Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Avatar: Where Men Win Glory

Today five Canadians were killed in Afghanistan:  four soldiers and a journalist.  That's 32 Canadians this year, 138 in total.  This is a timely post about a book on battles in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a movie on being invaded.  Both focus on an individual soldier on the field:  Pat Tillman, a real-life American who left a huge football contract in order to fight for his country, and Jake Sully, a fictional paraplegic marine sucked in to re-enlist to fulfill the dream of his dead twin brother. 

I saw the film Avatar, and then I read the book Where Men Win Glory, by Jon Krakauer, and the two have merged in my head so that I can't consider one without thinking of the other. Both are extraordinary and not to be missed.  My thoughts here are only slightly environmental, more philosophical, but it feels like not many people read this blog anyway providing me with the freedom of the un-read.  There are spoilers below, but nothing that would actually detract from either work....

Both Avatar and Where Men Win Glory hold up the soldier as the ideal man, question the actions nurtured by our democratic world view, and consider our fixation with progress.  But they come to significantly different conclusions.

At the beginning and ending of Krakauer's book, reference is made to an essay written by Fukuyama (later  turned into a book) which seeks to add some specifics to Nietzsche's analysis of modern man in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.  The gist is that capitalism makes men too satisfied with their lives; they become complacent.  Fukuyama says, "Men with modern educations were content to sit at home, congratulating themselves on their broadmindedness and lack of fanaticism."  Nietzsche mocks, "Thus you stick out your chests - but alas, they are hollow!"  These are the last men, the end of an evolving history, because there's no further antithesis and synthesis to come; they're just satisfied enough to stop trying.  They're hollow because their honour and status are not a product of victory or virtue, but of mere accumulation. The heroes of our day are IT guys on the other end of the phone and stores with a good supply of whatever people are clamoring for next.

Fukuyama ends his essay with this lament for conflict:  "The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one's life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands."

But we got bored of this already and started invading again. We're not allowed to colonize countries overtly anymore; we have to be sneakier about it.  But we're not going to stop just because we've got everything we need here at home.  We will never have enough.  It seems to me that this hardly marks the end of our evolution because the human condition in many parts of the world can't tolerate satisfaction or contentment, and we don't want to be equal or mediocre.  We need drama and status.  If it doesn't present itself, we'll create it.  We get distracted by religion and television and sports, but ultimately, we want more to life.  We want to create a name for ourselves, to be distinguished.  We get status through our stuff, but that race soon goes nowhere for many people.  We create opportunity for courage and strength through conflicts like going to war. 

Written twenty years ago, the Fukuyama essay seems oddly placed in the book as something for the author to argue against.  Krakauer's thesis is that there are still ubermensch out there, incredible people like Pat Tillman, those that fight for freedom and strive for excellence in all they do.  And he glorifies the alpha male quality of taking a calculated risk, balls out, for the betterment of society.

Tillman's an excellent example of the ubermensch, "virtuous, loyal, ambitious and outspoken, disdainful of religious dogma and suspicious of received wisdom, intensely engaged in the hurly-burly of the real world...passionate - a connoisseur of both the highest joys and the deepest sorrows," (343) but for one exception.  He recognized that he wasn't really in Iraq for a just cause:  "....we have little or no justification other than our imperial whims....[but we have] willingly allowed ourselves to be pawns in this game and will do our job whether we agree with it or not."  He didn't want to be part of the Iraq invasion, but resigned himself to take orders to get that thrill of the challenge and of the fight.  He made a commitment to the army, and he was determine to uphold it even though it took a wrong turn for a while - even though it was clearly unjust to him.  Nietzsche's overman would not follow orders to do something against his own principles.  That  misses the whole point as Nietzsche cautioned, "He who cannot obey himself will be commanded." (II 12) 

Jake Sully, by contrast, gets into the fight, recognizes the war he signed up for is corrupt, and he switches teams.  He's clearly a traitor, yet his part is played as a hero.  Avatar is an important and significant film because it holds more than just the war-is-bad message of many movies previous.  This movie presents a new morality:  killing your Colonel and comrades is totally cool when their mission is unjust.  In fact, it's the only right thing to do.  And you'll be rewarded with life-long love of a beautiful woman, community respect and acceptance, and blue skin.  Sully is the real ubermensch here.  

Fukuyama further posits that, "There is no question but that the world's most develop countries are also its most successful democracies."   I challenge this assertion with ideas from another character mentioned repeatedly throughout Krakauer's book:  Noam Chomsky.  The US is not a democracy wherein the people get a say in how they are governed.  It's a surreptitious dictatorship that has craftily made people believe that they are free to do as they like by filtering the media in such a way as to manufacture the consent of the people.  Citizens think they have the knowledge to make informed choices, but that knowledge has been largely tainted by big business.  Krakauer does a remarkable job of reporting, in a very readable way, the many ways one of the most democratic governments in the world blantantly misleads the public in order to get support for an illegal invasion. 

Chomsky directly addressed Fukuymama's essay; he mainly exposed the worldwide free market tragedies that were a result of American victories to show how far we have to go to get to this stage of the last man. (Naomi Klein does that in more detail in Shock Doctrine.)  We're not fully evolved until everyone's satisfied, and if you focus on the victims of our exploits, that's a long way off.

Avatar takes that focus immersing us in the Na'vi culture as they are being invaded by humans who want to mine some rare and highly profitable substance found only on their planet.  It's the story of the cacao plantations in the Ivory Coast, or the coltan in the Congo, or the diamonds in Sierra Leone.  We want our chocolate, cell phones and shiny things, and we'll get them as cheaply as we can at the expense of cultures, childhoods, limbs and lives.  The people in the movie hope to negotiate with the Na'vi, but there's nothing these creatures want.  They're content.  So the humans are "forced" to use violence to get what they want.  Same as it ever was.

Societies that have been content to stay put, to end progress at the basic agrarian stage and not proceed further, could mark the end of history instead of the capitalist era being the final summit.  Because we've moved from one to the other isn't a confirmation that this is the final stage, but merely as far as we can see for now.  Movies like Avatar indicate a longing for that less technological natural life, a Shangri-La; the very animal drive to make our own homes by hand and find our own food might bring us to a different final stage.  But we can't get there if the primitives keep getting invaded by the moderns.     

It seems almost inevitable that we have two types of cultures, the satisfied accepting and the discontent striving.  And the satisfied get invaded over and over rarely able to defend itself because it puts more energy in community than military needs, or because it trusts people and accepts their gifts of smallpox-laden blankets, or because it succumbs to materialist greed from the offer of goods from the invaders like liquor and guns. In Avatar, the Na'vi are rare in that they really don't get sucked into covetous behaviour.  But their first mistake was trusting the enemy, and their second was using spears against machine guns.  If the wildlife hadn't joined the fight, they would have been toast.  Woodland creatures saving the day is a familiar out:  ants separate grain for Psyche, mice help Cinderella make a dress, elves make shoes all night, etc.  We need reminding that we have to work with the forest to survive ourselves and that "lesser" creatures have a purpose and value we don't always see.
Avatar is  Lost Horizon meets FernGully: the Last Rainforest*. The plot is the story of  FernGully in which a fairy, Crysta, meets up with Zak, a human who is helping to demolish the rainforest.  She puts a spell on him to shrink him down to fairy size, they fall in love, and once Zak sees the beauty and interconnectedness of the forest, he vows to save it from his own people.  Sound familiar?  But thematically it's Lost Horizon:  the  science/religion argument has evolved into a technology/nature debate, but the east/west aggression/acceptance passion/calm act/contemplate duels are still the same.

The High Lama of Lost Horizon, written in 1933, explains how Shangri-La came to be:

"I saw all the nations strengthening, not in wisdom, but in the vulgar passions and the will to destroy. I saw the machine power multiplying, until a single weaponed man might match a whole army. I foresaw a time when man, exalting in the technique of murder, would rage so hotly over the world, that every book, every treasure, would be doomed to destruction. This vision was so vivid and so moving, that I determined to gather together all things of beauty and of culture that I could, and preserve them here, against the doom toward which the world is rushing. Look at the world today. Is there anything more pitiful? What madness there is! What blindness! What unintelligent leadership! A scurrying mass of bewildered humanity, crashing headlong against each other, propelled by an orgy of greed and brutality. A time must come my friend, when this orgy will spend itself. When brutality and the lust for power must perish by its own sword. Against that time, is why I avoided death, and am here. And why you were brought here. For when that day comes, the world must begin to look for a new life. And it is our hope that they may find it here. For here, we shall be with their books and their music, and a way of life based on one simple rule: Be Kind! When that day comes, it is our hope that the brotherly love of Shangri-La will spread throughout the world. Yes, my son; When the strong have devoured each other, the Christian ethic may at last be fulfilled and the meek shall inherit the earth."

It happened that way in Avatar, but the movie left me depressed because, really, they wouldn't win. The meek don't win in this world because the strong don't devour each other; they make allies and bludgeon the weak together. The creatures would have been destroy completely, and any animal that didn't hide from the commotion would have been obliterated too. Scorched earth.  That's what we do best.

We are obsessed with progress.  And it's not just enough that we reach the highest peaks ourselves, we insist the entire world should come with us, should be like us.  Krakauer laments that Afghanistan hasn't changed significantly since it emerged as a nation in 1741.  Typically our obsession has been largely with a progress that fixates on technology, not morality, as we overtake people we call primitive.  But the recent battles have been centered on how people think, not how they live.

Afganistan is an advanced societies ravaged by civil wars.  Much of the citizens follow a Pashtun morality of Pashtunwali which focuses on honour and insists on revenge not unlike Aristotle's ethics.  It's not such a bad system, except revenge is in wait for the U.S. right now.  It's a personal issue bin Laden has with specific leaders, but he plans to enact revenge on the country, not the people.  This isn't an act Aristotle or Pashtunwali would condone. Pat Tillman had an incident in which he took revenge on the wrong guy, and he was immediately remorseful. Yet bin Laden also, at least in part, exemplifies Nietzsche's ubermensch.  Perhaps the ubermensch is not something to glorify.  It puts individual principles ahead of the needs of the community.  It puts passion ahead of caring.  It cares more for the will to power of the strong than the survival of the lesser creatures. 

Chomsky's rebuttal of Fukuyama closes with an address to the western world spoken by Father Ignacio Ellacuria shortly before he was assassinated by elite government forces in San Salvador in November 1989:

"You have organized your lives around inhuman values. These values are inhuman because they cannot be universalized. The system rests on a few using the majority of the resources, while the majority can't even cover their basic necessities. It is crucial to define a system of values and a norm of living that takes into account every human being."  

Chomsky adds, "In our dependencies, such thoughts are subversive and can call forth the death squads. At home, they are sometimes piously voiced, then relegated to the ashcan in practice. Perhaps the last words of the murdered priests deserve a better fate. "

*Apparently, ...meets Dances With Wolves, which I've never seen. 

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Eco Housework: Any Takers?

There's a new way to avoid housework now: "I'd do it, but not if I have to be all environmental about it!" Eco-laziness is the new learned helplessness. Well, in my family anyway....

"I'd do the laundry all the time if I could just put it all in the dryer." I am a bit fanatical about the dryer because it's the biggest unessential power-hog in the house. (I think the fridge is essential.) I keep it around for the wet bed and blankets in the middle of the night in the middle of winter washing that still happen occasionally. We have a tiny bathroom, but I found a way to hang laundry in there: big stuff on closet bars and small stuff on a rack in a closet. Nobody's as pleased as I am about this. Curious.

"I'd take out the garbage if I could just shove it all in a bag and walk it to the curb." Apparently, I'm the only person to my family's knowledge who sorts garbage. I live in an environmentally-intense neighbourhood, so I find that hard to buy. I put the garbage (mixed materials like plastic attached to foil, and styrofoam only) at the back of the under sink cupboard to make it harder to use it as a dumping ground. The composter, green bin (meat, cheese, kleenex), and bag of bags all go in front. Many people don't realize we can recycle plastic bags in the blue box, but we can. I have a sign on the cupboard door telling people what goes where, but I still end up explaining it every day, or they just leave stuff on the counter for me to figure out later. It's not rocket-science people!

"I'd totally mow the lawn if we had a gas mower, or clear the walk with a snowblower, or rake with a leaf blower." First of all, leaf blowers should be outlawed for being the most inefficient and obnoxious way to move leaves and dirt around. And this is all good exercise in the great outdoors, right?

"I'd do all the dishes if we had a dishwasher." Some people still think dishwashers are more environmental than hand washing because of this study. They looked at how the average European washes dishes and found dishwashers use less water and electricity. But I'm not average, and you don't have to be either. I wash dishes at home the way I was taught to do camping which takes about 1-2" of water in the bottom of our small sink. And I use cool-ish water. To be hygienic enough to stop food-borne illness, Health Media Lab insists the type of soap and the temperature of water don't matter as much as the rubbing. Scrub the dishes, sink, counters and your hands with mild soap and warm water. Some further issues with the study: For the average person, the dishwasher uses less soap, but the soap it uses is much harsher for the water system. It takes a lot of resources to make each automatic dishwasher whereas I came pre-assembled. And the Bonn study project partners were dishwasher manufacturers. Need I say more.

"I'd volunteer if I could get a ride there." I grew up with eight people and a pink Volkswagon Beetle. Mom didn't drive us anywhere. But nobody's mom did, so it wasn't an issue. If you want to take lessons or go to a friend's place, you have to get there yourself. But I also remember quitting piano because I got attacked by kids as I walked home alone every week. I tell my kids to walk in groups.

Driving, dishwashers, dryers....: they all save a bit of time, but how fast do we need to move? I have the best conversations with the kids doing dishes or while we're walking home from the grocery store. And don't get me wrong, I'm dead lazy. I don't own a vacuum cleaner or an iron. I'd always rather read than clean, so if I can muster the time to do it, surely others can too. It's easier for me, perhaps, because I see the rewards so much more clearly than the punishments: the lower electricity bill, the fresh air, the camaraderie of working together...

After watching No Impact Man together, I think I've been able to convince my guy to do a couple things: turn off the computer (and power bar) when he's not using it, and use a travel mug. Not only will the travel mug be great for the environment, it'll save me from kicking away all the non-recyclable Tim's cups from my feet whenever I'm a passenger in his car. Teenagers are a different hurdle.

Part of the problem in our world is what we consider acceptable cleanliness. We have an obsession with the immaculate. It's much easier to be an environmentalist if we lower our standards of cleanliness. If we can tolerate or even learn to appreciate that little stain on our shirt, or the few lines of grass that keep hiding from the push mower, or how the sunlight is filtered through the cats' nose-spots on the windows, then we can get a lot more reading done.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Meaningful Agreement!!

Okay, it might not be much, but it's something! The U.S., China, India, and South Africa reached a meaningful agreement today. I was hopeful, yet really expecting pretty much nothing. So something happened, we don't know the details, and apparently Canada wasn't involved. Stay tuned for more updates!
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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

No Impact Man Comments

Comment below if you've seen the movie. Let us know what you thought!

ETA: Come to my house, Tues. Dec. 22, 8:30, to see the movie!

I just got home from our premiere showing....

First of all, ON THE EXPERIENCE of hosting an international film premiere: We wanted to make the event as low-impact as possible. We bought cloth hankies to sell instead of using paper napkins. We got non-waxed, 100% post-consumer waste, recyclable paper bags to fill with popcorn. And we sold Jones Soda which uses real sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup which is in almost every other kind of "juice drink" and pop.

I expected to get the movie last week sometime, and I started e-mailing nervous notes to the organizers every night since Friday. Last night they e-mailed to say they FedExed me another copy of the movie to my home. That was great, except the film was supposed to come with extra copies and books we could sell to re-coup the cost of the film. No great loss. Today I got home to find a FexEx note on my doorknob, but instead of the usual "you weren't home, come pick it up at the nearest post office" kind of note, it said they'd come back to try delivering it again the NEXT DAY!

People were coming at 7:00 to see this movie, about three hours from then, and I really hate to disappoint. I called FedEx a bit flustered, and they said I could pick my package up from their main office after Cambridge. Did I mention I don't have a car? Google maps says it would be about a four hour walk. So I had to compromise the low-impact thing by getting a cab to get the movie to me. It finally arrived at 6:45.

ETA:  I just got the package I was supposed to receive December 16th - I'm writing this on December 31st.  I'm glad I didn't wait for the package to show the movie. Go U.S. postal service!

While we were waiting for the film and patrons to arrive, we got the popcorn ready. We didn't want to use microwavable popcorn because it's highly toxic. It's pretty much like scraping the teflon off a pan and eating it with melted butter and salt. See this video if you need more convincing. We typically eat Smart Popcorn, which is crap, but not toxic crap, so I haven't popped popcorn since I was a kid. I was pretty sure I still had the skills necessary for the job.

I was wrong. I shook that pot until I was hot and sweaty and nothing popped. I had to pass the job on and take a break. I remember that rush when it finally starts popping, but I didn't remember that it takes a good twenty minutes. We got out our bags to start filling and ended up with one bag worth of popcorn and lots of unpopped kernels. I know there's a technique to it, but we didn't have time for me to figure it out. So our low impact hopes took another hit as I ran to the store for big bags of chips to re-bag and sell. The grease from the chips immediately soaked into the paper bags, but the effect wasn't overly disturbing.

The Facebook Event page said we could expect thirty confirmed guests and 105 maybes (which are really just people too polite to say no). Well, about half of the confirmed were unavailable for the evening after all. We made enough money to pay for the film's cab fare and about a quarter of the cost of viewing rights. Damn independent films! I don't think I'll be hosting another film anytime soon.

ON THE FILM - **spoilers galore**: I love this movie. I think I'll try to host another viewing in my living room over the holidays and maybe get my OneEarth club to watch it after school one day since only one person from the club could actually make it out tonight. We really should have shown it last week in the library instead of waiting for the one night we could get the auditorium. But then there's no way we would have had the film by last week!

Colin and Michelle are a very real couple, but also very reasonable people. The film didn't just show the crazy stuff they were willing to do, it got to the heart of and tried to understand many issues to do with activism in general:

* Colin was seen as an extremist hurting the cause - a loony fanatic. He was slammed by environmentalists for making them look bad. Instead of showing how easy it is to be environmental, he was shoving a bigger reality in their face - that we're consumer junkies hooked on crap, and we'll do anything to avoid seeing that for what it is. People will fight to maintain this addiction. Be warned.

* Michelle was obviously really hurt by how much people hated them for this experiment. "Why do they hate us so much?" she asked several times. There are few social rewards for doing what's right. Anytime someone acts with integrity, goes an extra mile, it makes the rest of us look bad. They're deviants for refusing to fit in with the status quo. We have to hate them to maintain balance in the system we're all sucked into to relieve ourselves of cognitive dissonance. Either that or we have to change our lives. Hmmm...

* Michelle, we find out near the end, writes for a business magazine supporting all the capitalist consumerism that got into this mess in the first place. When confronted with this irony, Colin is forced to look at his efforts on a larger scale than just cutting back personal consumption.

*The grief that Michelle expresses for losing her wants, that she missed that part of herself, is an important part of the transition to be seen. Even when we're improving, any change is hard, and it leaves behind something we'll miss even if we hated it when it was part of us. But after she struggled for months with the project, the best part was watching Colin hit a wall, and Michelle laugh out loud. I felt so badly for her at the beginning because Colin's disdain was palpable.

* Michelle's epiphany at the farm is a whole other post.

* Beyond the environment, their relationship was lovely to watch. I never showed my students the film Garbage after I bought it for just that purpose because I couldn't stand the bickering between the couple. These two don't bicker; they discuss intelligently. That's rare to see on the big screen. But in Michelle's quest for a baby, when Colin finally gets that she needs her desires supported too, I was surprised that he didn't once mention the environmental impact of having kids. Maybe that would have been hitting below the belt, but most environmentalists see the population explosion as the number one problem. This raises the conundrum many couples face at one time or another: what do you do when your dreams are oppositional? I don't think it was just that he was so into his project he forgot to pay attention to his wife's project - and I love how she convinced him to get rid of the pots - that makes "I'm willing to discuss it" as far as he would go for some time, but that her goal of a second child is antithetical to his goal of being no impact. Then what do you do?

I'm still working on convincing my guy to turn off the power bar to the computer so all the little red lights go out at night. Baby steps.

After the film, we had a short discussion. Students commented mainly on the missing steps in Colin's plan. The first comments were about wanting to see them make it through winter without electricity. They stopped the project in November, and Michelle seemed to spend most of her time under a comforter. Colin shunned electricity and fossil fuels, but wait, didn't he use the stove? Some were concerned with breathing in all the candle smoke. I'm pretty sure they were beeswax which isn't a problem in that sense, BUT what about all those matches? Ah HA! And they have a dog nobody mentions. Is it a vegetarian dog? And what did they do with the dog poop? Did it end up with the worms? Is that why they got flies? And how come nobody ever mentioned hot water? I think they had some!! They were showering, the buggers! Colin and Michelle weren't extreme enough for this crowd.

I was particularly impressed that they changed to cloth diapers with a toddler. First of all, it's hugely impressive to me that they did this with a kid mainly because all my excuses hinge on my children. "If I didn't have kids, I wouldn't have any garbage." That sort of thing. And I had all my kids in cloth diapers but since birth. I never knew any differently. To be used to disposables then switch takes this commitment to a whole other level. Most people were struck by the lack of toilet paper, but much of the world does without just fine - some use a cloth, and a good 30 or 40% of the world use their hand.

Colin's message at the end hit me. He posited what to do if you can only do one thing for the environment. I was guessing in my head, "eat less meat." And I was so engrossed in my obvious rightness, I barely heard him say, "Volunteer with a local environmental group." Nothing will happen until we re-engage with community. Hence, a neighbourhood viewing is a must! Pass it on.

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Only 48 Hours Left

It's almost 8 a.m. here, but it's two in the afternoon in Copenhagen. Yesterday protesters announced a mass rally would take place, and today, the morning news announced protesters were tear gassed, and they're not letting any other groups in including Friends of the Earth, who arrived to find their badges were no longer valid. The Prime Minister stepped in as head of the summit - a procedural move they say.

One of the main issues jamming the process is how much wealthier countries will help out poorer countries. Generally the developed countries have raped the land of the 3rd world, and left a mess behind. The G-77 want them to pay for the clean up. One of the problems, though, is that China's included in the poorer countries.

Obama is confident that an agreement will be reached. He's a make-it-happen kind of guy, so my money (and hope) is on a deal being finalized.

London's mayor says the green message has to sound less "miserable", in an effort not to "depress" people. "We've got to explain that a lot of the things we can do will actually be good for us and good for our economy and cut our bills and make life actually better to live." They're giving grants to make homes more energy-efficient. Well, it's a start.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Spoof Announcement

A very convincing looking press release was issued today as if it came from Canada. It followed the IPCC directives on climate change reduction - 40% of 1990 by 2020, and 80% by 2050, AND it had a schedule of foreign aid related to environmental needs. Unfortunately it's just a joke.

h/t De Smog Blog

that's it
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CO2 as a Pollutant

A point of clarification: The word pollution is similar in use to the word weed. It's really just something we don't want. Both words describe contaminants that we try to eradicate or at least put the brakes on.....

Anything can be a weed. I actually plant clover in my lawn even though some people choose to dig it out. And sometimes a plant that I really like becomes a weed when it flourishes beyond my wildest expectations. Peppermint and ivy are two of my favourites. The peppermint is contained in the boulevard, so that's doing okay. But the ivy has completely taken over my front garden. I can't cut it back fast enough.

Many people insist we're all up in arms about nothing because CO2 isn't a pollutant. We need it to live. As much as I like ivy, as soon as it takes over another groups of plantings, it's officially a weed, and I get rid of it. Carbon dioxide is a pollutant as soon as it is in quantities that harms more than it helps. Right now there's so much CO2 that it's trapping the heat around the planet, and that's harming us. Even though we need it and it's good for us, it's flourishing in quantities greater than is healthy for the world, so we have to find ways to cut it back before it completely destroys our garden.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Dollar Store Costs

I went into a dollar store today for the first time in ages. The smell assaulted my sinuses immediately - all those crappy scented candles and room deodorizers. And why do the lights always blink in there. Is it an intentional means to encourage people to be on their way, to speed shop? Do they just need to tighten a connection? It's lucky nobody had a seizure....

I needed to buy some little handkerchiefs, the kind I could easily pick up from a garage sale, but it's the wrong season for that. We're showing No Impact Man on Wednesday night, and we're trying to do it with as little impact as possible. We're popping organic corn by shaking a pot over a stovetop, and using 100% recycled paper bags for the pop corn. But we need napkins. Instead of paper napkins, we decided to buy some cloth ones that people could buy for a quarter and keep to use over and over again. We're trying to be trend-setters here.
I would have cut up old receiving blankets to use instead, but people are stuck on new, and I figured nobody would be willing to wipe their hands on used flannel. Baby steps.

I found some for four for a dollar in different colours. They're perfect except, ironically, they came wrapped in plastic. So the total waste output is I think slightly worse than if we used the paper napkins, but it'll be better in the long run if people keep using them and are seen using them and inspire others to use them. That's what I'm going on anyway, so I bought by hankies and high-tailed it out of there.

The Price of a Bargain, by Canadian Gordon Laird, devotes a section to the "Dollar-Store Nation." Apparently, " 2003, roughly 49% of all American households with incomes of more than $70,000 regularly shopped in dollar stores." At least I'm in good company. But, for better or worse, it's all coming to an end as global power shifts to China. We've outsourced our jobs there because the labour was cheap. As they raise their wages, so far 20% increase in 2008 (279), we'll be saying good-bye to all those deals. And you gotta know that, "...some Chinese manufacturers still resort to with-holding wages, illegal working conditions, and child labour to meet the low-cost demands of export markets" (108). Melamine-flavoured milk anyone?

Actually, the melamine wasn't isolated to baby formula: "It has also been found in candy in several Connecticul stores, pretzels in Toronto, and instand coffee in B.C. - the coffee had melamine levels three times those of China's contaminated formula" (251). Another good reason to buy fair trade coffee.

On Apple manufacturing in Shenzhen, Laird says: "There is no other place on the planet that can reliably manufacture and broadcast millions of high-value products and still manage to pass along a healthy profit to Western companies" (107). BlackBerrys are still manufactured locally, by the way. I don't own any cell-phones or iPods; I don't even have a transistor radio. We can fight the push to fit in by owning whatever everyone else owns. It hurts the economy if we don't buy crap, but the economic system we're using is messed-up anyway.

Laird was interviewed in the Globe and Mail this weekend. He gave a good sound-bite that sums up the problem:

"The Achilles heel of our system is that it needs open, liberalized trade relationships, cheap energy and able, hungry consumers. And all of these things are being challenged as we speak. I don't think the consumers this year will show up for consumer duty in the mass numbers that we've seen in recent years."

Then he posited an analogy between running out of consumers and running out of oil. They both cause a downward spiral. We're stuck in a globalization gone mad without an exit strategy.

"The fundamentals of growth - cheap credit, offshore labour, affordable energy, and transport - will be depleted or become unavailable during the 21st century. This web of interdependence will not unravel itself gracefully: there is no going back to normal, no rewind or reboot on global trade" (7).

Beyond the facts and figures carefully researched and compiled, Laird's willingness to accept the burden of caring about a world full of people in crisis comes through in his writing. Remember Spiderman's motto: With great power comes great responsibility? That's a good line, and now we need a good superhero to reign this in for us.

Barring that unlikelihood, Laird concludes, "Sometimes things happen just because of deep inertia, not because change isn't possible. We are habituated to patterns: grocery shopping, foraging for deals, aspiring to better gadgets. There is nothing to suggest that we can't change this in favour of competitive conservation or extreme local commerce. Like energy efficiency, it's hard to imagine why we haven't done it sooner" (294).

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The Partridge Family Energy Plan

Remember that Partridge Family episode back in 1974 where they entered a contest to use less energy? Danny read the meter wrong and suddenly they realized if they didn't make drastic changes, their names would be in the newspaper under the label Energy Hogs. How embarrassing! No more blow dryers or electric toothbrushes for them as they scrambled to reduce energy. I always wondered where they got that six-person bike to do groceries with, and why they didn't realize car use wouldn't be calculated into their home energy usage. I'll never know.

But more to the point, recent studies have discovered that people will change their behaviour in order to keep up with their neighbours, and this tidbit can be used to curb GHG emissions...

We know three pertinent things about how people act, and psychologists have coined fancy terms to explain them. 1. Psychological Distance: We are horrible at judging the importance of distant events relative to our own lives. Plato and I call that an inability to measure. 2. System Justification: We love the status quo and will fight to defend it. We just want to keep on doing whatever we're doing. I prefer to call it inertia. 3. Finite Pool of Worry: We can only worry about so many things at once. Environmentalism typically peaks when the economy's on the upswing and people have more time and headspace to think of something outside their own little box of troubles. It's peaking now because it has to. But talk about bad timing. I call this behaviour self-absorbed. Sometimes it's necessarily the case that we focus on ourselves at the expense of the community, but if we're busy researching which iPod or BlackBerry to buy with the furnace at 23 and all the lights on, that's a different case. (Hint: Only buy electronics that will guarantee their coltan isn't from the Congo.)

Researchers say the best way to overcome these obstacles is to tap into the powerful desire to be like our neighbours only a little bit better. We are ruled by status anxiety. The Partridges figured this out 25 years ago! Maybe we'll pay attention this time.

In one 2007 study researchers hung four different flyers on doorknobs and monitored electrical use. One said to conserve energy to save the environment. One said save energy to be socially responsible. One focused on saving money. And one said that the majority of your neighbours are already doing it. Only the last flyer had any effect.

How do we jump on that bit of datum? In Arlington, the power company sends sheets that compare each customer's power usage to their neighbours with similar sized houses, and offer tips for catching up. Brilliant! It's personal transparency. If we think others will find out we're energy hogs, we'll scramble to get on board with the new and improved way of living.

And Mayors are getting on board already working towards making their cities the cleanest, fighting for that status as a eco-city. It's great that all the big-wigs are in Copenhagen, but we also need a bottom-up approach unique to each city. Write your local Mayor and energy company to make it a reality.

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Climate Change Truthiness

A few people out there are working really hard to educate the masses about climate change, yet The Record's letters to the editor are still full of concerns that we're going to waste a ton of money unnecessarily since climate change is obviously not really happening. Look how cold it is outside today! We need to spend more time doing more studies to find the Truth...

It was years ago that the common vernacular was changed from global warming to climate change precisely because people were making this very error. They'd look outside at the snow and balk at the idea that the globe is warming. But a name change is not enough. To convince people that there is a tragedy in our midst and the solution will necessitate an inconvenient change in the way we live, you pretty much have to hit them over the head with the facts because nobody wants to believe it's true.

There was a psych study that found, "...if someone set out to draw up a problem that people would not care would look exactly like climate change." They call the fact that people focus on the immediate gains of today and lose sight of very long term planning "psychological distance": "...there's a sense that this is a problem for somebody else or some other time." Almost 2,500 years ago Plato noticed the same common human malady, but he called it an inability to measure, and he insisted teaching the skill of measurement, recognizing that distance (time or place) doesn't decrease the importance of issues even though it appears to, should be the focus of curriculum in every school. I'm not sure it's a teachable skill, but that's a post for another day.

Jeffrey Simpson pointed out that "...even a senior minister in the Harper government stated as fact that the atmosphere was cooler today than in 1998, the inference being that climate change was a hoax...." The weather oscillates all the time, but climate changes very slowly. We can't just look at the last ten years to find a trend; we have to look at the world over the past several hundred years to notice that things are dramatically different in our atmosphere.

And, he continued, that the Arctic is changing faster than anyone predicted. We once thought an ice-free Arctic would be the result if we keep on doing what we're doing for about 100 years. Now we're down to 30. Less ice means less reflection of the sun, which means warmer land, and more melting, and a rapid release of gases trapped in the ice. Michael Healey adds that, even worse, there's billions of tonnes of methane gas locked in the permafrost (a misnomer we now know), and methane is 30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Yikes!

Thomas Homer-Dixon and Andrew Weaver had a half-page spread responding to the skeptics. They hit the four big issues of contention: 1. global warming has stopped, 2. warming is due to the sun's radiation, 3. the climate is always changing, and 4. scientific uncertainty is so great we shouldn't make any policies yet. To steal from the creepy future spirit of A Christmas Carol: Beware them all, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this last one, for on its brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.

I like that line so much it's in bold and italics! It's especially fitting because the one to be feared the most is ignorance. If we decide not to act until we have everybody convinced that this is a problem, it will be too much of a problem to act on anymore, and we will be doomed.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Copenhagen Update

Here's a collection of news articles and info I found most interesting:

Most Exciting Related News: David Suzuki Video Contest

The OneEarth video is one of five winners!

Most Intriguing: Climategate

I keep trying to post comments at YouTube to respond to other comments, but they aren't showing up. The climategate issue is one I've been trying to debate. Here's some links that clarify the issue quite well I think: Deltoid, a science blog, on the code issue, and Real Climate who points out, "More interesting is what is not contained in the emails. There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to ‘get rid of the MWP’, no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no ‘marching orders’ from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords. The truly paranoid will put this down to the hackers also being in on the plot though."

Because Phil Jones resigned temporarily does not prove he's guilty. He's stepping aside pending the investigation. Because they got more research money in the past few years for doing climate research does not prove that they fudged documents to increase their research documents. Those are classic ad hominem circumstantial fallacies. Because it's beneficial to take a certain stance doesn't prove that he's falsifying data in order to take advantage of those benefits, it might provide a motive, but no body.

And in case people are still wondering, 1,700 scientists in the U.K. formally backed the theory that climate change is caused by human activity.

Runner Up: The Danish Text or Climate Debt

A Danish proposal that was leaked to the media suggests that, "...emissions from developed nations should be reduced by 80 percent by 2050 compared to 1990 levels." It recognizes that the developed countries are the problem, and we will have to tighten our emission belts far more quickly than the developing world. In his book Heat, George Monbiot suggested a 90% decrease and a very thorough plan to get there. It's do-able, and it won't kill us, but it will be highly inconvenient. It involves lots of renewable energy, wind, water, and solar, and more efficient appliances and vehicles, and less driving, and way fewer plane trips. There's a whole chapter on grocery stores and the massive energy loss that could very easily be stopped with insulated closed doors on the freezers. And more attention must be paid to better ways to heat homes.

Gwynne Dyer agrees. He uses a slave analogy: "You can’t say let’s reduce slavery, let’s find a compromise and reduce it 50 per cent or 40 per cent.” It has to be let's stop oil and coal subsidies and turn our attention to renewables. But, he continues, "Almost everybody involved knows what the one really fair and effective deal would look like, although they feel doomed to settle for something much worse." The rich countries, that would be us, have to take the deepest cuts - far deeper than Harper's proposed 20% of 2006 levels by 2020 along with a cap and trade system.
(This is another bit of news - Canada's the only one who's using 2006 as the base. That equates to about 3% from 1990 levels - the base everyone else is using. Oh Canada.)

Naomi Klein also agrees in Rolling Stone - but unlike Gwynne, who thinks the summit won't do anything, Klein thinks it's the optimum place to get everyone involved:
"...a chance to seize the political terrain back from business-friendly half-measures." I agree. And really, what else have we got to work with?

Here's an excellent primer on the cap and trade system by the people who brought us The Story of Stuff:

And In Canada....

The big debate is whether or not carbon emission debt should be equalized or if Alberta should have to cut back the most because they're creating the most.

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Day Two

This is the hottest decade on record according to the World Meteorological Association. Nigel Lawson can keep on telling himself that it's not continuing to warm, that we've peaked and are holding. But how long will the hold pattern last? Maybe a decade, with warming increasing rapidly after that. Yikes.

Obama declared that GHGs are harmful to human health. This is important because it means the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can order emission cuts without approval from congress.

See for live coverage of the day-to-day events taking place during the conference.

The Mayor of Copenhagen sent postcards to hotels asking delegates to refrain from having sex with prostitutes during the conference: "be sustainable, don't buy sex." I'm not sure how sex is unsustainable; it seems to have sustained us for millennia without affecting the climate, but the sex workers have turned the campaign to their advantage by offering one free service to anyone who brings in a postcard.

And the OneEarth video has been entered in David Suzuki's video contest. Vote here for "KCI sends a video letter to the Prime Minister."

That's it!
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Thursday, December 3, 2009

More Green Bin Concerns

France Gelinas, an NDP MPP, wrote a letter to the editor of the Globe and Mail on Ontario's proposed new green bin guidelines that "...would allow sewage sludge laden with pharmaceuticals, pathogens, heavy metals and flame retardants to be mixed in with so-called 'A-grade' compost and spread fields." (Sorry I can't find a link to the letter.)

Organic food is still organic if it's sprayed with sludge, so there's no easy way to make sure your food is clean. I'll be washing my produce more consistently now, but that won't remove all the potential toxins that we're going to grow the food in...

I know people now who used to compost in their backyard, but now prefer the convenience of the green bin, and pay for compost each spring instead of digging up their own for free. People love how easy it is; they love that it all goes away every week. I don't know how to get people to see the bigger system it's all a part of - until someone gets sick. Even then it has to be someone close to home and preferably young before people will be moved to action. Otherwise we think we can adapt to anything. I'm not so sure.

How badly do we need to divert meat waste and animal feces from the landfill that we're willing to do this to ourselves? If the green bin was just to hold waste from food that grows (no meat or dairy), then it really would be great on farm fields. Bury the meat and shit with the blister packs and candy wrappers. Or better, make blister packs and laminated foil illegal as packaging. That would divert a ton by volume.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

How Lucky Do You Feel....Punk?!

I went to the Munk Debate on climate change tonight, and I even got a few seconds on CTV news (with another video plug) talking about the importance of the issue.

The question for debate, in a nutshell, "Is climate change the most important issue in the world right now?" The players: On the pro side: Elizabeth May and George Monbiot - I finally know how to pronounce his name (Mon-bee-oh - I previously always made him sound French). On the con side: Bjorn Lomborg and Nigel Lawson....

Oh, Elizabeth. She's hilarious, and I love her
passion, but Bjorn got the best of her, and the moderator cut her mic at one point while her arms were still flailing. The worst part of that is it's the stereotypical hysterical woman or, maybe worse, the stereotypical Canadian politician who feels free to lose composure in parliament. Not so good for our side - of the ocean, of the sexes, or of the debate. She had some of the best points, a great variety of facts at her fingertips with sources to back them up, but I'm afraid they'll not be what people most remember.

The debate itself was problematic because Bjorn doesn't seem such a denier. He was the weakest link academically and logically using ad hominems and straw man fallacies, but he was of the people in a t-shirt and jeans, admitting that he doesn't know all the fancy words others were using. That will get him lots of points with the general public. He threw out a few claims without backing them up, and having read lots on the topic, they really were out of left field. But, unfortunately, for anyone who isn't reading books on the environment in every waking moment, the information was presented with enough confidence that it appeared compelling. For the purposes of the debate, he had a strong position against the original question, but beyond that, he failed to provide any useful or intelligent information. Not many environmentalists would disagree that we need solar technology - his primary mantra.

Nigel had some very clear and important concerns with a few errors made by the IPCC. His was a truly pivotal argument because if the environmentalists make any tiny error anywhere, people will throw them out with the trash. People really really don't want to believe it's all true, so they'll jump on the minor problems as a means to dismiss the entire argument. They did it with Gore. And Nigel did this very clearly coming across as intelligent, articulate, and knowledgeable - to the world's detriment.

Monbiot was already my hero, now I totally (heart) him. He was clear, intelligent, genuine and impassioned. He was composed, yet able to take down the opposition with very strong points.

Beyond the "theatre" of the evening, here's a synopsis of the main points of the four in groups, in the order they spoke, instead of as a debate - from my biased vantage point and from my rough notes that I made with people chatting constantly behind me - with as many links as I could find (and with my editorializing in italics and parentheses) minus the many digs between the panelists. R indicates a rebuttal point...

Nigel Lawson

* The environment has become a secular religion refusing to tolerate dissent. When 100 scientists were surveyed by Von Storch they found only 8% of scientists think climate change is the most pressing issue.
- (It was an internet survey that was widely discredited as unreliable).

* There has been no further global warming this century (since 2000). Recorded temperatures are not continuing to rise. They are the highest ever, but they are not rising.
- (The best response to this is the ice-cube in a bowl analogy which nobody used. Leave a block of ice in a bowl of water to melt in the sun. Over the short term, the water and air actually get colder as the ice melts, but that doesn't mean the entire system isn't warming and it doesn't mean the ice isn't in danger of completely dissolving!)

* At worst, if we do nothing, living standards in the developed world will increased by 8.5 times instead of 9 times what they are today. That's not a catastrophe. At this time, during the worst depression since the 1930s, what we need most is cheap energy for our growth. Spending money on reducing emissions is not like buying insurance to protect us later; it's more like spending more on fire-proofing your house than the house is worth.

* Leaked e-mails by scientists have shown that even climate change scientists know it's all a sham.

* The only thing the IPCC was certain with regard to the effects on health is that climate change will reduce mortality from cold exposure. (- And increase mortality from heat exposure.)

R - On The Stern Review - They said it would cost 1% of GDP to fix climate change, but they later changed it to 2%. It was disregarded by most economists. (Bjorn's critique of it - the only criticism I could find quickly.) The figures are all assumed. Stern was being asked to justify governmental policy. It wasn't peer reviewed. It's the most extreme report.
- (When it comes to climate change projections, aren't all figures being assumed to some extent? Nobody really knows what's going to happen. It's all an educated guess. But it's not the case that your guess is as good as mine. The more educated, the better the guess.)

R - On peak oil - 29 years ago we were told there's only 40 years left of oil. Now they say there's only 40 years left. They keep finding oil. China isn't going to sign any global agreement. They are searching sub-Sahara Africa for oil. They're not looking for it because they don't intend to use it.

R - On decreasing food production after 3 degrees of warming. This is misleading: food production will increase until we hit the 3 degree mark. Then it will decrease only after that point. (An important clarification, but there's still a net loss in the long run.)

* Our greatest problem is poverty. Foreign aid helps, but economic development is better. I'm in favour of research and development of green technology.

Elizabeth May

* Experts from the IPCC should be here instead of us. And a better question for us is how should we act. Scientists surveyed by the UN claimed the top threat to the world is climate change followed by the water crisis.

* This is the biggest problem. In June 88, in Toronto
at Our Changing Atmosphere - Implications for Global Security, Canada was first internationally. (She quoted the first line of that report, more or less: climate change is 2nd only to nuclear war as a threat.) And Thatcher said in 1990 that "...the threat to our world comes not only from tyrants and their tanks. It can be more insidious though less visible. The danger of global warming is as yet unseen, but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations." I spoke with the king of the Lasutu who have the 3rd highest rate of HIV/AIDS. I asked if it's wrong to spend on climate change instead of poverty or AIDS. The question angered him, and he replied that climate change makes HIV/AIDS worse every day because the people can't grow their own food anymore.

* Humanity has changed the chemistry of our atmosphere - we have over 30% more CO2 than in the last million years. We know this from dating ice with air bubble in it. We know we're doing it, and now we have to reduce fossil fuels and protest forests. We're currently at 387 ppm of CO2. The most it's ever been pre-industrialization is 280 ppm.

* Some are uncertain about climate change because it's hard to observe. Temperature can't be looked at year to year because of time lags. We have to look at temperature changes over decades to see that it really is being affected. Millions of square feet of arctic ice is gone - much faster than projected by the IPCC. In BC we see the pine trees dead because there hasn't been a typical cold snap to kill off the beetles.

R- On "climate-gate" - Scientists had e-mails illegally hacked. All people found is that they're having problems completely agreeing on their research. But many points are being taken out of context to make them look unsure about climate change in general. What they found was a discrepancy between NASA temperature figures, which suggest that 2005 was the warmest year with 2007 and 1998 tied for second, and the Hadley Center which found temperatures decreased after 1998, but they didn't include data from the Arctic.
The scientists aren't questioning climate change, just a minute point of degrees. The only thing climate-gate has in common with Watergate is that what was stolen is immaterial; what's really important is to find out who the burglars are and why they're doing the stealing.

* We know enough that we have to act. We've run out of time for procrastination. We gave $4 trillion to help the auto industry, but we don't want to devote the same amount towards reducing emissions. We're calling for efficient technology like low flow tidal, but it's kept from the market because the payback time is long. We already have the technology to fix the problem, just not the political will. Canadians waste more energy than we use. We need to improve. We have to look at technology, but it starts with a commitment to move away from oil. The stone age didn't end because we ran out of stones. We found something better and easier to use.

* We need poverty reduction as part of climate change reduction, more solar and wind as part of our strategy, and protection of the world's forests. The Amazon is asking for help to save its forests because of the illegal logging there. But the biggest issue is the one that's moving in an accelerating fashion. Once we lose the permafrost, nothing we do will help save us. The Arctic ice has an albino effect, reflecting the sun's rays back. The dark ocean will absorb more heat from the sun. We're headed for a dangerous positive feedback loop.

Bjorn Lomborg

* The question forces us into a false dichotomy - either climate change is the worst thing, or we're an enemy of climate change science. It's not our defining crisis - there are 3 billion in poverty and 4 billion without water. At the Copenhagen Consensus we look for where we can do the most good for the world, where we should put our money, and it's in nutrition, agriculture, immunization, and schooling of girls.

* We need to be smarter about climate change. The costs are phenomenal at $40 trillion. (For whom and under what time frame?) Buying the cure is much more costly than the illness.
- (The Pembina Institute estimates that for Canadians, reducing emissions by 40% will result in a decrease in GDP from 2.4% to 2.1%. That's like someone making $80,000/year and having a salary cut to $70,000. We'll notice it in a few less nights out, but we'll still be relatively well-off.)

* We need to invest in green energy technology. Only if solar panels are cheap will we solve global warming. We can't forget all the other problems. Don't promise cuts; promise R&D. We need to listen to scientists and economists. There's a right way to save species like making countries rich, so they'll protect their own forests. We need efficient technology, so people can live better worldwide. The same money that saves one person by decreasing emissions can save 5,000 people if it's spent on agriculture. The money we need to stop poverty would slow down climate change by six hours. We don't need to reduce emissions to help the AIDS crisis; we just need to hand out condoms! (I would like to see the sources for these claims.)

R - The Stern Review is disparaged universally by economists. The other research indicates damage from climate change at -1%, it will benefit us, to 4%; not 5-20% like Stern reports. And you can't just pick one economist to show it's true. Climate change is real, but the proposed solution is rubbish.

R - Even if China doesn't agree to change, they will reduce emissions by 40% anyway through efficiencies because of newer technology. (I find this one hard to believe too.)

George Monbiot

* How lucky do you feel? We must prepare for the worst case. The opposition's claims are more optimistic than all reports I've seen. Eight of the ten warmest years ever have been since 2001.

* The Stern Review (in full) found the cost of preventing climate change will be 1% of GDP; the cost of living with climate change will be 5-20% of GDP.
R - If the government influenced the report, they did it in the wrong direction. They asked how much it would cost to fix climate change and found it would be more than expected. Stern reviewed peer-reviewed literature to develop the report. It was an "uber-review."

* We can adapt for a few decades here with drip irrigation, air conditioning, and new crop varieties. But in the developing world they won't have access to new technologies. In some areas like Kenya droughts used to be every 40-50 years, now they're every 2-3 years. The people are adapting with AK47s. They're killing each other because they're desperate.

* I'm concerned with poverty, disease and hunger. And climate change exasperates all these crises. It increases AIDS because in Malawi, climate change causes drought. This forces the men off the land to find work elsewhere. They meet prostitutes and bring AIDS back to their families. It's not a choice between poverty or climate change. We don't need to take money for climate change from foreign aid. We can take it from coal/oil subsidies or from the money being used for the Iraq invasion. We spend very little on foreign aid already. The $3.2 billion spent in Iraq would bring solar powered electricity to all of Africa. We can help with poverty without power stations and mining fossil fuels which endanger the very lives we're trying to save.

* It's not a choice over costs as if we either spend nothing or everything on the climate. Just to maintain energy supplies from now to 2030, will cost $25.6 trillion. Because oil is in the hands of OPEC, it will cost a transfer of wealth of a further $30 trillion. It's not a choice of carrying on and not spending or spending. Either way we have to spend a lot, and that's if oil doesn't get depleted. A temperature rise of over 3 degrees will result in a net decrease of food. Our population will rise to 9-10 billion within this century. Already millions are going hungry even with a global food surplus. We can't create a false choice between climate change and poverty.

R- More agricultural technology will not mean more food if it stops raining for years. Our ecosystem doesn't respond to market forces the way some economists suggest it will. It's not just about what to do, but what to stop doing. If we keep eating cake, but add in a salad, we won't lose weight because of the salad. If we keep using oil, but add in a little solar, it won't stop the problems we're having. We need to bring people out of poverty with renewables. Instead of $30 trillion to OPEC, let's put it in new technology.

* This is not the time for intellectual games. It's the time for facing our greatest question without which we can't tackle any other question on the table: Do we carry on dumping costs on those not responsible for climate change, or do we pick up our responsibilities and produce a response to commensurate with that crisis?

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

OneEarth Video-Letter to Stephen Harper

Finally, here's the OneEarth video-letter to Stephen Harper that I wrote about back here.

Before It's Too Late: Harper's Song

Partial Credits, Timeline and Thanks...

* Andrew Matheson and Janice Cooper came up with the idea of doing our own version of's "Yes We Can" video at an EcoSchools conference at the board office on Thursday, November 5th.
* India Mcalister and I wrote the words over the weekend.
* Mr. McGrath, Mrs. Mark, and Mr. Allt gave up a spare to play guitar.
* Janice, India and Thomas Putman came in one night after school to sing.
* Most of students in the OneEarth club sacrificed their MSIP classes on November 12th and 13th to film students in classrooms all over the school.
* Many many students and teachers gave up valuable class time to be filmed.
* Andrew and a few other students edited for hours over the following week.
* We showed it to the OneEarth group on November 23rd, and it was realized we need some sub-titles because some classes were too quiet and others weren't in unison enough to really hear with the guitar and singing mixed in. (And we thought we were done!)
* We premiered it at After Hours yesterday, and it was featured on CTV News!

* Thanks to Mr. Strangways for use of the video equipment and many many thank-yous to Mr. Papoutsis and his students for giving us the space and help needed to edit.

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Munk Debate on Climate Change

There's a climate change debate happening on Tuesday, December 1st in Toronto. The live debate is totally sold out, but there's a live feed being broadcast all over Canada. Locally, it's at the CIGI on Erb Street - attached to the Seagram's building.

The debate is part of the "Be it resolved..." series. This time it's "Be it resolved climate change is mankind's defining crisis, and demands a commensurate response." (Why mankind instead of humanity? So much for gender-inclusive language.) The debate features Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, George Monbiot, author of Heat and Guardian columnist, Bjorn Lomborg, professor at the Copenhagen Business School and author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, and Lord Nigel Lawson, former Chancellor of the Exchequer and author of An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming who wants to abolish the IPCC and who is the father of Nigella Lawson, the most sensuous cook on T.V.

I've already read Heat, but I hope to at least skim the other two books before Tuesday. Of the four, I've only seen Elizabeth May debate, and she's fantastic. This looks to be one meaty line-up!

That's it.

ETA - The Globe and Mail had an interview with Bjorn yesterday. It's not as oppositional as I was anticipating. He thinks there's some benefits to climate change, which is a very half-full way of looking at it all, and he thinks we should focus on promoting solar power instead of focusing on reducing emissions. Of course we should.
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Call Steve!

If you haven't written to Harper or Prentice or your local MP yet to convince somebody to do something about Canada's embarrassing emission levels, you can just call Steve instead! He's at 1-613-992-4211. If you're up to it, video tape it and send your submission to David Suzuki.

If you don't have time to call, you can just sign the on-line petition at the link.

Our video-letter is finished. I previewed it to our club and my family, and they both thought it needed sub-titles. So, alas, it's not quite done yet. The classes didn't always speak well in unison, so it sounds muddled with the singing and guitar at the same time. It's clearer with Obama giving a speech. Ah well. Sub-titles it is. I get to learn another new skill!

Look for the really finished video here Thursday morning!

That's it!
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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Foil Nestle in Aberfoyle

Never depend upon institutions or government to solve any problem. All social movements are founded by, guided by, motivated and seen through by the passion of individuals. - Margaret Mead

I'm using this quotation again because it fits a different issue that has more of a local impact to me. Nestle's water grab in Aberfoyle.

Here's the issue...

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) issued a two-year Permit to Take Water (PTTW) to Nestle in 2001. It was renewed in 2003, 2005, and 2008. So Nestle can legally take water from Aberfoyle. But just because it's legal, doesn't make it right. As you might have seen in The Cove, governments and ministries sometimes get surreptitious payments or benefits of one kind or another if they'll allow activities to continue that aren't truly in the public's best interest. That's how lobbying sometimes works, even though it shouldn't. Now Nestle want to use a backup well to maximize their yield.

In 2005, Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement was signed by Ontario. It strengthens the requirements for the government to ensure that water taken from the Great Lakes basin won't have any adverse impacts on any source watershed.

In 2006 a Clean Water Act was passed that ensures that communities can identify potential risks to their drinking water supplies, and take action to reduce these risks.

In 2007, neighbouring townships had watering bans and a Level 2 low-water condition in the area. Access to this public well would have alleviated this condition. It seems clear that the Nestle PTTW is inconsistent with the objectives of the agreements and acts passed by the provincial government. So concerned citizens petitioned to get the MOE to review the PTTW, and the ministry turned down the request because they didn't provide any technical, scientific or other evidence to indicate that the decision to issue the former permit was flawed.

Currently the MOE is supporting Nestle. They cleaned up some pollution, so the MOE is letting them expand. Very nice.

There was a recent letter to the editor by David Lunman expressing some concerns. Unfortunately he doesn't include his credentials or sources. He claims Nestle is pumping water faster than the aquifer can recover. Nestle hopes to take 3.6 million litres/day of groundwater.

Nestle was quick to reply (can't find a link, sorry). Their main point is that everything they're doing is legal and that the MOE is monitoring the well to ensure it's sustainable. Nestle doesn't want to dig a new well to get more water, but merely to sustain the levels currently taken. Nestle is currently taking 3.6 million litres/day.

According to one report, Nestle paid a one-time fee of $3,000 to access the well, and they are required to pay the province $3.71 for every million litres of water extracted, or about $14/day if they take their maximum allotment. Wellington Water Watchers estimated that if NestlĂ© bought that same amount through Guelph’s municipal water system, it would pay about $2,700 a day.

First of all, the fact that Nestle wants a new well to get the same water seems to belie the claim that the current well is actually sustainable. Curious.

But even stranger, how can the province sell our water to a private corporation for re-sale at all? I mean how many free lunches is John Gerretsen getting for letting a corporation rip-off his province? Or is it sadder than that. Is he being bullied by the brutes? If you're reading this, take a minute to e-mail him and ask him precisely that!

This Wellington Water Watchers have created a fantastic website. Take a minute to look around there. And, teachers, they have a great "Message in a Bottle" initiative for schools! I wish I had known before we ran our re-usable bottle campaign. And they have a handy form you can complete for more info, and suggest we boycott all things Nestle. Make sure you let Nestle know you're doing this too. It just takes a minute to write an e-mail.

Maude Barlow agrees. "There's a huge backlash on campuses and in some restaurants," claims Barlow. "The 'in' thing now is not to serve bottled water." This makes me all the more upset that we couldn't convince the Waterloo Regional District School Board to ban water bottles. They almost did, but bailed after one trustee thought kids would turn to pop instead, so they'd all get diabetes from not having access to bottles of water (regardless of the many water fountains in our schools).

In the movie FLOW, Barlow complained specifically about Nestle. They own 70 brands of water. In Michigan they're pumping at 450 gallons/minute – drying up the river beds and causing significant adverse impact. Citizens sued after much protest. Nestle hired a P.I. to harass citizens who signed the petition. Nestle lost the first round, but won on appeals. Now they have a right to pump where ever they want in the US, but at a slightly slower rate. Nestle leases the property from the city to do the pumping, so the city sees some money, but not much.

By 2020, half the world won’t have water. Even in the Roman Empire water was seen as a public right that can’t be privately owned or sold for profit. If diversion of water affects people it should be considered unlawful. Legally, in the U.S., it’s considered unconstitutional to stop water pumping unless you personally own property that’s being affected.

Dammit, let's make sure that doesn't happen in Canada too!

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