The Lowe Down

Category: Environment (46)

Chan Lowe: Burmese pythons take over the Everglades


The recent story about how pythons have taken over the Everglades⎯and are eating everything in sight⎯prompts us to re-examine the precarious balance between man and beast in this humid swamp we South Floridians call home.

When you think about it, everything was doing fine down here until homo sapiens came along in search of mild winter weather. For a short while, hot summers drove him off until he invented air conditioning, which allowed him to become a permanent fixture amid the other subtropical fauna.

With Man came hobbies and interests. His love of reproducing microcosms of the oceans within his dwelling inspired him to import exotic species such as lionfish to populate his aquaria. When he tired of them eating up the rest of his piscine investments, he tossed them into the nearest canal. Now lionfish, which have no local predators, have become a menace to our waters, decimating the indigenous species.

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Chan Lowe: Cuba prepares to drill, baby, drill


Basically, all I did in this cartoon was to illustrate the news story. That’s how absurd it is.

We have a Chinese oil rig⎯and we know how dependable Chinese products are, like drywall and baby formula⎯being put in the hands of a country that has no experience whatsoever drilling for oil.

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Chan Lowe: Rosie O'Donnell and the shark


This was a local story, so it was hard to resist. You don’t have to be a tree-hugging environmentalist to be repulsed by the photo of Rosie O’Donnell and her smiling children standing proudly beside the bloody carcass of a magnificent specimen of an endangered species. Killing a shark for sport isn’t the best example to be setting for the kids.

Couldn’t she just have taken them to the FPL power plant outlet pool to see the manatees?

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Chan Lowe: Rising sea levels


While I’m away from the blog, I thought I’d run some cartoons from five years ago. It’s always surprising and instructive to see what was dominating our interest in those days, and how little some issues change.

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Chan Lowe: Cuban offshore drilling


It’s exquisite in politics when a fiercely held principle collides with the reality on the ground. Then, we can sit back and enjoy watching the pols squirm.

Such is the case with the news that Cuba is preparing to drill for oil in its own waters. The problem is that, thanks to the Gulf Stream, Cuba’s waters become our waters pretty quickly. And if the Cubans perform the very tricky and high-tech task of offshore drilling with the usual skill and diligence displayed in attacking other projects, we can be fairly certain that, at some point, refugees won’t be the only thing washing up on our shores.

Thanks to an anachronistic embargo that remains in place because the Cuban exile lobby is so powerful in Washington, and because Florida is a swing state, there is no mechanism for us to cooperate with our neighbors to the south, aid them with our expertise, and implement contingency plans should the worst occur.

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Chan Lowe: Beach renourishment "insanity"


As those who write letters to the editor are fond of telling us, Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

When Einstein took time off (if you’ll pardon the expression), he visited corridors of thought never previously navigated by the human mind, and if his vacation began running short, he simply slowed down the clocks (Nice trick if you know how to do it). His getaways probably didn’t involve pitching an umbrella, setting up his beach chair, cracking open the cooler and happily digging his feet in the sand.

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Chan Lowe: Oil drilling in the Everglades?


Fortunately, we don’t have to worry too much about what Michele Bachmann has to say, because ultimately she will never be president.

Ever since Rick Perry entered the race, any chance she might have had to corral the potent combination of cultural and fiscal conservatives evaporated. This is partly because, when given the choice, those who might have voted for her probably feel subconsciously or even consciously that womenfolk belong in a support position while the man should lead. It gives Perry a huge edge, the kind of edge he will have when these same voters find all kinds of reasons not to vote for Mitt Romney other than that he’s a Mormon.

So when Michele Bachmann calls for drilling in the Everglades⎯ which, as some outside Florida may not know, is our source of drinking water besides being a national resource⎯we can, thankfully, ignore her. Of course, she qualified her statement with the amusing locution, “drilling responsibly.”

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Chan Lowe: Preparing for Irene


You probably know people up north who, when you call or write to tell them you’re sweating out an impending hurricane, say something smug like, “Well, you chose to live there, didn’t you?” There’s an implicit schadenfreude in the statement, as if we Floridians made a Faustian deal to live in the sun and fun, hoping that we’d never have to pay the piper.

Meanwhile, our more sensible friends and relatives denied themselves and stayed put, enduring the northern winters but sleeping more easily in the summers, secure in the knowledge that they’d still have a roof over their heads come November.

It’s becoming harder and harder to maintain that righteous position these days. Thanks to (dare I say it?) climate change, there are some mighty odd weather events occurring to the north of us. Like record heat waves, unprecedented drought, and equally unprecedented flooding. If you look at the areas most affected by the recent cataclysms, they include the broad swath of territory that encompasses the drainage areas of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, anchored by Texas to the south.

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Chan Lowe: A disastrous spring


Phenomena like those of the past few months serve to remind us that, no matter how much we put our collective ingenuity to work on technology, we remain powerless before the random whims of natural events.

Maybe we always will be. It’s hard to imagine a device of man that could prevent earthquakes. Some are arguing, though, that man might have prevented the floods, the tornadoes, and the record droughts that led to the wildfires⎯or at least lessened their severity⎯had he not burned fossil fuels to the point of altering the world’s climate.

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Chan Lowe: Japan's nuclear nightmare


When J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project, beheld the first atomic fireball in the New Mexican desert, he famously quoted a line from the Bhagavad Gita, “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

He had devoted his life for the previous few years to developing a theoretical process into a weapon of mass destruction. During the course of his work, he probably mused about the possible peaceful applications of the monster he had created, but he also knew that the difference between a weapon and a controlled power source was only one of degree and intent, not one of substance.

When you combine that with mankind’s record in battling the unforeseen forces of nature, it leaves you a little less credulous of the reassuring claims made by the nuclear power industry.

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Chan Lowe: Oil prices spike


Here we go again. We’ve been through so many gas price boom cycles that we know the script by heart: The lefties will say “We told you so,” and call for fuel tax hikes and business credits to be applied to developing alternative sources of energy, and they’ll get nowhere. The conservatives will first figure out some way to blame Obama, and once they’ve dealt with that priority, they’ll call for planting rigs right on Waikiki Beach if that’s what it takes to become energy independent.

Hardly anybody ever talks about this topic when fuel prices are low. That, of course, would be the best time to slap on a federal fuel tax, when it would do the least damage to the economy. Nobody in congress is willing to commit political suicide just yet, however. Better to play it safe and wait, so that high prices caused by disturbances in Libya, of all places, will result in our paying the same kind of “tax,” only to the Saudis and Venezuelans rather than to Washington.

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Chan Lowe: Boca Raton's rogue otter


The national media must be as sick and tired as the rest of us of reporting the same old dreck about how deep an economic hole we're in, and how the election just brought us (Surprise!) more of the same intransigence in Washington.

Why else would the story of Boca Raton’s rogue otter become national news? Our newsroom was getting calls from as far away as Oregon, where otters (at least, the seagoing kind) are practically the state pet.

I asked our Palm Beach County bureau chief why he thought the otter story had such “legs.” He shrugged and said that readers love fuzzy little mammal stories, even if the mammal in question is rabid.

We have plenty of other rabid creatures here in South Florida, many of which can be seen commuting on our roads every day, but unless I’m mistaken, otters are something unusual.

Maybe this one arrived (the way other uninvited fauna do) in a cargo container from some far-flung locale.

And then got bitten by a motorist.

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Chan Lowe: Buying the midterm election


The American body politic⎯quiescent, even oblivious in normal times⎯is restless and fearful due to economic uncertainty. In its currently aroused state, it has become prey to cynical self-interested forces. When people are angry, they are easily led.

For example, if it is a tenet of faith of one particular group that climate change is a myth, it makes sense that shadowy petrochemical plutocrats, who have so much to lose from environmental regulation, would give behind-the-scenes financial support, through patriotic-sounding front organizations, to candidates who espouse a laissez-faire regulatory philosophy (To the big money backers, all that Libertarian stuff about individual rights and Second Amendment gospel are window dressing. Being billionaires, they can simply buy all the rights they want).

Their shills in the media and in politics, all of whom have so much to gain, willingly spread the party line (As Deep Throat said, “Follow the money”). Their legions of listeners hunger for easy answers, which are cheerfully supplied in large helpings.

In the final days before the midterm elections, President Obama is playing catch-up, campaigning hither and yon to defend and explain his vision for the country. He and his party might not be in such a jam today if they had taken the trouble to do the plodding grunt-work of repetitive indoctrination from the beginning.

His opponents certainly did.

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Chan Lowe: The Everglades of the future


The Everglades are one of those things we value in the abstract, like the great whales. We go “tsk, tsk” when we hear about their impending extinction, but since we don’t really see them very often, saving them gets lost in the welter of more clamorous needs.

Besides, we tend to pay more attention to events like wildfires, which provide compelling TV visuals. The whales and the Everglades are dying slowly. This doesn't make for tremendously entertaining viewing.

If it weren’t for conservation groups, the ‘Glades wouldn’t have a constituency at all. Alligators, mosquitoes and snakes are not lovable creatures. The plant life is⎯let’s face it⎯nowhere near as majestic and stately as an old-growth forest.

The fact that we need the Everglades to guarantee South Florida’s supply of fresh water is lost on many people. “I thought that’s what Lake Okeechobee was for,” many say. They don’t realize that the ‘Glades act as an enormous filter to take out the crud we pump into them from upstream.

The average South Floridian isn’t really going to care about the Everglades until he turns on his tap--and instead of drinking water, he gets a foul smelling, yellow-greenish liquid he’s expected to consume and bathe in.

Wait a second. That’s happening already.

Oh, well...maybe there's a wildfire to watch on TV.

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Chan Lowe: Invasion of the bedbugs


Here in South Florida, we’re old hands at pestilence.

The Cuban Death’s-Head Cockroach, the Formosan Termite, the Indonesian White-Footed Ant, the Burmese Python, the Bahamian Curly-Tailed Lizard and the Ficus Whitefly are but a short list of the immigrants that have claimed asylum in our sheltering clime during the last few years.

We’ve all figured out a way to get along, and I’m sure we’ll do so with our latest scourge, the bedbug. Chances are, since the beast is impervious to chemicals, they’ll scrounge up another exotic creature that likes to dine on it, the way they did the Melaleuca Beetle, which was imported in turn to get rid of a foreign plant we brought in to drain the swamps so that we could build more developments.

Of course, whatever the crawly solution is, it will (as they all do) proliferate in our natural-predator-free environment and soon become a pest in its own right, requiring the importation of yet another remedy, and so on.

Are we beginning to detect a common denominator here? There’s one creature without whose presence none of these freak twists of nature might ever have occurred.

Too late for that, I suppose…although it’s the only pest I’ve heard of that, when left to its own devices, does a perfectly fine job of exterminating itself.

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Chan Lowe: Florida energy rebates fizzle


Maybe the most appropriate comment for this situation is the one made by Otter, the frat brother of the fat loser, Dorfman, in the classic movie Animal House:

“Face it, Dorfman,” he says as the boy looks over the smoking wreck of his older brother’s Lincoln after allowing his friends to use it for a road trip, “you f****d up. You trusted us!”

And “trusted” is what hundreds of people did when they went out to buy air conditioners and solar gear on the promise that the State of Florida would provide them with energy rebates to help defray the outlay.

Little did they know they would get caught up in a grudge match between outgoing governor Charlie Crist and a spurned Republican legislature bent on destroying his dream to become a United States Senator.

The arcane details are not that important—all we need to know is that ordinary citizens, as usual, are being used as pawns by state pols following their own petty and self-serving agendas.

Suffice it to say that if Charlie had remained a Republican and taken his chances in the primary, the legislature wouldn’t have dragged its feet in approving the use of federal funds for the rebates…a strategy designed to portray him as having gone back on his word.

So if you want to blame someone for this mess, blame the Tea Party. If they hadn’t supported Marco Rubio for the U.S. Senate nomination, he probably wouldn’t have been able to mount such a strong campaign, thereby eclipsing the colorless Crist.

Charlie wouldn’t have bolted the party and gone rogue, and the legislature wouldn’t have sought revenge by punishing those who laid out their hard-earned bucks in good faith.

That was almost too easy.

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Chan Lowe: Using Hurricane Earl


It’s appropriate that the late Tip O’Neill, who coined the famous saying, “All politics is local,” hailed from Boston. At least, it may be appropriate by this weekend if Eastern Massachusetts, specifically Cape Cod, gets walloped by Hurricane Earl.

Those of us down here in the vulnerable states, who wonder from summer to summer if we’ll still have roofs on our houses by November, have been agitating for years for a national catastrophe fund⎯a federally-backed mechanism that would provide a stabilizing foundation for the insurance industry. This would translate in turn into stability in homeowner premiums.

But it’s hard to get low-risk states to go along with the idea. “Why should we pay more for you to live in a place that is known to be vulnerable?” they rightly ask.

I once read a study claiming that the lowest-risk state for any kind of natural calamity is Utah. But in order to benefit from this meteorological and geological peace of mind, you’d have to live in…Utah.

So the only way to overcome the naysayers is to outnumber them in Congress. You do this by taking advantage of any act of God that might come along. Let’s say the Northeast⎯not exactly a hurricane hot-spot⎯gets sideswiped by Earl...not enough to inflict serious damage or human injury, but to a degree that serves to raise the region’s consciousness.

The five states combined from New Jersey to Massachusetts marshal fifty-eight votes in Congress (Party affiliation is irrelevant. All politics is local, remember?). Get California, Oregon and Washington to go along by including earthquakes as one of the covered calamities. Add to that the combined votes of all the Gulf states, with Georgia and the Carolinas thrown in, and you’re talking some serious numbers.

Hey there, Salt Lake City property owners…can you spell “C-A-T F-U-N-D S-U-R-C-H-A-R-G-E?

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Chan Lowe: The oil slick's lasting damage


Ours is a nation that runs on visuals. To put it more bluntly, if we don’t see it on TV, it doesn’t exist.

Those of us old enough and not too high at the time to remember the 1960s recall that what made the Vietnam war so immediate was that Uncle Walter was delivering footage of dying American boys right to our living rooms.

This had never happened in any war before, and many historians contend that it was this sight that galvanized the protest movement. Of course, knowing we could get drafted and end up on that reality show ourselves helped galvanize us, too, but that’s another story.

Conversely, if an issue is too abstract to lend itself to an easy visual, it is almost impossible for the public to grasp. Take the deficit, for example. It’s some kind of bookkeeping thing, right? What does it have to do with us? You’ve probably noticed that whenever it’s mentioned on TV, they use the same lame video of sheets of hundred-dollar bills rolling off the presses at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, because it's the best they can do.

Now, if TV news could somehow travel to the future and depict our hollow-eyed, skeletal grandchildren waiting in soup lines for a handout because the Chinese are taking every penny they earn to service a national debt that we wastrels incurred, we might work up a sweat.

It’s the same with the oil slick. BP and the Obama Administration are counting on the fact that TV cameras won’t show the underwater plumes that will plague us for years, or the consequent destruction of the aquatic food chain, because those things aren’t readily visible the way oil-covered waterfowl are.

Out of sight, out of mind.

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Chan Lowe: Tony Hayward to leave BP


I was getting ready to celebrate the fact that at least somebody had lost his job over this avoidable tragedy, and that even though the benighted and self-centered Tony Hayward was probably “retiring” with a wad of BP stock, it wasn’t worth as much as it used to be.

As it turns out, all BP really wanted was to resuscitate that anemic stock price by moving its pet clown out of the limelight. As long as he was visibly in charge, that figure was going to remain unrealistically low.

The company apparently still likes the guy, and they’re going to let him run some Russian oil company that they half-own. Chances are the Russians don’t even have the laughable regulation enforcement that we do, so our seafaring toff will be free to cut safety corners all he wants.

If he were to make another boo-boo in, say, the East Siberian Sea, it would probably take several weeks for anyone to notice there was a spill, much less be annoyed by it.

In the unlikely event the BP brass might want to punish Tony at all for his transgressions (a notion which implies, of course, that oil companies are headed by people with a sense of right and wrong) they might require him to spend at least ninety-five percent of his time circling his Russian wells in his new icebreaking yacht.

At minimum, that would offer cold comfort to a few out-of-work Gulf fishermen.

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Chan Lowe: Charlie Crist's special session

special.gifMuch as it makes me shudder to agree with anything Marco Rubio says, I have to admit that there’s something fishily opportunistic about our newly independent governor calling for a special session to deal with offshore oil drilling.

Charlie wants to enshrine a ban on drilling off Florida’s shores in our state constitution. For several reasons, this is unnecessary and sets bad precedent.

First, the state constitution ought to be a blueprint for the mechanics of how Florida is governed, nothing more. Any editorial board and political policy wonk will tell you that. The rest of us probably don’t even know or care that we have one.

Specifics like oil drilling policy have no more reason to be included than protecting pregnant pigs. Oops, that’s in there, isn’t it? Remember, this is Florida’s constitution. We should allow room for at least a little idiocy.

Second, a ban on offshore drilling is already part of state law, so the amendment would be superfluous. But Charlie fears the law could be changed someday. Does he really think that after what just happened in the Gulf, any politician would dare touch that law? Ever?

So it’s beginning to look like Charlie is calling a special session--at tens of thousands of dollars per day—which will accomplish little more than showcase him at the podium acting as master of ceremonies. Oh, and looking senatorial.

If it’s so easy for Charlie to play fast and loose with state money (where the budget has to be balanced by law), imagine how much fun he’ll have in Washington, where they can print as much as they want.

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BP installs new well cap

jester.gifLet’s say this well cap works.

You have to ask, then, why didn’t they try it seven weeks ago?

Might it have anything to do with the fact that this solution shuts off the oil completely while the other, failed designs provided for profit in the form of crude to continue to spew forth (under control, of course), thereby not rendering the investment a total waste for BP?

And, is it true that the $3.5 billion BP has spent so far would have gone to federal taxes anyway, were it not for the loss to the company…which means that we are paying for the cleanup after all, regardless of what we are being told?

While this cartoon is a comment on BP’s slapstick technical efforts so far, maybe it is the American public that ought to be wearing the collective fool’s cap.

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Oil slick hits Texas

tex.gifJohn Steinbeck once wrote, “Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession.” In light of that sentiment, it will be interesting to see what the Lone Star State makes of the oil slick fouling its beaches.

I witnessed plenty of Texas hubris having lived next door in Oklahoma for nine years. While the two states shared plenty of similarities, Texans viewed their northern neighbor as a sort of discount store knock-off of the gen-u-wine article.

Oklahomans carried a large cow-chip on their shoulder about it, and looked forward to the annual Texas-Oklahoma football game, known locally as “The Game,” to settle the score with Baja Oklahoma, as they sneeringly referred to territory south of the Red River.

The Game took place in Dallas, considered “neutral” territory between Austin and Norman, the hometowns of the two universities in question. Wealthy alumni would cruise drunkenly up and down Commerce Street the night before the clash in their brand-new Cadillac convertibles (bought just for the event), conducting endless car horn duels with specially-fitted klaxons that played the opening bars of “The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You,” or “Boomer Sooner.”

Texans viewed The Game as a reaffirmation of their supremacy in all things that mattered. Oklahomans saw it as an opportunity to take their blowhard brethren down a notch. Much in the way of testosterone-infused swagger rights rode on the outcome, not to mention a vast amount of legal tender.

It isn’t hard to imagine that--Texans being Texans--this cartoon will prove prescient. Shux, they even tussle with Florida over who has the biggest cockroaches.

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Chan Lowe: America's most hated man

tonyx.gifYou just knew, watching Tony Hayward bobbing and weaving and sliming around at his hearing, that he’d been coached the night before by a murder board of corporate image specialists and tort lawyers, each impersonating a congressman as he fired scattershot questions at him.

“Look contrite,” they admonished Mr. Hair Mousse. “Apologize all over the place that it happened. Take the arrows. Make the martyrdom of St. Sebastian look like a Sunday picnic, but whatever you do, DON’T ADMIT YOU DID ANYTHING WRONG!”

Any such disclosure, any slip into the matter of willful negligence, could mean billions in court. We won’t know anything until the investigations are finished, he said. Blame? Not his province, thank you very much. The matter should be put before an adjudicator.

It’s all a joke because we already know the answer. We’ve heard the testimony about the arguments over whether safety measures should have been taken, or whether the potential damage to BP’s profits was just too heavy to take the trouble.

What do you do with a person who feigns repentance when his heart and mind remain wrapped around the idea of safeguarding the bottom line above all else?

How about some condign punishment? Throw him in a cell lined with defective Chinese drywall, where he can spend the balance of his days inhaling the brimstone-laced fumes of a corporate irresponsibility that he had nothing to do with.

God knows BP’s victims have already been condemned to such a fate.

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Obama's Oval Office speech

infamy.gifFirst, a word of thanks to all you readers who kept faith with the blog while the Lowe-Down was off in the lush, rain-kissed mountains of Western Massachusetts attending his college reunion.

To those who posted comments hoping to see their deathless prose online, my apologies. Even cartoonists have to take a break once in a while to rest the fingers.

As for President Obama’s speech last night, I found myself unsatisfied. Sure, we elected the guy partly because he was cool and unflappable under fire, but sometimes circumstances call for more than a reasonable, analytical approach. They call for a little kick-ass.

Some say we shouldn’t blame him, because there really isn’t much a president can do besides show up at the scene and look concerned.

They are wrong. Were the president an FDR-style leader⎯a man with a sense of theatricality who was not afraid to display his emotional side with a nation in need of an emoter-in-chief⎯he could harness the inchoate babble of public anger and⎯like a laser mirror⎯forge and amplify it into a monochromatic, coherent beam of pure political energy.

He could focus this beam ⎯ a beam so white-hot that no lobbyist could quench it, not even with a fire hose spewing campaign contributions⎯on an inert and fearful congress, making its seats sizzle to the point where members would jump out of them to pass a set of meaningful laws that would finally break our addiction to fossil fuels and get us on the road to sustainable, clean energy, Manhattan Project-style.

Oh, well.

Artist's note: Why no color today? I was evoking a speech given in 1941. Everything back then happened in black and white...just ask your grandparents.

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Chan Lowe: Global warming hoax, Part II

hoax.gifIf I may, I am going to use the words of Golda Meir to make a point about the environment: "There will be peace when the Palestinians love their children more than they hate Israel."

Let’s hang on to the same brilliant locution and plug in a different subject: “The environment will improve when people love their children more than they hate paying higher prices for energy.”

Ultimately, cost is the siren song of the global warming hoax argument. Never forget the old Nixonian admonition, “Follow the money.” If there weren’t financial interests involved, there would be no point in arguing the issue. After all, alternative energy development and environmental stewardship⎯something that benefits us all right now⎯go hand in hand. If you ever needed proof, look at the Gulf.

Oil companies fear the specter of alternative energy sources, which is why they fund so many studies showing that man has nothing to do with climate change, and why they pay so many members of congress to swallow the results of those studies whole.

Average people are predisposed to sing along with that choir, because the hoax argument plays to their fears about higher costs for everything, and possible loss of jobs.

Unfortunately, we live in the now, not the future, and right now, some of us in our myopia see nothing but hardship ahead if we follow the green road.

There’s a flip side to this argument, which is that until we find out for sure what is responsible for climate change, it might be prudent to pretend that man is the cause.

Ah, fuggedaboudit. Let the future worry about itself.

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Chan Lowe: Tar balls on the Potomac?

tidal.gifThere may be a few folks still around who remember the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

The science of soil conservation was in its infancy, folks didn’t know about contour plowing, and when the wind started to blow, it scoured the topsoil right off the prairie.

When I lived out there, I heard a story that senators and congressmen from the great Midwestern farm states pleaded in vain for relief from a government that wasn’t used to being the handout of last resort. Remember, even Social Security was just getting off the ground. Folks tended to look after themselves, locally.

Besides, people didn’t travel as much back then, and there was no TV. So the evidence was mostly anecdotal, and lacked immediacy.

It finally got so bad that a wall of dust several thousand feet high blew all the way east and was visible from Washington, D.C. One senator gathered his colleagues on the Capitol balcony and said (I paraphrase), “Gentlemen, what you see before you is the State of Oklahoma.”

Finally, they voted for some funding.

So it may take something like tar balls in the Tidal Basin before these folks finally wean themselves off big oil’s teat and actually pass some laws and regulations that benefit the country instead of their own careers. Nothing like soiling someone’s own back yard to focus his attention.

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Chan Lowe: Funnel in position

dunce.gif No doubt, Tony Hayward’s chums at his Mayfair gentleman’s club speak of him in warm terms. “Sterling bloke, wot? I remember when he wore the lampshade and throw rug at the annual Christmas party and pretended to be Attila the Hun. Simply ripping fellow!”

But clearly, down in the Gulf of Mexico, our boy is what you might call a fish out of oily water. His comments about wanting his life back, and about the slick being not so large if you consider the vastness of the Gulf, come off as tone-deaf if not callous.

The fact that they’re delivered in a tony British boarding-school accent doesn’t make them any easier to swallow, as Americans witness the despoliation of their coastline by a corporate Goliath that views our precious environment as a wealth generator and nothing more.

BP is desperately trying to hang onto the shreds of its reputation by deliberately under-reporting the bad news and organizing Potemkin cleanup squads for the TV cameras.

As one of its maladroit stabs at self-rehabilitation, the corporation might consider sacking its feckless CEO. Nothing would communicate more effectively to an exasperated public that BP really was sorry about what happened, and it might give a tiny measure of solace to those who never will get their lives back that at least one of the cheeses had to learn some compassion the hard way.

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Chan Lowe: Death by oil

kidding.gifWinston Churchill, who was known as a superb practitioner of the mother tongue, said the following in his inaugural speech as Prime Minister in 1940: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.”

How well do you think a speech like this would go over in today’s America? Of course, the British didn’t need to be convinced that crunch time had arrived; the only thing that separated them from the Nazi war machine was 22 miles of English Channel, and they realized—too late⎯that they had squandered the previous 20 years in an idealistic fog when they should have been rearming.

Yet the threat that faces our country today is no less immediate or existential than that which faced England in 1940. It is a more insidious kind of threat, like the slick of oil that creeps across the surface of our pristine Gulf, enveloping all while we stand as observers, helpless to contain it.

We need a special kind of leadership, the kind that will--without fear of the effects on personal popularity--tell us what we must deny ourselves now so that we may continue to survive as a people.

Our self-indulgent energy consumption only stokes the dependency on oil that will kill us in the end—environmentally, economically, and strategically.

Sadly, leaders of Churchill’s caliber are all too rare, which is what makes them great. We could use one right now.

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Chan Lowe: Oil and the government

boot.gifThis is a Manhattan Project moment, as was 9/11. And we’re squandering it the same way we did then.

Had George Bush surrounded himself with advisers of broad vision and foresight, he could have molded the world into an interdependent, terror-proof network. He could have laid the foundation for a crash program leading to energy independence for America. Instead, he started a couple of wars.

Now a nation that is just beginning to grasp the true scope of the unfolding tragedy in the Gulf cries out for leadership, as it did in 2001.

Rather than provide it, the Obama Administration has gone into bunker mode, uttering empty platitudes and hollow ultimatums in an attempt to divert blame and responsibility in an election year.

We are awakening to the reality that our government is powerless to deal with the mess. A victim of its own lack of political will in not requiring that adequate safety provisions be put in place before drilling even began, it now reaps the whirlwind of its corrupt impotence.

We as a nation are forced to entrust the rescue and restoration of our environment to the very same soulless private sector whose cutting of corners resulted in its rape.

We are angry at the oil industry, the way a debtor is angry at his loan shark. We know that the oil companies are exacting what amounts to a national indemnity by providing us what we cannot do without. We are in their thrall, and we look to our leaders to extricate us.

But we don’t elect leaders anymore; we elect people who tell us what we want to hear. They reflect us, with all our weaknesses and addictions. If we can’t do anything ourselves to stop the madness, why should we expect them to?

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Chan Lowe: The long finger of blame

blackhole.gifSmall government, in theory, is an intoxicating idea until you suddenly need the benefits of big government.

Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who turned down federal stimulus money for his state last year in a fit of partisan pique, is now screaming about how little the feds appear to be doing to save his coastline.

Sarah Palin is out there, too, condemning the Obama administration for its ineptitude.

These are Louisiana’s wetlands being ruined, though, so isn’t this technically a state issue? Why should the people of Montana have to help pay to clean it up?

I’m being facetious, of course. We all know that BP is going to pay for everything and make us all whole again…the same way Exxon did after the Alaskan spill.

As for blame⎯it’s a long bar, and there are plenty of us who ought to be bellying up to it. Every time we hop in the SUV to tootle down to the store when we could have walked or ridden a bike, every time we leave the engine running to keep the AC cool when we duck into the dry cleaners, we stoke the beast’s appetite.

It’s fine to vent our spleen at BP for plowing up the Gulf in search of riches without a disaster plan, and it’s fine to rail at the government for not regulating enough or not enforcing the few regulations we have.

But it’s a lot like the drug trade. There wouldn’t be the murders, the kidnappings and the cartels if there weren’t a market for the product. Prevention of future disasters must begin at home.

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Chan Lowe: Cleanup in the Gulf


There really isn’t much more to say, except that after more than two centuries, the British finally avenged Cornwallis’ defeat at Yorktown…with compound interest.

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Chan Lowe: The Key West non-story

motel.gifSuddenly, everybody’s an environment reporter.

I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that the first landfall for the Great Spill⎯other than Alabama and Louisiana, which are already covered by the media like beach tar⎯happens to be Key West.

If a tar ball had turned up on the shores of Duluth, MN, one has to wonder whether hordes of media would have materialized to interview it in the same way they descended upon the Conch Republic, showering the bars and restaurants on Duval Street with their per diems.

As it happens, the tar balls weren’t from the Gulf slick anyway, but that wasn’t enough to halt the stampede.

The Key West overkill is simply a manifestation of two cardinal rules of news coverage: First, if you see a pack of journalists gathering somewhere, you’d better join it or you might lose out on a story. Second, if there’s any possible way to justify a junket⎯particularly to a resort⎯then it’s the responsibility of any self-respecting reporter to make the case.

The real slick is due in Key West in about a week. No doubt there are a few courageous members of the fifth estate who are busy convincing their editors they need to remain on site--tough as that might be--and wait it out.

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Chan Lowe: Why fear big government?

samx.gifWhat are you Tea Partiers worried about?

Crisis after crisis, the one common denominator that keeps popping up is that some government regulatory or enforcement body was incompetent, asleep at the switch, or incestuously intermingled with the industry it was meant to oversee.

When Washington displays this kind of ineptitude regarding the fat, easy targets, how can it possibly get its act together enough to intrude upon and control the lives of its individual citizens?

Congress can pass⎯and President Obama can sign⎯all the “socialistic” and “Nazi” laws they want to, but when the black helicopters land in your back yard and they beat down your door, it sounds like all you have to do is provide some booze, broads, and a few lines of coke, and they’ll be putty in your hands.

If it’s the SEC that concerns you, then simply tune your laptop to some hot Internet porn. That ought to keep ’em distracted for a while.

As for protecting our borders, local law enforcement in places like Arizona will be so busy mistakenly rounding up suspiciously ethnic-looking American citizens that the real illegals will slip through to Colorado, Kansas and Minnesota faster than a personal injury lawyer can file a false arrest lawsuit. If you aren’t brown and don’t have a Mexican accent, they won’t be interested in you.

So chill.

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Chan Lowe: The great slick cometh

flaslick.gifThis is beginning to look a lot like the Wall Street bailout all over again: the privatization of profit and the socialization of risk.

BP has been making a big sanctimonious stink about how it’s going to pay for the entire cleanup, as well it should.

But after that, the company is only liable for $75 million in compensation to mitigate the damage done to everyone from shrimp fishermen to mom-and-pop motels along the coast.

Considering all the tort lawyers who have swarmed the Gulf Coast to sign up clients, that $75 mil isn’t going to stretch very far. “Here’s your hundred bucks minus my commission, Ma’am. Have a good life.”

The U.S. Senate is talking about raising the cap for damages to $10 billion, but you know how that’s going to go. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska will put a personal hold on it and it won’t go anywhere. She doesn’t even have to make it one of those infamous “secret holds,” since there will be no downside for her back in her home state.

I love her reasoning: A cap that high will squeeze all the little people out of the offshore drilling business. Only the huge mega-corporations will be able to afford it. Right. “Hey, Duane! Let’s take that money you got for sellin’ the Fairlane and go sink us a billion-dollar rig out there in the gulf. We’ll get rich quick.”

So, absent making BP and related villains pony up, who will that leave to make us all whole again?

Us, of course.

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Chan Lowe: Charlie Crist, Founding Father


Since Charlie Crist cut himself off from his fecund Republican funding sources, he’s been leveraging his governor’s pulpit to the hilt.

His latest move is to call a special session (costing taxpayers $40,000 per day) to pass a state constitutional amendment banning offshore drilling for all time. It’s a textbook example of how he can bend the power of his office to his own ends.

Aside from the fact that it may be as bad an idea to enshrine a drilling ban in the constitution as it was to protect pregnant pigs (yes, newcomers, that happened), Charlie is banking on us to forget that a short time ago⎯pre-slick⎯he was touting offshore drilling as a way to help deliver the state from its fiscal woes.

It's a gamble that will probably pay off, because the Pennsylvania transplant knows as well as anyone that in a transient state like Florida, name recognition pays off in a way that it doesn’t in places where pols and voters grew up knowing each other.

Those who are familiar with Charlie and his career are becoming more and more disappointed⎯in some cases, disgusted⎯with his spinelessness. But most voters don’t follow that closely. They’ve heard of him, more than they’ve heard of Kendrick Meek and Marco Rubio. They neither know nor care that he’s a human weather vane.

Whatever direction the parade goes in, all that matters to Charlie is that he’s out front playing the drum major, and that everybody's keeping time to his beat.

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Chan Lowe: Oil slick hearings

BP.gifIt’s return on investment time.

Well, it’s always return on investment time for the oil companies when it comes to making political contributions, but usually the payoff gets worked out behind closed doors, and appears in the form of favorable small print buried deep in a piece of legislation.

Now, thanks to the slick, we have a public with blood in its eye, and it expects bread and circuses out of its elected representatives in Washington.

Let’s all hunker down in front of C-SPAN and watch the kabuki play--or if we can’t handle the full performance, at least take in the juiciest sound bites on cable news. After all, we paid for it.

The BP execs will cower like little boys caught smoking in the boiler room, they’ll all blame the equipment manufacturers or anybody else who has a stake in this mess, and the proceeding will wind up with a sanctimonious tongue-lashing from the committee chairman. Maybe a few other pols facing reelection will chime in, too.

Then the photographers will pack up their equipment, the TV crews will cap their lenses, and the whole cast of characters will head off to The Palm or some other D.C. power eatery and toast one another over hand-cut steaks and Grey Goose martinis.

Just another day in Washington, doing the people’s business.

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Chan Lowe: The slick giveth

tort.gifIn a mega-disaster, where some see the ruination of their homeland, livelihood and culture, others see opportunity, particularly those who are perpetually on the alert for such things.

If you’re a tort lawyer, for example, a class action suit is the holy grail of your profession. Once you have aggregated your client base⎯a “dividend-multiplier” if you will⎯then for the same amount of legal work as you would perform in a single case, you are entitled to a wedge of thousands of little pies.

The goal is to be the first on the scene with the most aggressive team, so you can get your finger in as many of those pies as possible before somebody else tries to muscle his way in.

This case is literally oozing with potential: “BP” might as well stand for “Bulging Pockets.” As the oil seeps around the Florida peninsula and on up to the Tidal Basin in Washington, it could be the gift that keeps on giving long after the gusher has finally been capped.

So the slick taketh away, but it also giveth. If you want to think of it in purely financial terms, it has become its own dynamic ecosystem.

Of course, it takes a special kind of person to think of it in purely financial terms.

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Chan Lowe: The Gulf oil spill

spill.gifEvery disaster is abstract until it happens.

It can be demagogued, exploited, twisted, disputed, trivialized and even ignored when it is still theoretical.

Now, as the tendrils of oil approach the coast of the southeastern United States⎯ with heartbreaking pictures of petroleum-soaked wildlife struggling ashore on ruined beaches sure to follow⎯ everybody from Sarah Palin to Barack Obama suddenly finds himself on the wrong side of history.

Drill, baby, drill? Whoever said that? It’s so 2008.

The reality that our insatiable energy demands require us to drill in the Gulf in the first place provides a perfect segue to something I witnessed on the way to work this morning: Here in Florida we have these gorgeous trees called tabebuias that bloom an electric yellow for a few weeks, then drop all their petals to the ground, creating an enormous mess.

I passed a shopping center where a maintenance worker was cleaning up after one of these things. Rather than rake up the petals and dispose of them, he was using a gasoline-powered blower to disperse them off the property and into the street--where they became everyone else’s problem, meaning no one’s problem.

So, after all the fuel was burned and the additional greenhouse gases were released into the atmosphere, absolutely nothing of value was accomplished.

How perfectly American.

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Chan Lowe: Obama drills

chill.gifThe White House's chess game is verging on being a little too clever for its own good.

The calculation is that throwing a sop to the Republicans in the form of relaxed offshore drilling restrictions will buy cooperation from them later. In fact, they will be so disarmed by this gesture that they'll dance with Obama on more ambitious energy initiatives.

Meanwhile, the Democratic "base," which counted on Obama to rectify some of the environmental misdeeds of the Bush administration--and certainly not ape them-- will have nowhere else to turn in November.

Even if the Republicans don't play ball, their slapping of this outstretched hand will prove to the public that they are, indeed, the party of obstructionism, and it will punish them on election day.

There are two things wrong with this scenario: First, it looks like the Republicans, far from being charmed, are saying that the gesture is so flimsy, it's almost an insult. Saying "no" has worked for them so far. Why change the strategy now?

Second, what Obama did was just enough to infuriate the environmentalists. Yes, they have somewhere else to go on election day, which is to go hug some tree in the backyard rather than head to the polls.

The grand plan a gamble, and not even a smart one. He could well lose, and so will the environment.

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Chan Lowe: Global warming hoax

Was it Voltaire or Descartes? I don’t remember…the Age of Enlightenment was centuries ago, and at the time I first heard about it, I was concentrating on the Cartesian curves of Mlle. Daphné, a young woman in my high school French class. Je désire, donc je suis.

Anyway, something one of those periwigged philosophers wrote actually managed to penetrate my teenage hormonal haze and take root.

“What if everything we’ve heard about God, creation, the purpose of Man, the soul, and divine salvation are all just a big joke (I paraphrase)? Even if that’s so, and we simply disappear into a void at the end, isn’t expressing a moral life of probity, humility and compassion for one’s fellow man the best way to live? Then, if we happen to find out when we die that it’s all for real, we are saved.”

If you extend this line of thinking, then maybe practicing good stewardship of our planet is worthy in its own right, even if climate change isn’t the result of man’s actions.

There’s no question that we pollute. Accessible, potable fresh water for millions of the world’s population is only a dream. In many places, people get diseases and die from the poor air quality.

Why not just pretend we’re to blame, and act accordingly, even if we can’t accept the fact? That way, there’s no chance of finding out we were wrong after it’s too late to do anything about it.

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Death of the Hummer

dino.gifMaybe this should be another entry in the "Future Generations Will Curse Us" category.

"What on earth could they have been thinking," travelers will muse in 2050 as they set sail on their wind-powered tricycles, "to burn precious gasoline at the rate of one gallon per ten miles, in order to power a multi-tonned metal monster down to the dry cleaner's and back?"

Their disgust will be tempered by incredulity: "Did you know that back then, besides trying to look cool by riding high and proud in bogus military-style vehicles, people used to surgically implant bags full of plastic in their chests in order to make themselves more attractive? How primitive!"

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Pythons in the Everglades

pythons.gifToday's immigrants are the next generation's founding fathers, and the first thing the next generation wants is no more immigrants.

It's probably as true of reptiles as it is of people.

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EPA, greenhouse gases, global warming

smog.gifAs expected, nothing gets my readers' knickers more tightly knotted up than any mention of the International Com-Symp Liberal Egghead Hacked-Email Global Warming Conspiracy.

Except maybe something about health care reform.

Anyway, since it seems to be climate change week, one has to wonder about this earth-shattering pronouncement by the EPA that greenhouse gases are harmful to public health.

I realize that they're merely setting the legal stage for regulation of our precious CO and CO2 emissions, which many Americans hold dear, but anybody who has ever tried putting a hose from his exhaust pipe into his car window knows the stuff is bad for you.

If you ask me, it's just one more case of an intrusive government attempting to dictate what's best and worst for us. It all started when we let them fluoridate our drinking water.

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Blowing smoke at Copenhagen

copenhagen.gifSo it's down to us and the Chinese as the biggest offenders.

Only, the Chinese--being no fools--have begun investing heavily in alternative-energy industries even while they continue to befoul the environment. They are actually implementing a green jobs program that that Socialist in the White House can only dream about.

The Chinese political system isn't hobbled by self-interested senators from energy-producing states who hold enormous sway in government policy, so they are more supple than we are when it comes to turning the ship of state around, at least in this regard.

Besides, we all know that climate change is a hoax, anyway, so let the other fools invest in windmills and solar mirrors and hamster treadmills or whatever. We've got jobs in the mines and the oil patch to protect, and nowadays, nobody wants to interfere with the jobs we've still got.

And what if we're wrong, and it isn't a hoax? That's the beauty of it: nobody's gonna know until it's too late. And those who may find out the hard way either aren't born yet, or they're still too young to vote.

Party on.

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Drill, baby, drill!

I used to live in the “awl patch,” which is the folksy term used to describe that part of the country where petroleum and natural gas are extracted from deep inside the earth.

When the wind was right, there was a smell--not unlike what you smell when your neighbor’s roof is being tarred. That, along with the aroma coming from the feedlots, was what the locals called “the smell of money.”

The awl patch ain’t purty. I once passed through a town in the Texas Panhandle that was surrounded by oilfields. The unrelenting removal of liquid and gas from beneath the surface had caused the land above to buckle and collapse in unnatural ways. It was devoid of vegetation, and the whole tableau--dotted by pumps and power poles leaning at crazy angles--looked like a moonscape being preyed upon by a swarm of mechanical locusts.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing, because that land was probably not too appealing to begin with. But now we hear that a consortium of Texas wildcatters is trying to, um, influence the Florida Legislature to relax our offshore drilling ban with tales of vast riches to replenish the state’s depleted kitty.

Considering that preserving the natural beauty of the coastal environment is not exactly a priority for our out-of-state investors, maybe they shouldn't be trusted with the welfare of Florida’s beaches, which are pretty appealing.

But, shux--if we don't have enough gasoline to drive to 'em, what's the point in having 'em, anyway?

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Burmese pythons in the backyard

The presence in our local environment of creatures like the Formosan termite, the Bahamian curly-tailed lizard, the Africanized bee and the dreaded Cuban death's head roach is understandable, and probably unavoidable in today's free-trade world.

These uninvited guests arrived by way of shipping containers from far-off lands, or in the case of the bee, by an accidental release.

The problem of the lionfish and the Burmese python, however, can be traced to irresponsible idiots who keep these predators as interesting pets until they get too big or annoying to keep in the house.

What do you do if you're a typical Floridian who's gotten all the use out of something that he wants to, and is ready to move on? Dump it and forget it. That's what that big swamp back there, and that ocean out front, are for. You don't even think twice about letting it become somebody else's problem, because this is Florida. Other people don't worry about trashing the environment, so why should you? After all, it's pretty much trashed already.

When the place becomes so polluted and overrun with exotic, predatory wildlife that human existence becomes untenable, you can always just move to another state, the same way you moved in. Run a few red lights on your way out while you're at it. Weave in and out of traffic. Toss the packaging from your fast-food lunch on the highway.

Somebody else'll clean up the mess.

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About the author
Chan LoweCHAN LOWE has been the Sun Sentinel’s first and only editorial cartoonist for the past twenty-six years. Before that, he worked as cartoonist and writer for the Oklahoma City Times and the Shawnee (OK) News-Star.

Chan went to school in New York City, Los Angeles, and the U.K., and graduated from Williams College in 1975 with a degree in Art History. He also spent a year at Stanford University as a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow.

His work has won numerous awards, including the Green Eyeshade Award and the National Press Foundation Berryman Award. He has also been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His cartoons have won multiple first-place awards in all of the Florida state journalism contests, and The Lowe-Down blog, which he began in 2008, has won writing awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists.
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