintiff in one suit, writes at Earth Island Journal, “The government has a legal responsibility to protect the future for our children. So we are demanding that they recognize the atmosphere as a commons that needs to be preserved, and commit to a plan to reduce emissions to a safe level.”

Loorz explains why he’s fighting the government on climate policy:

Our addiction to fossil fuels is messing up the perfect balance of nature and threatening the survival of my generation. If we continue to hide in denial and avoid taking action, my and I generation will be forced to grow up in a world where hurricanes as big as Katrina are normal, people die every year because of heat waves, droughts, and floods, and entire species of animals we’ve come to know disappear right before our eyes.

The future vs. now

That’s not a world that I’d want to live in. But the current state of affairs isn’t so pleasant, either. No matter what we do, it seems, we wreak havoc on the world around us. At Care2, for instance, Miranda Perry reports that sonar technology, which was known to harm sea mammals like whales and dolphins, also can damage invertebrate animals, like squid found dead on the shore:

Biologists speculated that the giant squid were affected by the sonar, which can range from 157 and 175 decibels and frequencies between 50 to 400 Hertz in marine activities such as oil and natural gas prospecting.

“[W]e hypothesized that the giant squid died in one of two ways: either by direct impact from the sound waves or by having their statocysts practically destroyed and [the squid] becoming disoriented,” marine biologist Angel Guerra told National Geographic. Now, that hypothesis is backed by proof.

And it’s not only animals that are damaged by human activities: it’s us, too. The toxins constantly filtering into the air, for instance, contribute to health problems like asthma. As Susan Lyon and Jorge Madrid write at Campus Progress:

Asthma rates are higher in places with bad air quality, and though asthma has no known cure it can be controlled by limiting exposure to asthma triggers such as smog and particulate air pollutants. Poor air quality caused by exhaust from cars, factory emissions, smoke, and dust can aggravate the lungs and can worsen chronic lung diseases, according to the EPA. Coal-fired power plants are also a big part of the problem.

Rolling back protections

It is clear that our way of living in the world is damaging it. But when governments all over the country should be pushing harder than ever to protect the environment, in many cases, they’re trying to roll back protections already in place.

Public News Service’s Glen Gardner reports that in Florida, a program called Florida Forever, which helped conserve water resources and wildlife habitat, may be sacrificed to the state budget crunch. And The Florida Independent’s Travis Pillow reports that, at the same time, “The Florida House of Representatives just gutted the power of ordinary citizens to challenge decisions made by environmental regulators….[C]hallengers would have less of a say in permitting decisions that affect water quality. The person or company seeking the permit would be able to rebut any of their arguments, with new evidence, without giving the challenger a chance to respond.”

On both the state and federal level, policy makers have failed to safeguard the environment and are leaving a mess for younger generations to clean up.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: Greening the Royal Wedding is the Least of Our Worries

7:25 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

The biggest news for the environment this week might just be that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge took pains to add a couple of green touches to this morning’s Royal Wedding. The flowers were seasonal, the food locally grown, and the emissions offset.

At Care2, Laura Bailey has a few more ideas for couples inclined to green a wedding: Wear a vintage wedding dress. Exchange heirloom rings. Give guests environmentally friendly wedding gifts. Ask them to donate to a charity instead of stocking your household with kitchen appliances.

Anyway…

Those of us who don’t live in the fantasy land of British royalty do have bigger problems to worry about: tornadoes, jobs, climate change. At Grist, David Roberts argues that America’s inability to act on this last problem is tied to the general insecurity running rampant:

Americans are so battered and anxious right now. Median wages are flat, unemployment is high, politics is paralyzed. Middle-class families are one health problem away from ruin, and when they fall, there’s no net. That kind of insecurity, as much as anything, explains the American reticence to launch bold new social programs.

The first step to solving climate change, in this formulation, is to give average people two legs to stand on financially. Once Americans feel more confident about today, they’ll be more like to worry about the big problems of the future.

No nuclear

It’s vital that the country get to a place where real discussions about how to deal with the threats of climate change can happen, because the solutions the country’s relying on now won’t cut it in the long term. Take nuclear energy. It plays a key role in America’s energy strategy for the future, despite the compelling reasons for building fewer, not more, plants.

At AlterNet, Norman Solomon, a writer with a long history of arguing against nuclear energy, writes that California needs to shut down its two nuclear plants. He’s worried about the near-term consequences of creating nuclear power in an earthquake-prone zone but also about the long-term impacts of pro-nuclear policies:

The Diablo Canyon plant near San Luis Obispo and the San Onofre plant on the southern California coast are vulnerable to meltdowns from earthquakes and threaten both residents and the environment.

Reactor safety is just one of the concerns. Each nuclear power plant creates radioactive waste that will remain deadly for thousands of years. This is not the kind of legacy that we should leave for future generations.

This week also marked the 25th anniversary of the meltdown at Chernobyl. At The Nation, Peter Rothberg reminds us that nuclear accidents wreak havoc for years to come. The Chernobyl meltdown, he writes, “has caused tens of thousands of cancer deaths, and showed just how far-reaching the ramifications of a serious nuclear accident could be.” Rothberg and Kevin Gostolza also rounded up a list of ten great anti-nuclear songs.

No oil

Nuclear isn’t the only current energy source that poses intolerable risks. As the price of oil has rocketed upwards in the past few weeks, the country has started freaking out and, as Marah Hardt writes at Change.org, in Alaska, state officials are pressuring the federal government to open up oil drilling there. But as Hardt points out:

Spills can and will happen. And in the freezing, extreme conditions of the Arctic—think extended periods of darkness, fog, sub-zero temperatures, hurricane-force storms, and lots of moving sea ice—clean-up efforts would be nearly impossible. Just this past February, an oil spill off Norway’s only marine reserve proved how difficult clean-up operations can be, even in relatively calm conditions: oil leaked underneath sea ice, where it was impossible to reach, and surface skimming booms quickly clogged with ice, rendering them useless.

No energy?

No matter what we do, however, gathering the energy used to power our lives will take some toll on the environment. A large portion of clean energy in states like New York, for example, comes from hydroelectric power—dams. But dams are environmental villains of long-standing, as well.

In the West, dams along the Colorado River are negatively impacting the region’s national parks, Public News Service’s Kathleen Ryan reports:

David Nimkin, NPCA’s Southwest regional director, says all of the parks in the [Colorad River] basin, including the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and the Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado, are seeing the sometimes-unintended consequences of placing dams along the river, from unnatural water flow patterns, to the introduction of non-native fish species, or increased river sediment and temperatures.

“The dams also fragment the system as whole, creating small isolated little ecosystems and areas that are not consistent with overall river conditions.”

With these sorts of choices, sometimes it is easier to worry about the little changes we can make to assuage our environmental consciences: recycled wedding invitations might not save the world, but they might hurt it that much less.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: Single-Payer Bills Pass Vermont Senate, House

8:03 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Creative Commons, Flickr, Jobs with Justice

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The Vermont state Senate passed legislation to create a single-payer health insurance system, Paul Waldman reports for TAPPED. Since the state House has already passed a similar bill, all that’s left to do is reconcile the two pieces of legislation before the governor signs it into law.

Waldman stresses that there are still many details to work out, including how the system will be funded. Vermont might end up with a system like France’s where everyone has basic public insurance, which most people supplement with additional private coverage. The most important thing, Waldman argues, is that Vermont is moving to sever the link between employment and health insurance.

Roe showdown

Anti-choicers are gunning for a Roe v. Wade showdown in the Supreme Court before Obama can appoint any more justices. At the behest of an unnamed conservative group, Republican state Rep. John LaBruzzo of Louisiana has introduced a bill that would ban all abortions, even to save the woman’s life. The original bill upped the anti-choice ante by criminalizing not only doctors who perform abortions, but also women who procure them. LaBruzzo has since promised to scale the bill back to just criminalizing doctors. This is all blatantly unconstitutional, of course,. but as Kate Sheppard explains in Mother Jones, that’s precisely the point:

The Constitution, of course, is exactly what LaBruzzo is targeting. He admits his proposal is intended as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional right to privacy included the right to abortions in some circumstances. LaBruzzo says he’d like his bill to become law and “immediately go to court,” and he told a local paper that an unnamed conservative religious group asked him to propose the law for exactly that purpose.

Drug pushers in your living room

Martha Rosenberg poses a provocative question at AlterNet: Does anyone remember a time before “Ask Your Doctor” ads overran the airwaves, Internet, buses, billboards, and seemingly every other medium? Direct-to-consumer (DTC) drug advertising has become so ubiquitous that it’s easy to forget that it was illegal until the late ’90s. In the days before DTC, drug advertising was limited to medical journals, prescription pads, golf towels, and pill-shaped stress balls distributed in doctors’ offices–which makes sense. The whole point of making a drug prescription-only is to put the decision-making power in the hands of doctors. Now, drug companies advertise to consumers for the same reason that food companies advertise to children. It’s called “pester power.”

DTC drug ads encourage consumers to self-diagnose based on vague and sometimes nearly universal symptoms like poor sleep, daytime drowsiness, anxiety, and depression. Once consumers are convinced they’re suffering from industry-hyped constructs like “erectile dysfunction” and “premenstrual dysphoric disorder,” they’re going to badger their doctors for prescriptions.

That’s not to say that these terms don’t encompass legitimate health problems, but rather that DTC markets products in such vague terms that a lot of healthy people are sure to be clamoring for drugs they don’t need. Typically, neither the patient nor the doctor is paying the full cost of the drug, so patients are more likely to ask and doctors have little incentive to say no.

Greenwashing air fresheners

A reader seeks the counsel of Grist’s earthy advice columnist Umbra on the issue of air fresheners. Some of these odor-concealing aerosols are touting themselves as green for adopting all-natural propellants. Does that make them healthier, or greener? Only marginally, says Umbra. Air fresheners still contain formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, and other questionable chemicals.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: One Year After the BP Oil Spill, None the Wiser

9:12 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Megan Hagist, Media Consortium blogger

One year after the worst oil spill in U.S. history began, key questions about its environmental impact remain unanswered. The 4.9 million barrels of BP oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico continue to threaten marine wildlife and other vile surprises have surfaced along the way.
Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard lists 10 reasons why we should not let the BP spill fade into the background. Perhaps the most important is the spill’s effect on locals’ health, about which Sheppard reports:

Of the 954 residents in seven coastal communities, almost half said they had experienced health problems like coughing, skin and eye irritation, or headaches that are consistent with common symptoms of chemical exposure. While the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is conducting health monitoring for spill cleanup workers, residents in the areas closest to the spill are concerned that their own health problems have gone unattended.

Unfortunately, protests from these communities are unheard. Low-income and minority communities are typically targeted for oil production due to inadequate political power, but indigenous women in the United States and Canada are ready to change that.

Acting Against Big Oil

Organizations like Resisting Environmental Destruction On Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), Indigenous Environmental Network, and Women’s Earth Alliance are working together to apply continuous pressure on oil companies in order to stop some of their more environmentally disastrous projects. Ms. Magazine’s Catherine Traywick shares insight from activist Faith Gemmill:

“We are trying to build the capacity of community leaders who are on the frontlines of these issues so that they can address these issues themselves,” Gemmill says. Her organization trains community members who are confronted with massive industrial projects and provides them with legal assistance and political support. Women’s Earth Alliance similarly links indigenous women leaders with legal and policy advocates who can, pro-bono, help them fight extractive industry, waste dumping and fossil-fuel production on sacred sites.

Meanwhile, Congress continues to neglect the National Oil Spill Commission’s advice to endorse safety regulations, while demands for domestic offshore drilling become more vocal under presumptions of lower gas prices and increased employment. But are these reasons worth the economic and environmental risks associated with drilling offshore?
According to Care2’s Jill Conners and Matthew McDermott, the answer is no. They break down the facts, noting:

Political posturing notwithstanding, offshore drilling will not eliminate US demand for foreign oil or really even make significant strides into reducing that dependency. At current consumption, the US uses about 8 billion barrels of oil per year; conventionally recoverable oil from offshore drilling is thought to be 18 billion barrels total, not per year. What’s more, offshore oil drilling will not guarantee lower fuel prices — oil is a global commodity, and US production is not big enough to influence global prices.

What about Wind Power?

On Wednesday, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement approved the Cape Wind Project, a plan to build an offshore wind farm five miles off the southern coast of Cape Cod. First proposed 10 years ago, the farm will consist of 130 wind turbines, each 440 feet tall and capable of producing 3.6-megawatts of energy.
The controversial project has been opposed by some environmentalists, who expressed fears that the installation of the turbines could have destructive impacts related to aviation traffic, fishing use, migratory birds, and oil within the turbine generators, among other issues.
Moral issues are raised too, as local tribes have fought against the Cape Wind project. Earth Island Institute’s Sacred Film Land Project has reported on the Wampanoag Indian tribes’ petitions, which ask for protection of sacred rituals and a tribal burial grounds located directly in Cape Wind’s path of installation.

Green-Ed

A somewhat worrisome study published Monday by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication sheds light on Americans’ climate change knowledge. Results show teenagers understand climate change better than adults, regardless of having less education overall, with a larger percentage believing climate change is caused by humans.
Some of the study’s questions were summarized by Grist’s Christopher Mims, who recounts that only “54 percent of teens and 63 percent of adults say that global warming is happening,” while only “46 percent of teens and 49 percent of adults understand that emissions from cars and trucks substantially contribute to global warming.”

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: Paul Ryan’s Medicare Swindle

7:22 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Creative Commons, Flickr, Jason L. Parks

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Robert Parry in In These Times examines how Paul Ryan’s budget test would turn healthcare for the elderly into one big free-market death panel.

Ryan’s plan privatizes Medicare, replacing it with premium support for insurance companies. That means the government would kick in a fixed amount of money towards insurance premiums for Americans over age 65. Ryan also wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which requires insurers to cover people with preexisting conditions. Ryan’s plan doesn’t guarantee that Americans over 65 could get insurance in the first place. Even if they could find an insurer willing to take them, there is no reason to believe that premium support would cover more than part of the cost.

Maybe the plan is to save money by pricing most seniors out of health insurance entirely. If you can’t get insurance in the first place, you don’t qualify for premium support.

Mitt Romney and health care

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney kicked off the exploratory phase of his campaign this week, Lynda Waddington reports in the Iowa Independent. Ironically, this prospective frontrunner is best known for bringing Obama-style health care reform to Massachusetts.

Aswini Anburajan of TAPPED wonders whether Romney’s record on health care will hurt him in the primary. Repealing health care reform is one of the major themes for the Republican Party, and Romney is the architect of a similar system. However, Anburajan notes, campaigning to all but abolish Medicare hasn’t hurt GOP Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s political status, even though seniors are a big part of the GOP base..

Part of the reason why Ryan hasn’t felt a backlash from seniors is that his plan preserves Medicare for people who are currently over 55 and will only decimate the program for younger people.

Demonizing pregnant users

At RH Reality Check, Lynn Paltrow takes the New York Times to task for a sensationalized story about children born to women who are dependent upon prescription painkillers. Paltrow notes that the same alarmist language was used to hype a non-existent epidemic of crack babies in the 1980s. The evidence suggests that the impact of drug use during pregnancy on the developing fetus is relatively minor compared to the effects of other factors that are correlated with drug use, such as poverty, poor nutrition, and lack of prenatal care.

If we assume there’s a clear causal relationships between using drugs and hurting babies, it’s easier to lay all the blame on the mother. The truth, Paltrow argues, is much more complicated. Drug use is just part of a constellation of unhealthy factors that conspire to give the children of poor and marginalized women a worse start in life.

Positing a distinct syndrome caused by drug abuse is often a first step towards stigmatizing, and even criminalizing, poor women who give birth to sick children.

Hungry women and children

Speaking of threats to the health of poor women and their children, the new budget deal slashes $500 million from nutrition programs, with the Women Infants and Children (WIC) food support program at the USDA taking the hardest hit, Tom Laskawy reports for Grist.

If you get your meals through an umbilical cord, the Republicans want to protect you; but if you have to eat groceries, you’re on your own.

Big Pharma hikes HIV drug prices

Elizabeth Lombino at Change.org reports that more than 8,000 people nationwide are on the waiting list for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), a government program that helps poor people living with HIV/AIDS pay for medications. Lombino notes that even as the ranks of patients who can’t cover their drugs continues to swell, pharmaceutical companies continue to raise their prices. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is calling upon pharmaceutical companies to lower prices to help grapple with what has come to be known as the ADAP crisis. So far, it’s been to little effect.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: The EPA Can Regulate Carbon, For Now

8:30 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

This week, the House voted to shut down the carbon regulation program at the Environmental Protection Agency, but the Senate rejected four different measures that would have stopped or delayed EPA action. The EPA, as mandated by the Supreme Court, has been moving forward with regulations that would require carbon polluters to apply for EPA permits and to use the best available method to start limiting carbon emissions.

The Office of Management and Budget has promised that if Congress does vote to end the regulation program, “senior advisors would recommend that [the president] veto the bill,” as I report at The American Prospect. But as David Roberts points out at Grist, that does not mean President Obama would follow that course. Roberts writes:

I don’t see a promise there. I see wiggle room where his advisers can “recommend” a veto and he can ignore their recommendations. And of course this leaves aside whether Obama would veto a spending or appropriations bill with an EPA-blocking rider.

Making a better choice

The legislators who are supporting the anti-EPA bill often argue that the power to deal with this issue should rest with them, not the executive branch. But they also argue against the EPA’s regulations on the grounds that they’ll cost American companies money, leading to higher costs for consumers and fewer jobs.

It’s true: Dealing with carbon is expensive. Right now, Americans simply aren’t paying for the damage being done to the atmosphere, and many of us don’t seem to care.

In Orion Magazine, Kathryn Miles writes about this problem in a review of Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, a new collection of essays on the problem of climate change:

As editors Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael P. Nelson argue in their introduction, neither scientific data nor externally imposed regulation will change hearts and minds — let alone our behavior. “What is missing,” they contend, “is the moral imperative, the conviction that assuring our own comfort at terrible cost to the future is not worthy of us as moral beings.” And so, rather than focus on atmospheric theory and tipping-point statistics, Moral Ground seeks to inspire action through a recognition of our species’ commitment to ethical behavior.

Choices

In some cases, making ethical environmental choices does mean paying more, at least temporarily, for clean energy, for products that create carbon pollution, for gas and oil. But there are also ways to fight climate change while saving money.

Composting, for example, costs nothing and produces something of value. In New York, the Lower East Side Ecology Center collects food scraps, composts them, and sells the finished product at the Union Square Farmer’s Market. As Kara Cusolito writes at Campus Progress, “Composted food scraps—whether from food prep or leftovers — turn back into the rich, fluffy soil that farmers and gardeners need to grow more food.” Farmers, for instance, can stop buying fertilizer if they start composting. Cusolito quotes one farmer who puts the choice in perspective: “Saying plants can’t grow well if they’re not conventionally fertilized is like saying people can’t be as happy if they’re not on drugs.”

The price of solar energy

Clean energy isn’t free of negative consequences, though, and clean energy advocates increasingly are butting heads with environmentalists who want to minimize the impact of new energy sources.

As dependence on natural gas, which counts as clean when compared with coal, grows in this country, worries about the threat of gas drilling to water sources is rising. At Earth Island Journal, Richard Ward of the UN Foundation, which supports natural gas as a clean energy source, and Jennifer Krill, executive director of Earthworks, lay out the cases for and against natural gas. Krill argues:

If the natural gas industry wants to be “clean,” it should embrace policies that mean no pollution of groundwater, drinking water, or surface waters; stringent controls on air pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions; protection for no-go zones, like drinking watersheds and sacred and wild lands; and respect for landowner rights, including the right to say no to drilling on their property.

But Krill notes the gas industry hasn’t show much interest in pursuing those compromises. And out west, some conservationists are objecting to the influx of solar panels on fragile desert lands. One group, Solar Done Right, for instance, “doesn’t disagree that much more solar energy is needed in order to decrease fossil fuel consumption and reduce heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, but they do disagree with developing solar facilities the way utilities build massive coal- or gas-fired power plants,” reports David O. Williams for The Colorado Independent. Instead, the group argues that solar energy can thrive in the “built environment,” on rooftops and on sites that are not environmentally vulnerable.

No matter what we do, there will be some costs to getting off of carbon, both for the economy and for the environment. But if the world does not decrease its carbon emissions, the costs will be much higher.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: GOP Would Privatize Medicare, Gut Medicaid

2:38 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Creative Commons, Flickr, Robbie Kennedy

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

On Tuesday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveiled a draft budget resolution for 2012. Ryan’s program would privatize Medicare and gut Medicaid.

“Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, is waging radical class warfare and ideological privatization schemes and selling it as a debt reduction plan,” writes Karen Dolan in AlterNet. Indeed, Ryan’s plan is larded with tax cuts  for wealthy citizens and profitable corporations, which according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), would actually increase the national debt over the next decade. The CBO projects that the debt would reach 70% of GDP by 2022 under Ryan’s plan compared to 67% under the status quo.

At TAPPED, Jamelle Bouie predicts that Ryan’s budget plan will become the de facto platform for the GOP in the 2012 elections. Presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty is already gushing about the plan. He notes the irony in Republicans seizing upon a plan to eliminate Medicare when they campaigned so hard to “protect” the program during the fight over the Affordable Care Act.

Attacking Medicare is politically risky. The conventional wisdom is the program is all but invulnerable because it is so popular with the general public, and especially with senior citizens–who reliably turn out to vote in large numbers.

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones argues that, in order to win this political fight, the Democrats need to emphasize what they’re doing to grapple with the rising costs of Medicare–such as creating an independent board to regulate the reimbursement rates for all procedures covered under Medicare. Republicans have harshly criticized such a board as an example of health care rationing. Their proposed plan, however, would ration care far more severely, based on ability to pay. Ryan’s plan would give seniors a voucher to defray part of the cost of buying private health insurance. The voucher wouldn’t cover care equivalent to that which is offered under Medicare. So, under Ryan’s plan, care would be rationed based on each person’s ability to pay for extra coverage.

In a separate piece, Khimm notes that the GOP is taking a further political gamble by proposing massive cuts to Medicaid. She cites a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation which found that only 13% of respondents favored major cuts to Medicaid. Republicans may be betting that they can cut Medicaid because they associate it with health care for the very poor, a constituency with little political capital and low voter turnout. But while Medicaid does serve the poor, a large percentage of its budget covers nursing home care for middle class retirees and services for adults with major disabilities–care that their families would otherwise have to pay for.

How to save $15 billion in health care costs

New research suggests that the federal government could save $15 billion by reducing unnecessary emergency room visits through investment in community health centers, Dan Peterson of Change.org reports:

This week, new research, from the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative, pinpoints just how much we stand to lose in health care efficiency savings if the funding is cut as proposed; $15 billion. Put another way, for every $1 invested in CHC expansion, there is a potential savings in health care costs of $11.50.

Peterson reports that money to expand the CHC program may be cut from the budget. The report explains that if the funding is lost, then CHCs will not be able to serve the 10-12 million additional patients who were supposed to get care through expanded CHCs under the Affordable Care Act. If Congress refuses to allot $1.3 billion for cost-effective primary care, $15 billion in projected savings will evaporate.

If Republicans are serious about balancing the budget, they should happily expand the Community Health Center network.

Danish Antibiotic Resistance Education

D.A.R.E. to keep pigs off drugs. The U.S. hog industry is heavily dependent on low-dose antibiotics to keep its swine infection-free. This practice comes at the cost of increased antibiotic resistance. Sixteen years ago, the government of Denmark, the world’s largest exporter of pork, took the bold step of asking its pork industry to reduce the amount of antibiotics given to pigs. Ralph Loglisci of Grist notes that the experiment has been a huge success: The industry has slashed antibiotic use by 37%, antibiotic resistance is down nationwide, and production has held steady or increased.

Gay-bashed, uninsured

Twenty-nine-year-old Barie Shortell’s face was shattered in an apparent anti-gay attack in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in February. Joseph Huff-Hannon reports on AlterNet on an obstacle in Shortell’s already-long road to recovery:

After blacking out, and spending 10 hours in surgery and five days in the hospital, Shortell is now taking another whipping from one of the insidious antagonists of 21st-century American life—the private health-care system. Shortell, like many of his fellow American twentysomethings, is uninsured.

Up to 30% of people in their twenties are uninsured. The Affordable Care Act should reduce the number of uninsured twenty-somethings, but as Huff Hannon notes, the number of uninsured young adults is expected to continue to rise for some time. The ACA allows young people to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26, but this reform is of little help to the millions of families who lost job-linked health coverage during the recession.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: Obama Lacks Vision on Energy, Stomach to Defend EPA

8:13 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

President Obama made an energy speech this week that had little new to offer, while on Capitol Hill, Republicans were pushing to relieve the government of its last options to limit carbon emissions. In the House Republicans have passed a bill that would keep the EPA from regulating carbon, and in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid repeatedly pushed back a vote on the same issue.

But as Eartha Jane Melzer reports at The Michigan Messenger, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) has become the latest senator to propose taking away the EPA’s authority over greenhouse gasses this week. If the Senate decides it wants to pursue this policy, it will have plenty of options to choose from.

Conflicting news leaked out about how strongly the Obama administration was willing to stand up for the EPA’s right (granted by the Supreme Court) to treat carbon as a pollutant under the Clear Air Act. Grist’s Glenn Hurowitz noted an Associated Press story with a comment indicating that the White House was telling Congress they’d have to compromise on this issue. But on Thursday the White House reassured progressive bloggers that it was opposed to any amendments to funding bills that furthered “unrelated policy agendas.”

The energy speech

The energy speech that President Obama delivered at Georgetown this week, however, did not do much to reassure climate activists that the administration will put forward a strong vision on these issues. The president talked about decreasing our dependence on foreign oil and set a goal of having 80% of the country’s electricity come from clean energy sources by 2035.

But as David Roberts at Grist writes, Obama skirted some of the trickiest issues. “The core truth is that for the U.S., oil problems mostly have to do with supply and oil solutions mostly have to do with demand,” he says. “America becomes safer from oil by using less. From the Democratic establishment, only retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) is telling the public that truth.”

Is clean energy green energy?

President Obama is right that the country has room to pursue more clean energy opportunities. As Public News Service’s Mary Kuhlman reports, America is behind in the clean energy race. The Pew Environment Group just released a report that, according to Kuhlman, “finds the United States as a whole is falling behind in the global clean-energy race….The U.S. maintained the top spot until 2008, according to research from the Pew Charitable Trusts, but fell in 2010 to third behind China and Germany.”

But as I point out at TAPPED, when politicians use the words “clean energy,” they’re generally talking about mid-point solutions like natural gas and nuclear energy. President Obama’s proposed standard does not necessarily support renewable energy — wind and solar projects that are truly sustainable.

The alternatives

And as Gavin Aronsen writes at Mother Jones, renewable energy projects need more support. “The near-term future of solar power in the US will also depend on whether President Obama’s stimulus money keeps flowing,” he explains. “For now, energy companies have until the end of the year to qualify for funding. Meanwhile, some solar advocates are suggesting alternatives like installing panels on urban rooftops.”

If these projects flag, the alternative to renewable, or even clean, energy is not appealing. The world is beginning to depend on energy sources that require greater effort and create more environmental damage. Oil from tar sands is one such source, although as, Beth Buczynski reports at Care2, “a research group at Penn State spent the past 18 months developing a technique that uses ionic liquids (salt in a liquid state) to facilitate separation of oil from the sands in a cleaner, more energy efficient manner. The separation takes place at room temperature without the generation of waste water.” Sounds like an improvement!

Does genetically modified alfafa do a body good?

The Obama administration is not only disappointing on energy issues. At GritTV, Laura Flanders talks to New York Times food writer Mark Bittman about the future of organic food, and the two agree that the only person whose agriculture and food policy they can wholeheartedly endorse is Michelle Obama’s. Too bad she’s not part of the administration.

One recent gripe is the Department of Agriculture’s decision to approve genetically modified alfafa. “Essentially it’s the beginning of the end of organic,” Bittman said. “Once you introduce alfafa, which pollinates by the wind, you can’t guarantee that any alfafa doesn’t have genetically modified seed in it. And alfafa is used as hay, hay is used to feed cows, there goes organic milk. There goes a lot of organic meat.”

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: Conservatives and Liberals Remain In Denial About Climate Change

7:17 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

The negative impacts of climate change are coming on more quickly than anyone expected. According to a new NASA study, ocean waters are creeping steadily upwards, at rates faster than predicted, Maureen Nandini Mitra reports at Earth Island Journal:

“That ice sheets will dominate future sea level rise is not surprising – they hold a lot more ice mass than mountain glaciers,” Eirc Rignot, the report’s lead author said in a statement emailed by NASA yesterday. “What is surprising is this increased contribution by the ice sheets is already happening.”

This is just the latest warning sign that climate change is happening and that its negative effects will occur more quickly than anyone has prepared for. This will happen despite Republicans’ insistence that there is no hard scientific proof of climate change, and that “just because you might be in the minority doesn’t always mean you’re wrong,” as Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) put it this week at a House subcommittee hearing on climate science.

Dealing with it

This problem is not going to go away. The economist and blogger Tyler Cowen wrote this week that left-wing economists have a “reluctance to admit how hard the climate change problem will be to solve, for fear of wrecking any emerging political consensus on taking action.” In response, Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum comments, “Actually, liberals spend a ton of time talking about how hard climate change is. Still, there’s something to this. As hard as we say it is, it’s probably even harder than that.”

How hard? On Democracy Now!, Naomi Klein argued this week that progressive environmental groups have been pussy-footing around the scope of the issue entirely. She said:

What I see is that the green groups, a lot of the big green groups, are also in a kind of denial, because they want to pretend that this isn’t about politics and economics, and say, “Well, you can just change your light bulb. And no, it won’t really disrupt. You can have green capitalism.” And they’re not really wrestling with the fact that this is about economic growth. This is about an economic model that needs constant and infinite growth on a finite planet. So we really are talking about some deep transformations of our economy if we’re going to deal with climate change. And we need to talk about it.

That’s a tall order for green groups, however, when they’re having a hard time convincing conservatives that climate change even exists. As Klein says, refusing to believe in climate change has become one way that conservatives define themselves, politically, and the pull of ideological identification outweighs any rational attitude toward the science in question.

The example of agriculture

In many cases, solutions to the problems of climate change are clear. Only habit and political intransigence keep them from being put into action.

Agriculture is a great example of this tangle. Industrial farming pollutes earth, water, and air, while sustainable methods of farming promote global health. What’s more, they create as much, if not more, product than industrial farming techniques. This week the United Nations confirmed these benefits in a report on “eco-farming,” what Americans generally call sustainable agriculture. Inter Press Service reports:

“An urgent transformation to ‘eco-farming’ is the only way to end hunger and face the challenges of climate change and rural poverty,” said Olivier De Schutter, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to food. … Yields went up 214 percent in 44 projects in 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa using agro-ecological farming techniques over a period of 3 to 10 years… far more than any GM [genetically modified] crop has ever done.

Despite this sort of success, the argument that agribusiness is necessary to feed the world is still running rampant. At Grist, Tom Philpott has been picking apart a series of articles from The Economist that explains, as Philpott puts it “how industrial agriculture is the true and only way to feed the 9 billion people who will inhabit the world by 2050.”

But as Philpott notes, sustainable farming can feed the global population and is better for the planet as well. The United Nations, he writes, has:

found that ‘ecological agriculture’ could ‘assist farmers in adapting to climate change’ by making farm fields more resilient to stress. So why isn’t eco-agriculture catching on? The report cites a bevy of obstacles, none of them technological:

“[L]ack of policy support at local, national, regional and international levels, resource and capacity constraints, and a lack of awareness and inadequate information, training and research on ecological agriculture at all levels.”

Obvious solutions

Indeed, it can be incredible how simple solutions to seemingly intractable problems can be. For instance, IPS reports, yet another UN report has found one solution to mitigating global hunger: Push back against gender inequality. IPS’s Alan Bojanic and Gustavo Anriquez write:

The UN agency’s report estimates that if women had the same access to agricultural assets, inputs, and services as men they could increase yields on their farms, and this increase could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by roughly 2.5 to 4 percent.

Moreover, such a growth in agricultural production could in turn bring 100 to 150 million people out of hunger – that is about 12 to 17 percent of the 925 million undernourished people that exist in the world according to FAO’s latest estimates.

Dealing with the problems of climate change might be harder than liberals often admit. But some of the simplest solutions haven’t even been tried yet.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The AuditThe Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: 911 Is a Joke (Because It’s Broke)

8:19 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

As the Great Blizzard of 2010 blanketed New York City, most residents were blissfully unaware that their city’s 911 system was on the brink of collapse. The system fielded 50,000 calls in a single day, and at one point the backlog swelled to 1,300 calls. The mayor was called to account for the slow service and promised that it wouldn’t happen again.

But David Rosen and Bruce Kushnick report in AlterNet that New York’s close call is an example of a much broader and deeper problem. Cash-strapped state and local governments are raiding funds set aside for 911 service, and the system is hurting badly:

Hundreds of millions of dollars are collected annually by states and localities to support 911 services and much of it is diverted to plug state budget holes and meet a host of other demands. Most disturbing, 911 services are technologically bankrupt, held together by duct-tape and workarounds.

States siphoned nearly $400 million earmarked for 911 between 2001 and 2004. The law demands that the money, raised by a tax on every phone line, has to be set aside for 911-related services. Some states fudge the definition of “911-related” to fund things that had nothing to do with emergency services, like raises for courthouse staffers. Others just brazenly redirected the money into their general funds. New York collected $82.1 million in 911 taxes on phone lines in 2007, but only 19 cents out of the $1.20 monthly fee was spent on 911.

At least New York can account for its misdirected funds. South Dakota simply has no idea where its 911 money went, Rosen and Kushnick report.

Walker: Hurry up and die

Seemingly determined to cast himself as a Dickensian villain, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker presented a budget last week that would slash millions in funding for health care for the poor and the elderly. However, as I reported in Working in These Times, Walker recommended an increase in funding for a program that buries Wisconsinites who die destitute.

Medicaid roulette

Some governors are clamoring for more control over Medicaid, the joint state/federal health insurance program for the poor, Suzy Khimm reports for Mother Jones. Currently, Medicaid funding is allocated primarily by a matching system, with the federal government kicking in a certain number of dollars for every dollar the state spends. The states must abide by federal rules in order to qualify. Now, some Republican governors want to see Medicaid funding doled out in block grants. The states would get a fixed amount of money, which they could spend as they saw fit.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the fourth highest-ranking Republican in the House, is a leading proponent of this new scheme. She claims it would increase “flexibility” for states. In this case, flexibility is a euphemism for “massive cuts.” Washington’s Democratic governor, Christine Gregoire, has already convinced the Obama administration to exempt her state from certain Medicaid rules. McMorris Rodgers applauds the move.

Crisis Propaganda Centers

New York City City passed a landmark “truth in advertising” bill last Wednesday that would force so-called crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) to disclose that they are not health care facilities. CPCs are anti-choice ministries posing as reproductive health clinics. Among other things, the law will require city CPCs to inform potential clients that they do not refer for abortions or emergency contraception, Noelle Williams reports for the Ms. Magazine blog.

The logic of our sex laws

The cover story of this month’s Washington Monthly is a provocative analysis of Dan Savage, America’s most influential sex advice columnist, as an ethicist of contemporary sexual mores. The author, Benjamin J. Dueholm, is a Lutheran pastor and a longtime fan of Savage’s syndicated column “Savage Love.” Dueholm does a good job of summarizing some of the core principles of Savage’s ethos: disclosure, autonomy, mutual pleasure, and personal commitment to achieving sexual competence. His central critique is that Savage’s attitude is too consumerist and businesslike.

I would argue that there’s nothing inherently capitalist about Savage’s ethics. Yes, Savage’s ideal sexual world is based on consensual, mutually beneficial exchanges, like an idealized free market–but that doesn’t mean that realizing one’s sexual identity, or finding true love, is on par with picking a brand of laundry detergent. In consumerism, the customer is always right. Savage is constantly urging his readers to be active participants in a mutually satisfying sex life, not passive consumers who expect their partners to cater to them without giving anything in return.

USDA hearts Michael Pollan

Every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issues guidelines for healthy eating. Parke Wilde of Grist explains why this year’s edition is, in many ways, a radical and surprising document:

The new edition has a fascinating chapter on eating patterns, focusing on real foods and not just nutrients. This chapter on eating patterns provides a nice counterpoint to the reductionism — what Michael Pollan calls “nutritionism” — of scientific discussion of diet and health. The guidelines’ healthy eating patterns may or may not include meat. For example, the USDA Food Patterns and the DASH diet each include moderate amounts of meat and plenty of low-fat dairy. At the same time, the guidelines explain clearly that meat is not essential, and near-vegetarian and vegetarian diets are adequate and even “have been associated with improved health outcomes.”

This is a big departure for an agency that has historically been criticized for acting as a propaganda outlet for the livestock and dairy industries. But Wilde notes that, despite its enlightened discussion of the perils of “nutritionism,” the USDA hasn’t broken the habit of referring to nutrients rather than foods. The guidelines still recommend that Americans eat less saturated fat, without dwelling at length on which foods actually contribute most of the saturated fat to the American diet.

As nutritionist Marion Nestle explains in her seminal book, Food Politics, this mealy-mouthed advice is measured to avoid offending any lobby group that might take offense at the suggestion that Americans eat less of their product. There is no saturated fat lobby, but there are plenty of lobby groups representing the interests of industries tied to the major sources of saturated fat in the American diet, which include cheese, pizza, bakery products, ice cream, chicken, and burgers.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.