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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Beyond the Headlines

Air Date: Week of

The ski-jumping events at Sochi needed lots of artificial snow. Many of the world’s winter Olympic locations will be too warm to host the games in the future (photo: Atos International, Creative Commons 2.0)

In this week’s trip beyond the headlines, Daily Climate publisher Peter Dykstra and Living on Earth host Steve Curwood discuss Chevron’s insensitive response to a fracking accident and the Flat Earth Society President’s thoughts on climate change.


CURWOOD: Let's take a few minutes and a spade now to dig beyond the headlines with Peter Dykstra. He's publisher of DailyClimate.org and Environmental Health News - that's EHN.org. And as usual he’s on the line from Conyers, Georgia. Hi there, Peter, what’s on offer this week?

DYKSTRA: Well, hi, Steve. I’m going to start out with something you’ve already touched on the show. Secretary of State Kerry pretty much threw down the gauntlet, he likened climate change to a weapon of mass destruction, but when he said that the former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had a cow, and he called for John Kerry’s resignation.

CURWOOD: So, wait. Newt Gingrich is pushing back against climate change, but didn’t he do a TV commercial with Democrat Nancy Pelosi a few years back calling for action on climate change?

DYKSTRA: He did indeed, and that would be an interesting climate change debate, to pair up Newt Gingrich from 2014 against Newt Gingrich from 2008 on climate.

Here’s something else Secretary Kerry touched on. He quoted President Obama, who last year compared climate deniers to the “Flat Earth Society.” And you know actually I have a little problem with that, comparing climate deniers to Flat Earthers, because last year, there was a reporter named Alex Seitz-Wald. He’s from Slate.com. He actually tracked down the President of the Flat Earth Society, Daniel Shenton…

CURWOOD: Wait a second here, Peter. There really is a Flat Earth Society?

DYKSTRA: Of course there’s a Flat Earth Society, Steve, what’s the matter with you? Their website says the Flat Earth Society is also accepting new members now, by the way, and yes, they really do think the Earth is flat. But their President, Daniel Shenton, said he accepts the notion that fossil fuel burning is warming the earth.

CURWOOD: So even the Flat Earth Society believes in global warming?

DYKSTRA: Not quite, because President Shenton made it clear that he was speaking for himself, not for the entire Flat Earth membership. But you can say that the leading proponent of Flat Earth Theory has figured out that CO2 warms the planet, whatever shape our planet may actually be.

CURWOOD: And - elsewhere on the globe, if in fact it is a globe?

DYKSTRA: Here’s a story that I think is a little bit surreal. Out in Bobtown, Pennsylvania, north of Pittsburgh, they were preparing a natural gas fracking well last week. The well blew out. It’s a pretty serious story, there’s one Chevron contractor who went missing, another one was injured, and it totally scared the locals out of their wits.

CURWOOD: So, being a very responsible corporation, Chevron must have swung into action to fix the problem and calm local folks, right?

DYKSTRA: Oh, they did, but the most conspicuous gesture from Chevron didn’t go over well. What do you do to tell your neighbors you’re sorry for the ear-splitting explosion and ongoing gas venting?

CURWOOD: Do tell, Peter.

DYKSTRA: You give them free pizza. About a hundred neighbors closest to the blast, they got a letter of apology from Chevron and a coupon for a free pizza from the local pizza joint.

CURWOOD: Is that all?

DYKSTRA: No that’s not all. The coupon was also good for a two-liter bottle of the beverage of their choice.

CURWOOD: I can hear the voiceover of the ads right now: “If our gas well explodes, your pizza is free.”

DYKSTRA: Yeah, pretty much. To be fair to Chevron, they’re donating money as well to local fire departments. They’re doing some other things, but it’s a really strange parable. The fracking phenomenon is growing. There’s a lot of small town jobs and money to be made, there’s a lot more to be made at the Wall Street, the power politics, the total overhaul, for better or worse, of our energy system, but there are also enormous unanswered questions, enormous environmental risks and opposition both nationally and locally in a lot of places.

CURWOOD: Ah, a mere slice of the epic story of fracking.

DYKSTRA: Yeah, thank you. That was cheesy.

CURWOOD: What else do you have for us?

DYKSTRA: Have you been watching your Winter Olympics the past weeks?

CURWOOD: How could I avoid it?

DYKSTRA: Well, it’s been a little un-winterish over in Sochi. They’ve had problems with soft ice and snow, with temperatures in the host city over 60 degrees Fahrenheit a few times. There were a couple of days at the home of the Winter Olympics where it was warmer than places in Florida this past week.

CURWOOD: And with all the planning and building and hype that goes into staging the Olympics, the weather is always a wild card, right?

DYKSTRA: Of course there’s weather around the world, but there’s also global climate, and that’s a little different. The next Winter Olympics are in 2018. They’re supposed to be in South Korea. It’s a fairly cold location based on average temperatures. But after that in 2022, they haven’t picked that site yet. There are five competing places to host the 2022 Winter Games. Our Daily Climate reporter Lindsey Konkel took climate projections for those five places: Beijing, Oslo, also cities in Poland and Kazakhstan, and the Ukraine. And all five of the contestants to host the 2022 Winter Olympics are potentially looking at average temperatures that might make Sochi look absolutely frostbitten.

CURWOOD: Does the slush factor figure into what the Olympic Committee uses to decide where they site games. They look at climate change?

DYKSTRA: Ah, they do. They actually have for the past couple of Olympics, and we’re looking to see how the decision comes out for 2022. That decision is due just about a year from now. Those five choices may all have question marks though.

CURWOOD: Peter Dykstra is publisher of Environmental Health News and the DailyClimate.org. And to get more on these stories you can go to our website - that’s LOE.org. Thanks, Peter.

DYKSTRA: Thanks Steve, talk to you soon!



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