Wednesday, December 17, 2008

OKC Schools: no recycling program

By John Sutter

Oklahoma City public schools don't have a standard recycling program, and only about half of the district's schools do any recycling at all. In my article in this week's Oklahoma Gazette, I met up with some high school students at Northwest Classen who started an environmental club called the Green Knights (here's their Web site). A faculty member drives the plastic bottles they collect to Edmond so they can be recycled--since the city doesn't have a system set up for them. Oklahoma City recycling trucks pass by the school every week, but the municipal recycling program only covers residences, not schools or businesses.

Here's a video interview with one of the students at Northwest Classen:

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christian Science Monitor on Tar Creek

By John Sutter

This Christian Science Monitor story
talks about the many things on environmentalists' holiday wish lists. At the top for Rebecca Jim is a healthy Tar Creek:

An enormous environmental tally awaits the incoming Obama administration. After an eight-year pitched battle with the Bush administration, environmentalists see a golden opportunity
to begin making progress on issues ranging from climate change and water pollution to mountaintop-removal coal mining and energy efficiency in autos and buildings.

The massive environmental mountain awaiting Mr. Obama’s administration is chronicled in a 359-page wish list of hundreds of problems the environmental community is eager to start addressing once President Bush leaves town.

Inhofe and warming ... again

By John Sutter

The Oklahoman put out an editorial today supporting U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe's increasingly marginalized stance that climate change isn't the result of human emissions of heat-trapping gases.

Inhofe says 650 scientists support his theories, which go against the global scientific community and United Nations reports. As Grist points out, Inhofe has a history of reshaping the climate change debate by tricking the media into ignoring sound science:

Deniers like Inhofe have a serious media problem -- an ever growing number of studies, real-world observations, and credible scientific bodies all point to human-caused emissions as the increasingly dominant cause of planetary warming and dangerous climate change.

What's a denier to do? The answer is simple: Repackage previously debunked disinformation, release it as a "new" so-called "Full Senate Report" full of hysterical headlines, push it through right-wing news outlets, and hope the traditional media bites. Why not? It worked before.

The Oklahoman (which, for point of disclosure, is my former employer) ends its editorial with a question:
With at least 58 Democratic senators, will Obama try to ratify the job-killing Kyoto global warming treaty?

He might, which makes it good to know Jim Inhofe will be waiting and ready.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

More on wind: Gazette story

Check out my story on wind power in this week's Oklahoma Gazette.

USATODAY: oklahoma schools with toxic environments

By John Sutter

In case you missed it, USA Today had a big cover story yesterday on the presence of toxic and sometimes cancer-causing chemicals outside the nation's public schools.

The story has a useful online component. You can search by state or city or school to see if your kids or the kids in your neighborhood are being exposed to toxins in their schoolyards.

Several schools in Sand Springs, Okla., were high on the list. If you click on a school name, the site shows you which companies most likely contribute to the pollution.

In the case of Central Elementary School in Sand Spring, they include:

Friday, December 5, 2008

Q&A: Oklahoman at Climate Talks in Poland

[photo from poland by eric pollard. see: for more photos]

By John Sutter

The world is talking about climate change at a meeting in Poland, and a representative from Oklahoma is in on the discussions.

Eric Pollard, of Norman, is representing a youth advocacy group called SustainUS, at the climate talks in Ponzan, Poland, where countries from around the world are trying to hammer out an international agreement to follow the Kyoto Protocol.

The talks are seen as a primer to the United Nations' Climate Conference, which will be held in Copenhagen next year.

Pollard is blogging about the current discussions, which have involved some heated debate between industrialized countries and those in the developing world, since the richer countries aren't ready to commit to specific reductions of heat-trapping gases by 2020. A Wall Street Journal blog says the talks resemble "a Mexican standoff more than anything else."

Pollard took time out of the action to answer some of my questions by e-mail. Here are excerpts:

Concrete Buffalo: How are you involved in the climate talks?

I am in Poznan, Poland for the talks representing SustainUS, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of young people advancing sustainable development and youth empowerment in the United States. My responsibilities here at the conference with SustainUS include following plenary discussion on technology transfer (how developed countries share renewable energy technology with developing countries) and I sit on the International Youth Actions Team which is responsible for planning events, rallies, demonstrations and other forms of outreach.

CB: What is the atmosphere like?

... To an extent the talks are a bit subdued because most major negotiations regarding commitments to emissions reductions will be made next year in Copenhagen and it is becoming clear that the official US delegation will not move away from the Bush Administrations' international climate policies from the last 8 years and Obama nor any of his transition team is either here or working with . However, the International Youth Delegation, including SustainUS and other US delegations, believe that needed action on the climate is urgent and that major progress at COP 14 must be made in order to come to an agreement next year.

CB: What role does Oklahoma have at a conference like this?

Oklahoma could play a huge role in the domestic advancement of action on climate change through renewable energy policy and infrastructure development in the US ... In the past, Senator James Inhofe has sent aides to UN Climate talks. Typically, his staff has spent most of their time at the conferences consulting with various buisness lobbyists, specifically those from oil and natural gas and coal interests. This just shows that Sen. Inhofe is commited to stopping any major progress both domestically and internationally not only on climate change mitigation but the development of the various renewable energy industries that will create millions of green jobs, save our economy, and our planet.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Video iview: President of The Nature Conservancy

By John Sutter

I interviewed Mark Tercek, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy, the largest conservation organization in the world, at the Oklahoma Wind Energy Conference today.

Tercek took his spot at the head of the organization earlier this year after spending more than 20 years at one of the world's largest investment firms, Goldman Sachs. There, he headed up an environmental investment team.

In this video interview, I ask Tercek what the credit crunch means for conservation and investment in renewable energy. He took a surprisingly positive view, saying these tough times are an opportunity for companies to reinvent themselves to become more environmentally friendly. He also saw a parallel between how the country got into this recession and how we got into so many environmental crises: we failed to look ahead.

Let me know what you all think.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Can you pick the state energy secretary out of a crowd?

By John Sutter

Well, now you can. In this video interview, I ask Oklahoma Energy Secretary David Fleischaker about wind power, renewable portfolio standards, the nation's power grid and more. Filmed between sessions at the Oklahoma Wind Energy Conference. Here's his Wikipedia entry if you want more background.

TB Pickens, king of the metaphor ...

By John Sutter

T. Boone Pickens addressed a crowd of Oklahoma reporters today wearing a charcoal suit and an orange tie. Handlers scurried about to keep him on schedule. Walking into the room he had a certain aura of importance about him.

Then he opened his mouth.

Instantly, the oil tycoon turned alt-energy advocate became just another guy.

"I don't have a handkerchief, so I'll need a napkin--or your tie," he said to one of his minions as they entered. Then, turning to reporters with a smile, he said, "With this wind blowing it really drives me crazy on allergies."

Nice intro to the topic of the day, and the topic of Pickens' year: wind energy. Pickens was scheduled to speak over lunch to a 1,000-person crowd at the Oklahoma Wind Energy Conference in Oklahoma City. (And, in case you've been asleep for six months, he's launched a major PR campaign to promote wind energy and natural gas).

Fielding reporters' questions before that engagement, Pickens slouched back on his heels, held the microphone limp on his chest and kept on hand in his pants pocket.

He took the questions with ease and invented metaphors along the way.

Asked by a television reporter what he thought plunging oil prices meant for wind power, Pickens said he had mixed feelings, "like if I saw my mother-in-law hauled off the edge of a mountain in a Cadillac."

He paused, then added: "I don't have a mother-in-law, so I can say that."

The reporters laughed.

Another asked how Pickens thought the country should deal with its shortage of compressed-natural-gas stations. Pickens channeled Kevin Costner:

"It'll happen over a period of time. The stations will come."

And then, channeling Randy Terrill, said:

"All I'm interested in is that it's American (fuel). Natural gas, battery, I only care if it's American."

(In case you're wondering, he drives a Honda Civic that runs on natural gas.)

Pickens said Oklahoma has more entrepreneurs per capita than any state in the nation. They will be able to figure out solutions to our nation's energy crisis, he said.

But, if the economy has anything to say about it, they may have to wait a bit on their investments. Pickens said he's having trouble getting credit for his wind farms in Texas. He delayed one project a year because of the credit crunch, he said.

He left reporters and investors with a word of advice for tough times: "Don't forget how to eat hamburgers."

Sure Oklahoma's windy, buuuut ...

By John Sutter

If the nation enacts policies that support wind energy, Oklahoma is poised to be the No. 1 wind-power state in the country by 2030, a federal researcher said this morning at a conference in Oklahoma City.

Larry Flowers, of the National Renewable Energy Lab in Boulder, Co., said if the United States uses wind for 20 percent of its energy by 2030, Oklahoma is expected to see $44 billion in economic development and an increase of 19,000 rural jobs.

But that future is far from certain, he said.

“In the end, it’s policy and the politicians that are going to determine what does happen,” Flowers said.

The remarks came at the first Oklahoma Wind Energy Conference, which continues today and tomorrow morning at the Cox Convention Center in Bricktown.

The lack of power lines used to move wind energy from the Great Plains to power-hungry cities is a major obstacle to Oklahoma future with wind energy, Flowers said.

Oklahoma’s energy secretary, David Fleischaker, echoed that sentiment.

“The wind tends to blow in places where we don’t have the large population centers,” he said. “So we have the problem--the challenge--of building transmission lines out.”

In an interview, Fleischaker said Oklahoma has been seen as an ant-alternative energy state until recently.

It’s working to change that image with conferences like this one. In recent years, utility companies and ranchers are warming to the idea of wind power.

Nationally, the United States has lagged behind other countries in terms of wind power development. Wind accounts for only 2 percent of the nation’s energy usage. Spain, for example, creates 12 percent of its energy from wind.

Flowers acknowledged the fact that Oklahoma’s wind industry has come a long way in a short time.

In 2000, the state didn’t produce any wind power, he said. Now the state has installed wind turbines to create up to 680 megawatts of power.

Fleischaker said if Oklahoma used only 10 percent of the available wind energy, it would have twice the power it needs for itself.

“You’ve come a long way Oklahoma … but there’s a long and big and spectacular future for you if you choose to follow that path,” Flowers said.