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Rachel's Democracy & Health News #973

"Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?"

Thursday, August 21, 2008...............Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org --
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Featured stories in this issue...

Energy at the Crossroads
  Burying carbon dioxide in the ground to avoid global warming is a
  General Motors solution. What we need is a Honda solution.
Wasted Energy
  A wave of proposed garbage incinerators is sweeping the country 
  again -- and grass-roots activists are gearing up again to
  stop them.
Chronic Lead Poisoning from Urban Soils
  "The national numbers for chronic lead poisoning are staggering but
  the percentage of affected children in older urban areas is much, much
  higher than in rural areas or newer cities. Many older urban centers,
  have lead poisoning rates that are 5 to 10 times the national
  average."
Carcinogens from Car Exhaust Can Linger
  New information about airborne soot indicates that fine particles
  are as dangerous as cigarette smoke.
Climate Change Equals Stronger Rains
  Have you noticed that rain storms are more intense than they were a
  few years ago? It's a trend, thanks to global warming.
Behind the Headlines: GM Food
  "No one can control what happens when genetic material from
  different species is mixed -- like putting a gene from, say, a fish
  into a plant. It might do what you want it to do, or it might change
  the plant in unexpected ways and even make it poisonous."
The Delusion Revolution: On the Road To Extinction and in Denial
  "We should not be afraid to face the death of the old future, nor
  should we be afraid to try to earn a new one. It is the work of all
  the ages, and it is our work today, more than ever. It is the work
  that allows one to live, joyously, while in a profound state of
  grief."

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From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #973, Aug. 21, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]

ENERGY AT THE CROSSROADS

By Peter Montague

Vaclav Smil is a historian of technical advances -- particularly in
the field of energy -- and a Distinguished Professor at the University
of Manitoba in Canada. Over the years, Smil has written more than 25
books and many dozens of articles. In recent years he has been
examining human uses of energy over past millenia. As Smil says, "My
firm belief is that looking far ahead is done most profitably by
looking far back."

His first conclusion is that energy systems change very slowly. The
modern world today relies on machines that were all invented in the
1880s -- the steam turbine, the internal combustion engine, plus
thermal and hydro-power for making electricity. These were
supplemented in the 1930s and '40s by gas turbines and nuclear fission
power. The photovoltaic solar cell for converting sunlight directly
into electricity was theorized in 1839 but not actually created until
1954 -- and today, 54 years later, solar photovoltaic power remains a
minuscule contributor to the world's energy needs.

>From the stone age until the 1890s, humans relied mainly on biofuels.
But Smil examines carefully, then dismisses, the dream of returning to
large-scale energy systems derived from biomass (capturing sunlight in
plants, then processing the plants to release energy) including
ethanol. To provide the world's transportation fuels with the most
efficient of these systems -- Brazilian ethanol from sugar cane --
would require a third of the planet's cultivated land, or nearly all
the agricultural land in the tropics, Smil points out. Furthermore,
such systems not only require too much land (thus disupting important
ecosystem services), they also require too much nitrogen fertilizer --
so the ecological impact would be unacceptably large. Excessive human
use of nitrogen fertilizer has been recognized as a global problem
for more than a decade. (See Smil's paper on this and other human
disturbances of global material cycles.)

Despite massive government subsidies, nuclear power has no obvious
future, Smil believes. This results from a combination of things --
the rapid introduction of flawed reactor designs in the 1960s, the
Chernobyl accident, the "serial failure" of fast-breeder reactors, the
unsolved problem of nuclear waste, the unsolvable problem of terrorist
threats involving nuclear material -- all producing dismal public
acceptance of the technology (not to mention investor fear).

Nuclear fusion has been subsidized steadily at the rate of $250
million per year for the past 50 years, "with nothing practical to
show for it," Smil observes. He believes it is "extremely unlikely"
that nuclear fusion will play any significant role in future energy
scenarios.

This leaves solar energy and fossil fuels.

Smil points out that the sunlight reaching the surface of the earth is
truly enormous compared to human energy demands -- something like
10,000 times as large as all human energy needs. But the resource is
diffuse, not concentrated, so it will require 10 to 100 times as much
physical space to use sunlight instead of fossil fuels (or 1000 to
10,000 times as much space, if we opt for growing biofuels). Still,
direct conversion of solar energy into both low-temperature and high-
temperature heat, plus electricity, "could supply a lasting, planet-
wide foundation for non-fossil economies," Smil says.

Fossil fuels began supplying humans with more energy than biomass
(wood, charcoal and crop residues) starting in the mid-1890s. However,
if fossil fuels are contributing substantially to the problem of
global warming because they emit carbon dioxide (CO2), then they must
be phased out, the sooner the better, and the transition to solar
power must proceed apace.

However, the fossil corporations have a different idea (shared by
their allies in the chemical, automobile, railroad and mining
corporations -- plus their loyal representatives in Congress and the
White House, plus the Presidential candidates of both major parties).
Their plan is an end-of-pipe solution -- to capture, compress into
liquid, and bury carbon dioxide in the ground. Given growing public
awareness of the large costs of global warming, this carbon-burial
plan -- as far-fetched as it may be -- is the only way the coal and
oil corporations can continue to burn fossil fuels until there are no
more fossil fuels left to burn.

Here (in a very long quotation) is what Vaclav Smil has to say about
burying carbon dioxide in the ground:

"Underground sequestration of carbon -- now routinely sold as both a
feasible and an effective solution to avoid global warming (Socolow
2005; IPCC 2006) -- is a prime example of what I call the GM approach
to engineering a desirable change. In the early 1970s, when faced with
the legislative fiat to cut automotive emissions of CO, NOx and VOC
the world's largest company chose not to lower them at all but to
install costly and resource-intensive three-way catalytic converters.
In contrast, Soichiro Honda, the founder of the eponymous and now
legendary engineering corporation, approached the challenge as an
ecologist and asked:

"'What would happen if catalytic converters were installed in a large
number of automobiles, emitting platinum, palladium, and other heavy
metals that would then enter human bodies? There are too many
unknowns.' (Sakiya 1982:181).

"Honda's engineers thus concentrated on developing their extraordinary
compound vortex controlled combustion (CVCC hence Honda Civic) and
theirs was the first engine to meet U.S. EPA's strict automotive
emissions requirements. Honda's way -- minimizing the production of
undesirable outputs rather than controlling them as an after-thought
-- should be always the guiding principle of any intelligent, far-
sighted, rational design. I do not have to belabor the wider lesson
taught by these two companies. Three decades after it surprised with
its innovative engine design Honda is the world's leading, and a
highly profitable, automotive innovator whose two dominant vehicles,
Accord and Civic, set the standard for car-making in compact and sedan
class while GM is a virtually bankrupt outfit (losing thousands of
dollars on every car sale) whose products include such ridiculous
monsters as Yukon (24 L/100 km [= 9.8 miles per gallon]) and H1, a
military assault vehicle weighing 4,700 kg [= 5.2 tons].

"I must hasten to add [says Smil] that underground CO2 sequestration
in the service of secondary oil recovery is most desirable, as is any
form of plant-bound sequestration, ranging from a gradual build-up of
soil organic matter to massive planting of trees. But beyond these
highly desirable actions the stress must be on reducing the emissions,
not hiding them in an uncertain and costly manner. There are simply
too many unknowns to commit enormous investments to an undertaking
whose results could be obtained in many more preferable ways. But
ignoring the avoidance principle that should guide any sound
engineering and environmental action does not turn sequestration into
a more practical proposition: even if we were to embrace this second-
rate option the magnitude of the enterprise needed to make a real
difference will defeat us.

"A key comparison illustrates the daunting scale of the challenge. In
2005 worldwide CO2 emissions amounted to nearly 28 Gt [gigatonnes, or
billions of metric tonnes]; even if were to set out only a modest goal
of sequestering just 10% of this volume we would have to put away
annually about 6 Gm3 [billion cubic meters] (assuming that all of the
gas is compressed at least to its critical point where its density is
0.47 g/mL [grams per milliLiter]). The current extraction of crude oil
(nearly 4 Gt [billion tonnes] in 2005) translates to less than 5 Gm3
[billion cubic meters]. Sequestering a mere 1/10 of today's global CO2
emissions (< 3 Gt [billion tonnes] CO2) would thus call for putting in
place an industry that would have to force underground every year the
volume of compressed gas larger than or (with higher compression)
equal to the volume of crude oil extracted globally by the petroleum
industry whose infrastructures and capacities have been put in place
over a century of development. Needless to say, such a technical feat
could not be accomplished within a single generation.

"The obvious question is why it should be even attempted given the
fact that a 10% reduction in CO2 emissions could be achieved by
several more rational, mature and readily available adjustments. The
most radical of these steps would be the reduction of the average
annual U.S. per capita energy (about 330 GJ [billion Joules]/year, or
roughly twice the affluent EU [European Union] level) by about 40%:
this transformation alone would reduce the global carbon emissions by
at least 2.5 GT [billion tonnes] CO2. Of course, this suggestion is
always met with derision and the chances of such a shift are judged to
be utterly impossible. But before you rush to join that dismissive
howl recall that when empires unravel their energy use shrinks.

"The last perfect example was the demise of the Soviet Empire: between
1989 and 1997 the primary energy use in the successor states of the
USSR fell by a third. Then consider the current U.S. trajectory of
enormous accumulated budget and trade deficits, more than twice as
large unfunded health and social security liabilities, absence of any
new domestic savings, gutting of the country's manufacturing, dismal
state of its education, acute strategic overstretch and a crippling
dependence on energy imports (as of 2005 even its net food imports!)
-- and you do not need a great deal of imagination to construct
scenarios of a major economic (choose one: crisis, pull-back,
collapse) to be accompanied by significantly reduced energy
consumption." [End of Smil quotation] (Smil has elaborated elsewhere
[1.2 Mbyte PDF] his reasons for believing that America's global
empire is in the final stages of retreat.)

In sum, Smil believes that burying carbon dioxide in the ground is

(1) A monumentally dumb idea because the first principle of good
industrial design is to avoid production of undesirable outputs,
rather than controlling them as an afterthought.

(2) Fraught with uncertainties -- not the least of them being unknown
costs that are surely larger than what is being forecast on the basis
of almost no real-world experience;

(3) Could not be accomplished in a single generation because capturing
even 10% of human CO2 emissions would require creation of an
industrial infrastructure as large as the present-day global petroleum
industry, which took 100 years to build.

(4) Unnecessary because merely eliminating the most obvious forms
of waste from U.S. energy use -- making us as efficient as Europe --
would accomplish the same thing far more cheaply and far more rapidly
(with considerable health benefits from reduced pollution, I might
add).

Smil elaborated on this last point in a short paper in 2002. He
pointed out that the U.S. requires 7 tons of oil equivalent (toe) per
person per year to maintain our present lifestyle. But he shows that a
top-notch lifestyle requires no more than 2.6 toe and arguably even a
bit less. "Our quest for ever higher energy use thus has no objective
or subjective justification," he concludes.

In sum, we could cut our energy use by more than 60 percent without
diminishing our lifestyle in any way -- and arguably it would be
enhanced because so much pollution would be avoided by the shift.

Burying CO2 in the ground is a General Motors solution when what we
need is a Honda solution.

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From: E Magazine, Aug. 15, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]

WASTED ENERGY

Debunking the Waste-to-Energy Scheme

By Neil Seldman

Like any other vampire, "waste to energy" technology, e.g., burning
garbage for electricity, needs a good, swift stake to the heart.

Decades after garbage incinerators disappeared from U.S. cities,
burning garbage with energy recovery made a dash for federal, state
and city subsidies following the energy crisis in the l970s and '80s.
It had a brief flurry of activity but, by the time the '90s hit, was
on the decline. Only 30 of 300 proposed plants were ever built -- the
last ones in l995 as the result of some dubious political shenanigans
in Syracuse, New York and Montgomery County, Maryland.

The scheme is more aptly described as "wasted energy," as the energy
produced through incineration at the plants is quite small compared to
the amount of energy needed for extraction, processing and
distribution, to replace the materials destroyed.

While environmental dangers from acid gasses, dioxin, particulates,
lead and mercury alerted citizens to the dangers, the proposed plants
were really outdone by the financial weight of the capital outlay --
the operating costs and liabilities that a community had to undertake
to build 1,000-ton-per-day facilities or larger. Detroit spent $1.2
billion to support a garbage incinerator for 200 years. The city
council and mayor just cancelled any further dealings with the
facility. In New Jersey, former governor Christine Todd Whitman had to
drain the general budget of over $1 billion to bail out five county
incinerators, as haulers could not afford to pay the tip fees needed
to sustain the finances of plants and they took their trash to cheaper
landfills in Pennsylvania.

No amount of subsidies, including arbitrage bonding, exemptions from
hazardous waste regulations, mandatory purchase of electricity, put or
pay contracts, tax credits and court rulings could sustain such
financially and environmentally outlandish technologies. The companies
offering these technologies ended their runs. This was no small
accomplishment for the millions of citizens and small business owners
who banded together in a spontaneous grassroots movement to gain
control over the decision-making process at the local level. These
citizen-activists reclaimed America's birthright of local democracy,
despite harassment, including SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public
Participation) lawsuits.

Now a new wave of Wall Street consortia have pooled their billions and
adopted a 'new' wave of technologies -- plasma arc, pyrolysis and
gasification. These so-called non-incineration technologies gasify
garbage and burn the gas. Proponents scold citizens and reporters who
refer to these facilities as incinerators.

Frederick, Maryland officials made it easier to settle this dispute.
They touted their new plan for a facility as non-incineration. When
opponents questioned them, they directed them to look at the facility
in nearby Montgomery County, Maryland, which was an old fashioned mass
burn, water wall incinerator.

You expect these new consortia to try to take advantage of the latest
energy crisis to make a killing. What is unexpected is the total lack
of due diligence on the part of both local officials and environmental
organizations.

Local officials in Florida, for example, are supporting a 3,000-ton-
per-day plasma arc incinerator (scaled up from a pilot plant of 100
tons per day) without knowing the actual costs involved, emissions
data, status of put or pay clauses, or which counties will commit
their garbage to what will be the largest garbage incinerator ever
operated in the world. Bradley Angel of GreenAction in San Francisco
dubs these facilities "incinerators in disguise."

Citizens in Los Angeles seem to have put the proper parameters on
their city, which is evaluating these new alternative technologies.
L.A. citizens will only allow consideration of waste-to-energy
technologies if they are scaled at not more than 10% of the waste
stream and no materials set aside for recycling are incinerated.
Citizens have shown their support for modestly scaled (300 tons per
day) biological systems, which generate methane from organic matter.
To its credit, the city is listening to its citizens and has
implemented diverse programs to reduce the materials placed in the
waste bin and increase materials going into the compost and recycling
bins.

The state of Florida has taken the opposite course. A recent law calls
for 75% recycling, but will count garbage that is incinerated as
recycling. Paper and plastic set aside for the BTU-hungry incinerators
can claim recycling. Meanwhile hundreds and thousands of cities and
counties are solving their problems their problems with no landfill
extensions and no incinerators. Recycling rates in towns that don't
kid around are hitting the 60% level, headed toward 70 and even 90% by
2025. A vibrant take-it-back network, which confronts the unfunded
mandates of products and packages designed for immediate disposal are
aggressively challenging manufacturers in the North West, New England
and California through stewardship councils that pinpoint products and
packages that are hard to recycle and/or contain hazardous materials.
Manufacturers are being pressured to pay for the financial burden they
place on households and businesses.

Many manufacturers have responded with zero waste pledges and
accomplishments. Grocery chains are striving for zero waste at the
checkout counters, as well as recycling and composting the materials
that they generate in their stores. The concept and practice of zero
waste has entered into mainstream thinking and action. In one
generation, the U.S. recycling movement has matured into a zero waste
movement

Why is there a new wave of incinerator promotion? Wall Street greed is
understandable during a time of energy and economic panic. Not only do
the venture capitalists seek to gain fortunes from cities and counties
for the facilities, but Wall Street firms will issue billions of
dollars in bonds at great profit to them and participating investors.
Incumbent officials always love bond issues as it leads to financial
patronage. The large hauling firms support incinerators as a way to
keep the status quo of mass disposal intact. Virgin materials
corporations want to see recycled materials incinerated and remove
10,000 local governments from competing with them as suppliers of
secondary materials, which compete directly with raw materials
extracted from nature.

While some national environmental organizations have closed ranks with
the big manufacturers, the grassroots environmental movement is
steadily growing in size and ambitions. Demanding zero waste in 2008
is a far more radical proposition than calling for recycling and
composting in the '80s and '90s. Activists are taking on the core of
the system.

The key fault line appears to be at the county and city level. Despite
new calls for green cities and counties, officials seem to have lost
the forest for the trees. The single largest thing a city or county
can do to add to its local economy and reduce its global environmental
footprint is to transform its waste stream into a resource stream.
Local governments are totally in charge of what they do with these raw
materials. Yet, despite the success of small towns, large cities and
rural counties in approaching zero waste (90% or more diversion from
landfill and incineration), elected officials seem to be asleep at the
switch -- falling for the huckster's call for an easy fix to the
garbage and energy crises.

==============

NEIL SELDMAN is co-founder and president of the Institute for Local
Self-Reliance. He is a senior staff to ILSR's Waste to Wealth Program
and is responsible for recycling and economic development projects in
20 cities across the U.S.

CONTACT: Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance; Greenaction; Institute
for Local Self-Reliance

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From: Indiana University, Aug. 19, 2008
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CHRONIC LEAD POISONING FROM URBAN SOILS

Could water cure a US public health menace?

Indianapolis -- Chronic lead poisoning, caused in part by the
ingestion of contaminated dirt, affects hundreds of thousands more
children in the United States than the acute lead poisoning associated
with imported toys or jewelry. Could treating contaminated soil with
water prevent this public health scourge?

In a study appearing in the August issue of the journal Applied
Geochemistry, Gabriel M. Filippelli, Ph.D., professor of earth
sciences and department chair at Indiana University-Purdue University
Indianapolis, conducted a literature review of studies of urban soils
as a persistent source of lead poisoning and also investigated the
lead burden in the soils from a number of cities, including
Indianapolis. His findings reveal that older cities like Indianapolis
have a very high lead burden resulting in a lead poisoning epidemic
among their youngest citizens.

Filippelli suggests two possible remedies, one of which he believes to
be feasible from both the practical and monetary perspectives and
doable almost immediately.

According to 2007 U.S. Census Bureau data, there are approximately 20
million children below the age of five in the United States, the age
range of greatest susceptibility to the harmful affects of lead
poisoning. Filippelli notes that about 2 percent of these children
(approximately 400,000) have lead poisoning, many in epidemic
proportions.

While acute lead poisoning from toys and direct ingestion of interior
paint has received more publicity, these cases account for only a
portion of children with lead poisoning. Many health officials are
increasingly concerned with chronic lead poisoning, which occurs at
lower levels of lead in the blood and are harder to diagnose. Babies
and young children may develop chronic lead poisoning when playing in
dirt yards or playgrounds or in areas with blowing dry soil tainted
with the lead, which is ubiquitous in older urban areas.

"These national numbers for chronic lead poisoning are staggering but
the percentage of affected children in older urban areas is much much
higher than in rural areas or newer cities. The blowing soil and dust
young children ingest contains large amount of lead from lead paint
and leaded gasoline deposited decades ago, and from industrial
contamination. In Indianapolis, we found high levels of soil
contamination. Many older urban centers, have lead poisoning rates
that are 5 to 10 times the national average." said Filippelli, who is
a biogeochemist studying environmental contamination of heavy metals
and its effects on children's health.

Going into neighborhoods where yards are dirt rather than grass-
covered and spraying clean water with high power shower systems when
tests show that soil moisture is low (usually mid-July to mid-
September in Indianapolis, for example), would significantly decrease
the chronic lead poisoning in children, according to Filippelli. Since
contaminated dirt blows from one property to another, this cannot be
done on a house by house basis but must be carried out on a regional
basis.

A better but less feasible remedy would be to put a layer of clean
soil on top of the contaminated soil and to hydroseed the fresh dirt
with grass. While preferable it is less practical as the grass has to
be maintained, more costly and probably unrealistic to expect money-
strapped municipalities to attempt. The high end remedy, removal of
all contaminated dirt, perhaps two feet deep, is unattainable, except
in small areas around industrial sites such as lead smelters.

Lead levels in the dirt in which children play are a public health
hazard. "Our review plus the new directions we suggest for
remoisturizing soil to prevent blowing of contaminants, confirm that
our approach to estimating lead burden and its remediation can be done
anywhere in the U.S. where there is a lead concern. The Environmental
Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban have
focused their attention on indoor contamination as the direct source
of lead to children. It is now time to open the door and solve the
contaminated soil problem. We hope our study will raise awareness, and
ultimately funding, to stop the poisoning of America's children,
especially those living in older urban areas," said Filippelli, who is
associate director of the Indiana University Center for Environmental
Health.

Young children, especially those who crawl, put objects in their
mouth, eat dirt, or are exposed to blowing dirt, and can consume a
significant amount of lead. Children's developing digestive systems
are very susceptible to lead poisoning. To a child's body, lead looks
like calcium because they both have same ionic charge and size. As
their neurons develop, the nervous system tries to use lead in place
of calcium and the child's neural systems fail to form correctly. This
impairs neural function leading to irreversibly decreased IQ and
increased attention deficient issues.

Chelation, which purges lead from the body, is used to treat acute
lead poisoning but is much less effective in chronic lead poisoning.

==============

Dr. Filippelli is a leader in the emerging field of medical geology.
He is the first elected chair of the Geological Society of America's
Geology and Health Division and is currently immediate past chair.

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From: Science News, Aug. DAY, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]

CARCINOGENS FROM CAR EXHAUST CAN LINGER

Cancer-causing agents' interaction with nanoparticles could make the
chemicals as harmful as cigarette smoke, lab study suggests

By Davide Castelvecchi

The daily exposure to free radicals from car exhaust, smokestacks and
even your neighbors' barbecue could be as harmful as smoking,
according to a new study. Many combustion processes, such as those in
a car, create tiny particles that may act as brewing pots and carriers
for free radicals -- chemicals believed to cause lung cancer and
cardiovascular diseases.

The findings are from Barry Dellinger of Louisiana State University in
Baton Rouge, who reported them August 17 in Philadelphia during a
meeting of the American Chemical Society. Whether the exposure equates
to smoking one cigarette or as many as two packs a day remains
difficult to determine, he added.

His team's lab experiments -- first described in the July 1
Environmental Science & Technology -- suggest that noxious chemicals
form on soot nanoparticles in the still-hot residue of combustion, for
example inside a car's exhaust pipe and catalytic converter.

The chemicals are hydrocarbon-based free radicals called semiquinones.
Similar chemicals usually degrade quickly if they float solo. But in
this case, the chemicals stay attached to the nanoparticles, and they
linger in the air for much longer than previously thought. "To our
enormous surprise, the free radicals survive hours, days, even
indefinitely," Dellinger says.

To mimic the conditions in car exhaust as it cools, Dellinger's team
used silica particles 100 nanometers wide and coated them with copper
oxide. The team then exposed the particles to a hot gas --
experimenting with a range of different temperatures -- containing
hydrocarbons typically produced in flames. All those ingredients are
common in the exhaust of motor vehicles and factories.

The researchers then examined the nanoparticles with magnetic fields
tuned to identify unpaired electrons, the feature that makes free
radicals highly reactive and potentially dangerous for living cells.
The data showed a signature typical of free radicals and similar to
that of semiquinone, a free radical found in cigarette smoke.

The free radicals, however, only showed up when the initial
ingredients had been mixed together at temperatures between 200 and
600 degrees Celsius. That means free radicals are unlikely to form
during the actual combustion, which takes place at higher
temperatures. Instead, they would likely form once the exhaust begins
to cool down.

David Pershing, a chemical engineer at the University of Utah in Salt
Lake City, says the findings are potentially significant for human
health.

Dellinger added that more research is needed to determine not only
where someone would be exposed, but also how much the body would
absorb.

The exact amount of risk the pollutants pose is hard to estimate,
Dellinger said during his presentation. Data on atmospheric pollution
provided by the Electric Power Research Institute of Palo Alto,
Calif., suggests that the risk could be equivalent to smoking as
little as one cigarette a day or as much as more than two packs a day,
he said. "It's early in the game, and there's a lot of ways of doing
these calculations."

The free radicals discovered by Dellinger's team would not show up in
ordinary smog checks, which detect molecules in the gas state and not
those attached to solid nanoparticles, he said.

Even the most modern catalytic converters may be ineffective at
eliminating the free radicals. Ironically, even as a catalytic
converter breaks down smog-causing pollutants, it may be creating
conditions (particularly high temperatures) for the free radicals to
form. "You could be destroying some [pollutants] and creating some at
the same time," Dellinger says.

Citations & References:

Lomnicki, S.... and B. Dellinger 2008. Copper oxide-based model of
persistent free radical formation on combustion-derived particulate
matter. Environmental Science & Technology 42(July 1):4982.

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From: Scientific American Magazine, Aug. 8, 2008
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CLIMATE CHANGE EQUALS STRONGER RAINS

Tracking El Nino with satellites reveals that a warming world means
not only heavier downpours--but drier deserts

By David Biello

As the globe continues to warm, the rainiest parts of the world are
very likely to get wetter, according to a new study in Science.
Desert dwellers, however, are likely to see what little rain they
receive dry up, as the rain becomes even more concentrated in high-
precipitation areas.

Atmospheric scientists Richard Allan of the University of Reading in
England and Brian Soden of the University of Miami looked at satellite
records of daily rainfall stretching back to 1987 to see how warmer
temperatures had affected precipitation. That's one of the key climate
changes expected from rising greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.
The researchers specifically focused on El Nino, the warming of the
waters of the tropical Pacific that raises air pressure, changes
winds, and recurs every few years.

The weather pattern causes floods in some areas and droughts in others
while changing climate across the globe over time -- and thus is a
pretty good stand-in for global warming.

"For the period we examined, 1987 to 2004, there was a clear
relationship between warm El Nino events and increased occurrence of
heavy precipitation," Soden says. Such "events will certainly become
more frequent in a warmer climate."

For example, other research has shown that monsoon storms that dump
six inches (150 millimeters) or more of rain on India have become more
common since the 1950s.

The satellite observations agree with the predictions of various
computer models. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
expects that such changes will wreak havoc on agriculture, human
health and the natural environment.

But the Science study also reveals that the computer projections may
be underestimating how severe such downpours may become. Warmer seas
resulted in three times as many heavy rainstorms as the models would
have predicted -- and other studies have shown that such models fail
to account for the rapid increase in water vapor in the atmosphere.

"It is very likely that heavy rainfall will become more common and
more intense in a warming world," Allan says. "It is too early to say
by how much real world changes in rainfall will surpass projections
from the climate models."

Copyright 1996-2008 Scientific American Inc.

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From: Wales On Sunday, Aug. 17, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]

BEHIND THE HEADLINES: GM FOOD

By Steve Dube,

Prince Charles caused a stir this week with his strongest comments yet
on GM food. But why? Farming editor STEVE DUBE investigates

What's it all about?

Prince Charles doesn't like genetically modified (GM) food. It gives
him nightmares.

Why?

As a passionate organic farmer, Prince Charles is worried that the GM
genie might wreak havoc once it's out of the bottle. There have been
food scares before -- look at Mad Cow Disease.

What does he think might happen?

He thinks GM could be the biggest environmental disaster of all time
and says "millions of small farmers all over the world face being
driven off their land into unsustainable, unmanageable, degraded and
dysfunctional conurbations of unmentionable awfulness".

How does he work that one out?

Well, he knows that farmers and plant breeders have been improving
plants for thousands of years by carefully selecting the best ones.
And there's nothing wrong with that. Long live the Brussels Sprout.

But genetic modification is different because scientists extract one
or more genes from one species and add it to another.

What's wrong with that?

Well, no one can control what happens when genetic material from
different species is mixed -- like putting a gene from, say, a fish
into a plant. It might do what you want it to do, or it might change
the plant in unexpected ways and even make it poisonous. For example,
when scientists tried to increase the starch content of potatoes with
yeast genes, they found the starch content actually fell, and there
were other undesirable effects.

It can't all be bad?

Some of it is very good, according to the biotechnology companies. But
they would say that, wouldn't they, because they are investing heavily
in GM technology. There are 30 million kinds of plants in the world
and just four -- rice, wheat, maize and soya -- provide 60% of our
food. The biotech companies are concentrating on these.

One particular gene, which provides resistance to a type of weedkiller
called glyphosate, has been inserted into at least nine different crop
plants now on the market in the EU and the United States.

Sounds like there's a lot being grown?

Too right. The Agriculture Biotechnology Council, the umbrella body
for the huge multi-nationals that produce GM seed, says 12 million
farmers in 23 countries plant GM crops. And Americans have been eating
GM food for a decade or more.

So the gene genie is already out of the bottle then, isn't it?

Yes. It's been in our shopping baskets since 1996 when Sainsbury's and
Safeway put the first tin of American-grown GM tomatoes on sale.

So what's the problem?

Those tomatoes were clearly labelled as being genetically modified.
And hardly anybody bought them. European consumers don't like GM.

So how come it's in our shopping baskets then?

Any processed food containing maize or soya -- and that's a lot of
food -- is likely to contain GM material. And it only has to be
labelled in Europe if the GM content exceeds 0.9%. But animal feed
does not have to be labelled, and nor does food produced from animals
that are fed GM -- and that's just about all cattle, pigs and poultry,
except those produced organically. There is no GM labelling at all in
the United States.

It's not done the Americans any harm, has it?

Strangely enough, nobody knows because nobody is asking that question,
although we do know that American life expectancy is getting shorter
and more Americans are dying early from food-related problems. But
some scientists have tried to ask questions. Take the mysterious case
of Arpad Pusztai.

Who's he?

Dr Pusztai is a Hungarian-born scientist who worked in the Rowett
Research Institute at the University of Aberdeen.

He was a world expert on plant lectins. These are proteins in plants
that kill insects and other invaders. Pusztai had published more than
300 scientific papers, when, at the age of 69 in 1998, he spoke about
GM potatoes in a World in Action TV programme. He said he had compared
rats fed ordinary potatoes with others fed potatoes that had been
genetically modified with a lectin from snowdrops.

The rats on the GM diet suffered damage to their intestines and immune
systems. That's when all hell broke loose.

What happened?

The Institute's director Philip James phoned to congratulate him after
the programme. But the following morning his attitude mysteriously
changed. Professor Robert Orskov OBE, who worked at the Rowett for 33
years and is one of Britain's leading nutrition experts, claims the
sudden change followed a series of phone calls that started with the
US biotech multinational Monsanto, which produces most of the world's
GM food. This first call went to then US President Bill Clinton, who
phoned then British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who in turn
phonedJames.

Pusztai was suspended and later dismissed, his data seized and he was
banned from speaking publicly. So he had to stay silent when he read
newspapers saying his GM potatoes contained a lectin gene that is
poisonous to mammals.

Did they?

No. The misinformation was included in a press release issued by the
Rowett Institute. James says Pusztai approved the press release but
Pusztai says he knew nothing about it. Even today pro-GM scientists
dismiss his research as muddled and based on a schoolboy error.

Does everyone share that point of view?

No. Pusztai is a hero to anti-GM campaigners, who regard him as
someone who stuck his neck out for the public good. And they're not
alone. In 2005 he was honoured with a whistleblower award from the
Federation of German Scientists.

What happened to his research?

A paper was published by Pusztai and a colleague in the prestigious
medical journal the Lancet in October 1999.

Because of all the controversy the paper was reviewed by six
scientists -- three times the usual number -- and five approved it.
The paper used data held by Pusztai's colleague Dr Stanley Ewen, so it
was not covered by the ban. It showed that rats fed on the GM potatoes
with the snowdrop lectin developed unusual changes to their gut
tissue.

No doubt there has been other research, if so, what has it found?

There has actually been very little independent research. The first
known human trial of GM food was carried out by scientists at
Newcastle University and published in the journal Nature Biotechnology
in 2004. It showed that DNA material transfers from GM food into the
human gut -- disproving the claims of the biotech industry. The Food
Standards Agency, which commissioned the research in response to
public pressure, said the results were not significant.

It sounds as though more research is needed. Is anyone doing it?

Unfortunately no, and for a simple reason. GM seeds are owned by the
company that manufactures them and scientists can study them only if
the company agrees.

Is the only research into the safety of GM food done by the companies
that produce it?

That's right. And since 99.9% of GM varieties are designed to resist
or absorb pesticides or to produce a toxin that kills any insect that
bites it, it's the first time in history that what amounts to a drug
or pesticide is not tested before release by anyone other than the
company that makes it.

And the stakes are high. Farmers who sign up for the promise of GM
crops have to agree to use fertiliser and pesticides from the seed
supplier and not to save any seed. Some are even "terminator" seeds
that are infertile. Meanwhile GM corporations are systematically
buying up seed companies and taking varieties off the market. Control
the seeds that feed the world you become 100 times richer than Bill
Gates, because you can say which country has which seed, and you get
paid every time someone uses your seed. And once you add green oil -
bio-fuel -- into the equation you become master of the world -- richer
than any country. The eight biggest drugs companies are the biggest
producers of GM, and the biggest pesticide manufacturers. They began
with maize and soya, they had the patent last year for wheat in the US
and now they're working on rice.

What about insulin for diabetics? I heard that's now nearly all GM
material.

It is, but there's a case in point: some people have an adverse
reaction to it and can't use it.

But won't GM crops help us to feed the world by making stronger plants
with bigger yields?

You've heard the propaganda put out by the GM companies, who have a
permanent presence at European Commission and easy access to ministers
and civil servants that for some reason believe what they're told. The
United National International Assessment of Agriculture, carried out
by 400 leading scientists, found no evidence that GM crops increase
yields or that they could feed a hungry world. And the US Department
of Agriculture reported earlier this year that some GM crop yields are
actually lower. GM is not about feeding starving children. People are
hungry not because there's not enough food in the world, but because
they haven't got the money to buy it. GM won't make their pockets any
heavier, and they won't be able to afford to buy the seed.

Is that why Prince Charles is worried?

Partly. There's also the environmental impact -- the effects of
increased pesticide use on insects, birds and other wildlife. And the
Prince thinks GM systems and the agribusiness and globalisation
promoted by the world's Big 8 nations such as the US and UK, are
behind a worldwide decrease in the number of small farms. And as
people leave the land they end up unemployed and disaffected in Third
World slums.

Is there any evidence for this?

The UN says globalisation is the biggest underlying reason for the
growth in slums -- the Prince's "unsustainable, unmanageable, degraded
and dysfunctional conurbations of unmentionable awfulness".

OK, we know he doesn't like GM. But surely it's worth giving it a go?

Perhaps, but maybe not like it's being done now. Professor Barry
Commoner, a distinguished biologist and philosopher of science at
Queens College, New York, sums it up like this: "The genetically
engineered crops now being grown represent a massive uncontrolled
experiment whose outcome is inherently unpredictable. The results
could be catastrophic."

So what's the answer?

At the moment, it IS the stuff of nightmares. History has shown that
we need scientists with the public good in mind to study new
technologies and give honest answers about its effects on nature and
humans. That way we may avoid disasters like thalidomide and Mad Cow
Disease. But while science is powered by the pursuit of money, people
like Prince Charles are right to put up their hands and ask why.

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From: AlterNet, Aug. 15, 2008
[Printer-friendly version]

THE DELUSION REVOLUTION: ON THE ROAD TO EXTINCTION AND IN DENIAL

Our current way of life is unsustainable. We are the first species
that will have to self-consciously impose limits on ourselves if we
are to survive.

By Robert Jensen*

"The old future's gone," John Gorka sings. "We can't get to there from
here."

That insight from Gorka, one of my favorite singer/songwriters
chronicling the complexity of our times, deserves serious reflection.
Tonight I want to argue that the way in which we humans have long
imagined the future must be rethought, as the scope and depth of the
cascading crises we face become painfully clearer day by day.

Put simply: We're in trouble, on all fronts, and the trouble is wider
and deeper than most of us have been willing to acknowledge. We should
struggle to build a road on which we can walk through those troubles
-- if such a road is possible -- but I doubt it's going to look like
any path we had previously envisioned, nor is it likely to lead
anywhere close to where most of us thought we were going.

Whatever our individual conception of the future, we all should re-
evaluate the assumptions on which those conceptions have been based.
This is a moment in which we should abandon any political certainties
to which we may want to cling. Given humans' failure to predict the
place we find ourselves today, I don't think that's such a radical
statement. As we stand at the edge of the end of the ability of the
ecosystem in which we live to sustain human life as we know it, what
kind of hubris would it take to make claims that we can know the
future?

It takes the hubris of folks such as biologist Richard Dawkins, who
once wrote that "our brains... are big enough to see into the future
and plot long-term consequences." Such a statement is a reminder that
human egos are typically larger than brains, which emphasizes the
dramatic need for a drastic humility.

I read that essay by Dawkins after hearing the sentence quoted by Wes
Jackson, an important contemporary scientist and philosopher working
at the Land Institute. Jackson's work has most helped me recognize an
obvious and important truth that is too often ignored: For all our
cleverness, we human beings are far more ignorant than knowledgeable.
Human accomplishments -- skyscrapers, the Internet, the mapping of the
human genome -- seduce us into believing the illusion that we can
control a world that is complex beyond our ability to understand.
Jackson suggests that we would be wise to recognize this and commit to
"an ignorance-based worldview" that would anchor us in the
intellectual humility we will need if we are to survive the often
toxic effects of our own cleverness.

Let's review a few of the clever political and theological claims made
about the future. Are there any folks here who accept the neoliberal
claim that the triumph of so-called "free market" capitalism in
electoral democracies is the "end of history" and that there is left
for us only tweaking that system to solve any remaining problems?
Would anyone like to defend the idea that "scientific socialism" not
only explains history but can lay out before us the blueprint for a
glorious future? Would someone like to offer an explanation of how the
pending return of the messiah is going to secure for believers first-
class tickets to the New Jerusalem?

To reject these desperate attempts to secure the future is not to
suggest there is no value in any aspect of these schools of thought,
nor is my argument that there's nothing possible for us to know or
that the knowledge shouldn't guide our action. Instead, I simply want
to emphasize the limits of human intelligence and suggest that we be
realistic. By realistic, all I mean is that we should avoid the
instinct to make plans based on the world we wish existed and instead
pay attention to the world that exists. Such realistic thinking
demands that we get radical.

Realistically Radical

Imagine that you are riding comfortably on a sleek train. You look out
the window and see that not too far ahead the tracks end abruptly and
that the train will derail if it continues moving ahead. You suggest
that the train stop immediately and that the passengers go forward on
foot. This will require a major shift in everyone's way of traveling,
of course, but it appears to you to be the only realistic option; to
continue barreling forward is to court catastrophic consequences. But
when you propose this course of action, others who have grown
comfortable riding on the train say, "Well, we like the train, and
arguing that we should get off is not realistic."

In the contemporary United States, we are trapped in a similar
delusion. We are told that it is "realistic" to capitulate to the
absurd idea that the systems in which we live are the only systems
possible or acceptable because some people like them and wish them to
continue. But what if our current level of First World consumption is
exhausting the ecological basis for life? Too bad -- the only
"realistic" options are those that take that lifestyle as non-
negotiable. What if real democracy is not possible in a nation-state
with 300 million people? Too bad -- the only "realistic" options are
those that take this way of organizing a polity as immutable. What if
the hierarchies on which our lives are based are producing extreme
material deprivation for the oppressed and a kind of dull misery among
the privileged? Too bad -- the only "realistic" options are those that
accept hierarchy as inevitable.

Let me offer a different view of reality: (1) We live in a system
that, taken as a whole, is unsustainable, not only over the long haul
but in the near term, and (2) unsustainable systems can't be
sustained.

How's that for a profound theoretical insight? Unsustainable systems
can't be sustained. It's hard to argue with that; the important
question is whether or not we live in a system that is truly
unsustainable. There's no way to prove definitively such a sweeping
statement, but look around at what we've built and ask yourself
whether you really believe this world can go forward indefinitely, or
even for more than a few decades? Take a minute to ponder the end of
the era of cheap fossil energy, the lack of viable large-scale
replacements for that energy, and the ecological consequences of
burning what remains of it. Consider the indicators of the health of
the planet -- groundwater contamination, topsoil loss, levels of
toxicity. Factor in the widening inequality in the world, the
intensity of the violence, and the desperation that so many feel at
every level of society.

Based on what you know about these trends, do you think this is a
sustainable system? When you take a moment to let all this wash over
you, does it feel to you that this is a sustainable system? If you
were to let go of your attachment to this world, is there any way to
imagine that this is a sustainable system? Consider all the ways you
have to understand the world: Is there anything in your field of
perception that tells you that we're on the right track?

To be radically realistic in the face of all this is to recognize the
failure of basic systems and to abandon the notion that all we need do
is recalibrate the institutions that structure our lives today. The
old future -- the way we thought things would work out -- truly is
gone. The nation-state and capitalism are at the core of this
unsustainable system, giving rise to the high-energy/mass-consumption
configuration of privileged societies that has left us saddled with
what James Howard Kunstler calls "a living arrangement with no
future." The future we have been dreaming of was based on a dream, not
on reality. Most of the world that doesn't live with our privilege has
no choice but to face this reality. It's time for us to come to terms
with it.

The Revolutions of the Past

To think about a new future, we need to understand the present. To do
that, I want to suggest a way of thinking about the past that
highlights the three major revolutions in human history -- the
agricultural, industrial and delusional revolutions.

The agricultural revolution started about 10,000 years ago when a
gathering-hunting species discovered how to cultivate plants for food.
Two crucial things resulted from that, one ecological and one
political. Ecologically, the invention of agriculture kicked off an
intensive human assault on natural systems. By that I don't mean that
gathering-hunting humans never did damage to a local ecosystem, but
only that the large-scale destruction we cope with today has its
origins in agriculture, in the way humans have exhausted the energy-
rich carbon of the soil, what Jackson would call the first step in the
entrenchment of an extractive economy. Human agricultural practices
vary from place to place but have never been sustainable over the long
term. Politically, the ability to stockpile food made possible
concentrations of power and resulting hierarchies that were foreign to
gathering-hunting societies. Again, this is not to say that humans
were not capable of doing bad things to each other prior to
agriculture, but only that what we understand as large-scale
institutionalized oppression has its roots in agriculture. We need not
romanticize pre-agricultural life to recognize the ways in which
agriculture made possible dramatically different levels of
unsustainability and injustice.

The industrial revolution that began in the last half of the 18th
century in Great Britain intensified the magnitude of the human
assault on ecosystems and on each other. Unleashing the concentrated
energy of coal, oil and natural gas to run a machine-based world has
produced unparalleled material comfort for some. Whatever one thinks
of the effect of such comforts on human psychology (and, in my view,
the effect has been mixed), the processes that produce the comfort are
destroying the capacity of the ecosystem to sustain human life as we
know it into the future, and in the present those comforts are not
distributed in a fashion that is consistent with any meaningful
conception of justice. In short, the way we live is in direct conflict
with common sense and the ethical principles on which we claim to base
our lives. How is that possible?

The delusional revolution is my term for the development of
sophisticated propaganda techniques in the 20th century (especially a
highly emotive, image-based advertising system) that have produced in
the bulk of the population (especially in First World societies) a
distinctly delusional state of being. Even those of us who try to
resist it often can't help but be drawn into parts of the delusion. As
a culture, we collectively end up acting as if unsustainable systems
can be sustained because we want them to be. Much of the culture's
storytelling -- particularly through the dominant storytelling
institution, the mass media -- remains committed to maintaining this
delusional state. In such a culture, it becomes hard to extract
oneself from that story.

So, in summary: The agricultural revolution set us on a road to
destruction. The industrial revolution ramped up our speed. The
delusional revolution has prevented us from coming to terms with the
reality of where we are and where we are heading. That's the bad news.
The worse news is that there's still overwhelming resistance in the
dominant culture to acknowledging that these kinds of discussions are
necessary. This should not be surprising because, to quote Wes
Jackson, we are living as "a species out of context." Jackson likes to
remind audiences that the modern human -- animals like us, with our
brain capacity -- have been on the planet about 200,000 years, which
means these revolutions constitute only about 5 percent of human
history. We are living today trapped by systems in which we did not
evolve as a species over the long term and to which we are still
struggling to adapt in the short term.

Realistically, we need to get on a new road if we want there to be a
future. The old future, the road we imagined we could travel, is gone
-- it is part of the delusion. Unless one accepts an irrational
technological fundamentalism (the idea that we will always be able to
find high-energy/advanced-technology fixes for problems), there are no
easy solutions to these ecological and human problems. The solutions,
if there are to be any, will come through a significant shift in how
we live and a dramatic downscaling of the level at which we live. I
say "if" because there is no guarantee that there are solutions.
History does not owe us a chance to correct our mistakes just because
we may want such a chance.

I think this argues for a joyful embrace of the truly awful place we
find ourselves. That may seem counterintuitive, perhaps even a bit
psychotic. Invoking joy in response to awful circumstances? For me,
this is simply to recognize who I am and where I live. I am part of
that species out of context, saddled with the mistakes of human
history and no small number of my own tragic errors, but still alive
in the world. I am aware of my limits but eager to test them. I try to
retain an intellectual humility, the awareness that I may be wrong,
while knowing I must act in the world even though I can't be certain.
Whatever the case and whatever is possible, I want to be as fully
alive as possible, which means struggling joyfully as part of
movements that search for the road to a more just and sustainable
world.

In this quest, I am often tired and afraid. To borrow a phrase from my
friend Jim Koplin, I live daily with "a profound sense of grief." And
yet every day that I can remember in recent years -- in the period
during which I have come to this analysis -- I have experienced some
kind of joy. Often that joy comes with the awareness that I live in a
creation that I can never comprehend, that the complexity of the world
dwarfs me. That does not lead me to fear my insignificance, but sends
me off in an endlessly fascinating search for the significant.

To put it in a bumper-sticker phrase for contemporary pop culture,
"The world sucks/it's great to be alive."

About These Crises

I have been talking about multiple crises without naming them in
detail. As I have been speaking, I suspect you all have been
cataloging them for yourself. For me, they are political (the absence
of meaningful democracy in large-scale political units such as the
modern nation-state), economic (the brutal inequalities that exist
internal to all capitalist systems and between countries in a world
dominated by that predatory capitalism), and ecological (the
unsustainable nature of our systems and the lifestyles that arise from
them). Beyond that, I am most disturbed by a cultural and spiritual
crisis, a condition that goes to the core of how we understand what it
means to be human.

For me, an understanding of this crisis is rooted in my feminist work
on the contemporary pornography industry. Shaped by patriarchy, white
supremacy and that predatory corporate-capitalism, pornography
provides a disturbing mirror on our collective soul. We live in a
world in which large numbers of people (mostly men) derive sexual
pleasure from images of cruelty toward and the degradation of women. A
smaller number of people (again, mostly men) profit from this
industry. And except for a few people rooted in feminism and other
radical philosophies on the margins, there is no significant
progressive critique of it in contemporary society. Pornography is a
place where we can see what the death of empathy looks like; it offers
a picture of a world bereft of the fundamental values of compassion
and solidarity; it provides a narrative of a people with no sense of
shared humanity. Many aspects of the modern world -- this mass-
mediated, mass-marketed, mass-medicated world -- can easily strip us
of our humanity in ways that slowly leave us incapable of responding
to these crises. Along with fretting about the other crises, I worry
about that.

Add all this up and it's pretty clear: We're in trouble. Based on my
political activism and my general sense of the state of the world, I
have come to the following conclusions about political and cultural
change in my society:

It's almost certain that no significant political change will happen
in the coming year in the United States because the culture is not
ready to face these questions. That suggests this is a time not to
propose all-encompassing solutions but to sharpen our analysis in
ongoing conversation about these crises. As activists we should
continue to act, but there also is a time and place to analyze.

It's probable that no mass movements will emerge in the next few years
in the United States that will force leaders and institutions to face
these questions. Many believe that until conditions in the First World
get dramatically worse, most people will be stuck in the inertia
created by privilege. That suggests that this is a time to expand our
connections with like-minded people and create small-scale
institutions and networks that can react quickly when political
conditions change.

It's plausible that the systems in place cannot be changed peacefully
and that forces set in motion by patriarchy, white supremacy,
nationalism and capitalism cannot be reversed without serious
ruptures. That suggests that as we plan political strategies for the
best-case scenarios, we not forget to prepare ourselves for something
much worse.

Finally, it's worth considering the possibility that our species --
the human with the big brain -- is an evolutionary dead end. I say
that not to be depressing but, again, to be realistic. If that's the
case, it doesn't mean we should give up. No matter how much time we
humans have left on the planet, we can do what is possible to make
that time meaningful.

Globalized Tribal Animals

I want to end by celebrating human beings. That may sound odd, given
the rather grim nature of my remarks. But I think there's a way to put
all this in a perspective that is heartening. I return to Wes Jackson,
who doesn't shy away from naming the problems we face and holding
humans accountable for our mistakes, individual and collective. But
Jackson also often says we also should go easy on ourselves, precisely
because we are a species out of context, facing a unique challenge. He
reminds us that we are the first species that will have to self-
consciously impose limits on ourselves if we are to survive. This is
no small task, and we are bound to fail often. I believe that our
failures will be easier to accept and overcome if we recognize:

We are animals. For all our considerable rational capacities, we are
driven by forces that cannot be fully understood rationally and cannot
be completely controlled.

We are tribal animals. Whatever kind of political unit we live in, our
evolutionary history is in tribes and we are designed to live in
relatively small groups, some would say of no more than 150 persons.

We are tribal animals living in a global world. The consequences of
the past 10,000 years of human history have left us dealing with human
problems on a global scale, and we can't retreat to gathering-hunting
groups of 150 or smaller. Even if our future is going to return us to
life at a more local level, as many think it will, at the moment we
have a moral obligation to deal with injustice and unsustainability on
a global level. That's especially true for those of us living in
imperial societies that over the past 500 years have extracted
considerable wealth from others around the world.

What does this mean in practice? I think we should proceed along two
basic tracks. First, we should commit some of our energy to movements
that focus on the question of justice in this world, especially those
of us with the privilege that is rooted in that injustice. As a
middle-class American white man, I can see plenty of places to
continue working, in movements dedicated to ending patriarchy, white
supremacy, capitalism, economic domination by the First World, and
U.S. wars of aggression.

I also think there is important work to be done in experiments to
prepare for what will come in this new future we can't yet describe in
detail. Whatever the limits of our predictive capacity, we can be
pretty sure we will need ways of organizing ourselves to help us live
in a world with less energy and fewer material goods. We have to all
develop the skills needed for that world (such as gardening with fewer
inputs, food preparation and storage, and basic tinkering), and we
will need to recover a deep sense of community that has disappeared
from many of our lives. This means abandoning a sense of ourselves as
consumption machines, which the contemporary culture promotes, and
deepening our notions of what it means to be humans in search of
meaning. We have to learn to tell different stories about our sense of
self, our connection to others, and our place in nature. The stories
we tell will matter, as will the skills we learn.

In my own life, I continue to work on those questions of justice in
existing movements, but I have shifted a considerable amount of time
to helping build local networks that can create a place for those
experiments. Different people will move toward different efforts
depending on talents and temperaments; we should all follow our hearts
and minds to apply ourselves where it makes sense, given who we are
and where we live. After starting with a warning about arrogance, I'm
not about to suggest I know best what work people should do.

I am, however, reasonably confident that if we are to make a decent
future for ourselves and our children, we have a lot of work to do.
John Gorka also expresses that in his song: "The old future's dead and
gone/Never to return/There's a new way through the hills ahead/This
one we'll have to earn/This one we'll have to earn."

We should not be afraid to face the death of the old future, nor
should we be afraid to try to earn a new one. It is the work of all
the ages, and it is our work today, more than ever. It is the work
that allows one to live, joyously, while in a profound state of grief.

==============

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at
Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center.
His latest book, All My Bones Shake: Radical Politics in the Prophetic
Voice, will be published in 2009 by Soft Skull Press. He also is the
author of Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (South
End Press, 2007).

A version of this essay was delivered to the Interfaith Summer
Institute for Justice, Peace, and Social Movements at Simon Fraser
University in Vancouver on Aug. 11, 2008. Audio files of the talk and
discussion are available online from the Radio Ecoshock Show.

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  Rachel's Democracy & Health News (formerly Rachel's Environment &
  Health News) highlights the connections between issues that are
  often considered separately or not at all.

  The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining  
  because those who make the important decisions aren't the ones who
  bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human
  health, the destruction of nature, the decline of community, the
  rise of economic insecurity and inequalities, growing stress among
  workers and families, and the crippling legacies of patriarchy,
  intolerance, and racial injustice that allow us to be divided and
  therefore ruled by the few.  

  In a democracy, there are no more fundamental questions than, "Who
  gets to decide?" And, "How do the few control the many, and what
  might be done about it?"

  As you come across stories that might help people connect the dots,
  please Email them to us at d...@rachel.org.
  
  Rachel's Democracy & Health News is published as often as
  necessary to provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the
  subject.

  Editor:
  Peter Montague - pe...@rachel.org
  
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Environmental Research Foundation
P.O. Box 160, New Brunswick, N.J. 08903
d...@rachel.org
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