Category: Stories

Things I have written, and such

A Discernible Human Influence

A Discernible Human Influence

Stephen Schneider

When Stephen Schneider died in July 2010, the climate science community lost one of its leading and most articulate voices, but colleagues and a new generation of researchers are carrying forth his spirit and approach to understanding and explaining the impacts of climate change.

This August, hundreds of Schneider’s fellow scientists gathered in Boulder to remember him and also share their own research exploring the topics that he helped bring attention to with policymakers and the public. My September 2011 article for Miller-McCune, “A Discernible Human Influence: Schneider and Climate Change,” recounts the personal and intellectual impacts Schneider had on his colleagues and explores how scientists are tackling the latest and largest questions surrounding climate science and policy.

 

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Rare-Earth Reality Check

Rare-Earth Reality Check

Powdered oxides of rare-earth minerals (Peggy Greb, USDA ARS)

A run on rare earth metals, used to make solar panels, military hardware and cell phones, is driving a frenzy for mining claims in the West.

My April 17, 2011 story in High Country News looks at the rush and the reality behind a rare-earth boom in the U.S.

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Beefing Up Family Farms

Beefing Up Family Farms

Ranchers in their white cowboys hats, at a federal government hearing on meatpacker consolidation and farm policy (Photo: Kris Hite)

A few weeks ago, Fort Collins hosted the most critical moment in the history of the American cattle industry, at least according to one rancher advocacy organization. A U.S. government hearing on the monopolization of the meatpacking industry brought thousands of farmers and ranchers to town to share their tough-luck stories of survival.

I covered the proceedings for MatterDaily.org in an essay-ish news story, published September 10, 2010, “Down on the Farm.”

 

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Return of Superfund?

Return of Superfund?

Toxic seeps at Elizabeth Copper Mine Superfund site in Vermont (Photo: USGS)

For a decade and a half, the U.S. government’s toxic-cleanup program, Superfund, has neither been super nor much of a fund. Now, Superfund might finally earn its name again.

The federal program (known among environmental policy wonks as Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, or CERCLA) is supposed to clean up the country’s most toxic and complex waste sites, using money from corporate petroleum, chemical and other industries that produce toxic pollution — and the hazardous sites that land on the Superfund priorities list. But Congress let the corporate polluter fee expire in 1995, which let companies off the hook for cleanup funding and started draining Superfund’s account from $1.5 billion to virtually nil.

Superfund cleanup of asbestos contamination in Libby, Montana (Photo: US EPA)

In 2003, Grist published an essay I wrote about the sorry state of Superfund and the silly funding choices at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (The piece was originally published through High Country News wire service, Writers on the Range.) At the time, the George W. Bush White House had announced plans to spend a quick $30,000 for enviro-friendly mentions on primetime TV, but had no plans to renew industry payments to Superfund.

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Back to School for Green Jobs

Back to School for Green Jobs

Colorado, with all its sun and wind and geothermal hot springs, has gotten particularly excited about the creation of green jobs. The state expects to have 600,000 new jobs relating to renewable energy technology and energy efficiency development over the next 20 years. Sounds great, but a major component to the sustainable future becoming a reality is the emergence of a capable workforce.

The sun shines on solar-panel installers (image via Swords to Ploughshares)

In northern Colorado, community colleges and major universities are reaching out to potential students and tailoring programs to train for a range of green jobs, from smart-grid engineers to hybrid-vehicle manufacturing to solar-panel installation and maintenance. In the April 9, 2010 issue of the Northern Colorado Business Report, my column, “School’s in session for green job seekers,” covers the cresting wave of new programs, including an initiative at Colorado State University meant to attract returning military veterans to green jobs.

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Back to School for Green Jobs

Back to School for Green Jobs

Colorado, with all its sun and wind and geothermal hot springs, has gotten particularly excited about the creation of green jobs. The state expects to have 600,000 new jobs relating to renewable energy technology and energy efficiency development over the next 20 years. Sounds great, but a major component to the sustainable future becoming a reality is the emergence of a capable workforce.

The sun shines on solar-panel installers (image via Swords to Ploughshares)

In northern Colorado, community colleges and major universities are reaching out to potential students and tailoring programs to train for a range of green jobs, from smart-grid engineers to hybrid-vehicle manufacturing to solar-panel installation and maintenance. In the April 9, 2010 issue of the Northern Colorado Business Report, my column, “School’s in session for green job seekers,” covers the cresting wave of new programs, including an initiative at Colorado State University meant to attract returning military veterans to green jobs.

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Uranium mill for the River of Sorrows?

Uranium mill for the River of Sorrows?

The first new U.S. uranium mill in three decades could be coming to Colorado and the rugged valley of the Dolores River in the southwestern corner of the state. The river — originally named Río de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, or River of Our Lady of Sorrows, by Spanish priests in 1776 — and the surrounding Paradox Valley is a stunning landscape of mesas and vistas to explore (and one of my favorite drives in the country). Its ecological importance and popularity with boaters and hikers has led state environmentalists to push for national wilderness designation for parts of the valley.

A February 11 article in The Telluride Watch covers some local environmentalists’ concerns about the plans of the milling company, Energy Fuels Resources Corp., which has applied for a permit, and the potential impacts to the Dolores River and its flows should the project receive approval.

Mills process uranium once it is removed from the ground in order to make it usable for nuclear power plants, but the operation involves using lots of water and leaving behind tailings that can contaminate air and water. Western towns, including Cañon City, Colorado and Moab, Utah, are both still cleaning up from older mills and dealing with the toxic results; a 2006 U.S. Nuclear Regulatory fact sheet details the cleanups and regulations surrounding mill tailings.

I wrote a feature article (“CWCB’s Instream Flow Program matures”) about the Dolores and the ongoing process to protect streamflows within the river for biological, recreational and agricultural needs in the Fall 2009 issue of Headwaters Magazine, put out by the nonprofit Colorado Foundation for Water Education. The story covers the progress of the state board in charge of protecting these instream flows in rivers across the state, using the Dolores as a key example of Colorado’s evolution in considering river health.

Federal regulators will review the uranium mill application, but a decision is likely a ways off and highly dependent on other factors, namely the development of the domestic nuclear power industry. And regardless of regulators’ decision, it will undoubtedly face legal challenges.

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Obituary: Good Spirits Bar and Grill

Obituary: Good Spirits Bar and Grill

My first piece for Mountain Gazette, from August 2003: An obituary for — and defense of — a short-lived bar in Paonia that had (re-)opened its doors just as I arrived in town. The building now houses the local community radio station.


Good Spirits Bar and Grill

— Joshua Zaffos

The Deceased: Good Spirits Bar and Grill (a/k/a The Great Escape Pub and Eatery), Paonia CO
Born: August 2002
Died: March 2003
Cause of death: Teetotalitarianism

GoodSpirits sign
Good Spirits Bar, c. 2003

“Any town with more churches than bars, that town’s got a problem. That town is asking for trouble.”
– Edward Abbey, The Monkey Wrench Gang

When I first arrived along the North Fork of the Gunnison River, I remember reading one of the tourist rags promoting the North Fork valley. Amid the popular trail suggestions and bed-and-breakfast listings, the paper also included notes from town meetings for the small communities of Paonia, Crawford and Hotchkiss. That month in Paonia, a proprietor went before the town trustees proposing to re-open a bar along Grand Avenue, the town’s main street.

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Winter Diversions

Winter Diversions

Winter Diversions

“Between Two Ferns” with Zach Galifianakis
Nice to see a fellow Greek getting ahead with his very own talk show
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The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
In the spirit of Garcia Márquez…probably one of my favorite fiction reads in a long time
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Errol Morris on the New York Times Opinionator blog
His series on photojournalism are provocative, and a reminder that we are always framing history
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pasta-with-fried-pepper
Pasta with Fried Peppers and Bread Crumbs (via Saveur)
Fry the peppers to a crisp and ye shall be rewarded
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Blues for Cannibals by Charles Bowden
So far, Bowden at his crankiest, which is saying something
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Residente o Visitante and Los De Atrás Vienen ConmigoCalle 13
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The Biz of Baseball
A blog tracking the financial churnings of baseball
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“Party Down” Season 1
“Are we having fun yet?”
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The Sun
Writing best appreciated while drinking morning coffee or an evening cocktail in a melancholy yet pensive mood
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Louis C.K.: Chewed Up
Ever since his appearance on Conan when he riffed on how “we live in an amazing, amazing world, and it’s wasted on the crappiest generation of, just, spoiled idiots,” I’ve been a big fan and this video didn’t disappoint
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11:11Rodrigo y Gabriela
I’m not sure if I like their music more for the flamenco or heavy metal influences
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Lady Bug
Lesser known, old-school arcade game – maybe my best worst habit

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A muchly illuminating journalist

A muchly illuminating journalist

typewriter_1_lgIn the past year, a few colleagues who are now college professors have asked me to speak to seminars they teach on environmental communication and writing. Lecturing to a bunch of 20-year-olds (give or take) is a good way to pretend like I’ve achieved some goals, but so far I have left feeling like I was the keynote speaker at a some sort of “Scared Straight” program.

One of the seminars’ students thoughtfully sent me a thank-you card, and I thought I’d share a few of the comments because that way it’s funny instead of sad.

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