Ecological notes from the Shanghai Daily:
HANOI, March 12 (Xinhua) — A project to build the largest complex of wood processing factory in Vietnam’s southern Ca Mau province has been approved by local authorities, reported Lao Dong (Labour) newspaper Tuesday…
Built in Khanh An Industrial Zone in U Minh district, the factory has a designed capacity of producing 200,000 cubic meters of finished products per year, mainly with wood planks and medium- density fibreboard (MDF) for exports to the EU and the United States.
And from a retired war correspondent:
I was just in Mondulkiri, a remote hilltribe province of Cambodia bordering Vietnam, and one major part of the forest there is a horrible wasteland stretching as far as the eye can see, chopped down and burned — one’s eyes sting from the residual smoke…
Locals told me a Chinese company plans to lay out rubber plantations there, as at Memot. The land-grabbed inhabitants live in shacks now along the main road, and still protest occasionally but it is too late to do anything.
The Central Highlands of Vietnam have more or less gone. ‘Triple canopy jungle’ — remember the cliché we used to write? — has vanished. It’s all coffee plantations now.
Wildlife has disappeared too. The kouprey, a kind of wild ox that was Cambodia’s national animal, has not been seen since 1988. The elephants in both countries have been decimated.
If there is life in the universe more intelligent than ours, I can imagine its scientists examining Earth and concluding that it is under attack by two-legged cancer cells, multiplying wildly and on the point of killing their host. Already the malignancy has metastasized. Metamedically speaking, this is the significance of the Mars rover…
The expansion of European settlement in Australia triggered a massive coral collapse at the Great Barrier Reef more than 50 years ago, according to a new study.
The study, published Nov. 6 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that runoff from farms clouded the pristine waters off the Queensland coast and killed the natural branching coral species, leaving a stunted, weedy type of coral in its place. The findings suggest that decades before climate change and reef tourism, humans were disrupting the ecology of the Great Barrier Reef.
We just laughed when Jimmy Carter wore that silly cardigan sweater on TV and talked about achieving energy independence being the “moral equivalent of war” (Acronym: MEOW). Well, what the hell, what do you expect from a country full of Americans? The Germans, however…
Since 2000, Germany has converted 25 percent of its power grid to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass. The architects of the clean energy movement Energiewende, which translates to “energy transformation,” estimate that from 80 percent to 100 percent of Germany’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2050.
Germans are baffled that the United States has not taken the same path. Not only is the U.S. the wealthiest nation in the world, but it’s also credited with jump-starting Germany’s green movement 40 years ago.
“This is a very American idea,” Arne Jungjohann, a director at the Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation (HBSF), said at a news conference Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C. “We got this from Jimmy Carter.”
Germany adopted and continued Carter’s push for energy conservation while the U.S. abandoned further efforts. The death of an American Energiewende solidified when President Ronald Reagan ripped down the solar panels atop the White House that Carter had installed.
From a New York Times story about the grimness of life in Wyoming’s Wind Mill River Reservation:
On one section of the reservation, people must boil drinking water because chemicals, possibly the result of the oil and natural gas drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, have contaminated the water supply. And fearing that the chemicals might explode in a home, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered residents to run fans and otherwise ensure ventilation while bathing or washing clothes.
Chevron should have known better. If you want to crap in the ocean, the place to do it is in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana. Washington knows how to treat a guy who has a little accident, especially if he’s an oil company. (Corporations are guys in America. It’s the law.)
BRASILIA (Reuters) – The Brazilian government on Wednesday suspended Chevron Corp’s drilling rights in Brazil until it clarifies the causes of an offshore oil spill, the latest twist in a political firestorm threatening the U.S. company’s role in Brazil’s oil bonanza…
Brazil’s National Petroleum Agency said it decided to halt Chevron’s drilling rights after determining that there was evidence that the company had been “negligent” in its study of data needed to drill and in contingency planning for abandoning the well in the event of accident.
The agency, known as ANP, also rejected a request from Chevron made before the leak to drill wells in the deeper subsalt areas in the Frade field where the spill occurred. The field is located in the oil-rich Campos Basin and is the only block in Brazil where Chevron produces oil as the operator…
The second-largest U.S. oil company has already been fined $28 million by Brazil’s environmental agency for the spill, an amount that is sure to rise sharply when the ANP and Rio’s state government slap fines on the company, as they have pledged to do.
Chevron had halted all of its local drilling operations after the leak occurred, before ANP’s announced suspension. The ANP said the suspension will remain in place until Chevron fully restores safety conditions in the field.
How dumb can the GOP get? How dumb ya got? How about this, for example, from McClatchy Newspapers:
WASHINGTON — In a move aimed at improving national security, House Republicans want to give the U.S. Border Patrol unprecedented authority to ignore 36 environmental laws on federal land in a 100-mile zone stretching along the Canadian and Mexican borders.
If the legislation is approved, the Border Patrol would not have to comply with the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Solid Waste Disposal Act and 32 other federal laws in such popular places as Olympic National Park, Glacier Park, the Great Lakes and the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area…
…from CounterPunch via The Blaster:
CounterPunch has established that in the eight weeks after the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima complex in Japan on March 11, infant mortality in 19 U.S. cities increased by 35 per cent.
In the course of this review, conducted by CounterPunch’s statistical consultant, Pierre Sprey, it also became clear that the Environmental Protection Agency’s monitoring system, known as RadNet, is hopelessly inadequate to assess the effect on U.S. public health of a nuclear accident either overseas or here in the Homeland. EPA’s routine sampling is laughable, with sampling frequency and geographic coverage that are hopeless for tracking radiation exposures of concern to public health. EPA’s extra sampling following disasters like Three Mile Island or Fukushima can, at best, identify only a tiny fraction of the significant touchdowns of the concentrated radiation plumes from an accident site…
This song was written by Bill Steele in 1969 and has been performed by Pete Seeger countless times since, some of the lyrics toward the end here were written by Pete. Showing uncanny prescience for its time (although many people ten years ahead of me during that time seem to just know that it was true) , the song’s theme and the reality it conveys is obviously more and more revelatory each days that passes by.
It is a song that reveals what we could have done and should have done 41 years ago , which was to stop the madness. No one knows today whether what we are starting on in at least some enlightened places in the world which are some projects designed to fix the problems are too little too late — although virtually all the Republicans and too many Democrats seem hell bent to keep the madness going until what the song prognosticates comes to pass.
I’ve just finished listening to President Obama’s speech laying out his plans to save the nation’s economy from Paul Ryan, the trust fund baby from Wisconsin.
No politically significant number of American voters watched along with me, because who watches long speeches in the middle of the day? (People whose minds are already made up, that’s who.) Too bad, since it was a simple, clear and convincing takedown of the Grand Old Tea Party’s plan to push our economy underwater for the third and final time.
However (you knew there’d be a however, didn’t you?), one thing struck me as the speech went along. Take a look:
We’ve laid down railroads and highways to facilitate travel and commerce…
We won’t be able to afford good schools, new research, or the repair of roads and bridges – all the things that will create new jobs and businesses here in America…
It’s a vision that says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can’t afford to fix them…
We’ll invest in medical research and clean energy technology. We’ll invest in new roads and airports and broadband access:
We are the nation that built a railroad across a continent and brought light to communities shrouded in darkness…
Every reference to railroads is in the past tense, as if no further attention needs to be paid. The golden spike got driven in 1869, after all. Maybe I’m making too much of what may have been an innocent and meaningless oversight. But in my experience major presidential addresses to the nation tend to be vetted pretty carefully by a great many players, each fighting for at least a mention of its pet projects. And not a historical mention.
Note: I love to say I told you so. At 8:18 p.m., CNN Radio moved the story from which this comes:
(CNN) — President Barack Obama’s plan for a national high-speed rail network suffered a serious setback as a result of the fight over budget cuts. No money will be allocated for high-speed rail projects for the remainder of 2011…
The budget bill says the amount of money for “Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration, Capital Assistance for High Speed Rail Corridors and Intercity Passenger Rail Service shall be $0” for the remainder of fiscal year 2011. Another section of the bill rescinds $400 million from the funds that were already budgeted for high-speed rail in 2010…
Send this by Julio Friedmann to your representative in Congress, particularly if he/she/it is a member of the Green Obstructionist Party:
ENN (a subsidiary of the XinAo Group), Shenhua, CNOOC and others are all developing clean tech themselves from scratch, both for domestic use and export. This covers solar thin-films, biofuels, coal-to-liquids, shale gas and smart grids, all with U.S. partners. Lishen battery company, one of the world’s largest, is embarking on a $7 billion development drive just for battery technology and demonstration.
The good news — this will ultimately lead to lower emissions faster worldwide, and cheaper power with it. The bad news — for some in the U.S. — is additional competition. While some U.S. companies will benefit, others will encounter aggressive, new competition with credible technology. Some will grow faster; others will lose market share.
U.S. businesses are quick to benefit from this, and will help us all reach a stable climate faster. U.S. jobs will be created in the process, as is already happening with many who are partnering in China’s clean-tech sector right now. They’re also critical to laying the foundation of trust between the two countries, absolutely essential for U.S.-China government agreements in trade, climate and other key areas.
Perhaps the main story is the constancy of the innovation drive. China has built the largest computer in the world (Tianhe-1). It started with U.S. chips, but the next one will be with indigenous chips. While the U.S. has a lead in using these computers well to accelerate innovation, we could lose that edge quickly — in just two to three years. This same innovation permeates everything: aircraft, biotech, IT.
But clean-tech is the main event, at over $40 billion/year government investment. That investment goes to universities, private companies, state-owned enterprises and new research institutes. It funds centers of excellence, large-scale demonstrations, modeling and simulation and bench-top research. It’s like the Vannevar Bush innovation model (let a thousand flowers bloom) — on steroids.
From the New York Times:
In Texas, which now has about 93,000 natural-gas wells, up from around 58,000 a dozen years ago, a hospital system in six counties with some of the heaviest drilling said in 2010 that it found a 25 percent asthma rate for young children, more than three times the state rate of about 7 percent.
“It’s ruining us,” said Kelly Gant, whose 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son have experienced severe asthma attacks, dizzy spells and headaches since a compressor station and a gas well were set up about two years ago near her house in Bartonville, Tex. The industry and state regulators have said it is not clear what role the gas industry has played in causing such problems, since the area has had high air pollution for a while.
“I’m not an activist, an alarmist, a Democrat, environmentalist or anything like that,” Ms. Gant said. “I’m just a person who isn’t able to manage the health of my family because of all this drilling.”
From Jim Fallows, in Beijing:
Pollution in Beijing itself has been as bad as the very worst I remember from the olden era. The view below (11am China time, Feb 23) has been more or less unvarying for the past four days. PM2.5 readings through that period have been steadily in the “hazardous” or “beyond index” category. I don’t recall a stretch this bad, this long, before.
…but Gail Collins did:
The Senate sponsor is James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who recently claimed that the supercold winter proves that theories about global warming are “an intellectual fraud.” We could blame Senator Inhofe, but he really isn’t all that satisfactory a villain. It’d sort of be like blaming nuclear proliferation on gophers.
From the Washington Post:
Hundreds of military service members and contractor employees have fallen ill with cancer or severe breathing problems after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they say they were poisoned by thick, black smoke produced by the burning of tons of trash generated on U.S. bases…
Norman Mailer once said, asked whether mankind would make itself extinct in a nuclear war, “Hell, no. We’ll drown ourselves in our own shit first.” Mailer wasn’t right about much, but he nailed that one.
The Rude Pundit has gone to a Big Oil rally in New Orleans so you don’t have to. Read his report. Sadly, he’s right.
From the Hartford Courant:
And that’s why there’s a bidding war growing for the estimated 750,000 tons of garbage that 70 towns and cities pay more than $500 million a year to burn at a trash-to-energy plant in Hartford…
Last year, the most cost-effective route for Stamford was a vendor that shrink-wrapped the city’s trash to keep it compact and easily portable and trucked it to a landfill in Ohio.
It’s getting harder and harder to extend the benefit of a doubt to BP:
KENNER, LA. — In the hours before the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, BP pumped into the well an extraordinarily large quantity of an unusual chemical mixture, a contractor on the rig testified Monday.
The injection of the dense, gray fluid was meant to flush drilling mud from the hole, according to the testimony before a government panel investigating the April 20 accident. But the more than 400 barrels used were roughly double the usual quantity, said Leo Lindner, a drilling fluid specialist for contractor MI-Swaco.
BP had hundreds of barrels of the two chemicals on hand and needed to dispose of the material, Lindner testified. By first flushing it into the well, the company could take advantage of an exemption in an environmental law that otherwise would have prohibited it from discharging the hazardous waste into the Gulf of Mexico, Lindner said…
When the well became a gusher on April 20, a fluid that fit the general description of the mixture rained down on the rig. Stephen Bertone, chief engineer on the rig, said in testimony earlier in the day that part of the rig was covered in an inch or more of material that he said resembled “snot.”
Galveston copes, the New York Times notes:
The mayor, Joe Jaworski, began a whirlwind of promotional events and appearances, canvassing beaches and creating a video to remind people that it was still business as usual in town.
“O.K., so tar balls have washed up, and I think we’d all agree, it’s not a disaster, it’s a nuisance,” Mr. Jaworski said in an interview, after doing a radio broadcast with a visiting Houston D.J. from the lobby of one of Galveston’s largest resorts…
Last week, a representative from BP came to the Galveston City Council meeting. “He seemed like a credible fellow,” Mayor Jaworski said. “He came right up and listened to us and said he would help us pay for public relations.” A spokeswoman for BP said no deal had been reached yet.
Others are shrugging off the news about the beaches, which have seen oil many times before. In the 1970s and ’80s, slicks and tar balls were such a common sight on the beach that owners of vacation houses stocked their patios with baby oil and WD-40 for guests to clean off with, and regular visitors kept a separate pair of “tar sandals.”
From the McClatchy Newspapers:
WASHINGTON — The number of naturally occurring microbes that eat methane grew surprisingly fast inside a plume spreading from BP’s ruptured oil well, an oceanographer who was one of the first to detect the plumes said Tuesday…
On the other hand…
However, the microbes also use oxygen in the water, and Joye said the repercussions of the resulting oxygen depletion aren’t yet known… They’re also looking to see if the microbes will draw down oxygen to levels that would make the waters unsuitable for life. The Gulf of Mexico already has dead zones created by nutrients from fertilizer carried from the Midwest by the Mississippi River.
Want to know how bad it is in the Gulf? Key in to this post by Roger Shuler at Legal Schnauzer to get an earful. In the meantime, just watch this video posted at his website.
From Theda Skocpol, a tiny bubble of sense in the vast wave of media bullshit:
Let’s have an analysis of what it would take, over months and years, to create government agencies — FDIC, MMS, etc. — capable of actually holding powerful corporations to account in an effective partnership…
In the oil spill case, the evil was done years ago during the unholy Republican-oil industry alliance, and during years of deliberate efforts to gut the morale, expertise, and will to act of regulatory agencies. Let’s face it, why would the best people even want to go into government regulatory work, when all you get is months of delay in congressional confirmations and a constant round of pushes and pulls and public humiliation? We have the federal agencies we seem to want: ineffective ones.
To rebuild, will take at least the following: strong public leadership in agencies as well as the White House; an agency with appointees quickly confirmed by Congress and left in place for years with the right to recruit and back up devoted experts and regulators sharing a strong purpose to serve the public; and oversight but never micro-lobbying by Congress. Congress people willing to tell powerful corporations to lay off, instead of pressing agencies for exceptions to rules on their behalf.
The Obama administration is trying to rebuild and use a federal government that has been ransacked and humiliated and weakened over decades of deliberate mismanagement by private-interest-oriented Republicans and “new” Democrats. It is an uphill battle, and it does not help that the media and commentators are not even helping the public understand the real issues. More anger from President Obama is totally beside the point here.
As for this spill, it will not end for months. There is nothing any government on earth can do when a private corporate giant was allowed to drill beyond the technological means to correct a major disaster — and then that disaster occurs.
The White House should definitely not take direct responsibility for fixing the pipes. It should focus on holding BP accountable and on coordinating the compensation, mitigation, and repairs needed. It should, as Obama is doing, find out what went wrong and demand changes for the future.
At last a motive appears, glimpsed dimly through the mists. Look, it appears to be green, like BP’s logo. Perhaps it is concern for the environment, leading to some protective procedure gone horribly wrong? Nah, that doesn’t seem to be it. Whatever it is, though, it’s certainly green.
From the New York Times:
Evidence began emerging Wednesday that BP officials may have had an incentive to proceed quickly.
A member of the federal panel investigating the cause of the blast said that before the explosion, the company had hoped to use the Deepwater Horizon to drill another well by early March, but was behind schedule.
BP applied to use the Deepwater rig to drill in another oil field by March 8, said Jason Mathews, a petroleum engineer for the Minerals Management Service.
Based on an estimate of $500,000 per day to drill on the site, the delay of 43 days had cost BP more than $21 million by the day of the explosion on April 20, Mr. Mathews estimated.
A Transocean official — Adrian Rose, the company’s health, safety and environmental manager — confirmed that BP leased the rig for $533,000 per day. He could not confirm where the Deepwater Horizon was planning to go next, but he said it was going to undertake another drill, probably for BP.
I hate to say I told you so, but Jimmy Carter told you so — back in his 1977 energy speech. America yawned. America is still yawning, despite the befouling of the Gulf Coast. Maybe God will help us, but we won’t.
…The last time lawmakers truly freaked out about the problem of our oil dependence — when gas prices topped $4 a gallon in the summer of 2008 — the Senate Energy Committee called in Skip Laitner, director of economic analysis at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).
The committee asked Laitner what efficiency — the famously unglamorous energy strategy — could do to relieve gas prices. He gave them an astonishing figure: It could save 46 billion barrels of oil. If the U.S. made an all-out investment in energy efficiency-cutting energy waste out of vehicles, buildings, the electrical grid, and elsewhere in the economy — Laitner believes it could save the energy equivalent of 46 billion barrels by 2030.
Domestic offshore drilling produced 537 million barrels a year over the last nine years, according to the Minerals Management Service. A full-bore efficiency plan would save the equivalent of 85 years of offshore drilling.
Looking at the transportation sector alone, Laitner recommended 10 short-term policies that would cut the need for oil. Congress eventually passed one of them-the “cash for clunkers” program. Even that could be improved upon: the lax fuel-economy standards for new cars meant the trade-in program didn't save nearly as much fuel as it could have…
Given the scale of the Disaster in the Gulf, I have a question to pose.
We know it’s a disaster, because the President has assembled “a rag-tag band of big-think scientific renegades, and sent them on a mission to somehow MacGyver a way to stop up the leak”. Presumably they will be provided with a high-tech ship and a hot female companion, at which point we’ll shrink the lot to some tiny size and send the adventurers to the bottom of the ocean where they’ll heroically, and barely, save the day. Probably one member of the crew will have to die to save the others. If I was the only dark-skinned member of the fellowship, I wouldn’t count on seeing a tickertape parade.
But this is not a movie, it’s serious. The government and the corporations have the situation under control. Right, Mr. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar?
We are confident and resolute that we will stop this problem and we are confident and resolute that we will continue to push BP as the responsible party here and make sure at the end of the day this problem is effectively dealt with…
Clearly confidence and resolution are plentiful. Money for cleanup and strategies for closing the gusher are more difficult to find. Even a straightforward statement that the companies involved — old friends like BP, Transocean, and Halliburton — will be held responsible is impossible to tease out of The Great Compromiser’s Secretary.
While the government expresses confidence that the corporations will ignore their fiduciary duties and act responsibly, BP drills relief wells that will only take four or five months to complete, and in the short term prepares to inject shredded tires, knotted rope, and golf balls into the damaged blowout preventer. You know, the piece of machinery from Transocean that was apparently known to be dangerous, and had certainly been altered by the company to the extent that when BP engineers attempted to use it for its designed purpose they failed because the diagrams they had only applied to the original, unaltered version. Whether BP and the government’s Mineral Management Service knew of the modifications is murky, though whether their positions and responsibilities required them to know it is crystal clear.
The President again talks tough, promising to end the cozy relationship between government and big oil, but it’s a risible proposition; American hegemony was founded on oil, much of its capital was extracted from oil, and thus many of its wealthiest and most powerful agents consider themselves reliant on the continued flow of black gold. Besides, the Obama administration promised a moratorium on Gulf drilling following the Deepwater Horizon explosion, then violated it the next day.
Members of the reality-based community might be forgiven for wondering if this is the end of civilization as we know it. Short answer: no. Long answer: yes, hopefully.
To design viable solutions requires us to take broad perspectives; to think outside the box, as the Mad Ave box-designers’ cliché has it. Before we can reach that transcendent state, however, we must first come to realize what it is, in fact, that constitutes our box.
It’s not a question of humanity’s thirst for energy; it’s a question of which energy sources we choose, how they’re used, how the benefits are distributed, and who cleans up.
As long as capitalist entities constituted solely for profit-making are allowed to act in their own interests, so long will they rape and pillage both the environment and the society. The problem is not BP or Transocean or Halliburton, though corporations in general and these in particular undoubtedly act irresponsibly and illegally as often as they can; nor is it the Obama administration, though it has certainly done what it could to smooth the political waters for the moneyed interests while avoiding anything the Tea Partiers might get riled up about.
The problem is unrestrained capitalism, most especially the primacy we’ve given corporations over government — our only weapon for defending our community from the rapacious and all-consuming greed that American capitalism has again become.
The problem is our requirement that everything be measured in financial terms, our belief that worthwhile actions are those that generate profit. We have passed the stage in the development of the race at which competition for the resources required for normal life is necessary, yet we continue to deny those resources to half or more of humanity. Because to provide them would not be sufficiently profitable.
We don’t just need to think less about money. We need to abolish it. So my question is this: why don’t we hear more about Christian preachers, especially those in the Southern states most affected by the current spill, railing against the evils of greed and the destruction it brings? Why don’t the evangelists at the mega-churches help their congregations understand that the mega-corporate goal is a nation of Matrix-like batteries? Where are the fiery pulpit populists prophesying brimstone upon those who destroy God’s earth in exchange for gold?
Mississippi governor Haley Barbour tells the Associated Press:
Oil has not started washing up on shore in any large quantities, and Barbour likened much of the spill to the gasoline sheen commonly found around ski boats.
“We don’t wash our face in it, but it doesn’t stop us from jumping off the boat to ski,” Barbour said.
The last Democrat in the White House appears at this point to have been LBJ, who for a while at least actually thought he was in charge. What we have since then is an increasing obsession with kowtowing to the real power: corporations.
Since the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig exploded on April 20, the Obama administration has granted oil and gas companies at least 27 exemptions from doing in-depth environmental studies of oil exploration and production in the Gulf of Mexico.
The waivers were granted despite President Barack Obama’s vow that his administration would launch a “relentless response effort” to stop the leak and prevent more damage to the gulf. One of them was dated Friday — the day after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he was temporarily halting offshore drilling[.]
The exemptions, known as “categorical exclusions,” were granted by the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) and included waiving detailed environmental studies for a BP exploration plan to be conducted at a depth of more than 4,000 feet and an Anadarko Petroleum Corp. exploration plan at more 9,000 feet.
Tony Hayward, chief operating officer of British Petroleum:
Asked whether the accident could have prevented, Hayward said, “All accidents can be prevented — there’s no doubt about that.”
Jerry Doolittle, daily newspaper reader since 1948:
“Anything that can happen, will.”
The government has made the demise of domestic air travel an explicit policy target for the first time by aiming to replace short-haul flights with a new 250mph high-speed rail network.
The transport secretary, Lord Adonis, said switching 46 million domestic air passengers a year to a multibillion-pound north-south rail line was “manifestly in the public interest”. Marking a government shift against aviation, Lord Adonis added that rail journeys should be preferred to plane trips.
There are at least two ways you know it must be Britain. If only we had a Lord Adonis here, damn, his ass would be stinking rich, and we’d make him czar of all the railways.
Actually, it turns out he’s not as pretty as his name might indicate (you can watch him on video at the Guardian article). But he advocates for high-speed rail quite effectively, and he is the transport secretary in Britain, so he might actually be able to get something done.
Which is the second way you know it’s not the US: something might actually happen that big corporations are against. The thing is, Adonis is right that high-speed rail is manifestly better in ecological terms, and therefore we need to do it. Yes, it will drastically change the corporate landscape.
So who gets to decide what that landscape should be? In a democracy, we’re supposed to tell them; but we’ve traded democracy for capitalism, where the powerful rule by definition and don’t even have to assert their rights. Chomsky long ago pointed out the tension between the two opposites, capitalism tending to concentrate power and democracy tending to distribute it.
Suppose we decided to make the demise of domestic air travel an explicit policy target? Of course it would mean something different to do that in the US, which has a much greater land mass than Britain. But imagine the analogy; what would happen? The airlines and their investors would scream bloody murder, and possibly even bloodily murder people, to make sure the government didn’t make such a decision. Wouldn’t they?
Can we turn the US power structures, currently completely in the hands of corporations, back into something we can deal with at a human scale? Or are we headed for a Rollerball future?
First they cut down the forests in Canada and make a terrible mess on the denuded land. Animals flee, streams turn warm and can’t support fish.
Then they truck the trees to the paper mill where they are turned into newsprint. In the process the air is badly polluted, and so are the rivers into which the waste from the process is dumped.
Then tons of paper rolls are trucked out to newspapers around the country daily.
Then the newspapers are printed and delivered to the readers. When they finish reading them the readers discard the papers, and the taxpayers pay to have them collected and taken to landfills. There is some recycling now, but the newspaper companies never took it upon themselves to collect their used product.
From start to finish making newsprint and distributing newspapers cause major pollution and degradation of the environment.
Wait a minute. Don’t newspapers run editorial after editorial bemoaning the pollution that other manufacturers cause?
From Al Jazeera:
Fifty-five years after masterminding a military victory that led to the end of French colonial rule in Indochina, Vietnam’s celebrated General Vo Nguyen Giap is still fighting.
The 98-year-old’s latest battle — with words rather than bullets — is to save the environment and his “enemy” is bauxite mining…
For Giap, the general who has triumphed in wars of resistance against French, and later US forces, the battle to protect the forests and rivers of the Central Highlands from the encroachments of Chinese economic [expansion] may prove to be his toughest yet.
Here’s TPM on how the GOP is twisting a scientist’s study of how much cap-and-trade legislation would cost. Cops, who are intimately familiar with this process, call it “testilying.”
• April, 2007: Reilly and several coauthors release a paper titled "Assessment of U.S. Cap-and-Trade Proposals, which estimates early annual revenues from such legislation would run $366 billion.
• Sometime between April, 2007 and March, 2009: House Republicans get a hold of his paper, divide $366 billion by the number of households in America, and conclude, erroneously, that the quotient ($3,128) will be the average cost per home.
• March, 2009: Republicans begin using this number in press releases, citing Reilly's study.
• Shortly thereafter: The Obama administration gets in touch with Dr. Reilly and asks him to explain his study and the number — he corrects the record.
• A week or so ago: Independently, a woman who says she's with the House Republicans calls Reilly — aware of the number, she invites him to come testify against cap and trade legislation. Reilly informs her that her number is probably wrong, and that he supports cap and trade legislation.
• A couple days ago: A group contacts Reilly to inform him that a large number of press releases were being issued, still trumpeting the false cost…
Personally my attitude toward the use of profanity in public speech is that it should be avoided; its overuse is prima facie evidence of a limited vocabulary. In private speech over a beer at a pub, say, it might be perfectly acceptable, and I’ve been known to engage in it in such situations. Conflict or infatuation might call into service the terms of naughtiness. But polite conversation only rarely requires the use of terms that make the nicest members of society cringe.
Still, there are times when one feels inclined by the weight of circumstance to point out that there are among the Republican members of the Senate some people who can only be accurately described as sleazy-ass motherfuckers.
In a letter to their fellow senators today, the environment panel’s Republicans throw every rhetorical weapon in their arsenal at the Obama administration for putting revenues from carbon regulation in its budget. What they’re afraid of is what the energy industry has called the “nuclear option,” a budget item for climate change that would fast-track the bill to passage.
And to help strangle that option, the Republicans have renamed cap-and-trade emissions limits. They’re now being christened an “energy tax,” which creates a nice opening to slam Democrats as tax-hikers.
No truth, no class, no honor, no courage, no brains, no heart, no foresight. It would seem an argument against evolution that such humans even exist.
What these of our fellow citizens find off-putting, of course, is the idea that a majority of Americans, represented by a majority of both houses of Congress and supported by the President, might decide to take one of the most obvious steps toward reducing our impact on the climate of the planet with a cap-and-trade scheme.
In recent years such schemes have been well analyzed and debated; and as far as I can see, they’re not really controversial among people with a serious interest in saving the planet. I don’t mean to overstate the case.
Of course there is disagreement about whether cap-and-trade is the best method of making economics heal rather than exploit, not to mention whether this attempt implements cap-and-trade well and appropriately. These are natural debates, conflicts of the style endemic to democracy. Interests sometimes oppose each other, for instance the financial interests of industries based on fossil fuels as against the survival of the human race, et cetera. Argumentation might help to illuminate the situation to the widest audience, or even reveal hidden motives or hypocrisies; thus, it would seem, the First Amendment.
The thing is that the GOP has thrown in the towel on the overt argument that climate change is bullshit, and is scrambling for a new cover story. Limited by the available toolset and the preferences of the base, they tend to concentrate on labeling, assuming that after the disasters of conservatism from Reagan through Bush through Clinton through Bush the country is still all about that old-time religion of everyone for themselves: I can afford my own health care and schools and private security, and if you can’t, well, join the army. If you survive your stint you’ll get a parcel of land in an outlying colony. Oh, woops, that was Rome, my bad. Well, at least you won’t have to live under a bridge.
Even now as George Bush is almost walking out the door, his administration appears poised to allow a regulation that would make it easy for subdivisions full of housing to be built around your National Forests and turn them into highways. Yes, land that was set aside for public use 100 years ago and for which hundreds of millions Americans have enjoyed since they first landed on these shores are now being dropped into the bucket of housing commerce. Ansel Adams and Teddy Roosevelt would not be pleased one bit, nor will millions of American outdoorsmen and women, often those who were part of the old Republican base, the hunters, as well as those who enjoy the pristine and unspoiled beauty of the National Forests. Some choice paragraphs from the Washington Post article detailing the plan appear below, but go read the whole thing for more details:
The Bush administration appears poised to push through a change in U.S. Forest Service agreements that would make it far easier for mountain forests to be converted to housing subdivisions.
The shift is technical but with large implications. It would allow Plum Creek Timber to pave roads passing through Forest Service land. For decades, such roads were little more than trails used by logging trucks to reach timber stands.
But as Plum Creek has moved into the real estate business, paving those roads became a necessary prelude to opening vast tracts of the company’s 8 million acres to the vacation homes that are transforming landscapes across the West.
Scenic western Montana, where Plum Creek owns 1.2 million acres, would be most affected, placing fresh burdens on county governments to provide services, and undoing efforts to cluster housing near towns.
Probably because the proposal would die after Jan. 20. Obama sharply criticized Rey’s efforts during the presidential campaign, seizing on concerns that a landscape dotted with luxury homes will be less hospitable to Montanans accustomed to easy access to timberlands.
“At a time when Montana’s sportsmen are finding it increasingly hard to access lands, it is outrageous that the Bush administration would exacerbate the problem by encouraging prime hunting and fishing lands to be carved up and closed off,” Obama said.
There’s no fuel like a lipofuel…
“…The vast majority of my patients request that I use their fat for fuel – and I have more fat than I can use,” he says. “Not only do they get to lose their love handles or chubby belly, but they get to take part in saving the Earth…”
Howdy y’all! Remember me? I haven’t posted for three weeks as I finished my first semester’s work. I turned in my last paper at 3AM Friday, and taught my last class Friday afternoon. Of course there will be some chess lessons over the holidays; chess, after all, is forever.
I’m through, at least, as soon as I finish the last paper, which should be fun. As a math major I never took any science courses the first time around. So to meet the nat sci requirement I’m taking Renewable Energy this semester and The Thinking Body next.
Although I was acquainted with the relevant topics, I learned a lot in Renewable Energy. More importantly, I began consciously looking for opportunities to reduce the waste in my life. At the beginning of the class I was feeling perhaps a bit smug about living in a city without an air conditioner, with compact fluorescents, never using the heat, traveling on public transportation, and rarely traveling by air.
But as I discussed once before, I found credible estimates that we’d need three and a half Earths to support us if we all lived like I do, and eight or so planets to support an Earth full of Americans.
We all know we can’t keep going the way we’ve been. But what can we do? Well, surprise! If you’re an American, and you’re anything like me, you probably spend a lot of your time wasting resources.
Which I beg to you take as opportunity, not indictment. Many of our daily habits are built around an economy designed for cheap oil, unlimited fresh water, and electricity for nearly nothing. But when I look at the present and the future, and consider what kind of world the next generation will inherit, I can easily imagine that washing my shirt after two wearings rather than one can contribute to the total savings we need to make if we intend to build a lifestyle that our descendants can sustain. We don’t have to stop using energy; but we do need to stop wasting it, and there are many opportunities in daily life to do so.
I’ll be talking more about ways I’ve found myself unconsciously repeating wasteful habits, most of which are easy to change once I actually pay attention to doing so. But my point right now is that we really can make a difference with small changes in habit. For example, I’ve begun turning off my computer when I’ll be away from it for a couple hours. I’ve generally left it on, because I’m usually running Seti@Home, and because I’m used being able to check email in five seconds rather than three minutes. It’s a tradeoff that has to be made on a case by case basis, but it’s one where I can save energy at a small cost to myself, so I’m doing it.
The issue is really awareness.
A memo to all hands from White House chief of staff Joshua B. Bolton, dated May 9, 2008:
The President has emphasized that the American people deserve a regulatory system that protects and improves their health, safety and environment … We need to continue this principled approach to regulation as we sprint to the finish, and resist the historical tendency of administrations to increase regulatory activity in their final months…
Except in extraordinary circumstances, regulations to be finalized in this Administration should be proposed no later than June 1, 2008, and final regulations should be issued no later than November 1, 2008…
Agencies should provide adequate time for necessary analysis, interagency consultation, robust public comment, and a careful evaluation of and response to these comments.
How’s that working out for you, Josh?
WASHINGTON — The Labor Department is racing to complete a new rule, strenuously opposed by President-elect Barack Obama, that would make it much harder for the government to regulate toxic substances and hazardous chemicals to which workers are exposed on the job…
With the economy tumbling and American troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Bush has promised to cooperate with Mr. Obama to make the transition “as smooth as possible.” But that has not stopped his administration from trying, in its final days, to cement in place a diverse array of new regulations.
The Labor Department proposal is one of about 20 highly contentious rules the Bush administration is planning to issue in its final weeks. The rules deal with issues as diverse as abortion, auto safety and the environment.
One rule would make it easier to build power plants near national parks and wilderness areas. Another would reduce the role of federal wildlife scientists in deciding whether dams, highways and other projects pose a threat to endangered species.
Since the fate of renewable energy itself hangs in the balance, and San Francisco is holding its collective breath in anticipation of learning my take on the question, I’ve decided to cut to the chase and issue my endorsement now.
San Francisco is but one city, in the US (at least) more often ridiculed than praised. And probably more often visited than either. We offer our example to the world and proudly accept the response, including the ridicule, which we consider the modern equivalent of being on Nixon’s enemies list.
In November we’ll have a new opportunity to make history. To set up a way of doing things that makes sense. To wrest some of the control of our lives and our environment away from predatory corporations — but I repeat myself — whose only standard is profit, most of whose executives pursue their own personal profit and consider shareholders only because not doing can cost them their jobs.
So can Prop H. That’s why opponents funded by PG&E have spent five and a half million bucks to defeat a city measure, and enlisted, co-opted, or conscripted much of the local political establishment to serve the sacred cause of private profit from public works.
They know that if everyone in San Francisco understands what this proposition is about, they’ll vote for it overwhelmingly, and PG&E execs will face a Morton’s Fork: either they operate as we want them to when they use our resources to generate our electricity, or we take over the company. We’ll no longer pay more than residents of Palo Alto for some of the worst service in the country. I’ve lived for at least a year and a half in six states in my adult life, and I’ve never seen a public utility as incompetent as PG&E.
The threat they now face is an evolution from earlier attempts that aimed directly at takeover, which were popular enough that each one garnered more votes than its predecessors. But they also attracted increasing amounts of resistance from corporate interests as the implications of public ownership percolated through the corporate mindset.
Prop H takes a more subtle tack by ordering the company to do what we want done. PG&E consistently paints itself as friendly and helpful, and as least as interested in the environment as, say, Chevron; but its own compliance reports, tendered to the state in March, indicate that the amount of energy coming from renewable sources has actually decreased by one percent over the past three years. If they’d directed all that advertising money into renewable energy research, they might have come up with something, or been revealed as grossly incompetent. Clearly the marketing strategy worked.
These people are borderline criminals. Of course they use our water, which we stole fair and square in the 1913 Raker Act, to generate power; they overcharge for it; and they fail basic reliability tests. Still, that’s normal for American corporations. Culpability arises from reckless and unnecessary destruction of non-renewable resources when they could be moving to better ones. But if you’re already on top, all change is bad.
San Francisco has a head start on proving that clean energy can produce a high quality of life. Consider the amazingly effective program that turned Samsø around. In the nineteen-nineties this Danish island of farmers imported its oil by tanker and its electricity by cable from the mainland. In about ten years its culture was changed until, as one local put it, saving energy became a kind of sport. Everyone was involved, looking for ways to save energy, and to invest in producing clean energy. The island now gets its electricity from wind turbines, turns biomass that would be burned anyway into heat for buildings, and over the course of a year produces more energy than it uses.
Or consider the experiment undertaken by the Makah tribe in coöperation with Finavera Renewables, a company based in British Columbia. The idea is to place power generators a few miles off shore in Makah-owned waters, and let the ocean operate the piston-driven turbines. Here’s a brief video about the plan.
We can join the parade away from the world of multinational corporations and toward the sustainable people-oriented world of the future. We can help lead it.
In September I became a student again (at the California Institute of Integral Studies) after many years and it’s almost as much fun as it was the first time. Of course the first time you’re on your own, physically and legally an adult and permitted to make your own decisions, it’s a peak experience. Nowadays I’m pretty much used to that. But the education part is just as exciting.
As a transfer student who originally studied math, music, and literature, I’ve got a natural science requirement to finish. This semester my nat. sci. class is Renewable Energy; next semester it’s The Thinking Body.
The program I’m in meets every third weekend for many hours (between 6PM Friday and 2PM Sunday I’ve got 19 hours of class). Such infrequent meetings require a lot of reading, so far around 500 pages each time. For Renewable Energy, the first three assigned websites had various ways of calculating personal and household footprints. The fourth was an excellent overview of the seriousness of the situation, clearly stated and urgent but not throw-up-your-hands alarmist.
The three calculators share a tendency to return numbers that indicate greater precision than is credible. When you ask people how much they fly, and give them three choices (hardly any, some, a lot), you’re not starting with data that are precise enough to use decimals in your results. There’s a (usually) subconscious tendency to put decimals on numbers to give them the veneer of precision, which one is well advised to avoid.
The calculators also share some major positives. Each provides feedback on your individual consumption patterns as compared to others, and as compared to what we calculate might be sustainable. Which is admittedly a vague number. As one of them says, the question of carrying capacity can be calculated relatively confidantly for animals who don’t change their lifestyles, but to calculate that number for humans requires a lot of assumptions. Still, it’s good to have standards for comparison.
The Global Footprint Network has a cute calculator with Second Life-like animations, but doesn’t break down the results in much detail. It figures that 3.3 planets would be necessary to support a world full of people like me.
Redefining Progress breaks footprints into carbon, food, housing, and goods and services. It calculated that if everyone lived like I do, we’d need 3.55 planets (total score 137.69). In three out of four categories my footprint was 40% or less of the average American’s. My poorest performance was in food, where I was only average.
The Nature Conservancy site calculates your carbon footprint based on your patterns of occupancy, home energy, transportation, diet, and recycling. It estimated mine at 6.9 tons of carbon per year, as compared to the average American’s 27 tons and the world average of 5.5. Again food was my weakest area; but I got credit for not having a car, and they didn’t ask about rail travel. They also have a list of things you can do to reduce your impact on the planet. They calculate, for instance, that you can save
0.9 tons CO2 for driving 1,000 miles less per year.
2.2 tons CO2 for cutting back on one long airplane trip per year.
Admittedly it should really be CO2; but I copied the original, it’s not my fault.
The first thing you notice about Bill McKibben’s National Geographic article is that this is a writer who can put big ideas into straightforward sentences.
Here’s how it works. Before the industrial revolution, the Earth’s atmosphere contained about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide. That was a good amount — “good” defined as “what we were used to.” Since the molecular structure of carbon dioxide traps heat near the planet’s surface that would otherwise radiate back out to space, civilization grew up in a world whose thermostat was set by that number. It equated to a global average temperature of about 57 degrees Fahrenheit (about 14 degrees Celsius), which in turn equated to all the places we built our cities, all the crops we learned to grow and eat, all the water supplies we learned to depend on, even the passage of the seasons that, at higher latitudes, set our psychological calendars.
Once we started burning coal and gas and oil to power our lives, that 280 number started to rise. When we began measuring in the late 1950s, it had already reached the 315 level. Now it’s at 380, and increasing by roughly two parts per million annually. That doesn’t sound like very much, but it turns out that the extra heat that CO2 traps, a couple of watts per square meter of the Earth’s surface, is enough to warm the planet considerably. We’ve raised the temperature more than a degree Fahrenheit (0.56 degrees Celsius) already. It’s impossible to precisely predict the consequences of any further increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. But the warming we’ve seen so far has started almost everything frozen on Earth to melting; it has changed seasons and rainfall patterns; it’s set the sea to rising.
What McKinnen leaves us with is that saving the planet involves a change in the consciousness of humanity. John Lilly wrote a book called Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer, whose title tells us what we have to do: reprogram ourselves to act differently, to need and want differently. There’s never been any question about whether it can be done; but fixing our problems requires major changes to the power structures of our society. It’ll come to a fight between Thorstein Veblen’s leisure class, and those who want the planet to survive.
We may have to make climate-change denial illegal, like some countries do with Holocaust denial. But it would be far preferable if everyone would realize that the dream of unlimited consumption will not be realized by burning stuff, no matter what the stuff is. We have to switch to renewable power sources soon, or only the lucky few will get away before the Rapture crowd gets its wish and the planet is destroyed.
The Sierra Club has just put Middlebury College, which grudgingly graduated me back when the world was young, at the top of its annual list of green schools:
The top schools earned points in ten categories: policies for building, energy, food, investment, procurement, and transportation; curriculum; environmental activism; waste management; and overall commitment to sustainability. A perfect score in every area would give a school 100 points.
Two-thirds of Americans might have to reconsider their lifestyles.
Two-thirds of voters said gas prices are a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem for them and their family.
“Americans worry about gasoline prices and half say prices have forced them to change their vacation plans,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “Before this summer, this issue barely rated a mention. Now voters say gas prices are a bigger problem than health care or terrorism and almost as big a problem as Iraq.”
Makes sense. As long as my SUV is happy, I can deal with allergies, asthma, and arthritis. Even the occasional random destruction of an office tower is dink-shit compared to the price at the pump. Ya gotta have priorities.
Amazingly enough, Americans are not, despite our Hummer-centric culture, completely idiotic on this issue.
In addition to offshore drilling, American voters support every measure suggested to help solve the energy crisis and reduce dependence on foreign oil:
- 56-35 percent in favor of building new nuclear plants
- 51-42 percent back drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge
- 87-10 percent back government funds for renewable energy such as wind and solar power
- 78-18 percent for mandating higher mileage standards for cars.
Okay, I get the complaints about parallelism and punctuation. But give ’em a break. They just want to drive mindlessly whenever the whim takes them. No real American would walk, after all, to the Seven Eleven.
First thought: no wonder Americans are hated. Second thought: no matter how many times Americans say the American life-style is non-negotiable, you raise the price of gas by fifty cents and philosophies change. Ideology, says Marx, is often a cover for self-interest. And no one’s self-interest is more transparent than the American consumer; therefore no one is more easily manipulated. Democracy is not a question of choice at the grocery store.
The other day I finally decided to dip my toe into the electric vehicle pool. There’s now a modestly priced electric bicycle available that seems to be garnering good reviews and it seems like a good way for a 51 year old with a bad back to get out and start a modest exercise program (a little pedal assist is necessary to conserve the batteries). And the tinkering modifiers are having a grand old time upgrading this bike. Beats a Hummer and I'll keep my toes wet while I wait for the electric vehicle of my dreams to become affordable. And in the meantime, when recyclable lithium ion batteries become affordable as they surely will, I’ll switch to an affordable lightweight alternative to add range and power.
But even more exciting to me is the prospect of solar energy. There are a host of solar energy companies who are coming out with newer and more technologically advanced products every day. And one company even claims that they have reached parity with coal fired generating plants, although huge volume production is some time down the road. But when it comes, solar panels may come off the assembly lines like newspapers from a printing press. When that happens, what happens to the fossil fuel industry and all the coal fired plants that will be useless?
Are we destined for a full scale war or will the nation happily embrace the promise of solar power. Al Gore says we can get off fossil fuels for electric power generation, if we apply ourselves, in ten years. Or are we in for the battle of our lives? I am reminded of a similar battle, with a sadder human element, one that is part of American history. In the American South we had huge plantation owners who in the aggregate owned perhaps several million slaves, which in the capitalist system that was in existence then were considered “assets”. The sudden relegation of these “assets” to a zero value on the balance sheet promised to ruin plantation owners, destroy banks who had lent money on these assets, and create financial armageddon in the Southern States. And the battle was joined.
Likewise, we have thousands of fossil fuel and nuclear plants which — if solar panels can be produced on machines at thousands of feet per minute and printed like newspapers &mdash will be rendered into valueless assets and heaping junk piles. These fossil fuel plants are poisoning the planet and all living creatures living on the planet. We are all slaves to the pollution machines that encircle the globe. And the vested interests in these behemoths don’t want the value of their assets reduced to zero, and will fight to keep them. Solar power (and wind, wave and other renewables) have the power to set us free from the deleterious effects of pollution from coal, oil and other limited resources. But we’ve got one hell of a fight to make it happen.
Which side are you on?
If you loved the suspense and thrill-a-minute action of “My Dinner With Andre”, or you’re a Fritjof Capra fan, then you probably already know about the wonderful movie “Mindwalk”. If not, perhaps you’ve heard of the book The Tao of Physics. Capra described his motivation for writing the book this way:
Physicists do not need mysticism, and mystics do not need physics, but humanity needs both.
Ideas this all-encompassing are never bereft of controversy. Capra has been dissed by some physicists, but encouraged by others. He said:
I had several discussions with Heisenberg. I lived in England then [circa 1972], and I visited him several times in Munich and showed him the whole manuscript chapter by chapter. He was very interested and very open, and he told me something that I think is not known publicly because he never published it. He said that he was well aware of these parallels. While he was working on quantum theory he went to India to lecture and was a guest of Tagore. He talked a lot with Tagore about Indian philosophy. Heisenberg told me that these talks had helped him a lot with his work in physics, because they showed him that all these new ideas in quantum physics were in fact not all that crazy. He realized there was, in fact, a whole culture that subscribed to very similar ideas. Heisenberg said that this was a great help for him. Niels Bohr had a similar experience when he went to China.
Commenters at YouTube were unable to find “Mindwalk” from Netflix, so they were happy to find the full movie there. It stars Liv Ullman as the physicist, John Heard as the poet, and Sam Waterston as the politician, with music contributed by Philip Glass.
If everyone else could get it together as well as we have…
“We are already on pace to exceed the goal of a 7 percent reduction in greenhouse gases set by the Kyoto Protocol,” said Mayor Gavin Newsom. “With the aggressive policies and initiatives being put forth by my administration, we can continue to move towards our goal of 20 percent reduction by 2012.”
“ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability” determined the statistics. The agency reported that while San Francisco has reduced emissions 5 percent since 1990, there has been a downturn of 8 percent from the city’s peak emissions in 2000.
This includes residents, businesses, commuters, and municipal operations. It can be done. “San Francisco road vehicle emissions had actually decreased since 1990, the report claimed.”
Many of you have written to request a definition of “irony,” currently the most misused word in the English language except for “elite.” Rather than define irony, which any damned fool with a dictionary can do, I have chosen instead to give you an example ripped from today’s headlines:
Oil companies have long suspected that the Arctic contained substantial energy resources, and have been spending billions recently to get their hands on tracts for exploration. As melting ice caps have opened up prospects that were once considered too harsh to explore, a race has begun among Arctic nations, including the United States, Russia, and Canada, for control of these resources.
Depending upon your point of view, a slightly more uplifting video may follow this one.
From Bush’s remarks on leaving yesterday for Europe, where he is widely loved:
I’ll also remind them, though, that the United States has an opportunity to help increase the supply of oil on the market, therefore taking pressure off gasoline for hardworking Americans; and that I proposed to the Congress that they open up [the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge], open up the continental shelf and give this country a chance to help us through this difficult period by finding more supplies of crude oil, which will take the pressure off the price of gasoline.
Stop the presses! We’ve just demonstrated a connection between conservative think tanks (CTTs) and the Denial Industrial Complex. (I admit I was tempted to write “think” tank, but perhaps this is really the state of conservative thought these days.)
Of course everyone’s aware that ExxonMobil and Shell and their fellow evildoers are funding the climate-change deniers. No real scientist is stupid or dishonest enough to deny that humanity has had a major effect on the climate. And everyone can see that if this effect turns out to be decisive after we denied it right up until the last moment, we’re all screwed. At that point, I suppose, the deniers would be feeling like someone with high blood pressure and bad cholesterol dying of a heart attack after a big steak meal, knowing all their credit cards were maxed out. It doesn’t get better than that, eh?
A key to the success of CTTs has been their ability to establish themselves as a true ‘counter-intelligentsia’ that has achieved equal legitimacy with mainstream science and academia — both of which have been effectively labelled as ‘leftist’ in order to legitimise CTT’s as providing ‘balance’ (Austin 2002).
And scientists have established firmly, much more firmly than they know about climate change, that anything leftist is inherently untenable.
Our analyses of the sceptical literature and CTTs indicate an unambiguous linkage between the two. Over 92 per cent of environmentally sceptical books are linked to conservative think tanks, and 90 per cent of conservative think tanks interested in environmental issues espouse scepticism. Environmental scepticism began in the US, is strongest in the US, and exploded after the end of the Cold War and the emergence of global environmental concern stimulated by the 1992 Earth Summit.
Environmental scepticism is an elite-driven reaction to global environmentalism, organised by core actors within the conservative movement. Promoting scepticism is a key tactic of the anti-environmental counter-movement coordinated by CTTs, designed specifically to undermine the environmental movement’s efforts to legitimise its claims via science. Thus, the notion that environmental sceptics are unbiased analysts exposing the myths and scare tactics employed by those they label as practitioners of ‘junk science’ lacks credibility. Similarly, the self-portrayal of sceptics as marginalised ‘Davids’ battling the powerful ‘Goliath’ of environmentalists and environmental scientists is a charade, as sceptics are supported by politically powerful CTTs funded by wealthy foundations and corporations.
See, that’s hitting below the belt. To call those who use their knowledge of others’ lack of knowledge to trick them “elite-driven” is such an egregious understatement as to be nearly false. They’re manipulators, liars, monarchists, and in this case as it often turns out, thieves as well. But their brand depends on the energy of what Tom Frank calls the Backlash: the anger of the people who think that we should have stayed in Vietnam, that it was a sad day when Truman fired McArthur, that Nixon was robbed by a media conspiracy. In a word, it depends on anti-elitism. Which, surprisingly enough, appears to have been whipped up by elite-driven liars. Kinda like a war whose name I won’t drop…
This from the BBC:
Out of 33 keyboards swabbed, four were regarded as a potential health hazard and one harboured five times more germs than one of the office’s toilet seats.
Microbiologist Dr Peter Wilson said a keyboard was often “a reflection of what is in your nose and in your gut”.
During tests in January this year, a microbiologist deemed one of the office’s keyboards to be so dirty he ordered it to be removed, quarantined and cleaned.
It had 150 times the recommended limit for bacteria — five times as filthy as a lavatory seat tested at the same time, the research found.
Maybe everybody else knew this already, but I’m damned if I did. More good news on energy, brought to you by the agribusiness lobby and the quadrennial bad joke known as the Iowa caucuses:
Conventional gas delivers more energy than a gallon that contains ethanol. If it’s a gallon of E-10, which is a blend of 10 percent ethanol and conventional gas now widely available in the Kansas City area, there’s an energy difference of about 3.4 percent.
Now that may not seem like much when you’re topping off the tank this week. But over the course of a year of normal driving, it would take an additional 40 gallons of E-10 to go the same distance as conventional gas. If they were both priced the same, it would mean an extra $120.
If it’s E-85, a blend containing 85 percent ethanol that can be used in specially equipped vehicles, the energy loss soars and more than offsets its lower cost, even though E-85 is about 60 cents per gallon less at retail than conventional gas.
Mileage can suffer by about 25 percent with E-85, according to AAA. Over the course of a year, that amounts to an extra 300 gallons of E-85 to go the same distance as when using conventional gas. That means an average household, when the total cost of conventional gas and E-85 are compared, would spend nearly $100 more per year for E-85…
More of the Pigmy President’s legacy:
Despite more than 100 published studies by government scientists and university laboratories that have raised health concerns about a chemical compound that is central to the multibillion-dollar plastics industry, the Food and Drug Administration has deemed it safe largely because of two studies, both funded by an industry trade group.
The agency says it has relied on research backed by the American Plastics Council because it had input on its design, monitored its progress and reviewed the raw data.
The compound, bisphenol A (BPA), has been linked to breast and prostate cancer, behavioral disorders and reproductive health problems in laboratory animals.
This blog is named Bad Attitudes for a reason. Here’s one of them:
Monarch Butterflies at their winter home in Mexico.
Estimates put the number of monarchs at 4 million per acre in some of the butterfly reserves. Can you imagine?
“I have on many occasions seen Spaniards, Italians, Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans come into the butterfly colonies and literally weep,” said Lincoln Brower, a monarch expert at the University of Florida. “It’s such an overwhelming emotional experience to realize that you’re actually looking at these tens of millions of monarch butterflies that have come into this tiny, little area of Mexico.”
The eastern monarchs are the butterflies that winter in Mexico (the western monarchs stay in California) and they come to the exact same mountains every year. But the ones that arrive in the fall are not the ones that leave in the spring. After mating in Mexico (in March) and finding milkweed for their caterpillars, the females only live a few more weeks. It’s the next generation that migrates home. It can take up to four generations of butterflies to travel all the way back to New England, Canada, and the Great Lakes. In the fall, the robust autumn monarchs gain extra weight and live 12 times longer than the summer monarchs so they can survive the journey to their winter paradise.
Establishing shot from Blade Runner? Close. Jim Fallows of The Atlantic Monthly is posted to Beijing, where he amuses himself by photographing the air outside his apartment.
Excerpted from an Inter Press Service article:
NEW DELHI — The world's richest countries must drastically reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to mitigate climate change impacts, says the lead author of a United Nations report, due for release later this month, that focuses on impacts of global warming on the developing world.
To have a realistic chance of avoiding dangerous climate change, rich countries need to make cuts of at least 80 percent by 2050, said Kevin Watkins, an author of the UN's Human Development Report 2007, during a climate change workshop for Asian journalists in the Indian capital, last week…
Unfortunately for the mother ship, however, Watkins’s realistic chance has no realistic chance. George W. Bush refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol because rapidly developing countries such as China and India are exempt from its clean air requirements.
Fair is fair, Bush seemed to be saying — and most Americans seemed to agree, at least with this particular line of argument. Why give our competitors a get-out-of-jail card until they get to the point where they’re able to pump as much crap into the atmosphere as we do?
And this does indeed make sense to a species still genetically adapted to the tribal and territorial society of the hunter-gatherer. So I’m just talking to myself here, but let’s go ahead anyway.
This is not a zero-sum game, in which China and India win and we lose. Nobody breathes Chinese or Indian or American air. We all breathe the planet’s air. And if we cut down on greenhouse emissions but our economic competitors don’t, everybody’s air gets better. Or at least it gets worse more slowly.
Biologically, ecologically, medically, environmentally, climatologically, there are no losers. The human species wins. Even the polar bears do.
The war being waged by the major polluting nations is not against each other. It is against the planet and it's time we started losing it.
Texas, a perennial frontrunner in the stupidity stakes, is about to auction off a state wildlife preserve bordering Big Bend National Park:
The property, which could be sold as soon as Tuesday, is the Christmas Mountains Ranch, a 9,270-acre tract abutting Big Bend National Park near the Rio Grande. It was given to the state in 1991 and leased to the nonprofit association of local residents to patrol …
The dispute pits the donors of the land, the Conservation Fund and the Richard King Mellon Foundation, against a pistol-packing commissioner adamant about preserving hunting and firearms rights on the property, even at the cost of denying the land to the National Park Service, although Texas ranks 44th in park land.
…at least if you’re Coke ™ they do. Here’s Maude Barlow, an expert on the world’s water wars. These get very little coverage in the American press, although they are much more important to mankind than the Bush family’s oil wars. The thing is, you can’t drink oil.
When you dig deep into Coca-Cola’s practices, you see it’s really a bad company. They are using military satellite imagery to find clean sources of groundwater and then going in — often in poor tribal communities — and setting up a plant and just helping themselves to the water until the water is gone. I call it water mining.
We’re working with folks in the state of Kerala, India, who have taken the Coca-Cola company all the way to their Supreme Court to fight the way Coke comes in and sucks up massive amounts of groundwater, pollutes it with sweeteners and chemical additives, and then makes huge profits selling this nonnutritious drink to the public.
Seems to me there’s only two basic positions: either oil is being created as we speak at a pace rapid enough to supply our needs, or we’ll reach the peak of oil production at some point, the so-called Hubbert Peak.
Since we have sketchy data to infer from, we don’t know where we are on that curve with certainty. The Saudis, for instance, hold onto the best estimates for their remaining reserves like Bush holds onto information about torture memos and spying on Americans.
There are disagreements among the participants about when the oily dance will come to a finale. Oil companies naturally don’t want people to cut back on their use of oil. For example, Exxon Mobil recently reported a quarterly profit of $10.3 billion, in light of which the executives at Royal Dutch Shell might have been shamed by their measly $8.7 billion over the same period. Anything that tends to get people talking about conserving or switching to realistic methods of transportation is generally anathema to Big Oil.
We probably won’t recognize the actual peak until we’re a bit past it.
Some things, however, are clear. For instance, it’s uncontroversial that the cost of extracting oil goes up as more oil is pumped from that field, because the original pressure of compressed oil decreases and eventually must be supplemented by human ingenuity. It’s also well known that the world’s biggest oil fields are decades old and well into their useful lifecycle.
We’ve found most of the easy oil, says Michael Klare, and we’re headed into the era of tough oil. He cites one new project and two studies in support of his argument.
In the forty years since the discovery of oil in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay, the largest field to be developed anywhere in the world is the Kashagan project in the Kazakh section of the Caspian Sea, currently estimated at 9-13 billion barrels. The project is big enough for Exxon Mobil, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Total (French), and Eni (Italian) to share interest. It was originally planned to be online in 2005 at a cost of $10 billion. The new estimate is 2010, for $19 billion. The government of Kazakhstan is threatening to take control of the project, but in fact it appears that the project faces a number of difficult issues.
The oil reservoir itself is buried beneath high-pressure strata of gas, making its extraction exceedingly tricky, and it contains abnormally high levels of deadly hydrogen sulfide; moreover, the entire field is located in a shallow area of the Caspian Sea that freezes over for five months of the year and is the breeding ground for rare seals and beluga sturgeon.
No doubt they’ll get that oil out, but it’ll be expensive.
Two new reports, one from the International Energy Agency, part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the other submitted by the National Petroleum Council to the US Department of Energy, add fuel to the fire. In fact they throw gasoline onto it with predictions of significant near-term dislocations worldwide.
The IEA report, according to Klare, points out that demand for oil is increasing rapidly, especially in surging Asian economies like China and India. High prices at US pumps have not kept Americans from setting new records for distances driven. The demand does not show any signs of decreasing anywhere. To keep up with current demand, new demand, and declining production from older fields requires the production of five million new barrels a day. Since the older fields, like those in the US, can’t increase production, those five million barrels must come from
…Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Angola, Libya, Nigeria, Venezuela, and one or two other countries. These are not places that exactly inspire investor confidence of a sort that could attract the many billions of dollars needed to ramp up production enough to satisfy global requirements.
Read between the lines and one quickly perceives a worst-case scenario in which the necessary investment is not forthcoming; OPEC production does not grow by five million barrels per day year after year; ethanol and other substitute-fuel production, along with alternate fuels of various sorts, do not grow fast enough to fill the gap; and, in the not-too-distant future, a substantial shortage of oil leads to a global economic meltdown.
If we’re lucky. Which major power would lay down its arms rather than go to war over the dregs of the oil its military machine requires?
The National Petroleum Council is a oil-industry association. Its recent report recommended, of course, more drilling in federal lands, but also increased fuel-efficiency standards.
Contributing to the buzz around its release was the identity of the report’s principal sponsor, former Exxon CEO Lee Raymond. Having previously expressed skepticism about global warming, he now embraced the report’s call for the taking of significant steps to curb carbon-dioxide emissions.
Like the IEA report, the NPC study does claim that — with the perfect mix of policies and an adequate level of investment — the energy industry would be capable of satisfying oil and gas demand for some years to come. “Fortunately, the world is not running out of energy resources,” the report bravely asserts. Read deep into the report, though, and these optimistic words begin to dissolve as its emphasis switches to the growing difficulties (and costs) of extracting oil and gas from less-than-favorable locations and the geopolitical risks associated with a growing global reliance on potentially hostile, unstable suppliers.
And the costs are significant. The NPC estimates that by 2030 the world will need to spend about $3,000 for each individual now alive, or $20 trillion, to ensure that enough oil exists to meet expected demand. Get out your wallet…
Another area of agreement between the two reports:
Both reports claim that with just the right menu of corrective policies and an unrealistic streak of pure luck — as in no set of major Katrina-like hurricanes barreling into oil fields or refineries, no new wars in Middle Eastern oil producing areas, no political collapse in Nigeria — we can somehow stagger through to 2012 and maybe just beyond without a global economic meltdown.
That’s right, five years. After that, it gets ugly.
More competition among buyers, more difficult places to drill and extract, less stable host countries, aging fields with declining production.
What would six-dollar-a-gallon gas mean to the American Dream?
Since I’ve never been very good at doing my part for the environment, I figure it’s about time to at least do something as a blogger, so I don’t have to feel guilty every time I see a hybrid automobile driving down the street or someone posts something that reminds me of my energy hogging ways. Over at Coding Horror, we are advised that not only can we do more to save the planet while sitting at our computers, but we can actually save money by doing it.
There are even some folks who recommend that you replace the energy hogging power supply on your computer to not only help save the planet, but save money as well. This sounds as sensible as buying any other more energy efficient appliance, perhaps more so. And for those of you looking for a computer program to help you do you part, the folks at Local Cooling,or alternatively, Co2 Saverexist to help you fight global warming at your desktop. They even have computer programs available that track how many trees you’ve saved or how much CO2 you've kept out the atmosphere, by getting your computer to make all the right moves that the programs are designed to facilitate. Right now the programs are only compatible with Windows XP or Vista. You folks using Ubuntu and Apple will have to keep track of the number in your head as I don't know of any similar programs for your computers, although our comments section is always open.
But buying that new power supply doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, although being the eternal skeptic, I’m always wondering why they want me to buy something to save the planet.
You might be happy to hear that the US is not included in the European Happy Planet Index, compiled by the New Economics Foundation and Friends of the Earth. They limited themselves to Europe, probably in consideration of our feelings.
The ratings don’t give Europe much to crow about. The Guardian considers that “Europe is now worse at creating well-being than it was 40 years ago.”
I went looking for details, and learned that conceptually the HPI is Life Satisfaction times Life Expectancy divided by Environmental Footprint.
The HPI reflects the average years of happy life produced by a given society, nation or group of nations, per unit of planetary resources consumed. Put another way, it represents the efficiency with which countries convert the earth’s finite resources into well-being experienced by their citizens.
Seems like a thing worth measuring, and a reasonable try at measuring it.
So it’s interesting to find the list that does include the US. (Here’s an interactive map of the world colored by HPI.) Of 178 countries, We’re Number One… Hundred and Fiftieth. The UK is 108th, Canada 111th, well ahead of us because of superior Environmental Footprints. The United Arab Emirates take the Worst-Of trophy in that area, with the US, Kuwait, and Qatar tied for second.
Certainly people will dispute the rankings, the definitions, the methods of calculation, and so on (possibly even including some folks not on an oil company payroll). To me the value of such a calculation is precisely that it generates controversy, which in areas such as environmental issues is often the only way that any conversation is allowed to take place.
And it’s not very hard to figure out why.
Andrew Simms, the foundation’s head of climate change, said countries with a strong market-led economic model fared least well. “What is the point if we burn vast quantities of fossil fuels to make, buy and consume ever more stuff, without noticeably benefiting our well-being?”
A rhetorical question, no doubt. Obviously, the point of capitalism is the concentration of capital.
State capitalism, at least. Chomsky talks about a continuum with completely centralized control at one extreme, and completely decentralized control at the other. (I believe a lot of this comes from Bakunin, but I’m not sure how much.) The first he calls “state” and the second “libertarian”.
Capitalism can be of the state variety, like ours, with massive market intervention. Subsidies of all sorts for the defense contractors, drug companies, and so on nudge most of the benefit of the common wealth to those already at the very top of the ladder.
Then there’s libertarian capitalism, which seeks to distribute capital much more widely. The first I remember hearing about such a batty scheme was watching Bill Moyers interview Louis Kelso, the inventor of the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). He, along with Mortimer Adler, published The Capitalist Manifesto in 1975. It’s now out of print; Powell’s has no copies, eBay has one for $65, Amazon has three from $40 to $125, aLibris has two starting at $51. Oh, and the San Francisco Public Library does not have a copy, though I did get one through interlibrary loan. Apparently either Moyers interviewed a complete nobody who once had a beer with Mortimer Adler, or Kelso said something you’re not supposed to know about.
As I recall the interview, Kelso advocated a legal and enforced upper limit on the amount of capital that anyone could accumulate. He believed that it’s good to have a lot of well-off people, and as Greider says, capitalism is the greatest wealth-generation engine humanity has encountered. The question is, who ends up with the wealth? Our system concentrates it; Kelso wanted to distribute it.
As much as I believe that capitalism is based on some of the worst aspects of human character, I can imagine that we could make it respond to reality. It’s our construct, after all; it’s not part of nature, or it would have existed throughout history. It’ll be tricky, kind of like turning around a bunch of Bush administrations. But there are signs that we’re learning something about how to do that in the political realm; perhaps that expanded consciousness might transfer to the economic.
For example, in The Soul of Capitalism Bill Greider talks about the extent to which corporations are able externalize many of their costs while internalizing the profits. Whether through loopholes or lax enforcement or political pressure preventing relevant regulations, they can often avoid paying for environmental damage they cause. But you sure don’t hear them talking about sharing their profits with the people in the area that was damaged. Quite the opposite: those people are the ones who pay the cost, in money and health and future.
Capitalism might work if it was forced to include all the actual costs in its calculations. It does not work in the US today. In fact it’s destroying our common fantasy of the American Dream on physical, economic, and spiritual planes.
If we can force Congress to do something about Bush and Cheney, we might actually be able to force Congress to do something about the environment as well. As long as the US is in form a democracy, we have the theoretical power to pull it off.
Excerpted from today’s New York Times:
But officials said that it was unclear if at the end of that process Mr. Bush would take it upon himself to raise the gas mileage of the nation’s automobiles, which has not significantly increased in decades. And Mr. Bush, speaking in the Rose Garden on Monday afternoon, said nothing would be put into effect until the regulatory process was completed at the end of 2008, just weeks before the end of his term.
One time me and three friends dropped acid drove around in my Dad’s car, he’s got one of those talking cars, we’re tripping, the car goes “the door is ajar”. We pulled over thought about that for 12 hours. “How can a door be a jar?” “Shit I don’t know but I see it, I see it. Why would they put a jar on a car man?” I’m proud of every moment in my life, alright?
So my question is, if a door can be a jar, can a bee be a canary?
You’ve probably heard about the big bee scare. Apparently they’re dropping like flies.
Worse, they’re not even dying where we can find their little bee bodies and try to figure out what the hell’s going on. They seem to have disappeared, leaving in many cases colonies full of honey, pollen, and larvae, and drunk somebody’s Kool-aid.
Naturally everyone in our enlighted community realizes the importance of bees in general. But did you know that their contribution to the American economy is reckoned at $14 billion a year? By a source as reputable as the New York Times? Of course that mostly represents the pollinating we get them to do for a pittance; the honey we have to pay for, so it isn’t as profitable.
Fortunately, and no doubt by chance, an international consortium of scientists recently published the sequence of the entire honey bee genome. So I guess this means we don’t have to care, we can just engineer some more. Right?
If it comes to a federal system for monitoring feral bees, though, we’re in deep doo-doo.
The Bush administration, through its wholly-owned subsidiary, the American Enterprise Institute, is offering $10,000 bribes to economists and scientists willing to Swift Boat a major United Nations study on climate change. Thanks to Peter from Germany for the link.
From the UK’s The Independent
Iraq’s massive oil reserves, the third-largest in the world, are about to be thrown open for large-scale exploitation by Western oil companies under a controversial law which is expected to come before the Iraqi parliament within days.
The US government has been involved in drawing up the law, a draft of which has been seen by The Independent on Sunday. It would give big oil companies such as BP, Shell and Exxon 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi crude and allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil interests in the country since the industry was nationalised in 1972.
The huge potential prizes for Western firms will give ammunition to critics who say the Iraq war was fought for oil. They point to statements such as one from Vice-President Dick Cheney, who said in 1999, while he was still chief executive of the oil services company Halliburton, that the world would need an additional 50 million barrels of oil a day by 2010. “So where is the oil going to come from?... The Middle East, with two-thirds of the world’s oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies,” he said.
Oil industry executives and analysts say the law, which would permit Western companies to pocket up to three-quarters of profits in the early years, is the only way to get Iraq's oil industry back on its feet after years of sanctions, war and loss of expertise. But it will operate through “production-sharing agreements” (or PSAs) which are highly unusual in the Middle East, where the oil industry in Saudi Arabia and Iran, the world’s two largest producers, is state controlled.
Opponents say Iraq, where oil accounts for 95 per cent of the economy, is being forced to surrender an unacceptable degree of sovereignty.
James Paul, executive director at the Global Policy Forum, the international government watchdog, said: “It is not an exaggeration to say that the overwhelming majority of the population would be opposed to this.”
Peter, who keeps an eye on European developments for us, reports that certain omnivores in northern Spain, apparently having swallowed that whole global warming myth, no longer bother to hibernate.
Merry Christmas, everybody:
The change is affecting female bears with young cubs, which now find there are enough nuts, acorns, chestnuts and berries on the bleak mountainsides to make winter food-gathering sorties “energetically worthwhile,” scientists at the foundation, based in Santander, the Cantabrian capital, told El Pais newspaper.
Inversnaid is by Father Gerard Manley Hopkins, who was an environmentalist before the word existed.
My favorite type of person is the old crank. We’ve got one here in Silver Spring, with a 500-acre farm that’s been in his family for 250 years. Lester Miller is fed up with McMansion developments sprouting all around him, and by golly, they’re not getting his place.
He’s 80 now. Seeing the end coming, he’s put his and whatever adjacent land he can buy into a conservancy. Nothing but organic farming can be done on it hereafter. He was just outbid on 53 acres next door, which Bobby Essis is subdividing, and now Miller’s being sued over a trailer he parked on the property line, the first piece of equipment he’s bought for a new enterprise he’s considering, S.S. Hog Farm.
“I am going to put a hog farm here because I think it is the best way I can stop development. Nobody is going to want to spend $350,000 for a 10-acre piece of land to build a $1 million home looking at a pig farm,” Miller said.
UPDATE from the reporter: Actually, Miller was not outbid on the parcel Essis bought.
He never even knew it was for sale. Miller surmises that is because of his previous efforts to stop the former owner from building 50 homes there.
Usually, the proposed response to global warming is framed this way. We can fix global warming without any impact on the economy. What they mean by economy is that we can fix global warming and still grow forever. Anyone with the slightest understanding of the implications of exponential growth knows this is absurd, but it is absolutely critical that politicians urge or promise infinite growth at least until they leave office.
Al Gore is one of the most significant and well known proponents of this formula. It is generally understood that to advocate fighting global warming without at the same time saying it will not retard growth is suicidal. Even if you don’t believe it, you must pretend you believe it. While a few dare to challenge the tenets of fundamentalist, right wing religion, it is simply not possible to find a politician, whether right or left, who challenges the fundamental tenet of the American religion, growth for growth’s sake, and plenty of it. Growth is good, and for the right, even, and especially, if it does not trickle down below the rich.
I would call growth a cult, but it encompasses almost the entire body of the American citizenry. There are a lot of problems with the growth fetish, but the fundamental problem is that we equate growth with welfare, with well being. The other main problem is that growth describes the growth of gross domestic product, a number which, unfortunately, encompasses both all the goods and all the bads. Within this context, a hurricane can be a good thing, a very good thing, because it will require the expenditure of billions of dollars to clean up and reconstruct everything that was destroyed by the hurricane.
But I digress. Global warming will destroy the earth as we know it. Isn’t it rather odd that we only think we can get action to stop this menace if we promise that it won’t have any impact on the GDP? How about this? There is a meteor heading towards the earth which will destroy most of its inhabitants. The world marshals its resources to stop the meteor. But someone objects. What will happen to GDP if we spend all those resources trying to stop the meteor?
You see the problem. We are so psychotically twisted by greed that an abstract and not terribly meaningful number called the GDP has become more important than life itself. Goddamn it, right before I die, I want to be able to turn to the financial pages that day and see that the GDP increased over the last fiscal quarter.
Renowned scientist Louis Guillette announced research today indicating that pesticide pollution is causing a reduction in penis size and increasing the numbers of male genital abnormalities due to chemical similarity to estrogen.
Surely some drug company will come out soon with a new pill to help us fix the problem. Just wondering though, could this lead us to the root of Curious George’s problem with little things like manliness? Is there a reason that Daddy Bush calls him “little George”? Was Barbara a lawn freak? Anybody know?
The Democrats are at it again. Pandering to the masses, that is. A key component of their current campaign strategy is to rail against high gas prices while also pummeling the oil companies and those sneaky Arabs. Part of their campaign does have a valid point, though. Why should be subsidize the oil companies when gas prices are sky high and they are making record profits? While Exxon is paying its retired CEO 400 million dollars in retirement benefits, we are paying near record prices for oil and gas.
The response by the Republicans, on the other hand, is pathetic. Republicans say they have spent years advocating policies that would reduce reliance on imported oil, largely by promoting more domestic energy production. This might be a good defense except for the fact that no amount of domestic production will make a dent in our oil imports.
Despite the fact that gas prices are much higher this year than they were last year, demand for gas in this country continues to increase and is at an all time high. I shudder to think what would happen if gas prices actually decreased. The Japanese, on the other hand, decreased their consumption of gas this year for the first time in decades.
While there are some aspects of the Democrats’ campaign that are positive, the main message seems to be that our first priority is to do something to bring down gas prices. This message is being offered in concert with a contradictory message that we need to conserve energy and develop alternative fuels.
My question is, if demand is increasing despite increases in gas prices, how much will be consume if the Democrats can magically bring down prices? The desired result shouldn’t be to bring down prices, but to bring down consumption. Bringing down consumption is good in itself, because it helps our planet, not because it brings down prices.
The hard truth is that we need to maintain high prices, not try to figure out ways to reduce them. The American people need to know that these prices will remain high and will get higher. As long as people perceive these high prices as a temporary phenomenon that can be magically attenuated by politics, beating up on the oil companies, or more drilling, they won’t take the necessary actions to ensure a long term commitment to conservation.
One approach is to impose a hefty gas tax. Although I would support that, I would propose an approach that takes on the level of consumption directly.
Determine the average number of gallons consumed per household and issue an electronic card to each household that allows it to consume the average number of gallons less 10%. Each year increase the reduction from the baseline by an additional 5% until we get to a 50% reduction. Establish a market much like the oil market whereby each household can trade portions of its quota at a price determined by the market. Those who conserve by cutting back on driving, moving closer to work, or buying a more efficient car could directly profit from their frugality. Those who chose to consume above their allotment would have to pay a price over and above the retail price of gasoline. Those without cars, which include a lot of the poor, could pick up some additional spending money.
Would this be fair? Well, is the current system fair? Under the current system, the rich get to consume as much as they want without any significant impact on their standard of living. As gas prices increase, the poor and the near poor will be unable to get around and the middle class may be significantly impacted. Under my system, actual gasoline prices will probably decrease with decreased consumption. However, unlike the current system, conservation will not be its own undoing. If we conserve under the current system, this also tends to drive down prices, which just encourages us to be profligate again, perpetuating the hopeless cycle.
Why won’t a system like this be implemented? It won’t be implemented because it would actually do something to decrease overall consumption. It is much easier for politicians to just rail against the oil companies without actually requiring any action or sacrifice on the part of their constituents.
Under the current crop of politicians, we will continue to stumble our way into the future, with a subsidy here, a credit there, and a congressional hearing over there. We will not set real goals that are attainable. To do so would require the recognition that we are actually running out of oil and we have met the enemy and he is us.
Are there better proposals out there? Probably. But regardless, almost anything is better than a situation where gas prices increase while consumption decreases at the same time. We need to recognize and overcome the inelasticity of demand for gas that seems to permeate our society.
The sky wasn’t yet dark when I came home from the Maundy Thursday covered dish supper, so it’s spring, friends, and time to clean up the homestead.
The hardest part is always figuring out what to do with all that stuff you have that’s too good to throw away. You know what I mean, those expensive New Balances that didn’t fit and you didn’t get around to taking them back to the store but they’re brand new, that Health-O-Meter seat scale and the crutches you acquired but never used when you had the bum leg a couple of years back, the home barbering kit you nearly cut off somebody’s ear with, the ceiling fixtures you replaced because they didn’t accommodate fluorescent bulbs? That’s all stuff I gave away to somebody who actually wanted the junk-to-me I was tripping over. That’s not mentioning the organ — the organ like a piano, not the organ like a liver — I Freecycled for a relative.
So I recommend freecycling for spring .
On the flip: What is Freecycling? How can I find these suckers who’ll take my banty rooster that my hens won’t have anything to do with or the infant outfits my teenager outgrew? What about all that gasoline that’s wasted driving around to pick up three bodice rippers or drop off an extra extension cord? What’s the downside of freecycling?
The underlying primary purpose of Freecycling is keeping stuff out of landfills. Every washing machine you give away or recliner you take is another cubic yard or so of stuff kept out of a landfill. Freecycling also stretches budgets for people who can’t otherwise afford the toys their kids want or furniture for a new addition to their household. And it develops community; I’ve met a lot of nice and/or interesting people (sometimes people only a couple of blocks away) and nobody truly dreadful, some of them obviously just barely scraping by and others just as obviously leading privileged lifestyles. Personally, I like rubbing elbows like that.
Worldwide, there are more than 2 million Freecyclers in 3,511 Freecycling e-communities, surely at least one of them near you.
All you do to get rid of that 6-foot-wide plush toy octopus (yes, I’ve seen offers like that) is post a message to the list describing the thing, including its condition. The subject line should read: OFFER: big octopus stuffed toy, [location]. You give your location because most everybody, including you, will drive to Hillview if that’s the town you live in but not 20 miles away to Riverview unless it’s an item you really, really want and need that will cost you a bundle at your local corner store.
Which brings up the problem of wasting ever-more-expensive gas and adding more crud to our polluted air. When gas prices were rising steadily last year, and still I saw Freecyclers giving and receiving modest goods like two pairs of size 6 girls’ shorts or a spice rack, I asked an e-list I moderate about the economics of it all. One listmate noted that in many suburban-exurban areas, all time not spent in the work cubicle or sleeping is spent driving around in circles, and the question wouldn’t arise. Another described quite a complicated setup, with Freecyclers picking up stuff for somebody else at the Sector A pickup point and dropping it off at the Sector C pickup point, where they’re picking up something left for them by somebody in Sector F. She ends with “Don’t forget about the energy being saved at the manufacturing end if many families are getting sequential use out of strollers and video games.” Not to say my neighbors are stupid, but I can’t visualize this functioning successfully in my neck of the woods. Overall, the best advice is to Freecycle as nearby as possible and to batch errands, as in pick up your Freecycle shower curtains after you stop off at the post office on your way to the dentist’s.
The danger of Freecycling is the likelihood that you’ll wind up with more not exactly vital stuff than you started with. Did I really need that console tube record player that some guy’s grandmother was getting rid of? Can I justify filling a bookcase with medieval history books someone didn’t want to yet again load on a moving van? (Well, she did say “a box,” which I was picturing as six or eight books, and that bookcase used to hold an encyclopedia I Freecycled away so I didn’t have to acquire yet another bookcase.) At least it’s different stuff to dust twice a year.
And I’ve love to hear your stories about Freecycling or your questions.
Let’s get controversial again.
For a while now I’ve been mouthing off to Mrs. Batard about the theory of “Peak Oil”. The theory of “Peak Oil” seemed to me to be the best propaganda that the oil industry could create to jack up prices. Until just now, I had never punched my personal theory into Google to see if others agree with me. WOW! I’m amazed. It looks to me like there are conspiracy theories run amok about my simple thought. Well, here’s just one link to a story that kind of halfway talks about my theory and then goes far beyond it. Beware of treading in this minefield. Conspiracy theories run amok. Maybe mine too, but I doubt it. Running up the price of a commodity (and running it back down to “knock out” competitors at the right time) has always been the hallmark of capitalism. Peak Oil fits the bill very nicely. Alright, I know I’m done for. Blast away.
They make the profits on creating artificial scarcity.
“Peak oil” is pure military-industrial-complex propaganda.
Publicly available CFR and Club of Rome strategy manuals from 30 years ago say that a global government needs to control the world population through neo-feudalism by creating artificial scarcity. Now that the social architects have de-industrialized the United States, they are going to blame our economic disintegration on lack of energy supplies.
Globalization is all about consolidation. Now that the world economy has become so centralized through the Globalists operations, they are going to continue to consolidate and blame it on the West’s “evil” overconsumption of fossil fuels, while at the same time blocking the development and integration of renewable clean technologies.
In other words, Peak oil is a scam to create artificial scarcity and drive prices up. Meanwhile, alternative fuel technologies which have been around for decades are intentionally suppressed.
Too bad the news media didn’t bother to tell us which restaurants, I guess that means all of them, but this should whet your appetite for another Coke at McDonalds — and we knew that kitty was actually living life better than we are.
Benito Middle School student Jasmine Roberts examined the amount of bacteria in ice served at fast food restaurants. The 12-year-old compared the ice used in the drinks with the water from toilet bowls in the same restaurants. Jasmine said she found the results startling. “I thought there might be a little bacteria in the ice, but I never expected it to be this much,” she said. “And I never thought the toilet water would be cleaner.” Her discovery: Seventy percent of the time, the ice had more bacteria than the toilet water.
Evangelical leaders are getting on board to fight global warming, not only with their mouths but with their pocket books. The usual suspects, of course, are not on board.
These include Charles W. Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries; James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; and Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
This latter group always has the rapture to fall back on. So, why worry? The rest of us can just stew in our juices.
Artist Mark Wilson, an Oregonian transplanted to Connecticut, passes along yet another instance of Bush’s contempt for science. Same-old, same-old: Feds fund research. Findings fluster timber barons. Feds pull plug.
“It’s totally without precedent as far as I can recollect,” said Jerry Franklin, a professor at the University of Washington who has studied Northwest forests for decades. “It says, ‘If we don’t like what you’re saying, we’ll cut off your money.’ “
My hero’s back: William Greider’s newest piece for The Nation has been, as they say, liberated by truthout.
The mass culture marinates American citizens in false triumphalism. [Damn! Wish I’d written that. — CED]
Events, nevertheless, have delivered a teachable moment — an opportunity to reframe and reargue many long-neglected matters. The wheels are coming off the right-wing bus. The President of Oil and War is no longer much believed. The vast suffering and physical destruction in New Orleans have made all too visible what ecologists and social critics have been trying to explain for years. Their warnings once seemed too abstract or remote to require public action. New Orleans announced, for those who will listen, that the future is now.
Oceans are warming, the Arctic ice cap is shrinking. The deep topsoil of Iowa is draining into the Mississippi River, leaving behind chemical swamps. Good drinking water, once freely available to all, has become a scarce commodity for commercial exploitation. Much of the population, dispersed farther and farther from urban centers, is pole-axed by soaring gasoline prices. Meanwhile, the gorgeous abundance of consumer goods continues to poison earth, air and water. This year, Americans will throw away something like 100 million cell phones, pagers, pocket PCs and portable music players, interring their toxic contents in the “dump” called nature.
He goes on to talk about the Apollo Alliance, whose name harks back to JFK’s project to land a man on the moon, regularly cited in world-wide opinion polls as the most impressive achievement of humanity. Apollo began as an alliance of environmental and labor groups, which have often found themselves on opposite sides, but in reality, taking everything into account, ought to be partners. The premise is that jobs and the environment are connected in positive rather than negative ways: that what’s good for the environment is good for jobs as well. The false dichotomy between the two has been exploited for too long.
When Washington State was enacting its green building code, the paper industry initially persuaded machinists and carpenters to oppose the higher standards for timbering as a threat to local jobs. But the unions reversed themselves when the alliance demonstrated that the industry’s job claims were false. (In fact, the legislation gives preference to regionally produced lumber.)
Of course, with what Greider calls “oil-based Republicans” in office, the federal government is hopeless in this, as in other, areas. But as the US increasingly falls behind other countries, especially the European Union, the difference grows harder to ignore. For instance, the EU is forcing industries to redesign their products, processes, and methods of packaging. Beginning next year, auto manufacturers in Europe must take back their old vehicles and re-use 85 percent of the materials in them, and consumer electronics, computers, and cell phones are next. Note that the onus here is on the companies, not the individuals who buy the products. It’s easy to see how such a requirement will cause rethinking by industry.
It’s also easy to imagine what would happen in the US right now if such a program were undertaken. But we can — we must — pursue similar goals if we wish the land we love to be habitable by our descendants.
This is not “new” news since it was included in a press release issued by the Swedish Government on October 1st, but I find it fascinating and, really, worth emulating. Sweden has announced that it is “setting a new policy target: the creation of the conditions necessary to break Sweden’s dependence on fossil fuels by 2020.”
Perhaps this is not completely realistic, but it is precisely the kind of the goal that the United States should have. I think we need to cut our fossil fuel use by at least 50%. Short of an as yet unforeseen technological breakthrough, the continued dependence upon fossil fuels will be the death of us and will lead to an unacceptable degradation of the planet.
President Bush has decided to sacrifice the planet. The planet is being sacrificed because he apparently doesn’t believe that one American job is worth the future of the planet.
Even if we cannot become completely independent of all fossil fuels, we could start with oil. This country is currently only producing about 4 million barrels of oil per day. This mean we are importing about 80% of our oil needs. At a minimum, putting aside the environmental consequences of oil consumption, we would benefit immeasurably from a security and balance of payments standpoint if we took steps to eliminate our oil dependence.
Perhaps this is not completely realistic, but it is precisely the kind of the goal that the United States should have. I think we need to cut our fossil fuel use by at least 50%. Short of an as yet unforeseen technological breakthrough, the continued dependence upon fossil fuels will be the death of us and will lead to an unacceptable degradation of the planet.
President Bush has decided to sacrifice the planet. The planet is being sacrificed because he apparently doesn’t believe that one American job is worth the future of the planet.
Even if we cannot become completely independent of all fossil fuels, we could start with oil. This country is currently only producing about 4 million barrels of oil per day. This mean we are importing about 80% of our oil needs. At a minimum, putting aside the environmental consequences of oil consumption, we would benefit immeasurably from a security and balance of payments standpoint if we took steps to eliminate our oil dependence.
Richard Pombo, real estate millionaire and congressman from California’s Central Valley, has made it his business for 12 years to gut the Endangered Species Act. And according to Grist Magazine, this repellent specimen of the genus Republican is getting close:
In a big coup for property-rights activists, the legislation would also require the feds to pay landowners for lost profits if the presence of an endangered species limits their development options. Because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lacks funding to make such payments, this could effectively eliminate regulatory restrictions on commercial developers, according to critics.
“It gives developers the right to say to the government, ‘You have two options: either grant me a permit to destroy sensitive habitat, or pay me market value not to,’” said Patrick Parenteau, director of the Environmental Law Clinic at Vermont Law School.