Navajos Hope to Shift From Coal to Wind and Sun

Published: October 25, 2010

BLUE GAP, Ariz. — For decades, coal has been an economic lifeline for the Navajos, even as mining and power plant emissions dulled the blue skies and sullied the waters of their sprawling reservation.

But today there are stirrings of rebellion. Seeking to reverse years of environmental degradation and return to their traditional values, many Navajos are calling for a future built instead on solar farms, ecotourism and microbusinesses.

“At some point we have to wean ourselves,” Earl Tulley, a Navajo housing official, said of coal as he sat on the dirt floor of his family’s hogan, a traditional circular dwelling.

Mr. Tulley, who is running for vice president of the Navajo Nation in the Nov. 2 election, represents a growing movement among Navajos that embraces environmental healing and greater reliance on the sun and wind, abundant resources on a 17 million-acre reservation spanning Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

“We need to look at the bigger picture of sustainable development,” said Mr. Tulley, the first environmentalist to run on a Navajo presidential ticket.

With nearly 300,000 members, the Navajo Nation is the country’s largest tribe, according to Census Bureau estimates, and it has the biggest reservation. Coal mines and coal-fired power plants on the reservation and on lands shared with the Hopi provide about 1,500 jobs and more than a third of the tribe’s annual operating budget, the largest source of revenue after government grants and taxes.

At the grass-roots level, the internal movement advocating a retreat from coal is both a reaction to the environmental damage and the health consequences of mining — water loss and contamination, smog and soot pollution — and a reconsideration of centuries-old tenets.

In Navajo culture, some spiritual guides say, digging up the earth to retrieve resources like coal and uranium (which the reservation also produced until health issues led to a ban in 2005) is tantamount to cutting skin and represents a betrayal of a duty to protect the land.

“As medicine people, we don’t extract resources,” said Anthony Lee Sr., president of the Diné Hataalii Association, a group of about 100 healers known as medicine men and women.

But the shift is also prompted by economic realities. Tribal leaders say the Navajo Nation’s income from coal has dwindled 15 percent to 20 percent in recent years as federal and state pollution regulations have imposed costly restrictions and lessened the demand for mining.

Two coal mines on the reservation have shut down in the last five years. One of them, the Black Mesa mine, ceased operations because the owners of the power plant it fed in Laughlin, Nev., chose to close the plant in 2005 rather than spend $1.2 billion on retrofitting it to meet pollution controls required by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Early this month, the E.P.A. signaled that it would require an Arizona utility to install $717 million in emission controls at another site on the reservation, the Four Corners Power Plant in New Mexico, describing it as the highest emitter of nitrous oxide of any power plant in the nation. It is also weighing costly new rules for the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona.

And states that rely on Navajo coal, like California, are increasingly imposing greenhouse gas emissions standards and requiring renewable energy purchases, banning or restricting the use of coal for electricity.

So even as they seek higher royalties and new markets for their vast coal reserves, tribal officials say they are working to draft the tribe’s first comprehensive energy policy and are gradually turning to casinos, renewable energy projects and other sources for income.

This year the tribal government approved a wind farm to be built west of Flagstaff, Ariz., to power up to 20,000 homes in the region. Last year, the tribal legislative council also created a Navajo Green Economy Commission to promote environmentally friendly jobs and businesses.

“We need to create our own businesses and control our destiny,” said Ben Shelly, the Navajo Nation vice president, who is now running for president against Lynda Lovejoy, a state senator in New Mexico and Mr. Tulley’s running mate.

That message is gaining traction among Navajos who have reaped few benefits from coal or who feel that their health has suffered because of it.

Curtis Yazzie, 43, for example, lives in northeastern Arizona without running water or electricity in a log cabin just a stone’s throw from the Kayenta mine.

Tribal officials, who say some families live so remotely that it would cost too much to run power lines to their homes, have begun bringing hybrid solar and wind power to some of the estimated 18,000 homes on the reservation without electricity. But Mr. Yazzie says that air and water pollution, not electricity, are his first concerns.

“Quite a few of my relatives have made a good living working for the coal mine, but a lot of them are beginning to have health problems,” he said. “I don’t know how it’s going to affect me.”

One of those relatives is Daniel Benally, 73, who says he lives with shortness of breath after working for the Black Mesa mine in the same area for 35 years as a heavy equipment operator. Coal provided for his family, including 15 children from two marriages, but he said he now believed that the job was not worth the health and environmental problems.

“There’s no equity between benefit and damage,” he said in Navajo through a translator.

About 600 mine, pipeline and power plant jobs were affected when the Mohave Generating Station in Nevada and Peabody’s Black Mesa mine shut down.

But that also meant that Peabody stopped drawing water from the local aquifer for the coal slurry carried by an underground pipeline to the power plant — a victory for Navajo and national environmental groups active in the area, like the Sierra Club.

Studies have shown serious declines in the water levels of the Navajo aquifer after decades of massive pumping for coal slurry operations. And the E.P.A. has singled out the Four Corners Power Plant and the Navajo Generating Station as two of the largest air polluters in the country, affecting visibility in 27 of the area’s “most pristine and precious natural areas,” including the Grand Canyon.

The regional E.P.A. director, Jared Blumenfeld, said the plants were the nation’s No. 1 and No. 4 emitters of nitrogen oxides, which form fine particulates resulting in cases of asthma attacks, bronchitis, heart attacks and premature deaths.

Environmentalists are now advocating for a more diversified Navajo economy and trying to push power plants to invest in wind and solar projects.

“It’s a new day for the Navajo people,” said Lori Goodman, an official with Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, a group founded 22 years ago by Mr. Tulley. “We can’t be trashing the land anymore.”

Both presidential candidates in the Navajo election have made the pursuit of cleaner energy a campaign theme, but significant hurdles remain, including that Indian tribes, as sovereign entities, are not eligible for tax credits that help finance renewable energy projects elsewhere.

And replacing coal revenue would not be easy. The mining jobs that remain, which pay union wages, are still precious on a reservation where unemployment is estimated at 50 percent to 60 percent.

“Mining on Black Mesa,” Peabody officials said in a statement, “has generated $12 billion in direct and implied economic benefits over the past 40 years, created thousands of jobs, sent thousands of students to college and restored lands to a condition that is as much as 20 times more productive than native range.”

They added, “Renewables won’t come close to matching the scale of these benefits.”

But many Navajos see the waning of coal as inevitable and are already looking ahead. Some residents and communities are joining together or pairing with outside companies to pursue small-scale renewable energy projects on their own.

Wahleah Johns, a member of the new Navajo Green Economy Commission, is studying the feasibility of a small solar project on reclaimed mining lands with two associates. In the meantime, she uses solar panels as a consciousness-raising tool.

“How can we utilize reclamation lands?” she said to Mr. Yazzie during a recent visit as they held their young daughters in his living room. “Maybe we can use them for solar panels to generate electricity for Los Angeles, to transform something that’s been devastating for our land and water into something that can generate revenue for your family, for your kids.”

Mr. Yazzie, who lives with his wife, three children and two brothers, said he liked the idea. “Once Peabody takes all the coal out, it’ll be gone,” he said. “Solar would be long-term. Solar and wind, we don’t have a problem with. It’s pretty windy out here.”



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The True Value of Green

By David Peri

Green is the leaves and needles of healthy, thriving, living forests.  Green signals best environmental efforts conserving Nature.  Green is the color of the American dollar.  Green performance wastes nothing – not energy, nature, health, materials, time or money.

The latest 5th generation German WeberHaus home construction matches your unique architectural design with high-quality aerospace CAD/CAM construction, sustainable natural materials in the hands of certified master-craftsmen to produce arguably the Greenest homes in the world.  These homes marry the best possible technology, materials and craftsmanship producing verifiably a moral home for centuries of living in harmony with Nature, adding value and saving money – not at one step, but at every step.  This Green performance is measurable – from start to finish – for a home built for generations, as aesthetically beautiful and delightful to live within as it is morally in harmony with Nature without. Here, Green is the best, fastest, strongest, healthiest, natural, moral and money saving way to build on earth.

Objective Green Advantages

Four verifiable ways measuring Green value:

  1. Empirical, scientific advantages inside and out delivering measurable savings of time, health, money, energy and materials;
  2. Subjective emotional advantages from living within aesthetically beautiful spaces flooded with natural light and materials delighting the senses – supporting greater productivity and harmony;
  3. More healthful living where natural organic materials grown and harvested sustainably provide a living environment free of those common building materials known to produce harmful gases aggravating asthma, allergies and other ills;
  4. Increased ethical living by knowingly not sacrificing the future – of your own future great grandchildren – of the earth’s resources and other living creatures – by rising above the common selfishness of the modern consumptive lifestyle.

Green isn’t an empty colorless boast.  Independent, 3rd-party verification of each and every Green performance claim is available.  These Green home advantages are measured in lifetimes – yours, your family’s, your neighbor’s, and the rest of the world outside your home.  These homes produce healthy environments – inside and out – delivering value measured to anyone willing to take the time to look and see.  This is a Return-On-Investment that saves money, time, health, energy, materials and something more valuable – the future.

Sustaining a healthy thriving earth isn’t an impossible utopian dream but a choice.  Standing on the shoulders of centuries of advancement, today a 21st Century home is available using best practices to deliver the best possible shelter for those who can’t afford anything less.

Green is a simple color, meaning the best, most valuable, without apology, waste or excuse.

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In Kansas, Climate Skeptics Embrace Cleaner Energy

Published: October 18, 2010

SALINA, Kan. — Residents of this deeply conservative city do not put much stock in scientific predictions of climate change.

“Don’t mention global warming,” warned Nancy Jackson, chairwoman of the Climate and Energy Project, a small nonprofit group that aims to get people to rein in the fossil fuel emissions that contribute to climate change. “And don’t mention Al Gore. People out here just hate him.”

Saving energy, though, is another matter.

Last Halloween, schoolchildren here searched for “vampire” electric loads, or appliances that sap energy even when they seem to be off. Energy-efficient LED lights twinkled on the town’s Christmas tree. On Valentine’s Day, local restaurants left their dining room lights off and served meals by candlelight.

The fever for reducing dependence on fossil fuels has spread beyond this city of red-brick Eisenhower-era buildings to other towns on the Kansas plains. A Lutheran church in nearby Lindsborg was inspired to install geothermal heating. The principal of Mount Hope’s elementary school dressed up as an energy bandit at a student assembly on home-energy conservation. Hutchinson won a contract to become home to a $50 million wind turbine factory.

Town managers attribute the new resolve mostly to a yearlong competition sponsored by the Climate and Energy Project, which set out to extricate energy issues from the charged arena of climate politics.

Attempts by the Obama administration to regulate greenhouse gases are highly unpopular here because of opposition to large-scale government intervention. Some are skeptical that humans might fundamentally alter a world that was created by God.

If the heartland is to seriously reduce its dependence on coal and oil, Ms. Jackson and others decided, the issues must be separated. So the project ran an experiment to see if by focusing on thrift, patriotism, spiritual conviction and economic prosperity, it could rally residents of six Kansas towns to take meaningful steps to conserve energy and consider renewable fuels.

Think of it as a green variation on “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” Ms. Jackson suggested, referring to the 2004 book by Thomas Frank that contended that Republicans had come to dominate the state’s elections by exploiting social values.

The project’s strategy seems to have worked. In the course of the program, which ended last spring, energy use in the towns declined as much as 5 percent relative to other areas — a giant step in the world of energy conservation, where a program that yields a 1.5 percent decline is considered successful.

The towns were featured as a case study on changing behavior by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. And the Climate and Energy Project just received a grant from the Kansas Energy Office to coordinate a competition among 16 Kansas cities to cut energy use in 2011.

The energy experiment started as a kitchen-table challenge three years ago.

Over dinner, Wes Jackson, the president of the Land Institute, which promotes environmentally sustainable agriculture, complained to Ms. Jackson, his daughter-in-law, that even though many local farmers would suffer from climate change, few believed that it was happening or were willing to take steps to avoid it.

Why did the conversation have to be about climate change? Ms. Jackson countered. If the goal was to persuade people to reduce their use of fossil fuels, why not identify issues that motivated them instead of getting stuck on something that did not?

Only 48 percent of people in the Midwest agree with the statement that there is “solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer,” a poll conducted in the fall of 2009 by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showed — far fewer than in other regions of the country.

The Jacksons already knew firsthand that such skepticism was not just broad, but also deep. Like opposition to abortion or affirmations of religious faith, they felt, it was becoming a cultural marker that helped some Kansans define themselves.

Nevertheless, Ms. Jackson felt so strongly that this opposition could be overcome that she left a job as development director at the University of Kansas in Lawrence to start the Climate and Energy Project with a one-time grant from the Land Institute. (The project is now independent.)

At the outset she commissioned focus groups of independents and Republicans around Wichita and Kansas City to get a sense of where they stood. Many participants suggested that global warming could be explained mostly by natural earth cycles, and a vocal minority even asserted that it was a cynical hoax perpetrated by climate scientists who were greedy for grants.

Yet Ms. Jackson found plenty of openings. Many lamented the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. Some articulated an amorphous desire, often based in religious values, to protect the earth. Some even spoke of changes in the natural world — birds arriving weeks earlier in the spring than they had before — leading her to wonder whether, deep down, they might suspect that climate change was afoot.

Ms. Jackson settled on a three-pronged strategy. Invoking the notion of thrift, she set out to persuade towns to compete with one another to become more energy-efficient. She worked with civic leaders to embrace green jobs as a way of shoring up or rescuing their communities. And she spoke with local ministers about “creation care,” the obligation of Christians to act as stewards of the world that God gave them, even creating a sermon bank with talking points they could download.

Relatively little was said about climate.

“I don’t recall us being recruited under a climate change label at all,” said Stacy Huff, an executive for the Coronado Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which was enlisted to help the project. Mr. Huff describes himself as “somewhat skeptical” about global warming.

Mr. Huff said the project workers emphasized conservation for future generations when they recruited his group. The message resonated, and the scouts went door to door in low-income neighborhoods to deliver and install weatherization kits.

“It is in our DNA to leave a place better than we found it,” he said.

Elliot Lahn, a community development planner for Merriam, a city that reduced its energy use by 5 percent, said that when public meetings were held on the six-town competition to save energy, some residents offered their view that global warming was a hoax.

But they were very eager to hear about saving money, Mr. Lahn said. “That’s what really motivated them.”

Jerry Clasen, a grain farmer in Reno County, south of Salina, said he largely discounted global warming. “I believe we are going through a cycle and it is not a big deal,” he said. But his ears pricked up when project workers came to town to talk about harnessing wind power. “There is no sense in our dependency on foreign oil,” he said, “especially since we have got this resource here.”

Mr. Clasen helped organize a group of local leaders to lobby the electronics and energy giant Siemens to build a wind turbine factory in the area. When the company signed a deal in 2009 promising to create as many as 400 local jobs, it stirred a wave of excitement about the future of wind power.

Now, farmers expect to lease some of their land for turbines and rely on wind power as a stable source of income, he said, and land prices are rising as result.

“Whether or not the earth is getting warmer,” he said, “it feels good to be part of something that works for Kansas and for the nation.”


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The Heart That Beats, Heats, Chills and Whips

The New York Times Published: September 19, 2010

“Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen”: A serving piece by Kenneth Brozen at the Museum of Modern Art.

Sometimes a kitchen is just a kitchen, but not often. If a house is a machine for living, as Le Corbusier said, then the kitchen is its engine. If that machine is seen as a living organism — a house that is a home — then the kitchen is its heart and brain.

The centerpiece of “Counter Space” at MoMA is a Frankfurt Kitchen, 1926-27, designed by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky. More Photos »

The many-splendored thing that is the modern kitchen — as a coherent workspace, object of study and model of efficiency — began to take shape sometime around 1900. It has been a leading indicator of the state of design ever since. It has also been a battlefield of conflicting belief systems, not least regarding the role of women in society. As the use of servants declined, housewives became at once early adopters of new products meant to free them from drudgery and targets of corporate advertising that relentlessly defined them as household fixtures themselves.

Which is to say, kitchens were heavily symbolic sites long before any of us became involved with the ones that bless or blight our individual lives. This is elaborately demonstrated by “Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen” at the Museum of Modern Art.

Using a tantalizing sprawl of design objects, artifacts and artworks, this exhibition places the modern kitchen in a broad historical context. It is bound to invite personal memories: I rediscovered the Ekco vegetable peeler, Chemex coffeemaker and copper-bottomed Revere Ware saucepan of my mother’s kitchen; the Terraillon plastic food scale and timer from my first New York apartment; and the old domed Magnalite tea kettle that an ex-boyfriend cherished.

But in the main, “Counter Space” sprints with dazzling speed and pinpoint precision across an amazing amount of social and aesthetic history, and shows how these histories are connected. The kitchen’s design evolution meshed with the new availability of gas and electricity; with the rise of cities, the middle class and health consciousness; with early stabs at prefab housing; with the growing independence of women; and of course with the emergence of modern design itself, as a self-consciously forward-looking, socially minded discipline whose brief was to improve everyday life for all.

Two world wars fed innovation by making efficiency and conservation pressing matters, creating food and housing shortages and luring women into the work force. As cities grew, the kitchen’s need for regular infusions of fresh foodstuffs, heating and cooling energy, and waste disposal connected it to urban networks that were themselves still taking shape. The kitchen was something like Rome, with nearly all a city’s infrastructure leading to it or away from it.

“Counter Space” confirms that few museums can muster a show of this kind as effectively as the Modern. It been assembled by Juliet Kinchin, curator in the department of architecture and design, and Aidan O’Connor, a curatorial assistant, who have drawn entirely from the museum’s collections. In addition to some 300 design objects clustered according to era, material or designer, it includes posters, paintings, films and film stills, prints and photographs — something from every department.

The museum’s vision of and faith in modernism are a major subtext. MoMA’s historic determination to encompass all that is emblematic of modern life is so breathtaking as to be almost self-congratulatory. “See?” the museum seems to say. “We have this, that and the other, and they’re all relevant and they all fit together in this story.”

But the Modern has the goods. Peter Behren’s 1909 electric tea kettle is here, nickel-plated to resemble parlor-worthy silver, along with a poster he designed two years earlier encouraging the use of electricity. An American poster from 1917 encourages Americans to eat less meat and fat, more grains and vegetables, not for their health, but to save food for Allied troops.

The objects range chronologically from the brown paper bag that Charles Stillwell designed for the Union Paper Bag Machine Company of Philadelphia in 1883 through a Levittown kitchen’s worth of pastel-colored Tupperware from the mid-1950s to Philippe Starck’s overly sculptural Juicy Salif Lemon Squeezer of 1988 (a countertop Louise Bourgeois spider) and Smart Design’s far more user-friendly Good Grips peeler of 1989.

The show’s centerpiece is a stupendous recent acquisition: one of the last surviving examples of a relatively complete Frankfurt Kitchen designed in 1926-27 by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (1897-2000), Austria’s first female architect. It was mass produced for housing blocks built in Frankfurt to meet housing shortages caused by the devastation of World War I, and remains a model of cockpitlike clarity and purpose. Including a grid of small metal bins (for storing rice and the like) that resembles a hardware store, it was one of several determinedly modern kitchens designed mostly in Germany in the late 1920s. But it is probably alone in being the subject of a recent music video tribute by the Austrian musician Robert Rotifer, which is also in the show.

“Counter Space” proceeds in three sections. “The New Kitchen” centers on design up through World War II, when the kitchen was conceived of as a kind of no-nonsense laboratory. Form follows function here, as do metal and glass and a tensile sense of geometry. The mid-1930s brought such classics as Wilhelm Wagenfeld’s Kubus stacking storage containers, made of textured glass; Sherman Kelly’s cast aluminum ice-cream scoop, upon which Brancusi could not have improved; and a handy-looking one-shot cake cutter by an unknown designer that could be a Duchamp readymade. Also here are posters from wartime Britain: those by Frederick H. K. Henrion expound on the economies of raising rabbits for food; several more by Herbert Tomlinson single out the destructiveness of mice.

“Visions of Plenty,” the second section, covers the explosion of new materials, especially colorful plastics, and expanding markets and growing residential footprints that followed the war, when one German designer presciently noted that “America has fat kitchens, Europe has thin ones.” In 1968, when the Italian designer Virgilio Forchiassin designed a mobile kitchen unit that folded up into something like a Minimalist cube, American kitchens were in the process of absorbing dining rooms, living rooms and the den.

Clever forms and pretty colors often superseded function. I, for one, can’t imagine putting anything but decorative pieces of fruit in the bright transparent plastic serving dishes that Kenneth Brozen designed in 1963. But this was also the heyday of Braun’s svelte appliances that made plastic seem as refined as porcelain, and signaled a Germany design resurgence; Kaj Franck’s handsomely basic Kilta tableware for Arabia; and works of genius like the wasp-waisted Kikkoman soy sauce dispenser designed by the renowned Kenji Ekuan in 1961.

The final section, “Kitchen Sink Dramas,” centers on the kitchen as grist for the artistic mill starting with Pop Art — Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes, paintings by James Rosenquist and Tom Wesselmann — and continuing nearly to the present. In a way it is too bad not to devote all the gallery space to design itself, especially since some objects are displayed on high shelves and are difficult to see. But the tradeoff is a sharpened sense of the organic relationship between art and its social context.

An especially vivid example of this relationship is provided by the veritable mother lode of short promotional films and television commercials from the Modern’s holdings in which the presumption of female docility and devotion could not be clearer. Titles like “The Home Electric,” a 1915 silent, and “A Word to the Wives,” from 1955, barely require description. Along with other clips, they supply visual evidence of the stereotypes that artists like Martha Rosler, Cindy Sherman and Laurie Simmons began to dismantle in the 1970s as the women’s movement got underway. Their works are seen in the show’s final section.

The connection is of course boilerplate art history, but to see it made with real-life art and artifacts against the rich backdrop of this exhibition is something else. Art may not be the best revenge, but it certainly helps.

“Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen” continues through March 14 at the Museum of Modern Art; (212) 708-9400,

A version of this review appeared in print on September 20, 2010, on page C1 of the New York edition.

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Drywall Flaws: Owners Gain Limited Relief

The New York Times Published: September 17, 2010

Linda and Randall Hunter own their dream house in Plant City, Fla., with an oversize master bedroom, granite

Linda and Randall Hunter had the drywall removed from their home in Florida. They are living in a trailer on their property.

countertops in the kitchen and a screened-in pool.

Jeff Mayfield, of Louisiana, holding silver he said was tarnished from contaminated drywall.

The problem is they cannot bear to live there. For the last several months, the Hunters have been camped out in the side yard in a trailer — uncomfortable mattresses and all — because faulty drywall left the house smelling awful.

“Living in the trailer is no easy thing,” Ms. Hunter said. “But I count my blessings that I have someplace to go.”

The Hunters are among thousands of homeowners in 38 states who have been searching for alternate housing because of worries about drywall in their homes that emits sulfur fumes and, many believe, makes them sick.

Many of the homeowners have bought or rented a second home, an expense that has pushed some to the brink. Others have had no choice but to sell at a big loss. Still others have continued living in their homes with air-conditioners running full blast to hold down the rotten-egg odor.

“My property right now has no value — it’s toxic,” said Aiasha Johnson, 30, a school teacher who lives with her husband and two children in Deerfield Beach, Fla., near Fort Lauderdale. Besides running the air-conditioning, Ms. Johnson said she painted the walls frequently to mitigate the smell.

“I can’t sell it. I can’t do anything,” she said.

Complaints about the drywall, or wallboard, which was mostly made in China, first surfaced a few years ago, and hundreds of lawsuits have been filed in state and federal court to recover money to replace it. The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission has received 3,500 complaints about the drywall and says it believes thousands more have not reported the problem.

But so far the relief has been negligible. Most insurance companies have yet to pay a dime. Only a handful of home builders have stepped forward to replace the tainted drywall. Help offered by the government — like encouraging lenders to suspend mortgage payments and reducing property taxes on damaged homes — has not addressed the core problem of replacing the drywall. And Chinese manufacturers have argued that United States courts do not have jurisdiction over them.

“They are hiding behind the ocean,” said Arnold Levin, lead lawyer in a lawsuit against the manufacturers of Chinese drywall in federal court in New Orleans.

The contaminated drywall contains higher levels of sulfur than regular drywall, and it emits hydrogen sulfide gas that corrodes metal and wreaks havoc on air-conditioners and other electronic equipment as well as wiring, according to federal officials and homeowners. Most of it was installed in homes after 2004, when supplies of American-made products were limited by a housing boom and post-hurricane reconstruction.

Homeowners complain of health problems like difficulty breathing, runny noses and recurrent headaches. The federal government has found no definitive link between the drywall and illnesses, but has nonetheless recommended that homeowners gut their homes and replace the drywall and wiring, a process that can easily cost $100,000. The Hunters had lived in their newly built house for only three and a half years, but during that time they experienced one problem after the next, from an inexplicable chemical odor to appliances that constantly malfunctioned.

The Hunters decided to buy the trailer — it cost $18,000 — after their insurance company told them it would not cover their home for vandalism or theft if they moved. They are now gutting their house with their own money and hope to eventually recoup their expenses in court.

“The trailer is a life raft,” said Ms. Hunter, 57.

A few dozen of the cases have been linked to American-made drywall, but the vast majority of the problems are tied to Chinese drywall, federal officials said. One of the major Chinese manufacturers, Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin, is in negotiations to settle with homeowners.

“There’s no question that the goal of the company is to assist homeowners to get their homes fixed,” said Steven Glickstein, a lawyer for Knauf. “We just want to make sure the repair costs are reasonable and that all parties that are involved make their fair contribution.”

But as the court case in New Orleans demonstrates — roughly 5,600 homeowners are suing 1,600 or so defendants, including manufacturers, builders, installers and insurers — the wait is expected to be long, leaving most homeowners to fend for themselves. One of them, John Willis, is trying to get used to living with little or no access to credit, the result of stopping payments on his contaminated house. A lawyer, Mr. Willis, 44, said he and his wife, Lori, built their dream home in Parkland, Fla., also near Fort Lauderdale, at the end of 2006 and paid $906,000.

Besides chronic electrical problems, he said his family had experienced a variety of health woes; the older of his two sons, Brannon, had so many sinus infections that he was hospitalized. Once he discovered the defective drywall, Mr. Willis said he made arrangements to move into a rental.

Since then, Mr. Willis said his family’s health had improved and his house was sold by the bank in a short sale for $315,000. But he said his credit was now shot, and he worried that debt collectors might come after him for the roughly $500,000 that remained on his mortgage.

“We’ve never really lived without credit before,” he said. “It’s going to be an adventure.”

In Louisiana, Jeffrey Mayfield, 32, said his wife was pregnant with their second child when they discovered Chinese drywall in their home in Madisonville, a New Orleans suburb. Her doctor urged them to move, so they bought a second house. But Mr. Mayfield said paying two mortgages had become so onerous that he had considered bankruptcy, foreclosure and most recently, a short sale.

“It’s getting to the point where I’m going into credit card debt because I can’t afford to pay two mortgages and all my bills,” he said.

Nearby, the Chiappetta family has been forced out of their home for the second time in five years. Hurricane Katrina destroyed their previous home in St. Bernard Parish, and defective drywall has taken their replacement house in Madisonville.

The Chiappettas stayed in the house for nearly six months after discovering Chinese drywall, but Kevin Chiappetta said concerns about his wife’s and daughter’s health gnawed at him.

“Every day we stayed here I thought, ‘What am I doing?’ ” he said. They moved into a rental house last spring, and Mr. Chiappetta says he has become “a professional grass cutter and bill payer” maintaining two homes.

As hard as it was to regroup after the hurricane, Mr. Chiappetta, 45, said the drywall problems were worse. He got a check from the insurance company a month after Katrina and started making plans. This time, he said, there is little he can do but wait. “We just want to one day start with the rest of our lives,” he said.

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6 global warming skeptics who changed their minds posted on September 1, 2010, at 2:15 PM

Bjorn Lomborg, a renowned climate change skeptic, recently announced he's changed his mind on the topic.

With 2010 shaping up as the warmest year on record and unprecedented heat waves gripping the planet, global warming skeptics have suffered another blow with the defection of the “most high-profile” member of their camp, author Bjorn Lomborg. But Lomborg isn’t the first doubter to accept the scientific consensus that human carbon emissions are warming the planet and need to be curtailed. Here, a review of several prominent cases:

1. Bjorn Lomborg, Danish academic
Lomborg made waves with his 2001 book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, which argued that global warming was no big deal, and fighting it would be a waste of money. This month, he’s publishing Smart Solutions to Climate Change, which argues that a global carbon tax should be imposed to raise $150 billion a year to address global warming.
Before quote: “In 20 years’ time, we’ll look back and wonder why we worried so much.” (2002)
After quote: “We actually have only one option: we all need to start seriously focusing, right now, on the most effective ways to fix global warming.” (2010)

2. Dmitri Medvedev, Russian president
Russian leaders are famously skeptical of global warming, with then–President Vladimir Putin quipping in 2003 that a warmer Russia “wouldn’t be so bad” because “we could spend less on fur coats, and the grain harvest would go up.” Then Russia caught fire this summer, choking Moscow with deadly smoke, devastating agricultural production, and convincing Medvedev and other leaders that perhaps global warming is a threat, after all.
Before quote: Climate change is “some kind of tricky campaign made up by some commercial structures to promote their business projects.” (2009)
After quote: “Unfortunately, what is happening now in our central regions is evidence of this global climate change, because we have never in our history faced such weather conditions in the past.” (2010)

3. Michael Hanlon, British science journalist
Hanlon, science editor for The Daily Mail, was a self-professed skeptic on climate change until a recent trip to Greenland, where he witnessed the accelerated disintegration of the country’s massive ice sheet. A few days on the melting ice floes, he says, “is certainly enough to blow a few skeptical cobwebs away.”
Before quote: “Global warming, indeed much of environmentalism, has become a new religion. Like the old religions, environmentalism preaches much good sense, is well meaning, but has a worrying lack of logic at its core.” (2000)
After quote: “I have long been something of a climate-change sceptic, but my views in recent years have shifted. For me, the most convincing evidence that something worrying is going on lies right here in the Arctic.” (2010)

4. Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine
In 2001, Shermer hosted a Skeptics Society debate on global warming, prompted by Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist. He sided, predictably, with the skeptics. Then he looked at the science, and in 2006 reached a “flipping point,” acknowledging the “overwhelming evidence for anthropogenic global warming.”
Before quote: “Scientists like Bjorn Lomborg in The Skeptical Environmentalist have, in my opinion, properly nailed environmental extremists for these exaggerated scenarios.” (2008, referring to 2001)
After quote: “Because of the complexity of the problem, environmental skepticism was once tenable. No longer. It is time to flip from skepticism to activism.” (2006)

5. Gregg Easterbrook, American journalist and author
Easterbrook was an early skeptic of global warming, writing an influential book, A Moment on the Earth, in 1995 that was dismissive of mankind’s role in climate change. By 2006, he’d been swayed by the decade of climate research, and wrote an essay entitled “Case Closed: The Debate About Global Warming is Over.”
Before quote:
“Instant-doomsday hyperbole caused the world’s attention to focus on the hypothetical threat of global warming to the exclusion of environmental menaces that are real, palpable, and awful right now.” (1995, PDF)
After quote: “The science has changed from ambiguous to near-unanimous… Based on the data I’m now switching sides regarding global warming, from skeptic to convert.” (2006)

6. Stu Ostro, Weather Channel senior meteorologist
A recent survey found that many meteorologists and TV weathercasters are skeptical (or even “cynical”) about anthropogenic global warming (AGW), and Ostro used to fit in that camp. Now he regularly explains the connection between man-made climate change and the extreme weather roiling the world.
Before quote: Large swings in temperature “happened long before humans had a chance to influence the environment, [and] typically occurred within a 10-year period, indicating that drastic climate change can occur through natural means, and quickly.” (1999)
After quote: “When it comes to skepticism about AGW, you could say I have street cred,” but “it could be said that I ‘converted’ and became a ‘believer.'” (2010)


Filed under climate change

Climate change opposition’s last croak

Cam Cardow, copyright 2010 Cagle Cartoons

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Filed under climate change