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Car culture runs over life

Robyn Blumner, St Petersburg Times
There are few activities of modern life as soul-crushing as sitting in traffic. Yet, since 1982, the amount of time Americans have spent in it has increased 236 percent. The experts say that excess commuting is related to higher blood pressure, increased hostility, punctuality problems and musculoskeletal disorders. But it doesn’t take a medical study to tell you how frustrating it is to sit in a car, inching along, with nothing but miles of cars in front of you.

We sit in our isolated Corinthian-leather world and seethe with hostility toward everyone around us. If only they weren’t on the road, I’d be there by now, is the unconscious tape playing in our heads.

In my view, increased traffic congestion and commuting time is the biggest contributor to people feeling their lives are overstressed. According to Robert Putnam, a Harvard professor of public policy and author of Bowling Alone, every 10 minutes spent commuting is 10 minutes lost in community and family activities. Our life on the road has replaced our life.
(4 Jun 2006)

Learning from Easter Island – crunch time for planet earth

Speech by Russel Norman, Green Party Co-Leader Green Party of New Zealand via Scoop
Tena Kotou History is the victory of remembering over forgetting. And it is by remembering the history of humankind that we can avoid repeating it. Sometimes, in order to remember our history, we have to tell unpleasant truths about the past, and in order to serve our community we have to say things that may make us look like doomsayers about the future. Of course we are not.

We are optimists and that’s why we are involved in politics and are trying to do something about it, but we are also realists and are obligated to serve our community by telling the truth about the potential futures that may lie ahead of us depending on the decisions we make now. I wanted to start by talking a little about the history of Easter Island. Many of you will be familiar with this story, as it was covered in Jared Diamond’s book Collapse and Ronald Wright’s recent book A Short History of Progress. The story they tell of Easter Island is of course contested, as all things in academia area and should be, but it is widely accepted.

The story of Easter Island is the story of one potential future of the planet writ small. Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, is an extremely isolated small Pacific island that was once covered in a thick forest and was settled by people somewhere around 900 AD. Rapa Nui’s subtropical forest contained tall large trees suitable for canoe building, housing, fuel for cooking, and suitable for forming the rollers and other structures for moving and raising enormous carved statues.
(4 Jun 2006)
Norman introduces WTO trade regulations, and the weakening of national environmental protections into the picture. Also worth checking out is his conclusion — really a neo-textbook case of how politicians can effectively present relocalisation solutions positively:

We have a vision of walking lightly on the Earth and having a good time of it at the same time. We have a vision of a society in which parents have time to spend time with their children rather than rushing out working 24/7. We have a vision and practical solutions for clean rivers that our kids can swim in, for forests and suburbs where the call of the tui and the bellbird ring out once again.

For an economy and society based on sustainability and social justice. The Green vision is more urgently needed now than ever to keep this beautiful blue and green island in the middle of the Milky Way one of the best planets money can’t buy.


Scientists Say Arctic Once Was Tropical

Scientists have found what might have been the ideal ancient vacation hotspot with a 74-degree Fahrenheit average temperature, alligator ancestors and palm trees. It’s smack in the middle of the Arctic.

First-of-its-kind core samples dug up from deep beneath the Arctic Ocean floor show that 55 million years ago an area near the North Pole was practically a subtropical paradise, three new studies show.

The scientists say their findings are a glimpse backward into a much warmer-than-thought polar region heated by run-amok greenhouse gases that came about naturally.

Skeptics of man-made causes of global warming have nothing to rejoice over, however. The researchers say their studies appearing in Thursday’s issue of Nature also offer a peek at just how bad conditions can get.

Scientists already knew this “thermal event” happened but are not sure what caused it. Perhaps massive releases of methane from the ocean, the continent-sized burning of trees, lots of volcanic eruptions.
(31 May 2006)

Bush energy plan whacks conservation

Mark Clayton, The Christian Science Monitor
More than a dozen efficiency efforts are set for trims or elimination as the administration pushes long-term projects.

A few years ago a little-known US Energy Department program helped produce a design technology for lightweight cars and trucks that in 2004 alone saved the nation 122 million barrels of oil, or about $9 billion.

Even without that breakthrough, the tiny Industrial Technologies Program routinely saves the United States $7 worth of energy for each dollar it spends, proponents say.

So, with energy prices spiking and President Bush pushing for more energy research, the ITP would seem a natural candidate for more funding. In fact, its budget is set to get chopped by a third from its 2005 level. It’s one of more than a dozen energy-efficiency efforts that the Energy Department plans to trim or eliminate in a $115 million cost-saving move.

The push to solve the nation’s energy woes are bumping up against the federal government’s budget problems. To be sure, the Bush administration is anxious to fund its new Advanced Energy Initiative – long-term research into nuclear, coal, wind, solar, and hydrogen power. But to accomplish that, it is cutting lesser-known programs like ITP whose payoffs are far more near-term.

“This is the worst time to be cutting these programs,” says William Prindle, deputy director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a Washington think tank. “At this point in time, with high energy prices and pressures, you’d think maybe we’d want to invest in a suite of energy-efficiency programs that make a dent right away.”
(31 May 2006)