sustainability

Flint, Michigan declares lead poisoning emergency

In Flint, Mich., there’s so much lead in children’s blood that a state of emergency is declared (Washington Post)

The mayor — elected after her predecessor, Dayne Walling, experienced fallout from his administration’s handling of the water problems — said in the statement that she was seeking support from the federal government to deal with the “irreversible” effects of lead exposure on the city’s children. Weaver thinks that these health consequences will lead to a greater need for special education and mental health services, as well as developments in the juvenile justice system.

“Do we meet the criteria [for a disaster area]? I don’t know,” she told Michigan Live. But Weaver doesn’t think the city can receive the help it needs without alerting federal officials to the urgency of the matter.

...

NC small town bans solar farms over ridiculous fears

The only problem with democracy is the people. (But it's an even worse problem in every other system we've come up with.)

Woodland rejects solar farm (www.roanoke-chowannewsherald.com)

During the public comment period preceding the rezoning vote, citizens expressed distrust and fear of the solar panels.

Researchers have specific plans for 139 countries to go 100% renewable energy

It can be done. The question is not one of technology, it's one of political will.

139 Countries Could Get All of their Power from Renewable Sources (www.scientificamerican.com)

Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi have done it again. This time they’ve spelled out how 139 countries can each generate all the energy needed for homes, businesses, industry, transportation, agriculture—everything—from wind, solar and water power technologies, by 2050. Their national blueprints, released Nov. 18, follow similar plans they have published in the past few years to run each of the 50 U.S. states on renewables, as well as the entire world. (Have a look for yourself, at your country, using the interactive map below.)

The plans, which list exact numbers of wind turbines, solar farms, hydroelectric dams and such, have been heralded as transformational, and criticized as starry eyed or even nutty.

Determined, Jacobson will take his case to leaders of the 195 nations that will meet at the U.N. climate talks, known as COP 21, which begin in Paris on Nov. 29. His point to them: Although international agreements to reduce carbon dioxide emissions are worthwhile, they would not even be needed if countries switched wholesale to renewable energy...“The people there are just not aware of what’s possible,” says Jacobson, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Stanford University and director of the school’s Atmosphere and Energy Program....

Jacobson thinks the 139 national plans will get traction not only because they offer a path to lower emissions, but because in total, they would create 24 million construction jobs and 26.5 million operational jobs, all spanning 35 years, offsetting 28.4 million jobs lost in the fossil fuel industries. That would leave a net gain of about 22 million jobs. Going 100 percent renewable would also prevent 3.3 to 4.6 million premature deaths a year through 2050 that would have happened because of air pollution from those fossil fuels. “These numbers are what gets people’s attention,” Jacobson says.

saluting the Irish and the Japanese

Four years ago, March 17, 2007, I celebrated Irish Pride Day in a bar in Osaka, Japan. It was part of a three month stay in Japan that changed my life -- my forthcoming book, Why Buddha Touched the Earth, grew out of things I wrote on that trip. (Got my first nibble from a literary agent about that book this week, by the way.) I'd been to Japan for shorter stays twice before that, and visited again in December 2007. And I've longed to return.

I only spent a little time in Tokyo, and never got as far north as the area devastated by the recent tsunami and earthquake. But like everyone who's been fortunate enough to spend time in Japan, my attention has been riveted on the horrible situation over there. While most of the people I met are much further south in the Kansai region, I've also met students and teachers in our Tokyo area Seido karate programs. So far as I've heard, all of them are safe, though I'm sure they're all affected by the difficult situation and it's probable that some have lost family or friends in the disaster.

There's a lot of attention focused on the nuclear disaster; there's good ongoing coverage at Mother Jones's "Blue Marble" blog. And there are certainly long term implications for energy policy there. Even if total disaster is avoided and the health effects are small enough to be lost in the statistical noise -- not at all a sure thing at this point -- the resources that could have been used to aid earthquake and tsunami survivors but had to be diverted to prevent a meltdown, are a stark example of the hazards of fission power.

But the other half of this -- the beautiful half, the half I hope more people see -- is the stories of how the people of Japan are dealing with this disaster. No looting or price gouging. Instead, a sense of community and a quiet resilience and forbearance.

And so tonight, as I do this time every year, as an American of partially Irish decent, I salute my Irish ancestors. But also tonight, as a student of Japanese martial and healing arts, I salute my forebearers in those arts, and all the people of Japan.

Whole Foods and "Organic, Inc." ready to cut a deal with Monsanto

It's been clear for a while that Whole Foods Markets' dedication to organic standards is shallow and motivated entirely by profit rather than by any vision of ecological responsibility. Now comes news that Whole Foods, along with big organic companies Stonyfield Farms and Organic Valley, have come together to cut a deal with that form of Pure Concentrated Evil known to man as Monsanto.

Revelations about Big Organic's betrayal come on the heels of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's announcement that the USDA has approved the unrestricted planting of Monsanto's genetically modified "Roundup Ready" alfalfa. GM crops are in general a bad idea, but "Roundup Ready" crops are the absolute worst -- the idea is essentially to make it possible for farmers to apply Monsanto's toxic herbicide glyphosate indiscriminately, killing weeds and leaving the desired crop behind. But, rather like indiscriminate use of antibiotics, widespread application of glyphosate has already led to the evolution of resistant "superweeds". Australia currently ranks first in the world for weed herbicide-resistant weeds, but if trends continue the U.S. is due to overtake them. That's in addition to Roundup's demonstrated direct harm to human health.

According to Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association:

In a cleverly worded, but profoundly misleading email sent to its customers last week, Whole Foods Market, while proclaiming their support for organics and "seed purity," gave the green light to USDA bureaucrats to approve the "conditional deregulation" of Monsanto's genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant alfalfa. Beyond the regulatory euphemism of "conditional deregulation," this means that WFM and their colleagues are willing to go along with the massive planting of a chemical and energy-intensive GE perennial crop, alfalfa; guaranteed to spread its mutant genes and seeds across the nation; guaranteed to contaminate the alfalfa fed to organic animals; guaranteed to lead to massive poisoning of farm workers and destruction of the essential soil food web by the toxic herbicide, Roundup; and guaranteed to produce Roundup-resistant superweeds that will require even more deadly herbicides such as 2,4 D to be sprayed on millions of acres of alfalfa across the U.S.

...

According to informed sources, the CEOs of WFM and Stonyfield are personal friends of former Iowa governor, now USDA Secretary, Tom Vilsack, and in fact made financial contributions to Vilsack's previous electoral campaigns. Vilsack was hailed as "Governor of the Year" in 2001 by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, and traveled in a Monsanto corporate jet on the campaign trail. Perhaps even more fundamental to Organic Inc.'s abject surrender is the fact that the organic elite has become more and more isolated from the concerns and passions of organic consumers and locavores. The Organic Inc. CEOs are tired of activist pressure, boycotts, and petitions. Several of them have told me this to my face. They apparently believe that the battle against GMOs has been lost, and that it's time to reach for the consolation prize. The consolation prize they seek is a so-called "coexistence" between the biotech Behemoth and the organic community that will lull the public to sleep and greenwash the unpleasant fact that Monsanto's unlabeled and unregulated genetically engineered crops are now spreading their toxic genes on 1/3 of U.S. (and 1/10 of global) crop land.

WFM and most of the largest organic companies have deliberately separated themselves from anti-GMO efforts and cut off all funding to campaigns working to label or ban GMOs. The so-called Non-GMO Project, funded by Whole Foods and giant wholesaler United Natural Foods (UNFI) is basically a greenwashing effort (although the 100% organic companies involved in this project seem to be operating in good faith) to show that certified organic foods are basically free from GMOs (we already know this since GMOs are banned in organic production), while failing to focus on so-called "natural" foods, which constitute most of WFM and UNFI's sales and are routinely contaminated with GMOs.

dead birds and fish mean OMG the end of the world! Or, not.

People panic as in a matter of weeks, large numbers of dead birds are found in Texas, Austrailia, and Russia, and hundreds of thousands of dead fish are found in California.

Whoops! Sorry, had the Guardian of Forever showing me the wrong year. That was 2007. This year, it's dead birds in Italy, Sweden, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Louisiana, and dead fish in Maryland and dead crabs in England

Mass bird and fish kills are not unprecedented. This is the third year in a row for the English crabs, while the Maryland Department of Environment counts 2,900 mass fish kills between 1984 and 2009. Forteans have have collecting stories of birds falling from the sky for decades.

It's certainly possible -- though I have no evidence either way -- that the frequency is increasing, due to pollution, climate change, and the generally shitty way we're treating our planet's life support systems. And that's a very legitimate concern.

But the current spike in observed mass deaths is partly a result of increased information and reporting. A century ago, the news of such an incident would be a local story. Even just four years ago, many fewer us us were rocketing stories around Facebook and the like. But now, thanks to the web, a dozen dead birds in a small town somewhere can fuel panic around the globe. And then once we're primed to look for them, every incident that would have passed with little mention just months ago becomes Part Of The Pattern. (It's a Law Of Fives sort of thing.)

So let's turn down the end-of-days talk and the deep-conspiracy-theory nonsense, okay? Then maybe we can look with a clear and level head at our impact on the planet. Thanks.

please don't act stupidly enough to make me call the cops

Being of an anarchic -- or Zenarchic -- disposition, I really hate to call the cops. I'd rather, to the extent possible, have people talk out their problems as a community of equals, rather than throwing "authority", with its dangers into the mix.

But when I see two young idiots racing their go-karts on the rainy street, presenting a hazard to navigation and raising the potential for traffic accidents, my choices are 1) let it go, and if an accident is caused, ah well; 2) try to chase them down on foot and, if I catch them, give them a stern talking-to; 3) try to chase them down on foot and, if I catch them, take more direct action, like pulling a wire out of their noisy little engines, or 4) call it in to the BCPD, knowing that not much is likely to come of it but at least I've done what I could.

Please, folks: don't behave in such a stupid manner that I have to make decisions like this. Thanks.

Bjorn Lomborg and other climate "skeptics" who have come to their senses

Bjorn Lomborg was one of the first high-profile "climate change skeptics". In 2001, he argued in his book The Skeptical Environmentalist that fighting global warming would be a waste of money.

Now, in a new book Smart Solutions to Climate Change, Lomborg is calling climate change "undoubtedly one of the chief concerns facing the world today", and calling for a carbon tax to collect $50 billion a year.

The Week has a brief on him and five other climate "skeptics" who have come around.

Discovery Channel terrorist damages an important idea

This morning, while I was doing my usual Wednesday 10k-ish run my mind wandered all about, as it usually does. If I were a "real" runner I suppose I'd be worrying about improving my stride or something, but as a dilettante, all kinds of stuff goes through my head.

I was thinking about the need for (gentle! voluntary!) population control, about how mainstream economists insist we need to keep the population growing so we have enough younger workers to support the elderly, and how what we really need to do instead is to recognize and encourage the contributions that the elderly make to our society.

I had the beginnings of an interesting piece for the blog, about how ZPG -- and even a slight NPG -- ties in with better status for women and the elderly, about how it means more wealth for everyone, since wealth is limited by natural resources divided by population. Indeed, some say that the population reduction cause by the Black Death helped set the stage for the Renaissance, with a reduction in population meaning more stuff per per person, including lots of surplus clothing -- which could be turned into rag paper to feed the new printing presses.

But now, forget about it, we can't have a meaningful discussion about the topic for months if not years thanks to the poor doofus who stormed the Discovery Channel headquarters today with a gun and some bombs, insisting that they air "programs encouraging human sterilization and infertility."

He's dead now, and it will be impossible to have a serious conversation about a serious issue for a while. That's what violent extremism gets us.

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