Archive for March, 2014

Unnatural Disasters: Ice Storms, Droughts, Earthquakes, and Fossil Fuels

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

By Mike Andrew 

Ice storms in Florida. Drought in California. Earthquakes – of all things – in Oklahoma.

The news media call these events “natural disasters,” yet they are anything but. In fact, evidence suggests they are the consequence of deliberate choices made by corporate CEOs, specifically the decision to continue to consume fossil fuels at a reckless pace.

More than 200 million people have been affected by unusually cold weather in North America alone, in an area ranging from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, and from Hudson’s Bay to the Caribbean.

The continental U.S. recorded the coldest temperatures ever, since the National Weather Service started keeping records in 1870. And on January 7, Ontario, Canada, experienced day-long temperatures colder than concurrent temperatures on Mars, which the rover Curiosity measured at −29 °C (−20 °F).

Highways, airports, and even local businesses were shut down by ice storms, blizzards, and the sheer cold. Evan Gold of the weather research firm Planalytics calculated that the U.S. economy lost some $5 billion due to cold and storm related disruption.

Because the blistering cold weather also coincided with a spike in the prices of fossil fuels normally used for home heating – oil, coal, and natural gas – many people were unable to heat their homes adequately. An estimated 20-30 Americans have died so far as a direct result of the cold snap.

Weather anomalies are also being reported in other areas of the globe, with more than 100 cold-related deaths reported in the Ukraine, and similar deaths also reported in India.

Meanwhile, a bubble of warm air sits over much of the West Coast, with California experiencing a disastrous drought.

California normally produces more than half of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables consumed in the United States. It is also the country’s leading dairy producer. That means drought-related price increases for basic food commodities will impact every family in the country.

But that’s not the whole story. The weather patterns affecting the Northern Hemisphere have been extremely uneven. While snow cover in Eurasia and North America was above average, the ice cover in the Arctic was 4.5% below the 1981-2010 average.

Between 2001 and 2013, at least nine major scientific studies have been published on the link between climate change and extreme temperature fluctuations in mid-latitude North America.

Long story short, the melting of polar sea ice – which is proceeding at an unexpectedly rapid pace – replaces white, reflective ice with dark, heat-absorbent open water. As a result, the polar regions heat up faster than other parts of the globe, reducing the temperature difference between the Arctic and more southerly regions.

Unfortunately, it’s that temperature difference that drives the now-famous “polar vortex” – the jet stream winds that circle the poles. Consequently, the jet stream has become weaker and more erratic in its course, sending very cold air usually confined to the poles streaming into central North America.

The danger for humanity is that this weather pattern will become the new normal, as industry continues to consume fossil fuels, and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions continue to melt polar ice.

And that’s not all. The hunt for new sources of fossil fuels to burn is leading to threats to the very crust of the earth.

While we expect earthquakes along the boundaries of the earth’s tectonic plates – the big pieces of our planet’s crust that rub and jar against each other – Oklahoma, far from tectonic boundaries, is experiencing earthquake “swarms,” with as many as 2,600 quakes in 2013 alone.

Most of them have been very small, but more than 200 measured over 3.0 on the Richter scale, big enough to be felt by people on the ground.

The culprit might be fracking – the process by which oil and natural gas are extracted from shale by cracking the rock with explosives and then pumping millions of gallons of fluid into the cracks to keep them open while the fossil fuels flow to the surface.

The cause might also be wastewater disposal wells, which are drilled to dispose of contaminated water that is a byproduct of oil drilling. There are reportedly more than 10,000 of such wells in Oklahoma.

In any case, it is clear that the fossil fuel industry is putting the earth’s climate and the health and safety of its people at risk.

Time to Expand the Family and Medical Leave Act

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

By Marilyn Watkins 

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act turned 21 this February. The law has helped millions of Americans take time off work to nurture their newborn child, care for a critically ill family member, or recover from their own serious health condition. But America’s families will not regain economic security until all workers have access to paid leave for health and family care.

With Congress locked in dysfunctional bickering, cities and states will have to lead the way.

Women now make up half the workforce. Ever growing numbers of workers are providing care for older family members, and more than two-thirds of Washington State school kids have all their parents in the labor force. But women still earn far from equal pay – even with the same qualifications and in the same jobs as men.

Part of the problem is that the FMLA provides only for unpaid leave. It doesn’t cover workers in smaller companies, those who have changed jobs in the past year or work less than 1,250 hours for the same employer. It also can’t be used for preventive medical care or routine illnesses like the flu or a child’s fever. Without policy standards, 40% of workers don’t get a single paid sick day, and only 12% have paid family leave benefits.

Those statistics mean that people are forced to go to work when their child or parent is sick, or lose needed family income. Too many women go back to work a few days following childbirth, or miss the final weeks of their parent’s life.

Washington State is helping lead the movement for policy change. Seattle’s Paid Sick and Safe Leave Law, which PSARA members helped pass, has been protecting working families and helping the local economy thrive since September 2012. Now campaigns for sick leave are underway in Tacoma and under consideration in other cities around the state.

In the state legislature, HB1313 based on the Seattle sick leave policy has passed the House. Unfortunately, the bill faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate. The Senate is more likely to pass SB6307, overturning city sick days and minimum wage laws.

The Work and Family Coalition has also developed a family and medical leave insurance proposal that would assure all workers have a source of income during those occasions when they must take extended time off for care – when a new baby is born, cancer strikes, or a parent becomes seriously ill. We know paid family and medical leave will improve outcomes for young children, seniors, and working families. In the states with insurance programs already in place, parents not only take longer leaves to care for a new child, but new moms are less likely to go on public assistance or food stamps, and are more likely to be employed – and at higher wages – a year following birth.

Paid leave policies may seem like common sense, but winning change won’t be easy. There are powerful lobbying groups representing mega corporations whose owners flourish under the status quo and view any policies to empower working women and the middle class as a threat.

Let’s not wait for another flu epidemic to pass paid sick days. Let’s not allow another whole generation of kids to be born without paid family leave. Our elected representatives need to hear from us loud and often that we expect them to act.

Take Action: Call your state Senator today at 1.800.562.6000. Ask them to support HB 1313 (Paid Sick and Safe Leave) and oppose SB 6307 (preempting local minimum wage and sick leave laws). 

Marilyn Watkins is Policy Director of Economic Opportunity Institute in Seattle, and chairs the Washington Work and Family Coalition and a member of PSARA. 

2014 Membership Drive

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

By Susan Levy, PSARA Outeach Vice President 

PSARA is excited to announce that we have 49 new members as of the end of Jan 2014. This is the largest increase in membership in one month in a long, long time. Currently, PSARA has over 1,200 members and with each additional member we become stronger advocates for all of our issues.

Welcome new members. Welcome to all of you who have renewed your membership this year. And thanks to all of you who asked a friend to join or gave a gift membership subscription to a friend or family member. Thanks also to the PSARA executive board members who each committed to bringing in five new members by the end of 2014. Some have alrewady achieved the goal.

So , what’s next? Your executive board members will continue to recruit new members. And we hope each of you will also try to recruit (or gift) at least one new member in March. Remember a gift membership ($15.00 a year) will give the recipient 12 issues of our wonderful newsletter. You know the value of this source of information – a newsletter of important, up to date information on issues that matter to all of us.

There is a membership form below that you can use.

And remember there is a small prize for one of our members who recruits (or gifts) at least five new members. Everyone who recruits five or more new members will be entered into a drawing for a $25.00 gift certificate. So please let us know the name and number of people you have recruited or gift memberships you have given.