Check Out these Amazing Bat Facts on National Bat Appreciation Day!

Sound Wave Bat - Urban Hermits

Hi all,

It has been brought to my attention that today, Sunday, April 17th is National Bat Appreciation Day. Bats are often depicted as creepy creatures who exist in a nocturnal world opposite to our own. However, they are fascinating and important parts of the ecosystems they inhabit. Unfortunately, they also face many challenges that threaten their populations. Don’t take it from me, though, check out these amazing bat facts from Bat Conservation International!

Perhaps, someday I’ll pay a visit to Bracken Cave.

Cheers!

 

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Why Criticizing Science as “Biased” Gets Us Nowhere; An Example with Fox News

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Hi all,

I am always fascinated to hear claims that particular scientific studies are, “biased”. While it is true that there is a lot of unscientific and fradulant findings being published all the time, we need to understand that scientists are people, who hold values and have opinions just as we do. What makes a good scientist is being able to create an objective platform from which empirical research can be conducted. A scientist, or any good thinker for that matter, needs to be able to disconnect their work from their values, beliefs, and attitudes. That being said, it is unreasonable to expect someone to go into science if they have no interest in what their are studying. However, it seems that is what we sometimes expect.

In a recent Fox News article, contributor Kelley Beaucar Vlahos discusses criticism (including her own) of some of the scientific studies that influenced New York State’s recent ban of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. Vlahos accuses the scientists of being “biased” and having ties to the “anti-fracking movement”. This report was peer reviewed, a process that is used to maintain scientific integrity. As reported, the peer reviewers did not know the authors. Furthermore, as a scientist myself (well, studying to be one), I can tell you that the peer review process is often blind, meaning that the authors have no idea who is reviewing their paper and the reviewers do not know whose paper it is at the time of review. The article, however, claims that the authors as well as reviewers were biased, as they are opposed to hydraulic fracturing. What it does not discuss, is why they are opposed. Does their opposition stem from some of their findings as well as other peer reviewed science? Someone is not just simply born a “fractivist”. Scientific studies need to be assessed by their methodology, not the personal characteristics of the scientist. There is no doubt that our attitudes and values affect how we filter information, which can certainly influence how we view findings, but part of being a good scientist is being aware of this.

Finally, the article claims that the scientists did not disclose their political views, etc. in the paper. While it is a standard to disclose conflicts re: financing, stake in ownership, etc., in science, it is not standard to have to disclose political views. For example, do I need to say that I am a “environmentalist, vegetarian…etc.” anytime I write something? Furthermore, if the way to eliminate bias is just to have “pro-fracking” scientists have their own study and then “anti-fracking” scientists have their study, why even have science? That would just be politics.

Dismissing peer-reviewing science as “biased” is totalitarian. It is an attempt to look past important findings that we may not like, which is exactly what Vlahos and Fox News are doing in this instance. We definitely need to understanding the context of scientific studies and it, but there is no purely “objective” study, at the very least there are values implicit in how we measure things. Although minimal, science needs some human input or else there would be no studies; but discarding studies as “biased” that go against your agenda, as opposed to challenging yourself, doesn’t do us any good.

Happy Hermiting, folks.

Image: http://www.stcplanning.org/index.asp?pageId=153

Mark Goes Places: Western Maryland!

Hi all,

The summer is coming to a close, but with the long Labor Day weekend, I wanted to make sure I got to experience the great outdoors one last time. Of course, Fall camping is my favorite and I still intend to get out for some of the cool autumn nights. This past weekend I headed down to the Maryland Panhandle, often referred to as “Western Maryland”. It is a pretty part of the country and very different from the the coastal plains and urban centers of Eastern Maryland. I stayed with some friends and family at New Germany State Park, which is adjacent to the serene Savage River State Forest. We did some good old fashioned car camping. The area provides lots of good hiking and some interesting history, as it was the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp. Also, in the 1950’s, there was a B-52 crash in the area. I took a photograph of the pilot’s grave located in the park (see below). The area was quite remote, tucked into an Appalachian mountain valley. No cell phone service, but I could fall asleep to the calls of Barred Owls. Here are some photos, enjoy!

IMG_0673

Setting up camp

Mountain wildflowers

Mountain wildflowers

Hello!

Hello!

Fording the creek

Fording the creek

Gravestone of fallen pilot

Gravestone of fallen pilot

Salamander friend

Salamander friend

Toad friend!

Toad friend!

Rolling hills

Rolling hills

Coffeeshop we stopped at on the way home in Frostburg,MD

Coffeeshop we stopped at on the way home in Frostburg, MD

All photos property of Mark Suchyta, Urban Hermits

Nuclear Waste and the Future of the Great Lakes

Fermi II

To continue our recent saga covering the Great Lakes, I wanted to bring attention to a controversy taking place regarding storing nuclear waste off the shores of Lake Huron. There is currently a proposal to create a nuclear waste repository just north of Kincardine, Ontario,  the home of a nuclear plant operated by Ontario Power Generation. This site lies right on the banks of Lake Huron. Despite previous claims from the Canadian Nuclear Waste Management Organization that the proposed facility was safe, it is now believe that the organization’s original radioactivity predictions were, “underestimated by more than a factor of 100” (Detroit Free Press). Furthermore, the director of the organization’s safety and licensing division has agreed to this claim.

As the Detroit Free Press articles states: “The new findings heighten the concerns many have over the nuclear waste facility’s proximity to the Great Lakes, from which 24 million U.S. residents get drinking water and that makes possible Michigan’s $2-billion fishing, $4-billion boating and $18-billion tourism industries”.

Nuclear energy production has been a controversial practice that has split those concerned about the environment. Some applaud the low emissions and potential to curb our reliance on dirty fossil fuels. Others have warned about the dangers of the resulting waste and social and environmental issues related to uranium mining. While nuclear power presents some potential to usher in an age of cleaner energy, it has been plagued by disasters, none more shocking than that of Fukushima in Japan.

The reason I am particularly concerned about this proposed site in Kincardine is because it makes me think of the current situation, which has not received much media coverage, in Carlsbad, New Mexico. Carlsbad has been the home of a nuclear waste repository for some 15 years now. While the facility has brought some economic stability to the community, it has now been closed since February 14th of this year. The closure was due to low levels of radiation detected on some 17 employees. While these levels of radiation are not said to be harmful, experts have still not been able to detect the source of the leak and the plant is closed indefinitely. To read more about Carlsbad, which I recommend you do, check out this New York Times article. It has also been brought to my attention that the Carlsbad facility is the only site that was capable of accepting the most hazardous radioactive waste. The proposed Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada was designed for this purpose but was never opened due to various political and local initiatives, as well as its significance in the local native American culture. Interestingly, the US Department of Energy has collected $37 billion dollars off utility fees for the purpose of developing a waste repository. It has now been announced that his fee will no longer being collected, implying that there are no immediate plans for such a facility and brining into question what the current sum of money will be used for.

Although the debate regarding the future of nuclear power rages on, we still have to deal with the challenges of how to manage the already significant stockpiles of waste, much of which is in crude temporary disposal sites. In addition, there appears to be a lack of specialized locations for the waste of utmost radioactivity.

In the meantime, stay a hermit, and read Urban Hermits!

Sources:

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/fee-build-phantom-nuke-waste-site-ends

http://www.freep.com/article/20140413/NEWS06/304130074/great-lakes-nuclear-waste

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/21/us/a-livelihood-in-nuclear-waste-under-threat.html?_r=1

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yucca_Mountain_nuclear_waste_repository

Image: Lauren Korany, Urban Hermits

Concerns Mount Over Enbridge Pipeline Underneath Straits of Mackinaw

The Mackinaw Bridge seen over the straits. Underneath the water are two Enbridge pipelines

The Mackinaw Bridge seen over the straits. Underneath the water are two Enbridge pipelines

Hey folks,

Recently on Urban Hermits, we have been covering some of our concerns regarding the fossil fuel industry. In one of my posts, I discussed how with the track record of the industry, there is no way I would want significant fossil fuel infrastructure in my community. A few days later, Lauren shared news of a small, but concerning oil spill in Lake Michigan off the coast of Indiana. Ben further reported on some of the expected consequences of such a spill. Well, industry keeps making the news, this time with concerns over the safety of pipelines underwater at the Straits of Mackinaw, which is where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan meet amidst the world’s largest freshwater system. The two pipelines are over 60 years old and operated by Enbridge, a Canadian company that has been accused of negligence regarding their responsibility for a 2010 oil spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo river, which was the largest inland oil spill in US history.

As reported by Mlive.com, Michigan officials have put pressure on Enbridge to ensure the safety of the pipelines and share their contingency plans in the event of a spill, which could be catastrophic and extremely difficult to contain.

This is one of the last companies I would want to maintain such a fragile system in this crucial location. I can only hope for the best. Read the shocking article from Mlive right HERE.

Links:

https://urbanhermits.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/close-to-home-bp-spills-tar-sands-into-lake-michigan/

https://urbanhermits.wordpress.com/2014/03/28/the-unseen-consequences-of-the-bp-whiting-leak/

https://urbanhermits.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/disaster-after-disaster-why-i-cant-trust-the-fossil-fuel-industry/

http://www.freep.com/article/20130623/NEWS06/306230059/Kalamazoo-River-oil-spill

Image:

http://blog.nwf.org/2012/10/enbridge-threatens-freshwater-drinking-source-for-million-of-people/

Happy Earth Day!

Just wanted to say happy Earth Day from all of us at Urban Hermits! Today is a good day to think about your lifestyle and how you can use it to contribute to a healthier planet. It also is a great day to get outside and enjoy nature or watch a good film. I am going to try and catch a screening of Green Fire, an Emmy award winning film about Aldo Leopold’s land ethic later this week.

Here is something for your amusement: Google’s earth day logos over the years.

Have a great day and continue tuning into Urban Hermits!

The Unseen Consequences of the BP Whiting Leak

Yesterday, Lauren posted a scathing report on our latest oil spill fiasco. Like she said, this one strikes us closer to home. It’s not just Louisiana this time though that is affected; I have no doubt that the citizens of Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, even the rest of the bordering Great Lakes states are deeply perturbed. While differing in scale to say, the Deepwater Horizon spill, the circumstances of the Whiting leak are unique.

For frame of reference, the Macondo well spill into the Gulf of Mexico back in 2010 spewed somewhere between 3.26 to 4.9 million barrels of oil. The discrepancy of these numbers is so large because apparently, the government and BP offer two different estimations of how much oil spilled into the gulf (Both agreed however, that some 800,000 barrels collected during the cleanup would not be counted in that final tally).

The Whiting facility leaked about ten to twelve barrels. A very small, teeny tiny fraction of what it could and might have been. But this also happened in a lake, not a wide reaching ocean.

I mention this not to lessen the gravity of the situation, however. As Lauren also pointed out yesterday, The Great Lakes are sources of fresh water, and provide to millions of people surrounding the lakes. Even small amounts of oil leaking into these treasured resources can have dire, unforeseen consequences.

As it so happens, NPR wrote a report on the science of the Exxon Valdez disaster twenty-five years after the accident, coincidentally just days before the Whiting leak occurred (Lets also keep in mind that the Galveston event is still taking place and will have even worse consequences).

According to the article, Scientists have learned that there are smaller particles in oil called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH’s) are what cause long term damages to marine life. PAH’s are barely detectable, but their effects are more pronounced than the actual oil spill.

In tests done on pink salmon, they found that young fish, even embryos, were not able to swim nearly as fast for as long as the unaffected population. The PAH’s actually affect the development of the heart, which is one of the first things a fish embryo develops, and the researchers working on this believe that they interfere with the electrical signals that are needed for the heart to operate normally. It is a great article about some of the things we have learned about the long term, and even short term effects of oil spills, and I highly recommend giving it a read at the end of this article.

The effects on the pink salmon, among other things mentioned in the NPR article, should highlight the level of importance of this particular event.  This is our drinking water. If a pregnant woman ingests water tainted with PAH’s, then we don’t know what kind of effect that will have on a fetus. And if it does have an effect on one person, it will have an effect on the population, and that isn’t including any health issues a fully grown adult might develop. But this is why the Exxon Valdez research is so important, so that we can know what potentially we are looking at.

There is both bright side, and a concerning side. The bright side is that this spill was very minor in scale, and was contained quickly. But if even small dosages of PAH’s can affect the development of an embryo, then we do have something to concerned about. This is our largest supply of fresh water, and pollution of the Great Lakes is already a concern.

Between Fukushima having irradiated the ocean, Mocondo spilling into the gulf, Galveston in the works and the Whiting leak at our doorstep, have we begun to think about the consequences of how our society functions?

 

Sources

 

http://www.npr.org/2014/03/22/292131305/why-the-exxon-valdez-spill-was-a-eureka-moment-for-science

 

https://urbanhermits.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/close-to-home-bp-spills-tar-sands-into-lake-michigan/

 

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/25/refinery-operations-bp-whiting-idUSL1N0MM0RQ20140325

 

http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2013/10/08/307483.htm

 

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/03/25/294454330/bp-says-oil-spill-in-lake-michigan-has-been-contained

 

 

Close to Home – BP Spills Tar Sands into Lake Michigan

Urban Hermits - BP Oil Spill Lake Michigan

Just a few days ago, Urban Hermits wrote an article criticizing the fossil fuel industry. Well, unfortunately we have more content to write about on the topic. On Monday afternoon, it is estimated that the BP owned Whiting refinery in Indiana leaked between 630 to 1,638 gallons of crude oil into Lake Michigan (originally thought to be 500 gallons). The refinery, now being used to process tar sands from Alberta, had increased volume of crude oil production which supposedly caused a malfunction. The Great Lake is part of the world’s largest supplies of fresh water, the drinking water source for 7 million people just in the Chicago area. Ironically, the incident occurred less than two weeks after the U.S. lifted BP’s ban on bidding Gulf of Mexico oil leases since the massive Macondo disaster in 2010.

The EPA initially reported there appeared to be no negative effects on Lake Michigan. Furthermore, BP spokesman Scott Dean stated “I’ve had no reports of any wildlife impacted.”

Right.

Just recently the refinery, BP, and Koch Industries were sued by Chicago residents due to the mass storage of petroleum coke polluting the area and lake. Petroleum coke, or “petcoke” is the byproduct of tar sand oil. The Whiting refinery currently produces around 600,000 tons of petcoke per year. It now has the potential to produce 2.2 million tons per year with the recent $3.8 billion expansion. According to the Chicago Tribune, federal records show that the Whiting plant remains one of the largest sources of industrial pollution discharged into Lake Michigan.

It seems to be nothing but bad news for crude oil, from processing to transport. Two weeks ago, a damaged tar sands pipeline owned by Sunoco spilled 20,000 gallons of crude oil into Ohio’s Glen Oak Nature Preserve.

The Federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has admitted that they don’t have the resources needed to enforce standards on pipelines. Thus, corporations are responsible for routes and safety monitoring. Well, I for one am totally comfortable trusting that a large corporation isn’t going to cut corners… (sarcasm). If you would like to see stats, Kiley Kroh from ThinkProgress states,

According to an analysis of PHMSA data, since 1986 there have been nearly 8,000 significant pipeline incidents, resulting in more than 500 deaths, more than 2,300 injuries, and nearly $7 billion in damage.

Safe tar sands? Safe pipelines anyone?

Sources:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/03/25/294454330/bp-says-oil-spill-in-lake-michigan-has-been-contained

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-bp-whiting-crude-oil-lake-michigan-spill-20140325,0,3069441.story

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/03/25/3418808/oil-leaks-lake-michigan/

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/03/25/3418592/pipeline-spill-ohio/

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/25/refinery-operations-bp-whiting-idUSL1N0MM0RQ20140325

http://ecowatch.com/2014/03/19/pipeline-spills-crude-oil-ohio/

http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2014/03/estimate_of_lake_michigan_oil.html

Disaster after Disaster: Why I Can’t Trust the Fossil Fuel Industry

Fracking

Fire rages at a well in Bobtown, PA

The topic of fossil fuel extraction is a difficult one. On one hand, we want to be as far from the site of extraction as possible. We want to avoid the smells, noise, sights, and potential toxicity of a industry that seems to roll out disaster after disaster. At the same time, we demand consistent access to these sources of fuel and are sometimes forced to rely on them despite any ethical objections. Furthermore, while most communities do not enjoy being near areas of fossil fuel development, it is hard for them to say no due to some of the short-term economic benefits for many residents. For example, in my current research in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, one of the nation’s most active unconventional gas developments, residents have found new employment and income opportunities, especially those who have leased their mineral rights. People have used these funds to upgrade their farms, send children to college, and save for their future. While they might not be thrilled about some of the impacts of hydraulic fracturing, it is hard to criticize them, especially if they previously were not affluent.

The term NIMBY, or “Not-in-my back yard”, was supposedly coined in the 1980s by British politician Nicholas Ridley (Nimbywars.com). Since then, natural resource researchers have begun using the term and developing theories, such as NIMBY syndrome, which refers to the, “[P]rotectionist attitudes of and oppositional tactics adopted by community groups facing an unwanted development in their neighborhood” (Dear 2007, p. 288). Even renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, bring up NIMBY concerns. Citizens have complained about the noise and obstructive view of wind turbines, as well as bat and bird mortality. While there definitely is a need to continue developing better renewable energy sources, we currently live in a world dominated by fossil fuels and will for at least the next couple of decades. Despite some benefits we experience from such development, it seems like the fossil fuel industry has evoked disaster after disaster, which is why I as well, wouldn’t want them in my backyard. Although some technologies, such as hydraulic fracturing, can theoretically have little impact, at least on the surface, mistakes and malfunctions inevitably occur. Now I will share a few recent examples of why fossil fuels have me sweating and hoping that they will stay as far away from my community as possible:

Earlier this year, a natural gas well exploded in the sleepy community of Bobtown, PA. It burned for 5 days released thick fumes and smoke into the air. The well operator Chevron’s response? Free pizza and pop!

In that same month (February) of this year, a large dike failure in North Carolina led to a massive coal ash spill, resulting in many concerning environmental impacts. Just this past week, reports have come out that the company, Duke Energy, was caught on camera intentionally spilling coal ash into nearby streams.

And of course, who could forget this year’s coal-related chemical spill in West Virginia, leaving nine counties without tap water.

Finally, the battle over the aftermath of the 2010 Kalamazoo river spill in my home state of Michigan, the largest inland oil spill in US history, continues. All in the light of proposed construction of more pipelines in both Michigan and across the United States, as well as shipping tar sands across Lake Superior, which I discussed in a post last year.

Obviously, there is a serious ethical issue here. That being how could I expect not to be impacted by fossil fuel development when I use them, thus impacting others. This is an important question to ask on both an individual and societal level, but is a complex question for another time. That being said, don’t forget to think about it, especially when you are reminded of tragedies similar to those above or just the everyday burdens of those experiencing, willingly or unwillingly, fossil fuel development in their communities.

Related Posts:

https://urbanhermits.wordpress.com/2013/06/12/quick-hits-alberta-tarsands-update/

https://urbanhermits.wordpress.com/2013/07/25/nimby-canadian-pet-coke-in-detroit/

http://www.freep.com/article/20130624/NEWS06/306240014/

Sources:

Dear, M. (1992). Understanding and Overcoming the NIMBY Syndrome. Journal of the American Planning Association, 58(3), 288–300. doi:10.1080/01944369208975808

http://www.weather.com/news/science/environment/chevron-explosion-pizza-offered-20140219

http://nimbywars.com/what-is-a-nimby

http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-coal-ash-cape-fear-river-20140316,0,7688341.story?page=1#axzz2wfM3UEdo

http://newday.blogs.cnn.com/2014/01/10/west-virginia-chemical-spill-contaminates-water-in-9-counties/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/22/coal-ash-spill_n_4837998.html

http://www.freep.com/article/20130623/NEWS06/306230059/Kalamazoo-River-oil-spill

Image: http://www.wpxi.com/videos/news/raw-chopper-11-over-scene-of-gas-well-fire-in/vCQhNL/

Your Warming World – Climate Change Map

New Scientist’s Your Warming World uses data from NASA’s surface temperature analysis to illustrate climate change around the globe. Explore where you live to see the pattern and compare it to the overall global analysis. You can also compare the shift in temperature to other time periods of a 20-year duration at the same location. Most importantly, make a point of sharing this map with any climate change denying friends and family. This is a great tool to visualize abstract statistics!

Source: New Scientist, Your Warming World