Friday, May 28, 2010

Environmental Impact

What is the best way to reduce the United States carbon footprint?

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is proof that something important needs to happen in the next couple weeks in terms of the United States Congress passing an energy bill that weans the country from its dependence on oil and other fossil fuels. There top two contenders are cap and trade or cap and dividend, but neither one has the support to pass the Senate.

Cap and trade was gaining strength in Congress, passed in the house last June, but the Senate hasn’t been able to bring it to the floor for a vote. That is because a small group of citizens, mostly Tea Party members, spoke out against it due to the possibility of job losses and increased utility costs.

But cap and trade protesters haven’t taken into account the real impact on the health of workers in mines and on the health of workers drilling for oil. What about the health costs of people living near mines and oil refineries? These costs aren’t mentioned by them because they only care about the cheap price of oil and coal.

West Virginia University did a study in 2008 about the impact of coal mining on the Appalachia economy and the socioeconomic impact of mining. The results showed a decrease in life expectancy of people working and living near coal mines. The study also showed that areas that don’t rely on coal mining do better.

Oil drilling and Oil refineries are also responsible for a wide range of health and environmental impacts that range from increased cancer rates to increased hydrogen sulfide emissions. The Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School did a study that highlights the need to move away from using oil as a means of energy.

An oilman from Texas named Thomas Boone Pickens also has a plan called the Pickens Plan that promises to create jobs, modernize electric grids, provide incentives to homeowners and commercial property owners to reduce energy consumption, and switch from oil to natural gas in automobiles. Pickens used United States Energy Information Administration statics that claim natural gas burns cleaner than coal.

Cap and dividend is used in the Cantwell-Collins bill, better known as the Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal Act, which gained corporate support from ExxonMobil and AARP. This bill's goal is to require fuel producers to buy credits at auction and the revenues raised from the auction will be given back to low- and middle-class Americans in the form of rebates. The bill doesn’t deny that utility cost won’t go up in states that rely on coal power, but it does promise help in paying those bills.

Jim Doyle tried to get his Clean Air Job Act passed this April, but couldn’t get it passed due to the lack of support from his own party members. The bill promised to create 15,000 green jobs, but also demanded power companies get 25% of their power from renewable sources by 2025.

Utility bills also seemed to be a sticking pointing in getting the legislation passed. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that utility bills in Wisconsin increased by 39% to 70% since 2001.

It is unlikely that coal and oil will reach a high enough price that companies will look to alternative energies—unless government gets involved. Higher prices in theory should lead to change, but the problem with theory is that it isn’t always right.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Big Sister

“I wanted to do something for my community, and fate stepped in when I spotted a flier at work. It was a Big Brothers and Big Sisters flier, so I took it back to my cubicle and called the number,” Melissa Nelson said.
Melissa Nelson joined Big Brothers and Big Sisters to get a little sister, to help improve her Spanish skills, and to learn about herself. She became a big sister on October 14, 2004 to Hannah Villarreal.
“I did not know what to expect when I became Hannah’s big sister, because I only had a little brother, so it was a new experience for me.” Melissa said. Hannah just turned thirteen, and was an excellent match for Melissa, because Melissa's second language is Spanish. Melissa used Spanish to improve Hannah's English skills, because she was able to explain things to Hannah that she couldn't get from her mom. Hannah's mom doesn't speak English.
Melissa spends a lot of time with Hannah. During the school year, she picks Hannah up from school on Thursdays, and every Saturday she takes Hannah to the library. In the summer, Melissa just picks Hannah up every Saturday, so they can go biking or to the movies.
The friendship also gave Hannah a role model. A friend she could call when struggling in school or just to talk to when she felt like talking. When asked about her big sister, Hannah said, “I was really excited to meet Melissa. She is very nice to me. She bought me a bike for my birthday and took me to see Shrek 4. ”
Melissa also started a savings account for Hannah, with the hopes it will help Hannah pay for college.
"I believe with college will be a reality for Hannah," Melissa said. "I am going to do my best to see her walk across that stage and receive her diploma."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Law and Order

How do you end a show with 20 years of success on NBC? You end it the way you end every episode and that is what the writers of "Law and Order" did last night; you have closure, with only a few questions about what will they do tomorrow.

"Law and Order" used the hour format to highlight how the district attorney's office works with law enforcement. It also used a cast of characters that gave the show a sense of realism.

Lt. Anita Van Burren played S. Epatha Merkerson was diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of this season. Merkerson announced that this season would be her final, after 17 years on the show, and the ending was a nice way to say good bye to her.

No, she didn’t get shot or die from her cancer. She received news from her doctor the cancer was gone and she also got engaged. A happy ending for a character that over the years remained stone for her fellow cops to rest their weary hearts upon.

If "Law and Order" doesn’t get picked up by TNT, its last case called to attention the power of teachers’ union, and teachers face in the modern schools. At times, the episode preached more than telling the story, but a little preaching is what a viewer comes to expect from the show.

And the villain was a good New York teacher upset by accusations that ended his career. He is sent to the "Rubber Room" and listens and blogs about the teachers he meets in the room. The blog is also a place for him to warn the public about his plans to make himself famous. Detectives Lupo and Bernard arrived at the school just in time to prevent the disaster.

The final scene also didn’t give any hints that it might be the end for the cast of characters, or did it grab as much media attention as the final episodes of "24" and"Lost"did. "Law and Order" didn't need the hype to get the ratings, because the ratings came with the good stories and interesting characters.