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Deep thought - April 19

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The Ghost Park

Paul Solotaroff, Men's Journal
...The numbers come at you in a solid wall, wave after wave of peer-reviewed findings, each set worse than the last. The planet, heating steadily since the Industrial Revolution and growing warmer by leaps from 1980 onward, has suffered through 12 of the hottest years in history over the past 20. The decade just completed was the hottest on record, in which worldwide temperatures shot up a half degree. (For comparison, 1 degree was the total gain amassed during the entire 20th century.) The cause is well settled and the consensus broad; only a handful of crackpots and political opportunists deny that heat-trapping gases from fossil fuel burn-off are to blame for the bulk of the warming or insist that the spike is a statistical deviation brought on by cosmic rays and rogue currents.

The sharpest rebuke to the junk-science shills is the disaster now unfolding in the American West. States from the Dakotas on down to Nevada weathered devastating jumps of almost 2 degrees, or roughly double the rate of the planet’s rise. The northern Rocky winters got radically milder, the summers started sooner and were drier and longer, and wildfires burned through vast tracts of timber weeks after the usual fire year ended. The damage to natural resources has outstripped the worst predictions of climate scientists everywhere: Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the largest reservoirs in the States and the lifeblood of Las Vegas and Los Angeles, respectively, stand half- empty and notching record lows, thanks to shrinking snowmelt. The country’s greatest trout streams have been closed to anglers during parts of eight of the past 10 years, and the keystone trees of the interior West — the aspen, whitebark, and lodgepole pines — are dropping dead in holocaust numbers, felled directly by the surge of heat or by insect infestations spawned by it. And this is a mere prelude to the hellfire that’s coming: a regional warming of as much as seven to 10 degrees by the end of this century, bringing permanent drought plains, coastal tsunamis, and widespread human dispersal. “Without a countershift the equal of the Industrial Revolution, we’ll see mass migrations in our grandkids’ lifetimes,” says Steve Running, a renowned ecologist at the University of Montana and a lead author of the United Nations report on global warming in 2007. “Major cities in the West, like Phoenix and Las Vegas, may have to be abandoned as badlands.”

Running is scarcely an outlier voice. “What we’ve seen out here is like nothing on record, and our tree-ring studies go back a thousand years,” says Jonathan Overpeck, the co-director of the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona and one of the go-to climate scientists in the country. “The winters are shorter, the snowpacks melt early, and the drying seasons are longer and hotter, which leads to terrible wildfires and tree death. One of the many things that worry me, as the heat increases, is that this region becomes a second Outback. Already, our water supply is severely strained, and with decade-long droughts like the one we’re in now, it’s hard to see how we’ll avoid it.”

If the West is ground zero for the unholy experiment being conducted on weather shifts, then Yellowstone is first up on the blasting range. The oldest and most magical of our national parks, its 2 million acres stretch to three states, boast a spectacular chain of rivers, lakes, and creeks, and sit, a vast chunk of them, on a supervolcano that spawns half the world’s geysers and hot springs. Among the last menageries of charismatic wildlife in the northern temperate zone, its grasslands feed herds of wapiti, moose, and bison, which in turn feed grizzlies, wolves, and mountain lions — a matchless array of sovereign predators. Four million people visit the park each year to fish its waters, run its trails, and climb its summits; to get anywhere near the top of the Gallatin Mountains and look down on those silver-backed buttes and falls is to know, in your bones, what beauty is. There is grandeur on all sides of you, but graveyards, too: mile after mile of zombified forests, dead from the roots but still standing...
(5 April 2011)



Emotional Resilience In Traumatic Times

Carolyn Baker, Speaking Truth to Power
While mainstream media has been encouraging collective dithering over a possible U.S. government shutdown, the chilling realities of off-the-chart levels of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, escalating upheavals throughout the Middle East, and surging oil prices have been simmering in the background, remaining the lethal environmental, geopolitical, and economic time bombs that they are. Weeks ago, I was well aware that a government shutdown was highly unlikely but would be used to distract our attention from more urgent matters, and thus, I reported only one story about it in my Daily News Digest.

I recently returned from Northern California where residents there were profoundly anxious regarding the effects of radiation on the West Coast from Fukushima. How not, when on April 1, the San Francisco area newspaper, Bay Citizen, reported that “Radiation from Japan rained on Berkeley during recent storms at levels that exceeded drinking water standards by 181 times and has been detected in multiple milk samples, but the U.S. government has still not published any official data on nuclear fallout here from the Fukushima disaster”?

In typical American media fashion, out of sight, out of mind. Fewer and fewer stories of radiation realities in and issuing from Japan are being reported. An occasional comment surfaces, usually assuring us that we have nothing to fear. It’s all so benign. Apparently, we can now move on to “really important” stories like Obama’s 2012 campaign and the royal wedding.

And yet, whether explicitly stated or not, Americans and billions of other individuals throughout the world, are not only terrified about radiation but about their economic future—an economic future which will be inexorably more ruinous as a result of the Japan tragedy and its economic ripples globally. By that I do not mean that they feel mild anxiety about embellishing their stock portfolios, but rather, are feeling frightened about how they are going to feed their families, where they will live after losing their house in foreclosure, where they might find employment in a world where having a full-time job is becoming increasingly rare, how they will access healthcare without insurance or the money to pay out of pocket, or how they will make ends meet in forced or voluntary retirement.

Obviously, these anxieties are relevant to the world’s middle classes and not to teeming masses of human beings living on two dollars per day or less. Ironically, however, it is frequently the case that for all the suffering of abjectly impoverished human beings, they have seldom known any other standard of living and have learned how to survive on virtually nothing. They hear no reports of nuclear meltdowns, and even if they did, such news would seem insignificant in the face of needing to secure food or water for today—a type of existence that contains its own traumas and yields dramatically short lifespans...
(15 April 2011)



Let No Man Say It Cannot Be Done

Lester Brown, Earth Policy Institute
We need an economy for the twenty-first century, one that is in sync with the earth and its natural support systems, not one that is destroying them. The fossil fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy that evolved in western industrial societies is no longer a viable model—not for the countries that shaped it or for those that are emulating them. In short, we need to build a new economy, one powered with carbon-free sources of energy—wind, solar, and geothermal—one that has a diversified transport system and that reuses and recycles everything. We can change course and move onto a path of sustainable progress, but it will take a massive mobilization—at wartime speed.

Whenever I begin to feel overwhelmed by the scale and urgency of the changes we need to make, I reread the economic history of U.S. involvement in World War II because it is such an inspiring study in rapid mobilization. Initially, the United States resisted involvement in the war and responded only after it was directly attacked at Pearl Harbor. But respond it did. After an all-out commitment, the U.S. engagement helped turn the tide of war, leading the Allied Forces to victory within three-and-a-half years.

In his State of the Union address on January 6, 1942, one month after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced the country’s arms production goals. The United States, he said, was planning to produce 45,000 tanks, 60,000 planes, and several thousand ships. He added, “Let no man say it cannot be done.”

No one had ever seen such huge arms production numbers. Public skepticism abounded. But Roosevelt and his colleagues realized that the world’s largest concentration of industrial power was in the U.S. automobile industry. Even during the Depression, the United States was producing 3 million or more cars a year.

After his State of the Union address, Roosevelt met with auto industry leaders, indicating that the country would rely heavily on them to reach these arms production goals. Initially they expected to continue making cars and simply add on the production of armaments. What they did not yet know was that the sale of new cars would soon be banned. From early February 1942 through the end of 1944, nearly three years, essentially no cars were produced in the United States.

In addition to a ban on the sale of new cars, residential and highway construction was halted, and driving for pleasure was banned. Suddenly people were recycling and planting victory gardens. Strategic goods—including tires, gasoline, fuel oil, and sugar—were rationed beginning in 1942. Yet 1942 witnessed the greatest expansion of industrial output in the nation’s history—all for military use. Wartime aircraft needs were enormous. They included not only fighters, bombers, and reconnaissance planes, but also the troop and cargo transports needed to fight a war on distant fronts. From the beginning of 1942 through 1944, the United States far exceeded the initial goal of 60,000 planes, turning out a staggering 229,600 aircraft, a fleet so vast it is hard even today to visualize it. Equally impressive, by the end of the war more than 5,000 ships were added to the 1,000 or so that made up the American Merchant Fleet in 1939.

In her book No Ordinary Time, Doris Kearns Goodwin describes how various firms converted. A sparkplug factory switched to the production of machine guns. A manufacturer of stoves produced lifeboats. A merry-go-round factory made gun mounts; a toy company turned out compasses; a corset manufacturer produced grenade belts; and a pinball machine plant made armor-piercing shells.

In retrospect, the speed of this conversion from a peacetime to a wartime economy is stunning. The harnessing of U.S. industrial power tipped the scales decisively toward the Allied Forces, reversing the tide of war. Germany and Japan, already fully extended, could not counter this effort. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill often quoted his foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey: “The United States is like a giant boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it, there is no limit to the power it can generate.”...
(19 April 2011)



What Makes Life Good?

Martha C. Nussbaum, The Nation
Excerpted from Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach, by Martha C. Nussbaum, published in March 2011 by Harvard University Press.

All over the world people are struggling for lives that are worthy of their human dignity. Leaders of countries often focus on national economic growth alone, but their people, meanwhile, are striving for something different: meaningful lives for themselves. Increased GDP has not always made a difference in the quality of people’s lives, and reports of national prosperity are not likely to console those whose existence is marked by inequality and deprivation. As the late Mahbub ul Haq, the Pakistani economist who inaugurated the Human Development Reports of the United Nations Development Programme, wrote in the first of those reports, in 1990: “The real wealth of a nation is its people. And the purpose of development is to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy, and creative lives. This simple but powerful truth is too often forgotten in the pursuit of material and financial wealth.” According to Haq, development economics needs a new theoretical approach if it is to respond to people’s most urgent problems.

Comments on traveling to Haifa, Israel. Determination of the author to affirm the worth of scholarly cooperation in the face of a campaign to boycott Israeli scholars in Europe; Support of the author for social justice; Idea that Israel has been an embarrassment to some Jews; Idea that Israelis are being demonized by the world community.

Consider Vasanti, a small woman in her early 30s who lives in Ahmedabad, a large city in the state of Gujarat, in northwestern India. Vasanti’s husband was a gambler and an alcoholic. He used the household money to get drunk. When that money was gone, he got a vasectomy to take advantage of the cash incentive that Gujarat’s government offered to encourage sterilization. So Vasanti had no children, a huge liability given that a childless woman is more vulnerable to domestic violence. Eventually, as her husband became more abusive, she left him and returned to her own family.

Poor parents (or siblings, if the parents have died) are often unwilling to take back a child who has been married, especially a woman who took a dowry with her. Many women in Vasanti’s position end up on the street, with no alternative but sex work. But it was her good fortune that her family was willing to help her. Vasanti’s father, who used to make Singer sewing machine parts, had died, but her brothers were running an auto parts business in what was once his shop. Using one of his old machines, and living in the shop, Vasanti earned a small income making eyeholes for the hooks on sari tops. Meanwhile, her brothers gave her a loan to get another machine, one that rolls the edges of the sari. She took the money, but she didn’t like being dependent on her siblings.

Vasanti then discovered the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), a pathbreaking organization in Ahmedabad that works with poor women. Founded by internationally acclaimed activist Ela Bhatt, SEWA had by that time helped more than 50,000 members, with programs including microcredit, education, healthcare and a labor union....
(18 April 2011)
Read more about the book here.

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