Sunday, August 30, 2009

A cunning stunt

Even during the year that Beavan spent drinking out of a Mason jar, more than two billion people were, quite inadvertently, living lives of lower impact than his. Most of them were struggling to get by in the slums of Delhi or Rio or scratching out a living in rural Africa or South America. A few were sleeping in cardboard boxes on the street not far from Beavan’s Fifth Avenue apartment.
-- from What's wrong with eco-stunts by Elizabeth Kolbert

Why there is no hope for the human race

There is, of course, but these make it harder:
status quo anxiety

inferred justification

Friday, August 28, 2009

Field notes from the Anthropocene

Henry Fountain notes estimates that some 25 billion tons of valuable agricultural soil is eroded every year, making human activity is as erosive as glaciers or the fastest rivers.

Oliver Morton (2007) mentions an estimate that the overall rate of sediment loss from the continents due to human activity is about three times the long term average due to geology alone.

An NYT editorial mentions that the potentially toxic effects of plastic in the ocean are only beginning to be appreciated.

Meanwhile,observes Cornelia Dean, the consequences of the release of large numbers of artificial nanoparticles into the environment is almost totally unknown.

Tavab TV

Laura Secor comments on show trials that only Seamus Milne and Hugo Chavez could love:
The nefarious plotters engaged in “exposing cases of violations of human rights,” training reporters in “gathering information,” and “presenting full information on the 2009 electoral candidates.” Apparently, the Iranian citizen is meant to consider it self-evident that the country’s national interest depends on concealing human-rights abuses, censoring the news, and obfuscating the electoral process.
Recalling echoes of the 1980s:
Ervand Abrahamian, the author of “Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran,” quotes a witness who said of the night a major leftist recanted, “Something snapped inside all of us. We never expected someone of his reputation to get down on his knees. Some commented it was as revolting as watching a human being cannibalize himself.”
But Secor concludes optimistically:
Iran was a radical place in the eighties. Both the regime and much of its opposition were absolutist, utopian, messianic, apocalyptic. Forced confessions, so effective in that climate, convey little more than illegitimacy when they are used against an opposition that is asking for the counting of votes and the rule of law. Today’s show trials are a sign of how much Iran has changed in the past thirty years, and how poorly its regime has kept pace.

Gandhi's children

They want to destroy our movement because it is nonviolent....We need our land.It is how we make our living. Our message to the world is that this wall is destroying our lives, and the occupation wants to kill our struggle.
-- Abdullah Abu Rahma, a village teacher, quoted in Bilin Journal

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

There will be peak

or maybe not, according to Michael Lynch at MIT. He says:
In the end, perhaps the most misleading claim of the peak-oil advocates is that the earth was endowed with only 2 trillion barrels of “recoverable” oil. Actually, the consensus among geologists is that there are some 10 trillion barrels out there. A century ago, only 10 percent of it was considered recoverable, but improvements in technology should allow us to recover some 35 percent — another 2.5 trillion barrels — in an economically viable way. And this doesn’t even include such potential sources as tar sands, which in time we may be able to efficiently tap.

Oil remains abundant, and the price will likely come down closer to the historical level of $30 a barrel as new supplies come forward in the deep waters off West Africa and Latin America, in East Africa, and perhaps in the Bakken oil shale fields of Montana and North Dakota.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Perspectives on our time

Alex Foti on Climate Anarchists vs Green Capitalists (hat tip DP)

And (via Andy Revkin) Chris Jordan on running the numbers:
Compounding [the] challenge is our sense of insignificance as individuals in a world of 6.7 billion people. And if we fully open ourselves to the horrors of our times, we also risk becoming overwhelmed, panicked, or emotionally paralyzed.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Reflections on the hate mongers in North America (and Europe)

Top marks Tim Harford & co for their scrutiny of 'Muslim Immigration', and to Pankaj Mishra for taking to pieces Christopher Caldwell's recent book, 'Reflections on the Revolution in Europe.'

Mishra concludes:
Writing in 1937 about the minority then most despised in Europe, Joseph Roth predicted that "Jews will only attain complete equality, and the dignity of external freedom, once their 'host nations' have attained their own inner freedom, as well as the dignity conferred by sympathy for the plight of others". This proved to be too much to ask of Europe in 1937. But the moral challenge has not gone away - civilisation remains an ideal rather than an irreversible achievement - and the dangers of leaving it unmet are incalculable.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

So it goes

...All of which gets back to the problem of reconciliation: What are the humanizing effects of culture?

Evidently, there are none.
-- a report from Dresden

Monday, August 10, 2009

Eat it

Solving the other problem – the advertising that feeds our desire to acquire – might be more tricky. In an ideal world, it would be a counter-advertising campaign to make conspicuous consumption shameful.

"Advertising is an instrument for construction of people's everyday reality, so we could use the same media to construct a cultural paradigm in which conspicuous consumption is despised," [says William Rees of UBC]. "We've got to make people ashamed to be seen as a 'future eater'."
-- from Consumerism is eating the future (see also Hungry Ghosts).

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Beyond blindness

Violence and blindness: the case of Uchuraccay is a remarkable piece by James R Mensch.

On the day I viewed, openDemocracy had as its 'thought for the day' this from Alan Ginsburg:
The only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Anything but emissions cuts for the rich

says Bjorn Lomborg:

He is concerned that the United Nations-led consensus that a climate treaty must focus on cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from rich countries is mistaken.

“It’s a costly way to achieve very little,” he said.

Instead, Mr Lomborg argues, there are cheaper ways of halting temperature rises.

These include tackling sources of climate change other than carbon dioxide, such as methane and soot; investing in new tech­nologies; adapting to the effects of climate change; planting more forests; and weighing up whether emissions cuts are cheaper to do now or later.

Photo from Curse of the Black Gold by Ed Kashi (via Prix Pictet)

P.S. 9 August: Richard Littlemore is not impressed

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A short conversation about an old photo

can be found here.

Rilke wrote:
...Both hands stay
folded [...], going nowhere, calm
and now almost invisible, as if they
were the first to grasp the distance and dissolve...
John Berger wrote:
...The flower in the heart's
wallet, the force
of what lives us
outliving the mountain.

And our faces, my heart, brief as photos.

Monday, August 03, 2009

You must read this

Adam Hochschild on the rape of the Congo.

System failure (2)

Neither the administration, nor [the U.S.] political system in general, is ready to face up to the fact that we’ve become a society in which the big bucks go to bad actors, a society that lavishly rewards those who make us poorer.
-- Paul Krugman on rewarding bad actors

Saturday, August 01, 2009

David Cameron's new friends

It has now been disclosed, as Kaminski should have done to the Conservative Party when nominated for Vice-President, that he has had fascist links – he was a member of Poland's notorious fascist National Revival (NOP) – and he tried, as its MP, to cover up one of the worst anti-Jewish atrocities in wartime Europe.

On July 10, 1941, Poles rounded up hundreds of Jews and put them in a barn on the outskirts of the village of Jedwabne. Egged on by the SS, the barn was set on fire. In 2001, the then president of Poland organised a national apology, but Kaminski opposed it.

Kaminski was pictured on Polish TV in 2000 using a homophobic term which even the interviewer says is offensive: Kaminski repeats it. He caused a storm at that time by using the pre-war anti-semitic slogan, "Poland for the Poles". He denies it.

Last week, Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's quality daily, said: "Kaminski isn't officially and completely anti-Semitic or homophobic, but at some point he recognised that these things could help him politically."
-- Edward Macmillan-Scott on the rise of "respectable fascism".