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March 19, 2010

Preserving Planet Earth

(Photo by Robin Holland)

This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with famed scientist Jane Goodall, best known for her groundbreaking work with Chimpanzees in Tanzania.

For the past two decades, Goodall has devoted much of her time to environmental advocacy, convincing audiences that saving the wilderness and wild creatures needs to be a priority for all of us, and that individual citizens can make a profound difference. She told Moyers:

"There have been extinctions. The dinosaurs are thought to have been [because of] a meteorite or something. And there've been gradual extinctions, because there have been fluctuations in climate that changes ecosystems and habitats. But since the industrial revolution, our human impact on the planet - our greenhouse gas emissions, our reckless damage to the natural world, the continual growth of our populations, have had a tremendously damaging effect... Wouldn't it be easy just to say, 'Well, it's a trend and it's just happening. The pendulum is swinging. We just better sit back and let it swing. And maybe one day it'll swing back.' If everybody stopped, [if] everybody gave up, then I wouldn't like to think of the world that my great-great-grandchildren would be born into."

What do you think?

How are you and your community helping to preserve the environment?


February 12, 2010

Michael Winship: From the Annals of Sno-Cone Science

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

"From the Annals of Sno-Cone Science"
By Michael Winship

There's a vintage Bob and Ray radio sketch in which Bob plays "Mr. Science," a parody of TV's "Mr. Wizard." He's trying to explain to his young protégé Sandy "the miracle of gas refrigeration."

"Doesn't it seem paradoxical to you that a refrigerator is made cold by a flame?" Mr. Science asks.

Sandy exclaims, "Holy cats! Wait 'til I tell the gang at school that! I thought it was made cold by the ice cubes, Mr. Science!"

Sandy's slippery grasp of physics and Mr. Science's increasingly convoluted explanations characterize the debate over climate change that was taking place in Washington and the media this week. As the capital and much of the Eastern seaboard were digging themselves out from two big snow events, climate change deniers were pointing to the frozen tundra on the Potomac as evidence that global warming is a fraud.

Virginia's Republican Party used the blizzards to put out a snarky ad attacking two of the state's Democratic congressmen who voted for the cap-and-trade bill last year: "Tell them how much global warming you get this weekend," the spot chortled. "Maybe they'll come help you shovel."

Continue reading "Michael Winship: From the Annals of Sno-Cone Science" »


January 22, 2010

Powering America's Future

(Photos by Robin Holland)

In this week's JOURNAL, Bill Moyers talked with policy analysts Jean Johnson and Scott Bittle about how America's energy policy should change to reflect 21st century realities.

Jean Johnson suggested that America's current dependence on oil is untenable even if one thinks the threat of global warming is exaggerated:

"In China, until recently, not that many people had a private car. If the Chinese will begin to own cars the way we do, it would put a billion cars on the planet. So if you're worried about global warming, you have to think about that. And even if you're not, you have to think about a billion Chinese drivers competing with Americans, competing with the Europeans, competing with the Indians for the oil that we can manage to get out of the ground and transmit it around the world. It is not going to be good for the price or the reliability of energy here. We are heavily dependent - about 80% of our energy comes from fossil fuels... There's only so much of it, it's expensive to get, and it's not going to be here forever. We need to get started on the alternatives."

Scott Bittle argued that the energy debate has been too arcane for ordinary citizens to follow and laid out a few basic decisions that must be made:

"One of the ways in which the debate that we're currently having is so unhelpful to most people in that everyone is talking about percentages and numbers. Should we cut greenhouse gases 20 percent or 17 percent? And it makes a huge difference between the two. Should it be based on 1990 or 2005? Should it be 350 parts per million of carbon? No, maybe it's 450 parts per million... And what it comes down to, though, are a few concrete choices. What kind of power plants do we wanna build? And everything branches out from that. What do we put in our cars? Do we wanna stay with a liquid fuel in our cars like gasoline or biofuels or liquefied natural gas?... Or do we move to electricity? In which case we need to build an infrastructure for that. We can do these things as soon as we make the choice for what we want to do."

What do you think?

  • Does America need to wean itself off fossil fuels? If so, what energy source(s) should replace them?

  • How are you working to promote alternative sources of energy in your home, community, and the nation?


  • July 17, 2009

    How Should America Respond to Global Warming?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, environmental advocates Mary Sweeters and Erich Pica joined Bill Moyers to discuss their disappointment with President Obama’s environmental policies and pending congressional legislation intended to address global warming. On June 26th, the House narrowly passed the Waxman-Markey climate bill, collecting crucial votes through extensive negotiation and compromise. The Senate is scheduled to debate its own climate bill in the coming weeks.

    Many environmental groups have endorsed the Waxman-Markey climate bill as an important first step that will hopefully be strengthened over time. The Natural Resources Defense Council, for instance, issued a press release that said:

    “The House of Representatives has made a dramatic breakthrough for America's future by choosing to create jobs, move to clean energy, and reduce global warming pollution. The passage of this legislation, which was almost unimaginable six months ago, will help set our country in a new direction by shifting to a clean energy economy and reducing the carbon pollution that causes global warming... But the work is far from over. Now, the bill will move to the Senate where it needs to be strengthened, so we can reach the full potential of our clean energy future and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”

    Erich Pica listed the reasons why groups like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace oppose the legislation:

    “One, the bill doesn’t reduce global warming emissions in the United States fast enough and the emission reduction targets are just inadequate... Two, it strips away the [Environmental Protection Agency’s] authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, which is a key tool that environmentalists have been using to shut down coal plants. Three, it gives away a tremendous amount of money, hundreds of billions of dollars to the polluting companies that have essentially caused the problem of global warming... Four, and this is kind of overwhelming the entire system, is that it relies on Wall Street to help solve the problem of global warming by allowing them to manage the trading system that’s created underneath this bill... Wall Street is going to work feverishly to erode any of the standards and protections that are put into this bill to prevent Wall Street from gaming the system.”

    Although the NRDC and groups like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace disagree about the Waxman-Markey climate bill, they agree that the United States should forge ahead in passing federal policy to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Others argue that U.S. emissions cuts are not worthwhile unless the rest of the world can commit to doing the same. Writing in the WASHINGTON POST, economics professor Martin Feldstein said that the legislation is “all cost, no benefit:”

    “The proposed legislation would have a trivially small effect on global warming while imposing substantial costs on all American households... Americans should ask themselves whether this annual tax of $1,600-plus per family is justified by the very small resulting decline in global CO2. Since the U.S. share of global CO2 production is now less than 25 percent (and is projected to decline as China and other developing nations grow), a 15 percent fall in U.S. CO2 output would lower global CO2 output by less than 4 percent. Its impact on global warming would be virtually unnoticeable. The U.S. should wait until there is a global agreement on CO2 that includes China and India before committing to costly reductions in the United States... The proposed cap-and-trade system would be a costly policy that would penalize Americans with little effect on global warming.”

    What do you think?

  • Do you support the Waxman-Markey climate bill? Why or why not?

  • How do you think the U.S. should respond to global warming? What measures do you think are politically feasible?


  • May 15, 2009

    How Green is 'Green?'

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    In this week’s JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with Daniel Goleman, author of ECOLOGICAL INTELLIGENCE, about how to find truly eco-friendly goods amongst the sea of products now marketed as ‘green.’

    Moyers said:

    “You write in [your book] that ‘green’ is ‘a mirage,’ that much of what’s touted as ‘green,’ in reality, represents fantasy or simple hype. And here I had been working so hard to develop what THE NEW YORK TIMES calls “the green mind” and support a ‘green economy,’ and you tell me I’ve entered the land of fantasy.”

    Goleman replied:

    “Let me reassure you. Everything that we’ve done that’s ‘green’ is to the good. I recycle my papers and plastics, and I try to get the ‘green’ product. But once you realize, through the lens of the life cycle assessment, that every product has a thousand environmental, health, [and] social impacts, and you see that what we call ‘green’ has taken one slice and improved it, there’s still the 999 other things that we need to get better.”

    What do you think?

  • How much positive impact do you think ‘green’ products have?

  • Are calls for a “green economy” based on “fantasy or simple hype,” or are they realistic? Explain.

    Click here to access goodguide.com, the site Goleman mentioned with more information about products.

    Click here to access Skin Deep, the site Goleman mentioned with more information on harmful chemicals in cosmetics.


  • December 12, 2008

    Guest Blogger: Allen Johnson on Bush's Environmental Policies

    Allen Johnson is coordinator for Christians for the Mountains, an advocacy group that organizes Christians to protect the environment. The organization, which was featured in the 2006 MOYERS ON AMERICA documentary IS GOD GREEN?, has a special focus on the region of southern Appalachia. We'd like to thank Allen Johnson, who previously wrote an update about mountaintop mining, for sharing his thoughts on the Bush administration's recent changes to the nation's environmental regulations.

    Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Allen Johnson are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.
    --------------------------------------------------------------

    A failed Bush administration is firing final salvos from its sinking ship in the form of administrative rules changes, “a thank you” to 8 years of special interest support. One particularly odious ruling revises a Clean Water Act prohibition of mine waste fill within 100 feet of a stream. Not that the prohibition had been enforced. Flagrant violations have buried many hundreds of miles of Appalachian streams in a coal mine extraction process called “Valley Fill.” Simply put, valleys make convenient places to dump waste rock separated from mined coal. But at least the prohibition on stream burial had given environmental groups legitimate ground for lawsuit. Bush’s farewell fiat knocks the legs out of these legal recourses.

    Continue reading "Guest Blogger: Allen Johnson on Bush's Environmental Policies" »


    June 27, 2008

    Policies To Save Our Planet?

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, about her efforts to advance “cap and trade” legislation as a response to climate change.

    “We have to have a bill that gets the job done, that reduces greenhouse gas emissions so that temperatures don’t go up, you know, much above a couple of degrees over time, because if they do we’re in a lot of trouble here... There’s never going to be a good time. This is hard, we have to deal with it, and so we have to act. You cannot hide under the covers and say ‘wake me up when gas prices go under a dollar a gallon and then I’ll bring up global warming legislation’... I believe this can be structured in such a way that it actually brings around an economic renaissance.”

    An article from the WASHINGTON POST highlights some of the challenges the “cap and trade” model has faced since its implementation in Europe and could encounter in the United States.

    “What the snappy name ‘cap and trade’ means is that the market will put a price on something that’s always been free: the right of a factory to emit carbon gases. That could affect the cost of everything from windowpanes to airline tickets to electricity... In some ways, Europe’s program has been a success... in other ways, the approach has been a bureaucratic morass with a host of unexpected and costly side effects and a much smaller effect on carbon emissions than planned...

    One key issue is how to deal with imports from countries that don’t price carbon. A U.S. system that raised costs for U.S. firms would make imported goods, especially from India and China, even more competitive, adding to the trade deficit and possibly driving U.S. companies out of business”

    What do you think?

  • Should the government act on climate change? If so, should it pursue a "cap and trade" policy, or would you suggest alternative legislation?


  • September 21, 2007

    E.O. Wilson on Rachel Carson

    Forty-five years ago next week, the modern environmental movement was launched with the release of Rachel Carson's landmark book SILENT SPRING, amidst fiery controversy that still burns today.

    Check out our pages on Rachel Carson and the DDT controversy and read an excerpt from one of Carson's kindred spirits, noted biologist E.O. Wilson, from his recent afterword to SILENT SPRING:

    Continue reading "E.O. Wilson on Rachel Carson" »


    July 5, 2007

    What Can I Do?

    As this week's story on the Earth Conservation Corps and Bill Moyers' interview with E.O. Wilson both demonstrate, local efforts can make a difference in helping to maintain a healthy and sustainable environment.

    Back in October, when we aired "Is God GREEN?" the MOYERS ON AMERICA special about recent efforts within the evangelical movement to preserve our planet, many viewers wrote in about local environmental successes in their community. Here are just a few excerpts:

    Joan Conley wrote:

    I am very fortunate to live in the city of Syracuse, NY which is right next door to the Onondaga Nation. The Onondagas have a long history of dedication to the land. About a year ago they filed a land rights claim that is not about getting land back or getting money. It is their wish to work with us--their cousins, as they call us, to do a meaningful clean-up of Onondaga Lake, which is said to be the most polluted lake in the US; and also to engage in a real work of stewardship of the land and all of it's creatures. It has been my great privilige to learn about loving the creator through loving creation.

    Jennifer Knott-Kimbrell wrote:

    In Austin, Texas our church held a light bulb exchange. We encouraged members and visitors alike to bring in incandescent bulbs and trade them in for Compact Fluorescent bulbs. Now people want to know things like if the altar candles burning are petroleum-based, or if the insulation in the building is enough. It all starts with one person, one event and goes from there.

    In the spirit of continuing the conversation, we ask you to tell us about environmental programs going on in your city or town, as evidence that little by little, important work is being done to save our planet and its diverse inhabitants. As E.O. Wilson reminds us, we've only discovered 10% of Earth's species. "We live in an unexplored planet." Only concentrated efforts, often starting humbly at the local level, can ensure that there's something left to explore.



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