The Top 13 Environmental Stories of the Aughts

Here is my olio list of profound and profane environmental news of the past decade–the aughts.

  1. Hurricane Katrina From the toxic sludge left behind on the land to removal of the vegetative buffers by encroaching civilization, hurricane Katrina exposed so many of our environmental shortcomings, all in one storm.

  2. Al Gore’s Inconvenient Nobel Peace PrizeI voted for Gore in 2000 and thought he was a reasonable man. His Saturday Night Live sketch indicated he had some sense of humor. Yet, his dourness shines through in both his book “Earth in the Balance” and his PowerPoint cum film “An Inconvenient Truth,” a film filled with numerous inconvenient falsehoods. What was the Nobel Committee smoking?

  3. Bjorn Lomborg’s Copenhagen ConsensusThe Copenhagen Consensus commissions “research that analyzes the optimal ways to combat the biggest problems facing the world. “In doing so, it gores a number of Sacred Calves. Like a buyer for WalMart, the Copenhagen Consensus looks for where we humans can get the most bang for our buck. It turns out anthropogenic (a fancy way to say something caused by people) global warming wound up at #30, a fact that fries most greens and climatologists.  I think the failure of Kyoto and Copenhagen (and sites in between) underscore this fact that investing $1 and getting a 1cent return is not what we should do. You would think more politicians would get behind the Consensus’s recommendation to go after the low hanging fruit first. I guess they figure the low hanging fruit is sour grapes.By the way, if you have not yet read Lomborg’s “Skeptical Environmentalist,” published in 2001, you need to–now. Lomborg started out by trying to debunk the late Julian Simon who said, “First, humanity’s condition will improve in just about every material way. Second, humans will continue to sit around complaining about everything getting worse.” Professor Lomborg, one of the top 100 public intellectuals, according to Foreign Policy & Prospect Magazine, took a statistician’s view of the arguments used by the Environmental Lobby (and Al Gore) and found hyperbole that focused on the minuses and never the pluses. Lomborg’s book contains thousands of footnoted sources, something that’s missing from many others.

  4. TVA coal ash dam break/spillOne year after the coal ash spill near Knoxville, the Tennessee Valley Authority still has no plan of what to do with a billion gallons toxic goo from their Kingston Fossil Plant. Dredgers have been running 24 hours a day, 6 days a week (on the day 7 the oil is changed), since the spill to clean out the Emory river. The dam break indicates the extent of our life-style’s “externalities“–those obligations and costs we all bear–from abandoned cyanide pits from mining to air pollution from power plants and automobiles.

  5. Climategate–Scientists Behaving BadlyThe leaking of emails and files from East Anglia University’s Climatic Research Unit shined the light of public scrutiny into the marble towers of academia and provides a glimpse of how science gets done. Turns out that scientists are just as tribal and not above pettiness any more than the rest of us, reminding me of the squabbling politics of a homeowners’ association. Climategate defines schadenfreude.

  6. Failure of the Doha talksDoha in Qatar is the place where members of the WTO (World Trade Organization) discuss treaties for freer trade. Globalization is often a bugbear for people wanting to keep the status quo. The United States has its farm and biofuel subsidies that prove to be sticking points. But history shows when standards of living increase, birth rates decline and the quality of life increases. Economists agree that unencumbered trade raises the standard of living for for countries with the most open markets. (for more see “If words were food, nobody would go hungry” in the Economist). The Copenhagen Consensus puts implementation of the “Doha development agenda” at #2 behind combating malnutrition with Micronutrient supplements for children (vitamin A and zinc).

  7. Willie Smits and Samboja LestariIf you have never heard of Willie Smits or Samboja Lestari, you are not alone, but you should have. Smits has literally changed the climate in the district of East Kalimantan, Indonesia where he and his group have renewed the rainforest that had been cut down to make palm-oil biodiesel, all the while providing food and 3000 jobs for the locals and returning the land to them in the bargain. He gets my nomination for the Nobel Prize.

  8. 2008 Global Economic MeltdownProsperity,” the American philosopher Mark Twain said, “ is the best protector of principle.” And the opposite is true. Alligators look like the makings of a hearty meal and not an endangered species when you need to put food on the table or starve. (For more see Gallup’s “Americans: Economy Takes Precedence Over Environment”.

  9. Cell phonesCell phones have been around for more than a couple decades but texting and GPS (Global Positioning System) has catapulted them above mere phones. Cell sourcing–using cell phone to gather and disseminate information rapidly–will change everything. Farmers will get information on crop diseases and other concerns with the result being greater yields on less land and freeing up land for other (one hopes environmentally friendly) uses. People will be able to provide information to aggregators on environmental concerns and pinpoint their locations instantly.

  10. The United Nations’ Millennium Ecosystem Assessment“When we try to pick out anything by itself,” John Muir said, “we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” The MEA was the attempt by the United Nations to quantify how much of the ecosystem was hitched to us. It turns out everything is.

  11. 2004 TsunamiThe tsunami of December 26, 2004 was especially memorable to me because my firstborn (who was living in Japan at the time) had decided NOT to go to Phuket, Thailand that Christmas. He opted instead to have the North Koreans point their weapons across Korea’s DMZ at him and his friends. Had he not, he might have ended up as a statistic with the other 230,000 who died under a 100 foot wave.

  12. Anthropogenic Global Warming

    I predict AGW will be the “coming ice age” of predictions.

    In Africa, drought continues for the sixth consecutive year, adding terribly to the toll of famine victims. During [this past year] record rains in parts of the U.S., Pakistan and Japan caused some of the worst flooding in centuries.” — Time Magazine, 1972, Science: Another Ice Age?

    Conserve energy for conservation’s sake.

  13. Credit Card Reform Act of 2009 How does credit card reform qualify as an environmental story? File this one under “only in America.” It was in the CCRA of 2008, that Republicans, tacked on a rider allowing people to take concealed weapons into our nation’s parks and wildlife refuges. Where else but in America can we get squeezed at a 30% annual interest rate AND carry a concealed loaded firearm the wilderness? Look out Smoky Bear, I’m packing heat.

Happy New Year everyone.

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