Let’s Focus on Our Common Cause

DSC_0425smNobody wants to be judged by the way they look, the color of their skin, or the clothes they wear. As a white male, I realize I have benefited from white privilege. I can’t say exactly how, but I’m sure there were doors that were opened for me that I may have found closed, were I a different ethnicity.

Having said that, I never asked for special treatment, and I’ve always felt more at home with the outcasts than with the popular crowd. Growing up, I identified closely with Native Americans. I had an idealized idea of who they were. I wanted to live in harmony with the Earth and I thought the NA community was all about that. I was somewhat disillusioned by some of my subsequent encounters with NA people, but I still believe they understood the importance of a healthy, balanced ecosystem.

_DJT5874smAt the age of 20, I was protesting with the National Toxics Campaign against environmental degradation resulting from toxic chemicals. Now, 30 years later, I am closely allied with three environmental organizations, and my goal is still to live in harmony with nature. The more I learn, the better are my choices. Sometimes those choices aren’t easy or inexpensive. I limit myself to exploring nearby places, so I don’t waste fossil fuels. I bake in a SunOven, heat my water and power part of my home with solar energy, and I use rainwater for all of my outdoor water needs. If you read my blog, you know I’m always counting kilowatts.

_DJT5021smGetting back to the title of this blog entry, I find myself being attacked by people who should be my allies, because I’m white. I will unequivocally admit that I do not understand what it’s like to live someone else’s life; be they African American, Native American, from Louisiana, Canada, the Middle East, handicapped, bipolar, or what have you. Can we all admit that our experience is unique and we all have a somewhat different perspective on things? However, if we only ally ourselves with people who are very much like us, how are we going to make change in a world with seven billion unique people? We are all seeking a better life for ourselves and our descendants. We all have hopes and dreams. We all want to be accepted and loved.

_DJ23558smSpeaking for myself, I want to be accepted and loved. I need people in my life and I prefer people who don’t judge me by the color of my skin, my crooked teeth, or the length of my cutoffs. I am advocating for a cleaner, healthier planet for all of it’s inhabitants, not just people. I thought I might find allies among native people, but they see me and turn away because I can’t understand what it’s like to be them. They’re right. I can’t understand what it’s like to be a Native American, but I can understand what it’s like to be human, and I am working to clean up this mess we’re in. I hate what my ancestors did to minority groups. I hate that we slaughtered the buffalo and polluted the soil and water. I hate that we are still taking land from indigenous peoples and desecrating it. I hate that some police officers shoot first and think later; especially when their target is black. However, hate doesn’t bring solutions; people, working together in large enough numbers, can bring solutions. What I’m asking is simply, don’t look for our differences, but rather focus on what we have in common, and maybe we can bring about a better future.

This May Require Sacrifice

To use an analogy: Your roof has a slow leak. You can’t detect the leak from inside the house, because the water is just soaking into the structural supports and causing them to rot. Fixing the leak is going to cost money, and you don’t have extra money, so you’ll have to give up something to get the leak fixed. Not fixing the leak means, someday, the roof will collapse. You or your family may be injured or killed, and your home will become unlivable.

You may approach with this problem in several ways:

1) You could deny there is a problem and ignore it

2) You could acknowledge the problem and hope it goes away or that the roof holds up long enough that it becomes someone else’s problem (like your children or grand children).

3) You could choose to make some sacrifices to address the problem before it becomes a catastrophe.

Clearly, only choice #3 is a solution. Ignoring a problem is not a solution and kicking the can down the road is just going to make things worse for future generations.

This is my analogy for anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Every time I read about a proposal to address AGW or climate change, I hear someone complain that it might slow the economy, make us less competitive in world markets, increase unemployment, etc. Before I address those points, because I don’t believe those things will necessarily happen, I want to return to my analogy for a second. If we do need to make sacrifices to save our home and protect the future of our children and grand children, that’s what we must do. This isn’t a game we’re playing where we can rewrite the rules. If we continue as we are, our world is going to change for the worse and things could get pretty ugly. The only thing that is unclear about the science is exactly what is going to happen and when. We’ve already had a taste of the future, with extreme droughts in some places, flooding in others, tropical diseases moving northward, catastrophic wind events, etc. Do we really need a detailed map to see that where we’re heading is not where we want to be?

Getting back to the claims of economic gloom: Our society will always need energy, whether we get it from fossil fuels or directly from the sun. If jobs go away in the fossil fuel extraction industry, there will be new jobs in the renewable energy sector. Renewable energy is the future. Every country on the planet knows that. The country that innovates and produces the best renewable energy technology is going to be an economic winner, so it pays to be a leader in renewable energy development.

Furthermore, the biggest drain to our current economy is health care. A leading cause of lung problems and cancer is dirty industry. One of the dirtiest, and most dangerous industries is the fossil fuel industry. By moving away from polluting technologies and towards cleaner technologies, we will reduce our health care costs and lessen the drag on our economy.

Moving to clean energy is a win-win in the long term. There may be sacrifices we’ll have to make in the short term, but we can’t keep kicking the can down the road. The sooner we get serious about our carbon dioxide emissions and other environment pollution, the better off we’ll be in the not-too-distant future.

I don’t ask anyone to do anything I haven’t already done. I lead by example and I understand that not everyone can do what I do. All I ask is that people advocate for progressive government policy and think about how they can reduce their energy consumption and dependence on non-renewable energy. Combining trips to the store, eating local food, driving a more fuel efficient vehicle or riding a bicycle are all things the average person can do. If everyone does what they can, it will make a difference to our future and the future of our planet.

Health

I’m pretty sure my health is the most important thing I possess. I am reminded how important it is when it falters. I won’t say that nothing else matters, but I wouldn’t want to be rich if it meant I would have to sacrifice my good health.
Our priorities show in our actions. Because I value my health, and try not to take it for granted, I exercise, watch what I eat, and I care about my environment. Some people might call me a tree hugger. I won’t deny that I have hugged some trees, and I am an environmental activist. That is probably obvious. I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t be.
I’ve heard of people who are so removed from their natural environment that they are afraid of it. I can’t say that it doesn’t pose some hazards; I tangled with some poison ivy on my last outing. However, it also seems obvious to me that we are a product of our environment. An unhealthy environment means unhealthy people. If you’re breathing dirty air, or drinking polluted water, your body will pay the price. Maybe it won’t be immediately noticeable, but the effects can be cumulative.
Many people become environmentalists when industrial pollution moves into their neighborhood and starts making them sick. I would encourage everyone to be more preemptive. Don’t wait until your health begins to fail to take steps to protect it. Go outside, take a walk, breathe the fresh air, and don’t assume it will always be that way. Plant a tree, and watch it grow. That tree will provide oxygen for you and your loved ones, in addition to shade, protection, and carbon storage. You might even want to give it a hug.

New Bern, NC, March Against Monsanto Video

I didn’t shoot much video on May 25, but I did shoot this short presentation by Kathleen Bailey, and some short clips of the protestors. Kathleen has some things to say about the reasons for our protest. There is so much more that she doesn’t have time to include here. The Federal Food and Drug Administration is like a subsidiary of Monsanto. We are, essentially, Monsanto’s guinea pigs. I’m not going to tell you that I can prove the effects of GM crops, crops that are, themselves, pesticides, or pesticide and herbicide residues on our food, but I can tell you that the health statistics show some very alarming trends, and more research is necessary before we should feed our children these potentially dangerous products.

Do the Math premiere

You can (and should) view the “Do the Math” movie on-line on YouTube. The movie was produced by 350.org. The movie is a call to action to stop or substantially reduce carbon emissions before our planet warms more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

On a lighter note, solar panels (photovoltaics) can now be purchased for under $1/watt with a 25 year warranty. That is a pretty good deal, even without government subsidies. I have never filed for tax rebates, as a matter of principle. But, I digress …

I’ve been looking into adding a wind turbine to my energy production. The turbines that sell for under $1000 do not impress me. They have small blades and only produce any real power in high winds (25 mph+). It is getting windier, where I live, but a turbine that could harness a 15 mph wind would serve me much better. I’m looking at building a turbine, specifically designed for lower wind speeds. I’m also thinking of purchasing some additional solar panels. At $1/watt, I can’t go wrong. The catch is that my charge controller would need to be replaced, and I might have to add some batteries.

I just got a letter from my electric utility. Electric rates are going up 5% in May, and the facilities charge (a fixed monthly fee) is also going up. I’ve been debating a grid tied inverter, so I could make better use of my photovoltaic output. As it is now, I have excess capacity most afternoons; especially on sunny days. With the increase is the monthly connection fee, I’m tempted to invest my money in going off grid, completely. Going off grid is an attractive idea, but the ramifications of going off grid are nothing to sneeze at. I would have to be able to provide for peak demand, and I’d have to have backup power for when the sun didn’t shine and the wind didn’t blow. For now, that is just not an option. For now, the goal will be to get the electric bill as low as possible.

On an unrelated note, I found time to rebuild my robot car. It’s been fun, writing the software for autonomous navigation. I’ll have to return to my robo-car in a future blog entry. That’s a lot more fun than talking about the destruction of our planet.

Home, the movie

I have had “Home” on my DVD wishlist for a while, so I was very excited to find it on YouTube.com. The movie opens with some background on how our ecosystem formed. It’s not a detailed account of all 4 billion years, but it hits the highlights; especially the ones that are important for understanding the rest of the movie. After that, the movie talks about the humble beginnings of homo sapiens, from hunter gatherers, to subsistence farmers, and on through the industrial revolution. Then the movie expounds on the many ways in which man has changed the environment to suit himself, with many devastating effects. It paints a sad picture of a planet being consumed at an unsustainable pace. Home ends with signs of hope, and a call to action.

What I loved most about the movie was the beautiful cinematography. The movie is mostly a series of high definition aerial clips that are sometimes breathtaking, and sometimes bleak. I imagined, while watching it, that some people might come away with a sense of pride, at how much we’ve “accomplished”. There are many shots that illustrate the power and ingenuity of our species. I, however, felt a very strong sense of doom. When I see giant machines, I see massive destruction. When I see a precisely engineered military weapon, I don’t see national security, I see death and suffering. In my experience, machines have the potential to improve our lives in many ways, but they are usually deployed by soulless corporations that are motivated only by profit.

But, I digress. The mid segment in Home brought tears to my eyes. The movie did end on a high note. I suppose that’s a good thing, but it may not be realistic. It sure looks like the Keystone XL pipeline is going to get approved, and the tar sands of Canada will be exploited at any and all cost to the environment. I hope I’m wrong, and Transcanada gets stopped in their tracks. However, as I write this, the US Senate is drafting legislation to do an end run around the President. It may save face for Obama, if they can pass it over his veto, but the end result will be devastating for Alberta and the entire world.

The other thing that made be sad, while watching Home, was the shots of the elephants. Elephants are such amazing, intelligent, and social creatures. They have extended family systems, they care for their own, and they mourn their dead. Yet, they are being slaughtered for their ivory in record numbers. The number of elephants in the wild has reached an all time low, and they could be wiped out in 10 years, if the current rate of poaching continues. How can people buy something made of ivory, knowing that a majestic, sentient creature was slaughtered for it? Maybe it’s just ignorance. If it is, I hope people wake up before it’s too late. If we’re the caretakers of this planet, we’re doing a piss poor job.

On a final note: I highly recommend the movie, “Home”. It covers a lot of ground in 90 minutes. I think everyone who lives on this planet should see it.

Forward on Climate Rally in DC

solar panelsThe Forward on Climate rally was yesterday in Washington DC. Somewhere between 35,000 and 50,000 people attended. I would say it was a grand success. The best coverage of the rally that I’ve found is here.

I know there are lots of reasonable people who believe that the Keystone XL pipeline is going to help with our economic prosperity. I can even understand their reasoning. However, I firmly believe that the benefits do not outweigh the long term costs. Today we got confirmation that the tar sands tailings ponds are leaking toxins into the ground water. The Canadian government had denied that any chemicals were leaking from the ponds, but zero leakage seemed unlikely to me.

I’ve spoken before about the externalized costs of fossil fuels. Here are a couple of articles that go into more detail on that subject, and provide sources for further research.

I also got some very bad news on the state of the arctic sea ice, this week. It looks like the arctic will be ice free in the summer by 2020. That doesn’t bode well for the gulf stream, which is already slowing down. That seemingly insignificant fact could have catastrophic implications for the east coast of the United States. The slowing of the gulf stream will add to sea level rise here, on the east coast. It could mean as much as a meter of extra sea level rise, over and above the global sea level rise. That could spell disaster for many coastal communities near my home.

I warned you, a couple of posts back, that there would be more doom and gloom. I’m afraid the news from this past week is even more dire than I had anticipated. I sure hope Obama decides to scrap the Keystone XL pipeline. We don’t need more pollution or more CO2. Jobs are no good to us, if our food supply is devastated by drought, or the Mississippi river dries up, or our rivers die from toxic pollutants. Our children deserve a healthy planet. Our economy is already being severely burdened by the cost of health care, and skyrocketing food prices. We can’t survive in a toxic environment.

Just say “No” to Keystone XL. Forward on Climate!