Archive for December, 2006


This camel has got one strong back

Thursday, December 14th, 2006

I went to the big protest in NYC back before this war was launched against Iraq. And then, like pretty much almost everyone else, I went back to my standard everyday life, grumbled a bit, but kept to the sidelines as Bush went ahead anyway. Since then I’ve wondered why the impulse to protest is so weak in this country. Sure, sure, protests don’t accomplish the same thing that they did 30 years ago — or so the conventional wisdom goes. But then, when was the last time that you saw multiple million-person protests in a single year on a single issue? One protest will almost never accomplish anything, for sure. The difference, I think, between the protests against the Vietnam War and this Iraq War is that those who think the wars suck rotten eggs got off their duffs again and again and again during Vietnam. This time, we got off our duffs… and then went and licked our wounds for three years and counting.

Janet pointed me to this Will Bunch piece, asking “The madness of King George: Are you going to take this sitting down?” He’s talking about Bush’s apparent “new course” in Iraq to increase US troop levels, despite the abundant evidence that the clear majority of Americans, as well as so very many analysts and Iraq Study Group authors, strongly desire just the opposite. Bunch wants to know: when exactly will the American people get sufficiently fed up with being treated like a bunch of dumpkoff peons by their Great and Exhalted Leader and go to the streets? He’s not suggesting violent or otherwise illegal protests, just some measley legal marches in the street, some singing of kumbaya, some waving of banners, all the sorts of things that get okayed ahead of time by the powers that be. But SOMETHING that sends more of a message than posting snarky comments to blogs.

Because protest DO happen sometimes, you know. And they get things done, you know. The Ukranians didn’t just accept it when their presidential elections were stolen in 2004, they staged a peaceful (though forceful) revolution. It worked. When students and workers in France didn’t like the new labor law in 2005, they didn’t hide their feelings from the government–and the government conceded to the will of the people. This year in Taiwan, high-level corruption wasn’t met with an attitude of “what do you expect, all politicians are corrupt,” it was met with mass street protests and the eventual indictment of the president’s wife (the president is constitutionally protected from indictment as long as he remains in office, but can be indicted as soon as he steps down). Also this year, Hungarians did not take kindly to their prime minister’s accidental revelation that he and his party had based their successful election on lies.

And so on. Okay, I admit, I’m not prepared to take up the torch and organize a month-long street protest in Washington DC (or anywhere else, for that matter) but I’d sure like to see it happen, and I’ll be happy to bring muffins and coffee to keep the protesters’ spirits up. No more stinkin’ wars, immediate caps and reductions of carbon emissions, and universal healthcare now–I know, there’re lots of other issues too, but I’m willing to compromise and start small.

A straw-bale Wal-Mart?

Tuesday, December 12th, 2006

Well, that’s asking a bit much. But apparently green building methods and materials are gaining ground fast. Gotta get your good news when you can.

Green Revolution Sweeping the US Construction Industry

Is your cow worse than your car?

Monday, December 11th, 2006

A recent report find that, worldwide, livestock production releases more carbon (or carbon-equivalence) than transportation. Sustainablog has more on this. One thing I’d like to note–because nitrogen fertilizers are major contributors (nitrous oxide has 256 times the global warming power as carbon dioxide), this is yet another good reason to support organic agriculture. In fact, it suggests the possibility that eating organic food that was grown on the other side of the world might have less global warming impact than conventional food grown in your hometown. Now, I didn’t run any numbers on this, so it’s pretty speculative, but given the earlier discussion on local vs. imported food, it the climate impact of distance (for food) seems not to be nearly as great as I had previously thought.

International politics for the preschool set

Monday, December 11th, 2006

Are you having a hard time explaining the situation in Iraq to your 4-year old? Sit back, relax, and let the good people at Schoolhouse Rock (kinda) do the explaining for you. [YouTube video]

Stephan’s on a roll: Tradable Energy Quotas

Monday, December 11th, 2006

Perhaps he wrote this article for The Ecologist on his emate as well…

Growing pains
Stephan Harding, coordinator of the MSc in Holistic Science at the Schumacher College, explains why standard economic growth is not the answer, and why personal Tradable Energy Quotas are… [read on]

You don’t need a new computer

Monday, December 11th, 2006

It’s hard to believe, but it just might be possible to live without a snazzy new computer with multiple, blazing fast processors. Stephan Harding apparently does it, and writes great books at the same time. Here’s what he said about writing Animate Earth in an email to me this weekend:

I wrote a lot of Animate Earth on the Apple Mac ‘emate’ – a very small seed
pod-like machine designed for children in the early 90′s. A delight to
use – grey screen with black letters – very ‘old fashioned’. One can use
the emate outside – the screen is best seen in the sun. So I wrote outdoors
during my travels – Arizona, Australia, etc. Easy download to PC. They
cost almost nothing on Ebay
– I have three of them. Could write a little
piece on the joy of using them.

So there you have it. No need to buy something that took a huge amount of energy to produce and that you’ll be frustrated with inside of 8 months. Go for something tried and true; to paraphrase Parliament Funkadelic, free your mind of computer consumerism and your path to a small eco-footprint will follow.

…and just in time

Friday, December 8th, 2006

The solar efficiency breakthrough I mentioned just below is needed more than ever: global carbon emissions have apparently risen by 25% since 1990. Holy freakin’ cow.

Advances in solar electricity

Friday, December 8th, 2006

Last month, Bill McKibben reviewed a handful of books in the New York Review of Books, including James Lovelock’s Revenge of Gaia and, somewhat in passing, Travis Bradford’s Solar Revolution: The Economic Transformation of the Global Energy Industry. I’m reminded of this because of an article from yesterday on a “breakthrough” in solar cell technology. McKibben reports that Bradford fairly convincingly predicts significant advances in solar electric technology, as well as significant drops in the cost of pv systems, mostly because of major investments in R&D in Japan and Germany. Well, the prediction might be even better than Bradford expected–this short article says that the National Renewable Energy Lab has verified the claim of Boeing-Spectrolab that it is created a solar cell with over 40% efficiency in converting sunlight to energy. This is up from, it says, most of today’s cells which are only 12%-18% efficient.

Hemenway inspires conversation on doom-saying

Friday, December 8th, 2006

Tip-o-the-blog to A Steep Hill for bringing this to my attention–Toby Hemenway’s recent essay on peak oil “doomers” got Brent thinking and blogging, and the coversation is interesting.

Toby Hemmenway, the author of Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Homescale Permaculture (the best intro to permaculture that I know), just posted an essay examining the psychology of peak oil “doomers”.

His conclusion is that we (humans generally, and Americans particularly) are culturally conditioned to a myth of life, struggle, death, and rebirth. He makes a good arguement; to his explanation, I would add the fact that people tend to see things in terms of either-or extremes. In the case of peak oil and environmental threat, the obvious poles are “tomorrow will look just like yesterday” and “we’re doomed, run for the hills”. Those poles are psychological attractors.
[cont'd]

You are what you eat–run for your life!

Thursday, December 7th, 2006

If it’s true that you are what you eat, then we shouldn’t be surprised that our culture seems increasingly dangerous–it seems our food is increasingly dangerous, too. Salon interviews Michael Pollan (lately elevated to Lord High Priest of all things food) (just ribbing you, Michael; you’re telling it pretty much like it is, so there’s no real complaint–but couldn’t just ONE of those magazines notice that we’ve got some great food writers over here at Chelsea Green, that The Omnivore’s Dilemma isn’t the only interesting food book of late?).


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