Gov. Jerry Brown confronts global warming skeptics

The election may have ended two weeks ago, but it’s back to business as usual as politicians weigh-in on those crucial bread and butter issues like the environment.

Earlier in the week, our President, usually more astute on global warming and its serious implications, said he’d not prioritize environment over job generation in a down economy.  Two days later, a bipartisan delegation met with the President, urging he approve the Keystone pipeline, a project currently in delay mode pending rerouting to protect sensitive habitat such as Nebraska’s Sandhill Crane Sanctuary.

In all of this, I have to pinch myself to see if I’m awake.  I had thought Romney lost the election!

I can’t speak for you, but I created Brimmings to speak out candidly, come hell or high water, on the salient issues affecting the quality of life for all of us.  As for politics, I can’t say I’m overwhelmed with surprise at these Capitol happenings, given the inveterate chicanery of that sector.  It’s just that I desperately want to find a window I can open to escape the foul air of political expediency bent on kicking the can down the road when it comes to the insidious challenge of climate change, a quandary that isn’t going to vanish simply by ignoring it.  The debates themselves, four of them, yet not one question on the implications of global warming on public policy!  I think the media just plain fell asleep at the wheel.

Occasionally I do find a leader such as California  governor Jerry Brown, willing to open a window on a new vista.  This isn’t a new thing for the governor who has spoken boldly and consistently in cadenced rhetoric on the cruciality of facing-up to this Gorgon that  ultimately threatens to swallow up both Man and Beast.

In August, the Brown administration launched a web site (see under Blogroll/Climate Change), replete with data to refute those denying global warming or our contribution to it.  Find me another governor who’s done something like this.  Find me one Senator or Rep who’s spoken out so boldly, apart from Al Gore, our should-have-been president, now vaporized from the political scene.

Buoyed by the California election results of November 6, which daringly called for a tax increase to reduce the state’s bruising deficit, Brown acknowledged to attendees at last week’s Greenbuild Expo in San Francisco that while “dealing with the environment seems more a luxury than a necessity, my message is the two go hand-in-hand.”

Brown might have equivocated on green issues such as California’s cap and trade legislation, now under legal challenge by business interests in the state, but he did not, again setting him apart from the political herd.

When it comes down to the bottom line, authentic leaders excel in what Vergil called Pietas, or virtue based on self-discipline. I would add ethos, or integrity, a sensibility for total commitment.  I just happen to think Jerry Brown defines these leadership virtues, not just by words, but through example.  This is the governor who, after all, declined residing in the governor’s mansion.

And now, Mr. President, back to you, since the ball’s in your court.  You’ve won a second term, which means you can focus on your place in history, joining a handful of great presidents who chose to lead and hence transform this great nation.

Open a window for us, Mr. President.  Stand fast.  Stand tall!

rj

The food revolution is all around you!

Have you noticed the food chain stores are increasingly offering alternative foods these days, replete with burgeoning natural food isles, stacks of organic fruits, and freshly washed veggies, hermetically sealed?  Why I even saw locally produced corn for sale this past summer at my local Krogers.

Now don’t think for a minute the box store groceries, a $32 billion enterprise, give a hoot about keeping you healthy.  You can believe that when they stop promoting their sugar drenched sodas, sodium laced dinners, fatty organ meats, and, and….

What they do care about is market share, better known as making a buck. They can read the tea leaves.  A food revolution is underway and they’re wanting their cut.

Some, though not perfect, do a better job at marketing healthy foodstuffs.  Think Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Good Foods.  The long dominating chains have taken notice, except for Walmart, surprisingly, which remains tethered to largely traditional fare, despite its widely hyped transitioning to a green energy infrastructure.

Restaurants remain a problem and constitute virtual feed lots for human slaughter with their huge portions of “ain’t good for you foods”.  What a shocker when you scrutinize the online menus of some of these chains for their nutrition content to learn an average entree like Applebee’s bourbon street steak nets you 1067 calories along with 71.6g in fats.  By the way, you should always study the fat to total calorie ratio of any food you buy at the store or consume in a restaurant, remembering that fat grams are converted to calories by multiplying each gram by 9, unlike carbohydrates which follow a  1g x 4 formula.  The rule-of-thumb is that you should try to minimize your fat calorie ideally to no more than 10% of total calories and at max no more than 20%.   With Applebee’s entree, that comes to around 107-214 calories.  Converting in your head those 71.6 fat grams using the simple conversion formula I gave you gives you more than 630 calories of fat intake, far exceeding the parameters.  Hey, death trap!

Many of us have had enough of the food industry’s manipulating our health by prioritizing profit.  Even their efforts to repackage items under the aegis of “natural”should ruffle your feathers.  Have you taken a look at your Quorn chicken nuggets box lately for its serving content?  Believe me, it’s typical.

You can say no to all this and trade your knife for a fork.  Millions have and the more who do help make that decision easier for the rest of us.  Think Whole Foods, organic, local produce via farmer markets, growing your own veggies.  Healthy alternatives are sprouting like spring grass everywhere.

By the way, the neatest eating tip I ever got comes from just maybe the best book on nutrition out there, Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (2008):  “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly Plants.”

The food revolution’s begun.  Don’t miss it!

Be well,

When Elephants Weep

I have always had this love affair with elephants, these gray, wrinkled, lumbering mastodons, survivors of a primordial past, trunks swaying, gentle creatures, yet fearsome when provoked.

Among animals, they’re probably the most attached to one another. What surprises many is the social sophistication of their matriarchal society characterized by close relationships with all herd members, many of them related. Herds, sometimes numbering up to a hundred, are headed by the oldest female and calves are raised and protected by the entire matriarchal herd. (Males generally leave the herd at about 15 years and live apart.)

Elephants are found in Africa and Asia and it’s easy to tell them apart, as the Asian species is smaller. When I see the large ears, I know at once it’s an African elephant.

Both male and female African elephants have tusks, to their own undoing. In contrast, only the Asian male has them.

Highly intelligent, elephants can communicate messages over long distances with their feet.

They are also endowed with prodigious memory, as I think most of us know.

Elephants have the longest noses of any animal, for that’s what their trunks really are. Some sport trunks up to seven feet in length, yet they never get in the way, as they’re used to grasp as well as feed. With this tool, they’ve been known to assist calves to stand or pull them up over an embankment.

Their ivory tusks are actually teeth that never stop growing.

Lesser known is the elephant’s capacity to mourn their dead.

Population growth has reduced its habitat inexorably, resulting in elephants invading villages in search for food, in turn, leading to hunting parties. Immense poverty has triggered poachers to seek quick Asian money for ivory. Even reserves, dedicated to wildlife safety, are violated and any elephant, mother or calf, is gunned down for its tusks. African governments lack the financial resources needed to upgrade security. Reserves themselves are a last ditch effort to provide sanctuary but, unfortunately, often conspire against elephant interests, blocking off migration routes when they need to mate or find new food resources.

Just over a century ago, several million elephants roamed Western and Central Africa’s savannahs and dense jungles; today, about 300,000 remain. In Asia, their numbers have dwindled from 100,000 to 35,000, all of them domesticated.

Often weighing up to seven tons, their sole predator is Man. In Cameroon, 300 elephants were recently slaughtered, their bodies left to rot. Such slaughters are likely to define their future, given the nature of Man’s capacity for ruthlessness for the sake of coin.

To fully appreciate elephants, I highly recommend Jeffrey Moussaleff Masson’s moving book, When Elephants Weep, an exploration of their capacity, along with other animals, for emotion.

Conrad had it right about the ignominy of Man, his ruthless capacity, hidden behind his civilized veneer, for retrogression to a latent savagery taking many hues.

When elephants weep, I weep with them. I weep for a vanishing legacy that our grandchildren may never know: the cry of elephants, the thunder of their feet, the mystery of their dark eyes.

I weep most for a declining vestige of a once garden world distanced from Man’s malevolence, a fall from grace into the heart of darkness.

I find it horrendous….

I find it horrendous that we continue to rely upon coal as a primary energy resource. Here in Kentucky, a major coal producing state, those who protest dirty power plants and the state’s reliance on coal are treated as alarmists, if not environmental extremists, who will take away jobs and inflate energy prices for consumers. As such, they constitute “an attack on Kentucky’s way of life” (D-Keith Hall). Kentucky, by the way, subsidizes coal to the tune of $115 million annually.

In Kentucky, coal is king and a driving political force as shown in the $40,000 contribution the industry has made to Andy Barr’s renewed efforts to unseat 6th District Congressman, Ben Chandler. Lexington, the heart of the district, just happens to be the home of the Kentucky Coal Association and several mining companies.

One of coal’s biggest friends in the state is the University of Kentucky, which recently accepted $20 million from coal interests to build a lodge facility for its basketball players. Money, in short, has defined the issue for the University, not public health or global warming. The University even has a Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration. The University might learn a thing or two from many of its students who have called for transitioning its power plant to a more efficient energy source.

One Kentuckian, noted author Wendell Berry, stood tall in all of this, resigning his teaching position at the University and taking his papers with him, which he has donated this week to the Kentucky Historical Association. I wish there were more like him.

All of this reminds me of the days in Kentucky when tobacco was also a power broker, with government and higher education aligned with its interests. Despite evidence slapping one in the face, for years they denied tobacco’s heavy toll on the public’s health.

Coal won’t be losing its clout anytime soon, at least in Kentucky, given the just announced $7 billion deal made with India for 9 million tons of Kentucky and West Virginia coal, a deal principally involving a Kentucky lawmaker from Pike County, D-Rep Keith Hall. Like many developers, coal advocates often seek elective office to further their business interests. Hall sits on the board of FJCS Energy, the New Jersey company that signed the agreement.

While the U. S. as a whole is making its slow transition to cleaner fuels, the coal company again resembles the tobacco industry in its emphasis on exports to shore up its sagging profits at home. The hell with what happens to the health of those in developing nations.

Worse, is the industry’s blatant indifference to global warming and its consequences to all life. What matters is profit. How many more mountains will be leveled and how many streams contaminated? How many toxins belched into the atmosphere?

As they have it, coal is very much a part of our future. Land reclamation has brought benefits such as creation of new forests, recreational areas, housing development, and facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes, and even airports. It’s cheaper to store coal than alternative fuels such as wind or solar, geothermal or nuclear. New technology has improved the efficiency of coal fired power plants in reducing carbon emissions. Alternative sources, moreover, can’t keep pace with projections of a future doubling of worldwide energy needs. As is, coal is one of the most regulated industries, providing the public with ample protection.

The real story is that we’ve seen 300 mountaintops leveled, 600,000 acres of hardwood forests permanently decimated. As for reclamation, only 4% of any post-mining productivity has been confirmed (EcoWatch). Mining violations and watershed violations are in the thousands, with little state enforcement. Instead of the promise of diversification to remedy Appalachia’s enmeshed poverty, the region faces a future of moving to the forefront in black lung disease and no appreciable amelioration in chronic unemployment, where 60% of mining jobs have been lost to mechanization, not EPA regulation.

Meanwhile, the National Resources Defense Council recently designated Kentucky as the most polluted state in the nation from coal field fuel plants, largely because of the state government’s failure to clean-up the industry. As with Keith Hall, Kentucky government continues to be dominated by coal interests. Hall, by the way, is co- chair of the National Resources and Environment Committee. He has said, “I ‘m not just a friend of coal, I’m coal’s best friend.”

As Hall puts it, “I believe in states’ rights.” Me thinks we’ve heard all this before and that the Confederacy is alive and well. As with slavery, tobacco, and now coal, Kentucky needs to disengage from an economy that exacts profits from human misery.

Instead of the ubiquitous Friends of Coal bumper stickers, Kentucky would do better with say, Friends of People replacements, and in green, not black, the color of death.

rj

Holding the President’s feet to the fire

If you go to the Obama campaign site Obama, you’ll read its boast of the EPA initiating restrictions on mercury and other pollutants from coal and oil fired power plants during the President’s tenure.

Just recently, the Obama administration announced its reaching agreement with the nation’s auto manufacturers to increase vehicle fuel efficiency to 54.5 mpg by 2025,

Perhaps the best news for environmentalists is the State Department’s recent announcement that it would delay construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to review its previously approved routing, ultimately deciding its verdict after the 2012 elections.

These seeming environmental breakthroughs, while making good copy, masquerade sobering truths.

Take the Keystone delay, for example. While this change from approval to delay has apparently rekindled environmentalist enthusiasm for Obama, Greens should be forewarned it probably reflects politics rather than sincere commitment.

You may remember that just last August hundreds of protestors against the pipeline, which would transport carbon-heavy tar sands from Canada to the Gulf, were arrested outside the White House, leading many environmentalists to think seriously about not supporting the President’s reelection.

This caution has apparently been tossed to the winds by the Keystone delay. I think this is a mistake. (See Rekindle.) Obama is simply just another politician governed by pragmatics, hence quite willing to pander rather than stick to principle in order to keep power. The Keystone Project delay is about re-routing only, not abnegation, and environmentalists are foolish not to note the difference as well as its ominous time-line.

Underscoring my suspicion is Obama’s earlier September decision to shelve new EPA proposals on smog. The President justified his decision on the basis of not wanting to jeopardize the economy by imposing new pressures on industry and business. Republican House speaker Boehner had argued that one of the EPA’s proposals would have cost $90b. Never mind, however, the consequences for those millions with respiratory problems. Clean Air Watch called Obama’s turnaround “political cowardice.” I agree.

As for the original Keystone plan that routed the pipeline incredulously through the sensitive Oragulla Aquifer, it was the Obama administration that signed on.

Won’t anything ever change in Washington? If we hold our ground and not conflate rhetoric with meaningful change, it will.

The bottom line is that we must hold the President’s feet to the fire.

Evolution’s triumph: the Sandhill Crane

You can’t mistake Sandhill cranes, resplendent with red crowns, wide wing spans, and long legs.

Every fall, they come to Kentucky by the thousands, transients pursuing a rest stop as they wing their way to winter feeding grounds in the Mississippi delta, Florida, Mexico and Cuba. They draw their name from their principal migratory feeding ground along the Platte in Nebraska, with its 75-mile stretch of grass secured sand dunes.

They’re enchanting birds to watch and listen to. You can hear them coming a long ways off in what sounds like a thunderous French r made deep within the throat. These are creatures who sing and dance. Couples, who mate for life and live up to 20 years, actually sing in mutual cadence, sometimes leaping up and down.

They’re among our most ancient birds, stretching back several million years and preceding humans. By the early part of the Twentieth Century they had been hunted virtually to extinction. Through careful conservation, they’ve rebounded, though still threatened principally by habitat loss in Mississippi and Cuba.

Lately, they’ve been in my thoughts. Last spring I had been reading Carl Safina’s impassioned lament for nature’s vanishing wildlife, The View from Lazy Point, and several times he alluded to and quoted Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac, a collection of Thoreau-like observations on nature and man’s troubling despoilment of it. I was not disappointed.

In the course of this beautifully written book, Leopold comes upon the Sandhill crane:

A glint of sun reveals the approach of a great echelon of birds. On motionless wing they emerge from the lifting mists, sweep a final arc of sky, and settle in clangorous descending spiral to their feeding grounds. A new day has begun on the crane marsh.

When we hear his call we hear no mere bird. We hear the trumpet in the chorus of evolution. He is the symbol of our untamable past, of that incredible sweep of millennia which underlies and conditions the daily affairs of birds and men.

The sadness discernible in some marshes arises, perhaps, from their once having harbored cranes. Now they stand humbled, adrift in history.

Upshot:

This week here in Kentucky, the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources announced it will take applications for permits from Nov. 15 through Nov. 30 and hold a drawing Dec. 5 to select up to 400 hunters, the first state to do so East of the Mississippi. Hunters may take up to two sandhill crane then, or until hunters take 400 birds. The season will begin December 17.

Water: managing a precious resource

In North America, we take water availability for granted. This may not be our future.

One of our greatest challenges over the next several decades will be meeting our water needs, whether globally or in the USA. We can live with less oil or coal, find alternative fuels, or develop new technologies. Not so with water, an element vital to sustaining food production and keeping ourselves alive. Though as humans we can be a narcissistic lot, the truth is we’re composed of up to 90% water.

I was reminded of this fact several weeks ago after a three day bout with the stomach flu, with all its unpleasant symptoms. One of the first things you learn is to replace lost fluids quickly and amply. If you don’t, you risk dehydrating and its ultimate consequences, kidney damage and even shutdown.

When Americans think of drought, they probably think of Africa, certainly in the news lately and in past decades with its devastating water shortages. The reality is that what Africa is experiencing is becoming increasingly apropos for earth’s more prosperous regions as well. Take Australia, for example. Sydney draws its water primarily from capacious water storage facilities, drawn from rainfall and held in check by dams. In fact, Sydney’s reservoirs exceed New York’s storage capacity 4:1. Even so, the water flow into Sydney’s nine dams fell 45% between 1996 and 2003. The situation, even now, remains critical. It hasn’t rained plentifully in New South Wales for a very long time.

In the U. S, particularly California and the Southwest, water sufficiency, always a problem for essentially desert regions, has become a gnawing challenge. Southern California depends for much of its water on Northern California, to the latter’s consternation, since it’s also become plagued with serious water shortages. Normally dependent on melting snowpacks from the mountains, this source is proving unreliable, with snow melting earlier before it can consolidate in yet another link with rising global temperatures. Elsewhere, while Los Angeles is certainly under threat, one of America’s fastest growing cities, Las Vegas, may well run out of water, and very soon.

Consider the Midwest. Beneath America’s agricultural heartland lies the Ogallah aquifer, stretching through eight states, South Dakota to Texas. Used as a primary irrigation source, it’s now seriously depleted through over pumping. We are producing agricultural bounties drawing on tomorrow’s water.

If I had time, I could explore with you the causes for increasing drought and, ironically, for some areas like my native New England, unprecedented rain and snow with ensuing floods such as Vermont recently encountered. I wish I also had time to explore proposed solutions such as building more dams, which actually create other dilemmas. My focus here is on conservation, the wise use of water to make it go round and last longer.

1. Get rid of your lawn, or, reduce it sharply.

A 2008 NASA study concluded that grass lawns in the U. S. exceed the entire land area of New York state. In fact, one third of our water use is spent on our lawns or, shockingly, 200 gallons of water per person, per day. Lawns can be replaced or reduced with native, drought-resistant grasses of short height, needing little water. Attractive ground covers such as Irish moss or creeping thyme can help do the job. You’ll save on your water bill while reducing gas mower pollution and insecticide run off as well.  If you’re a garden keeper, plant varieties of flowers and vegetable with lesser water needs.

2.  Install water barrels.

Think about this: an inch of rain falling on a 1000 square foot roof generates 600 gallons of water, which can then be used for your flowers and vegetables. I installed one last summer with a eighty gallon capacity and found it filled up after a brief shower. More and more communities are imposing restrictions on water usage and water rates have been rising as new treatment plants become needed. I’m hoping to plant several raised garden beds accessed to this barrel through a hose.

3.  Be conservative in using water in the house.

In buying water products such as shower heads, faucets and toilets, look for the EPA’s WaterSense label. You can find such products online at
http://www.epa.gov/watersense/product_search.html

If you’re planning to build a new home, a family of four can save up to 50,000 gallons of water annually in a certified WaterSense installation. That’s sufficient to do 2000 laundry loads a year and a savings up to $600 on water bills. Savings can also be had by confining washer/dryer purchases to Energy Star products. (Tankless water heaters, by the way, can save up to 20% in energy costs per year and don’t require periodic flushing.)

Repair dripping faucets promptly.

4.  If a city dweller, opt for a green roof.

All of the applications I’ve mentioned have business and industrial applications as well. In Chicago, green roof gardens are catching on, with some 200 now in existence, including City Hall. Green roofs provide not only space for growing vegetables, but capture storm water while simultaneously cooling the urban landscape.

5.  Stop eating meat.

This recommendation may surprise you, sounds crazy, and is least likely to be adopted, given our cultural biases. But I mention it anyway, just for the record. A recent study by the Agricultural Water Management indicated that cutting animal product use by just half would result in a national reduction of dietary water requirements of 261 billion cubic meters annually by 2025. To put this in perspective, this is the equivalent of 14 times the annual flow of the Colorado River.e ample

The point in all of this is that you and I can take steps now to assure we have ample water at minimal costs in a world where this will be a decreasing reality.

Lebensraum in Texas

On October 31, the United Nations Population Fund announced that world population had reached a watermark 7 billion.  This couldn’t come at a worse time, given global warming. Combined with diminishing economic and natural resources, it possibly heralds a doomsday scenario of accelerating species extinction, famine, and mass starvation.  Some would argue our demise has already begun, given the continuing rise in sea levels, devastating drought, and declining resources as more humans compete for their place at the table.  In the 19th Century, it was clergyman Robert Malthus who provided the first numerical analysis of exponential population growth, and he lived in a world not facing the spectre of climate change as the great complicator. 
For the most part, science has been able to keep Malthus at bay with its progress in developing new crops less impervious to insect and drought.  Such gains, however, have now slowed, given their inability to stay even, or ahead, of population growth.  Adding to this developing tragedy is its impacting the world’s neediest, those living in Africa or developing nations such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.  As I indicated in one of my first posts back in January, the unrest in North Africa has been essentially over rising food prices, now consuming up to a third of a family’s budget.  To the South, or African Horn, starvation threatens several million Somalis, Ethiopians, and Eritreans.
While Northern Hemisphere nations scramble for oil, the major crisis in resources, namely water availability, dwarfs all other resource challenges. By 2025, the International Water Management Institute projects that nearly 2 billion people will live in areas lacking sufficient water to sustain agriculture.  But this crisis will affect the wealthier nations as well.  In the U. S., the rich underground water table that feeds the generous corn and wheat bounties of the Midwest is dropping precipitously..  In Australia, huge areas, particularly near Perth in the west, once known for their wheat and vineyard harvests, haven’t seen rain in several years.  Less wheat and corn translates to less surplus available for third world nations.  While the wealthy nations will work out coping strategies, it’s the already poor who will suffer yet greater degradation. Uncurbed population growth exacerbates their suffering.
Not everyone agrees with the dismal portrayal I’ve given here.  In a lead Time Magazine article (Oct. 26, 2011), writer Bryan Walsh argues we have the resources to not only take care of 7 billion, but many more. Moreover, there’s good news on the birth control front. In 1950, the average woman had 5 children, now down to 2.5.  Present world population growth is just 1.1  a year. True, population continues its rapid rise in sub-Saharan Africa, but this is offset by their low impact on resources. “[The] real problem for the world is that each of the 300 million people in the U. S. consumes as much as 32 Kenyans do,” Walsh argues.
Personally, I think people like Walsh are living on another planet. More people means more environmental degradation in the form of carbon emissions, declining wildlife habitat and loss of fauna and flora, more competition for oil, gas, and, yes, food.  We may be able to feed ourselves now to the point of waste and obscene obesity, but this doesn’t help distressed populations in Africa and Asia.  Soon we will not even have sufficient grains to export and alleviate our guilt, or is it our complacency?  Have we forgotten the spectre of global warming that is fast changing the equation?
I have to laugh at those who argue like Walsh that we could fit the entire world population into Texas and wouldn’t exceed the density of New York City, a place he finds tolerable.  Personally, I shudder at the prospect of every place looking like Jersey or NYC. Has this guy ever been to India, a nation with just a third of China’s land size, yet destined to surpass China’s population in the next decade?
United Nations population projections (2010):
            
201020502100
United States:  310m400m  478m 
Russia: 142m130m  110m  
Nigeria: 150m425m  740m 
China    1b,300m1b,200m  941m 
India    1b,225m1b,692m  1b,551m
Afghanistan 31m76m 111m 
Uganda  33m94m  171m 
Pakistan 174m275m261m
More people–more pollution, hunger, poverty, resource depletion, habitat loss, flora/fauna extinction, accelerated climate change.
Hot off today’s environmental news: Africa’s western Black rhino now officially declared extinct.
More:  25% of mammals now headed for extinction.
No problem:  We could fit the entire population of the world, both now and later, into Texas.  Hmm, wonder how Texans might feel about that.

Reflections on the Occupy movement

Yesterday marks a month ago that the Occupy Wall Street movement began. Modeled after the protests of what’s become known as the Arab spring, it seems to have taken its start from a Twitter post on July13 that slowly gathered interest via other Twitter posts and with numbers, momentum, spreading to other large American cities and, lately, to other parts of the world, particularly Europe. It remains a social media-driven phenomenon. One of its oddities is that it was initially fueled by environmentalists and organic food enthusiasts, among them vegans rather than by the Left. I’m one of those, so from the beginning, I have liked this movement.

As I see it, it’s primarily kindled by resentment that the wealthy along with corporations don’t pay their fair share of taxes and that the banks continue in their public-be-damned parochialism. As such, the movement claims to represent the 99.1 of us denied a place at the table.

One of its oddities is the lack of defined goals amidst a motley of mindsets ranging from far Left to Libertarians, including Tea Party advocates who share an antipathy towards banks, though not corporations, per se. As a whole, however, the occupiers see government as needing reform rather than dismantling.

This movement reminds me of the protests concurrent with the Vietnam War back in the 60s and early 70s, composed largely of young people. This comes as a surprise, as the present generation has been vastly silent, though not so in Europe and North Africa. But “the times are a changing,” given our economic doldrums, the worst since the Great Depression, with a stagnant 9.1 percent unemployed, a figure much higher among young people and minorities. In supposedly one of the richest nations in the world, growing poverty now engulfs more than 20% of our population. In some of our cities, nearly 40% of Blacks and Hispanic under 24 can’t find jobs. This is social dynamite that could escalate into the race riots we saw in the 60s.

Meanwhile, it’s business as usual on Wall Street. The banks that perpetrated our economic downturn, bursting the bubble their speculative greed had created, were
bailed out with huge cash infusions by the government, beginning with Bush but vastly accelerated under Obama. Our national indebtedness consequently has swelled, threatening to turn America into a Greece, Italy, or Ireland, unable to pay its bills. In an effort to keep the steam engine from derailing, we now see austerity measures, both local and national, exacerbating the job crisis. Meanwhile, there’s the continuing rampage of globalization with its consequence of out-sourced-jobs.

Fighting two questionable wars doesn’t help either, diverting huge sources of capital that are vitally needed to rekindle confidence in the economy, leading to job growth through increased consumer spending. You don’t make things better by laying off teachers, police and fire fighters, curtailing libraries, and closing parks.

The banks, of course, haven’t mended their ways. To get around some scrutiny measures recently passed by Congress, the banks have cunningly found ways to circumvent, inventing new income sources through initiating higher interest, fees, and restricted borrowing. Few couples have the 20% down payment required for most mortgage loans, crippling the housing industry which along with car sales, provides key impetus in encouraging a robust economy. The obscenity of huge CEO bonuses continues. Concurrently, they’ve gotten their paper work together and are now foreclosing on delinquent mortgages at a blitzkrieg pace. In short, it’s business as usual, the public be screwed.

Actually, there’s been this gargantuan transfer of wealth going on for some time, with the middle class its victims. The rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes, yet some 37% of Americans don’t pay any tax whatsoever, buttressed by numerous exemptions. It’s a vast simplicity to put all the blame on the wealthy. In fact, this poses one of the dangers for the Occupy movement: that it simply becomes a self-pitying indulgence in envy, rather than meaningful effort to ameliorate; a dangerous wedge masquerading class warfare.

This, of course, may hint at two other dangers, the offshoot of opportunists:

1. That the movement will become politicized by a political party and/or trade unions. This would dilute the movement’s effectiveness as a voice for the people. If anything, we need a third party, say a Green Party. Appropriately, most interviewed participants are suspicious of both major parties. No party should have us in its hip pocket and commit identity theft to advance its own agenda.

2. That the anarchist and Marxist spectrums will infiltrate and nullify through calculated violence such as we saw in Rome last week as hooded, masked street toughs burned and looted. I still believe in a market economy, with safety nets in place.

I am for this protest, though I wish it had a third party corpus. Romanticism can be a beautiful thing, but it needs boots on the ground. As is, I fear that come winter’s icy wind and falling snow, the movement will lapse into memory.

An empty spot

I finished Carl Safina’s The View from Lazy Point yesterday, and I’m feeling an empty spot, or something missing, after spending several weeks in silent discourse with this eloquent work.  Safina, a MacArthur Prize recipient, is well known in the conservation movement.  Recently, Audubon magazine listed him among the 100 leading conservationists  of the last century. He’s the founder of  the Blue Ocean Institute.

Safina could have been a poet, given his metaphoric penchant and passion for seeing what most of us miss in the delicate tapestry of nature and our role in its weave.  If the book has a constant, it laments humanity’s increasing indifference to that world beyond itself, a callousness to its intrinsic connection with nature at large, and a harbinger of its penchant for self-destruction.  With coal-fired power plants belching carbon in exponential quantities into the atmosphere, our insatiable appetite for material goods, our conflation of growth with well-being, the explosion in our numbers, we are depleting our resources, accelerating climate change, and imperiling our children and grandchildren.  We live for today, impoverishing tomorrow

Every act has its consequence for good or bad, and now we live in a world where flora and fauna lie increasingly threatened, the seas emptied.  Even our trees, those sentries protecting us from breathing carbon dioxide’s toxic fumes, are in decline, decimated by disease, drought and a chainsaw pursuit of material gain and comfort.  Each year, the birds are fewer, the water tables of nations more contaminated or declining, the seas relentlessly rising.

At times, Safina nearly loses it, tongue-lashing market greed and political connivance.  He’s traveled to all the world’s environmental hot spots and, universally, the message is the same: man’s degradation of  the planet with its calamitous consequences.

Several scenarios standout in the book, one of which had all the earmarks of potential violence when Safina and a friend find themselves confronting a pick-up driver who’s  come to the Long Island shore to shovel horseshoe crabs into the bed of his truck.  Horseshoe crabs have been here for 450 million years, surviving even the extinction of the dinosaurs.  Individuals can live up to twenty years.  After all that, even these well-adapted creatures are facing depletion as a consequence of humans. They are now used for bait.

Shafira manages to drive him off, only to find he’s been replaced by scores of pick-ups in the early morning.  New York state may have reduced its quotas, but who’s watching?  As Safira remarks, “There is something in man that hates natural abundance, and something that clings to excess” (p. 196, Kindle edition).  Without horseshoe crab eggs, migrating shore birds cannot find the sustenance to complete their journeys.  We live in a world of delicate linkage.  Destroying one entity in that linkage doesn’t confine its results.

This book isn’t for the faint-hearted.  It gives you the trenchant truth; still, it also offers hope.  After all, when man has cared, he has succeeded.  Peregrines, bald eagles and red-tailed hawks show increased numbers.  Once they were threatened species.  But such successes are all too few.  Between 199 and 2005, horseshoe crab eggs have declined 90 percent along Delaware Bay.  Concurrently, Red Knots have declined 80 percent, or from 150,000 to around 30,000 (p. 138, Kindle edition), and here we’re considering just two species.  By 2021, some two thirds of animal and plant species will be gone.

Safina sounds the alarms at the end of his book:  “For twelve thousand years or so, humanity has lived in a period of very stable climate.  That stability has been the climate envelope for all of civilization so far. Now we are committed to leaving that stable period for points unknown. It’s humanity’s most hazardous journey yet” (pp. 349-50, Kindle edition).

Not many seem to be listening.

 

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