Posts Tagged ‘environmentalism’

Michael Crichton died yesterday of cancer at age 66. Crichton was a favorite while I was growing up and was probably a big influence in my decision to pursue science as a career. I blazed through The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, Eaters of the Dead, Prey, and others. I thought Prey was pretty cool in terms of exploring emergent behavior, though the level of suspension of disbelief was especially high.

A couple of years ago, I read State of Fear. It really played off my cynicism and I started looking into the possibility that the whole global warming thing was bogus. The more I looked, though, the more it became clear that it was Crichton’s points that were bogus. At that point, I lost respect for him. Thinking back now, it’s clear that one of Crichton’s most common themes was the danger of science unhindered by morality and pursued without caution. That’s a good goal, I think. Despite the fact that he went overboard railing against environmentalism, he managed to educate readers about science while keeping them entertained.

On balance, I think it is a good legacy.

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Back in the so-called good old days, when American meals weren’t trendy blends of saffron and wild salmon, we ate meat and potatoes. And corn. And maybe cornbread if you lived in the South, or else this dry, flavorless, yellow cornish bread if you lived in the North. Corn was a common side dish on our plate when I was growing up and corn on the cob was a treat. Ever since this so-called biofuel star has been rising, I’ve been dreading the coming Apocalypse on corn prices. No more tasty side-dish! Now imagine if the cornerstone of your entire meal system was corn. Maybe you’d imagine yourself in Mexico, where tortillas are made of … well, corn.

A new friend I met online (and probable new student to the LTI) sent me a link to an article in Time, “The Clean Energy Scam.” The Amazon is being torn down to provide land for ranchers and crops, most of which are biofuels. Biofuels are supposed to be great because they are a renewable resource. Does anyone else see the problem here? It’s like killing babies to feed people. EPIC FAIL.

And it looks now like all the deforestation in the Amazon might be leading to a local climate shift. Instead of rain forest, it might become a savannah or desert (savannahs receive little rain, deserts less still). So these so-called green energies are leading to deforestation and potentially the destruction of the entire Amazon rain forest. Does that make global warming better or worse?

It is becoming more and more clear that anything with the label green is anything but green. They should be called brown. And the whole system rides on the back of oil: plastics in windmills and solar panels, transportation for everything that is made and moved anywhere. All of these brown products depend on oil to be made and usually at such a high cost that it takes literally decades for them to pay themselves off, far exceeding their own life expectancy. It’s not even clear that the oil cost of producing most of these things is exceeded by the carbon savings they deliver. It’s certainly not a requirement before attaching a green label to something.

A pile of ashes.

Green is just another excuse for rampant consumerism. The only good thing here is that it shows people recognize there is a problem, but as usual, corporations have stepped in and deluded people en masse. The problem escalates, and we are going to pay. In the future, the typical American meal will consist of ashes.

I felt like this was too important not to mention.  Four common ingredients in sunscreen are the cause of coral reef death according to a recent study.  The chemicals wash off of swimmers’ bodies and activate dormant viruses in symbiotic algae that live on the reefs.  This symbiotic algae provides reefs with food.  It also adds to their color, so when the algae dies due to the virus, the reefs become bleached.  About 10% of the world’s reefs are in danger.

Here are the chemicals you should avoid in sunscreen:

  • paraben
  • cinnamate
  • benzophenone
  • camphor derivative

So before you head to the beach, make sure that what you pick up doesn’t have those ingredients.  According to Roberto Danovaro, who headed the study, you should use sunscreens with physical filters that reflect UV rays and eco-friendly chemical sunscreens.

Polar bears depend on the Arctic ocean habitat for their survival and things are looking pretty grim for them with global warming, toxins in the food chain, and disturbances due to oil and gas drilling. The US Geological Survey has said that they could be extinct by 2050 if we do not take steps to protect them now.

If you’re a US citizen and you give a crap, I urge you to send a message to Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne to have the polar bear added to the endangered species list and some lands designated as a critical habitat necessary for the bears’ survival.

I think it’s only a matter of time before a giant ecological disaster kills multiple millions of people in China. Just recently, the third largest lake in China has become overwhelmed by toxic cyanobacteria. The two million residents of the area surrounding Lake Tai can no longer rely on their main source of water due to industrial and human waste. With the cavalier attitude of Chinese regional officials towards environmental concerns, things can get out of hand fast. Growing industrialism that relies on keeping costs to a minimum will resort to anything — be that setting wages and conditions equivalent to slave labor or dumping deadly chemicals directly into drinking water.

My brother-in-law recently visited Taiwan for his company, unknowingly helping them outsource his factory (unknowing, since they lied to him). While there, the plant officials wanted to dump a variety of wastes into a nearby water supply. Among the chemicals they were planning to dump (and thereby avoid the cost of doing the right thing) was cadmium, which is a known carcinogen and can cause a variety of health problems including kidney failure and softening of the bones. A mass cadmium exposure in Japan led to a condition called itai-itai disease (“ouch-ouch” disease), so named for the screams of pain by its victims. My brother-in-law, an all around excellent chap, went over the heads of a number of people attempting to do this coverup to the plant heads and challenged them on this, threatening to report it otherwise. They gave in and now who knows how many people’s lives were saved or are better because of his actions. Taiwan supposedly has strict environmental restrictions and yet something like this might have still been able to happen.

Switch to China where such restrictions exist only if they are politically expedient. Environmentalists are considered threats to the state and are imprisoned. The New York Times has a long piece today on Wu Lihong, an environmentalist who challenged the Chinese government to clean up Lake Tai. He was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison on a series of trumped up charges. So as pollution steadily increases in China, voices of dissent are silenced and progress towards a catastrophe never before seen may continue.

Update

I forgot to post the link to the NY Times article.  Also, the cyanobacteria contamination occurred back in May.

October 6th was World Ecological Debt Day — the date on which the world officially begins living beyond its means. Renewable resources are used up and we begin eating into natural resources. According to nef, where I got the wonderful word clonetown (meaning the big shops in suburbia that you see everywhere — and it all looks the same), World Ecological Debt Day comes earlier every year. If the entire world lived as those in the UK do, we’d need three planets.

I also stumbled on an ecological footprint quiz. Answer a few questions and it estimates your ecological impact. If everyone lived like me, we’d need 3.2 planets. That’s almost half of what the average person in the US requires, though, so that’s good. I think I win big in the transportation department, since I use public transportation and carpool almost exclusively. Plus I don’t usually travel very far. School is only just over a mile away.

Take the quiz and let me know what you scored in the comments.

Ecological footprint quiz results

Not only are honeybees disappearing, but bumblebees are going the way of the dinosaurs too. Bumblebees pollinate roughly 15% of crops, which are worth about $3 billion dollars. While there isn’t a definitive cause yet, the National Academy of Sciences has reported that a combination of habitat loss due to housing developments, intensive agriculture, pesticides, pollution and disease are contributing to a worldwide decrease in pollinators. I wonder how long before global warming is added to that list?

A couple of quotes caught my attention from the article in Discovery News:

“We have been naive,” said Neal Williams, assistant professor of biology at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. “We haven’t been diligent the way we need to be.”

“We are smart enough to deal with this,” said Laurie Adams, executive director of the Pollinator Partnership. “There is hope.”

Well, I hope Laurie Adams is right, but I don’t have much faith in the intelligence of mankind. Pollinating insects are one of those things that most people don’t even realize we depend on. Probably given the choice, many people would rather do without bees altogether, except for the honey they make. I know I’ve said something to the effect of “I wish all bees would die” after getting stung. I hate it when trite sayings like “be careful what you wish for” come true. Why didn’t my wishes for no mosquitoes come true instead? I suspect they will only continue to flourish.