Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Can Soybeans Save Polar Bears?

I love America. I've been lucky to travel all over this country; I've camped (in tents) from Alaska to Wyoming, and I've roughed it in luxury hotels in great cities. And we are on the edge of disaster.

We have an incredible wealth of natural resources which we've squandered, rather than cherished. We teach our children to save a symblol - money - rather than something of lasting value, our natural resources.

I also love Australia. Again, I've been lucky to travel all over Australia, camping in the remote outback, and camped out in luxury hotels. This recent trip, part vacation and part work came as Al Gore's film, "An Inconvenient Truth" was opening in Australia. If you haven't yet seen it, don't wait. Go now. Go today. See it, because our survival depends on the actions outlined in this film.

But I digress. As I said, I was in Australia for a conference. It was held in Cairns, mid-September, when the weather is traditionally dry and fine. Many of our events were scheduled to be outdoors. And guess what? Rain, hail the size of golfballs, 90 Kilometer winds drove us indoors. The wind was creepy, actually. The only thing it wasn't was hot. I'm used to Cairns being hot, hot and tropical. This was just peculiar weather.

America and Australia have so many similarities. Among them: our Native people believe in the stewardship of the land rather than ownership. Our European settlers belive in ownership, manifest destiny, and other bizarre acquisitive behavior. The late architect Mies Vanderohe said "Less is more." The truth is this: MORE is less.

But we in America and Australia demand more, and more, and more. Bigger cars. Supersized meals. Warehouse stores that erase mom & pop stores with a personal touch. A complete effacement of personality. I saw Starbucks all over Melbourne and Brisbane!

One year, during a bad financial patch, I had to take a second job. I went to the Pottery Barn, and worked there for a year. We were taught that the Pottery Barn Mission was to have every home in America look like their showroom floors.

With this level of "sameness" comes an unhealthy anonimity. Without personality, there is no need to take responsibility. There is no need to behave as a steward. There is no need to think.

The Kyoto Protocal "is an agreement made under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Countries that ratify this protocol commit to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases, or engage in emissions trading if they maintain or increase emissions of these gases." Two countries have failed to ratify this agreement: The United States of America, and Australia. George W. Bush and John Howard share an arrogant disrespect for the future of our earth that is criminal.

Arctic Sea Ice is melting at a shocking rate. I saw an article yesterday (or Sunday) that I can't find now, which says that over the last two years, the amount of arctic ice that has melted is roughly the size of Turkey. Not the bird, the country. That this ice melt has uncovered two islands. Now, this ice melt is not going to raise sea levels, because it is water ice; however the glacial ice sheets over Greenland and Antarctica are an entirely different matter. If the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melts, it would raise sea levels significantly. Egypt would be submerged. Florida would disappear. The Maldives will be underwater.

Barley is growing in Greenland for the first time since the Middle Ages. Droughts in Africa have disrupted the animal migration in the Masai Mara and Serengeti, and wildlife are dying in tremendous numbers. In Louisiana wetlands have been lost to sea-level rise. In the northwest there has been dramatic shrinkage of glaciers in Glacier National Park and the South Cascade Glacier in Washington is at its smallest size in the past 6000 years. Innuits in Alaska have had to relocate villages because of sea level rise. Hawaii is seeing coral bleaching for the first time. Venice is in danger of drowning - if you want to see St. Marks Square you better hurry. The English Country Garden will disappear. And the Amazon River - the Amazon river has been reduced to a comparative trickle. This year sand banks have already appeared in the deltas of the Amazon and fears are rising that a drought cycle that was previously measured in multiples of decades may now be an annual event. The Amazon's impact on global patterns of rainfall is only now beginning to be fully understood and scientists warned in July that this extraordinary planetary air conditioner could be malfunctioning critically.

And just as I'm thinking it doesn't pay to get out of bed, comes this ray of hope: Farmers' Hopes Sprout as Brazil Bets on Biodiesel. Biodiesel is made from plant and animal fats, blended with conventional diesel and burns cleaner and releases fewer pollutants, including carbon monoxide, than other fossil fuels. "No country has been more successful at displacing fossil fuels with green energy than Brazil. Hammered by the oil shocks of the 1970s, the nation committed itself to developing a domestic ethanol industry to reduce its dependence on imported petroleum."

Production, and use in the United States has increased, but at 75 million gallons of biodiesel produced and consumed in the US, it's nothing compared to the 140 BILLION gallons of fossil fuel we use each year.

So I ask: Can soybeans save the Polar Bears? Where does environmental change begin? What steps are you taking today to save the environment before it is too late?


The Fat Lady Sings said...

Something has to. I feel so ineffectual over this entire situation. For all that individuals can do to change their own personal relationship with the climate and our environment - its countries that have to pitch in and make the big difference. I'm terribly worried. I feel awful about all of this - but how can I single-handedly save the polar bears? I can't - so I feel like shit. I'm angry - yet if Bush were to disappear tomorrow - nothing would change. It's not just America that's responsible for all of this - it’s the myriad of 'developing' countries run by money hungry despots who plan on moving elsewhere when they've despoiled their homeland. They could give a flying fuck - about anything. They don’t see the connection between the filth in their country and the poisoned air in the country next door. I understand the e-coli outbreak with the spinach is related to contaminated water. The bacteria are in each leaf – transmitted by the water that fed the plants. An entire food product rendered deadly – and this contamination cannot be washed off. It’s in the plant itself. How many more cases before people start to be afraid? How many more dead polar bears before people look around and start to ask questions?

pissed off patricia said...

Sadly, not many people care if all the bears die, all the birds too. We are such a greedy self-centered species that we ignore everything that doesn't come between us and our money, home etc.

Mr Pop and I are environmentally aware people. He, being a marine biologist, we are tuned in to endangered and threatened species. I organized the first county wide beach cleanup my county ever had. Yep, we put our efforts where our mouth is.

Tina said...

Hubby and I began our lease on our hybrid in June of 2005, we have replaced almost all of our lightbulbs with compact fluorescents, we recycle-- which lots of people do of course, but we break down everything and separate it and then take all that is accepted to our township's recycling centers, and we have planted at least 7 trees on our property since we bought our home in late 2001. Is it enough? Nope. But if everyone did a little bit, it could make a difference.

Helen Wheels said...

Every little bit counts. Something everyone can do that would make a big difference is to buy green cleaners! i heard a scientist on PBS say that the cleaners and disinfectants we use are responsible for an ungodly HUGE portion of pollution. it's easy enough to get environmentally friendly ones.

Flying unfortunately is a huge one.That'll up your "carbon load" quite a bit. Because I haven't flown much in the last few years, my carbon "footprint" is only 10,000 lbs (you can measure yours on the movie's site) where the average is 15,000. Getting your #s down really makes you feel like you're doing SOMETHING and it actually helps. Also just spreading the word.

I have to get flourescent bulbs. I keep meaning to... dammit! I can't believe I haen't yet!

DivaJood said...

TFLS, it begins one person at a time. Frankly, every time we fail to act because we think we don't make a difference, we lose to those who deny this disaster is even happening. And all over the news it appears that Bush is going to be forced to jump on the Global Warming train.

POP, good on ya! Saturday was "Heal The Bay" here in LA, so at some point after unpacking, laundry, and groceries, I went to the beach and picked up trash.

Tina, do you love your hybrid? I love mine. And I'm replacing bulbs slowly with the compact fluorescents. Our condo recycles. We ought to look into solar panels, but I think it will get voted down.

Helen, Ed Begley Jr. has a line of green cleaners. But some of the major brands have chemically free stuff too. Every little bit counts. Unfortunately because I fly so much, my footprint is way too big. Gotta figure that one out.

Snave said...

This spring we bought two Toyota hybrid vehicles. We got an 06 Prius and an 07 Camry hybrid. The cars we got rid of, a Dodge van and a turbo-engine Subaru Forester, each got about 20 mpg combined city and highway. The Prius gets about 48 to 52 on the highway, the Camry gets up to 49. Both get less in town, as we live in a rural area and those cars are designed to get their highest mileage in city traffic jams, where you have to "creep" along. I don't mind getting a little less than advertised with the Prius and a little more than advertised with the Camry... they're great cars. Our monthy fuel use went from about 80 gallons of gas to less than 40 gallons, and we are making fewer emissions.

We also recycle, which is a concept finally beginning to take hold in some parts of NE Oregon.

This is a "red state" area of the rural West, so it's hard to get past the CCC (Cowboy Christian Culture) that runs rampant out here. Being environmentally conscious is not easy around here, because you can get harshly criticized for it big time by the anti-enviros... i.e. if you support environmentalist policies, you therefore also support shutting down all the mills, taking away ranchers' and farmers' land rights, taking away everybody's guns, you don't believe in God, etc. 2/3 of the population has been totally snookered by the GOP spinners... and because our area tends to be at least a good 5-10 years behind the times, it takes that long for us to catch up and for change to occur.

So why do I live here? It's a clean place, there is a good sense of community (the town has 13,000 people), the scenery is great, and there are lots of birds and wildlife to watch. Lots of hiking, backpacking and fishing too. Check out the links on my weblog, there are a few with pictures of the La Grande area... For a quiet life and for being close to nature, I guess I have given up the opportunity to have actual discussions of national issues... but that's o.k.

I have seen a few other hybrids appearing around town, and I like to be out driving either of ours where people can see... not to flaunt a status symbol, but so people can ask questions, learn more about the technology.

DivaJood said...

Snave, when I got my Civic Hybrid, I was looking at either it, or the Prius. My brother got a Prius, and I got the Civic - it averages 40 MPG because most of my driving is in city traffic, but on the freeway, it just cruises at about 65 MPG. I love it, because not only is it a cute car, it's good for the environment. My friend's boyfriend worked on the technology behind the Prius - something about the battery.

There are good people in rural areas - and there are other sources to have discussion about national issues. Blogging has saved my sanity - here, in the beach communities of LAX, people don't want to discuss much beyond the beach, facelifts and boyfriends. I live here because the ocean is beautiful.