Tue 30 Jun 2009
Posted by editor under carbon
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In order to keep oneself going, there are basic needs involving inputs and outputs which determine whether an entity dies or remains viable. In the debate over global climate change and whether anything should be done about it, we discuss and reflect on the effects of various elevations in temperature on our ability to secure the inputs necessary for viability. Or we act like there’s no such thing as climate change at all. But we’ll set that aside and believe for a moment that most people are sufficiently convinced.
Granting this, even if we can summon the political will to begin to limit greenhouse gas emissions to combat runaway climate change, would the resulting society otherwise be viable into the future? Do we believe we can achieve this and then be able to keep things – living standards, consumption levels – much as they are? In other words, would a reduced carbon-centric model be sustainable?
Many of the policy implications of limiting co2 emissions would necessarily alter the way we live. I trust this is a well understood point – and vociferous opposition to Waxman-Markey suggests that it is. The distaste and outrage toward this kind of change does not mean that it is any less likely. You can see the same evidence in the collapsed housing market, the financial services industry in tatters, the job losses in manufacturing, fractured global supply chains. When will this economy begin to recover? The question, taken with its constituent parts, almost answers itself. Or it should.
Even if there were no such things as rising oceans or the greenhouse effect, we could not sustain anywhere near present levels of energy consumption, and without those amounts of cheap energy, our society as presently construed cannot keep up its requisite levels of inputs needed for viability. We could not even keep it were it is.
Now, whether this adjustment is down or up would depend on nothing so much as our relative capacities for creativity and imagination – of course, the very reasons it all seems so unthinkable to so many. It is, literally. In order for there to be an evolution of our ideas about green, there will have to be a throughway beyond even sustainability.
Image: Henrik Hakansson, Fallen Forest, 2006.
Mon 29 Jun 2009
Posted by editor under carbon
, climate1 Comment
While I was watching the USA-Brazil Electric Meltdown Boo-galoo II yesterday, I wrote a long and rambling post on the Waxman-Markey bill’s passage that I ultimately decided not to publish. For all the reasons 2-0 is the most dangerous score in soccer, trying to write about all the reasons other than a warming planet that we should limit carbon emissions is a bit of a fool’s errand, and an unnecessary one at that.
… But this transportation model has corrupted our most basic social arrangements by de-valuing actual community, an isolation enshrined by a complex communication system that leaves us poorly informed across a broad spectrum. With a wealth of information at our fingertips, we are unconcerned about where we’re going or what we’re about to do, and unsure about what happened yesterday, much less last week or five years ago. We have achieved an acute ability to wait until the last minute to do anything, which marks both our prowess and near-native anxiety.
We idle across unnecessary distances, sitting in traffic, hailing this voluntary expansion of sphere as progress even as we sacrifice depth of influence for mere distance of reach. Bold and innovative companies have brought us a succession of needless products demeaning the most basic tools as obsolete in favor of ever-greater complexity; this economy grooms us on its own pre-eminence, via the tenets of disposability, while weening us of any regard for unique settings or uses, moments or sensations in favor of collective experience. Activities that do not directly produce a financial benefit we have come to understand as non-performing. The reality that planetary preservation is an issue worth weaving into our advertising, spending habits, food, shelter and energy strategies, government policies, fashions and other cultural identifiers is a massive acknowledgment that undermines its own cause the wider its use and dissemination.
Is this model in jeopardy? Should it be?
Exhibit A for why I usually read instead of write on Sunday. Fortunately, Paul Krugman is/was having none of that and demonstratively points out that climate change is in fact more than reason enough to pass the bill:
But if you watched the debate on Friday, you didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it — and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial.
That’s the crux right there – they don’t like the policy implications, so they choose not to believe in the problem! It’s the ultimate in convenience, sort of like the new Shimmer – if someone was courageous enough to just point out that being a dessert topping AND a floor polish are converging conspiracies of household indulgence.
Speaking of which, here is a group that deserves special recognition: Democratic reps from districts Obama won who voted against bill. Jim Costa and Pete Stark of California; John Barrow of Georgia; Bill Foster of Illinois; Peter J. Visclosky of Indiana; Michael Arcuri of New York; Larry Kissell of North Carolina; Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio; Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon; Ciro D. Rodriguez and Solomon P. Ortiz of Texas; Glenn Nye of Virginia.
Fri 26 Jun 2009
They call this a WWIII propaganda poster. Okay. So if it’s a how-to kind of day, plus it being summer and the height of the vacation season, maybe we turn to the Lawrence Durrell Travel Reader. This one is How to Buy a House, from Bitter Lemons, 1957.
SABRI TAHIR’S OFFICE IN THE TURKISH QUARTER of the Kyrenia bore a sun-blistered legend describing him as a valuer and estate agent, but his activities had proliferated since the board was painted and he was clearly many things besides. The centre of the cobweb was a dark cool godown perched stategically upopn a junction of streets, facing the little Turkish shrine of some saint or warrior whose identity had vanished from the record, but whose stone tomb was still an object of veneration and pilgrimage for the faithful. It stood under a dusty and desiccated pepper tree, and one could always find an ex voto or two hanging beside it.
Beyond was a featureless empty field of nettles in which stood a couple of shacks full of disembodied pieces of machinery and huhe heaps if uncut carob and olive, mingled with old railway sleepers and the carcasses of buses which turned up her at the end of the trail, as if to some Elephants’ Graveyard, to be turned into fuel. Sabri’s empire was still in an embryonic stage, though ti was quite clear that he was speculating wisely. A circular saw moaned and gnashed all day in one of the shacks under the ministrations of two handsome Turkish youths with green headbands and dilapidated clothes; a machine for making cement blocks performed its slow but punctual evacuations, accompanied by a seductive crunch.
Sabri could watch all these diverse activities from the darkness of his shop…
On that first morning when I stepped into the shadows of his shop, the headquarters of the empire, he was sitting dreamily at his desk mending a faulty cigarette-lighter. His good morning was civil, though preoccupied and indifferent; but as I approached he paused for one instant to snap finger and thumb and a chair materialized from the shadows behind him. I sat down. He abandoned his task and sat silent and unwinking before me. ‘Mr. Sabri,’ I said, ‘I need your help. I have been making inquiries in Kyrenia and on all sides I am told that you are the most untrustworthy man of business in the place – in fact, the biggest rogue.’
He did not find the idea offensive so much as merely interesting. His shrewd eye sharpened a trifle, however, and he lowered his head to scan me more gravely. I went on. ‘Now knowing the Levant as I do, I know that a reputation for being a rogue means one thing and one thing only. it means that one is cleverer than other people.’ I accompanied this with an appropriate gesture – for cleverness in the hand-language is indicated by placing the forefinger of the right hand slowly and portentiouusly on the temple: tapping slightly, as one might tap a breakfast-egg. (Incidentally, one has to be careful, as if one turns the finger in the manner of turning a bolt in a thread, the significance is quite different: it means to be ’soft in the head’ or to ‘have a screw loose’.) I tapped my skull softly. “Cleverer than other people,’ I repeated. ‘So clever that the stupid are envious of one.’
He did not assent or dissent from the proposition. He simply sat and considered me as one might a piece of machinery if one were uncertain of its use. But the expression in his eyes shifted slightly in a manner suggesting the faintest, most tenuous admiration. ‘I am hee,’ I went on, convinced by this time that his English was good, for he had followed me unerringly so far, to judge by his face, ‘I am here as a comparatively poor man to ask you a favour, not to make you a business proposition. There is no money to be made out of me. But I want you to let me use your brains and experience. I’m trying to find a cheap village house in which to settle for a year or two – perhaps forever if I like it enough here. I can see now that you I was not wrong; far from being a rogue you are obviously a Turkish gentleman, and I feel I can confide myself entirely to your care – if you will accept such a thing. I have nothing to offer except gratitude and friendship. I ask you as a Turkish gentleman to assit me.’
Sabri’s colour had changed slowly throughout this harrangue and when I ended he was blushing warmly. I could see that I had scored a diplomatic stroke in throwing myself completely upon the iron law of hospitality which underpins all relations in the Levant. More than this, I think the magic word ‘gentleman’ turned the trick in my favor for it accorded him an unaccustomed place in the consideration of strangers which he certainly merited, and which he henceforward lived up to in his dealings with me. By a single tactful speech I had made a true friend.
The negotiations continue from there, but you get the idea. I had to look it up but a godown is a kind of warehouse or other storage place. Which completely makes sense. Once again, knowledge wins!
Thu 25 Jun 2009
Social Eco progress continues in Latin America, while the rest of the world fixates on reality t.v. shows and/or burns.
In the depths of the Amazon rainforest, the poorest people in the world have taken on the richest people in the world to defend a part of the ecosystem none of us can live without. They had nothing but wooden spears and moral force to defeat the oil companies – and, for today, they have won.
Human beings need to make far more decisions like this: to leave fossil fuels in the ground, and to leave rainforests standing. In microcosm, this rumble in the jungle is the fight we all face now. Will we allow a small number of rich people to make a short-term profit from seizing and burning resources, at the expense of our collective ability to survive?
If this sounds like hyperbole, listen to Professor Jim Hansen, the world’s leading climatologist, whose predictions have consistently turned out to be correct. He says: “Clearly, if we burn all fossil fuels, we will destroy the planet we know. We would set the planet on a course to the ice-free state, with a sea level 75 metres higher. Coastal disasters would occur continually. The only uncertainty is the time it would take for complete ice sheet disintegration.”
Wed 24 Jun 2009
Because I consider him an honorable mentionee for Quintessential Misanthrope, I am almost embarrassed by my affinity for Bertrand Russell. Almost.
The Why Work? site has his 1932 essay, In Praise of Idleness, in which there are so many nuggets, you’ll have a hard time choosing just one to post on your blog. But one thread from then to now – from the reality of his perceptions about work to what should be ours – is the perspective shift. If you took a cross section sample from their (early industrial) fascination with machines and what they could do for us and compared it to one from 2009, we should see elements of cliche and fatigue with the machine age, not to mention some not-so-subtle exasperation.
Modern technique has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labour required to secure the necessaries of life for everyone. This was made obvious during the war. At that time all the men in the armed forces, and all the men and women engaged in the production of munitions, all the men and women engaged in spying, war propaganda, or Government offices connected with the war, were withdrawn from productive occupations. In spite of this, the general level of well-being among unskilled wage-earners on the side of the Allies was higher than before or since. The significance of this fact was concealed by finance: borrowing made it appear as if the future was nourishing the present. But that, of course, would have been impossible; a man cannot eat a loaf of bread that does not yet exist. The war showed conclusively that, by the scientific organisation of production, it is possible to keep modern populations in fair comfort on a small part of the working capacity of the modern world. If, at the end of the war, the scientific organisation, which had been created in order to liberate men for fighting and munition work, had been preserved, and the hours of the week had been cut down to four, all would have been well. Instead of that the old chaos was restored, those whose work was demanded were made to work long hours, and the rest were left to starve as unemployed. Why? Because work is a duty, and a man should not receive wages in proportion to what he has produced, but in proportion to his virtue as exemplified by his industry.
This is the morality of the Slave State, applied in circumstances totally unlike those in which it arose. No wonder the result has been disastrous.
It’s a highly informed discussion of surplus and leisure, all the while however, as certain elements of our fidelity to work remains unchanged, even in the face of the gargantuan contributions of machines of all sorts, it is also the story of our wastefulness, growing ignorance, passive recreations… in a word, how western civilization has become unsustainable. Mostly because of being too tired to understand our over-reverence for hard work.
The wise use of leisure, it must be conceded, is a product of civilisation and education. A man who has worked long hours all his life will become bored if he becomes suddenly idle. But without a considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things. There is no longer any reason why the bulk of the population should suffer this deprivation; only a foolish asceticism, usually vicarious, makes us continue to insist on work in excessive quantities now that the need no longer exists.
And eventually he gets to the two ways in which we have ultimately been misled about “moving matter about” which has led us to the array of choices otherwise known as today.
The fact is that moving matter about, while a certain amount of it is necessary to our existence, is emphatically not one of the ends of human life. If it were, we should have to consider every navvy superior to Shakespeare. We have been misled in this matter by two causes. One is the necessity of keeping the poor contented, which has led the rich, for thousands of years, to preach the dignity of labour, while taking care themselves to remain undignified in this respect. The other is the new pleasure in mechanism, which makes us delight in the astonishingly clever changes that we can produce on the earth’s surface.
Ouch. The new pleasure in mechanism… it sounds so quaint. What has this sly little combination turned into? Now that we are astonishingly terrified about the changes we have produced on the earth’s surface, to what do we turn to turn things around? Machines. Can I make this sound any more foolish? The crushing waste of time, resources and intellect involved in the creation of our present crisis can be no better summed up than in the last couple of lines of this A.O. Scott review of the new transformers movie.
But that’s the perverse genius of Michael Bay. Despite the tediousness of his stories and inanity of his visual ideas, he always manages to keep you laughing and shaking your head in disbelief at the outlandishness of his cinematic spectacles, with their orange explosions, armament fetishism and even their noxious stereotypes. The man just wears you out and wears you down, so much so that it’s easy to pretend that you’re not ingesting 2 hours and 30 minutes of warmongering along with all that dumb fun.
Maybe my dislike of Russell is itself a kind of misanthropy, but in reverse, turned against just him for calling us all out so clearly.
Four. Hours. A. Day.
Tue 23 Jun 2009
This is like a sad, parallel history about where we once were that circles back around to the present and how we arrived here. We need not separate the aesthetic from the practical as they once were wed, an example that easy to see at this site showing 11 beautiful train stations that fell to the wrecking ball.
Having just passed through the current iteration of Penn Station, this image brings a shutter. You want to turn away at what we’ve done here, as well as the other stations shown in Then and Now comparisons. It is hard to escape the depths of just how badly we have screwed up our transportation system in the race to make way for the automobile and not see it as a metaphor for the harm we’ve done to our other systems, from agriculture to any other kind of culture. And the whole thing was so short lived! And now we struggle to reconnect or ‘reconnect’, as we have come to refer to ideas which have become puzzling and esoteric.
That the old Penn Station is as glorious as the Gare St. Lazare or any of the other beautiful examples of practical architecture around the world should be a cautionary note about all we have chosen to systematically eliminate. And why.
Two other great links on that page, as well.
Mon 22 Jun 2009
Posted by editor under climate
, energyAdd a Comment
In the same way that having Insurance company executives testify on camera before Congress about what their companies do is be the best way to guarantee passage of universal health coverage, Republican opposition to climate legislation written by the coal lobby will likely be its best friend, as well.
House Republicans are circulating a PowerPoint document that purports to show the regional breakdown of costs for energy consumers under the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill (ACES). The header: “Most States Lose Under the Pending Climate Bill.”
The catch? It appears to have been authored by the coal giant Peabody Energy. [Note: It was actually authored by the National Mining Assocation; see updates below.]
The document was discussed on a conference call held by the “Rural America Solutions Group” within the GOP caucus on Thursday, hosted by group co-chairs Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), Sam Graves (R-Mo.), and Doc Hastings (R-Wash.). According to a press release, the call was meant to “highlight how the Democrats’ National Energy Tax will make it more expensive for rural Americans to fertilize the crops, put fuel in the tractor and food on the table.”
It isn’t that this is anything more than run-of-the-mill skulduggery, which it is, by and large. The interesting point about it is just how out-to-lunch this approach is to governing, in terms of using government to enact solutions to massive problems that require a centralized organization. Like a government. Industry shills and bought-and-paid for politicos are our connection to the Gilded Age proper. If you’re a romantic and wonder what it was like, this is what is was like.
Its excesses and corruption were its undoing and eventually led to reforms. Our excesses being a little more poisonous in terms of waste and emissions, and our corruptions enlarged to include the intellectual, our undoing is likely to be far more jarring than a matter of a few reforms.
So it is enlightening, in its way, to have chief polluters and fiscal looters advocate and agitate for the policies that have enshrined their advantageous positions. They’re as likely as any of us to be perfectly frank about their successes and points of view. Not always truthful, but you’d be amazed.
These strategies keep our refusals to change right in front of us, which is where they need to be. The longer we/they keep people right out in front spouting nonsense about the how costs of staying healthy or using less energy are too great to bear, the more effective measures to protect health and save energy can be.
Fri 19 Jun 2009
Some say you have to read Kant before you can understand Schopenhauer. Well, as one of my uncles used to tell us boys, “Can’t never could.”
This is from The World as Will and Idea by Arthur Schopenhauer, from the supplements to the third book, chapter xxxiv, On the Inner Nature of Art
Every work of art accordingly really aims at showing us life and the things as they are in truth, but cannot be directly discened by every one through the mist of objective and subjective contengencies. Art takes away this mist.
The works of poets, sculptors and representative artists in general contain an unacknowledged treasure of profound wisdom; just because out of them the wisdom of the nature of things itself speaks, whose utterances they merely interpret by illustrations and purer repetitions. On this account, however, every one who reads the poem or looks at the picture must certainly contribute out of his means to bring that wisdom to light; accordingly he comprehends only so much of it as his capacity and culture admit of; as in the deep sea each sailor only lets down the lead as far as the length of the line will allow. Before a picture, as before a prince, everyone must stand, waiting to see whether and what it will speak to him; and, as in the case of the prince, so here he must not himself address it, for then he would hear himself. It follows from all this that in the works of the representative arts all truth is certainly contained, yet only virtualiter or implicite; philosophy, on the other hand, endeavors to supply the same truth actualiter and explicite, and therefore, in this sense, is related to art as wine to grapes. What it promises to supply would be, as it were, an already realised and clear gain, a firm and abiding possession; while that which proceeds from the achievements and works of art is one which has constantly to be reproduced anew. Therefore, however, it makes demands, not only upon those who produce its works, but also upon those who are to enjoy them, which are discouraging and hard to comply with. Therefore its public remains small, while that of art is large.
The co-operation of the beholder, which is referred to above, as demanded for the enjoyment of the work of art, depends partly on the fact the every work of art can only produce its effect through the medium of the fancy; therefore it must excite this, and can never allow it to be left out of the play and remain inactive. This is a condition of the aesthetic effect, and therefore a fundamental law of all fine arts. But it follows from this that, through the work of art, everything must not be directly given to the senses, but rather only so much as is demanded to lead the fancy on to the right path; something, and indeed the ultimate thing, must always be left over for the fancy to do. Even the author must always leave something over for the reader to think; for Voltaire has rightly said,” Le secret d’etre ennuyeux, c’est de tout dire.” [my trans - the secret to being boring is to say everything] But besides this, in art the best of all is too spiritual to be given directly to the senses; it must be born int he imagination of the beholder, although begotten by the work of art. It depends upon this that the sketches of the great masters often effect more than their finished pictures; although another advantage certainly contributes to this, namely, that they are completed offhand in the moment of conception; while the perfected painting is only produced through continued effort, by means of skillful deliberation and persistent intention, for the inspiration cannot last till it is completed. From the fundamental aesthetical law we are speaking of, it is further to be explained why wax figures never produce an aesthetic effect, and therefore are not properly works of fine art, although it is just in them that the imitation of nature is able to reach it highest grade. For they leave nothing for the imagination to do. Sculpture gives merely the form without the color; painting gives the color, but the mere appearance of form; thus both appeal to the imagination of the beholder. The wax figure, on the other hand, gives all, form and color at once; whense arises the appearance of reality, and the imagination is left out of account. Poetry, on the contrary, appeals to the imagination alone, which it sets in action by means of mere words.
Thu 18 Jun 2009
Posted by editor under climate
, media Comments
That’s the name for a ‘news stories in photographs’ feature on the Boston Globe site and it’s really excellent.
Words can be hurtful and leave permanent scars, but images are even more powerful. They can help explain conditions and situations by harkening back to the essential and human in us. Maybe images can even be helpful to people like the chairman of the House Agriculture committee, who holds great sway over measures that will combat climate change, even though he does not understand what it is.
… has been blocking the passage of comprehensive climate legislation, dismissed a White House report on the damaging effect of global warming on U.S. agriculture. Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the chief of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association and one of the top scientists in the Obama administration, called the climate impacts report released yesterday a “clarion call for action” for a problem that “is happening now, and in our own backyards.” However, the Wall Street Journal reports that Peterson, “when asked by reporters Tuesday about the report’s findings, said they run counter to what many in his region are experiencing“:
We’ve just had the biggest floods and coldest winters we’ve ever had. They’re saying to us [that climate change is] going to be a big problem because it’s going to be warmer than it usually is; my farmers are going to say that’s a good thing since they’ll be able to grow more corn.
If you’re in a position of influence and don’t know what you’re talking about, on what basis do you continue talking?
- the soothing sounds of one’s own voice
- The shill/hack continuum
Maybe someone can draw me a picture.
Wed 17 Jun 2009
Posted by editor under climate
, society Comments
Foreign fighters among the Taliban with Birmingham (U.K.) accents? NASA planning massive space explosions in search of water on the moon? Unrelated incidents to be sure, but what, exactly, is going on?
These sort of bizarre happenings in parallel occur all the time, of course, and they have become a part of living in our present day – as curious as horseless carriages must have once seemed. Unpacking them at all, they may become even more Byzantine as curiosities. The Aston Villa tattoos on the recently-killed Taliban fighter are as crazy/easy to explain as would have been the case had their accents been from Birmingham, Alabama. Okay, maybe not. That would have been crazy. But no more so than scientists preparing to fly a rocket booster into the moon in order to trigger a six-mile-high explosion.
The four-month mission of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), which will be directed from NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, is to discover whether water is frozen in the perpetual darkness of craters near the moon’s south pole. As a potential source of oxygen for life support and hydrogen for rocket fuel, that water would be a tremendous boost to NASA’s plans to restart human exploration of the moon.
It is in this climate, where we have become nearly unable to differentiate the fabulous from the actual, where the words ‘incredible’ and ‘amazing’ have been displaced of their original meanings, where extraordinary measures of all sorts limbo beneath the radar, causing not the slightest flinch. Maybe it’s always been like this; or perhaps the volume of information bombardment itself is causing the greatest psychological displacement, such that we begin to allow for the unallowable. How else to explain this:
Using iron “seeding” to set off massive plankton growth in the ocean to slow climate change; creating artificial volcanic eruptions to release cooling sulfur into the atmosphere; increasing the solar reflectivity of clouds by adding sea-salt particles; building a giant space mirror to stop ice from melting in Greenland. These may sound like concepts straight out of a George Lucas film, but they are real ideas being proposed by scientists as part of the “geoengineering” movement — a school of thought based upon the idea that humans can engineer ourselves out of global warming on a massive scale.
How many people listened to this report on NPR driving home on Tuesday, looked around at the traffic and nodded their heads? Did they say to themselves, ‘that sounds like a good idea,’ or “I’m glad people are thinking about this’? Even the report hedged itself with a kind of reality check.
And experiments could create disasters. Alan Robock of Rutgers University cataloged a long list of risks. Particles in the stratosphere that block sunlight could also damage the ozone layer, which protects us from harsh ultraviolet light. Or altering the stratosphere could reduce precipitation in Asia, where it waters the crops that feed 2 billion people.
Should we be outraged* by these kinds of suggestions? We seem to be caught in an information spiral, where we’ve down-graded the importance of expertise in favor of a balance between opposing viewpoints. We lend credence to both and preserve the power to play Solomon, though we are greatly ill-educated and prone to believing in both our better impulses and the existence of an easy way out. Sitting in that car in traffic, we may need to first begin to agitate among ourselves, to regain control of what’s happening inside the car, first. Why shouldn’t we be able to counter the effects of climate change without driving less, wasting less, living differently? Do we even know?
* this can be a rather complex proposition in itself, e.g., toward what would the outrage be directed?
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