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Archive for the ‘Not So Green Exposure’ Category

Today, four stories displayed next to each other, in the National section of the New York Times:

Boise Region Grapples With Smog, a Growing Threat

After years of growth and suburban development, the region that includes Boise and its suburbs, known as the Treasure Valley, is on the brink of violating federal clean air standards, and experts say the only real solution is one that might seem awfully un-Idahoan: persuading people to drive less.

List of Tainted Peanut Butter Items points to Complexity of Food Production

Tracking how the paste travels through the food supply can be challenging, because several companies can be involved in making the final food. For example, one manufacturer might coat the paste in chocolate and make a peanut butter cup, which is then sold to another company that mixes it into ice cream that may or may not also contain peanut butter. A grocery chain might buy that ice cream and sell it under a private label.

Environment Issues Slide In Poll of Public Concern

In the poll, released Thursday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, global warming came in last among 20 voter concerns; it trailed issues like addressing moral decline and decreasing the influence of lobbyists. Only 30 percent of the voters deemed global warming to be “a top priority,” compared with 35 percent in 2008. “Protecting the environment,” which had surged in the rankings from 2006 to 2008, dropped even more precipitously in the poll: only 41 percent of voters called it a top priority, compared with 56 percent last year.

Environment Blamed in Western Tree Deaths

Rising temperatures and the resulting drought are causing trees in the West to die at more than twice the pace they did a few decades ago, a new study has found. The combination of temperature and drought has also reduced the ability of the forests to absorb carbon dioxide, which traps heat and thus contributes to global warming, the authors of the study said, and has made forests sparser and more susceptible to fires and pests. 

A bit much to take, all at once . . . if you are at all concerned with what sustains us. Of course the one bright spot in this otherwise dire picture, is our new Commander-in-Chief, President Obama. I can feel his sense of urgency, and that gives me hope. 

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I got a sneak preview of Scientific American‘s Earth 3.0 special issue on ‘Solutions for Sustainable Progress’. Mostly great stuff, with the exception of one article, that prompted me to write this rebuttal.

In ‘Learning from the Internet’, Robert M. Metcalfe, venture capitalist and Internet pioneer,  expands on the dangerous idea that, 

I don’t think for a moment that we’re going to conserve our way out of the energy crisis. Internet history shows that prosperity depends on abundant bandwidth. Prosperity (gross domestic product, per capita) is proportional to energy use. We are not going to lower per capita consumptionof energy in the U.S. We are going to enable the rest of the world to be as prosperous by using not less but more energy. We need to make energy cheap, clean and therefore abundant – really abundant, for a really long time. 

Sounds familiar? This is the same kind of thinking endorsed in an earlier McKinsey study, and also to a lesser extent, by Al Gore in his Moon Shot Challenge speech.

Makes me mad. The average citizen is already confused enough. The last thing we need is more tenors in green tech and green biz to lull us into thinking that technology will get us out of our mess. Besides, I do not see what climate change has to do with the Internet. 

We need to get out of this pervasive either-or thinking. Energy conservation and new energy technologies are not mutually exclusive. Instead, they are meant to work together. One without the other will not work. It’s a matter of simple maths, and of mitigating our risks, in the unlikely event that technology does not deliver on all its promises. 

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I just came back from trip to Honolulu. For those of you who have been there, you probably noticed the spectacular old trees that stand tall all over the Hawaii capital. I certainly did. I also noticed the absence of new trees, and the long stretches of cement, with no shade to protect people from the scorching sun. Planting a tree is so simple, and such a great investment. So, how come the city officials in Honolulu, do not make the trees more of a priority? The big talk is about building a mass transit system, that would cost 3.7 billion dollars. The mayor has made it the main theme for his reelection campaign. That’s all good. And that’s no excuse for forgetting the trees. 

In my own city of Palo Alto, I have been remarking on the same problem, although to a lesser extent. Trees missing here and there, along tree lined streets, and no replacement in sight. Across the freeway, in East Palo Alto, the situation is even more blight. Hardly any trees. Its residents have other worries than planting trees, too busy they are to survive, and stay safe. 

I have been wondering for a while, what is it with the trees that makes them the forgotten child of environmental policies? Part of it is taking for granted what gives us so much, and asks so little in return. If tomorrow, the trees were removed from our urban landscapes, we would instantly notice, and plead to get the green giants back. 

Just when I thought I was done thinking about the trees, I get this mail from Glenn Pricket, the head of Conservation International:

“The CO2 emissions from deforestation are greater than the emissions from the world’s entire transportation sector-all the cars, trucks, planes, trains, and ships combined. Less forest cover means fewer acres of habitat for species, so they must move or adapt. Those that can survive; those that cannot, go extinct. … There have to be limits to how much and where we encroach on the natural world.” 

Call me clueless, but that is news to me. I had no idea trees in faraway places were this critical to our survival. And that is a problem. Our collective ignorance is doing a number on us.

I take issue with the clever tagline used in the Conservation International campaign. “Lost there, felt here” fails to capture the whole issue. I am not, you are not feeling it “here”. The challenge is how to translate this remote tragedy, into one that’s personally relevant to all the world citizens. More accurate would be “Lost there, problem for you”

Let’s face it, we are squandering away one of our most important natural capital. Today, I am asking you to take a few minutes, and claim your one acre of the tropical forest

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This parrot fish at the fish stand in Honolulu Chinatown looked too good, not to buy it.

After yesterday’s post, I just wonder how safe is it? How much of the chemicals from the pelagic plastic we found on the beach, have made their way into the flesh of the parrot fish?

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Landed in Honolulu. Couldn’t wait to take long walk on beach. As usual, such a treat, except for this:

Flickr - "meerar"

Credit: Flickr -"meerar"

Add a few dead fishes. And Prad and I had plenty of material for another depressing conversation. I told him about the work done by Algalita Marine Research Foundation, and their expeditions to the Garbage Patch in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.

If I hadn’t researched this before, I may even have missed the tiny plastics. Every time I visit the island, I am struck by the casual attitude of its inhabitants towards their environment. Trash not just on the beach, but also along hiking trails, roads, . . .

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Acqua naturale o gassata?‘ The waiter asked us with a smile. Our request for tap water was met with another smile, followed by a firm ‘no’. Too thirsty to pass, we gave in and were quickly served a one litter bottle of Italian mineral water.


Ten meals later, and a few more tries along the way, we have learned to no longer bother. We have adopted the Italian custom of drinking bottled water at every meal. 

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Over duck confit and sea trout, Prad and I engaged into a passionate conversation with Hong, the woman sitting next to us, at ‘Le Pied de Fouet’, one of my favorite little restaurants in the Latin Quarter. We quickly learned that Hong is involved in big carbon trading and energy deals all over the world.  Hong’s friend was listening quietly, then brought up her niece, a chemist. ‘My niece says global warming is a natural thing, and there is nothing we can do about it.‘ The chemist had been convincing enough, that Hong’s friend did not feel any urgency and took a passive stance towards climate change. ‘Have you heard of “An Inconvenient Truth”‘, Hong asked. No, her friend hadn’t, but she was willing to check it out. 

Climate deniers and their naive followers know no frontiers. The deniers are a hard bunch to reason with. Their followers, on the other hand only need to be shown the real truth, to understand.

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That show last night was pretty depressing!” Hubby Prad did not sleep well after watching ‘We Were Warned: Out of Gas‘, the latest in CNN’s Special Investigations Unit series. Neither did I. Listening to most of the comments in the show, you would never know we are at the brink of a planetary disaster. Hardly any mention of conservation. No, instead it is all about looking everywhere in search of yet more oil, no matter what the cost. Cost in dollars per barrel. And more importantly, cost to our future in terms of carbon emissions.

Never before has the addiction to oil metaphor been more apt. Big Oil is leaving no soil unturned, no ocean unprobed, to satisfy our need for our daily oil fix.

Now, here’s the part that really, really got to me, best conveyed in trailer for new movie, Pay Dirt:

Just when I thought  coal mountain top removal was as bad as it could get . . . 

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From Gary Peters, more food for thoughts:

Americans are clueless, and most politicians prefer to keep them that way.  James Kunstler put it more flamboyantly a short time ago, saying that “The fog of cluelessness that hangs over North America about the gathering global oil crisis and its ramifications seems to thicken by the hour.”  Not long ago I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Why is Our Oil under Their Soil?”  Though it cannot be found in our constitution, Americans assume that the right to cheap gasoline is one of those “unalienable rights” that they’ve read about but can’t quite remember where or when.
 
One question I like to ask Americans when they talk about oil is this:  When do you think oil production in the U.S. will reach a peak?  Most everyone guesses many years into the future, with five years from now being about the lowest figure that I’ve gotten in reply.  When you tell them it peaked in 1970 they are generally dumbfounded or think you are just kidding.
 
If you want to carry this a step farther, ask them what they think the population of the U.S. was in 1970–they probably won’t have a clue, but it allows you to point out to them that even though oil production peaked in the U.S. in 1970 and has declined ever since, we have subsequently added another 100 million people to the nation, which is one of the reasons that we so desperately need to import oil in huge quantities, no matter what.  In 2007 the U.S. consumed an average of 20,697,540 barrels of crude oil per day, but produced only 8,487,080–an average shortfall of more than 12 million barrels per day, which had to be imported.
 
When Senator McCain tells you that he wants the nation to be energy-independent, make sure that he can tell you how he is going to do that.  If we could double our production of crude oil, a physical impossibility no matter what stories you hear about ANWR or the California coast, we still would be far from oil independence.  Where is the straight talk?
 
Americans think of themselves as a fair people, but seem unbothered by the notion that though we have just under five percent of the world’s population, we consume about 25 percent of the world’s crude oil.  Even President Bush admitted that we were addicted to oil, though he never followed up on that statement or tried to cure us or at least to get us into rehab. 
 
When George W. Bush was sworn in as our 43rd President, on January 19, 2001, Brent crude was selling for $26.23 per barrel; this morning it was selling for $134.64.  As Robert Scheer recently noted, “No President has been more brilliant in destabilizing the politics of oil-producing countries from Venezuela to Russia and on to the key oil lakes of Iraq and Iran.
 
With the price of gas now above $4.00 across the U.S., people are finally beginning to feel the heat–we are not only a nation addicted to gas, we are a nation so dependent on it that we have seldom stopped to think about it.  Worse yet, it comes at a time when house prices are falling thanks to a pathetic runaway abuse of subprime mortgages and other unreal fiscal irregularities, which created first an amazing housing bubble and now a drastic removal of air from it.
 
With respect to the intertwined problems of global warming and our profligate use of fossil fuels, neither presidential candidate has stood up and told Americans the truth:  The lifestyle that we have today is not sustainable.  Energy expert Vaclav Smil noted recently that “Today there is no readily available non-fossil energy source that is large enough to be exploited on the requisite scale.” Richard Heinberg recently wrote that “Addressing the core of the problem means letting go of growth; in fact, it means engaging in a period  of controlled societal contraction characterized by a stable or declining population consuming at a per-capita level far lower than is currently taken for granted in the industrialized world.”  This message may be much closer to the truth than anything current politicians are saying, but we can’t remain in denial.  In 1949 Aldous Huxley wrote that “The human race is passing through a time of crisis, and that crisis exists, so to speak, on two levels–an upper level of political and economic crisis and a lower level crisis in population and world resources.”  Almost sixty years later his words still ring true, and we are still living in denial.

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Wal-Mart is getting in the online classifieds business. When I heard, I thought of it as maybe another one of their moves towards sustainability. What better than classifieds to encourage people to ‘Reduce-Reuse-Recycle‘! Then I went to the new site,

. . . and wondered if Wal-Mart‘ s intentions are as pure as I was initially led to believe. I understand the idea is in beta testing, and they may not be ready to fully integrate it into their main site. Still, this begs the question of will they? If not, they are lending their name to lure in the classifieds crowd to their main site, where of course, it is all about consuming, consuming, consuming.

For now, I am sticking to Craigslist, where citizens rule!

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