STUCK ON THE HAMSTER WHEEL

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”

By SAMMY FRETWELL
sfretwell@thestate.com

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… 





GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS

10 01 2007

Ethicist Peter Singer read the UN’s Millenium Development Plan, which calls for an additional fifty to seventy-five billion dollars a year in order to halve world poverty and hunger and offer an education to every child in the world, among other things. This plan has been stalled out for lack of funding—the US finds it’s more important to take that kind of money and burn it in Iraq, just for openers. We could end world poverty, but we’re too busy fighting the poor. We could end our dependence on fossil fuels, but we’re too busy making sure we’ve got all the fossil fuels we can glom. But, I digress…. Dr. Singer did a little math, and found that raising the tax rates for the wealthiest Americans so that they paid the same ten to thirty-five percent of gross that the rest of us have to give up —leaving them ninety to sixty-five percent of their breathtakingly high annual income–would generate…over four hundred billion dollars a year. Enough to fund the UN anti-poverty program about seven times over. Noblesse oblige, anyone?

Such a change would do more to end terrorism in the world than burning money and bodies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it doesn’t even propose cutting off money to the military/industrial blackmail complex. We could pay those people to sit around and do nothing and we’d all be better off. My old friend and teacher Stephen Gaskin has been saying since the seventies that “there’s plenty to go around,” but nobody believed him. Kudos to Mr. Singer for actually doing the math. Now all it’s gonna take is some political will.

Somebody in the DOE did some math and figured out that there’s enough off-peak power going unused in the US electric grid to substitute plug-in electric vehicles for about eighty-five percent of the gas burners on our highways today. That’s a good news/bad news situation all by itself—it means that our current, disgusting level of urban sprawl just might be sustainable—but the air would be cleaner, especially as more electricity comes from the sun and the wind. Meanwhile, it would encourage the continued strip mine rape of the central Appalachians and encourage the ghouls who are pushing nuclear power. This old curmudgeon would like to see America radically restructured, not just staying the course in electric cars.

I think that one of the most peculiar assumptions of our society is the assumption that everyone who wants full economic citizenship must own a car. Think about that, especially as real wages continue to fall (raising the minimum wage is unlikely to do much for the rest of us) and the “American dream” becomes ever more unattainable for ever more of us, for ever more.

But, just in case you think we’ve got it bad over here, consider the Chinese occupation of Tibet, which continues its genocidal course. The railway into Lhasa is now open, bringing thousands of tourists (and potentially thousands of troops), although it will take much more than passenger fares for the line to show a profit; current projections are that the tracks will sink into Tibet’s melting permafrost before the line pays for itself. Meanwhile, the Chinese are forcing Tibetans to demolish their homesteads and move into Chinese-designed dwellings that do not incorporate room for the livestock that are a necessary component of Tibetan household economies, impoverishing the Tibetans and forcing them into the unsustainable, import-everything, Chinese mode of dwelling on the Tibetan plateau. These are the people we’re trusting with our manufacturing capacity, although they are devious and amoral enough to make all but the most hard-hearted US corporations seem like the very picture of benevolence. What does this bode for how they will treat us when it comes time to call in our massive, mounting debt to them?

The Chinese have adopted our western religion of economics and turned it on us. Cheap is everything, graceful is nothing, and they are better at being ruthless than we are.

I think that one of the things we can do about the macro-economic quicksand we are trapped in, i.e., our declining purchasing power, is to spend our money very carefully, and give as little of it as we can to the vampiric multinational corporations that have gotten so very good at sucking our blood. Buy gasoline, if you must, from Citgo and give your money to Hugo Chavez, not Exxon-Mobil. Buy “consumer goods” from friendly neighborhood yard sales (and get to know your neighbors) and from thrift stores—and if you can’t find it locally, there’s all those virtual yard sales on the internet: eBay, Craig’s list, free- and cheap-cycle. More and more of us taking these steps (hell, our financial circumstances are forcing us, so we might as well!) will begin to starve the Walmarts of the world and their Chinese vampire cohorts. Do you really need cable TV? Haven’t you got something better to do with your time? Tell Comcast to get lost! Learn to work in metal or wood or clay, learn to spin and weave and sew. Learn to garden and cook, for chrissake! Learn to play an instrument and sing and tell stories! Learn to listen to other peoples’ stories! Creating post-consumerist, post-oil, post-corporate, post-industrial culture is a collective enterprise that is being created by you and you and you and me and the network of people we see every day. Let’s get to work and enjoy ourselves!

music: Adrienne Young, “Plow to the End of the Row








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