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Editorials
Seeing the light and feeling the heat PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 29 August 2012 16:01

Not even the doubters and deniers can ignore the evidence that human-produced greenhouse gases are the cause of global weather chaos

Have you heard the news about global warming?

    It’s going on now. It’s getting worse. It’s on course to become a disaster of biblical proportions. It’s caused by man-made carbon dioxide.

    To many people, of course, this is not news at all. A worldwide consensus of scientists has long warned of the catastrophic consequences of climate warming caused by carbon emissions.

    But it is news, apparently quite startling news, to the disbelievers and deniers who are just now seeing the light of global warming and feeling its heat.

    Earlier this summer, Richard A. Muller, physics professor at the University of California, a high-profile climate-change skeptic whose views were frequently cited by global-warming doubters, announced his conversion, writing that he had “concluded that global warming was real and that prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct.” And then he added a finding that has shaken the ranks of deniers: “Humans are almost entirely the cause.”

    Other public conversions followed the publication of a scientific paper this month by James E. Hansen, a much respected NASA scientist, that said there is no doubt that the drastic increase in the amount of the earth’s surface subjected to extreme heat in recent years and the resulting devastating droughts were caused by greenhouse gases released by humans.  

    Then cracks appeared in one of the most stubborn bastions of global-warming denial, the Wall Street Journal, when it published an op-ed essay by Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, urging political conservatives to face the reality of man-made climate change and come up with their own remedies instead of criticizing efforts to limit carbon emissions.

    There was nothing particularly remarkable about the writer’s sensible comments, except that they appeared in a newspaper whose editorial page has treated global warming as a hoax cooked up by environmentalists to cripple capitalism with carbon emission controls.


    The apparent dawning of climate-change reason is cause for relief, but not optimism. The folly of doubting for years the preponderance of scientific evidence may be ending, but the time lost by the highjacking of an environmental threat by politics has set back hope for a timely response.

    A climate simulation model produced by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology indicates there is a 10% chance the earth’s average surface temperature will rise by more than 12 degrees by 2100, warming so extreme that much of the life on earth would not survive it.

    Short of that catastrophe, frequent crippling droughts and heat waves are almost certain to plague the planet through the century. A report by the National Climatic Data Center predicted that the excess of heat and shortage of rain that broke records this summer—the last 12 months were the hottest one-year period ever in the United States—was a pattern that will assert control over the climate for the coming decades.

    Ozaukee County experienced enough of that this summer to see that global warming’s consequences go far beyond melting glaciers and threatened polar bears. Plant life suffered greatly as rain avoided the area for weeks at a time. Human life, even people who welcome summer heat as the antidote to frigid winters and chilly springs, suffered through successive days heated to the high 90s or low 100s, the fortunate among them finding relief only in spaces cooled by air conditioning chugging away and adding more carbon to the atmosphere.

    The drought here is in remission, but scars remain. Some of them are evident in Lake Michigan, so depleted by the lack the rain and the excess of heat-induced evaporation that its water level is nearly a foot lower than a year ago.

    That fits with the global warming scenarios projected by American scientists: higher water levels (dangerous flooding) along the ocean coasts due to the melting of the polar ice caps, lower water (an essential resource depleted) in the Great lakes due to drought.

    Thus does the evidence relentlessly build. It should be impossible to ignore, even by those who haven’t heard the news about global warming.



 
Do not forsake Port’s noble ash trees PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 22 August 2012 17:05

The city should pursue an expert’s opinion that treatment can be successful and cost effective in saving the trees of Lake Park and elsewhere

  The City of Port Washington has invested heavily in its future, specifically in its future as a place where for generations to come its streets, walkways, neighborhoods, parks and downtown will be graced by the beauty, shade, bird life and sound-mellowing and air-purifying effects of hundreds upon hundreds of deciduous trees.

    It is to the city’s enduring credit that even in a time of economic challenges and revenue constraints it has carried on an aggressive tree-planting program, budgeting funds annually to buy, plant and maintain trees. Trees in public places are essential to the quality of life in a community, and worth every penny they cost taxpayers.

    If these young trees, planted as bare-root saplings, are assets to community life—and they surely are—think how much more valuable are the mature trees that have grown for decades and, as their towering green canopies attest, have reached their potential as gifts of nature.

    We hope city officials are thinking of that and preparing to refuse to let Port Washington’s forest of ash trees succumb to the emerald ash borer.

    There are hundreds of these trees on public land throughout the city, including a magnificent stand in Upper Lake Park. Their loss to the insect that is killing ash trees across the Midwest would be nothing less than a disaster.

    An arborist who is an expert on the predations of the ash borer made an illuminating presentation to the Park and Recreation Board  earlier this month that was both sobering and hopeful.

    Sobering indeed was the prediction by Wayne White of Union Lake, Mich., that if nothing is done all of the city’s ash trees will likely be dead in a few years. Ash borer infestation of trees in and around downtown has been confirmed. The insects will attack other ash trees.

    The hopeful part was White’s assurance that the bug can be defeated. He claimed a 99% success rate in treating trees with a combination of insecticide injections and drenching soil with nutrients.

     White estimated that treating the 200 ash trees in Upper Lake Park would cost $15,000 a year for a number of years. If that number is daunting, it was softened by the arborist’s explanation that not every tree in the park would have to be treated. The best specimens among them could be selected for treatment, while marginal trees could be sacrificed.

    The most intriguing statement in the presentation was White’s assertion that it would cost more to remove the park’s ash trees after they are killed by the borer than to treat them.

    If that is true—and, of course, the city needs to verify it independently—it should make the decision easy: Find the money to treat at least the healthiest, strongest trees. Better to spend it on saving trees than cutting them down and disposing of tainted wood.

    The ash borer is a clear, present and quite awful threat—Lake Park without trees is too painful to contemplate—and the city needs to deal with it as such and move quickly to adopt an effective response. Allowing nature to take its course, meaning letting the trees die, seems to be an option the city government is considering. It shouldn’t be. Attempting to save as many sound trees as possible should be the only option.

    A treatment program should be as comprehensive as it can be, taking into account not only ash trees on parkland, but also some in parkways along streets. Ash trees on private property, which after all are part of the community forest, should be considered as well. The possibility that an arborist service provider who gets the city contract might be able to offer more attractive rates to both the city and private payers for a large volume of work should be explored.    

    Welcome as they are along city streets, the ranks of newly planted trees are still only slender, sparsely-leafed hopes for a green future. The great ashes of Port Washington, mature trees of tall, sturdy trunks and arching crowns, are the trees of the present, splendid living things and important contributors to the city’s character that must not be forsaken.


 
Hungry world needs corn, not ethanol PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 15 August 2012 16:28

With the corn crop devastated by drought, threatening food price spikes and shortages, America’s corn-hungry ethanol mandate must be lifted

In the best of corn-growing times, America’s ethanol mandate is a subsidy that props up an unsustainable industry whose existence is essentially meaningless to the economy and the environment.

    In one of the worst of times in agriculture in the last half century, a time of historic drought when a corn crop devastated by conditions reminiscent of the Dust Bowl will be the smallest in many years, the corn ethanol requirement is morally and economically indefensible and must be suspended if not done away with altogether.

    The Environmental Protection Agency can do that. The longer it waits, the more it inflicts pain on American consumers and suffering people in the world’s hunger belts.

    The drought of 2012 underscores what should have been obvious all along: A society that turns food into fuel for automobiles has its priorities confused.

    Less than a quarter of the corn crop in the 18 most important corn-producing states is in good condition, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. The world will have to get by with 39 million fewer tons of corn this year, the USDA estimated, blaming the U.S. production shortfall for 75% of that shortage.

    In spite of that, enough corn to make 13.2 billion gallons of ethanol will have to be subtracted from the food supply this year under the terms of the U.S. ethanol mandate. The Wall Street Journal reported that more corn is now being used for engine fuel than for livestock feed.

    The United Nations is urging the U.S. to suspend the ethanol mandate to avert a crisis in world food prices that would hamper efforts to provide famine relief.

    In the United States, the corn shortage aggravated by ethanol production will not be a crisis, but it will certainly be a burden on consumers. The price of corn has tripled since 2005, and inevitable further increases are expected to push up the cost of a plethora of food products and meat.

    All to keep ethanol producers churning out a product for which there is no demand and from which there is no benefit.

    The stated purposes of the ethanol mandate are to reduce dependence on imported oil and reduce greenhouse gases. It fails both ways.

    Even though it consumes billions of bushels of corn needed for food, it accounts for less than 1% of the world’s fuel use. (Under EPA  rules, gasoline can contain up to 15% ethanol.) Studies have shown that it takes more energy to produce ethanol (including the greenhouse-gas-producing petroleum needed to till, fertilize, ship and process the corn and move ethanol to the market) than it yields as engine fuel.

    The mandate does further environmental damage by promoting excessive use of chemical fertilizers that degrade the soil and encouraging the conversion of woodland to crop-producing fields, resulting in accelerated erosion of topsoil.

     Biomass fuel from non-food vegetation, produced mostly outside of the United States, could fulfill some of ethanol’s promise, but tariffs designed to protect the corn ethanol industry keep it out of reach of Americans.    

    The point has been reached where ethanol’s reason for existence is reduced to supporting the ethanol-producing industry that was created by the mandate and is protected by an influential lobby and a compliant Congress.

    The one tiny, positive feature of the mandate, which is named the Renewable Fuels Standard, is that within its fine print is a provision that permits the EPA to suspend the ethanol production requirement if it is deemed to cause serious economic harm.

    Forcing up the price of food surely constitutes economic harm. The EPA, pushed by President Obama if necessary, should use its power to temporarily disable the mandate.

    Then Congress should get to work to make it go away forever. Ending the wasting of food to power motor vehicles ought to be reason enough to stop the ethanol folly, but those needing another rationale might find it in the fact that this is a perfect example of government manipulation of the free market gone bad.



 
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