Sunday, April 30, 2006

Predators and Prey

The other day I saw a reasonably well-acted movie about a human predator, in this case a sexual one. The difference this time was that the prey, a fourteen-year old girl, turned the tables on this sorry excuse of a hominid.

And speaking of predators, the Chinese government appears hell bent on trashing the planet in some pathetic desire to become a "great" power, whatever that now means in the era of environmental deterioration. The latest story again goes back to wood.

This time it's a lush, isolated spot of Borneo. China is about to spend billions over the next few years tearing down the forests of Southeast Asia in order to service the needs of its growing middle class, which in the case of China is going to be huge.

Of course it doesn't often take much more than dragging a $100 bill through the military barracks of some of these developing nations to bribe whomever you want. The Chinese have certainly learned their lessons from the West.

The latest obscenity is a "rush order" for a reddish-brown hardwood called merbau, some million cubic yards, in one of the most biologically diverse areas of the world. The purpose for this wood is to build sports facilities for the 2008 Olympic Games to be held in China. Perish the thought that we don't have adequate facilities for our pampered world-class athletes and their increasingly silly activities. The forests are going to disappear Homo sapiens sapiens. Who knows why that could be a very bad thing? In the meantime give them bread in a worldwide circus!

Optimists are fond of pointing out that a society, after a couple of generations, settles down. In other words, a certain standard of living is reached and people want more than "more stuff." Perhaps there are still sane people on this planet that believe we have the time.

The autocrats that currently run China have clearly proven--at least in the short run--that the most irresponsible cartoon capitalism can flourish without democracy. Above all, without any countervailing force to confront this idiocy, this unfolding environmental disaster may happen much sooner.

It's unlikely that these ex-communists "good old boys" are going to become enlightened anytime soon. Nor is any real boycott of the 2008 Olympic Games going to take place. The best we can hope for at this point is that the U.S. regains its sanity--soon. We in the United States certainly are not passive bystanders in this matter. Europe might try harder to internalize the word "survival," and Japan could stop slaughtering whales for no good reason. Just maybe the prey can confound the predator once more.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Idiot Season Begins

It's that familiar sound when spring has arrived in the U.S. It's the chug-chug of the power lawnmower, the whirring of the weed-whacker, and the chemical trucks pulling up to deliver the "fix" to your drug-addicted lawn. It has been a spring ritual for a good 50 years. ( see Turf Terror, November and December 2005 articles).

The encouraging news of course is that this spring obscenity is slowly changing. We're becoming more and more reluctant to dump huge quantities of pesticides and fertilizers on our lawns as well as pouring gallons of water over it, in order to create some artificially induced dreamscape. More and more Americans are coming to realize they can't continue to support this environmental disaster.

The province of Quebec in Canada has now implemented the most stringent standards in North America for lawn-care products. Some 210-lawn products, containing toxic chemicals, are banned. Products that contain 2,4-D are off the market, bringing Canada in line with other countries like Sweden and Denmark. It's time to push these standards throughout all of North America and start living in the twenty-first century.
Regular gasoline in the U.S. is inching above $3.00 a gallon. Americans are "getting angry," politicians are getting worried or seeing it as an opportunity to oust their opponents. But do we really get it yet?

I frequently drive by a coffee shop in the morning in a relatively affluent area. It clearly is popular because the parking spaces are always full as well as along the side of the street. What is most striking is the number of new SUVs parked there. Will these people feel it when gas prices reach $5.00 a gallon--$6.00? I don't know. But I do not think any reality will sink in for the overwhelming majority of Americans until prices rise to at least $4.00 (regular of course) and stay there.

The recent fuel efficiency standards for vehicles that the fools running America recently implemented are hardly worth the time of day. It might have been a "start" ten years ago. It's not now. Progress is telling the automotive industry it's not voluntary or optional, and it's not when it's convenient. And, it is the U.S. that has to take the lead; we have the greatest number of vehicles clogging up the roads and we're the main polluter on this planet. It's worthwhile when we're setting a GOAL of 100 hundred miles to the gallon.
The Ceres investor coalition not long ago analyzed some 100 major companies, in the U.S. and overseas, as to how effectively they're dealing with global warming. For example, in the oil and gas sector, according to Ceres, BP is a "leader" and (not surprisingly) ExxonMobil is a "laggard." But overall, Ceres states the electric power and oil companies are "largely dismissing" the global warming issue. For that matter entire sectors of the economy have not begun to develop clear strategies. The report is entitled Corporate Governance and Climate Change: Making the Connection. While finding out where our money is being invested is important, we can also begin--in the U.S.--tossing out the political errand boys and girls in the November elections. Yeah, you can make a difference.
Last, but certainly not least, don't let any snake-oil car salesman tell you to buy the car because it's got "hybrid technology." According to Jamie Lincoln Kitman, a bureau chief for Automobile Magazine, in a recent New York Times article, there's the good hybrid and maybe not so good hybrids. For example, Kitman points out that, while the Toyota Prius really does get 40 or more miles to the gallon, it's only when you're just driving around town. On the Interstate it stinks. In this case it becomes--where do you do most of your driving? Being environmentally responsible doesn't mean being an uncritical buyer. Yes, the hybrid may be right for you.

May every day be Earth Day.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Another Wood Story

Continuing the 25 March article, I came across a piece in Aljazeera, entitled "Cheap furniture endangering forests." The developed world wants wood products, the cheaper the better, and most likely oblivious to what "cheap" really means. Of course it's an all too familiar story. And China, the willing middleman, is ready to help, well on the way to controlling approximately one-third of furniture manufacturing worldwide.

The most populous country in the world is now the leading importer of wood from tropical forests in the developing world. Some of the more dismal statistics that the Aljazeera article points out is that illegal logging and corruption is widespread among the developing countries that supply the raw wood. Indonesia has lost about 65% of its ancient forests, and the World Bank claims that the country--within 10 years at the most--will lose some of its "richest" areas unless drastic measures are taken to stop the destruction.

As usual, the local communities where the forests are located receive little in compensation, but by the time the finished product reaches New York, Tokyo or London the value has increased thirty or forty times.

Of course it starts with enlightened political leadership in the developed world educating their consumers. Then it becomes the radical idea that global cartoon capitalism doesn't get to decide how to consume finite resources on the planet. Finally, local communities where the raw material comes from begin to receive fair compensation.

Yes, it's hard work getting ethical and intelligent people in positions where they can see beyond the next week or the next election ... as well as getting all of us to understand that "entitlement" has real limits. The fact that we can build a Hummer doesn't mean we should. When's your next election?