Greener Times

Promoting a sustainable society…one day at a time.

Archive for January, 2009

GT for February 2 – 8

Posted by Trey Smith on January 31, 2009

Greener Times for the Week of February 2 – 8

Volume 3 No. 42

an e-publication for Greens anywhere and everywhere

Trey Smith – Publisher/Editor
Tom Herring, Duff Badgley & Maryrose Asher – Columnists

In This Week’s Issue
* Global Warming Is Irreversible, Study Says
* Halt New Coal & Nuclear Plants
* Thoughts By the Way: Pause, Shift
* Our Climate Crisis: Stop Flying & Making Concrete
* Un-Spinning the Spin: Obama Closes Guantanamo: End of Torture or PR Move?
* This Week in History
* Letters to the Editor — 1
* Pencil Shavings: What Now?
* News You May Have Missed

Global Warming Is Irreversible, Study Says
by Richard Harris for NPR

Climate change is essentially irreversible, according to a sobering new scientific study.

As carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise, the world will experience more and more long-term environmental disruption. The damage will persist even when, and if, emissions are brought under control, says study author Susan Solomon, who is among the world’s top climate scientists.

“We’re used to thinking about pollution problems as things that we can fix,” Solomon says. “Smog, we just cut back and everything will be better later. Or haze, you know, it’ll go away pretty quickly.”

That’s the case for some of the gases that contribute to climate change, such as methane and nitrous oxide. But as Solomon and colleagues suggest in a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it is not true for the most abundant greenhouse gas: carbon dioxide. Turning off the carbon dioxide emissions won’t stop global warming.

“People have imagined that if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide that the climate would go back to normal in 100 years or 200 years. What we’re showing here is that’s not right. It’s essentially an irreversible change that will last for more than a thousand years,” Solomon says.

This is because the oceans are currently soaking up a lot of the planet’s excess heat – and a lot of the carbon dioxide put into the air. The carbon dioxide and heat will eventually start coming out of the ocean. And that will take place for many hundreds of years.

Solomon is a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Her new study looked at the consequences of this long-term effect in terms of sea level rise and drought.

If we continue with business as usual for even a few more decades, she says, those emissions could be enough to create permanent dust-bowl conditions in the U.S. Southwest and around the Mediterranean.

“The sea level rise is a much slower thing, so it will take a long time to happen, but we will lock into it, based on the peak level of [carbon dioxide] we reach in this century,” Solomon says.

The idea that changes will be irreversible has consequences for how we should deal with climate change. The global thermostat can’t be turned down quickly once it’s been turned up, so scientists say we need to proceed with more caution right now.

“These are all … changes that are starting to happen in at least a minor way already,” says Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University. “So the question becomes, where do we stop it, when does all of this become dangerous?”

The answer, he says, is sooner rather than later. Scientists have been trying to advise politicians about finding an acceptable level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The new study suggests that it’s even more important to aim low. If we overshoot, the damage can’t be easily undone. Oppenheimer feels more urgency than ever to deal with climate change, but he says that in the end, setting acceptable limits for carbon dioxide is a judgment call.

“That’s really a political decision because there’s more at issue than just the science. It’s the issue of what the science says, plus what’s feasible politically, plus what’s reasonable economically to do,” Oppenheimer says.

But despite this grim prognosis, Solomon says this is not time to declare the problem hopeless and give up.

“I guess if it’s irreversible, to me it seems all the more reason you might want to do something about it,” she says. “Because committing to something that you can’t back out of seems to me like a step that you’d want to take even more carefully than something you thought you could reverse.”

Halt New Coal & Nuclear Plants
Marnie Glickman, Executive Director, Green Change

I just read a scary new report on climate change. It said that if we wait just ten years to make massive cuts in greenhouse gases, there is essentially no way we will stop catastrophic climate change, such as flooding of major cities, loss of biodiversity, and widespread thirst and famine.

The global climate crisis is the defining challenge of our generation.

We’ve got to take swift action to halt all new coal and nuclear power plants in the United States. Send your message to President Obama and your Members of Congress now.

Leading climate change expert James Hansen has called a coal moratorium “by far the most important action that needs to be pursued.” Why? Because coal is the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive of all fossil fuels.

The threat of coal is so dire that we are joining Al Gore, Wendell Berry and Bill McKibben to encourage people to do non-violent civil disobedience to protest the operation of coal plants.

At the same time, we’ve got to stop any new nuclear power plants. Nuclear power is far too dangerous and expensive to play any role in our energy production.

It’s up to us to convince our elected representatives to listen to the climate scientists, not their lengthy lists of campaign contributors from the coal and nuclear industries.

President Obama is a supporter of nuclear power. And despite all his rhetoric, earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that “the [coal] industry has received positive assurances this week from President-elect Barack Obama’s nominees that the new administration is committed to keeping coal a big part of the nation’s energy source.”

On these issues, Congress isn’t any better. For example, last year, fewer than 4% of all members of the U.S. House of Representatives supported legislation to enact a moratorium on new coal plants.

Please email President Obama and your Members of Congress today to urge them to support legislation to halt all new coal and nuclear power plants.

The earth needs our help. So do our children and grandchildren. Communicate with your elected leaders by in writing and by phone. Participate in non-violent civil disobedience if you can.

Thoughts By the Way: Pause, Shift
Tom Herring is a Community Council member on Vashon Island. Catch more of Tom’s thoughts on his blog.

Shortly before the inauguration Elizabeth Alexander read a poem to Bill Moyers in which the words “pause and shift” were the only part I remember. She then went on to write the inaugural poem, a poem I cannot bring myself to read. Pearls cast before swine, you know.

But that phrase has stayed with me for a pair of reasons, it was off the wall, and we have to “shift down” for the “hill “ahead. The hill is the mountain of destructive structural and legal changes in US governance crafted since WW II by ideologues in both parties. Obama, riding the cow-catcher of a freight train locomotive, got his first taste of the material in that hill yesterday when the Army head of the military tribunals refused to freeze them. If you don’t mind staying with the hill metaphor for a bit, the crux of the problem it presents is that we can’t see it.

Just look around. The environmental people are still saving polar bears. The media are daily repainting the canvas of ordinary living. Well, that’s an understatement, the media are parroting pure garbage. Every single issue of importance is mis-portrayed, mis-framed. It’s brainwashing, and it has come about so slowly that, without our alarms going off, our standard of normalcy has been perverted to where Bill Clinton’s worst sin, toadying to corporate interests, was virtue and his least sin, getting a bit on the sly, was impeachable. Alexander has a point when she says let’s pause for a good long look. Possibly, if I may surmise, a good long look at ourselves.

Well, a plug for Alexander, not much more, nothing you haven’t known about. Except for the bit about we can’t see the hill. Let me clarify. What we see is the shovelers of deceit and greed, shoveling. What we cannot see is where they got the shovels. We gave them those shovels. Every time we come across some essential part of our cocoon that is made oversees, made-by-us-not-them, and we are not outraged, we give capitalism a shovel for that hill. When we allow mayor Nickels to close black neighborhood schools, we give capitalism a shovel. When we allow construction of a neo-pentagon for Homeland Security, we give capitalism a freight container of shovels. When we are told that technology can be developed so we can keep on driving to and fro without Chicken Little pooping on us, and we swallow it, we are giving capitalism a shovel. We are not stupid, we are brainwashed.

Taken that look already? The recent news of the Pacific ocean poaching the continents has arrived at the same time our president implies that the only thing wrong with bailing out the banks was the CEO bonuses. They should be more responsible, oh my yes. And has arrived at the same time Obama learns that he is in charge of a military he cannot control. The Pakistan thing; Iraq. And has arrived at the same time the new Treasury Secretary turns out to be a usual suspect. Skip these little things: the bad climate news has arrived along with the full flowering of realization that the world financial structure is about to collapse. Goodness, gracious, sakes alive. Right after the commercial break we’ll hear from Representative Norm Dicks on how citizens can save energy in ten easy ways.

We can be excused for not deciding that just possibly we may lose normalcy, that just possibly we should inconvenience ourselves a great deal in order to create a mass consensus for direct action this year. We can be excused, because the TV will soon be digitized and, until it is, we can’t decide anything.

Pause, shift, let the analog TV die, and stare fixedly at the dark screen. What images might appear?

Our Climate Crisis: Stop Flying & Making Concrete
Duff Badgley is the leader of the One Earth Climate Action Group and was a candidate for Governor as a Green in 2008. He can be reached at 206-283-0621.

Rapidly accumulating atmospheric carbon dioxide now makes likely killer droughts and deluging seas for 1,000 years. That’s right…1,000 years. Is anybody awake?! That’s a millenium, folks.

We need profound structural change now to slow our mad rush to the climate abyss. A five-year moratorium on both flying and making concrete would help usher in the needed changes. Reports of two technological events show how we need to stop flying now. And wean ourselves from concrete, now.

STOP FLYING

A Continental Boeing 737-800 has completed the first 90-minute test flight of a plane partly powered by biofuel derived from algae. Regular petrol fuel was combined with biofuel made from algae and jatropha.

Set aside all your objections about it being another industry exercise in murderous denial and plunder of our Planet-which it undoubtedly was. But it highlights the vast harm-denied by no one-that regular flying fueled by petrol causes Our Earth.

Simple fix: a five-year moratorium on flying while we see if algae can ever be developed as an available and sustainable fuel. And let’s forget, for a moment, how jatropha biofuel fields are destroying family farms and robbing land from food production in India-like corn is here. And that forces displacement into-you guessed it-rainforests.

Just stop flying, America. Now.

STOP MAKING CONCRETE

From the U.K. comes a report of new type of concrete that its inventors call ‘carbon-negative’.

Concrete making is the globe’s 3rd-leading emitter of greenhouse gases, after fossil-fuel combustion and deforestation. That’s because the raw materials, chiefly limestone, must be heated to 1,800 degrees before they can be chemically altered into concrete. Those huge ovens suck energy and emit carbon on a vast scale.

Here comes the reported new type of concrete: (1) it’s not made from limestone; (2) it needs much less heat to convert to concrete; and (3) it is supposed to absorb a lot of carbon after it’s in place as finished concrete. Who knows how it will test for structural strength, price and commercial availability? Already, concrete industry sources are hostile to it.

But, as with the algae jet fuel, let’s stop making concrete now while we see how it develops. Surely, Our Beleaguered Earth cannot stand more unrelenting carbon assault from concrete production, can it?

Imagine a world without planes and without concrete. You start to get an idea of the kind of changes we need to become sustainable. And if we fail to make the changes, Our Mother will make them for us.

As in, killer droughts and deluging seas for 1,000 years.

Un-Spinning the Spin: Obama Closes Guantanamo: End of Torture or PR Move?
Maryrose Asher is a former Chair of the Green Party of Washington State and a tireless activist of many causes.

On January 22, 2009, two days after his inauguration as President of the United States, President Barack Obama issued executive orders to close Guantanamo Bay in one year. He also signed orders for the CIA and military personnel to follow the Army Field Manual and for the CIA to close their secret overseas prisons.

At the same time, Obama has also given assurances that his administration will not investigate or prosecute Bush, Cheney, and others who were responsible for the policies of torture and illegal detention that were carried out at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and in the CIA secret prisons. He also has not reversed the Bush administration’s attacks on constitutional and international law.

As to torture, Obama has set up a task force that will consider new interrogation methods not presently sanctioned by the Army Field Manual.1 Obama’s nominee for Director of National Intelligence, Retired Admiral Dennis Blair, testified at his senate confirmation hearing that potentially the Army Field Manual would itself be changed to allow new forms of interrogation and that such changes would be kept secret.2

In addition, Obama’s advisors are reportedly crafting a plan to create National Security Courts. Below is part of a transcript of a DemocracyNow! Interview with Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights and author of “The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld: A Prosecution by Book.”

Preventive detention is really what we see at Guantanamo. It’s when you are put into a prison without being charged with a crime and without having a trial on that charge. It means you’re put into a prison for national security reasons, because you’re, quote, “dangerous.” And in this case, the proposals that seem to be working together, preventive detention and national security courts, are – yes, we may need to jail people because they are dangerous or national security threats, and even for that, their testing of that preventive detention can’t occur in a regular court, we don’t think they’re sufficient enough, we’re going to set up national security courts to do that.

So what you’re really seeing is a re-wrapping of Guantanamo in a legal – in a legal new paper to make it more palatable. I hope that doesn’t happen. I hope there’s huge objections. The idea that this country would go into a preventive detention at this point and special courts, after we’ve been litigating for years to say these people have a right to get into a federal court and we shouldn’t have a preventive detention scheme, is remarkable to me. And I would just – I would really think that while it’s great that he wants to close Guantanamo and end torture, I mean, to set up an alternate scheme is really un-American.

As always, it is necessary to look beyond the spin delivered by mainstream media and realize not much has changed. The only thing that has changed is this administration’s ability to re-wrap the package so more Americans accept the loss of their civil liberties and, in fact, applaud their leaders for such benevolent acts.

1.Tom Eley, Global Research, January 23, 2009, “Obama’s orders leave torture, indefinite detention intact.”
2.Student New Daily.com, “Obama pick urges some secrecy.”

Supplemental reading:
“Obama: Regime Rotation” by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, January 26, 2009.

This Week in History
This Week in History, published by Carl Bunin and edited by Al Frank, is a collection designed to help us appreciate the fact that we are part of a rich history advocating peace and social justice. While the entries often focus on large and dramatic events there are so many smaller things done everyday to promote peace and justice. Find more info at http://www.peacebuttons.info/E-News/thisweek.htm.

February 3, 1973: President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act, intended to avoid species extinction, especially through loss of habitat.

February 4, 1987: The U.S. House of Representatives overrode Pres. Ronald Reagan’s (second) veto (401-26) of the Clean Water Act. The law provided funds for communities to build waste treatment facilities and to clean up waterways. Reagan described it as ”loaded with waste and larded with pork.”

February 6, 1943: The U.S. government required the 110,000 disposessed Japanese Americans forcibly held in concentration (internment) camps to answer loyalty surveys. Some of the interned were U.S. citizens, and some volunteered to serve in the armed forces during the war with Japan. The Nisei, as they were known, were kept in the camps until the end of World War II.

Letters to the Editor
Got something you want to get off your chest? Did an article in a previous edition of Greener Times make you madder than a hornet or cause you to stand up to say, “Right on!”? Well, this space is reserved each week for your comments and opinions.

When I’m daydreaming about how I’d fix the world, I manage to come up with fixes for a lot of problems, and I have prepared speeches to go along with them. I will deliver them over TV as daily homilies (prime time) after I’m elected president.

However, I never seem to come up with a fix for the media, and somehow, none of the other fixes seem to work without a fix for that. For example – I’d channel all the transportation money into rail and public transportation, starting next week. The “news” would report that as the act of a crazy person, and then it would whip up some sort of movement to throw me out of office, and there I would be. If half of America piled out into the streets to demonstrate for public transportation, they would report that as the act of a few crazies – and look, just look there – that one threw a stone! Crazy, angry people!

What to do?

Can we make a distinction between “news” produced by corporate interests, and real news? Certainly not by the content. That’s always a matter of opinion, and corporate shills have a right to their opinion too.

How about by examining the board of directors? Mostly they are stuffed with the CEO’s of various big corporations. Might be a more objective test. Hold that thought.

What to do once you can make a distinction? For starters, we could label the two types of news: “authentic news source” and “corporate news source” comes to mind. That might be a bit heavy-handed, but sometimes you need to make things obvious. A single CEO on the board would get you the corporate label, which would be displayed prominently on the front page.

A further problem: the corporate “news” sources use ads for funding; it fits well since their whole paper is intended to create a good shopping environment. No such funding exists for real news sources. Major city newspapers and major TV programs both thrive at the expense of real news.

While for newspapers of both the real and corporate varieties, paper is expensive and a wasteful use of our trees.

I would say, let’s do away with paper papers altogether, and go with e-readers. This should be possible. An e-reader can be had for about $100. If every subscription came with an e-reader, over the course of a year the cost of the paper and the cost of the reader would cancel out. Postage and paper would be avoided for all newspapers. Hopefully, ads would be less necessary. Perhaps a real newspaper could survive in that environment.

TV is harder since broadcast and cable TV both fit well with corporate news and will always favor them. I haven’t figured that one out yet. I would like to make all TV pay-per-view and outlaw commercials, but I don’t think it would fly.

These are just my musings, wasting time over my computer. I do think the media is a serious problem, I do wish there were some sort of solution, even a theoretical one, but I don’t see one. Maybe someone else can offer one.
~ Janet Jordan ~

Pencil Shavings: What Now?
Pencil Shavings appears in this space most weeks and solely represents the opinions of the publisher. If you’d like to read more of Trey’s ruminations, visit The Rambling Taoist.

Now that a new study has been released that declares that climate change has passed the tipping point (see opening article), what do we do now? Should we sit around and cry in our beer? Should we just say “Screw it” and keep on heading down this same road?

Of course, chances are that society will rush to embrace both of the actions listed above. Both represent the easiest route and, besides, what’s done is done.

On the other hand, western society could take a page from Taoist belief and decide that now is a good time to practice societal wu wei (i.e., doing without doing or going with the flow). If our government leaders and all of us average citizens decided today to embrace wu wei, we could certainly leave the planet in much better shape for future generations.

For example, nuclear power is trying to force an energy source. It doesn’t exist of its own volition and, even worse, it routinely produces deadly byproducts that we can’t seem to figure out how to store safely.

Gasoline is also another attempt to manufacture an unnatural energy source. The petroleum industry has spawned our car culture which is one of the leading factors in irreversible climate change.

Wu wei informs us that we need to utilize those energy sources that surround us daily — sun, wind, water, hydrogen, etc. It’s actually downright amazing that the elements most within our reach are the very same ones we utilize the least! If nothing else, it only proves how we humans again and again seem incapable of grasping the obvious.

Note: Checkout Trey’s “web-exclusive” column, “Different Shades of Green” immediately below this edition of GT.

News You May Have Missed

Controversial Bestseller Shakes the Foundation of the Israeli State
What if the entire tale of the Jewish Diaspora — the story recounted at Passover tables by Jews around the world every year detailing the ancient Jews’ exile from Judea, the years spent wandering through the desert, their escape from the Pharaoh’s clutches — is all wrong? That’s the explosive thesis of When and How Was the Jewish People Invented?, a book by Tel Aviv University scholar Shlomo Zand (or Sand) that sent shockwaves across Israeli society when it was published last year…

The Financial Crisis Is Driving Hordes of Americans to Suicide
The body count is still rising. For months on end, marked by bankruptcies, foreclosures, evictions, and layoffs, the economic meltdown has taken a heavy toll on Americans. In response, a range of extreme acts including suicide, self-inflicted injury, murder, and arson have hit the local news. By October 2008, an analysis of press reports nationwide indicated that an epidemic of tragedies spurred by the financial crisis had already spread from Pasadena, California, to Taunton, Massachusetts, from Roseville, Minnesota, to Ocala, Florida…

A Mass Transit Dilemma: Ridership Up, Funds Down
Public transport systems are reeling from an economic crisis that has dried up tax revenue and blown gaps in state budgets. They are having to raise fares and cut services…

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Inadvertent Keystrokes: Different Shades of Green

Posted by Trey Smith on January 30, 2009

In our society, the word green tends to engender one of two concepts: environmentalism and money. I often find that, because of my philosophical viewpoint, these two images constantly butt heads.

On the one hand, I’m an avowed environmentalist — what some derisively call a treehugger. I believe that global warming and climate change are incontrovertible facts and that our society is set up to operate in an unsustainable manner.

On the other hand, economic justice is just as important to me. I find it vulgar and profane that a small minority of the world’s population lives in opulent splendor while the vast majority struggles to get by each day. I embrace the mantra Live Simply So Others Can Simply Live and I believe that, if more people followed this rule, our world would not be so poisoned by such economic inequality.

In essence, I believe many of the world’s ills could best be solved by a marriage of environmentalism with economic justice. Unfortunately, neither concept has been embraced by the powers that be and, when one of them partially is invoked, it always seems to be at the expense of the other.

For example, here in the U.S., various levels of government recently have created a variety of tax incentives to encourage people to utilize renewable energy and/or make use of less-polluting technology. Here I’m referring to tax credits for installing solar heating/cooling systems in your home or purchasing hybrid or plug-in electric vehicles (to name but a few).

On the surface, these seem to be excellent mechanisms to encourage folks to lead more sustainable lives. While it is certainly unfortunate that far too many people seem motivated to do the right thing for our planet ONLY when it benefits their economic self-interests, at least these types of strategies seem to get many people moving in a better direction.

When our elected leaders promote these various schemes, they do so in a way to make it appear that ANY citizen can take advantage of the tax credits or allowances. But the truth of the matter is that only the well-off will have the wherewithal to make these sorts of investments and, thereby, receive the economic benefits.

So, in reality, working class folks are giving money (taxpayer dollars) to rich people to induce them to buy a Prius or install solar panels on their roof. This is yet another example of the insidious transfer of funds from the least wealthy to the most wealthy (Robin Hood in reverse)!!

In the end, while such tax schemes sound laudable, they truly don’t address the problem in a meaningful way. And the main reason they don’t truly address the problem is that the vast majority of Americans are in the middle and working class — the very people who can’t afford to take advantage of these tax breaks, in the first place.

So, while a very small minority are driving hybrids or heating/cooling their homes from renewable energy, the majority are driving clunkers and heating/cooling their homes with coal-fired or nuclear energy. The overall positive impact is minimal.

If our government was truly serious about moving this nation toward sustainability, then we must pursue strategies that ALL Americans can take part in. For one idea, government could provide subsidies to the middle class and working poor to purchase hybrids and/or wind and solar heating/cooling systems.

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