10 02 2008

Some people just don’t get it, and even those who try can’t find their way out…

In China, the cold snap means more CO2 will be pumped into the air, warming things further and opening up more of the Arctic Ocean to pump moisture into the atmosphere….

 At one of Datong Coal Group’s other main mines, the regular quota is 150,000 tons of coal a month, according to one worker. But officials are now asking workers to quadruple that figure to 600,000 tons for February.

“We’ll do it,” said Wang Kuikui, 53, who has worked in the mine for 27 years. “We’ll get 600,000 tons.”

Mr. Wang usually gets three days off for the Lunar New Year, but his leave is now canceled. He earns about $200 a month and lives near the mine in a mud-and-brick, two-room home with his wife, son, daughter-in-law and grandson. And Mr. Wang is considered fortunate because he has a job at a larger, safer state-owned operation. His son cannot get a job at the same mine and makes money doing odd jobs.

Meanwhile, some people in Kansas haven’t figured out that they’re not in Kansas any more:

Wayne Penrod, Sunflower’s environmental policy manager, told the Senate committee that expanding the state’s use of coal in generating electricity was good for the rural economy.

“Our rural economies need low-cost energy supplies to remain competitive,” Penrod said.

Coal is the best alternative, he said, because it will take too long to build nuclear infrastructure and natural gas is too expensive.

Penrod said Sunflower would earn $25 million annually to manage the new electric generating station for out-of-state companies, including Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association of Denver.

And even those who understand that we have to change the details of our daily lives find it’s hard to get out of the habits you grew up with:

Ann Hancock, the executive director of the Climate Protection Campaign, a nonprofit based in Sonoma County, a wine-growing area north of San Francisco, said that the county and its nine municipalities signed climate-protection agreements with enthusiasm more than five years ago, committing to bringing down greenhouse-gas emissions. Then they tried to figure out how.

“It’s really hard,” Ms. Hancock said. “It’s like the dark night of the soul.” All the big items in the inventory of emissions — from tailpipes, from the energy needed to supply drinking water and treat waste water, from heating and cooling buildings — are the product of residents’ and businesses’ individual decisions about how and where to live and drive and shop.

“They’ve seen the Al Gore movie, but they still have their lifestyle to contend with,” she said.

“We need to get people out of their cars, and we can’t under the present circumstances,” because of the limited alternative in public transportation, Ms. Hancock said. And the county’s many older homes are not very good at keeping in the cool air in the summer or the warm air in winter. “How do you go back and retrofit all of those?” she asked.

Boy, oh boy…shouldn’ta used up all the personal credit on the new clothes and the flatscreen and the ORV and the RV and the SUV, shouldn’ta burnt up all the national credit trying to seize and secure Iraq’s oil fields.  The doublecross confluence of collapsing personal credit and a bankrupt Federal government leave us unable to take the steps we need to take to adapt to the changing situation, and the government unable to do the right thing and help the less fortunate–who are turning into a voting majority of Americans.  If only we had someone to vote for….

But, in South Carolina, of all places, the legislature got it:

House: Nuclear energy not “renewable”


The S.C. House defeated a plan today to define nuclear power as a “renewable” form of energy after conservationists complained that it could set back efforts to develop solar, wind and other alternative energy sources.

A compromise presented by Rep. Ben Hagood, R-Charleston, avoided a potentially lengthy floor debate between proponents of nuclear energy and those who oppose it.

Many lawmakers favor nuclear power as a way to limit pollution that adds to global warming. But by a 114-0 vote, the House agreed it wasn’t worth including nuclear in the definition of renewable energy.

If the South Carolina legislature can agree unanimously on something like that, maybe there’s hope for the world, eh?

And in the Washington Post, of all places, some guy named Hank Steuver gazes into a crystal ball:

At first, people will go where they always went in times of disaster or need. Not to the Red Cross shelter, but to Wal-Mart.

For a year or so, people won’t like to describe themselves as homeless. But after a while it will be impossible not to notice, in the box store parking lots, a phenomenon that will look like a 24/7 tailgate party that keeps growing: Coleman grills, ice chests, portable DVD players, hamburger buns and Special K breakfast bars. The American campout. In the Great Depression, Roosevelt saw a third of a nation ill-housed. Here you are, in an alternate reality, in the Second Great Depression, ill-housed yourself.

After a while, the 18-wheelers won’t arrive on time, or at all. Supply will be seriously out of whack with demand. Prices make no sense at all. You’ll feel swept up in something out of control, and the only consolation will be that it’s happening to everybody you know.

I hope he’s being pessimistic… 


10 11 2005

Type into your web browser, and you get a luminously green page that advertises, “Sustainable Solar-Dynamic Bio-Benign Design: /Offering Better Ways to Live, at Less Cost /Today and Tomorrow, Anywhere on Earth.” When you read through the web site, you find a wealth of practical, down-to-earth, thoroughly doable advice on small-scale agriculture, wastewater treatment, and energy-conservative design that does not sacrifice comfort and grace.

If America had really made energy conservation “the moral equivalent of war,” as Jimmy Carter counseled us, the government would have been doing everything it could to foster places like Solviva not just all over America, but all over the world. Instead, government after government in this country, at both national and local levels, has opted for more of the same old dysfunctional same old: long supply lines, the squandering of local agricultural resources, and continued dependence on the availability of affordable oil.

Still, there are bright lights in the world like Solviva, I thought, and so I arranged to interview Solviva’s founder, Anna Edey, for what I expected would be an upbeat story about one of the successes of the environmental movement. Instead, I found myself talking with a profoundly discouraged woman. “Everybody says what I”m doing is wonderful and they really admire me,” she told me, “but nobody is willing to step up and do what I’m doing.” She was unable to find a competent manager for her commercial greenhouse, and it when it deteriorated to the point that it no longer worked as a food production facility, she put it on the market; but the only buyer she could find was someone who just wanted the site—who tore down the greenhouse and put up a profoundly energy-hungry home instead–”big windows facing north,” Anna said.

The island of Martha’s Vineyard, where Solviva is located, had not taken Anna’s advice about ecological design and had embarked on many costly “improvements” that were polluting the island’s limited fresh water supply and driving up the need for heating oil on the island—and, of course, driving up the taxes of the limited number of residents, making it less and less possible for someone who is not an active and successful player of the money game to live there—and, while Anna demonstrated with her greenhouse that it is possible to earn big money with her ideas, they are not fundamentally about making money, but about getting outside the money system.

Her book, in spite of nationwide publicity and rave reviews from Organic Gardening and Mother Earth News, has sold less than ten thousand copies. You can order it online at her website,

Anna expressed her concern to me about the inertia she had witnessed: “People know what we need to do in order to make the change, but it seems like they just won’t do it.. I find myself wondering if, as a species, we’ve lost our will to survive and will be going extinct. Will our children’s children be able to have and raise children?”

I wish I had some overwhelming proof I could present her that would give her hope in this weary world, but I confess I share the same forebodings. No one can tell the future. All I know is, I want to work as hard as I can to create a world in which my worst nightmares are only dimly remembered dreams, a world of sufficiency and sustainability and justice and love and respect. Isn’t that what you want, too? Is that too much to ask for?

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