04 November 2010

Memphis for the Night - Part I

"Here's the plan," I said to Tom Hutchings, SouthWings pilot, "we take the Cessna out of Mobile Sunday, over to New Orleans, and run up through Cancer Alley, photographing all the polluters in that notorious stretch. We make it all the way to Memphis and spend the night; catch some great music, have nice southern supper. Then Monday, we take off and hit all the coal ash dumps in Tennessee, ending in Knoxville that night. Tuesday we edit the pictures, lay out a poster, take it to Kinkos and have posters printed up, which we display Wednesday at the last EPA hearing on the coal ash ruling."

"That just ain't gonna work boy," he said, "we got weather coming in, and I don't think we'll be able to fly Sunday."

"Well then," I say, "we roll up the River whenever you say we have to, so we can catch the good weather all the way across Tennessee. We need to get all of the coal power plants in the state, especially the high failure hazard ones and known groundwater contaminators."

"I think you better get down here Thursday night and we'll fly Friday," he says.

"But I'll miss the opening at Hasted Hunt Gallery where they will be serving MacAllan single malt scotch," I responded.

Silence on the other side of the line said that duty should come before drinking, not what I wanted to hear.

Then I called my friends at EarthJustice and NRDC, proposing the idea, and asking if they could arrange the display at the hearings and a press conference.

Conversations with Emily Enderle at EJ uncovered the fact that both of us felt that even the more stringent of the proposed regulations for coal ash was insufficient to protect the public from the known toxicity of the waste. The weaker option, Subtitle D had been further emasculated by an even weaker industry proposal, leaving Subtitle C to appear more radical.

We agreed that I should come in arguing that Subtitle C still left citizens at risk from the mercury, lead, arsenic, and other contaminants in this waste, and that every dump site should be lined, monitored with walls around them, and covered so that dust could not threaten neighbors. With luck we could get another major environmental organization to propose it as well, giving it credence, and offsetting the industry efforts to walk with essentially no regulation.

As the date approached, Smithsonian Magazine decided they wanted to document the project; meanwhile, the weather man irritatingly seemed to support Tom's assertion. Friday morning dawned like a bluebird, and off we went, heading west over the disastrous Dauphin Island reconnection project (cut in half by Katrina). Knowing we had a full day, we opted to start at New Orleans, and leave more southern sites for another day. The refineries around that charming city are old, dirty, and gross. The day was slightly windy, which makes positioning the plane difficult, but Tom is good, and shooting from the same side of the plane makes working together smoother; usually one works from the window on the opposite side from the pilot.

I've flown this area of the River many times, drawn by the cultural and historical role the Mississippi plays in our culture and our industry. Huck Finn and his merry band are some of the longest-lived and strongest cultural icons in the USA. Subjugation of the River is symbolic of the conquest of the wild, implicit in American folklore. Of course we now know that conquering nature is a death knell for ourselves, but practice is hard to change. I had recently found and read an old family copy of Life On The Mississippi, and could not help but compare Twain's observations and mine on this day, all against memories of past trips.

The water is very low on this trip, giving the River a completely different feel. When the water is high, there is a pervasive feeling of boiling rage, everything pushed to the limits. With low water, there is a sense of hidden danger, every turn a cause for concern.

See some pics here.

More to follow...

28 September 2010

Artist or Activist?

28 September 2010

Artist or activist? This question frequently arises in relation to the Industrial Scars project. The work is first and foremost art [works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power]. Many years of study into the rules of composition, color, and lighting have gone in to their making. The images hang in galleries and museums, and fetch high prices from collectors. All that said, the subject matter is highly contentious, which inherently makes the work political. There is plenty of precedent for this in the art world from Goya to Picasso to the artists of the Third Reich. This is art with a message.

One current project, Coal Ash, is about the 140 million tons of toxic waste generated as power plants burn this most polluting hydrocarbon to produce our electricity. Coal combustion waste (CCW) contains mercury, lead, arsenic, boron, selenium, and so on, but the utility industry has managed to keep it designated as non-toxic. Most of the 600 coal-burning power plants in the USA dispose their waste ash in unlined impoundments, from which the ash leaches into groundwater, or worse, bursts out and poisons the surrounding land and waterways. The other method of disposal is in your home. Because of its designation, utilities are permitted to sell the waste to manufacturers who use it as a component in: sheetrock, concrete, fertilizer, fill, paint, and a host of other products.

The EPA is currently holding hearings about the designation, and environmental groups are fighting to have it reclassified under subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) so that it must be handled as the toxic waste that it is. Every citizen has a personal stake in this as this toxic waste might already be in your home, and given the dispersal of coal-fired power plants, there might well be a coal ash dump near your house, contaminating the groundwater with arsenic.

Today I am in Washington DC where I will, along with the help of EarthJustice, lobby congressmen about the rule change, and then hold a reception in the Rayburn House Office Building, Room B-369.

Long-lasting change in our society ultimately happens through political machinations, which are foreign to me. Since my art is about things that need to change, this is an exciting adventure. And thus, the artist becomes activist.

08 September 2010

What Can I Do About It?

8 September 2010

Climate change is a contentious issue currently, generating heated rhetoric, tremendous media expenditures, and much disinformation.

Dr. James Hansen, the scientist who is the leading U.S. expert on climate issues is focusing on cutting our coal use as the most effective thing we can do about global warming. Coal combustion is a significant contributor to climate change, and comprises 50% of electricity generation (in the USA.) We can easily affect this by reducing electricity consumption (turn off the lights, unplug appliances).

About 25-35% of climate change gases are caused by deforestation, the greatest portion in the southern hemisphere. Agriculture, commercial logging, and homesteading are some of the major factors driving this conversion, and each of them has a host of contributing elements, many of which point back to consumption in the more “developed” economies. Deforestation will remain a complex, intractable issue, but the individual that wanted to minimize her contribution to that process could consider: not consuming fast food made from livestock raised in the southern hemisphere, not driving (biofuel use of palm oil), and avoiding other uses of palm oil.

Soda consumption is a little considered, but significant cause of climate change on several levels: aluminum production uses prodigious quantity of electricity and releases large amounts of other greenhouse gases. Recycling one aluminum can save enough energy to run a 100-watt bulb for 20 hours, a computer for 3 hours, or a TV for 2 hours (EPA, 2008). The climate change impact of the contents of soda would be another fascinating discussion.

Motivated by ideological agendas, it's easy to vilify the scientists who are trying to explain this very complex issue (climate change), especially if they make a mistake or are seen exhibiting human weaknesses.

Though the science now seems certain that warming is occurring, and that it is in part human-caused, no one can predict the exact effects or timeline of climate change, so there will inevitably be misestimations. We know that when all of that ice melts, sea levels will flood coastal areas. This will drive mass relocation of populations, putting a tremendous strain on the “higher ground” areas. Weather patterns have already started to change, which will affect agricultural production. Probably these changes will not happen overnight like in a science fiction movie, but there have been drastic overnight changes in the past, so they could. Bottom line: the risk is too great for inaction, and the individual can make a significant difference on the issue.

17 August 2010

A World Gone Crazy

17 August 2010

The rest of the world clings tenaciously to the myth of Obama: that he will bring sanity to the USA and its relations with the larger world. Admittedly, the rabid opposition that would ruin the country before allowing progress stymies much of his effort. Politics is a curious melee wherever it is practiced, swinging back and forth between poles, which seem to gradually drift rightward with the influence of corporate money. This is written from the comparably sane vantage of Europe, but the comedy of Berlusconi and stalemate at the Bonn Climate Conference make clear the prevalence of illogic. Meanwhile, the USA is still the country that tortures, is still having teens kill innocents remotely, still fighting unwinnable wars in two countries with massive civilian death tolls, and even our best efforts at climate control are tepid. So Obama is really the same animal with slightly different stripes; and he is the American politician that received the most campaign contributions from BP between 2004 and 2009 ($77,051.)

Meanwhile, fisheries in the Gulf have reopened, with a small codicil from the FDA that if the seafood doesn’t smell like gasoline, it is safe to eat. And The New York Times is declaring that the Deepwater spill is really not as bad as initially reported, with much of the oil evaporated, dissipated, dissolved, or disappeared. Of course BP will write off much of the cost of the cleanup, thus passing the buck on to the shoulders of the taxpayers, and Obama wants to allow drilling again. In a world gone crazy, sarcasm seems the only logical response.

So all is again well in this best of all possible worlds, in spite of the annoying unwillingness of the economy to create any new jobs as we ship the old ones off to the undeveloped world. Fortunately, the fisherman in the Gulf can return to work. Clearly Tony Hayward was right all along: it wasn’t much oil compared to all of that water in the ocean.

And what about the all that extremely toxic dispersant that was pumped and dumped in the Gulf? What about those disquieting rumors of BP and its Coast Guard lapdogs secreting the carcasses of whales and dolphins away in the middle of the night for disposal? Where are those submerged plumes of oil? What will happen to coastal residents who inhaled all of that sprayed Corexit blowin’ in the wind? The stories of persistent flu-like symptoms and other health issues are un-discussed on the major media.

Clearly the dispersant corrected the problem: out of sight is out of mind. And though the issues it will cause are really just beginning, it and the spill are no longer news.
Another interesting issue to the whole situation is the climate change impact of the whole thing. Between the continuous burning of the skimmed oil (and inadvertent ocean fauna caught in the skimmers), the flares burning captured gases, and more important, the tremendous amount of methane and other volatile gases that gushed out of the hole while it was open (oil was only a small part of what came out), the climate change impact of this disaster is immense.

The larger question is what about the resolve, echoed by every president in living memory, to move the USA to a sustainable energy future? Have we wasted the potential benefits of this crisis?

The last trip I made over the Deepwater site was after the leaky cap had been removed in preparation for the tightly fitting cap that stopped the leak, so oil was gushing freely, thus leading to some of the most interesting pictures yet.

06 July 2010


4 July 2010

I’m in Whitesville, WV with Jim Hansen, the climate scientist, to attend Larry Gibson’s annual July 4 party. I’m here to do a portrait of Dr. Hansen, see Larry, and to go to his legendary fete. To entertain myself, I decided to bring an old Rollei f, truly one of the great cameras; it’s such a joy to shoot a little film. Remember black and white?

Larry is truly a modern David, squaring off against the goliath of king coal, personified by Don Blankenship, president of Massey Coal. To look at a satellite image, or better, to fly over Larry’s land is to laugh and cry simultaneously. An island of green rises from a despoiled expanse of regurgitated overburden from mountaintop removal mining. Modern mining processes, through mechanization, have inversed the human cost with environmental damage. Ironically, the corollary human toll is unemployment and decay of the communities that were supported by human-powered mining.

Resource wealth rarely benefits the populations in the rich place, those fortunes tend to be extracted to the same place whence went the resource. The people that remain are generally left with poverty, decaying infrastructure, and environmental nightmares.

Main Street, Whitesville is evidence of that pattern; of the few operative concerns were two funeral homes, a few stores (chain saws, floor coverings, five and dime), and of course a few churches. Most of the storefronts are haphazardly boarded, some with love notes written in the dust covering the windows. Dust near coal facilities is a tremendous health issue, and asthma tends to be high. Down the road is the Marsh Fork Elementary School, next to another Massey Coal processing plant. Above the school is an earthen dam holding millions of gallons of “slurry,” the chemical soup used to clean coal before it can be burned and continue its life cycle of destruction.

One can only imagine what Whitesville was like in its zenith, hard to picture all of the stores open and people on the sidewalks.

The people in Appalachia are some of the most vocal supporters of coal mining, and who can blame them? Their lives are at stake. If you lose you lose, but if you win, you really lose. Without coal they have no jobs, but with coal they have desecration, pollution, and asthma. Just down the road is Coal River Mountain, a summit steeped in legend and controversy. For years Massey pressed for permits to begin blasting apart the mountain for the coal underneath. The residents floated a proposal to build an array of windmills on the top, a solution that would have provided clean electricity and jobs forever, as opposed to the dirty and short-term plan of Massey, after which would remain a wasteland. Blasting began last year and destruction of the mountain is moving forward.

There is a better way. It won’t mean loss of jobs and decimation of the economy, to the contrary.

We must demand it.

15 June 2010

Saratoga Rig: Just the Facts

15 June 2010
Meaning has always seemed more important to me than fact.
A journalist, in theory, wants the facts; an artist, the essence.
I consider myself the latter.

While studying satellite imagery from the Gulf of Mexico, SkyTruth spotted an apparent slick from an oil platform and cross referenced the location to MMS info which showed it to be platform 23051 at 28.938022 - 88.970963. SkyTruth, knowing I was in the area shooting the BP Deepwater Horizon (Macondo well), asked me to investigate the location. SouthWings pilot Tom Hutchings agreed to fly by this site after our planned overflight of Macondo.

Upon navigation to the coordinates, a rig was spotted with an apparent petroleum slick on the ocean surface that extended beyond the limits of vision, and the assumption was made that this was the site in question. Next to the rig was a large boat with wake on both sides (as opposed to from the stern), but not moving. On the deck of the boat, men stood next to 9 barrels and a hose which hung over the port side of the boat. There was a yellow buoy or other flotation device where the hose entered the water. Several circles were made around the site, during which time the boat still did not move. Close-up photos show the name of the rig to be “Diamond Offshore Ocean Saratoga,” and the boat, the “Ram Charger.”Further examination of the photos shows in the distance an object with what appears to be another long slick, and comparison hand-held GPS coordinates taken from the plane are in a different location than the original coordinates given by SkyTruth. Thus, there are two leaks.

Taylor Energy (now owned by a Korean holding company) holds the lease on the well and states that they are:

“renting a rig from Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. to plug wells that were destroyed by an undersea mudslide during Hurricane Ivan in 2004.” (Quoted from Reuters)

"As a result of deploying three subsurface containment domes and performing six successful well interventions, the initial average observed sheen volume of nine gallons per day has been substantially reduced."

The leak we see in the photos appears to be much greater than “nine gallons per day.”

Taylor said:
“the photos had incorrectly identified a leak coming from the Saratoga, whereas at that time the company had actually been operating a 180-foot dynamically positioned workboat for a scheduled containment system drainage.”

But curiously, in the next paragraph we read:

“Gary Krenek, Diamond's chief financial officer, had said earlier that while his company was required to report spills off its rig, and had not done so, it was contractually unable to discuss anything further.”

He referred questions to Taylor.

So they broke the law and can’t discuss it?

The official story does not jibe with the observed facts.
Meanwhile, after we announced the spill, the share price of Diamond Offshore dropped sharply. Alas, I am neither clever nor stupid enough to short a stock prior to releasing my photos, and I spent a day dodging calls from media and hedge fund operators. The fixation on quarterly earnings, and the gyrations and machinations of the stock market place our society in great peril on many levels.

Rather that fixating on the possibility of a well leak in regards to what it might mean to the stock price of a company, we would do better to fixate on what it means to the dolphins and the turtles, and our grandchildren.

According to a reporter from the Mobile Times Register, there are 600 unexplained leaks per month in the Gulf. The Diamond Offshore occurrence(s?) may or may not be a leak. The BP Deepwater Horizon may or may not be the largest spill in the Gulf this year. There will be many, and at some point, the culmination will overwhelm the flora and fauna that have teetered back from the brink so many times before. Then we will have systemic failure, and the Gulf becomes a dead sea, the consequences of which exceed comprehension. Just the litigation around the impacts of this one instance is incomprehensible.

The Conservatives decry the Liberals for forcing the oil companies to drill offshore rather than get the easy oil in Alaska. But the fact remains that resources are limited by definition, and our increasing hunger for oil will drive acquisition to the darkest corners of the planet. To get there, we will push the limits of technology, which means more accidents…

04 June 2010

Notes from the Gulf - part 2

4 June 2010

Another hot day.

Our plan was to fly west to Queen Bess Island, west of the Mississippi River where BP is rumored to be hiding oil-soaked animals, but a storm front prevented us from flying there. We instead decided to go straight for the source.

As soon as we leave the shore, we see oil. The wave crests have a strange texture, and the wind makes abnormal patterns. As a long time sailor, I can see it, and am more aware of it on this second flight. Oil calms the water.

Preparation is so important on these projects.

I have decided to try tapping off my lenses ad nauseam, instead of letting the auto focus work. Hopefully that will allow a faster shoot response time.

The source site is completely different.

We hear that overnight the LMRP was put over the severed pipe, but that only a fraction of the oil is being captured.

We see less oil on the surface, or rather it does not have the same multi-colored sheen. The drill ship is flaring gas, and a tremendous plume of oil seems to start there and extend downwind. It is a different color than anything we have seen before, very brown. There are more planes at the site which makes operation in the area hazardous. At one point a plane passes just below, disconcerting.

The flare is fascinating, and we circle repeatedly. Because of all of the traffic, we cannot go in as close as I would like. The skimmer teams do not seem to be so effective, as the quality of the oil is different. Two days ago the skimmers made a noticeable trail when they passed through the oil, but not today.

More later...

03 June 2010

Notes from the Gulf

3 June 2010

Arrive at FairHope, AL Airport, thunderstorms approaching.

We decide to go eat breakfast and wait for storms to pass.  Grits not bad, biscuits mediocre.

Taking off in a Cessna 182.

Rear seats and cargo door have been removed to enable photography.

As we get offshore, I see sunshine on Dauphin Island, which has had “no swim” directives issued today, as the oil is supposed to hit Alabama shores today.

Seeing first oil.  Bright red tendrils and sheen on the water.  Dodging thunderstorms as we make our way out to “the source” as it’s called.  It’s a bit surreal like Apocalypse Now, going through the clouds, music playing in the headphones, knowing they are right now desperately trying to cap the gushing pipe on the floor of the ocean.

We count 37 vessels involved in skimming operations, and 15 ships at the source.  There are two drill rigs, one drill ship, and one utility rig at the source.

Everything leaves a wake of oil, either from its movement or the current.  The skimmers are generally two boats with a boom/net between them.  The oil is sometimes red, sometimes “oily” colored.  Interestingly, it’s hard to shoot as the red is more visible when reflections are cut and the oily layer on the surface shows up with the reflected light.

Other rigs on the water seem to be operating “business as usual.”

Don’t see the beaches covered in oil that the media has led me to expect.  Maybe that’s further west in Louisiana?

Everywhere there is an expectation of disaster approaching.  This must be similar to the approach of a hurricane.

For years I have expected an infrastructure disaster here in “hurricane alley” where 40% of our oil is refined.  Not sure what percent originates here.

To see a few more images from the Gulf, click here.

02 June 2010

What Next?

2 June 2010

'Top Kill' has failed.

'Junk Shot' has failed.

Now they propose to cut off the pipe and drop a funnel over it.

The entity once known as British Petroleum behaves like a rogue cattle thief, ignoring government directives and the muted indignation of the population, who, in their misguided disaffection, are now blaming a president who inherited the patronage-based mess from the oil industry presidency that went before.

Meanwhile, the natural systems, oblivious to the machinations and hand-wringing of the humans above, continue to bleed the toxic goo into the ocean, where BP sinks it with the Orwellian-named dispersant Corexit, and then has the gall to say that it never existed. The public nods dumbly on, abdicating the responsibility of citizenship to the directives of the corporate big brother.

Where is the outrage?

Where is the personal commitment to stop contributing to the problem? Have we all sunk so far into self-indulgence that we can’t even see our complicity?

I’m flying from Houston (capital of the petro-based economy) to Mobile, a city bracing for the onslaught of oil tomorrow. The clouds seen from my window over the Gulf are a surreal red, lit by the evening sun filtered through the pollution above Houston.

Between the hydrocarbons bubbling out of the water into the atmosphere, and those being burned, the Macondo site generates its own weather.

What will it take for people to generate the appropriate outrage and demand sensible action? Dead dolphins floating to the beach? Pristine beaches covered in tar? Plummeting property values?

(BP will probably collect the dolphin carcasses in the night like during the plague, and tell us there were none)

There is a team of dedicated people watching the events unfold, and trying to clarify them for the media and the public beyond the usual sound-bite coverage.

Tom Hutchings, Southwings pilot, is out flying over the horrors of the Macondo site on a daily basis. John Amos and Skytruth are getting current satellite imagery and interpreting it so we have some overview of the progression. Don’t listen to the people that have a vested interest in this issue, listen to those lonely voices with a penchant for the truth.

This is big. Don’t believe otherwise.

28 May 2010


28 May 2010

Some days pass with hardly a thought of it. Other days are literally oppressed with the weight of the oil and gas pumping into the Gulf.

Our real Gulf crisis has begun. Perhaps it will be the first sea to die. Completely.

And the sight of the various guilty parties sputtering denials and accusations makes me think of teenagers caught red-handed at some obnoxious prank.

Hearing Tony Hayward (CEO of BP) say, "The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume," makes one either apoplectic or catatonic (depends on the day). The insight here into total corporate control of the regulatory process and government is a discussion of its own.

Three things confound in this situation:

-Corporate arrogance, greed, and short-sightedness

-Our blundering non-understanding of the natural world, its complexities and frailties

-Public indifference

The first two are to be expected, but the indifference of the public is staggering. We have managed to totally divorce action and consequence in our minds. Every time we start a car, every plastic bottle we buy contributes to this disaster, but like true schizophrenics, we do not connect cause and effect. We wring our hands in concern about the oily birds and beaches, and then wash our hands with soap from a plastic pump dispenser.

We are the problem, not BP, not the US Government, not the MMS.

And of course, the long-term battle of hearts and minds has already been lost with BP’s clever application of vast quantities of dispersant and tight control of media coverage coming from the battlefield. Corexit broke up and sank the oil, so the impact on the Gulf Coast beaches will be a fraction of the reality. The undersea flora and fauna, however, will never recover. The Gulf, already severely wounded from the phosphates pouring down the Mississippi, is really a large bowl, with a circular current fed from the Atlantic. As those submerged oceans of oil swirl around and sweep past Florida, they will be caught up in the Gulf Stream, and ultimately be deposited in the Georges Bank, thus finishing the decimation of the world’s greatest food source.

But the public won’t see it, thanks to the dispersant and BP’s adroit image control, and this will drop off our radar like all the other clarion calls warning of the imminent collapse of the natural world that sustains us.

Drive on.

12 May 2010

Exposition at Spedition

12 May 2010

I knew Bremen as a town of beer. So, when asked to do an exhibit and symposium there, the answer could only be yes. Preparation for a large production in a foreign land is always stressful, and this one was par, but methodical and successful. Arrival to find the venue in some disarray from a previous production, but not worryingly so; and the combination of good preparation and a crack production team at the “Spedition” led to an under-budget, ahead-of-schedule event, thus allowing for final interviews, exhibit catalog production, etc.

Locomotive Turntable at Bremen Station

Spedition is an old industrial space, adjacent to the train station, which has attracted a variety of artists and crafts people, being home to exhibits, music, and theater productions and in this case, a symposium with students. The German alt culture has always been fascinating, and it’s not surprising that the society which produced Mozart, Durer, Marx, and Freud would produce some interesting unorthodoxes. Spedition is a wonderful fusion of these people, living and working in this large reused complex in the center of town, contiguous with the train station, that has become the edgy cultural space in Bremen.

Planning and preparation for this production have been proceeding for years, with Nicolai Burchartz of Koeln and Gregor Straube of Bremen doing the heavy lifting.

The mission was to put up a show of new work, all large murals, themed “What happens because of the things we buy.” The exciting new aspect of this exhibit was the inclusion of an interactive component that explains each mural with maps, satellite images, establishing shots, and information. These pictures can be seen on so many levels: aesthetic, documentary, political, that viewers demand explanation, and providing that information is a challenging enterprise. Working with several classes of German high school students would explore the cross-cultural impact of the images and the interactive program.

Gregor Straube, Senator Reinhard Loske, & JHF

The team at Spedition was relaxed, efficient, and thorough, so the exhibit went up like a balloon and looked fantastic, done in the unique “Spedition style.” The vernissage was quite the success in spite of the rain, boasting the senator of the environment, among many.

Talking to the students from the Wilhelm Wagenfeld School, and the other people passing through was the most rewarding part. The students were thoughtful, aware and curious, and gratifyingly intrigued with the interactive.

Environmental issues are making the world a frighteningly small place, and these teenagers would be the ones to bear the first major impacts. As estimates of the volume of oil spilled in the Gulf had grown too large for the brain to grasp, we discussed the root causes.

Middle Europe is colder than normal, and many Germans bemoaned the cold and rain. One wonders if the weather is the result of the volcano or other weather pattern alterations.

The Starbucks in DeGaulle Airport is surrounded with large backlit images, most of beautiful exotic animals, the others of beautiful exotic women in beautiful exotic vacation spots.

Meanwhile, the waste generated by just this one small franchise in one airport defies comprehension. The Starbucks in Köln/Bonn Airport at least offers the option of using china mugs, thus saving a good bit of paper cup waste…

Of course, the intrepid eco traveler never goes anywhere without his own air-tight mug that goes right in the bag. And who would throw away a good cup of java just for security, knowing the cost?

04 May 2010

Up the Lazy River

5 May 2010

The Ruhr River area is one of the oldest and most concentrated industrial areas of the world. It has been the hub of German industry, and the foundry of their might, both military and economic. Concurrently, it is one of the oldest toxic areas in the world, and the patient reader knows of this writer’s fascination with such things. Having photographed other environmental issues in Germany over the years, a compulsion to study the Ruhr became stronger with the passage of time, and so arrangements were made for the lovely German spring of this year. As most people might know, gambling on bluebird days in middle Germany is like betting on the good sense of the American voter, but one must have faith, and so I found myself at a small airfield on the border with Holland, shaking hands with a taciturn expat Brit pilot.

WDR, the Deutsche television station was interested in documenting the process, so as Mark and I chatted about the flight plan, Cordula and Jurgen attached cameras to the struts of the plane.
After many takes of "spontaneous" greetings between Mark and me, we finally took off for real and headed toward Duisburg, one of the most industrial German cities. The industry there seems like a vision from a world gone mad, and perhaps it is. Beauty and nightmare intersperse so fast one forgets the difference, and the smokestacks and heat from the industry make flying and photographing difficult. Mark and I had a fantastic communication, though, and rarely did I even need to give directions as we swooped around cooling towers in our search for pandora’s secrets. Germany is generally better about containing contamination than the USA, but some things cannot be occulted, and my old friend coal ash is one of those. Every coal-fired power plant produces quite a lot of it (about 325,000 tons a year in the USA, probably more in Germany as they burn a lot of brown coal and it is nasty stuff (see previous posts.) We found it in spades, and Mark did an excellent job putting me where I needed to be. Very interesting the absence of TSA obsession here; in the land of the free (note the sarcasm) the TSA, police, FBI, and various other enforcers of the regime are all over you if you look twice at a power plant (or even photograph a public building for that matter), whereas here, nothing is said.

Germany has opted out of the nuclear game (though that is being unfortunately reconsidered) and is heavily reliant on coal like the USA. Meanwhile, there are these powerful rivers taking energy down to the sea that could easily light all of the cities in the area. And of course the German energy giants are digging up the country, displacing thousands of citizens, razing towns, and releasing tons of carbon, all to power their digging machines and light the bulbs of middle Europe.

As I write, the USA EPA has just released revised "suggestions" about coal ash. In an unsurprising Orwellian development, this toxic waste of the coal combustion process will continue to be "beneficially reused" in sheetrock, fertilizer, paint, carpet, etc. The list of ways how this toxic waste finds its way into your life goes on. Did i forget to mention that it is laden with lead, mercury, uranium, arsenic, cadmium and more?
Can we get smart about this?

29 April 2010

The Maw of Our Desire

29 April 2010

The television screen sobs with the bereaving families of the workers lost in our industrial accidents; we glance, feel a touch of sympathy, and continue our days. The similarities among the recent hydrocarbon blow-outs bear some resemblance. Just as the voracious demand for drugs in one country fuels a ruthless genocide in another, so our thirst for hydrocarbons prompts this loss of life and habitat despoliation (that would be our habitat, btw.) From time immemorial, peons have been expendable in the service of the ruling classes, and so it remains. The media thrives on soap opera, which allows it to ignore the real drama, and we follow blithely along. We pause briefly in pity for the women in Louisiana and West Virginia, two of the poorest states in the USA, but give little thought to our culpability, or the devastation wreaked on our survival systems.

As I write, a hole on the ocean floor gushes vast quantities of petroleum into that ecosystem, while a “state of the art” robot will try in vain to plug it. Meanwhile, the wind will shift and blow the goo to shore, thus creating, horror of horrors, an unsightly mess. God forbid that we be discomfited by the detritus of our appetites, god forbid our ocean views be obstructed by apparati that might obviate the pollution. We would rather defer payment upon our children than curtail the slaking of our thirst. Like vampires, our consumer society sucks the essence from the planetary systems that support us, without consideration for those that slave to produce the goods or the debt being foisted upon our grandchildren.

19 April 2010


19 April 2010

Water, water, everywhere, who needs to worry about a drop to drink?

In an effort to keep tabs on the Catskills gas drilling issue and its impact on the regional water supply, up we went for another look at the activity of the pernicious gas drillers. Catskill Mountainkeeper, Wes Gillingham, Lighthawk pilot Bob Keller and yours truly, the undesignated hydro-fracking swat team out to save your drinking water.

For those who don’t know, hydro-fracking is a deep drilling technique that enables access to natural gas reserves locked in shale formations a mile or more below the surface by pumping vast quantities of water mixed with a chemical cocktail at extremely high pressure to fracture the rock formation and unlock the natural gas therein. Permits have been issued for the western Catskills, and drilling has already begun in the adjacent areas of Pennsylvania. The process uses millions of gallons of water per well, and could easily deplete groundwater and fluvial resources. And then of course are the pollution issues: these millions of gallons of chemical–laced water are being injected down through the aquifer, and back up again.

This was our third flight, so we knew the terrain and the issues pretty well, and agreed to meet at the Poughkeepsie airfield. It was a beautiful day, clear and cool (or as clear as it gets with the always-present pollution.) Always tolerant of my meanderings, Bob and Wes had agreed to a detour to look at a few coal-fired power plants and the Westchester Garbage Incinerator. So we shot the Danskammer Plant first (you can see their emissions report here if you want a little fright)

Coal Ash at Danskammer Power Plant

Our next stop on the tour was Lovett Plant in Tompkins Cove, just upriver from NYC.
When we got there, it was gone. How do you disappear a large power plant? Turns out, it was part of the Enron debacle (remember that) and was spun off to a company called Dynergy that refused to upgrade its pollution controls and was then ordered to close. Good riddance, New Yorkers can breathe a bit easier (turn off the lights before they build another one.) Here is the pollution scorecard on it.

The gas drilling sites we had photographed on our last expedition (nine months ago) were capped and closed, leaving only a giant industrial pad in the middle of the once pristine farm fields. It is amazing how fast they operate, drilling, fracking, and extracting in less than a year. I wonder if the farmers knew that they would be left with an abandoned industrial site in place of their farms. I wonder what the well water is like now?

We then moved westward to see some new sites, and were amply rewarded with some impressive drill rig towers, and then a site with a flare. Flares are generally how the really nasty stuff is burned away in petroleum refineries and drill sites, so you don’t want to live near there. (Wonder if the neighbors know about that?) Then we found a site with a continuous stream of tanker trucks filling a giant man-made pond, which gives some idea of the amount of water used in this process. As we circled, we saw several tractor trailers come and go without making a dent in the level. Assumedly, there is not enough groundwater at that location to support the millions of gallons per well, so they are likely trucking it in. But imagine if that amount of water was being removed from the aquifer as it is elsewhere. Water is so precious, and we take it for granted.

Then we happened upon a site in which fracking was in process, with numerous compressor trucks arrayed around a spider rig, looking like some industrial creature being attended by its feeder slaves. Quite fascinating, actually. The amount of pressure needed to fracture the shale formation is tremendous, and I can’t believe that pumping that water/chemical mixture down at such pressure through the aquifer is innocuous as the gas companies claim.

12 April 2010


12 April 2010

Those of us who live in New York and the suburbs don’t pay too much attention to the natural systems that surround the metro area, and I’m no exception. My friend Chris, the naturalist, has been going out on Long Island Sound for the last year or so, documenting the wildlife there, and has extended me an open invitation to join him. Last weekend I was between projects, and had all of my cameras with me, and the tides were right, so we made a plan.

Easter morning was beautiful and unseasonably warm; a perfect day for a boat ride. Leaving Stamford, we encountered a pair of osprey nesting on the harbor light, with the male rather ineptly gathering driftwood to make a nest. It’s such a pleasure to be with an expert that can explain what we see, and Chris is the best. Out of the harbor we ran in to a wall of fog so thick that it felt like being in another world. The waters there are rocky, which would make navigation impossible but for an amazing GPS that allows one to follow previous paths.

After a bit, Chris stopped the boat and announced that we had arrived. “They are right over there,” he said. Of course our senses could discern nothing but fog and the lapping of water on the boat. Slowly we drifted, and shapes began to emerge, and a glint of sunlight on marine skin defined a pair of harbor seals. They watched us with mild suspicion as we rocked and snapped away. The Marine Mammal Protection Act limits proximity, but to see these beautiful animals (on Easter Sunday) with a background of New York and the wealthy suburbs somehow gave a sense of hope of the possibility of coexistence between “civilization” and the natural world.

08 April 2010


8 April 2010

The reports of the mining disaster in West Virginia have an unreal quality, like newspaper headlines from a distant era; one in which workers were but slightly elevated from the class of serfs, and a few more dead or damaged would have little effect on the march of progress. We all feel the deepest sympathy for the families of the miners lost, and like the recent disaster in Haiti, donations and condolences will be sent, and the event soon forgotten.

{Angry invectives are sure to follow this BLOG}

The corporate owner of the mine (and its CEO) is a bad actor on many levels, from mine safety to environmental disregard. Their acts of corruption harken back to the Teapot Dome scandal in scope, and exude a disregard for law and community that invite disbelief. And speaking of tea, it is no secret that West Virginia voted overwhelmingly in favor of the previous administration, as a condoner of business corruption with its relaxed mine safety enforcement.

Meanwhile, New York City is enjoying summer weather in early April, which is a direct effect of the stuff for which those miners died.

29 March 2010


29 March 2010

The deep south is not known as a region of enlightened thought, yet some of our greatest artists and thinkers have emerged therefrom. The general population remains reactionary and rather averse to progressive ideas. One would certainly expect, though, that when presented with evidence, a parent wants to protect their progeny. One would then ask if the protection means from the direct visible threats (speeding cars), or the well publicized “known” threats (diseases.) Does that protective sentiment include the more amorphous, longer-term dangers? We would hope so.

No one welcomes the prophet of doom. It discomfits and frightens. The tendency is to dismiss and ignore. And why dwell on what we can’t see?

Since I got involved with the Kleerkut campaign, I have told my family (in the deep south) about the consequences of their paper purchases. And no, buying a roll of Cottonelle will not immediately endanger your children (like the careening car), but the long-term impacts will with a vengeance. So I was shocked to find bundles of this brand and its polluting cousin Kleenex in the house of my brother, and I ask myself: do they not get it? Do they resent my telling them about the consequences? Do they not believe me? Do my words go in one ear and out the other?

Is this a family thing, or a larger issue?

If the dark message were inevitable, this disregard would be understandable. If the catastrophe were ineluctable, no need to worry about it. But that’s not the case here; we can change this future, with little to no pain.

Buy Marcal, or Seventh Generation, or one of the many brands of paper products made from post-consumer material. Do it for your children. You can find NRDC's paper product shopping guide here.

16 March 2010


16 March 2010

Nothing is so enticing as the "easy kill."

“Consolidate your debt with one easy monthly payment!”

And of course, we want the easy fix for the climate problem (those that actually believe there IS one.)

After all, who really wants to change their comfort zone? What could be easier than throwing a bunch of iron scraps into the ocean, stimulating algae growth, which in turn absorbs CO2? What’s that you say, it stimulates a neurotoxin that poisons fish and sea mammals? Well, I guess someone has to pay.

We can solve this problem.

Turn off the lights.

12 March 2010

NC Coal Ash

12 March 2010

Mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, maybe uranium in the walls around you? Why should that bother you? Have you renovated in the last 10 years? Most brands of sheetrock use coal ash as a component, which is known to contain these byproducts. Somehow the coal industry has managed to keep coal ash designated as non-toxic waste, in spite of those toxins.

When I heard that the administration was close to considering the regulations for coal ash, I knew it was time to resume my photo project.

The logistics of doing an aerial shoot, especially in the winter, are tricky. The weather changes so fast, with so few windows of clear sunny days, that to plan a trip to a distant locale and book a private plane for the photo flight is a real crap shoot.

In this case, I made the decision from New York on Sunday to fly Monday in North Carolina. How can we thank the heroes at Southwings who mobilized a pilot for the project with just 24 hours notice? The seven North Carolina coal plants on the EP44 danger list make a dogleg line from Asheville to Greensboro, with the corner being right across the river from Charlotte Douglas Airport, one of the busiest in the country. It would be a miracle if air traffic control let us get to that one. As it is, FAA rules stipulate that there will be no “loitering” around power plants. Darwin, the pilot, suggested that I fly in and meet him in Ashville, and he would leave me in Greensboro after the last coal plant. Seemed pretty smart to me.

As usual, the weatherman was off the mark, and Ashville was cloudy with low ceilings.
I had a commercial flight back to NY at the other end of our journey, but we had some leeway to allow the possibility of waiting out the weather if there were any clear signs. There weren’t. In those cases, I always want to jump, in case it gets worse.

The Asheville coal plant is right next to the airport, which fortunately was not too busy. The lighting was pretty flat, with a good bit of snow on the ground. Amazingly, there were nice houses right under the ash ponds. The volume of crud in these things is staggering. If that earthen dyke bursts [there was nice steam coming off the water, which will someday perfectly illustrate a story on thermal pollution from power plants], that entire neighborhood will literally be buried by this poison-laden slurry. Good documentation images, but no “art.” And since we are forbidden to loiter, off we went to Charlotte. A pleasant surprise reared its smokestacks in our path: the Cliffside Expansion Project.

Cliffside is one of the largest carbon emitters of the US coal plants, and one of the worst producers of combustion waste. Since it is rurally located, it is not on the “EPA44” list, which is only plants with populations that would die if the coal ash ponds burst. Cliffside is on the list of groundwater polluters, as reported by Sue Sturgis, and at the center of a tremendous controversy around its expansion. As one of the most polluting coal plants in the country, a capacity increase is both a hazard to its neighbors and another jab towards our addiction to this dirty power source. As you might suspect, Dear Reader, the good lost again in this battle, and construction permits were issued. So, we zoomed in like a falcon after a mouse. And aside from the reportage shots that I told myself to get first on this trip (remember, we are trying to influence policy here) there were beautiful ash ponds with graduations of reds and blues to gold with seagulls flying over... Gorgeous. But alas, only two passes…
More to come…

05 March 2010

What Matters Most?

5 March 2010

The question, "what matters most?" has been addressed by many august personages, and each seems to espouse certainty that their chosen specialty is the first and most important need. And who could argue that we must attend to the world’s children, women, air, water, oceans, and animals; all seem to be in crisis. And of course, we in the developed world, especially in the USA, sit back lamenting that we certainly can’t act unilaterally, because it would cost us too much; furthermore, even if we change our ways, those Chinese will just continue polluting, and our righteousness will be rendered irrelevant. So we might as well continue in our indulgences; after all, they are comforting, and one person’s profligacies really don’t matter, do they?

I argue that they do matter, and greatly. Individuals must be responsible for their own actions -- this is part of living in a society. That means being responsible for the impact of one’s purchases. Toilet paper is the most mundane but real example: one brand promotes deforestation, climate change, habitat destruction, and another supports recycling. As it goes for the individual, so it must go for a nation. The world simultaneously admires the USA for its innovations and culture, and scorns us for our hypocrisy in being the world’s largest per capita consume and polluter as we lecture everyone else about the errors of their ways.

I think what matters most is for us as individuals to start being responsible for the consequences of our actions, and as a nation. I suspect that the other cultures of the world, who look to the USA for leadership, will gladly follow. Furthermore, rather than cripple our economy, it will drive a renaissance of American leadership.

22 February 2010


22 February 2010

I was working in a commercial photo lab when I was 14 years old, taught well by a man of color that had been doing it all of his life. The darkroom was an unventilated 12x12 room in the service corridor of the Francis Marion Hotel, an edifice long past its prime that smelled of mildew, decay and more subtle, less pleasant things. Of course, Walter’s darkroom reeked of stronger, more obvious smells: things long ago banned in our slow march to safety. I loved Walter and his realm, and was quite honored that he would trust me at the helm alone.

So one could say that analog photography is second nature to me, though I reached a point of complete saturation after so many years imprisoned under the orange lights cranking out the catalog jobs. In those days, reproduction was done from prints, which were rushed, literally steaming, to the last Federal Express branch in NYC that accepted packages for next day delivery.

Enough time has passed to dull the pain of all those lost nights, and in our digital era when an image often never transcends the divide between ethereal and corporeal, a real silver-based black and white print is a joy. And of course, the availability of analog photographic material is soon to end, and nothing is quite as pretty as a real black and white.

Several years ago, my friend Mike Adams gave me an old, uncoated Kodak Ektar 12 inch lens that is f4 (quite fast for such a lens), and it allows one to work with much less light than otherwise necessary for large format.

I am fortunate enough to have acquaintance or commission with some interesting people, and have been shooting a series of black and white portraits, most against an old plaster wall I built from found materials for the purpose. This week I took the plunge and scrubbed everything down for a printing session. Tested all of the paper I had in stock (less was spoiled than I thought) and cranked out some beautiful prints.

My favorite is one of composer, John Adams.

18 February 2010

Year of the Tiger

18 February 2010

Most people in the USA think of something specific on February 14 that usually involves either the health disaster of processed sugar or the environmental nightmare of cut flowers. The same day happens to be Chinese New Year, and 2010 is the year of the tiger. This annual designation and the Apple use of the felid family are avatars of our ironic tendency to simultaneously worship and destroy. We cherish nature shows while buying the fast food that is directly responsible for destruction of the subjects of our adoration. There are more tigers in captivity in the USA than left in the wild. They will disappear in the wild in the next 50 years because we are destroying their habitat. We will try to save them in captivity, but those will become so inbred that their health will wither away. Like a science-fiction movie this magnificent animal will become but history, history will become legend…

Of course we could do something about it. It wouldn’t be that hard.

Think about it next time you pull in to the drive-in fast food restaurant.

08 February 2010

COAL ASH - Round 2

8 February 2010

You probably don’t give too much thought to coal ash.

You might want to change that.

The USA gets half its electricity from coal, produced by about 600 power plants , each of which produces about 325,000 tons of coal combustion waste (CCW), composed of fly ash, bottom ash, and scrubber slurry. This is nasty stuff. Industry tells us that it’s not very harmful, but then you read the articles about the horrible birth defects and environmental consequences to the third world locations, unlucky enough to have a couple of shiploads dumped on them.

CCW contains a slew of nasties like arsenic, mercury, chromium, and cadmium, which tend to blow around and leach out into the water table (oops, don’t drink that!)

Thank God the EPA hasn’t recognized it for the toxic waste that it is, because the coal burners would have to treat it as such, which would be expensive {shudders.}

Did I mention that since the stuff is so ubiquitous, and after all, non-toxic, that we are mixing it in with wall board and concrete. A little mercury in your sheet rock shouldn’t bother you, right?

Last year, the EPA released a list of coal ash storage sites that would pose a grave danger to the public if they failed (like the one in Tennessee did last Christmas, largest industrial disaster in US history!) Didn’t hear about it?

I’ve been dying to shoot the “EPA 44” since the list was released. Got them all plugged in to my GPS.

Rumor has it that the Obama crew will review the regulations this week, and my sources tell me there are no great pictures that tell the story graphically. Sounds like a bugle call to me, better call in the cavalry: SouthWings. Twelve of the EPA list are in NC, the SW stomping ground.

SouthWings has been my partner on the Coal Ash project for years, and they jumped right on board to go again. The weather looks good for the target region for today, so... all systems go!

Tough it’s a bit short notice, the spontaneity allows me to have pretty favorable odds with the weather. Could work.

You can see the first set of pictures from the Coal Ash project here.

28 January 2010


It’s hard not to love Obama. He’s handsome, smart, thoughtful, and seems to say the right things. And that smile when he’s waiting for the audience to get his joke is so cute.

But, when one listens to what is said (on the environment, anyway), shock should be the reaction. As a solution to our energy needs, he advocates: offshore drilling, “clean” coal, untapped natural gas deposits and nuclear. Those same words emanated from the mouth of his predecessor and we hated it. Offshore drilling will quickly despoil those marine habitats, overwhelming the already threatened fish populations. And of course more oil spills will be the norm. Clean coal doesn’t exist when one examines the life-cycle of the fuel, period. Carbon capture and sequestration don’t exist at present, and tests indicate that they will consume 25% of the energy produced by the fuel they're supposed to clean. And who’s to say that the carbon will stay buried in the old mine shafts they want to use for the purpose? Nothing else does.

"Untapped natural gas" means deposits like the Marcellus Shale formation, the extraction of which has been an environmental disaster from the first drilling. And nuclear, even if we could do it without the releases and accidents, is highly dangerous to plant neighbors. The answer is ruthless conservation and low-impact technologies. Now.

His appeal to bipartisanism is well and good, but government won’t do squat unless we, the people demand it. Stick your head out the window and shout it.

22 January 2010


22 January 2010

Last night, Bobby Kennedy Jr., the tireless defender of "purple mountain majesties," debated Don Blankenship, president of Massey Coal, the biggest practitioner of mountaintop removal coal mining. Mr. Kennedy was explaining the intricate interrelationship of jobs, energy security, and a healthy environment while Mr. Blankenship responded with simplistic sound bites about terrorism and crippling environmental regulations. These are complex issues that cannot be reduced to one-liners, and somehow the advocates of clean air and clean water must craft a set of key phrases that reach today's over-stimulated audience. Mr. Kennedy tried to explain the devastating effect that mountaintop removal has on the Appalachian hydrology, and in response, Mr. Blankenship held up a plastic bottle of clear looking water proclaiming that it would not pass EPA standards. Of course many of the most toxic substances can't be seen, smelled or tasted, but he didn't mention that. While Kennedy talked about the fact that burning coal is why our waterways are polluted with mercury, Blankenship responded that even were we to stop burning coal, everyone else's coal-burning practices would still poison our fish.

But we have to lead. America has always been out front, and we need to be again. To say that if we don't blast the mountains apart in Appalachia, "them damn Arabs" will attack us again, as Blankenship averred, is false, misleading, and a cheap appeal to the basest fears of Americans. Kennedy is right, our security will come from a future of clean energy, and that is one without coal. As he points out, the jobs in the coal industry are disappearing with mechanization (as Blankenship's piece of the pie grows ever larger.) Blankenship is raking in the cash while ex-miners in WV can't feed their kids or drink their water. But his one-liners about terrorists and "them damn unions" appeal to those looking for simple answers to complex problems.

And here's where art comes in: while the issues are complex and require lengthy explanations, blithely countered with a one liner about terrorism or pesky environmental regulations, a compelling image of destruction tells an irrefutable story. Those of us who want clean air, clean water, and a secure, prosperous future for our children have to get more adept at the tools and techniques that play to the modern media and short attention spans of Americans.

14 January 2010


14 January 2010

This is the year of biodiversity, a word that seems to have little meaning to most citizens, who express delight in their brushes with “wildlife” like deer, raccoons, or alternately curse the same for their incursions into our property, plantings or garbage. Make no mistake, these are weed species, not wildlife – animals that are adept at adopting themselves to the peculiar adaptive pressures imposed by the dominant species. Our total disarray of the biosphere has made room for these opportunist, adaptive creatures, and squeezed out other, more specific species. Many people in the East Coast suburbs thrill at the sight of a coyote (until it kills the family pet), not knowing that it has no business in this part of the world, surreptitiously crossing the Mississippi on the bridges we built, and filling the void left by the extermination of the wolf. “Why do we care?” you might ask as you curse the deer for eating every bit of fauna in the land, and worry about going in the yard for fear of the lyme ticks…. Exactly. There is a balance in the world that we have erased, to our peril.

One of the largest factors in the extinction crisis is habitat loss caused by deforestation for farming, logging, livestock, etc. A large on-going UN-sponsored study into the economics of biodiversity suggests that deforestation alone costs the global economy $2-5 trillion each year. The “services” that forests and wetlands provide us for free will dwarf the economic crisis when we have to pay for them.

So maybe you don’t care about the disappearance of some obscure bugs or spotted owls, but when vast sums of your hard earned dollars are taken to build water purification systems, you might become an environmentalist after all…

07 January 2010


7 January 2010

Seagulls attacking whales in Argentina, flooding on one side of Australia, fires on the other, whales beaching in New Zealand, octopi dying in Portugal, oil spill on the Yellow River, and Europe is in its worst freeze in 30 years… doesn’t take a rocket scientist to get the message that something is going on. But yet when our rocket scientists try to tell the meaning, we ignore them.

These portents indicate that the system that supports life on this planet is failing. You can hop on either side of the political bandwagon that makes you happy, but to ignore these indicators is just folly. Do we ignore them because acknowledgment would stipulate behavioral change, and rejection of some of the indulgences we lavish?

Yesterday, a Japanese whaling boat attacked and destroyed a Sea Shepard boat that was harassing them. Sea Shepherd is a valiant organization trying to save whales from slaughter that is publicised under the misnomer of "research." They will be branded as a “radical organization” in a continuation of the Orwellian tendency of the “liberal media” to label as “normal” those that are profiting by death and destruction, and “radical” those that are trying to prevent it.

More and more we are reminded of the ripple effect of our spending. One brand of toilet paper supports deforestation, climate change, habitat loss, etc, and another brand stimulates recycling, and sustainability. It’s that simple.

Turn off the lights when you leave the room.

04 January 2010


4 January 2010

A small ritual of writing down something to be discarded was performed at a New Year’s Eve party, the defenestrated being physical or metaphysical. Discarding predicates acquiring, which seems the logical place to start the remedy. Realizing the resource limitations and consumption consequences of our world is the first step to sustainability, and we each play a part.

Our toilet paper purchase decision determines the habitat consequences for wolves and bears and all wildlife down the food chain, including us. And let’s not even talk about the Chinese-made rubber duck.

The question is consciousness: most of us don’t want to think every decision through to the seventh generation consequence. And there is a large group that will never be convinced of our precarious situation, and to whom the very idea is a threat worthy of a call to arms. These we can’t change. But, most of us are willing to listen to reason when our children’s welfare is concerned.

In the modern world it’s hard to know which action has consequences. The answer is that they all do. The apple bought at the farmer’s market has a beneficial ripple effect from preventing sprawl to cutting carbon emissions.