The Silence of the Bees

To be a bee, or not to be a bee, that is the question when the colony is about to collapse. (Photo by Doug88888.Flickr)

This is how the media deal with stories such as bee-colony collapse disorder. It is as if, on day one, they sight a forest fire approaching the city and begin to air breathless bulletins containing little information and wild speculation bout how bad it might get. On day two, the fire being bigger and closer, they go to wall-to-wall coverage and talk of nothing else. On day three, the fire is even bigger and even closer, but it’s old news. Back to celebrity divorces. Thus has the prospect of losing our honeybees — and one third of our food — dropped from the public radar. Continue reading

Damn Right, NIMBY!

“Not in my back yard” campaigns directed against industrial projects are thought to be fundamentally different (progressive) from those against renewable-energy projects (regressive). It’s not so. (Photo by blakophoto/Flickr)

The NIMBY (“Not in my back yard!”) movement bears the contemptuous brand assigned by the industrial media to people who oppose things such as power plants, refineries, power lines and urban sprawl. NIMBYans contradict the relentless logic of industry — “You gotta have electricity, right? Gotta have a place to live.” — with demonstrations and signs that complain about aesthetics, pollution, the danger of increased cancer rates, the ruination of quality of life or, to use the industry’s term, trivia. Now, to the bemusement of the uninformed who see a conflict here, NIMBYans are turning their wrath on so-called renewable-energy projects. [See The New Look of NIMBYism” — The Daily Climate] And so they should. Continue reading

Oil and Troubled Waters

Monster machines scrape tarry sand from the surface of Alberta, Canada. By applying enormous quantities of water and natural gas, they make a low quality, corrosive crude oil and proclaim a “new Saudi Arabia.” (Photo by HowlMontreal/Flickr)

Like some crazed fan-dancer, the oil industry (along with its wholly owned subsidiaries such as the US Congress) is doing its best to conceal and distract us from the naked truth. It has waved in our faces during the past year such ostrich feathers as “Canadian tar sands; another Saudi Arabia!” and “shale gas; another Saudi Arabia!!” and “hyper-deep ocean drilling; another Saudi Arabia.” But when we step back from the year, and look at the unhyped numbers, it doesn’t matter any more whether the dancer has any clothes on or not.

World’s Top Energy Economist: Brace for Impact

According to the chief economist of the IEA, this is where we’re headed. (Photo by Cherryllynx/Flickr)

Fatih Birol is the chief economist for the International Energy Agency. Throughout most of its history, the Agency (like its American counterpart, the U.S. Energy Information Administration) gave short shrift to alarms about peak oil and global climate change. But now its top analyst says (in a recent talk to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)  that “the world is perfectly on track to six degrees Celsius [warming due to global climate change]…which is very bad news. And everybody, even school children, know[s] this will have catastrophic implications for all of us.” In other words, Brace for Impact.

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Can You Say Infrastructure? Now Say Brace for Impact

A 24-inch water main spills its guts near the National Mall in Washington DC in October of 2010. Flooding reached the National Museum of Natural History. There is much more to come. (Photo by Mr T in DC/Flickr)

It was a rare occasion and a good way to start the new year — a major American newspaper gave front-page coverage to a major American problem. This morning’s Washington Post features prominently a story detailing one reason why this country is about to crash: the machinery that delivers water to city dwellers, and treats their sewage has been neglected for nearly half a century. Like all neglected machinery, it is about to break down. And it’s the machinery that makes urban life possible.

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This Space is Occupied: Now What?

In September of 2011, Wall Street was Occupied. But does it mean more than the little flag on the door of the Porta-Potty? (Photo by PaulS/Flickr)

Our history has seen a lot of rallying cries, from the spine-tingling — “Give me liberty, or give me death!” — to the overly specific — “Fifty-four-forty or fight!” (Give up? A vocal minority wanted to set the US boundary with Canada at 54 degrees, 40 minutes of latitude, rather than at the present 48th parallel, thus leaving Canadians with nothing but tundra.) The slogans that lasted, and were effective, called for something specific to happen. A generation ago, an American populist convulsion sought to end the war in Vietnam, and did. Now comes Occupy Wall Street, and a question: when we have occupied Wall Street, or anywhere else, what have we done? Continue reading

Soy: It Isn’t So

One of the worst things you could eat is a fresh soybean -- even sauteed, as these have been. But there are lots of soy products that are even worse. (Photo by FotoosVanRobin/Flickr)

Once upon a time there was a lowly bean. Unlike other beans, in its natural state it was highly toxic to people and animals. Poor people in Asia discovered somehow — no doubt through desperate trial-and-error — that when fermented, the soy bean was edible. It became part of their diet. In the late 20th Century, when the industrialized diet of the West was afflicting its people with heart disease, cancers and diabetes, it was noticed that the spare Asian diet of fish, rice and a little fermented soy bean was not making people sick. Thus began one of the largest and most successful food cons ever perpetrated.
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UN, Oxfam Reports: Brace for Impact.

Oxfam volunteers demonstrate for non-readers the combined effects of rising seawater (climate change) and rising food prices. (AFP Photo/Alexander Joe)

The drumbeat of dire warnings continues about the inevitable and imminent collapse of the world’s food supply before the combined onslaughts of industrial agriculture and climate change. Despite the increasing number of scientific reports documenting ever more ominous conditions and prospects worldwide, the response from the people who could conceivably do something about it has been a collective yawn. The two latest cries of “fire” in our crowded theater came this week: Continue reading

From Occupy Wall Street to Occupy Wal Mart

In the Temple of Black Friday, Occupy Wall Street is just a dim memory. (Photo by tshein/Flickr)

After a brief flirtation with Occupy Wall Street, the American people returned this week to Occupy Wal Mart, a movement with which they are vastly more comfortable. Notions of closing the gap between the country’s financial overlords and the sinking 99.9 per cent vaporized as it came time for the annual orgy of gorging that celebrates the highest American values: over-consumption and football. By Friday, Zucotti Square on Wall Street was empty of people exercising their Constitutional right of free assembly. Herald Square in front of Macy’s department store, on the other hand, was jammed with six thousand people exercising their right to buy cheap stuff.

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Texas Wind-Power Miracle or Hot-Air Debacle?

A Texas-sized wind turbine under construction. This is what happens when industry embraces renewable energy. Whatever it is, it’s not sustainable. (Photo by vaxomatic/Flickr)

One of the core ideas of the book Brace for Impact and this website is expressed in the mantra: renewable is not sustainable if it’s industrial (actually, nothing is sustainable if it’s industrial, but for the moment let us focus on energy). If you want to follow the crash and burn of a large-scale demonstration of the principle, you need look no further than the Texas wind power miracle. Or debacle. Continue reading