can’t see the forest

Gushing Irony

Posted in energy, Environment, Istanbul, News, police, Turkey, water crisis, World News by Curtis on 3/19/09

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On Monday, police in Istanbul dispersed a band of protesters at an international forum on water shortage—by blasting them with water cannons.

The meetings involved policymakers, scientists, and activists from more than 120 countries.

Reuters reports:

Turkish police, who on Monday fired water canons and tear gas to disperse protesters gathered at the start of the forum, told state-run Anatolian they prefer to use water because it is cheaper than tear gas.

Police officials said they normally use 13 to 14 tonnes (13-14 cubic metres) of water to disperse a crowd at a cost of 400 lira ($235). In similar circumstances, police have to use around 500 teargas bombs at a cost of 12,500 lira ($7,350), they said.

water-cannon

This is what a water cannon looks like.

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High hopes

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In keeping with the holiday spirit of reflection and renewal, I wanted to share with you a few of my hopes for humanity. Some will cry “unabashed idealism.” Others will recognize real solutions that, combined with real attention, just might achieve real results.

  • I hope that people will realize that consumerism is making a tiny percentage of the world’s population wealthy, a slightly less tiny percentage comfortable, and most of the world miserable—while wrecking all that is decent and wholesome in human values and destroying the planet in a blaze of absolutely needless waste.
  • I hope that people will strive to respect and learn from one another by understanding this: the power of myth is necessarily stronger than and prerequisite to the power of divinity.
  • I hope individuals and society will realize that a hungry, active, open mind is the best defense against being manipulated by unseen forces, to quote a popular term from economics—and that those forces are operating in new quarters and new ways all the time, with the singular goal of making money to the exclusion of all other concerns.
  • I hope that people will come to grips with the fact that, if one views our planet as a functioning organic entity and not merely a collection of resources to be exploited, then one must realize that free market capitalism indeed promotes growth—in exactly the same way as does cancer.
  • I hope that people will consider that a society in which obesity is a more pressing problem than hunger is not necessarily on the right track.
  • I hope that the citizens of privileged nations will first realize how privileged they in fact are, and next realize that dissent against establishment corruption and misdirection is the highest form of patriotism and the world’s best shot at peace and harmony.
  • I hope people will realize that science is only as trustworthy and as productive as the values of the society that guide it.
  • I hope people will realize that religion is only as trustworthy and as productive as the values of the society that guide it.
  • I hope that individuals will come to understand that their relationships with nature define, more than anything else, who they are.
  • I hope that people will spread the message that institutions of authority must be directly challenged if they are to remain responsible.
  • I hope more of us will choose love over fear more of the time.
  • I hope it will become more apparent to more people that, if each of us does a little, together we achieve a lot.

earth-in-hand

Cultures at the far edge of the world

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BlueBear, at his EcoBlog, posted a link back in March to this spellbinding 2003 TED talk by NatGeo anthropologist and explorer-in-residence Wade Davis on “cultures at the far edge of the world.” Davis details a few of his experiences among indigenous peoples in various corners of the planet and makes some interesting points about what these cultures can teach us—apparently sometimes against our will—about the relationship between us and our environment. Davis truly walks the walk, and his storytelling is, if sometimes a little frantically paced, nonetheless unequivocally engaging. The photography is likewise amazing.

Indigenous people are neither sentimental nor weakened by nostalgia.There’s not a lot of room for either in the malarial swamps of the Asmat or the chilling winds of Tibet. But they have, nevertheless, through time and ritual, forged a traditional mystique of the Earth that is based not on the idea of being self-consciously ‘close’ to it, but on a far subtler intuition: the idea that the Earth itself can only exist because it is breathed into being by human consciousness. Now, what does that mean? It means that a young kid from the Andes who is raised to believe that that mountain is an Apu spirit that will direct his or her destiny will be a profoundly different human being and have a different relationship to that resource, or that place, than a young kid from Montana raised to believe that a mountain is a pile of rock ready to be mined. Whether it’s an abode of spirit or a pile of ore is irrelevant; what’s interesting is the metaphor that defines the relationship between the individual and the natural world.

I will have more thoughts on this relationship between person and planet—which is at the core of human ecology, socioteleology, and personal development—very soon. In my view, few topics are as important and far-reaching, and as neglected in the modern Western/industrial worldview.

Environmentalism and the American Way

Posted in Environment, funadmentalism, green, Nature, News, Politics, USA by Curtis on 12/16/08

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A very interesting read by Janet Smith, found in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report, highlights common attitudes on environmentalism among the U.S. ‘Far Right.’ The piece is probably well worth your time, but here are some highlights:

“Environment is not about saving nature,” the founder of Freedom Advocates, Michael Shaw, sternly warned an audience of antigovernment “Patriots” and far-right conspiracy theorists during a mid-July conference. “It’s about a revolutionary coup in America. [Environmentalism] is to establish global governance and abandon the principles of Natural Law.” Sustainable development policies, Shaw argued, will require “a police state” and ultimately “turn America into a globally governed homeland where humans are treated as biological resources.” . . .

. . .

This year’s conference linked up several of the far right’s bogeymen into one giant whopper of a conspiracy about sustainable development policies that attempt to protect the earth for future generations. The basic thesis pushed at Freedom 21 was that the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), a trade agreement between Canada, Mexico and the U.S. that includes some environmental requirements, is part of a nefarious and secret plan to merge the U.S, Canada and Mexico into something called the “North American Union” (NAU) — an entity which does not, in fact, exist, and has never been planned, despite the hysterical warnings of conspiracy theorists like Corsi.

The NAU, these theorists insist, will bring with it global government, and, most horrible of all, sustainable development policies. Sustainable development is the real evil lurking in the shadows of global government, according to the conference’s organizers; a wolf in sheep’s clothing, environmental policies really exist to destroy Americans’ freedoms and system of government.

“Freedom cannot be sustained in the presence of ‘sustainable development.’ The two concepts are mutually exclusive,” Freedom 21 materials insist. “Sustainable development can exist only when people are controlled by government.” . . .

My penchant for dark humor compels me to ask these people in exactly what ways they feel they are not currently being “controlled” by one of the most bellicose, plutocratic, anti-democratic governments in the world.

Among other charges leveled at environmental activists—even at mere oxygen-breathing enthusiasts, one almost feels—was that of ‘pantheism,’ and thereby the severing of humankind from God’s word. Sheesh.

Yet, underneath the cacophonous hysteria, it bears mentioning that the ‘patriots’ at Freedom 21 are actually hinting at a fairly salient fundamental point about the human living condition, one which their obstinacy unfortunately obscures.

Perhaps the most important lesson that environmentalism teaches us—a lesson well-known (and sometimes learned the hard way) among primitive peoples for countless ages—is that ‘freedom’ is a relative concept. We should strive to be as free as possible in the most meaningful imaginable sense, but with the knowledge that we cannot be absolutely free to do as we wish if we are to leave future generations an Earth which is worth inhabiting. If that is ‘Earth worship,’ please count me in among the heathen pagans who are, out of the very sort of patriotism we are accused of sorely lacking, ready and willing to admit that the so-called ‘American Way’ has, in more ways than one, frequently proved far from the best way in dealing with matters interior and exterior.

The climate changes, but not much else

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While European leaders congratulate themselves at the close of a two-day Brussels summit on climate change, their numerous critics are left shaking their heads in dismay.

An agreement was reached whereby EU nations will be required, by 2020, to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% as compared to 1990 levels. Additionally, the pact calls for a 19% reduction in CO2 emissions from automobiles by 2015, and for measures to increase the use of renewable energy and to improve on overall fuel efficiency in the coming years. Also laid out was a carbon emissions trading scheme, perhaps the most comprehensive of its kind yet put into place in the world economy.

The Guardian reports that the product of the talks represents a major victory for French President Nicolas Sarkozy, as he nears the end of his six-month tenure as President of the EU. The European Parliament is set to write the decisions into law next week.

“This is a major advance,” said [UK] prime minister, Gordon Brown. “Europe after these decisions remains the leader on climate change.”

coal-plantBut critics complained that the package was too little too late, that EU leaders had capitulated to fierce lobbying from European industry, that the loopholes in the system and the awarding of pollution permits free to most non-energy firms in the scheme would trigger a bonanza in windfall corporate profits.

“Industry has to do next to nothing,” said Claude Turmes, a leading Green MEP from Luxembourg, who helped to draft part of the legislation. “If they are honest, these leaders know they haven’t agreed something really ambitious.”

“This could have been one of Europe’s finest moments,” said Robin Webster, climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “But huge loopholes allow big energy-users to carry on polluting.”

Barroso admitted that the terms of the deal could bring windfall profits for industry, reversing the logic of the polluter pays principle that is supposed to underpin the carbon trading scheme.

In particular, critics feel the accords go incredibly soft on certain industries, such as coal processors—which, although among the very worst emissions offenders, will be given generous discounts in the carbon trading arena—and steel refineries. Industries such as these will hardly flinch in the wake of this “major advance.”

arctic-ice-melt

CSMonitor: Projected Arctic melting

According to the New York Times, President-Elect Barack Obama has placed confronting climate change second only to the revitalization of the U.S. economy on his to-do list, and in its acknowledgement of the issues at hand, his administration is sure to represent a marked improvement over the Bush years. Indeed, on Tuesday Obama met privately with 2007 Nobel Prize winner Al Gore to discuss climate change and energy policy, though the Obama camp denies a potential role for Gore in the new White House. But environmentalists are skeptical as to just how far the impassioned rhetoric will carry over into reality come January; if European leaders consider the kind of agreement just reached in Brussels to be a colossal step forward, one wonders if substantiation of the change Obama has in mind is bound to prove commensurately disappointing. Obama’s plans are ambitious, but his ability to enforce them remains unproven.

Political leaders tend to shy away from forcing stringent environmental standards on industry because such measures can have significant front-end overhead and can make certain products at least initially unpalatable to consumers. This wariness is only amplified in times of economic crisis. Americans can expect the new President to be far more forthright and engaging on environmental policy than his predecessor, but should not harbor illusions. Lobbyists are still lobbyists, capitalism is still capitalism, and automobiles still run—mostly—on gasoline.

In a hole in the ground there lived an eco-warrior.

Posted in architecture, conservation, ecology, energy, Environment, family, Home, Lifestyle, UK, UK news by Curtis on 12/6/08

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dale-house-exterior1A 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.

dale-house-interior

“Daddy, Why Are There Wars?”

Posted in economy, energy, Environment, foreign policy, middle east, oil, Politics, USA by Curtis on 12/2/07

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“Because some people are just plain evil, m’boy! Just plain evil.” Yuk, yuk; yeah, we know. That’s it. It’s Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, all the time.

Try economics.

Sometimes, nothing obviates further elucidation of the already disturbingly apparent like a good infographic. From Foreign Policy magazine, for instance, via this site, is a columnar graph illustrating the daily consumption of oil in the United States and in various other countries of the world, and another graph showing average fill-up prices in various countries:

petrol_demand_by_nation

Warming Up to Change

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I couldn’t resist the temptation to steal this from the always insightful Winter Patriot (sorry, WP!):

Tom Toles

(cartoon by Tom Toles)

Also, from I Can Has Cheezburger:

I Has Icecap

Songs in Blue and Green

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Deputy Dog, working from a variety of sources, put together earlier this month a collection of 11 breathtaking photos of the Earth from space. My favorite happens to be this one, a capture of the transit of the moon’s shadow across our planet during the solar eclipse of August 11, 1999, taken from the space station Mir:

Eclipse_from_Mir

It could rightly be said that, in this modern age, our civilization is struggling to come to grips with the achievements of science and the exponential growth of our species in ways personal and societal, in terms of today and of the outlook for the decades and centuries which expand before us in our imaginings of the tapestry of forever. These are disorienting times. It is good for us, then, I think, to spend whiles with images such as these. I am reminded of Carl Sagan’s apt commentary from a 1994 Cornell lecture, which he paired with the following photo, then (and probably still) the most distant photograph of Earth, taken by Voyager 1 in 1990 at a distance of four billion miles:

Long Way Home

“We succeeded in taking that picture, and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.
The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity — in all this vastness — there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

Those are severely illuminating words from one of the greatest of modern minds.

They Leaked Their Oil in San Francisco

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On Wednesday, an 810-foot Cosco oil tanker slammed into the base of a tower of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. In about twenty minutes, 58,000 gallons of oil leaked into the Bay.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the U.S. Coast Guard reported for most of that day that about 140 gallons had leaked before revising their estimate to reflect a more accurate assessment of the spill.

While nowhere near the size of megaspills such as the infamous Exxon Valdez incident, which dumped about 11 million gallons of oil off the coast of Alaska, the proximity of this spill to a major metropolitan area and a unique, delicate ecosystem makes it a tragic event nonetheless. California Governor Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency, with many citizens criticizing a sluggish and disjointed response from the Coast Guard. Southern California, of course, is still reeling from a profusion of human-ignited forest fires which created thousands of refugees and caused billions of dollars in damage to property, exclusive of the immense devastation it wreaked on local ecosystems.

1996 Cape Mohican Oil Spill, CaliforniaAs of this evening, about 20,000 gallons of oil had been mopped up along the coastline. An official from the state Fish & Game Department was reported as saying that cleanup operations could continue for months or even years; over 100 oiled birds have been found thusfar, but the extent of damage to species and their habitats will not be fully grasped for some time, as the Bay currents continue to wash waves of sludge on the once scenic beaches of Marin County.

In 1996, a tanker dumped about 40,000 gallons of oil in the same vicinity (pictured). Cleanup continued for about two years.