25 signs that you were a conservation child of the 90’s

The 90’s were a big decade for the environmental movement. The media landscape was filled with environmentally-themed programming. Major laws in the US and internationally were passed to protect the planet. Formative events galvanized, diversified, and sometimes radicalized the conservation community. And, like many other of our generation, we came of age right in the middle of it.

Here are 25 signs that your laid the foundation for your environmental ethic squarely in the 1990’s. Happy Holidays from Southern Fried Science.

1. Captain Planet taught us that “The Power is Yours!”


You knew this would be on the list, so let’s get it out of the way. Moving on.

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State of the Field: Pay for that Particulate!

What are the true costs of power? photo by author

Ever wonder why coal-fired power is so much cheaper than the alternatives? Coal-producing communities aren’t paid for their personal health impacts, the environment is not paid for streams turned acid, and mountains are not paid for their removal. More subtle costs are also passed on: rising rates of asthma from particulates in the air, introduction of malaria into previously unaffected areas from a warming world, and the relocation of whole countries due to sea level rise.

Pollution is a classic example of an economic externality – companies choosing not to sequester chemicals in their effluent pass the cost of pollution and remediation on to those downstream. Therefore the cost of production signaled by price does not represent the true cost of production. The contradiction is deeper, however, and forms one of the main critiques of capitalism – the “second contradiction of capitalism”. Capitalism relies on the continual growth of the market, costs determined by the raw material and labor inputs. However, these costs assume limitless availability of what Marx calls “conditions of production” – the infrastructure and environmental services that are required for production. These, however, are not limitless and therefore not cost-free. Rising costs will eventually outpace price and production will therefore cease (O’Connor 1998). Read More

Ethical Debate: Clean Energy and the State of the Union

I’ve been critical of President Obama’s policies concerning science, technology and education in the past. I think he uses a lot of great-sounding rhetoric, but I have yet to see very much in the way of actual results. Despite lofty promises about climate change, we remain without a cap-and-trade system or any sort of meaningful response plan. To make things worse, the administration recently fired their primary adviser for climate change policy. Is all hope lost? Perhaps not.

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Grading President Obama on science and conservation

Earlier this week, Dr. M of Deep Sea News evaluated President Obama’s science and conservation policies and awarded him a B-. I gave President Obama a C+ overall after his first 100 days in office, noting that some things haven’t had enough time to be given a fair grade,  and I think things have gotten much worse since then. I was a little shocked at how high this grade was, and I left Dr. M a snarky comment (sorry, Craig).

In the interest of fairness, I wanted to find a way to objectively grade these policies. The best that I can find is the Obameter, run by non-partisan fact checker Politifact. Basically, they record every promise that President Obama made during the campaign and since he’s become President, and they keep track of how each is progressing. Each is rated “promise kept”, “compromise” (something similar happened though not exactly what was promised), “in the works” (not done yet but actively being worked on), “stalled” (no work being done but it may happen at some point), and “promise broken”.

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An open letter about climate change to soon-to-be Speaker John Boehner

Dear Representative Boehner,

Congratulations on your party’s recent election victories. Your speech at the end of the night was particularly touching, and your personal story is inspirational. The election results do seem to signify that many Americans are not happy with how the Democratic party has been running Washington, and some change will likely be good for the country. As a scientist, however, I am deeply troubled by some of what I’m hearing about the new Republican House majority, particularly about global climate change policy.

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