Llewellyn King: Utopian dreaming and environmental brio

There are hopes that electric-powered airplanes will help advance the move away from carbon-based fuels. Mr. King writes: “Boeing, for one, is working hard on electric airplanes. Electric air taxis are being experimented with in Dubai and about to be tried in Frankfurt.’’

There are hopes that electric-powered airplanes will help advance the move away from carbon-based fuels. Mr. King writes: “Boeing, for one, is working hard on electric airplanes. Electric air taxis are being experimented with in Dubai and about to be tried in Frankfurt.’’

The newly seated Democrats in the House have lessons to learn, but none more than not to tell people what you’re going to take away from them.

That was the great mistake that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made when she laid out her Green New Deal. It sounds like big stick from big government.

She said everything should be done, from rebuilding the entire stock of American housing (which can’t be done) to phasing out air transport (which would never happen) to tackling cow flatulence (which is a smelly challenge). Dreamy nonsense is nonetheless nonsense, and nonetheless has a political price.

It is a bad posture to say to people that you’re going to take things away from them — whether it’s their money in taxes or their way of life — to achieve environmental goals.

The problem with Ocasio-Cortez’s statements is that she’s seen, wrongly, as the new face of the new, far-left Democratic Party. Come the election, Democrats will have to spend time distancing themselves from the Ocasio-Cortez brand of utopian dreaming while capitalizing on their environmental brio.

Foolish extreme suggestions neither woo those who are going to decide the next election nor are they in the dynamic tradition of successful politics. You tell people you are going to fix things, not take them away.

Underlying the Ocasio-Cortez argument, which was codified in a non-binding joint resolution, is the basic idea that the only way to save the planet is to cut all carbon emissions in a very short time and to substitute solar, wind and hydro energy.

Omitted from the statements by Ocasio-Cortez and her Senate collaborator, Edward Markey, D-Mass., is any mention of nuclear, which is still the largest carbon-free source of electricity and hardly scars the face of the earth compared to wind and solar. Maybe that is because Markey has spent his whole career in public life trying to shut down nuclear.

In fact, the environmental movement spent long years fighting nuclear. When I would ask, in conferences in the 1980s, what they would use in lieu of a robust nuclear regime, they would answer coal. But to make it sound environmentally acceptable, they said it should be burned in circulating fluidized bed boilers. These offer some advantage, using limestone to precipitate out sulfate.

Missing from the Green New Deal is any sense of the new, i.e. how technology can help.

Take aircraft. They are in the early stages of development, but an electric airplane is in the sights of the big airframe manufacturers. Boeing, for one, is working hard on electric airplanes. Electric air taxis are being experimented with in Dubai and about to be tried in Frankfurt.

The Green New Deal, which is short on details, only endorses one technology outside of wind and solar: high-speed rail. Unfortunately, Ocasio-Cortez is boosting it at a time when California is drastically cutting back on the U.S. entry into the high-speed rail game. The United States sat that one out, and it may be too late to get into the game.

But there is hope.

The success of Amtrak’s electrified Northeast Corridor points the way: People will use regular trains if they are available and the track is good enough for them to travel at a reasonable speed of about 150 mph. The immediate answer is better track allowing more express trains, like Washington to Boston or Los Angeles to San Francisco without stops.

Nearly all the problems of the climate are amenable to technological solutions. The new fusion of high technology across the board in smart cities will, among other things, reduce the carbon footprint through efficiency and electrified transportation.

Ocasio-Cortez is a fresh voice in the nation: brave and as yet unbeholden to special-interest groups. If she can grasp that we are on the threshold of a brave new world of technology, called the Fourth Industrial Revolution, she’ll see how it can solve many problems, including those it seems to create in climate. Then she’ll have a political product to sell that people will buy.

The one place where technology seems to offer no solutions is with cows and the challenge of Flatulence Arriving Regularly Today (FART).

On Twitter: @llewellynking2
Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. He is based in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

Feb. 20 PCFR speaker to look at U.S. challenges in the warming Arctic

The dots identify human population centers in and around the Arctic.

The dots identify human population centers in and around the Arctic.

The speaker at the Feb. 20 dinner meeting of the Providence Committee on Foreign Relations  (thepcfr.org) will be Prof. Walter Berbrick, founding director of the Arctic Studies Group at the U.S. Naval War College. He'll talk about future U.S. policies and programs for that region, which is increasingly affected by great power politics.

For more information and to sign up, please hit this link.

A cozy sport for a region with strenuous winters

Candlepin bowling alley in Woburn, Mass.

Candlepin bowling alley in Woburn, Mass.

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com

Bowling, and especially candlepin bowling, used to be very popular in New England but has been in a decline since its heyday in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Tough to compete with the Internet….

It’s easy to play, and of course it’s played inside -- a big attraction considering New England’s climate. For some reason candlepin, not tenpin bowling, became dominant in our region. And there once were many bowling leagues, for adults and kids. And you’d have to have been a world-historical klutz not to win some sort of trophy in your youth bowling career. This is not a scary sport. A pulled muscle, or dropping a ball on a foot, are the greatest dangers. Good physical condition is not a prerequisite.

Besides the bowling itself, snacks and beverages (including beer in some bowling allies) have almost always been served in these establishments, and some have had such additional attractions as pinball machines. I still remember the scent of popcorn, hot dogs, beer, cigarette smoke, floor wax, rental shoes and maybe a little sweat in these businesses, which pushed up like mushrooms in shady wet earth in the suburbanization of the ‘50s.

Elizabeth McCracken’s Feb. 5 piece in Slate, “In Praise of Real Bowling: I grew up playing …candlepin bowling. This New England variant is harder than tenpin bowling, and it’s better, too’’ reminded me of how popular this inexpensive recreation used to be, in some small towns operating almost as unofficial town halls. Local politicians would cruise them to chat up voters.

Her piece reminded me of Robert D. Putnam’s famous 2000 book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, about the fact that many people have become disconnected from their families and neighbors since the ‘60s. It’s worse now, whatever the promotions of social-media companies. You can see signs of it in the opioid-addiction epidemic and even some election results in what sometimes seems the United States of Anomie.

To read Ms. McCracken’s piece, please hit this link.

A four-lane candlepin alley in    Windsor, V   t., around 1910.

A four-lane candlepin alley in Windsor, Vt., around 1910.


Eversource and Orsted to partner in 2 offshore wind projects

500px-Alpha_Ventus_Windmills.JPG

From The New England Council (newenglandcouncil.com):

Eversource and Ørsted have announced a partnership in two offshore wind projects off the coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. This partnership marks Eversource’s entrance into offshore wind energy.

Eversource is purchasing a 50 percent stake in two projects being developed by Ørsted — the Revolution Wind and South Fork Wind Farm. In addition to the wind projects themselves, the wind-power industry and state governments have committed to investing in the State Pier in New London, Conn., which will be used as a transit point for turbines and parts. The Revolution Wind partnership will deliver enough energy to power 420,000 homes and businesses in Rhode Island and Connecticut. The South Fork Wind Farm will provide electricity for more than 70,000 homes on eastern Long Island.

Executive Vice President of Enterprise Energy Strategy at Eversource Lee Olivier, commenting on on wind energy, said “We think it’s the future in this region. . . We think when you look at the proximity where much of offshore wind will be developed, it’s a good opportunity to bring the future into New London. It’s a real advantage for developing wind in the Northeast.”

“We are excited to have Eversource join us as we embark on the creation of the strongest U.S. offshore wind platform,” added Thomas Brostrøm, CEO of Ørsted U.S. Offshore Wind and president of Ørsted North America.

The New England Council applauds this new partnership between Eversource and Ørsted, and the impact it will have on expanding access to renewable energy in New England.


Todd McLeish: He caught the bug bug

David Gregg at work.

David Gregg at work.

From ecoRI News (ecori.org)

KINGSTON, R.I.

The artifacts scattered around David Gregg’s office provide a good idea of what he does for a living. Among the items are a crayfish preserved in a jar of alcohol, two coyote skulls, numerous large dead moths awaiting identification in a plastic container, framed invasive insects, a deer head hanging on a wall, illustrations of butterflies, and a foot-long, 8-inch diameter tree stump he quizzes visitors to identify. (Spoiler alert: the stump is bittersweet, an invasive vine that apparently grows much larger than most people think it does.)

Gregg is the executive director of the Rhode Island Natural History Survey, and what he calls his “cabinet of curiosities” represents many of the issues, programs and challenges he regularly addresses as one of the Ocean State’s leading voices for the study and conservation of Rhode Island’s wildlife and other natural resources.

He describes the Natural History Survey as somewhat of a social organization where “people who have been bitten by the bug of natural history” can connect with like-minded individuals.

“There are many ways to discover things about the world around you, but for people who are oriented toward identifying animals and plants and learning about them, the survey is an excuse to get together,” he said. “And that makes it valuable, because otherwise we would never get together and talk about what we know.”

The organization was founded following a 1994 ecological research conference at the University of Rhode Island, when many of those in attendance recognized how productive a gathering it had been and wanted to keep the exchange of information going. Based at URI’s East Farm, the survey is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year with a fall conference on “Climate Change and Rhode Island’s Natural History Future” and monthly citizen science events.

Gregg caught the natural history bug — literally – as a young teenager in Falmouth, Mass., when he tried to capture a butterfly that had landed on his shoe. He had already been somewhat interested in nature, but that moment led him to start a butterfly collection using a net he made out of cheesecloth.

David Gregg has been interested in studying and protecting the natural world since he was a kid. (Courtesy photo)

After collecting as many butterfly species as he could find around town, he switched to moths.

“I got all the colorful moths in my collection, and all the rest were brown and I couldn’t make heads or tails of them,” he recalled. “So then I switched to beetles, then to grasshoppers.”

The lure of insects was their endless variety and interesting physiological adaptations, Gregg said.

But he also had a curiosity about archaeology, and when he was considering a career, archaeology eventually won out. He said archaeology “is about discovering a mystery and finding out what it means. I also liked the outdoors-ness of it, the expedition aspect, the cadre of people thrown together in remote locations and having to stay focused on what they do. It’s the same thing in natural history.”

Gregg ended up earning graduate degrees in archaeology at Oxford University and Brown University, then worked at Brown’s Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology before becoming director of the Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History.

By then he had rekindled his interest in entomology and joined the survey’s board. He accepted the leadership post at the survey in 2004.

He described the job as a balancing act between gathering information about rare and invasive species to support conservationists’ need for scientific information — a mission “that doesn’t pay very well,” he noted — and administering complex ecological monitoring projects involving multiple partners and numerous funding agencies.

“The state can build a highway or an airport, but it can’t do a project with six funders and lots of partners,” Gregg said. “We can do that.”

For instance, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management used federal money to hire the survey to implement a project to assess the health of salt marshes and freshwater wetlands around the state. The survey is also leading a coyote-ecology research project with numerous partners and funding from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

“These are the kind of projects that wouldn’t get done unless we did them,” Gregg said. “These are the projects that are every other organization’s fourth priority.”

Along the way, Gregg still finds time for insects. He has shifted his attention during the past two years to ants, as a leader of a statewide effort to document all of the species of ants found in Rhode Island.

“I’ve been working on moths since I was 14, and I think I have a better understanding of ants after two years than I do of moths after 40,” he said.

In the coming year or two, Gregg’s focus at the survey will be on the establishment of a new database of everything known about the biodiversity of Rhode Island, preparing an updated publication of the state’s vascular plants, and ensuring the group’s finances are stable.

But his favorite activity is the survey’s annual BioBlitz, which brings together as many as 200 biologists, naturalists, and volunteers for a 24-hour period to document every living organism at a particular property. This year’s event is a return to Roger Williams Park, where the first BioBlitz was held 20 years ago.

“BioBlitz is an expedition to discover things in a particular place, and you bring together people with all of the different skills and talents you need to look at all of the different aspects,” Gregg said. “But they’re not just random people. They’re really nice people having a great time because this is what they love. BioBlitz is social — it’s not just science — and that’s the key. You get to meet people that can show you the cool things you don’t notice the rest of the year.”

Todd McLeish is an ecoRI News contributor.

'Mellow and mature'

Park Street, Boston, looking toward the State House.

Park Street, Boston, looking toward the State House.

"Boston does not represent the quintessential excellence of all the world's cities synthesized into a paradigm of urban beauty and virtue, but it is a place at once characteristic, mellow and mature, and possessed of many qualities not entirely divorced from charm."

— Lucius Beebe (1902-1966), historian, columnist, travel writer, gourmand and inventor of the phrase “Cafe Society.’’ He was a native of Wakefield, Mass., where his remains are buried, but made his national name as a journalist in New York City and California. He became America’s most famous railroad expert/writer.

Vermont finding it tough to meet green goals

Here, in Vernon, on the Connecticut River, is the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, which was shut down in 2014. Vermont had for many years the highest rate of nuclear-generated electric power in America — at almost 75 percent. Vermont is one of only two states with no    coal-fired power plants   .

Here, in Vernon, on the Connecticut River, is the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, which was shut down in 2014. Vermont had for many years the highest rate of nuclear-generated electric power in America — at almost 75 percent. Vermont is one of only two states with no coal-fired power plants.

From Robert Whitcomb’s “DIgital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com

A Jan. 28 story in The Boston Globe, “In Vermont, a progressive haven, emissions spike forces officials to consider drastic action,’’ contained some irony: The Green Mountain State, long associated with environmentalism and progressive politics in general, has failed by a long shot to meet its stated aims of slashing carbon emissions. Indeed, these emissions have risen 16 percent from 1990!

Part of the challenge is the high percentage of ownership of aging, energy-inefficient pickup trucks, which, as in many mostly rural states, are sort of the official state vehicle. Further, cheap gasoline during the past few years has encouraged even more driving in a state whose residents are accustomed to traveling long distances every day.

Another problem in the heavily forested state is the heavy use of wood as fuel for heating. You can see smog in some river valleys from the many wood stores and furnaces. (I remember back when I lived in the Upper Connecticut Valley in the late ‘60s that wood (a carbon-based fuel!) was promoted as the wonderfully natural way to help wean ourselves off that nasty Arab oil.)

And while transportation is the largest single source of emissions – 43 percent – the closing of Vermont’s only nuclear-power, in 2014, made the state more dependent on fossil-fuel power plants. Global warming may make promoting nuclear power easier.

The administration of Gov. Phil Scott, a moderate Republican whom I’ve met and like, has come up with a detailed program to cut admissions, which includes, The Globe reports:

“{P}rograms to help improve energy efficiency in homes, financial incentives for electric vehicles, and protections for the state’s forests, which are in decline for the first time in a century.’’

In any event, it will take a long time for The Green Mountain State to get as
“green’’ as the rest of the country might think it is.

To read The Globe’s story, please hit this link.



'Go play'

Cellar hole in Dana, Mass.

Cellar hole in Dana, Mass.

“Here's the fallen-in deer stand
and the apple tree among maples making fruit for deer.
Outside the woods, the puff of dust on the road
where the school bus used to stop.
Outside is the failure to stay in touch
or, really, to ever be in touch. I didn't
ever know them (my neighbors) well.
In winter you are handed a white tray
with a few tiny rock walls, short lines drawn with a ruler,
an indent for where a cellar hole could be
a hyperlink to once go once more to the lake
and told to go at it, go play. ‘‘

— From “Deconstructing New England,’’ by Alexandria Peary, New Hampshire-based poet. Her parents owned a country store in central Maine.


Frank Carini: Some property owners battle bikes in downtown Providence

Kennedy Plaza    — Photo by Joanna Detz/eco RI News

Kennedy Plaza

— Photo by Joanna Detz/eco RI News

From ecoRI News (ecori.org)

PROVIDENCE

A group of downtown property owners has gone to court to halt a series of city and state projects designed to, among other things, improve bus service, including changing traffic patterns and making Washington Street open to buses only.

Kathleen Gannon, vice chair of the Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition’s board of directors, said the Providence-based advocacy group is also alarmed by the lawsuit’s contention that “increased bicycle traffic” will be a negative byproduct of the plaza’s redesign.

“Bringing more bicycles to the center of Providence is a good thing,” she said. “We believe that diversifying transportation modes in the city and increased bicycle use benefits all residents. Further, it is self-serving and backward looking to attempt to thwart an effort to improve the city’s transportation infrastructure.”

Fellow Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition board member Christian Roselund said he can’t believe the lawsuit’s plaintiffs are complaining that the redesign will bring more bicyclists and public transit commuters downtown. He called such concern “nuts,” especially by “anyone who cares about economic development.”

“It’s been shown in city after city after city around the world that if you want to bring people to your downtown areas, if you want them to spend money there, bicycles are a great way to do it,” he said. “This is really regressive thinking. Alternative transportation is not a nuisance.”

The plaintiffs claim that the Kennedy Plaza redesign could impact their quality of life and bring down property values.

In the lawsuit filed in Superior Court last month, the plaintiffs, including entities controlled by former Mayor Joseph Paolino, claim that a bus hub at the Providence train station and the dedicated bus corridor being built through Kennedy Plaza could impact their quality of life and bring down property values.

“The Kennedy Plaza Project and specifically the re-routing of the bus routes, alteration of bus stops and alteration of traffic patterns on Fulton Street and Washington Street stands to cause property damage, property devaluation, inconvenience, annoyance and an interference with the Plaintiffs’ quiet enjoyment of their Properties,” according to the lawsuit filed by Concerned Citizens of Capital Center LLC, a recently created nonprofit that includes about a dozen commercial and residential owners and partnerships that own three downtown buildings — 100 Westminster Partners LLC, 30 Kennedy Partners LLC, and Exchange Street Hotel LLC.

The suit names the city of Providence, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, and the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, among others, as defendants.

Joe Mancini, who is representing the Concerned Citizens of Capital Center, told ABC 6 News last month that his clients will lose access to parking and garage spaces and that the changes don’t address current issues and concerns in Kennedy Plaza.

Gannon said the redesign’s overarching intent — a truly intermodal transportation hub in the center of Providence — is promising. She noted that an emphasis on cars to the near-exclusion of other transportation options hasn’t served downtown Providence well. In fact, she believes the car-orientated downtown design has led to a loss of retail activity and jobs and lower property values.

“We have a choice to make about the kind of city Providence will be,” she said. “If we want a thriving, successful downtown area, with a higher quality of life and inclusion for all residents, we must embrace changes that will bring a full range of transportation options to the city center and not retreat into failed models.”

The Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition isn’t the only group troubled by the recent court action. The RIPTA Riders Alliance is concerned that a “few wealthy real estate firms in downtown Providence have filed a lawsuit attempting to halt improvements to our state’s public transit system.”

“Instead of trying to work cooperatively with the people who actually rely on the bus system and with other stakeholders, developer Joseph Paolino and his allies have opted to go to court to stop state and local plans to improve bus service in the center of Providence,” according to Barry Schiller, a RIPTA Riders Alliance member.

The transit advocacy group said the Concerned Citizens of Capital Center lawsuit will needlessly delay implementation of downtown projects and will increase their costs. The group called the lawsuit shortsighted, as “good transit access to downtown is one of center city’s principal advantages.”

“Those bringing this lawsuit fail to recognize that public transit — and bicycle ridership — is essential in combating the pollution and traffic congestion that contribute to climate change,” according to the RIPTA Riders Alliance.

Frank Carini is editor of ecoRI News.

Paranoia Parkway

The eastern terminus of the Massachusetts Turnpike.

The eastern terminus of the Massachusetts Turnpike.

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com

I’d guess that many readers have seen the video of some of the infamous road-rage incident on Jan. 25, apparently originating in some sort of minor sideswipe, on the Massachusetts Turnpike near Boston.FfrojFro

The video footage showed 65-year-old Richard Kamrowski hanging on for dear life on the hood of 37-year-old Mark Fitzgerald’s car as it careened down the turnpike. Then we see Army veteran Frankie Hernandez leaping out of his car and pointing his gun at Fitzgerald.

Now both Messrs. Fitzgerald and Kamrowski face criminal charges in the incident, which provided too much excitement for other drivers and could have easily resulted in one or more deaths.

Highways can be very scary places because you never know the mental and emotional state of your fellow drivers, who are, like you, operating large, fast and potentially lethal machines. And the drivers in and around Boston are particularly aggressive, impatient (and outpatient) and rude. Stay away from people who are driving fast and/or erratically or better yet, if you can, take public transportation. And pull over and call 911 if you see dangerously bad driving.

To watch the video, please hit this link.

Our psyches in the weather

‘‘Out of the Blue,’’ by Nancy Selvage, in her show “Intemperate Zone,’’ an installation created in collaboration with poet Ros Zimmerman to be shown at the Boston Sculptors Gallery, Feb. 27- March 31.    The gallery says: “Selvage’s sculptures vibrate with visual energy, evoke atmospheric conditions, and respond to the impact of weather on our psyche. Layers of perforated metal animate illusive surfaces, fracture light, and ephemeral spaces. Featured in this exhibition are suspended sculptural lights, ‘cloud’ formations….’’    “Real and imagined atmospheric conditions and states of mind unfold as do the perceptions of our role in the process.’’    “Words, punctuation marks, and international meteorology symbols burn, freeze, bleed, and blow within a collection of sculptural objects.’’

‘‘Out of the Blue,’’ by Nancy Selvage, in her show “Intemperate Zone,’’ an installation created in collaboration with poet Ros Zimmerman to be shown at the Boston Sculptors Gallery, Feb. 27- March 31.

The gallery says: “Selvage’s sculptures vibrate with visual energy, evoke atmospheric conditions, and respond to the impact of weather on our psyche. Layers of perforated metal animate illusive surfaces, fracture light, and ephemeral spaces. Featured in this exhibition are suspended sculptural lights, ‘cloud’ formations….’’

“Real and imagined atmospheric conditions and states of mind unfold as do the perceptions of our role in the process.’’

“Words, punctuation marks, and international meteorology symbols burn, freeze, bleed, and blow within a collection of sculptural objects.’’

'Our world may be a little narrow'

The Custom House Maritime Museum in Newburyport.

The Custom House Maritime Museum in Newburyport.

“The mood is on me to-night only because I have listened to several hours of intelligent conversation and I am not a very brilliant person. Sometimes here on Pequod Island and back again on Beacon Street {Boston}, I have the most curious delusion that our world may be a little narrow. I cannot avoid the impression that something has gone out of it (what, I do not know), and that our little world moves in an orbit of its own, a gain one of those confounded circles, or possibly an ellipse. Do you suppose that it moves without any relation to anything else? That it is broken off from some greater planet like the moon? We talk of life, we talk of art, but do we actually know anything about either? Have any of us really lived? Sometimes I am not entirely sure; sometimes I am afraid that we are all amazing people, placed in an ancestral mould. There is no spring, there is no force. Of course you know better than this, you who plunge every day in the operating room of the Massachusetts General, into life itself. Come up here and tell me I am wrong.”


― John P. Marquand (1893-1960), from his satirical novel The Late George Apley, about a Boston Brahmin. Mr. Marquand came from (and died in) Newburyport, Mass., which got rich on the China Trade, whaling, fishing and other maritime activities in the 18th and 19th centuries.

State Street in Newburyport, with its many 19th Century buildings.

State Street in Newburyport, with its many 19th Century buildings.

Heroic sculpture in Worcester

“Heroic Bust of Victor Hugo’’ (1802-85 and author of  Les Miserables,  etc.), by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), in the show “Rodin: Truth, Form, Life,’’ through April 7 at the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery at Holy Cross College, whose campus looms over the old industrial city of Worcester, which is enjoying a downtown revival. Meanwhile, the surprisingly extensive Worcester Art Museum merits multiple visits.

“Heroic Bust of Victor Hugo’’ (1802-85 and author of Les Miserables, etc.), by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), in the show “Rodin: Truth, Form, Life,’’ through April 7 at the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery at Holy Cross College, whose campus looms over the old industrial city of Worcester, which is enjoying a downtown revival. Meanwhile, the surprisingly extensive Worcester Art Museum merits multiple visits.