Friday, June 15, 2012

Out of the Closet

I'm coming out of the closet. Or more accurately, the voting booth.

I know it's fashionable to stand up as a United State's citizen and proudly proclaim that I'll be exercising my hard-won and valued right to vote this November 6 in the national election. But I won't. Because I'm not. Voting, that is.  Not for candidates running for national office.

What we have here in Washington, D.C., if it ever was, is no longer democracy. From where I sit in my day-upon-day office, a few blocks from the nation's Capitol and Supreme Court, and an even few more blocks from the White House, is theater. More than that, it's theater of the absurd. And I won't be patronizing that theater anymore, thank you very much. At least not until the actors drop their facades and masks, and start facing reality; and begin acting real.

Instead of pouring over what substitutes for news, mining for nuggets of truth; instead of weighing the inconsequential, shallow, hollow political alternatives available to chose from on the national stage; instead of walking to my precinct's voting location; instead of pushing a button on the voting terminal screen; instead playing the part of a willing participant in a theatrical, empty "democracy," I'll spend my time holding hands with my wife, walking with my dogs, talking on the phone with my grandchildren, listening to my mother's wisdom, reading an enthralling novel.

The lover's hand, dogs' pants, child's laughter, mother's words and novel's fiction in the end will likely hold more truth than the emptiness of what passes for democracy within Washington's halls of power.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Poem: Brother, I’ve seen some by Kabir

Brother, I’ve seen some
     Astonishing sights:
A lion keeping watch
     Over pasturing cows;
A mother delivered
     After her son was;
A guru prostrated
     Before his disciple;
Fish spawning
     On treetops;               
A cat carrying away
     A dog;
A gunny-sack
     Driving a bullock-cart;
A buffalo going out to graze,
     Sitting on a horse;
A tree with its branches in the earth,
     Its roots in the sky;
A tree with flowering roots.

This verse, says Kabir,
     Is your key to the universe.
If you can figure it out.

Translated from the Hindi by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra

Friday, September 10, 2010

Stop Requested

The nice Washington, DC Metrobus (number 10E) that runs on clean-burning natural gas - the one that I take to and from my home each workday - talks to me. I don't mean in the way that gods might talk to saints or devils to sinners or anything like that. I mean that, in a very soothing feminine voice, she announces which stops are coming next. "Herbert Street." "Arlington Ridge Road." That kind of talking.  And when someone pulls the cord for a stop she says, "Stop requested." Much nicer than a buzzer or ringer. Then the driver stops the bus and people get off to go their merry ways and do their important things, while my bus rolls on to its final destination. "Pentagon Station," she gently announces.  And I get off bus number 10E to take the subway into DC.

After I merrily arrived at work today to do my own thing, there was this new climate change conundrum in my daily in-box of environmental news items: Lisa Friedman wondered in an article in Climatewire (reprinted in Scientific American magazine), "If a country disappears (beneath a rising sea), is it still a country?" and "If entire populations are forced to relocate by rising seas as a result of climate change, do they remain citizens of a vanished country?"

The legal issue at question centers around the premise that national and international laws currently on the books all assume that coastlines are a constant.  But constant coastlines, like many other things thought unvarying, are not so constant in a world in which temperatures rise, and glaciers melt and icebergs calve into the sea at ever increasing rates.  The human rights issues at question are even more pressing and immediate than the legal: millions of people in low-lying regions around the world face the daunting prospect of watching their homes drown beneath rising seas, and their lives forcibly relocated elsewhere, as they become climate refugees.

According to the Friedman article, officials in the Marshall Islands, a Micronesian nation of 29 low-lying coral atolls in the Pacific Ocean, are campaigning to turn international attention toward the plight of it and other vulnerable countries around the globe.  In the Maldives, another of those susceptible, low-lying countries, President Mohamed Nasheed has declared that he plans to create a fund in anticipation of that country's 305,000 residents requiring future relocation.

Edward Cameron, former adviser to the Maldive government, says in the Scientific American piece that nations threatened with sinking beneath rising seas need answers to the myriad and complex legal questions of land, water and migration for their own sakes.  But, Cameron cautions, those countries also need to send a message to developed countries not acting on climate change mitigation; a message that "if you don't come up with a response, we're going to start looking at legal options." Even more important, Cameron notes, the international community needs to start viewing climate change from a human rights perspective.

Ironically, the Republic of Palau, which acknowledges that its very survival is threatened by climate change and the accompanying rising sea levels, has embarked on a mission to become a major supplier of oil and natural gas, the burning of which is among the chief culprits behind greenhouse gas accumulations and climate change. The tract to be initially explored is found in the waters of Palau's Kayangel state, located on the northern edge of the 300-mile long island nation. Palauan officials say the area is likely home to one of the world's largest oil fields.  The Marine Biology Coordinator for Palau Pacific Exploration, which has secured a million acre drilling concession on the Velasco Reef in Kayangel State, has determined that "the planned drilling will not impact the environment."  All is well; business as usual, in other words. 

For money's sake, Palau wants to pump that oil and natural gas. For us to burn in our cars and clean DC Metrobuses, and convert into greenhouse gases exhausting into the atmosphere. To melt the ice caps. To raise the seas. To drown the low-lying archipelago of Palau.  And the Marshall Islands.  And the Maldives.  And, even, New Orleans.

In the meantime climate legislation has been officially pronounced "dead" in both the U.S. House (by Representative Collin Peterson) and Senate (by Senator Mitch McConnell ); scientists warn that the entire ice mass of Greenland will disappear if the earth's temperature rises by as little as 2 degrees C; a group of nine Nobel laureates has announced that unless the world starts reducing greenhouse gas emissions within six years, we face devastation; the U.S. Geological Survey reports that many of Asia’s glaciers are retreating as result of climate change; Canada has declared that it will delay greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts for at least another five years; and a Chinese analysis of U.S. and Australian carbon dioxide emission reduction plans says they are inadequate and inconsequential.

"Stop requested!"

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The End and The Beginning

The End and The Beginning
By Wislawa Szymborska
Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

After every war
someone has to tidy up.
Things won't pick
themselves up, after all.

Someone has to shove
the rubble to the roadsides
so the carts loaded the corpses
can get by.

Someone has to trudge
through the sludge and ashes,
through the sofa springs,
the shards of glass,
the bloody rags.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Truth, Perception and the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone

Biologist T. H. Huxley once opined that “all truth, in the long run, is only common sense clarified.”  Therefore, it was with considerable interest that I opened up a story this morning that came across my "Gulf of Mexico dead zone" RSS feed entitled "The Truth About the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone," and posted on July 6 on the Renewable Energy World web site by "sdreyer" of Growth Energy.  Growth Energy is a self-described "coalition of U.S. ethanol supporters" based here in Washington, DC.  The Growth Energy story seemed particularly relevant in light of another story that made the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle, also on July 6, that was headlined "Dead zone in gulf linked to ethanol production."  
I've read both stories now.  Each twice.  In the style of any well-written journalistic piece, the second article meets Huxley's clarified common sense test.  The former does not.  It can charitably be described as partial facts combined in illogical sequences to reach ill-founded conclusions.  Rather than reflecting common sense, clarified, the "Truth About the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone" appears to have been crafted following the philosophy of Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean."
Growth Energy's web site states that it is a group "committed to the promise of agriculture and growing America’s economy through cleaner, greener energy," a laudable goal and one that many, including myself, could readily espouse.  But open dialogue based upon truth is central to engaging all parties in the active pursuit of any objective, including that of Growth Energy's.  History has taught us that such open, honest, truthful dialogue can result in a collective wisdom founded upon mutually agreed-upon interests that reach value-driven goals.    And social science teaches that it is only the values that a group holds in common that will ultimately bind and drive a group toward a goal.
Opinions are a valuable and values-reflecting element of any human interaction.  However, views based on partial, ill-construed truths such as those put forth in "The Truth" opinion piece over time only serve to increase the intensity and depth of barriers already existing among parties or even raise barriers where none existed to begin with.  Opinions and the values they reflect should be well-founded upon truth that is, in the long run, common sense, clarified.  Not facts gone awry.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


I saw a couple of headlines this morning that made me think: a truly amazing impact being that it was a Monday morning and I was only half way through my first cup of coffee. The first headline said, "Investment in oil sands will boost U.S. economy - study." The second pronounced, "Senator calls for increased investment in domestic oil drilling." Now, neither article contained earth-shaking news or unusual content. The calls to increase oil sand development in Canada and domestic oil drilling are nothing we haven't heard before. What did catch my eye, though, was the common use of the term "investment." Because, as I understand the word, investment implies the active redirection of resources from those being consumed today, to those creating benefits in some future time. This definition of investment begs, I think, a critical question: In what future benefits are we investing, and for whom?

If the combustion of hyrdocarbons is fueling the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (a given); if the accumulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide is contributing to a not-so-gradual shift in the world's climate (also a fact); and if that shift will dramatically alter the social, ecological and economic fabric of the world as we know it (a somewhat well-founded hypothesis), then why on earth would we call increased reliance on oil (or tar) sands and domestic oil an "investment?" The incongruous use of the term boggles the mind - even a mind only half awake on a Monday morning and running on just one-half cup of caffeine!

Interestingly, the use of the word "investment" in such a context pays ironic homage to the word's roots. "Invest" finds its meaning in the Latin word investire, which means to "clothe" or "surround." And doubtless, burning more fossil fuels will generate more carbon dioxide that will "clothe" or "surround" the earth with an atmospheric shroud of heat-trapping carbon dioxide: a shroud and resulting climate change that will eventually render our past reliance upon the world's natural resources totally unpredictable.

If we are investing in anything by increasing our future reliance upon hyrdocarbon based fuels, it is a future of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and resultant climatic change. If we are to have any chance of avoiding that chaos, today's investment should be in alternative sources of energy; not one founded upon vesting the earth in a thickening blanket of climate-altering gases.