Newspaper Windmills

Windmill, Jalubí, Czech Republic on Flickr The Commons

No amount of sarcasm about “garden-variety” environmentalists from the editorial board of The Oklahoman will diminish the basic fact that global warming is real and that the planet is heading toward a catastrophe because of it.

The newspaper recently published an editorial that made fun of people concerned about the environment while celebrating the use of natural gas to produce electricity. The snarky piece begins like this:

Pity the plight of the garden-variety environmentalist. He loathes coal because it’s dirty. He’s uncomfortable with nuclear power even though it’s far cleaner than coal. And he can barely tolerate natural gas because, well, it’s a fossil fuel.

Oh, a faux pity party. I want to go. Can I bring a friend? I’m unsure how exactly “garden-variety” is supposed to be read here. Of course, it means commonplace, but I guess it’s also meant to be pejorative in some way. Still, it’s confusing. Note the gender bias as well as in “he loathes” and “he’s uncomfortable.” I guess women don’t care about the environment or the editorial writer needs some training when it comes to gender issues in writing. The overall generalization in the paragraph screams out the writing here is sophomoric and not to be trusted.

Maybe this is too much nitpicking for another goofy editorial in The Oklahoman, but the commentary was published right before it was announced that a new scientific paper shows global warming accelerated by carbon emissions is leading to a catastrophic rise in sea levels. The contrast between the two could not be greater. One mocks people and the science in which they believe. The other is a scientific approach to one of the most important issues of our time.

The paper, which was written by prominent climatologist Dr. James Hansen and several co-authors, argues that a temperature rise of 2 degree Celsius over the next 50 years could lead to sea levels ten-feet higher than they now exist because the added heat will melt ice sheets on the planet.

The paper seems unnecessarily alarmist to some people, according to media reports, but the fact remains that carbon emissions have led to a rise in greenhouse gases. This melts ice sheets on the planet and leads to rising sea levels. If the planet’s inhabitants don’t take any corrective action, the outcome could be devastating.

According to a media report about the paper, Hansen and his coauthors write, "We conclude that continued high [carbon] emissions will make multi-meter sea level rise practically unavoidable and likely to occur this century. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea level rise could be devastating." Imagine entire coastal communities wiped out.

Meanwhile, The Oklahoman is cheering on the fossil fuel industry. It’s one dying industry cheering on another dying industry.

Developing renewal energy sources, such as solar and wind power, with a limited environmental impact is the primary solution to the planet’s crisis. Obviously, fossil fuels, including natural gas used in power plants, are still vital and will remain so for decades, but in the larger picture they need to be replaced.

The hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, boom in Oklahoma and in other areas of the country has also brought with it a host of environmental problems, such as water contamination and earthquakes. Oklahoma, in particular, has been shaken relentlessly over the last few years by earthquakes scientists claim are caused by wastewater injection wells used in the fracking process. The state now leads the contiguous United States in the number of earthquakes of 3.0-magnitude or above.

The 5.6-magnitude 2011 earthquake near Prague caused significant damage, and many property owners are concerned about the impact on their homes and buildings from the almost daily earthquakes the state now experiences. On Monday, 4.4-magnitude and 4.0 magnitude quakes rattled north-central Oklahoma near Cherokee. The Stillwater City Council has even passed new regulations about setbacks and noise levels of fracking operations in its jurisdiction.

While all this is going on, The Oklahoman chooses the snarky road while lauding the energy industry. It should be noted Philip Anschutz, the Colorado billionaire who made his money in the drilling business, currently owns the paper. But the newspaper business is in serious decline. How long before he sells it or the newspaper stops publishing a hard copy, another waste of the planet’s resources? Obviously, the newspaper intentionally alienates many potential “garden-variety” readers.

After outlining the ways in which natural gas is leading to a decline in coal use, the editorial ends with a reference to the novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes:

Most of these aren’t on the agenda of our garden-variety environmentalist. Let him tilt at his windmills. We’ll celebrate the gas milestone.

This is what passes for reasoned, compensated written insight in Oklahoma these days. The newspaper’s executives want us to read this and think it’s wise and pertinent commentary and then subscribe to its dying, sometimes offensive and narrow-minded publication. The editorial is simply silly, although we could use more windmills (i.e., wind turbines) these days.

We actually don’t need The Oklahoman in its present form anymore. It’s counter productive for an informed local culture. We DO need to become better stewards of our planet and less worried about lining the pockets of rich oil and gas executives here. That’s not fighting imaginary enemies. It’s just common sense.

Stillwater Takes Action

Fracking Rig on Flickr The Commons

The Stillwater City Council unanimously approved new regulations Monday protecting its citizens from the residual effect of oil and gas drilling in its jurisdiction.

Guess what? The oil and gas industry doesn’t like it.

But here’s the dilemma: The hydraulic fracturing or fracking boom in this country has raised both quality of life and environmental issues, ranging from loud operational noise levels to more significant issues, such as a dramatic surge in earthquakes. People in local communities, such as Stillwater, are starting to speak up and take action.

Last year, for example, voters in Denton, TX actually approved an outright ban on fracking in its city limits. When a city in Texas bans oil and gas activity, the issue takes on powerful significance in our culture.

The Stillwater City Council voted Monday to regulate noise levels and establish appropriate distances between homes and buildings from oil and gas operations. In response to the new ordinance, an official with the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association said, “It’s essentially a ban.”

Under a Senate bill passed by the Oklahoma Legislature last session, cities are forbidden to ban oil and gas operations in their jurisdiction, but they can regulate certain elements of the process. Thus, the action in Stillwater Monday could generate a legal showdown of some manner. The Senate bill establishes the Oklahoma Corporation Commission as the main regulating body for the oil and gas industry in the state.

Other municipalities in the state will almost certainly carefully scrutinize the backlash of Stillwater’s action.

Conservative legislators here find themselves in the difficult position of wanting to “drill, baby, drill” to create American energy independence while denying people local control over their communities. Local control is often touted as a bedrock conservative principle. This contradiction, along with the surge of earthquakes here, as I’ve written before, has the potential to become an important political issue in the 2016 general election.

The obvious question is why the oil and gas industry won’t just limit drilling operations to less sparsely populated areas and avoid this type of political friction. The obvious answer is probably that it simply doesn’t matter to the industry, which has a powerful political lobby and undoubtedly has enough money to proceed with legal actions.

In other news, dangerously high levels of radiation have been found in a creek in Pennsylvania, and one university biologist said, “It's highly suggestive that it may be due to drilling operations, or at least the wastewater.” The oil and gas industry has denied it. The creek leads into a river, which is used for an area water supply. Eventually, the tainted water could even make it into the Pittsburgh water supply, according to a media report.

In Oklahoma, meanwhile, earthquakes that scientists have attributed to wastewater injection wells used in the fracking process continue to rumble the state. A 4.4-magnitude earthquake followed shortly afterwards by a 4.0-magnitude temblor struck near Cherokee in northern Oklahoma Monday.

The growing surge of earthquakes in Oklahoma has become a major crisis. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission, according to media reports, just recently expanded the number of injection wells by more than 200 that face new restrictions.

But is it enough? Many people concerned about their homes and property don’t think so. It’s time to speak up. The Stillwater City Council has fortunately helped to accelerate the debate.

Lankford Misses Mark In Planned Parenthood Speech

Lab Panorama on Flickr The Commons

Our junior Oklahoma U.S. Senator James Lankford spoke on the Senate floor last Thursday about a sting video showing a Planned Parenthood executive supposedly talking rather bluntly about using aborted fetuses for medical research.

Obviously, Lankford, a Southern Baptist who is a social conservative in red-state Oklahoma, opposes abortion and gave a rather dramatic speech on the issue, mentioning proudly in a news release, “At the time of the speech, Lankford was the only Senator to speak on the floor about the Planned Parenthood video.”

But the video itself has come under fire for distortion with cherry-picked editing and slicing, though the organization has now released the entire video. No matter what you might think about the use of fetal tissue for research, it’s simply not right for a politically oriented organization to send undercover operatives to produce a video or story that obviously aims to support their agenda. This is unethical at worst, and at the very least, it’s not valuable for presenting an unbiased view of any political issue.

Let me present a quick overview of what happened, and then parse through a couple of Lankford’s statements in his speech that ignore how the video was produced and the agenda behind it.

In 2014, the group Center for Medical Progress sent people who have been called “actors” to have lunch with a Planned Parenthood executive in charge of medical research. This month they released a video showing the executive talking about selling fetal tissue for important stem cell research. Apparently, the Center for Medical Progress is linked to the anti-abortion group Live Action, according to media reports, and may have misled the public and the Internal Revenue Service about their agenda.

In addition, the supposedly smoking-gun video is really just a rehash of what’s been going on for years in medical research. The video has been in the news for a while, and it follows a familiar right-wing and corporate media pattern. The right-wing releases a sting video or makes an outrageous claim with scant evidence or condemns someone or some political position with a distorted take on some information. The media reports it in breathless, sensational fashion, ignoring the political context at first. Right-wing outrage ensues. The claim is then discredited or placed into appropriate context, but no one remembers the credibility problem and most right-wingers intentionally just accept the deception for what they might perceive as larger reasons.

Here’s a short rundown of links on the “hitjob,” which has raised the usual questions about veracity and intent. The mainstream media has begun to pick up on the credibility issue.

The two main points here are that (1) Planned Parenthood, a non-profit organization, is definitely NOT “selling” fetal body parts, which seems to be the initial video’s point, but is merely recovering minor costs for preserving and transporting tissue to medical research facilities, and (2) as a NBC report on the issue points out, “Cells from embryos and very early fetuses have properties that fully developed cells do not. What most researchers are after if they use fetal tissue are the stem cells.”

Again, stem cell research has raised questions of medical ethics, which should be constantly debated in our culture, but that doesn’t make it a Planned Parenthood issue. It’s a larger issue. Abortion is legal in this country. Stem cells from fetal tissue and embryos can be used to develop medical treatments that save and extend lives. The issues scrutinized through the lens of medical ethics are ever-changing because of scientific advancements. The initial anti-abortion sting video, as far as I can tell, doesn’t engage these obvious points in any meaningful, unbiased way. It only sensationalizes stem cell research to stir up emotional reaction.

But the video was enough for Lankford to go on the Senate floor and deliver a speech condemning Planned Parenthood, which is often a target of religious fundamentalists and their political supporters. It’s no surprise that Lankford did this, but it lacks the type of basic leadership for which he gets lauded on The Oklahoman editorial page. Here’s what the newspaper recently had to say about Lankford:

Oklahomans can rest assured that their freshman U.S. senator is staying on top of it and, where possible, working to make a positive difference.

One could argue that Lankford’s position on abortion is shared by many of his constituents, but it’s hardly a “positive difference” to waste time on the Senate floor on information produced under suspect circumstances by a group with a political agenda. That’s not “staying on top of it . . .”. That’s simply crass politics.

Here’s a transcript of the speech posted on Lankford’s Senate site. I will look at two paragraphs in the speech. The first one argues the “bodies” of “aborted children” are “sometimes for sale.” Here it is:

We learned that this week an organization called Planned Parenthood is using children that are aborted and sending the bodies of those aborted children to research facilities, sometimes for sale, different body parts, to be used in research. These are not mice, these are not lab rats, these are children. Children that have gone through the process of a horrific abortion.

Everyone knows about Planned Parenthood. To say, “ . . . an organization called Planned Parenthood,” is to imply it’s new or not credible in a historical sense, and, as he goes on, doing something very sinister. Planned Parenthood dates back to 1916. He says “the bodies” and “different body parts” without mentioning once that it’s really about tissue for stem cell research. He argues these “bodies” are “sometimes for sale,” but that’s a distortion. Medical research costs money in terms of preservation of specimens and transportation. Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit organization, is merely recovering costs. His entire language in the paragraph is to elicit an emotional reaction, which riles up his angry base of voters but isn’t a truthful and thoughtful expression on the issue.

Here’s another paragraph I found especially misleading:

Why this Congress would spend time today debating horse slaughter and debating orca whales, but yet we've become so numb to children that the other debate doesn't seem to come up. Maybe we need to start again as a nation, asking a basic question. If that's a child, and in our Declaration [of Independence] we said every person that we believe is endowed by our Creator to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, maybe we need to ask as a nation again, do we really believe that?

There are two major fallacies here. One is changing the argument from the issue of stem cell research and even the video itself to the ethics of animal treatment. Does anyone reading this think this country and its politicians haven’t debated the abortion issue, which is what this is about? A person can be against abortion and also support animal rights and the environment. The second one is using a tired overarching trope of a founding national document that has absolutely nothing to do with the issue under discussion. It’s crass political rhetoric.

In the end, the sting video and Lankford’s speech don’t add up to much. They’re both simply tricks trying to sway people to be against reproductive rights for women. There’s more at stake here than just a woman’s right to choose. It’s about the continued Republican agenda to control women’s bodies.

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