Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Climate Change Denial

Being able to respond to threatening situations requires that one be fully conscious to what is going on.  One of the biggest threats to humanities continued existence is climate change.  To date little has really been done to address this threat.  There has been much talk about whether the threat is real or make believe, and additional talk about if real, some simple solutions that might save us from ourselves. 

Unfortunately most of this talk is muffled from the sand that fills our mouths as we bury our heads in the muffling material as a way to avoid becoming conscious of the reality of the situation we face.  Erik Lindberg’s piece titled:  Six Myths About Climate Change that Liberals Rarely Question  provides us with an opportunity to pull our heads from the sand and begin to really think about what we need to do to address climate change.  The full text is available here.  Some excerpts from his “sixth myths” of denial follow:

Myth #1:  Liberals Are Not In Denial

[…] liberal denial […] the belief that we can avoid the most catastrophic levels of climate disruption without changing our fundamental way of life.  This is myth is based on errors that are as profound and basic as the conservative denial of climate change itself.

[…]  conservatives climate deniers understand that addressing climate change will, in fact, change our way of life, a way of life which conservatives often view as sacred.  This sort of change is so terrifying and unthinkable to them, she argues, that they cut the very possibility of climate change off at its knees:  fighting climate change would force us to change our way of life; our way of life is sacred and cannot be questioned; ergo, climate change cannot be happening. 

We have a situation, then, where one half of the population says it is not happening, and the other half says it is happening but fighting it doesn’t have to change our way of life.  

Myth #2:  Republicans are Still More to Blame

It is true that conservative politicians in the United States and Europe have been intent on blocking international climate agreements; but by focusing on these failed agreements, which only require a baby-step in the right direction, liberals obliquely side-step the actual cause of global warming—namely, burning fossil fuels.  The denial of climate change isn’t responsible for the fact that we, in the United States, are responsible for about one quarter of all current emissions if you include the industrial products we consume (and an even greater percentage of all emissions over time), even though we make up only 6% of the world’s population.  Our high-consumption lifestyles are responsible for this.  Republicans do not emit an appreciably larger amount of carbon dioxide than Democrats.

Myth #3:  Renewable Energy Can Replace Fossil Fuels 

Conventional wisdom among American liberals assures us that we would be well on our way to a clean, green, low-carbon, renewable energy future were it not for the lobbying efforts of big oil companies and their Republican allies.  The truth is far more inconvenient than this: it will be all but impossible for our current level of consumption to be powered by anything but fossil fuels.  The liberal belief that energy sources such as wind, solar, and biofuels can replace oil, natural gas, and coal is a mirror image of the conservative denial of climate change: in both cases an overriding belief about the way the world works, or should work, is generally far stronger than any evidence one might present.  Denial is the biggest game in town.  Denial, as well as a misunderstanding about some fundamental features of energy, is what allows someone like Bill Gates assume that “an energy miracle” will be created with enough R & D.  Unfortunately, the lessons of microprocessors do not teach us anything about replacing oil, coal, and natural gas.

Myth 4: The Coming “Knowledge Economy” Will be a Low-Energy Economy

We like to pretend that the rest of the world can live like us, and we have certainly done our best to advertise, loan, seduce, and threaten people across the world to adopt our style, our values, and our wants.   But someone still has to do the smelting, the welding, the sorting, and run the ceaseless production lines.  

And, moreover, if everyone lived like we do, took our vacations, drove our cars, ate our food, lived in our houses, filled them with oversized TVs and the endless array of throwaway gadgetry, the world would use four times as much energy and emit nearly four times as much carbon dioxide as it does now.  If even half the world’s population were to consume like we do, we would have long since barreled by the ecological point of no-return. 

Myth 5: We can Reverse Global Warming Without Changing our Current Lifestyles

The upshot of the previous sections is that the comforts, luxuries, privileges, and pleasures that we tell ourselves are necessary for a happy or satisfying life are the most significant cause of global warming and that unless we quickly learn to organize our lives around another set of pleasures and satisfactions, it is extremely unlikely that our children or grandchildren will inherit a livable planet.  Because we are falsely reassured by liberal leaders that we can fight climate change without any inconvenience, it bears repeating this seldom spoken truth.  In order to adequately address climate change, people in rich industrial nations will have to reduce current levels of consumption to levels few are prepared to consider.  This truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.

Myth 6: There is Nothing I Can Do 

The problem is daunting; making changes can be difficult. But not only can you do something, you can’t not do anything.  Either you will continue to buy, use, and consume as if there is no tomorrow; or you will make substantial changes to the way you live.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Permitting Pollution

Minnesota Public Radio asked the following question – “Are you confident the proposed PolyMet mine would avoid polluting Minnesota’swater?

My answer follows.  

Having worked for 30 years in the environmental field, I have come to understand that environmental regulations are not designed to prevent industry from polluting; they are actually designed to permit industries to pollute.  The goal of the writers of these permits is of course to encourage the mine operators to manage the pollutants as best they can, so as to not cause any immediate threats to the surrounding ecosystem out of which the mine will be carved. 

But pollution will occur despite our best attempts to manage it; even if there were no accidents, no equipment failures, or no operational negligence along the way.  Therefore, as long as a mine is permitted to occur, it will pollute.  And those pollutants will get into the people, plants, and animals that depend on that ecosystem for their life. 

The process will begin when the land which is to be mined is cleared off all life that exists there.  Runoff from the now denuded and disturbed landscape will begin to be carried off the site by stormwater and wind, despite permit requirements that require the mine to "control" this runoff with best management practices. 

The equipment used to clear the site, and mine the mine, will pollute the air when the fossil fuels that power the equipment is burned in the engines the move the equipment.  The pollution laden exhausts will then expand into the atmosphere, where the pollutants will dissolve or be suspended in the moisture in the air, where eventually some of them will fall to the ground and run into our surface and ground waters.

As the mining process continues, the overburden from the mine will be stockpiled, and when the rains and the winds contact it, sediments containing minerals and heavy metals that have been sealed in the earth will be exposed to the biosphere, and the pollutants they contain will again continue to run off the site, again despite any best management practices or treatment required by a permit.  Sure these practices will again prevent some pollution from running off site, but no best management practice or treatment system is 100% effective.  And the reality is that any treatment system used to treat the runoff will require more fuel to operate it, resulting in more pollutant containing exhaust to be released into the air.  

Eventually the mine will reach the groundwater levels.  And when the natural biological and physical filtration system that took billions of years to be placed is removed from the site, some of the sediments containing minerals and heavy metals that are mobilized in the mining process, and some of the equipment fuel or lubrication fluids that spill in the mine will find their way into the groundwater, again despite any requirements that the permit specifies to minimize these impacts or cleanup the spills.

And then when the mining process is finished, and hopefully the mine is “reclaimed” the metals and minerals and sulfates that will remain will continue to leach into to the groundwater and stormwater that contacts them.  And again, any treatment systems or management practices required by a permit will only remove a portion of the pollution they contain, the rest will be released back into the surrounding ecosystem and the now permanently changed ecosystem of the “reclaimed” mine. 

So the only way to be confident that the proposed PolyMet mine would avoid polluting Minnesota’s water, would require the concluder to not understand the permitting and mining process.

The question I have – is pollution of our ecosystem worth the benefits of some short-term jobs, some metals to make some more stuff, some tax money for the state, and potentially huge profits for the mining company?

 If your answer is “yes”, I would ask – is this the best we can do?   

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Keynote Address at The Nobel Peace Prize Forum, March 1st, 2014

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Keynote Address at The Nobel Peace Prize Forum, March 1st, 2014, Minneapolis, MN 

Brothers and sisters.  Indeed, I am very honored to have this opportunity to talk. I always consider myself, as one of the seven billion, humanity, human beings.  Wherever I go, and meet people, firstly I look, there are human brothers and sisters.  I myself was just like them – emotionally, mentally, physically – so that kind of attitude.  Recalling my own experience when I was young, sometimes I consider myself firstly Tibetan, then Buddhist, then Dalai Lama.  So that kind of attitude actually creates more anxiety.  And much anxiety sometimes creates pretension.  And pretension sometimes creates hypocrisy. No use.  
So originally, I sort of come to closer, the basic level, the reality, we are the same human being.  Then I can easily communicate with the audience.  So through that way, we can touch heart to heart.  So on the human level no differences, no barrier.  
Secondary level, so then of course I am Tibetan, I am Buddhist, like that.  Then there are differences. If there are too much emphasizes on secondary level of differences, then the concept of we and they, become stronger.  There is actually, the social problem.  Make division, we and they, and telling lies, cheating, exploit, bullying, finally killing!  
So today’s world, 7 billion human beings, reality each person’s future depend on rest of humanity, humanity, humanity – peaceful, happy, more prosperity.  Each individual yet makes some benefit, not a problem, the humanity level. How can individual really be happy person?  Difficult.  
So the human right, the concept of human right, also now very much now everyone want that.  Any person, all have same right, because all want happy life, do not want suffering, and everybody have right to achieve happy life.  So I think, the very concept of human right, is actually very much related with sense of oneness of 7 billion human beings.  Then also I think that human right, of course animals also have their right.  Even flowers, plants also have their own right to exist.  
But then we human being, we have this, I think unique thing – creativity.  So for human development, human creativity is the key factor.  So in order to utilize fully, about individual creativity, see you need freedom, you need right.  I think human right, or right or freedom, does not mean negative sight, harming, killing, or bullying – no.  I think basically we take for granted, we human being, we come from our mother.  We’ve grown up, with mother’s affection.  So basically 7 billion human beings all have experienced, joyful, joys, when our mother shown us affection.  
So children who received maximum affection, I think their experience remained general intent.  Unfortunately some cases, unwanted children, lack of, I mean receive lack of affection, I think whole life, deep inside, some kind of suspicion, fear.  Known as outwardly successful, but deep inside, some kind of insecure, sense of insecurity there.  So whole life, become an unhappy person.   So we, therefore hundreds of human beings we have, you see that sort of state, a mental attitude.  
So our basic nature is more gentleness.  Some would call human right.  I think they for granted, use human right, and more disturbances, and more sort of, complications or troubles.  I don’t think, isn’t it?  So then, then in order to carry, our basic, our experience loving kindness.  It seems now clear, when we were very young, the experience of affection was very, very alive, very necessary.  Necessary for us, necessary.  
Then gradually, grownup, say I think teenage, teenage, firstly joined school.  I think unfortunately our existing education system, very much oriented about material value.  Not much talking about basic human value.  So, education only talk about, materially successful, or like that, materialistic sort of life.  Then the whole generation, will come from that, their whole sort of way of thinking, more immediately sticks about that oriented.  
So unfortunately, I think model society, I think develop materialistic culture, materialistic way of life.  So our basic sort of, the good points, the good qualities, then dormant, become dormant.  So that’s why I think among 7 billions, basically all happy, potentially showing affection to other.  And further more we are social animal.  Even animal, have mind quite simple, but because of the nature, see they also have some sense of the community, a sense of responsibility, work together.  Even like bees.  
I have some interest about bees because I love honey.  So sometimes I jokingly telling people, I too much consume honey.  So from the Buddhist viewpoint, my next life may become one bee.  Though fortunately - unfortunately now, accordingly to a medical checkup, in recent years, now they advise sugar, although no danger, but still as a precaution, better to reduce, sweet thing.  So then recently, in India, at a checkup, then they advised me that now I should not take honey.  So now I think they liberated the danger of my rebirth in bee, I think they did it.  
So you see look, you see that, we are social animal.  So sometimes our smart brain brings aggressive, greed, intolerance, you see then.  And then mean time, you see this, good quality is not further deployed, I think that’s why. I think merciless people, understand it.  All come from their mother.  All receive it, the maximum, mostly the maximum sort of affection.  But eventually you become such a person you see, no concern at all about others being, others right, others life!  
So now, already some my friends, some scientists, some educationists, really seriously talking, discussing, research work, how to introduce in modern education system.  Then the problem, modern ethics and also the value of affection in these, if you base it on religious faith, then it become narrow, the boundary.  Of course every religious sort of tradition, major tradition, all carry same message – message of love, compassion.  I read that - message of tolerance, forgiveness, all these there.  But then because of, you see, different philosophical views, it cannot be universally.  
So we need a new method, promotion of compassion, promotion of human value, which can be universally acceptable.  So now here India’s tradition, secular, secular concept.  For over 3000 years in India, secular means respect all religions, all religious traditions.  And also respect non-believer.  So the model of Indian’s constitution, based on secular.  
So in the West, you see some people, have this, sort of have this view, or opinion, that secular means little bit disrespect of religion.  That’s not the case in India.  So I think that secularly to promote these typical human value, I think are relevant.  Of course here you, discuss these things, think more.  And anyway, we really need effect of effort, to promote, effort see, mainly through awareness, through education – from kindergarten up through university level.   These deepen our value in order to become happy individual, happy family, happy community, happy humanity.  
And to your physical health also it is very much needed.  Some scientists, medical scientists, through their sort of research, now they found - constant fear, constant anger, hatred – actually eating our immune system.  On the other hand, a more compassionate mind, very, very helpful to sustain these, human system.  And it is quite clear; a more compassionate mind brings self-confidence, inner strength; than that of an individual’s fear, mistrust.  So fear, distrust is the basis of anger, jealousy, these things; so therefore it is quite clear.  
Then to further develop basic human values, the various religious traditions, over thousand, over three thousand years, all those great spiritual teachers, or masters, they said, they all you see, concerned with basically these human values – how to promote, how to strengthen.  Then you see, each spiritual leaders, at different time, different location, they used different philosophical views.  This is my view.  
Basically in India, 3000 years, theistic religions, non-theistic religions.  Theistic religion accept creator; non-theistic religions no concept of creator, but rather self-creation.  Within non-theistic religions, again we see different philosophical views.   Within theistic religions, also you see these differences.  Even, I think, three brothers traditions, I think, Judaism, Christianity, Islam; there are, within these philosophic families there are differences.  So therefore, it is very important to look at what is the purpose of these different philosophical views – say, at aiming, or promotion of basic human values, which brings happy life.  
Then there are no differences, no conflict; different area, even different climate, different way of life.  So at least there is some sort of, I think mental level, a little different mental disposition.  So we need different way of approach to promote these values.  So one is we look at the real purpose of these different religions traditions.  Then, we see, harmony, easily come; appreciate all different philosophical views. So obviously, many sincere practitioners’ – Christianity, Islam, Judaism – they are wonderful people. 
I think that as a matter of fact, I think the Christian brothers, sisters, I think they really made the greatest contribution, regarding education, and health of entire world.  In some remote area, I think you usually see people that don’t prefer to remain because of poor facility.  But these dedicated Christian practitioners, really sacrifice their own comfort, but still devoted to serving poor communities education and health.  All that sort of enthusiasm come from their faith.  I know Mother Teresa, a really dedicated lady.  And her followers, also you see, really dedicated people.  All their, such people, such determination, come from their faith.  So all religious tradition have the same potential, so their philosophy differences ok.  
Sometimes I, not disrespect, something like a super market, a religious supermarket.  The variety of philosophical views is helpful to a variety of people.  If one sort of shop, or restaurant, only selling one type of meat, day by day, month by month, I think customer, in particularly religious, more variety, more and more customers come.  
So similarly, I think different __ we need different way of approach.  So there if you look from that way, there harmony on the basis of mutual admiration, mutual respect, mutual learning.  Then can develop, that’s the real basis of harmony.  Harmony, not just a few nice greetings, no it’s not that way.  From here, admission, respect, appreciation – so that we can develop.  So that’s my main talk.   

Friday, February 21, 2014

1988 Wisdom On Leadership

For this weeks thoughts on ecological leadership,  I thought I would share some “wisdom” from the author Kurt Vonnegut that he wrote in 1988 in the form of a letter offering advice to the folks of 2088.  Although we are only a quarter of the way to Vonnegut’s intended audience in the year 2088, it might be possible for us in 2014 to gleam some useful information from his letter.  Here is an excerpt:

Now that we can discuss the mess we are in with some precision, I hope you have stopped choosing abysmally ignorant optimists for positions of leadership. They were useful only so long as nobody had a clue as to what was really going on—during the past seven million years or so. In my time they have been catastrophic as heads of sophisticated institutions with real work to do.

The sort of leaders we need now are not those who promise ultimate victory over Nature through perseverance in living as we do right now, but those with the courage and intelligence to present to the world what appears to be Nature's stern but reasonable surrender terms:

1.            Reduce and stabilize your population.
2.            Stop poisoning the air, the water, and the topsoil.
3.            Stop preparing for war and start dealing with your real problems.
4.            Teach your kids, and yourselves, too, while you're at it, how to inhabit a small planet without helping to kill it.
5.            Stop thinking science can fix anything if you give it a trillion dollars.
6.            Stop thinking your grandchildren will be OK no matter how wasteful or destructive you may be, since they can go to a nice new planet on a spaceship. That is really mean, and stupid.
7.            And so on. Or else.

Read the entire letter here thanks to the folks at Letters Of Note .  

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Land Ethic

Aldo Leopold was born in 1887 and spend his childhood exploring the Mississippi River valley that dominated his hometown of Burlington Iowa.  He moved out east as he entered adulthood where he enrolled in the Yale Forestry school where he got a master’s degree in forestry.  From their he got his first job working for the newly formed U.S. Forest Service and moved to the Southwest in New Mexico where he become supervisor of the Carson National Forest.  Eventually Leopold and his family moved back to the Midwest, to Madison Wisconsin.  In Madison, he eventually went to work for the University of Wisconsin where he taught Game Management.  

The Leopold family purchased an abandoned farm in Sauk County on the banks of the Wisconsin River where they converted an old chicken coop into what would affectionately become known by the family as the “shack” – the place where the family would retreat to and spend time restoring the land that had been degraded by previous land use practices.  It was from his lifetime of experiences of living and working with the land that Leopold based his book THE SAND COUNTYALMANAC on.  

The ALMANAC is a collection of essays Leopold had written.  In Part I – The Sand County Almanac, he shares writings from his time at the “shack”.  Part II – The Quality of Landscape, is a collection of experiences from the various places he lived, worked and played throughout his life.  The essays in Part III – A Taste for Country, are a synthesis of the previous two parts that explain how there is more to land than simply providing us a place to spend our leisure time and that by paying attention to the land there is much we can learn.   And the concluding Part IV – The Upshot, is where Leopold brings it all together to explain his ideas about why our culture needs to develop a land ethic and what that ethic entailed.  It is perhaps a poetic tragedy that Leopold died from a heart attack helping a neighbor fight a wild fire next to the “shack” property in 1948, before the ALMANAC was published in 1949. 

Some excerpts from The Upshot follow.   

When god-like Odysseus returned from the wars in Troy, he hanged all on one rope a dozen slave-girls of his house-hold, whom he suspected of misbehavior during his absence.  This hanging involved no question of propriety. The girls were property. The disposal of property was then, as now, a matter of expediency, not of right and wrong.

An ethic, ecologically, is a limitation on freedom action in the struggle for existence. An ethic, philosophically is a differentiation of social from anti-social conduct.

There is as yet no ethic dealing with man's relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it. Land, like Odysseus' slave-girls, is still property. The land relation is still strictly economic, entailing privileges but no obligations.

All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in that community, but his ethics prompt him also to co-operate (perhaps in order that there may be a place to compete for).
In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.

One basic weakness in a conservation system based wholly on economic motives is that most members of the land community have no economic value. 
To sum up: a system of conservation based solely on economic self-interest is hopelessly lopsided. It tends to ignore, and thus eventually to eliminate, many elements in the land community that lack commercial value, but that are (as far as we know) essential to its healthy functioning. It assumes, falsely, I think, that the economic parts of the biotic clock will function without the uneconomic parts. It tends to relegate to government many functions eventually too large, too complex, or too widely dispersed to be performed by government.

We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in.

Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals. Food chains are the living channels which conduct energy up ward; death and decay return it to the soil. The circuit is not closed; some energy is dissipated in decay, some is added by absorption from the air, some is stored in soils, peats, and long-lived forests; but it is a sustained circuit, like a slowly augmented revolving fund of life. There is always a net loss by downhill wash, but this is normally small and offset by the decay of rocks. It is deposited in the ocean and, in the course of geological time, raised to form new lands and new pyramids.

A land ethic, then, reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land. Health is the capacity of the land for self-renewal. Conservation is our effort to understand and preserve this capacity.

It is inconceivable to me that an ethical relation to land can exist without love, respect, and admiration for land and a high regard for its value. By value, I of course mean something far broader than mere economic value; I mean value in the philosophical sense.

The 'key-log' which must be moved to release the evolutionary process for an ethic is simply this: quit thinking about decent land-use as solely an economic problem. Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

The mechanism of operation is the same for any ethic: social approbation for right actions: social disapproval for wrong actions.