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.