Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tiger Woods and the Secretary of the Interior

Copenhagen is now "Hotter than Tiger Woods" according to the official COP15 site (in terms of Google searches! There is hope in terms of people understanding priorities.

The U.S. center was busy today. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar spoke on the role of public lands in clean energy production and carbon capture. He started out with some very personal reflections on his family's connection to the land (over 400 years worth) and discussed the changes we are already seeing in the U.S. He spoke of the disappearing glaciers in Glacier National Park (gone by 2020) and the fact that the country's first wildlife refuge (Pelican Island, 1903) could go completely under water.

[A historical note: At the urging of a local citizen--a Mr. Kroegel, the Florida Audubon Society, and the American Ornithologists' Union, President Roosevelt created this premiere refuge largely because of the Pelicans, but it is a fantastic place for all sorts of bird species.}

Ironically, as Secretary Salazar continued, he spoke of the great value of wind farming -- both in the Great Plains and off the Atlantic Coast. [DH commentary here: This is a hot button topic amongst birders today, although they often forget the impact that fossil fuel-based energy sources have had on bird species (land disturbance, oil spills, air pollution, and climate change)...Wind will be part of our future so appropriate siting of turbines will be critical in terms of the impact on birds. The Great Plains may be avery important site with minimal avian consequences. However, considering the importance of the Atlantic Flyway and the Kittatinny Ridge for bird migration, these may not be wise choices.]

Anyway, Secretary Salazar described many positive initiatives within the Obama administration including an emphasis on biological carbon capture on public lands and careful control of development in critical areas where soil can play and important role in carbon capture. One of the most encouraging comments was about the new emphasis on environmental impact studies and he stated that it is best to "try to avoid practices that later require ecological restoration".

When it came time for public (i.e. not the press) questions, however, his answers about energy explorations in Alaska against the wishes of tribal peoples, the future of coal in our country and the continued investment in highway infrastructure, were--well--disappointing. For example, the only issue mentioned about coal was that it is not clean burning and that we can come up with innovative solutions to this. So much for the representative from Kentucky who was concerned about what coal has down environmentally and economically to Appalachia.

In the adjacent space to this talk, about 100 people were watching large screens because of a live broadcast of President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.

Now I am off to a session on the future in algae in this whole story of adaptation and mitigation. As someone who had done research on algae since graduate school, I have to attend this session! Others in the group will be hearing Bill McKibben this afternoon.


  1. As the delegate from Kentucky who asked that question today, I thank you for sharing my frustration with the answer given. Instead of being excited that my question was addressed, I feel let down that once again the federal government has written off Appalachia by basically saying that the area will forever be bound by dirty energy and will not be included in the future national renewable resource projects.
    Lauralee Crain
    Sierra Student Coalition.

  2. Lauralee,
    I was very disappointed. PA is a coal-intensive state and even many of the so-called environmental advocacy groups are not raising the concerns that they should be. We have a lot of environmental damage from coal mining and burning but no where near the damage in W. Virginia on down to KY.
    We showed the new documentary Coal Country in our Climate Crises course and students were shocked at the mountaintop removal and health issues. Kathy Mattea is supposed to come to our campus in the spring to share her perspectives as well. But all of this is, of course, controversials in our area.
    I am deeply troubled that despite a sad history, coal will continue to play a predominant role in the energy policy of the U.S. and many other countries. And perhaps worst of all are the social justice issues. Keep asking the important questions and connecting with others who do care.

  3. Interestingly, one of the first conversations that I had with someone in Copenhagen was related to Appalachia. On the bus ride into the Bella Center a gentleman was explaining that his group is focused on solution that involves extracting a different natural resource from Appalachia that is much more efficient and cleaner than coal.

    That may be the case, but I have to question what the impacts would be on the local regions. In another blog someone made the comment about how policy should be driven by people within the communities rather than people "in suits". Hopefully enough conversations like this will someday turn into action.