Blog Archive

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Stephen Mulkey: the Environmental Century

by Stephen Mulkey, president, Unity College, 23 August 2014
Stephen Mulkey at Convocation 2014 Unity College
Over the course of my career as an environmental scientist, I have sometimes found myself feeling hopeless in face of the litany of environmental woes. Martin Keogh, editor of a remarkable volume entitled Hope Beneath Our Feet expresses his pessimism in this way: 
“….if you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren't pessimistic, you don't understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren't optimistic, you haven't got a pulse.”
Many of those people are in this auditorium today, and because of that, I am an optimist. Students in college today face the prospect of living in a vastly diminished world unless we are able to make significant changes in our use of natural resources and rapidly bring carbon-neutral energy sources on line. 
It is clear that we are out of time. Our collective action or inaction within the next decade or so will determine the fate of civilization. Climate change presently driven by historic emissions from burning fossil fuels will affect everything about your lives. It will determine what you eat, where you work, how you get to work, where you can live, the kinds of careers available, how you stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and most of all, your quality of life. Failure to significantly curtail emissions will result in an estimated 4-6 ˚C global average temperature rise by 2100 and unthinkable consequences for civilization. 
Climate change will amplify worldwide trends in deforestation, freshwater depletion, habitat destruction, species extinction, sea level rise, and human conflict. Because environmental change will be the dominant theme of the coming decades, I believe that this century will come to be known as the Environmental Century. This is a watershed moment for our species, and it could turn out to be our finest hour. 
Despite the utter clarity and unassailable validity of this science, higher education has generally failed to provide students with the tools to address the environmental challenges of the Environmental Century. The vast majority of institutions in the U.S. continue to treat environmental studies and science as niche disciplines and regard sustainability as important only as it applies to operational efficiency. To be sure, institutions of higher learning must lead the way in energy efficiency and sustainable design. Unity College is such a leader – our new residence hall has been built to LEED Silver standards, TerraHaus is the first residence hall in the U.S. built to European Passive House standards, and Unity House is a Net-Zero energy facility. But this barely scratches the surface of this critically important area of learning and research. 
The mission of higher education is not operational sustainability – it is the renewal of civilization through teaching, learning, and research. It is in the classroom and in the field that sustainability needs to be developed and universally adopted as part of teaching and learning. 
The U.S. National Academy of Science has identified the focus of this effort as Sustainability Science, and I believe that sustainability, like writing and basic communication, must be taught across the curriculum. The entire curriculum at Unity College is framed by Sustainability Science and emphasizes transdisciplinary integration of information from the social, natural, and physical sciences as necessary for crafting effective solutions. We build our effectiveness on a solid foundation of the humanities and liberal arts. We think sustainability is part of poetry, and art, and music. We think sustainability is most importantly a social science with deep implications for how we treat the Earth and ourselves. 
Sustainability Science addresses the fact that now, more than at any time in the history of higher education, we must produce leading-edge practitioners able to integrate knowledge from multiple disciplines, and understand social, economic, and resource tradeoffs among possible solutions.
In this century, higher education must have one overarching purpose – providing the sophisticated tools necessary to build a sustainable civilization. 
At Unity College our students and terrific faculty and staff get this. I would like to make three promises to you.
  • We are passionately dedicated to the proposition that the status quo of higher education is unacceptable. To the best of our ability we will provide you with hands-on engagement in environmental problem solving. This is at the heart of transdisciplinary learning.
  • We believe that it is our ethical obligation to you to make available the tools of sustainability, so that you have the ability to thrive in the face of the challenges of the coming decades. To the best of our ability, we promise to help you find your role and to give you those tools.
  • William Deresiewicz, author of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite, has written that what students want the most from their education is to be challenged and cared about. In a word, they don’t want teachers so much as they want mentors. In my own education, I remember the mentors, but rarely the instructors. This is where Unity College truly excels. In the truest definition of mentoring, we promise that our outstanding faculty will challenge you and we will care for you and about your future. 
Often someone of my generation will stand at the podium and charge new graduates with creating the change necessary to secure the future. This is, I believe, unreasonable and simply silly. We are all in this together, and the fact that you are much younger does not absolve me of my obligation to foster change. Class of 2014, you may have all the energy, but face it – my generation has all the money. If my generation continues with business as usual and the maintenance of the status quo, then your generation will literally inherit the wind. 
At Unity College we encourage activism. We need you to be in the streets, and we must be there with you. This is why we will be going to NYC at the end of September to participate in the largest climate change rally ever. 
It is deeply satisfying to me that Unity College is, more than anything else, a compelling agent for hope and change. I am grateful and proud that we are leaders in developing what Thomas Berry calls The Great Work of our time.
As I said, I am ultimately an optimist, and I believe that you should be also. My own antidote to hopelessness is action. At Unity College, we will help you take action, and by doing so, we build hope.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Steve Horn: State Dept. Overseers of Contentious Enbridge Tar Sands Pipeline Workaround Have Industry, Torture Ties

by Steve Horn, DeSmogBlog, August 27, 2014

The Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and other green groups recently revealed that pipeline giant Enbridge got U.S. State Department permission in response to its request to construct a U.S.-Canada border-crossing tar sands pipeline without earning an obligatory Presidential Permit.
Enbridge originally applied to the Obama State Department to expand capacity of its Alberta Clipper (now Line 67) pipeline in November 2012, but decided to avoid a “Keystone XL, take two” — or a years-long permitting battle — by creating a complex alternative to move nearly the same amount of diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) across the border.
The move coincides with the upcoming opening for business of Enbridge's “Keystone XL” clone: the combination of the Alberta Clipper expansion (and now its alternative) on-ramp originating in Alberta and heading eventually to Flanagan, Ill., the Flanagan South pipeline running from Flanagan, Ill., to Cushing, Okla., and the Cushing, Okla., to the Port Arthur, Texas, Seaway Twin pipeline.
Together, the three pieces will do what TransCanada's Keystone XL hopes to do: move dilbit from Alberta's tar sands to Port Arthur's refinery row and, in part, the global export market.
Environmental groups have reacted with indignation to the State Department announcement published in the Federal Register on August 18, 2014. The public commenting period remains open until September 17, 2014.
Jim Murphy, senior counsel for NWF, referred to it as an “illegal scheme,” while a representative from says Enbridge has learned from the lessons of its corporate compatriot, TransCanada.
“When we blocked Keystone XL, the fossil fuel industry learned that they have a much stronger hand to play in back rooms than on the streets,” said Jason Kowalski, policy director for “They will break the law and wreck our climate if that's what it takes for them to make a buck.”
But as the old adage goes, it takes two to tango. 
That is, influential State Department employees helped Enbridge find a way to smuggle an additional 350,000 barrels of tar sands per day across the border without public hearings or an environmental review. 
Thus far, those following the issue have described the Enbridge maneuver as some sort of bureaucratic snafu.
“If anyone who's high up in the State Department actually knew about this, they'd be up in arms,”'s Kowalski said in a recent interview with EnergyWire in reaction to State's decision.
The reality, though, is more sordid. That is, higher-ups made this call, not just “bad apples.” 
One of them has a key tie to the oil and gas industry, while the other helped lay the groundwork for the controversial “extraordinary rendition” torture program as a Bush Administration State Department attaché.

Patrick Dunn's Industry Ties

On July 24, 2014, State Department staffer Patrick Dunn signed off on a letter rubber-stamping Enbridge's pipeline chess move. In giving Enbridge authorization on official State Department letterhead, Dunn claimed it was not a form of authorization.
“Enbridge's intended changes…do not require authorization from the U.S.Department of State,” Dunn wrote in the letter. “[W]e will consider [your] letter and its attachments to amend and to be part of your Presidential Permit for the capcity (sic) expansion in Line 67.”
Dunn's letter does not give his job title, perhaps leading NWF to write him off as simply a “mid-level State Department official” in an August 25 blog post. His current position and State Department background, however, tells a different story.
February 2014 letter obtained by DeSmogBlog lists Dunn's role as deputy office director for the Bureaus of European Affairs, the Western Hemisphere and African Affairs.
More specifically, Dunn heads up the three regions' bureaus of energy resources, described as a “chief of staff” in an August 11 article published on Dominican Today. That article highlighted Dunn's efforts — alongside Vice President Joe Biden — to cut deals with the Dominican Republic's government, turning the country into an importer of gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the U.S. 
Before working his way up to the powerful Bureau of Energy Resources, Dunn helped lead numerous U.S. Embassies abroad, including in Honduras and Angola as top economic adviser, and Cape Verde as deputy embassy director.
What came before any of that, though, may go a long way in explaining how he came to oversee such an important cross-border pipeline project in the first place.
PESA's Foreign Service Officer Energy Industry Training Program was created in 1993 to increase the practical knowledge of energy attaches and economic officers with responsibility for oil and gas issues stationed in American embassies in countries where energy is a major issue,” reads a Program description.
A glance at PESA's website demonstrates that industry executives regularly serve as presenters at the Foreign Service Officer Energy Industry Training Program.

Deborah Klepp's Ties to Rendition, Corrupt Contracting

Though Dunn wrote the July 24 letter to Enbridge, he is not the only senior level State Department staffer overseeing the Enbridge Alberta Clipper file.
Deborah Klepp, whose name is listed at the very bottom of the State Department's August 12 announcement on the Alberta Clipper, currently serves as director of the Department of State's office of environmental quality and transboundary issues. 
In the past, she has helped to head up U.S. Embassies in RussiaKyrgyzstan and Burkina Faso, as well as in Estonia and Poland.
While working as deputy director of the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on a two-year appointment starting in July 2001, Klepp knowingly or unknowingly got involved in what many would likely consider her most controversial work at the State Department: planting the seeds of the Bush Administration's “extraordinary rendition” torture program.
“Finnish authorities identified a single Miami Air flight…that travelled back and forth between Helsinki and Manas U.S. Air Force transit base in Kyrgyzstan in a single day in December 2002,” explains a February 2013 Open Society Foundation report titled, “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition.”
The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek is only a 30-minute drive away from the Transit Center at Manas located at Manas International Airport, which served as a key U.S. military base from 2001-2009. After her time serving in Bishkek, Klepp wrote a paper for the National Defense University about how the U.S.established the base during her time working on the ground there.

Deborah Klepp and Guantanamo Bay

Beyond rendition and corruption at Manas, Klepp also had at least some knowledge of torture of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba.
In a document obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), then Secretary of State Colin Powell sent a cable in January 2002 to Klepp and James Boughner, at that time the deputy director of the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan and now head of economic affairs for the U.S. Embassy in Germany.
Requesting the cable be passed onto then-U.S. assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, A. Elizabeth Jones, and her executive assistant at the time, Karen Decker, the cable discusses Guantanamo Bay (“GTMO”), “access to the detainees” and three congressional delegations (“CODELs”) to GTMO going on at the time.
That cable also discusses International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) “technical recommendations,” but the State Department redacted what those recommendations were.
The New York Times revealed in 2004 that a confidential ICRC memo stated the “American military [had] intentionally used psychological and sometimes physical coercion 'tantamount to torture' on prisoners at Guantanamo.”
Klepp's husband Mark B. Horowitz — determined by viewing property records — also formerly served as a senior-level State Department employee. A 2012 State Department telephone directory lists Horowitz as an employee of the Office of Information Resource Management, where he served as ISSO (For S/ES Only).”
In the tech world, “ISSO” is shorthand for Information System Security Officer or Chief Information Security Officer, who oversees institutional computer system networks and online infrastructure.

“Local Corrupt Practices”

An October 2008 State Department diplomatic cable provided to Wikileaks by whistleblower Chelsea Manning discusses what Columbia University political scientist Alexander Cooley describes as the “local rules” of doing business in Kyrgyzstan and the Central Asian region at-large.
“[O]ne businessman said that doing business here is ‘like doing business in the Yukon’ in the nineteenth century, i.e., only those willing to participate in local corrupt practices are able to make any money,” explains the cable.
But the latest wheeling and dealing by Enbridge raises a troubling question: have the “local corrupt practices” conducted by State Department diplomats abroad snaked their way home in order to help the tar sands export industry?
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thank you, dear readers!!! Google analytics say that page views have passed 2 million!

Please help support whistleblower John Kiriakou

Readers, you know, there but for fortune go you or I. People like you may be considered passively encouraging domestic terrorism just because you read this blog.  Goodness only knows what the NSA and Dept. of Homeland Security think of my activities.  Who knows how things will play out in the future when things get really sticky.  Our right of free speech is severely threatened when our government does all it can to put honest whistleblowers in jail.  John Kiriakou is a courageous man.  He deserves all of our support.  Please help him if you can.  Thanks,  Tenney

Dear Tenney,

FDL supporters did it again. Our activists stepped up and raised $1,500 this month so we can help John Kiriakou's family make their mortgage payment and stay in their home.

Help us get a head start on next month: Please consider contributing $20 to the fund today?

Your willingness to keep chipping in month after month is unbelievable and you should know that this simple but generous act has meant the world to John. For more updates on our campaign for fair treatment for John Kiriakou see my email below from earlier this month:

Brian Sonenstein
Campaign Director,

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Brian Sonenstein,
Date: August 8, 2014
Subject: John Kiriakou is not a danger

Dear Tenney,

John Kiriakou sent us a new letter detailing how his official designation as "dangerous" put him in prison instead of the minimum-security camp he was promised, making life very difficult for him and his family.

Our months-long battle to get John moved out of prison will continue, but we can do good for the family right now by helping them make their monthly mortgage payments and stay in their home while he's away.

Thanks to the generosity of the Firedoglake community, we've been able to contribute to the Kiriakou's mortgage payment for three months now. We aim to continue this effort until John is out of prison and back home.

John is very moved by your support. In his most recent letter, he wrote, "thank you from the bottom of my heart to Medea Benjamin, Jane Hamsher and the members and supporters of Code Pink and Firedoglake. Your selflessness and generosity have literally saved our home. Heather, the children and I are eternally grateful for your kindness. I won’t forget this. And I can’t wait to get home and begin to pay it forward."

In his letter, John also explains how BOP bureaucrats claimed (falsely) that he was involved in 'espionage' for his efforts to expose torture to the American public. He was sent to the prison instead of the minimum security camp even though the judge and prosecutor recommended otherwise, and now faces an uphill appeals process.

This has placed an extreme burden on John and his entire family, especially his young kids. By donating what you can, we can help them stay in their house and maintain some semblance of a normal life. (Not to mention, you'll also be sticking it to those in government who sought to ruin him for speaking truth to power, and showing them that the public can and will stand up for whistleblowers).

You can also make a recurring monthly gift to help ensure they make their payments every month.
Thank you once again for all you continue to do for John Kiriakou and his family.

In Solidarity,

Brian Sonenstein
Campaign Director,

1. CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou Was Marked Dangerous After BOP Categorized His Crime as ‘Espionage-Related’, Kevin Gosztola, The Dissenter, 8/7/2014.

Chicago Tribune: Illinois fracking rules to become public Friday, August 29, 2014

by Julie Wernau, Tribune reporter, Chicago Tribune, August 27, 2014

Long-anticipated rules that would govern a new fracking industry in Illinois, are expected to become public Friday.

Those rules could be approved as early as next month, opening the door to oil and gas drillers to apply for permits to begin drilling the state’s shale rock in search of oil reserves. Lawmakers are hoping that an oil boom in the southern part of the state will fatten state coffers with oil revenue and bring jobs to a struggling downstate economy. 
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has been sifting through more than 35,000 comments that were launched at its first draft of the rules, which were based on legislation passed more than a year ago. It faces a November deadline to structure the law.

State Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, co-chairman of the Illinois Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, said IDNR has said it expects to drop the rules off with the committee Friday. The obscure committee’s approval is the final step in a multi-year effort to regulate horizontal hydraulic fracturing in Illinois, defined as 80,000 gallons of fluid or more injected into underground rock formations to extract oil and gas.

Once those rules are dropped, the committee has 45 days to either approve the rules, suggest changes, or reject them outright or the rules automatically become law.

IDNR held five lengthy public hearings on the proposed rules, which have about 100 different sections and are hundreds of pages long.

Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry expects to have to continue its fight against anti-fracking groups, especially after their intended drilling locations become public.

Opponents have vowed to use every legal avenue available to stop fracking. The law allows citizens to appeal permits and to ask for public hearings, which makes some drillers anxious.

Companies wishing to engage in horizontal hydraulic fracturing must register 30 days before filing an application to drill. Their intentions will be posted online.

Saline County Illinois residents beg Gov. Quinn and AG Lisa Madigan to stop Peabody Coal's Rocky Branch strip mine's toxic blasting and water contamination

by Jeff Biggers, EcoWatch, August 25, 2014

Update: Rocky Branch residents are reporting that decorated Vietnam War-veteran Glen Kellen, a Rocky Branch resident, has been arrested this morning, as he attempted to move his cross and protest sign closer to the public road.
jbiggersDespite an appeal over the controversial Rocky Branch strip mine permit still pending with an Illinois Department of Natural Resources administrative judge, Peabody Energy defiantly closed down public roads and moved massive mining equipment in Saline County yesterday, in preparation to carry out its already violation-ridden and state-subsidized mine operation.

Rocky Branch, Illinois. Photo credit: Jeff Lucas / Gutting the Heartland

Calling out clear violations of the state’s mine permitting process, civil rights and environmental justice policies, besieged farm residents facing toxic mine blasting and water contamination within yards of their homes and wells have appealed to Gov. Pat Quinn and Attorney General Lisa Madigan to halt the state’s flawed mine permit process.
“I feel the Attorney General has abandoned us by dragging her feet and letting Peabody destroy a community,” Rocky Branch resident Jennifer Dumbris said. 
“She has the power to stop what is going on until investigations are through but seems to rather look the other way, while Peabody is conducting business as usual.”
Last spring, thousands of Illinois residents appealed to Madigan to investigate the numerous inconsistencies and permit violations in the Rocky Branch mine process. Where does the AG stand now?
On behalf of civil rights and environmental justice in Rocky Branch?
Or with Peabody Energy CEO Greg Boyce, who declared in Australia last week that “coal always wins.”
In truth, Peabody was named as a party subject to discovery in a recent law suit over the Prairie State coal-fired plant, “a scheme by Peabody,” according to Illinois state residents, “to create a market for its high-sulfur, high-ash coal reserves in Southern Illinois.” A UK judge also ruled this week that Peabody’s “clean coal” ad campaign is misleading.

Peabody coal equipment on Rt. 13, Saline County, IL.  Photo credit: Shawnee Hills and Hollers
Peabody Coal equipment on Rt. 13, Saline County, IL. Photo credit: Shawnee Hills and Hollers

If Gov. Quinn and Attorney General Madigan can step in and halt the proposed Banner strip mine, why can’t they step in and halt the violation-ridden permits of the proposed Rocky Branch strip mine?
If Gov. Quinn and Attorney General Madigan can step in and halt petcoke coal dust, a “serious public health threat facing the residents,” why can’t they step in and halt the admitted unprotected health threat of toxic coal dust in Rocky Branch?
According to the IDNR permit for Rocky Branch, released earlier this spring, toxic coal dust from blasting, which will occur only a few hundred feet from resident homes, farms and wells, is not even considered:
If Quinn and Madigan can campaign to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired plants, why can’t they stop the unnecessary and CO2-exploding Peabody mine in Saline County from being loaded onto barges and shipped for dirty coal-fired plants overseas?
“Why is it that electric cigarettes are more important to make a decision on than the health and well being of a community of 70- and 80-year-olds that are law-abiding, tax-paying citizens,” Dumbris added. “It is nothing but profit over people.”
Yesterday, as equipment trundled across the state highway and down public roads in Saline County, Rocky Branch residents protested and held signs, “God Save Rocky Branch.”

Rocky Branch, Illinois. Photo credit: Shawnee Hills and Hollers

That is—until Gov. Quinn, Attorney General Madigan and the courts uphold regulatory laws and fair mining practices, as well as civil rights and environmental justice.
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Russia’s warming faster than the rest of the planet—and seeing disease, drought, and forest fires as a result

russia climate change global warming forest fire smog People wearing protective masks look at the Moscow Kremlin shrouded in smog, August 4, 2010. Air quality levels in Moscow tumbled to an eight-year low on Wednesday as the Russian capital was blanketed in thick smoke from forest and peat fires, said Moscow's state agency for monitoring air pollution. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
by Gwynn Guilford, Quartz, August 27, 2014
When Vladimir Putin declined to support the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty to limit carbon emissions, he famously quipped that higher temperatures might actually benefit Russia since its people would have to spend less on fur coats.
Well, he’s getting his wish. Changes in wind and ocean currents caused by global warming shift heat around unevenly, causing some areas to heat up dramatically even as other regions cool. Russia, it turns out, is in the unusually hot category. Between 1976 and 2012, average Russian temperatures rose 0.43 °C (0.8 °F) a decade—more than twice the global average of 0.17 °C—according to a new report out by Russia’s climate and environment agency (pdf, link in Russian).

This is a big problem for a variety of reasons, say Russia’s climate scientists. Hotter temperatures appear to be driving a spike in episodes of dangerous extreme weather:

The frequency of forest fires (Russian) in the Siberian taiga, Evenki, and Khabarovsk regions and in the far northeast have surged between 30% and 50% in the past two to three decades.

Those extreme-weather episodes are taking their toll on Russians’ health. The report notes that the forest fires that often accompany summer heat waves give off noxious fumes. In 2010, this smog caused Moscow mortality rates to double.

Balmier climes are also making Russia more hospitable for certain diseases. The report notes that by 2010, the breeding ground for harmful insects was twice what it was in 1973. This trend, says the report, is linked with a flare-up of West Nile virus in the last 15 years, as well as an expanded range of Crimean hemorrhagic fever and tick-borne encephalitis.

One of the arguments that Putin and others have advanced in favor of global warming is that it will make more of Russia’s land arable. The report notes that is happening, as agriculture shifts to central and northern parts of the country. However, it’s something of a wash given that drought is also hurting output in Russia’s breadbasket region. Others note that the melting of permafrost could galvanize Russia’s mining and oil industries by making nickel, copper, diamonds, oil and natural gas more accessible. [Yah think? Try driving over swamps.]