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Archive for May, 2011

Yesterday we took photographs of McKelvey Park in Harlingen.  The trimming and cutting work appears to be more careful there than near the Ed Carey bridge.  Perhaps because it is a manicured park and not an already disturbed open space.  We didn’t see the live trees damaged by machinery, for instance.  However, most of the trees cut or trimmed were up on the bank, well away from the water, and there were many, many dead trees still overhanging the river.  There were even brush piles down in the water.  Hopefully these will be taken care of.

From McKelvey, the erosion problems in the arroyo are obvious.  While snapping photos of it, we noticed a bulldozer pushing dirt down the bank in the China Restaurant parking lot.  You can see the machine in the upper left corner of the photo.  According to the operator, the plans are to shore up the arroyo’s banks with posts and reclaim the original property line, which has been lost to erosion, so that the China Restaurant owners can build a new adjacent building.  Other property owners have made attempts to control erosion to greater or lesser success.  Still others have found the steep banks of the Arroyo Colorado a handy place to dump brush piles and other debris.

Taken together it is clear that we need to see the river as whole and belonging to everyone and to work together to find common solutions, rather than individuals going their own way or an agency dictating what the river will be like.

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When the International Boundary and Water Commission told the public about their plans to clear vegetation along the Arroyo Colorado, they stated that the work would occur in two phases.  Phase one would be removing debris and cutting dead limbs and trees immediately.  Phase two work would include examining all alternatives to clearing live vegetation, performing the appropriate environmental assessments of the project and formal consultation with US Fish and Wildlife Service before doing work that could be highly destructive to the habitat along the arroyo.

Now it seems that IBWC has chosen to bypass the requirements of the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, for they are clearing entire swathes of trees, mowing down vegetation, and removing brush with heavy equipment.  Apparently they have chosen to ignore the Migratory Bird Treaty Act as well, since they are taking these actions during nesting season.  The following photos were taken at the Ed Carey bridge yesterday.

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It was revealed this week that Scholastic Inc., global publisher of children’s books and educational materials, has partnered with the American Coal Foundation to publish a 4th grade curriculum called The United States of Energy.  The result is thinly veiled pro-coal propaganda that touts coal as our most abundant source of energy and does not mention a single one of coal’s pollutants or its toll on human health.  It is also silent on mountain top removal and the environmental devastation it has caused. 

Nevertheless, the curriculum was mailed out to 50,000 teachers in nine states and made available nationwide through email links.  The American Coal Foundation is currently working to get a second 5th grade curriculum developed.

Our children in the Valley are exposed to this corporate environmental propaganda as well.  Last month, University of Texas Pan American hosted Dia del Mundo sponsored by Shell Oil.   Two hundred 3rd and 4th graders from Edinburg elementary schools were bused to the event.  Wearing free t-shirts emblazoned with the Shell Oil logo, they learned about wind energy and made bird feeders out of plastic bottles.

Children at Dia del Mundo in their Shell Oil t-shirts

Just like in the coal curriculum, their environmental miseducation was due to omission.    The children learned to recycle their trash by making something useful out of it, but they didn’t learn about Shell Oil’s operations in the Athabasca Oil Sands of Canada, where the extraction of oil produces more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire output of some European countries, and its mining has destroyed thousands of acres of boreal forest. 

They learned how wind turbines work, but they didn’t learn about Shell Oil’s recent investment in the Eagle Ford Shale of South Texas where Shell  will ‘frack’ for oil by injecting a mixture of water and a chemical cocktail to force natural gas out of the rock.  Just this week a study confirmed that this practice contaminates the groundwater, in some cases making it flammable.

The kids were encouraged to talk to their families about “green initiatives,” but they didn’t learn that Shell spent $10.3 million last year lobbying Congress against protections that would make their families and their world healthier.  Shell Oil lobbied to lift the limitations on offshore drilling that were put into effect after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, to stop the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases as pollutants, to keep new rules on other air toxics from going into effect, and to prevent the EPA from establishing safeguards to protect the public from the hazards of fracking.            

We shouldn’t be surprised by these corporate curriculums and manufactured “Earth Day” events.  Corporate polluters have been steadily taking over our children’s environmental education since the nineties.  With slashed state budgets, teacher time constraints, and an increasing amount of classroom time dedicated to test preparation, corporate-sponsored glossy curriculum packets offer teachers an easy way to “cover” the environment.  While school field trips are often seen as an expensive luxury, corporations offer inexpensive ways to take the students’ learning out of the classroom.

But there is a difference between education and propaganda, and a trusted educational publisher and a major university should be the first to understand that difference.  Rather than providing platforms for corporate propaganda and greenwashing, Scholastic and UTPA should seek out opportunities to offer our children a science-based environmental education.  Such an education would highlight the impact that our continued reliance on fossil fuels is having on the planet.

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