Sunday, April 29, 2007

Structure and Function

The oil fields are named Ishpingo-Tiputino-Tambococha. I became interested in learning more about them after reading an article in Responsible Nanotechnology about "green" nanotechnology. One quote in particular caught my attention: "When most structure and function can be built out of carbon and hydrogen by molecular manufacturing, there will be far less use for minerals, and mining operations mostly can be shut down." Really?

We undoubtedly will hear much more about nanotechnology in the near future, which is essentially the ability to manipulate and manufacture all sorts of things between 1 and 100 nanometers. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter. A human hair is approximately 100,000 nanometers wide.

The oil fields known as Ishpingo-Tiputino-Tambococha are in Ecuador, a country where I lived for a year some 30 years ago. These particular fields are located in the center of Yasuni National Park, which covers some 1.7 million acres. The petroleum experts say approximately one-quarter of the country's known oil reserves are in this particular location.

Ecuador was poor when I lived there thirty years ago. It still is. Some 40% of the federal budget comes from oil revenue. The country as well has about 15 billion dollars of external debt, meaning it owes the international lenders a lot of money. It appears only logical that the oil fields at ITT need to be exploited ... yet.

Yasuni National Park may be the most biodiverse forest on Earth according to some biologists. (See Yasuni Rainforest Campaign .) ITT is also home to many indigenous people, who are dependent on a healthy rainforest for their survival. Finally, according to the University of Maryland's Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology program, Yasuni National Park could sequester possibly a half-billion tons of CO2--which could be increasingly important to all of us.

There is, however, another twist to this story. The president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, has stated that he will seriously consider not developing this oil field, even though his country is poor and most certainly can use the oil income.

Correa will postpone oil development for at least another year if the international community makes a commitment to compensate Ecuador for approximately half of the projected lost revenue, estimated to be more than $300 million per year. The Ecuadorian president has acknowledged the environmental significance of Yasuni, but is also asking the wealthy countries to now acknowledge--in concrete terms--what Ecuador will have to give up. What if anything will the international community (including China) propose? (According to Information Clearing House the U.S. has alone spent to date more than $400 billion for the Iraq war.)

It's quite possible that nanotechnology will ultimately create a seismic shift on our planet. We may develop commercial carbon sequestration sooner than we think. For that matter, hydrogen fuel could be a reality in less than 30 or 40 years....

But what are we all willing to do right now regarding a place called Ishpingo-Tiputino-Tambococha?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Oprah Said So

Earth Day is today, one week after the National Day of Climate Action. I just noticed this morning in the shower, for the first time, that the shower curtain was made in China ... but why not? Why should America be making shower curtains? We could be producing new jobs in alternative energy and assorted green businesses, manufacturing wind turbines, making new hardware and creating more sophisticated climate change software. We could but will we? How many new, well paying jobs can we actually create? Can the environmental sector become big and noticeable, where even the most benighted politician has to pay attention if he or she wants to survive politically?

We're nibbling faster around the edges and some are now saying that Earth Day has served its purpose. More and more people are using CFL lighting, buying organic and so forth and so forth. According to the Pew Research Center some 83% of Americans think environmental laws and regulations should be stricter. That's the good news.

But there is some not so good news. According to Pew when you ask Americans if they're willing to pay higher prices to protect the environment the percentage falls to 60%. I know, is it half full or half empty.

This past Friday Oprah Winfrey devoted her program to going "green." She had the president of Shaklee on her program, a company she speaks highly of. I use Shaklee products and they are very good. Shaklee was the first company in the world to be certified climate neutral. Yes, Oprah has incredible clout. What if she devoted one day a month to climate change? Yeah, we are nibbling faster around the edges.

I am, however, increasingly uneasy as to why the honeybees are vanishing, maybe the real canary in the mine. What if it has something to do with cell phone towers? Are we ready to shut them off? It's going to be damn inconvenient if we do. But I may have watched too many disaster films, where one insect begins to act strangely. It's called foreshadowing.

Those glaciers are melting awfully fast and China is becoming a genuine environmental nightmare. Suburbia looks more and more like it ought to be behind glass at the Smithsonian. Talk about inconvenience. We're not going to "grow" our way out of this. That, it seems to me, is cartoon capitalism at its worst.

Jim Hanson, along with other climatologists, believes we have possibly 10 years to make drastic changes in energy use and overall lifestyle. Nibbling around the edges won't be good enough. Not even big chunks will likely be enough. It's only a vague unease at the moment.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Teachable Moment

I was on the organizing committee for the Kansas City rally. Was I part of a social movement that will sweep across America ... and possibly the world? This thought entered my mind early Sunday morning before the sun had come up, the day after the largest global warming (or climate change) rally in America. But then the sun did come up.

Some 12 weeks before, Bill McKibben, an environmental writer living in Vermont, came up with the idea of a rally a week before Earth Day, but with a specific goal: Get the U.S. Congress to pass legislation to cut carbon emissions 80% by 2050. By April 14 more than 1,400 planned events were established in all 50 states, from Paia, Hawaii to Cold Spring, New York. Individuals and small groups within their particular communities organized these diverse events across the country. Bill McKibben created the national phrase Step it Up 07. How well will we ultimately "step it up"?

In Kansas City the weather had been cold and rainy the week prior to our event. Late Friday afternoon we had to make a decision to move our rally inside, because of possible snow some weather reports offered. "Unusual" for this time of year some said. Hm-m. More unusual weather in other parts of the country we learned.

I stood in a park late Friday afternoon, where our rally was supposed to have taken place if we had had "normal" April weather. I was holding an umbrella and about to be interviewed by FOX news. The cameraman clipped on the mike and the reporter asked me if I was ready.

The reporter's first question was whether or not I saw any "irony" in all this; the global warming rally was going to be moved indoors because of possible snow. I laughed. What the viewers didn't know was that before the camera started running the reporter and I had talked about how climate change might bring unusual or even extreme weather patterns, even though data showed steadily rising temperatures. The reporter, however, had deliberately given me a teachable moment.

The Kansas City rally was a success. Had it been held outside on a warm spring day we probably would have gotten more than a thousand people in attendance. However, what we did get were some 500 enthusiastic individuals along with various speakers and representatives for some of our congressional politicians. A good day in my opinion.

The following day the sun came out for the first time in at least a week. It was warm and bright, blue sky overhead. Spring had arrived. By 9:30 I heard the quintessential American sound. The neighbor to my right was mowing her lawn with the all-purpose polluting gasoline mower, along with two neighbors across the street. No, I didn't go outside and scream at them that the world was ending.

I live in the middle of Kansas City and our lawns are small enough to be cut with hand mowers or in some cases with a good pair of scissors ... no I'm exaggerating about the scissors. But you get the point.

At 10 o'clock the e-mails started arriving from our steering committee Goggle group. Do you think that reporter was being too sarcastic mentioning that snow had driven our "warming" rally inside ... we need to write to him and educate him ... "only" 500 people showed up ... don't they know how important this issue is ... what happened to the media ... etc, etc. I turned the computer off.

That afternoon I played tennis; it was a great day for doubles. We didn't discuss global warming (or climate change) once. The National Day of Climate Action was a nationwide success. Now, teachable moments are most certainly almost everywhere.

I think I'm going to spend more time chatting with my neighbors, and perhaps a little less--for the time being--with my "eco" colleagues. In fact, some of my neighbors may have a few teachable moments to offer my environmental friends. I suppose we could all talk together from time to time. Don't forget Earth Day this Saturday.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

One More Step

The National Day of Climate Action is next Saturday, April 14. The specific goal is to get the U.S. Congress to cut carbon emissions 80% by 2050.

At this point there are more than 1,200 planned events in all 50 states. This is a remarkable achievement in less than 3 months. Go to and find a rally closest to where you live. Time to toss the deniers in the ashcan of history and get the U.S. Congress to demonstrate they can do more than pose for photo-ops or utter the usual banality.

Global warming is here, but we still have time to change direction and reduce its impact.