FROM PARIS TO NASHVILLE

9 01 2016

In December, the 21st “Council of Parties” to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change took place in Paris. Almost everybody seemed to understand that we are in “no more fooling around” territory, with some notable exceptions, like, f’rinstance, India and Saudi Arabia. Ironically, these are two of the countries with the most to lose from further climate change–like, their inhabitability.  Even so, it has become common knowledge that climate change denialism has largely been, um, fuelled by oil companiesbig-oil-the-new-big-tobacco-29081 who did the research in the 70’s and 80’s and, like the tobacco companies before them, realized that their product was lethal, and who nonetheless chose to elevate their short-term bottom line over the long-term survival of not just their customers, as with the tobacco companies, but of the human race, along with most other species on the planet. I could be snide and sneer about the oxymoronic quality of the phrase “corporate ethics,” but it’s not just corporations that prioritize reaping short-term benefits over preventing long-term threats.  It’s a fairly common human trait, it turns out, and one that is plaguing our efforts to stop doing things that release more carbon and accelerate climate change, and to start doing things that will capture carbon and reverse our ever more tightly spiralling spin into planetary oblivion. In order to reverse climate change, we must reverse our own conditioned responses.  The outer depends on the inner, as always.

Read the rest of this entry »





THE GREAT FRACKING FRAUD

4 12 2012

There’s a story making the rounds of the mainstream media these days, frequently trumpeted as “International Energy Agency says U.S. to overtake Saudis as  top oil producer.”  This may, technically, turn out to be true. But, as they say, “The devil is in the details,” and in this case, there’s definitely a Hell’s worth of details behind that headline that are all too frequently overlooked in this, our oil-based culture’s cargo cult moment.

“Cargo  cults,” to refresh your memory, were a religious movement that flourished briefly in the South Pacific after World War II.  The natives, who had been living a largely neolithic existence, saw that our troops came in, built an airstrip, and then airplanes landed, bringing all kinds of wondrous things, never before imagined, to the island, and the islanders.  Then,when the war was over, the mysterious strangers packed up and left, the airplanes no longer arrived bearing their magical cargoes,and the airstrips grew up in brush.  Some of the natives thought that, if they just rebuilt the airstrips, the planes would come again.  So they tried it, but it didn’t work, at least not directly, although the brief peak of our now-declining civilization has, in fact, brought the airplanes–bearing tourists, not soldiers, this time–back to many of those once-isolated tropical isles.

But no such temporary relief awaits us.  In fact, the granting of our wish for the oil age to continue bears such a horrific price tag that it’s a sad wonder that most people seem all too willing to buy it.  I’m going to examine the thorns of this “petroleum rose,” and, I hope, push the chorus of voices crying “DON’T TAKE THAT DEAL!!” to a volume level that just might save us from the fraudulent, Faustian  fracking bargain. Read the rest of this entry »





OBAMONSANTO AND OTHER INCONVENIENT TRUTHS

7 07 2012

A few months back, President Obama announced a three billion dollar  U.S. initiative “to help Africa feed itself, “which is a noble goal, but the devil was all over his details.  The first detail to note is that three billion dollars is a third of one percent of our country’s military budget.  About one day of our military spending to help the starving Africans.  Whoopee!

There were two major prongs to this plan. Two-thirds of the money,  (That’s about sixteen hours worth of military spending.)will be given to a European chemical company to build a fertilizer factory in Africa, which would use natural gas to create massive quantities of ammonium nitrate, which is a powerful explosive as well as a fertilizer.  (Remember the Oklahoma City Federal Building?  The first attempt on the World Trade Center?).  The second prong will introduce Monsatan’s GMO seeds to African farmers, “to increase their yields.”     This from the guy whose wife scored big publicity points by putting an organic vegetable garden at the White House.

Both these prongs are going to do a lot more harm than good.  The manufacture of ammonium nitrate fertilizer is an energy-intensive, CO2-producing process whose result is a bag of white crystals that, not unlike cocaine, provide a short-term boost, but, in the long-term, have a deleterious effect–in the case of ammonium nitrate, the impoverishment of the soil to which it is applied.  The high levels of ammonia in ammonium nitrate burn out soil micro-organisms, leading to depletion of organic matter and a decrease in the soil’s fertility and ability to hold water.  The short-term solution, as with cocaine, is to apply a bigger dose of white crystals.  Sooner or later, the excess nitrogen starts leaching into the water supply, which exacerbates the problem by polluting the water and making people sick.

.  Then, too, the fertilizer must be purchased, a financial demand that can have disastrous consequences for small farmers in the third world.  We’ll look more deeply at that soon.  For now, let’s just point out that placing  increased financial pressure on cash-strapped, subsistence farmers in the name of “improving their lives” is either cynical or naive.  Time and time again, there have been demonstration projects and studies showing that the best way to improve the lives of subsistence farmers and the communities they feed is to help them find ways to increase the “circularity” of their farming, by increasing their use of local, organic inputs such as plant, animal, and human waste, and by returning to non-mechanized farming methods that require more labor and less machinery and fossil fuels.  Neither the fact that we are running out of inexpensive ways to create those white crystals, nor the fact that producing the white crystals is destroying the soil and the atmosphere, seems to enter into the calculations of those who proclaim the superiority of white-crystal style farming–f’rinstance, President Obama, or Presidential wanna-be Romney.

The second prong of the fork with which our corporatocracy wishes to stick the people of Africa is the introduction of GMO seeds.  There’s two really bad things about GMO seeds.  The first is their toll on the humans who use them, and the second is the way their use destroys the land in which they are planted.  We have only to look to India to see what the President and his cronies are promising to deliver to Africa.  What we see in India is over 200,000 small farmers driven to suicide, often by the debts they incurred to buy GMO seeds and the chemical inputs necessary to grow them–not just the aforementioned fertilizer, but herbicides and pesticides that they lack the technology to apply “safely,” even in the manufacturer’s loose terms.   Third-world farmers have traditionally saved their own seed, but it is illegal to save the patented GMO seeds, and frequently impractical as well, for, if the seed is a hybrid, it will either fail to produce fertile seed,  or fail to produce a uniform variety–but you’re not supposed to even try planting them, because they’re patented.  Intellectual property rights must be respected, y’know!   So, when Obama talks about “helping” African farmers with chemical inputs, he’s talking about inducing a rash of debt-driven suicides.  Hey, that’ll clear the playing field and help solve the overpopulation problem, right?!  More on that perverse idea later.  Back to GMO crops.

Herbicide use itself is highly problematic.  Roundup, the go-to herbicide for GMO crops, is very nonspecific in its effects.  It kills soil microflora just as readily as it kills broadleaf weeds and grasses, and thus is highly detrimental to soil.  And, just as with ammonium nitrate, its production is energy-intensive and carbon-expensive.

So, to sum up, when we strip the facade from the President’s feel-good call to help foster agriculture in Africa, we find a plan that is likely to further impoverish the continent’s vast majority of smallholders, drive them from their land, and wreak havoc with the land’s ability to support plant life.  So, who does benefit from this kind of “help”?

One group that is helped by alienating traditional people from their land base is foreign investors, both private and national, who are increasingly looking to Africa as a place to grow food to export, rather than to feed the hungry close at hand.  China and other countries are making deals with debt-pressed, cash-starved governments, deals that involve the displacement of thousands of people from millions of acres in order to grow crops that will not feed Africans.

The other big beneficiary of Obama’s policy is the Monsanto Corporation.  It is relevant to note, at this point, the “revolving door” nature of Monsanto’s relationship with the government. At least 35 individuals, representing both of the US’s major political parties, have been both on Monsanto’s payroll and the government’s, albeit not at the same time, as far as we know.  We’re talking about some big fish here–Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Hillary Clinton both worked for Monsanto when they were private practice lawyers.  Searle Chemical Company-CEO Donald Rumsfeld  (remember him?) was paid a twelve million dollar bonus by Monsanto when it acquired Searle, giving Monsanto the right to produce the carcinogenic artificial sweetener aspartame  (“Nutrasweet”). after Rummy pulled strings to get it approved for human use, but that’s another story.

The Africa deal is not the only example of  Obama’s–and our whole government’s– apparent willingness to go to bat for Monsanto.    Attempts to pass laws allowing labeling of GMO foods, dairy products containing bovine growth hormones, and limiting the spread of GMO seeds have been shot down, and research suggesting that their widespread use might have serious negative effects has been suppressed., both in the current administration and the last several governments, no matter who was supposedly in charge.

Monsanto’s willingness to play with both major US political parties leads to another question.  Should we really blame Barack Obama for all this?  Or is he a genuinely well-intentioned guy, who thought he could make change happen by being elected President, but found, when he arrived, that his real role was to play spokesman for an unelected shadow government?  As Robert Anton Wilson put it, “was the new President shown a video of the Kennedy assassination from an angle he’d never seen it from before, and told ‘you’ve got a nice family.  Play along with us and nobody gets hurt.'”?  Perhaps.  A friend of mine who is an old smoking buddy of Al Gore’s tells me that Al told him in 1992 that Al and Bill knew the office they were running for was more ceremonial than executive, but they hoped to be able to make a slight difference in the direction of things.  We all know how that turned out.   (And remember, Gore had already written and become somewhat famous for  Earth in the Balance, which, along with Albert Bates’ Climate in Crisis was one of the first books to call popular attention to the mess we are tangled in now.)  Perhaps frustration with his figurehead status accounts for Gore’s lackluster run for President in 2000 and his subsequent flowering, at a convenient distance from politics.

So, maybe Barack Obama regrets his decision to become a kinder, gentler  face for the corporatocracy than Dick Cheney and that guy he was with, but we may never know, because, like Clinton and Gore before him, he fears for his safety and his family’s safety far too much to ever spill those beans.

But, whatever the unspeakable truth may be about Barack Obama’s motivations and intentions, the inconvenient truth is that the African policy for which he is at the very least serving as a charming mouthpiece is not a policy that will benefit Africa.  It is just another corporate iron hand in another velvet glove, grabbing for what’s left of the wealth of the continent that gave birth to us all, a corporate iron hand that doesn’t care who or what it crushes as long as it ends up with a fistful of dollars.  And that’s the inconvenient truth about the Obama administration’s “African initiative.”

music:  Terry Allen, “Big Ol’ White Boys





A LITTLE GOOD NEWS (JUST A LITTLE!) ABOUT THE BAD NEWS…

10 04 2010

And, while we’re on the subject of apologies….

Like many people, I spread the IPCC’s claim that the Himalayan ice sheet, which is the third largest on the planet, and the source for every major river in Southeast Asia, was likely to melt by 2035.  Well, the good news is, they now admit they were wrong about that–it will actually happen in 2036.

Just kidding!

Seriously, though, the official estimate for the demise of that ice pack is now three hundred years, which, geologically speaking, is hardly any different from twenty-five years, and in any case, the IPCC’s estimates have consistently turned out to be optimistic, compared to what is actually happening.  For instance, fossil fuel use, and consequent carbon release, has risen much faster than even their worst-case scenario predictions.

A slower dwindling of the Himalayan ice pack means that the billions of people who depend on the rivers of Southeast Asia for their water–from the Indus in Pakistan to the Yellow River of China–will be gradually parched rather than suddenly hung out to dry.  If the affected countries plan carefully, this could allow time for voluntary population reduction, social programs to obviate the perceived need for large families, transition to less water-intensive agriculture, reforestation, and other water conservation and ecosystem stabilization practices.

None of that will be easy, and even a coercive state like China has not been able to actually reduce its population, in spite of a fairly strict one-child-per-family law.  The alternative, whether reached in twenty five years or three centuries, is horrific–billions of people displaced by famine, failing surface and ground water supplies, and rising seas.  There will be population reduction and eventual return to some kind of equilibrium, but it will not be pretty.

In fact, it’s not pretty already.

In India, the “Green Revolution” replaced lower-yielding, open-pollinated dryland crops with hybrid crops that, given irrigation, pesticides, and fertilizer, produced higher yields.  While costs of these fossil-fuel based inputs were originally low, they have since risen faster than the price of the crops that demand their application.  In addition, since they are  planting hybrid seeds, farmers can no longer save seed from one year to the next, and are confronted with rising seed prices.  This has had several serious, unintended consequences.  Indian farmers, caught in a noose of rising debt, are committing suicide in record numbers, and record numbers of families are being forced off land they have inhabited for centuries, seeking the dubious shelter of India’s already swollen and out-of-control cities.  Meanwhile, the increased demand for irrigation water is drawing down India’s water table, causing wells and springs to go dry, sending more people out of the countryside and into the cities.  Last but hardly least, the dryland crop seedlines–and the knowledge of how to grow and use them–are in danger of being lost in the rush to grow green revolution rice.

The monsoon, which provides another big chunk of India’s water supply, failed last year.  This is not unheard of, and not necessarily connected to climate change, but it should serve to remind us that we have set things in motion that we can neither predict nor control, despite our conceit about our own cleverness as a species.  Can you say hubris, boys and girls?

And, speaking of hubris, let’s look at China, where the rush to industrialize has resulted in incredible, pervasive levels of pollution.  Even boiled water is not safe to drink in many locations, because it is apt to contain chemicals that cannot be removed by boiling.  Worse yet, China’s much-vaunted railway line into Tibet is likely to help China exploit Tibet’s vast, untapped mineral resources–which, given China’s abysmal environmental track record,  will result in toxic mine waste polluting the water supply of most of southeast Asia–while it lasts.

I wish I had something vast and uplifting to offer you at this point, but I don’t.  The reality of our situation is grim and sobering, especially for poor people in the second and third world, who are going to be bearing the brunt of the problems we in the first world have created with our exorbitant, exploitive lifestyle.  We have the luxury of time and energy to form garden co-ops and relearn low-tech grain farming and animal husbandry, blacksmithing and woodworking, and to adapt high-tech electronics to consciously conceived and executed sustainable lifestyles. Most of us have plenty of clean water available. We are not Indian or Chinese peasants or urban slum dwellers, facing poisoned water or none at all, lack of land and other resources from which to feed ourselves, or even a secure home.  It’s a blessing that we have blessings to count, and probably the best way to insure our own continued good fortune is to seek ways to share those blessings with whoever we can reach out to.   That’s not much, but it’s what there is.

(on the subject of corrections, I have been crediting “The Road to Hell” to Leonard Cohen, because somebody gave it to me on a CD that was otherewise all LC songs, and they sound somewhat alike…finally figured it out!)

music:  Chris Rea, “The Road to Hell”





BROKENHAGEN

9 01 2010

It looks like the climate conference in Copenhagen produced good news and bad news.

The bad news was that, as the final weeks, months, or years (nobody knows!) tick down before we have passed over enough “tipping points” to fall into climate chaos, the governments of the world were unable to agree about how to stop, slow, end, or reverse the process.  It’s not that we don’t know what  to do, it’s that there is no way to make those who are doing most of  the damage–the government/industrial complexes of the US, China, India, Canada, and Russia–there is no way to make them–or is it us?– stop. Everybody agreed to keep talking,  but the climate time bomb is still ticking, and we have no idea when it’s going to go off or how much damage it will do.

The good news is that the governments and big businesses of the world were unable to come to the agreement that some had hoped to ratify–an agreement that was more of a mutual suicide pact than something that would actually have curbed, or even helped the world adjust to, global climate change.

It kind of reminds me of the old anti-gun law bumper sticker that read “Ill give up my guns when you pry them from my cold, dead hands.”

But this isn’t about just about guns, it’s about the whole growth-oriented worldwide consumer economy.  The upper classes and their hypnotized minions in the bourgeoisie and what’s left of the working class (Wow, I sound like an old-time commie, don’t I!?), all those under the spell of eternal growth, either don’t care how many people have to die for them to keep enjoying their high standard of living, or at best think there is some technological breakthrough just over the horizon that will make it work.  I have a feeling they are very, very mistaken.

As I understand it, here’s how the breakdown happened:

The Chinese see themselves, probably correctly, as the next great superpower, and are unwilling to let anything stand in their way.  China’s  leaders  also know that they need to keep their economy moving, or they will have hundreds of millions of very unhappy people chewing on their asses.  Are they aware of the fact that their growth plan will melt the Himalayan ice cap and leave them (and India) without an adequate water supply?  Probably.  Are they planning to  negotiate for, or maybe just seize,  far eastern Russia’s copious water resources?  Probably.  Do they figure that India and the rest of south Asia, who are dependent on the glacier-fed Mekong, Irawaddy, Bhramaputra, Ganges, and Indus Rivers, but do not have easy access to Siberia, will thus be made more dependent on China and thus increase China’s world hegemony?   Probably.

Will things work out according to their plans?   Don’t bet on it.  According to one witness, it was the Chinese who insisted that the commitment to an 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050, as well as any other concrete targets,  be dropped.  China will not be immune to the disastrous consequences of this power play.

The US government and its major industrial corporations (who are not nearly as separate as they want us to believe) are still trying to be number one.  The US came to the conference with a “commitment” to goals that would protect its own financial interests but not the little people of the world, which seems to be the typical strategy of the Obama administration.  Hillary Clinton’s offer to create a fund to help countries deal with climate change was so hedged with conditions that it amounted to blackmail.  Fortunately, the US position in the world is slipping so fast that few countries are likely to take the bait.  Meanwhile, however, the back room, lowest-common denominator “accord” that Obama negotiated with the Chinese did more to trash the UN, the possibility of controlling carbon emissions,  and America’s standing in the world than all the fussing the Bush Junta and their bulldog John Bolton  ever dreamed of.

So where does that leave us?  On our own.  The big boys are too involved with preserving their own asses and assets to think about or care for us.   .  It’s time to learn to power down, to transition into the post-affluence, post-petroleum, climate-altered twenty-first century,   We need to learn to live  locally, to be both self reliant and interdependent.  We need to learn how to keep working with old friends and how to make new ones.  There’s already a group gathering here in Nashville to do this–in fact, there probably need to be several–it’s a big city.

I can tell you about two upcoming events that will address this need for local organization.  The first is this coming Tuesday, January 12th, at the Celebrity Scientology Center, 1130 8th Avenue South, at 7:30 PM.  Albert Bates, who attended the Copenhagen meeting, will be talking about where we go from here.  Albert combines brilliant, innovative insight with a great sense of humor, and I think this meeting will be very inspirational and should not be missed.  This event is free.

But, if that’s a little short-notice for you, save Saturday, January 30th, when local activist Susan Shann, who is working to birth the “Transition Nashville” movement, will talk at the Cumberland-Green River Basin Bioregional Council’s winter meeting.   She’s not as funny as Albert, but she sings better.  Susan will presenting between 1:30 and 3PM at Brookemeade Congregational Church, at 700 Bresslyn Road, and there will be other events and workshops as well.  Check out the whole schedule at http://www.meetup.com/Cumberland-Green-River-Bioregional-Council/ .  This event is also free.

Hope to see you there!

music:  The Grateful Dead, “Throwing Stones





SOMETHING IS ROTTEN IN THE STATE OF DENMARK

11 12 2009

I am amazed and dismayed at how difficult it can be to get some people to cut loose of a bad idea.  Sometimes it’s local–like the May family’s recent hiring of a notorious  zoning attorney to work on getting their “Maytown Center” fantasyland approved.  Sometimes it’s national–like all the people who project their liberal expectations on Barack Obama and keep urging him to stand up and roar, when the reality is that he’s just a pussycat in Wall Street’s lap, and no more likely to pounce on Wall Street, the insurance/pharmaceutical establishment, the military establishment, or America’s carbon- and credit happy way of life than your cat is likely to pounce on you and eat you for breakfast.

And that brings us to the climate talks in Copenhagen.  Prospects do not look good for a serious, binding treaty, and why?  Two main reasons: the first is that big corporations are addicted to short-term profits and have the political clout to make sure that nothing interferes with their money fix.  The second is that we, the people of the United States, or “estamos jodidos“, as they say in Mexico, are  addicted to our petroleum-inflated, corporate-backed standard of living, and will happily vote out of office or ignore any politician who attempts to interfere with our comfort fix.  Ask Jimmy Carter, Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader, or Cynthia McKinney.

Thus, we have the irony that many of those who excoriated the Bush junta for dissing “the reality-based community” are now themselves out of touch with hard, physical reality.  The hard, physical reality is that the climate is changing much faster than the IPCC predicted it would.  The hard, physical reality is that the planet’s carbon dioxide level passed the threshold of safety at 350 parts per million, and agreements that “hold” us to 450 ppm will not prevent massive, catastrophic changes to the only planet we have to live on.  Nature bats last, she doesn’t negotiate, and she doesn’t care how much some pundits fume about East Anglian emails.

But the wealthy elite who dominate our political system don’t seem to get this.  They think that the “political reality” that serious climate change legislation won’t fly trumps the “physical reality” of impending disaster, so if we can’t shut down every coal plant in the US and China in the next three years, if we don’t stop deforesting the tropics for grazing land and Canada for tar sand, if we don’t stop acidifying the oceans before we kill off the phytoplankton that provide 70% of our oxygen, it’s OK.

It’s not OK.  Maybe the plutocrats who run the big businesses of the world think their wealth will permanently insulate them from the consequences of their inaction.  In the long run, they are very, very wrong.

But in the short run, which unfortunately is all that counts for most people, it has been true.  Those who are suffering the most from climate change, or who are about to suffer the most from climate change, live in the third world, while it is we in the first world, with our material addictions, who have triggered  the catastrophe.  Geography insulates us from them.  Hurricane Katrina was an early warning, a reminder that calamity can strike America, too, and we should not let the fact that the Atlantic has been relatively quiet since then lull us into a false sense of security.

If, as seems likely, there is neither an agreement nor even an agreement to come to agreement as a result of Copenhagen, there is one deus ex machina that might derail catastrophic climate change, and that is economic collapse, which has already idled thousands of oceangoing cargo vessels worldwide, and at least slowed down that once fast-growing source of carbon emissions, which along with international airlines, was exempted from control under the so-called Kyoto accords.

Economic collapse has all but shut down urban sprawl in the US.  Home construction was the last big domestic industry possible in this country, since you can’t readily build homes in China and ship them here, and even building materials imported from China turn out to be suspect, as the recent flap over weird sheetrock demonstrates.

And, if the Chinese and Indians try to keep their economies (and carbon emissions) strong by developing their domestic economies, they will first find themselves up against the hard reality of spiraling oil prices and diminishing oil supplies, and then they will have to deal with their countries becoming uninhabitable as the Himalayan glaciers melt off over the next thirty years, drying up the sources of all of both countries’ major rivers.  Ooops….where’s a sixth of the world’s population gonna go when they get thirsty?   And, considering how much the US owes China, are we gonna be able to tell them no, they can’t come here?  Yes, the stage is set for chaos, boys and girls….

And the US government is gridlocked.  The “solutions” they pass in Congress are pitiful.  It’s not about what the Repugs won’t let the Dims do.  That’s a puppet show, and the puppet master has a Repug puppet on his right hand and a Dim puppet on his left, and we’re supposed to believe they’re really different.  The gridlock is that the wealthy, who are creating and benefitting from the mess the planet is in, won’t let the government do anything that is against their interest.  Forget “We, the people.”  It’s “We, the rich people, ” and they are determined to keep their priviliges no matter what.

“Green corporations” are a crock.   Walmarts with “green roofs” and massive energy conservaton systems and recycling, even if they’re full of “green products” are still part of the problem, not part of the solution, because they are still designed to pump money out of communities and into the hands of shareholders. It’s not just about changing content, it’s about changing form.  Once upon a time, the dinosaurs were so big and ferocious that  us mammals could barely hang on. Then the planet went through some sudden changes, and the dinosaurs’ size and inflexibility worked against their ability to adapt.   We’re approaching a similar point, but the dinosaurs of this age are the legal fictions of giant corporations and national governments.

What this means for you and me is that it’s time to take things into our own hands.  No, I don’t mean let’s go burn down Brentwood,  Temporarily thrilling as that might be, it would create a lot more problems than it would solve.  I mean let’s get together with our friends and neighbors and figure out what we can do together to get ready for the  excrement that’s already hit the fan.  Let’s turn our lawns into gardens and build henhouses and keep milk cows, let’s learn to make, make do, and do without.

This is going to seem terribly futile from a certain perspective.  BIg changes are afoot, and I’m telling you to grow beans?  And to that, I can only reply with trite maxims like “Start where you are,”  or “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”  Trite, but true.

I know it’s short notice, but I’ll be getting together with some old and new friends Monday night here in Nashville, 7:30 to 9,  to continue the discussion of what we can actually do…..go to earthrevolution.org and send a “contact” email to rsvp, and you’ll get directions.  Thinking globally, acting locally, y’know?

Ah, this just in–according to our Copenhagen correspondent Albert Bates, US EPA administrator Carol Jackson has announced that, no matter what Congress does or doesn’t do, the EPA will regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant, and that US emissions will be going down.  A bold move, or at least a bold gesture.  Call me cynical, but I have to wonder how long it will take the Congressional coal&oil caucus to muzzle her efforts, and maybe even give her the Van Jones treatment.  Stay tuned….

music:  Jefferson Airplane, “Crown of Creation”





CARBON SEDUCTION

10 04 2008

A worker at a steel mill in India.India’s electricity appetite is exploding. A worker at a steel mill in India. (Credit: Scott Eells for The New York Times)

The troubling tension between propelling prosperity and limiting climate risks in a world still wedded to fossil fuels is on full display this week. India’s Tata Power group just gained important financial backing from the International Finance Corporation, a branch of the World Bank, for its planned $4 billion, 4-billion watt “Ultra Mega” coal-burning power plant complex in Gujarat state.

more

silk purses from sows’ ears?


New plastics dervied from CO2 emissions could fight global warming
mongabay.com
April 10, 2008

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Efforts to slow global warming by “scrubbing” carbon dioxide smokestack emissions could generate a material for the production of DVDs, beverage bottles and other products made from polycarbonate plastics, say chemists speaking at the 235th annual meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Dr. Thomas E. Müller and Dr. Toshiyasu Sakakura said that polycarbonate plastics made from CO2 could be cheaper, greener, and safer that conventional plastics.

“Carbon dioxide is so readily available, especially from the smokestack of industries that burn coal and other fossil fuels,” said Müller. “And it’s a very cheap starting material. If we can replace more expensive starting materials with CO2, then you’ll have an economic driving force.”

Sakakura, of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tsukuba, Japan, said that CO2 could be used as a feedstock to change carbonates and urethanes into plastics and battery components.

Müller said that polycarbonate products — which could include eyeglass lenses, DVDs and CDs, and beverage bottles, among others — have great potential for removing million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“Using CO2 to create polycarbonates might not solve the total carbon dioxide problem, but it could be a significant contribution,” he said, adding that polycarbonates derived from CO2 emissions could reach the market within a “few years.”

source





THE END OF CHEAP COAL

23 03 2008
Published: March 19, 2008

These days, people really are taking coals to Newcastle.

 That flow is part of a vast reorganization of the global coal trade that is making the United States a major exporter for the first time in years — and helping to drive up domestic prices of the one fossil fuel the nation has in abundance.

Coal has long been a cheap and plentiful fuel source for utilities and their customers, helping to keep American electric bills relatively low.

But rising worldwide demand is turning American coal into another hot global commodity, with domestic buyers having to compete with buyers from countries like Germany and Japan.





IMMIGRATION NATION

7 04 2006

Nashville just had what may have been its biggest protest demonstration, ever. Those of us who have grown accustomed to seeing the same three hundred people at demonstrations over the last decade were left with our mouths agape at the turnout for the march protesting the proposed criminalization of illegal immigration—as many as fourteen thousand people. Even the organizers of the march were surprised—in a pre-rally story posted at the Tennessee Independent Media Center, they said they expected two thousand marchers—which would still have been one of the largest demonstrations in the history of Nashville. I mean, this town does not turn out.

But the kind of stuff my friends and I have been publicly squawking about for years is abstract compared to what our Latino cousins are facing. A majority of the U.S. House voted to make it a felony to be in this country illegally, and anyone who helped those so-called felons—family, friends, humanitarian assistance organizations—without turning them in to the authorities for imprisonment and ultimate deportation would likewise be guilty of a felony. Passage of such a measure would demand the apprehension, arrest, imprisonment, and deportation of not only the eleven and a half million illegal immigrants in this country, but of possibly millions more individuals, some of whom would be deportable, and some of whom would be native-born Americans who would instead be caught up in the snares of the federal justice system, which is already overloaded by its attempt to enforce our country’s unrealistic drug laws. And speaking of our unrealistic drug laws, these delusional immigration policies are being championed by none other than drug warrior supreme Jim Sensenbrenner, a member of the house from Wisconsin, who may regard imprisoning eleven million illegal aliens as a warmup for imprisoning twenty million marihuana smokers…but I digress….

If Mr. Senselessbrainer, Tony Tancredo and their unrealistic ilk have their way, millions of Mexicans and other Central Americans will be dumped back into their home countries, where they have no way to earn a living; the already tenuous economies of these countries, deprived of the huge sums illegal immigrants send home to support their families, would collapse even further. All of Central America would start to resemble Haiti, and Haiti—you don’t want to think about it.

With its police forces beefed up to handle this mass detention, and concentration camps—I mean detention facilities—set up to handle the arrest of nearly five percent of the country’s population, the land of the free would become a police state. I mean, not since the Nazis declared the Jews persona non grata has a country intentionally set out to incarcerate so many of its inhabitants. There have been stories floating about Halliburton being contracted to establish detention centers—we in the antiwar movement thought they were for US—silly us, they’re for the Mexicans, and for those of us in the antiwar movement who happen to help out illegal immigrants on the side—which, actually, might be a lot of us. I confess, I have. Come and get me.

And, with so many prisoners, would the government start contracting out our captured Mexicans to perform labor? After all, taking eleven million people out of the workforce would create a major labor shortage. Back to the lettuce field, Jose, but this time the government’s collecting your paycheck…

Or maybe the war on immigrants would be like the war on terror and the war on drugs—lots of spending on executive salaries and hardware, occasional high-profile arrests, but no serious attempt to round up everyone —just another club to threaten people with, one that only gets used when it’s politically convenient for the party in power.

Those who want to tighten up our borders make a lot of noise about illegals choosing to come here, without really examining why they choose to come—just as they like to spout about Muslims who hate our way of life, without looking at why—so maybe we should look at WHY these people come here.

Well, as Willie Sutton said when asked why he robbed banks, “That’s where the money is.”

And why is the money here? It’s here because Americans have been very clever about concentrating capital, but not so wise about sharing it with the less fortunate. The immigration issue is not new—Woody Guthrie wrote “Deportees” in 1948, with the lines

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract’s out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

Things got worse after the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which enabled cheap U.S. farm products to be sold in Mexico and ended the Mexican government’s protection of its small farmers. The result has been devastating for rural Mexico, as people face the double bind of having no money in an economy that demands money. Even the maquiladoras, the big factories just inside Mexico that were built to import into the US, and other industries that first moved out of this country into other Central American countries, are moving on as their owners respond to the lure of cheaper labor in China and other parts of East Asia, thanks to the United States and our World Trade Organization. All you folks who are sentimental for a Democrat party administration, remember it was Bill and Al who pushed that through.

So, like moths to a flame, the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free come to America—they see our television, they think they know what to expect. Hah.

Mr. Bush, who appears to be more liberal—or is it just realistic?–about this issue than many Republicans, has cast it in terms of “jobs Americans won’t do.” That’s not the complete phrase—the real deal is, “jobs Americans won’t do for the kind of wages employers are willing to pay.” Employers like to spread the myth that higher wages for workers will have to mean higher prices for everyone, but simple economic analysis reveals that in most situations, there is plenty of room to raise wages without having a substantial impact on prices. Besides, when poorly-paid people get raises, they tend to buy basic consumer goods, which boosts the economy—except for the fact that most consumer goods are made in China these days. Oh, well.

On the other hand, are there really Americans willing to do the jobs that illegals are doing, at any rate of pay? The seven million unemployed Americans have in theory been displaced by eleven million illegal immigrants, but the geographical facts of life probably defuse this comparison. Would you leave your family in the rust belt and move to California to pick grapes and chop cotton? Would you move your family to California to do that? Twenty-first century Okies, anyone?

This is a complex issue, and there are a lot of people insisting on simple answers. They are going to be disappointed. People complain about deteriorating school and health services and blame it on our newest, frequently illegal, immigrants. The truth is that our schools and hospitals are in decline because the current government would rather play Rambo and cut taxes for the rich than take care of the least of us. They often proclaim their Christianity—the Jesus I know said, “howsoever ye treat the least of mine, is how you treat me,” and I think he’d be more likely to scourge Pat Robertson out of the temple than anoint his brow with oil—but I digress.

“Guest workers.” They want “guest workers”–people who are not going to be citizens of this country who will do our dirty work. What does it do to democracy and participation in the civic process to create a permanently disenfranchised underclass? “Guest workers”? They have those in Saudi Arabia and Dubai, don’t they? Is that the kind of country we want to become? A small, fabulously wealthy elite supported by a vast, disenfranchised underclass? That’s where we’re heading. The rich are getting richer and not just the poor but the middle class are all getting poorer. That’s about three-quarters of the country losing it. The auto companies’ dumping of their workers is just the tip of the iceberg, folks. Trickle down economics, right? Only, what’s trickling down is yellow and it smells baaad. This is WTO working, this is GATT working, this is NAFTA working, this is the World Bank doing what they all set out to do—put the U.S. on the same playing field as the rest of the world. You know when American high-tech workers will be competitive with Indian and Chinese high-tech workers? When we’re willing to accept the same kind of wages they are. All these trade treaties are effecting the economic genocide of the American way of life.

But—our much-touted American way of life is based on ripping off the rest of the world. “Middle class” in America is about new cars every few years and sending your kids to college. In most of the world, middle class means you’ve got a spigot in your front yard that gives you potable water that you can haul inside in a bucket to cook and wash with. We have been flying very high for a very long time, it’s a long way down, and in my darker moments I think we may just have to get used to it. The only way to solve the illegal immigration problem may be for this country to become as impoverished as the rest of the world—then there’s no impetus for people to come here looking for work, right?

That’s all the more reason to start building local economies. Large corporations are leeches that suck the money out of communities in order to enrich their management and stockholders. Until we can redistribute those ill-gotten gains, we need to do everything we can to create a personal, face-to-face, non-corporate economy, one that keeps money in the communities it supports. This is not a program that takes a bureaucracy to administer; it just takes a lot of different people in a lot of different places figuring things out among themselves. Storm clouds are gathering, folks, it’s time to get to work. All those Spanish-speaking people who come out of the deep poverty down south have practical skills that we just might find mighty welcome in the years to come. Se habla espanol?

music: Steve Earle, “What’s a Simple Man to Do?”

Comments

For the most part I’d say you’re right on the money. But one thing I’d like to comment on is your view on “guest workers.” I am a spanish speaking white American deeply involved with the Hispanic community. One misconception about most Hispanics is that they want to become citizens or permanent residents. That is not the case. They [most] just want to be able to work here legally, with no problems, and to be able able to travel back and forth from this country to their homeland with no problems. That would be a “guest worker.” Although this situation is something that most undocumented workers would prefer, another situation arises that creates a lack of laborers in their native land, less taxable income, less local investment and entrepreneurial ventures, split and damaged families, fatherless children, abandoned wives seeking new romances… the list goes on and would be rather too long a conversation to take on here.
Posted by Caryn H on 04/24/2006 10:11:02 PM

Thanks for your perspective. From what you are saying, and from my own contacts with folks who have come up from Mexico and Central America to work, (and my own experience of having to leave the depressed area I lived in for economic reasons) I gather that most of them would prefer to stay home with their families and communities, but that this is a financial impossibility. I think the real solution is to re-create economically viable, self-sustaining cultures there as well as here, and I ain’t talking maquiladoras or Chinese timber deals! I bet it would be cheaper than current enforcement proposals and a share of the military budget. I have no problem with their desire to stay connected with their home culture, I just don’t think that having a lot of people in this country who “just work here” is good for the country.








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