The Telegraph reports that, though the inauguration of an African-American president may represent a civil rights milestone for many Americans and observers abroad, some segregatory practices are alive and well in Montgomery County, Georgia:
Kera Nobles’ senior prom should have been a high point of her life, as she celebrated graduation from her home town’s school system after 13 years of education.
But instead it has left the normally bubbly 17-year-old smouldering with anger. For, following a local tradition that seems extraordinary in a country which has elected its first black president, there was not just one formal dance for the 54 classmates who graduated from Montgomery County High, but two.
On the first night, a prom was held for the school’s white students; the following night came the celebration for Miss Nobles and the school’s other blacks.
“I don’t like segregated proms, there’s no need for it,” she said, her eyes still burning with hurt. “We went to school together and we all graduated at the same time. I feel like I’ve been deprived of something that was important to me.”
One concern I have as a U.S. Southerner is that people outside this region, and particularly outside this country, might reasonably acquire the impression that such flagrant racism is universal in this part of the world. This simply isn’t true. At the very least, it is today nowhere near as true as it once might have been.
My observation has been that racism here is largely a generational phenomenon—the twenty- and thirty-somethings of today are far less likely to harbor prejudicial attitudes than their parents and grandparents. Of course, this is not to say that racism is absent among young people, particularly since they are their parents’ children. Those young people who attend or have attended rural schools with small or non-existent African-American populations are much more likely to grow into virulent racism than their urban peers. I have seen it happen, too often.
That’s one reason why segregation, while it may make some comfortable in their ivory towers, is a very bad idea—today, tomorrow, and forever.
From our Local Interest Department:
In White Hall, Alabama—a rural community near Montgomery in which about one third of folks live below the poverty line–a state task force raided a bingo hall before dawn on Thursday, seizing more than 200 alleged illegal slot machines and “a large amount of cash.”
From the Associated Press via al.com:
A spokesman for Gov. Bob Riley says the Governor’s Task Force on Illegal Gambling organized the pre-dawn raid Thursday and are seizing machines suspected of being illegal slot machines.
No charges were immediately filed.
Collins Pettaway, an attorney for the charity that operates the bingo hall, says the machines are all legal and he is trying to get an injunction to block the seizure.
Whitehall resident Doris Gresham says she was in the gaming center when state troopers arrived about 5 a.m.
The bingo hall is located on U.S. 80 about 20 miles west of Montgomery.
The thought occurs to me that if the great state of Alabama could just let good folks like Doris yank the lever in peace, perhaps my state university wouldn’t be turning off the air conditioning in shifts and considering a hiring freeze, the roads around here might get serviced regularly and in reasonable time, and maybe the police could divert their valuable resources to fighting some real crime.
A UK man, his dad, and some friends and passersby have built, for around US$5,000, an ultra-low impact family home in Wales. They say you can do it, too.
Simon Dale and his wife work in the surrounding terrain doing forest management, something Dale says wouldn’t be possible if they had to mortgage a brick home somewhere. Using mainly a chainsaw and a hammer, taking their timber from fallen trees in the environs, and garnering everything from plumbing and wiring to windows from piles of discarded junk, Dale—a self-described first-time architect—has exhibited amazing resourcefulness in creating an ecologically responsible and downright cozy-looking abode.
Why has Dale done this?
Our society is almost entirely dependent on the availability of increasing amounts of fossil fuel energy. This has brought us to the point at which our supplies are dwindling and our planet is in ecological catastrophe. We have no viable alternative energy source and no choice but to reduce our energy consumption. The sooner this change can be begun, the more comfortable it will be.
For our energy consumption to decrease we must reduce consumption and dramatically increase the productivity of our land. This will require developing infrastructure and skills to enable locally self-reliant living. The simplest, sustainable solutions involve small-scale permaculture type land management systems centred around individual or small groups of dwellings. There is significant and growing energy at the grass-roots to start implementing these low impact developments. This enthusiasm comes from a combination of intellectual concern and the innate appeal of living closer to nature. The major obstacle is access to land. The price of land with residential planning permission is not commensurate with the income from this type of living. This will change, but these projects need time to develop and reach productivity. A few people are taking direct action but the numbers are far short of the critical mass that could be realised. If allowances can be made within the planning system to grant access to land, and the right to live on it, to those wishing to live this life, we can allow a grass-roots tide of people to make real progress towards a sustainable society.
The house uses a few solar panels to provide enough electricity for night light and computing. Water comes by gravity from a nearby spring, and heat is provided through a fireplace specially designed to capture and radiate the maximum amount of thermal energy.
CSTF salutes Mr. Dale and wishes him all the best. If there were more of him in the world, it’d be a happier planet.
Paul Graham, a notable computer programming pioneer and essayist, published in 2003 an insightful piece on the phenomenon of the nerd. It’s a part-memoir, part-sociological treatise through which Graham explores the deceptively simple question: Why aren’t nerds popular?
Alberti, arguably the archetype of the Renaissance Man, writes that “no art, however minor, demands less than total dedication if you want to excel in it.” I wonder if anyone in the world works harder at anything than American school kids work at popularity. Navy SEALs and neurosurgery residents seem slackers by comparison. They occasionally take vacations; some even have hobbies. An American teenager may work at being popular every waking hour, 365 days a year.
I don’t mean to suggest they do this consciously. Some of them truly are little Machiavellis, but what I really mean here is that teenagers are always on duty as conformists.
For example, teenage kids pay a great deal of attention to clothes. They don’t consciously dress to be popular. They dress to look good. But to who? To the other kids. Other kids’ opinions become their definition of right, not just for clothes, but for almost everything they do, right down to the way they walk. And so every effort they make to do things “right” is also, consciously or not, an effort to be more popular.
Nerds don’t realize this. They don’t realize that it takes work to be popular. In general, people outside some very demanding field don’t realize the extent to which success depends on constant (though often unconscious) effort. For example, most people seem to consider the ability to draw as some kind of innate quality, like being tall. In fact, most people who “can draw” like drawing, and have spent many hours doing it; that’s why they’re good at it. Likewise, popular isn’t just something you are or you aren’t, but something you make yourself.
The main reason nerds are unpopular is that they have other things to think about. Their attention is drawn to books or the natural world, not fashions and parties. They’re like someone trying to play soccer while balancing a glass of water on his head. Other players who can focus their whole attention on the game beat them effortlessly, and wonder why they seem so incapable.
I felt that the essay was eloquently and authoritatively written and that it was well worth my time—of course, I am a nerd.
Last month the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (that’s an international group of peer-reviewed scientists—not cabinet ministers, congressmen, or oil lobbyists, n.b.) released the summary of its fourth assessment report on the topic of global climate change. The analysis is both quantitative and qualitative, discussing how much is changing, what is changing, and why it is changing.
The latest report takes advantage of both more precise physical observations and data collection as well as a better understanding of the data provided by computer models. It is the most sophisticated and circumspect collection of analyses and projections available to humanity.
You can view the summary here (PDF). Below I’ve extracted some of the information that I found most interesting and revelatory.
What does all of this data mean? I’m not in a position to pontificate, although I have wildly gesticulated in the past.
I will merely say that it seems to me that common sense dictates:
- Global warming is a matter which is of concern to our generation not only because of the immediate manifestations of its effects—which are felt most harshly in the less-developed world, not in air-conditioned suburbia—but because of future manifestations. This is because the industrial activity of today generates the climatic fallout of tomorrow. It is precisely because of this slow-motion reaction that the danger is so easy to ignore. In this respect, response to global warming can be viewed as an extremely important test of the ability of humanity to organize and act on behalf of future generations. This is a skill which is altogether foreign to the capitalist/imperialist ideal, and a skill which has never before been of such urgent importance to the well-being of life on Earth.
- It is important for citizens to petition their governments to act decisively in enforcing regulations on industries which contribute to global warming and pollution. Will these regulations restrict economic activity in certain sectors? Will jobs be lost? Absolutely. Is that too high a price to pay for the continuation of an environment which is conducive to complex life? Hardly. We are faced with a situation in which we must bear unpleasant responsibility for a cultural dysfunction for which we are not personally responsible in the generative sense. It’s strange that this sort of altruism is the basis for much proud flag-waving and militarism when it is perverted to the uses of nationalist profiteering pursuits such as warfare, wherein it is lauded as “proud sacrifice” or something similar, and yet is viewed by many as hardly worthwhile when it needs to be applied to the future health of the entire planet.
- Even more important is individual responsibility and accountability in developing sustainable lifestyles. Clearly the automobile-driven lifestyle is a primary culprit in hydrocarbon emissions, so the elimination of unnecessary fuel consumption and participation in biopowered transportation and public transit are helpful. Likewise, opting for low-energy devices in the home and the pursuit of local, unprocessed foodstuffs and other goods are positive contributions that the average person can make. Furthermore, raising the issue as widely and as intelligently as possible is one of the most productive enterprises in which one can engage. Don’t look to the government for solutions. Create your own, and be proud of them. Make some noise; then the government will react and take credit for the initiative.
Let’s have a look at some of this data.
The most reliable data on atmospheric conditions before the period when such data began to be measured in real time comes from Antarctic ice cores. Just as geologists can tell much about conditions on Earth in a given geologic period by examining the differences in strata of rock, climatologists can also discern, with a surprisingly high degree of precision, the climate conditions from a given period by examining strata of unexposed ice which are known to have been deposited at a given rate. Through this type of analysis, climatologists have been able to reconstruct temperature and atmospheric composition data for the past several hundreds of thousands of years.
The graph below is a composite of changes in atmospheric greenhouse gas levels as recorded in the ice cores over the past ten thousand years, and as recorded by active human measurement of atmospheric levels over the past several years. The red lines show the contemporary data collected from real time atmospheric sampling; the other colors represent various interpretations of the ice core data and so naturally extend back much further in time. Note that, while the ice core-derived values from the different studies vary slightly, they coincide with one another remarkably as to the general trend of increase. Pictured are carbon dioxide levels (parts per million) and methane and nitrous oxide levels (parts per billion):
Since the graphs cover a large expanse of time, the last several centuries of activity are presented in exploded views. You can see that carbon dioxide levels, for instance, have risen from roughly 300 to about 375 parts per million in the last century, compared to a net increase of about thirty parts per million over the previous ten thousand years.
The following graph shows changes in average temperature, sea level, and snow cover in the northern hemisphere from various periods ending in 2000. The changes are relative to averages from the period of 1961-1990.
The solid black lines represent decadal averages of values; the circles indicate plotted annual values and the blue shaded regions represent reasonable uncertainty resulting from these discrepancies. This data was obtained entirely from real time human measurement.
Next, a depiction of changes in regional average temperature changes from 1900 to 2000 is presented. The black lines represent decadal averages of actual observations of temperatures. Here is the important twist: the pink shaded areas represent ranges of values derived from computer models which included anthropogenic forcing of climate shift (models which accounted for industrial activity.) The blue shaded areas represent ranges of values derived from computer models which did not include human industrial activity. You can see that, particularly from about 1950 forward, the actual observations follow models which included human industrial activity much more closely than those which did not. This means that, according to an array of a total of 33 simulations, it is virtually certain that the rises in temperature experienced throughout the past half-century to century are explicitly associated with human industrial activity. Put another way, absent of human emissions of greenhouse gases, we could expect to have seen temperature changes within the blue shaded areas. Unfortunately this has not been the case, as the trajectories of the black lines clearly denote.
Now, let’s talk about the future. This last graph represents a variety of predictions of changes in surface temperature from the present up through the year 2100, based on computer simulations of several different scenarios, each scenario reflecting a different projection of rates of increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases based on projections of increasing economic/industrial activity, population increases, and other variables. The orange line represents values from an experiment at which greenhouse gas concentrations were frozen at the levels observed in the year 2000.
Please review the assessment report summary (link at top) for a description of each of these projected scenarios (page 18/18). Based on these values, it is reasonable to project an increase in average global surface temperature of 4-6º C by the year 2200 or of 6-8º C by the year 2300 if human emissions are not drastically and permanently reduced in the immediate future. Such temperature increases and the associated climatic changes, if not prevented, will very likely result in massive depopulation and extinction of thousands of species of plant and animal life. This prediction is based on climate change alone, without consideration of environmental compositional degradation (pollution, urban sprawl) associated with human industrial activities and population increase.
Here are some various observations/predictions based on the IPCC’s fourth assessment:
- Eleven of the past twelve years (1995 – 2006) rank among the twelve warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature (since 1850.) … Urban heat island effects are real but local, and have a negligible influence (less than 0.006º C per decade) on these values.
- The average atmospheric water vapour content has increased since at least the 1980s over land and ocean as well as in the upper troposhere. The increase is broadly consistent with the extra water vapour that warmer air can hold.
- Observations since 1961 show that the average temperature of the global ocean has increased to depths of at least 3000 m and that the ocean has been absorbing more than 80% of the heat added to the climate system. Such warming causes seawater to expand, contributing to sea level rise.
- Average Arctic temperatures increased at almost twice the global average rate in the past 100 years.
- It is virtually certain that the 21st Century will be marked by warmer and fewer cold days and nights over most land areas.
- It is virtually certain that the 21st Century will be marked by warmer and more frequent hot days and nights over most land areas.
- It is very likely that the 21st Century will be marked by an increasing frequency in heat waves over most land areas.
- It is very likely that the 21st Century will be marked by an increasing frequency in heavy precipitation events over most land areas [such as the extreme snow accumulations experienced in the eastern U.S. this winter -ed].
- It is likely that in the 21st Century the geographical areas affected by drought will increase in size.
- It is likely that in the 21st Century there will be an increase in intense tropical cyclone activity.
- It is likely that in the 21st Century there will be an increased incidence of extreme high sea levels, excluding those which can be accounted for by tsunamis.
- Average northern hemisphere temperatures during the second half of the 20th Century were very likely higher than during any other 50-year period in the last 500 years and very likely the highest in at least the past 1300 years.
- It is likely that increases in greenhouse gas concentrations alone would have caused more warming than observed because volcanic and anthropogenic aerosols have offset some warming that would otherwise have taken place.
- The observed widespread warming of the atmosphere and ocean, together with ice mass loss, support the conclusion that it is extremely unlikely that the global climate change of the past fifty years can be explained without external forcing and very likely that it is not due to known natural causes alone.
- Warming tends to reduce land and ocean uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide, increasing the fraction of anthropogenic emissions that remains in the atmosphere.
- Increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations leads to increasing acidification of the oceans.
- Snow cover is projected to contract.
- Sea ice is projected to shrink in both the Arctic and Antarctic under all SRES scenarios. In some projections, Arctic late-summer sea ice disappears almost entirely by the latter part of the 21st Century.
- Climate carbon cycle coupling is expected to add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as the climate system warms, but the magnitude of this feedback is uncertain … Based on current understanding of climate carbon cycle feedback, model studies suggest that to stabilize at 450 ppm CO2, could require cumulative emissions over the 21st Century to be reduced from an average of approximately 670 GtC to approximately 490 GtC.
- Contraction of the Greenland Ice Sheet is projected to continue to contribute to sea level rise after 2100.
- Both past and future anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions will continue to contribute to warming and sea level rise for more than a millennium, due to the timescale required for removal of this gas from the atmosphere.
The Working Group of the IPCC which prepared this report is composed of more than fifty independent authors. [correction—in addition to the authors referenced on the summary frontispiece, the working group contains hundreds of additional researchers and representatives of industry and government bodies.]
After one look at this planet any visitor from outer space would say
“I want to see the manager.”
– William S. Burroughs
When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.
– Benjamin Franklin
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has released a report indicating that improvements in forestation stability and recovery among developed nations are being negated by “out of control” slash-and-burn agriculture in less-developed countries, primarily in Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
Forests in the developing world still suffer from widespread deforestation primarily caused by unregulated slash and burn farming practices and uncontrolled forest fires.
“Deforestation continues at an unacceptable rate,” said Wulf Killmann, a forestry expert at the FAO who helped compile the report, adding that the world currently loses approximately 32 million acres of forest cover a year.
Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean are currently the regions with the highest losses.
Africa, which accounts for about 16 per cent of the world’s forests, lost more than 9 per cent of its trees between 1990 and 2005, the FAO said. In Latin America and the Caribbean, home to nearly half of the world’s forests, 0.5 per cent of the forests were lost every year between 2000 and 2005 – up from an annual net rate of 0.46 per cent in the 1990s.
Of particular concern is the future of the Amazon rain forest of Brazil. The Amazon has been shrinking for quite some time, but Brazil’s aggressive ethanol production may claim the rain forest at an increasing rate, particularly if Brazil becomes a major supplier to hungry economies like that of the United States. President Bush recently met with Brazilian President da Silva to discuss ethanol policy. While hefty U.S. tariffs currently make the import of Brazilian ‘clean’ fuel unfeasible—the U.S. favors its own corn-based ethanol, which requires large amounts of fossil fuels during its production process, over Brazil’s much neater cane-based product—a shift in this policy could spell doom for huge tracts of Amazonia and the many thousands of species that call it home.
Deforestation negatively impacts the biosphere as a whole because forests are key in regulating atmospheric CO2 and in producing fresh oxygen. Furthermore, the burning of forests releases huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
It seems clear that the primary solution is not alternative energy. It’s less energy.
According to MSNBC, the American Humane Society has recently conducted tests on storebought “faux” furs, concluding that 24 of the 25 garments tested were mislabeled or misadvertised—meaning they contained real fur.
The coats were bought from stores such as Nordstrom’s and Tommy Hilfiger, and most violators were trimmed with fur from domestic dogs. Most of the fur, the AHS believes, originated in China.
One popular source of this fur is the “raccoon dog,” a large east Asian-native species which, according to AHS Executive Vice-President Mark Markarian, “is routinely killed by stomping on them, or beating them, or skinning them alive.” It is not illegal to import the fur of these animals into the United States.
Some of the retailers have offered recalls and refunds on the “tainted” merchandise; of course, all of them are very surprised to learn that this kind of thing goes on in their product lines.
I say the retailers should be boycotted permanently. Of course, to me, the idea of wearing truly fake fur is appreciably more humane but no less disturbingly silly than wearing real fur.