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

Beyond the Headlines

Air Date: Week of

On February 7, 2023, members of the Ohio National Guard’s 52nd Civil Support Team prepared to assess hazards from the Feb. 3 derailment of a train carrying toxic chemicals near East Palestine, Ohio. (Photo: (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Capt. Jordyn Craft, Ohio National Guard Public Affairs)

Journalist Peter Dykstra joins Host Steve Curwood this week to discuss the recent Ohio train derailment, which sent 50 cars carrying toxic chemicals including vinyl chloride careening off their tracks. They also discuss the proposed more efficient energy standards for washing machines, refrigerators, and freezers. For a history lesson, they dive into a prescient 1969 paper warning that the Arctic pack ice is thinning and the summertime ocean at the North Pole would soon become open water.


CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood.

It's time now to take a look beyond the headlines with living on Earth commentator, Peter Dykstra. You there Peter, you got something for us today.

DYKSTRA: Major story that got in my opinion minor treatment in the national news, I'm talking about the train derailment in Ohio on the Ohio Pennsylvania border. Tanker car after tanker car contained toxic chemicals, including vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen. Local residents were evacuated, there were no immediate injuries among the train crew or local residents, but possible health impacts are something that are still a mystery. Some local residents have taken it to court, including asking for the responsible parties to pay for testing of all local residents in this incident that forced people to leave town that started a huge fire that got very little notice.

CURWOOD: Yeah, I mean, it was a really big deal. The governor of Ohio Mike DeWine asked the police to arrest people who refuse to evacuate they were so concerned how dangerous these chemicals are. And more and more of the petrochemical industry is interested in shipping chemicals around to make more and more plastic.

DYKSTRA: Right, they view plastic, the petrochemical industry as their safety valve no pun intended for the days when oil and natural gas are in decline over climate change concerns if they begin to disappear as a vehicle fuel, all of those petrochemical products can help keep the oil and gas industry alive. And in the case of this train another concern is that the right to know laws that used to be so common on the state and local and federal level have been eroded. That's happened ever since 911, when it was viewed, that giving the public and local fire departments and local safety people all the information about what toxic chemicals were involved in factories or trains or ships would be an open door for terrorists to take that information and make some pretty bad things with it. So right to know, is something that isn't widespread anymore. So it took a long time for those people in East Palestine, Ohio and towns across the state line in Pennsylvania to know what they were exposed to.

In February 2023 the Biden administration proposed stricter energy standards for household washing machines, refrigerators, and freezers to reduce emissions while also saving consumers money. (Photo: PlanetCare, Unsplash)

CURWOOD: Hey, what else do you have for us Peter?

DYKSTRA: There's been a proposal by the Department of Energy to make washing machines and refrigerators much cheaper to power and much more efficient by the year 2027. Right now, it's estimated that the greenhouse gas emissions in the US from washers and refrigerators are equal to the entire greenhouse output of the nation of Argentina. This would help a lot toward meeting climate change goals in just a few years.

CURWOOD: Talk to me about the numbers here, Peter. I'm sure the appliance manufacturers are saying wait, wait, wait, this is going to cost us a lot of money.

DYKSTRA: It may cost a lot of money at first. It's estimated it could cost $2 billion for appliance makers to retrofit that's opposed to consumer savings of over $3 billion. Not one time, but every year. And those reduced energy bills also mean reduced climate risk.

CURWOOD: And Peter at one point we unplugged an old freezer that we had and the thing was costing us maybe a buck or two a day to run, it was crazy.

DYKSTRA: We had the same thing in our house. There was an old refrigerator that we used as a backup when the kids grew up and moved out. We didn't need two refrigerators. We got rid of the old one, and our electric bills suddenly declined by about 25%.

CURWOOD: Hey, let's take a look back in history now, Peter.

DYKSTRA: Last week you and I talked about how Lyndon Baines Johnson back in 1965 was the first American President to mention the potential risks of co2 and climate change. But just four years later, on February 20 1969, there's a Norwegian born Arctic explorer named Bert Balkan, who warned that the Arctic ice pack is thinning. And he said the North Pole could be open ocean, quote within a decade or two unquote.

In February 1969, polar explorer and flier Bernt Balchen predicted that the Arctic pack ice is thinning and that the summertime ocean at the North Pole would become open water within a decade or two, something that actually happened by about the year 2000. (Photo: Kevin Lockwood, Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0)

CURWOOD: Well, he was right and he was wrong. That took about 30 years before people like Jim McCarthy were in boats at the North Pole and open water. But he was right about the trend. Certainly, huh.

DYKSTRA: He was right about it at the time. Someone else that was paying very close attention to the thickness of ice in the Arctic were the naval fleets of the United States of America and the Soviet Union. They kept very diligent measures of how thick the ice As was in case they ever needed to break through that ice with their submarines to fight a nuclear war, those numbers weren't revealed until after the fall of the Soviet Union. But they revealed something very alarming from all those tree huggers in the US Navy and the Russian Navy.

CURWOOD: And just these last 40 years, apparently, we've lost three quarters of the volume of the Arctic sea ice. We are changing things on this planet rapidly. Well, thanks, Peter. Peter Dykstra is a commentator with Living on Earth. We'll talk to you again real soon.

DYKSTRA: All right, Steve, thanks a lot. Talk to you soon.

CURWOOD: And there's more on the stories on the Living on Earth webpage. That's LOE dot ORG.



Grist | “The Ohio train derailment underscores the dangers of the plastics boom”

Washington Post | “Washing machines and fridges could be much cheaper to power by 2027.”

New York Times archives | “Expert Says Arctic Ocean Will Soon Be an Open Sea; Catastrophic Shifts in Climate Feared if Change Occurs Other Specialists See No Thinning of Polar Ice Cap”


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