Omens of Collapse: A Stage and a Fence

The concert stage at the Indiana State Fair was built to impress, and to last a day or two longer than it did. Does anyone else see an omen here?

Things that are done for show don’t work well, don’t last long, and can hurt a lot of people when, inevitably,  they collapse. This lesson was demonstrated anew this past week in two widely separated — and wildly different — places: the Indiana State Fair and the Mexican border. Continue reading

Ray Anderson, RIP

Ray Anderson addresses the TED conference in 2009. Unlike most, for 25 tears he actually walked the walk of sustainability in industry. (Photo by whiteafrican/Flickr)

The only industrialist I ever met who had a genuine, drop-to-your-knees, road-to-Damascus, life-changing epiphany about the role of industry in destroying the world was Ray Anderson. When I first interviewed him in the 1990s, he was a few years past the experience — he likened it to “a spear in the chest” — triggered by his reading Paul Hawken’s book The Ecology of Commerce.  From that day forward, Anderson had a mission. Continue reading

Solar Storm Warning

This image provided by NASA shows a solar flare early Tuesday, Aug. 9, the largest in 5 years. The image was was captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) in extreme ultraviolet light.

A solar storm of moderate intensity will affect the earth for the next few days. Some disruption of satellite, GPS, telecommunications and electric equipment should be expected from a series of eruptions in the sun including one yesterday that was the largest seen in five years. None of the eruptions has been on a portion of the sun’s surface facing the earth, so effects should be limited to minor electronic disruptions and spectacular aurora borealis. A direct hit, such as occurred in 1859, would be another matter altogether (see  “A Solar Powered Blackout”). The danger is elevated because the sun is headed toward an 11-year maximum of such storms in 2013.

Losing the War on Pond Scum

A satellite view released by NASA shows a blue-green algae bloom (the green part) taking over western Lake Erie (the blue part). And that's not all.

A legacy of industrial agriculture, energized by climate change, a continent-sized explosion of toxic algae blooms is besieging the freshwater lakes of North America, sickening people, killing animals and wrecking tourist- and recreation-based local economies. Although each eruption is big news in local papers, the unprecedented extent and severity of the epidemic has drawn no attention from national news media or political figurines. Continue reading

Texas Teeters on Blackout’s Edge

The sun and the power grid -- enemies in Texas today, but they could be the best sustainable friends. (Photo by pranav/flickr)

The electric power grid in Texas is at the crisis point, its managers on the verge of having to impose rolling blackouts on a sweltering population, and is providing a leading indicator for the rest of the country. It is not only the heat that is placing unprecedented demands on the grid (after February cold and storms led to rolling blackouts), it’s the attitude of the people in charge that pretty much guarantees catastrophic failure ahead. Continue reading

USDA Gets Bad News on Superbugs: Shoots Messenger

Confined, crowded and stressed meat animals like these pigs are given 29 million pounds of antibiotics every year in the US, 80 per cent of the available supply, to make sure they grow. As a result, the seven million pounds administered to humans are becoming less effective. (Photo by Victor Sounds/Flickr)

This summer, the US Department of Agriculture received a report it had commissioned on the rise of infectious bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. The report —  not a study, but a survey of existing studies — warned of a “growing public health concern worldwide” as more and more people are sickened and killed by infections against which modern medicines are helpless. (Just one of them, MRSA, now kills more people every year than AIDS.) And it was a powerful indictment of industrial agriculture’s role in creating these so-called “superbugs.” So the USDA did just what you would expect the government regulator of industrial agriculture to do: it buried the report.
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A New Tragedy of the Commons: Water Banks

The tragedy of the commons is that herdsmen will overgraze a common pasture unless constrained. The same, it seems, applies to water. (Photo by Srinivasa Krishna/Flickr)

If you liked what investment bankers and hedge-fund managers did to our economy in recent years, you’re going to love what water banks are doing to our ecosystem. The same, time-tested methods are in play: unleash unrestrained greed on a commodity that everyone needs in order to make obscene profits from it while destroying it. This new chapter in the Tragedy of the Commons sounds perfectly reasonable, with respectable water banks working to smooth out the vagaries of nature. But let’s try calling it by its proper name: hoarding. Continue reading

How the World Ends: Not a Bang, a Brown Lawn

Lake Ray Hubbard, a reservoir of drinking water for the city of Dallas, Texas. Anybody worried yet? (Photo by Terry Shuck/Flickr)

According to last Sunday’s Fort Worth, Texas, Star-Telegram, “Lee Weaver knew he was facing a serious problem when he watched his lawn sprinkler dwindle to a meager squirt at his home south of Fort Worth.” This tells us pretty much all we need to know about Mr. Weaver, who in the midst of one of the worst droughts in the history of Texas was watering his lawn. It tells us a lot about journalism, too, when writers about this frightening, life-threatening and prophetic event think the best way to grab our attention in graf #3 is to highlight the agony of the brown lawn. And that says an awful lot about us.

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Is This a Congress, or a Mob?

Is this what the Founders had in mind when they first assembled Congress?

The bus of state is speeding toward the edge of a very tall cliff  — the unnecessary and politically-motivated default of the US Treasury next Tuesday — and almost all of the people who are wrestling for control of the steering wheel a) do not believe in cliffs, b) do not believe in gravity, and c) would rather be the center of attention than anything. It’s bad enough to realize that these people, despite their ignorance of economics, history, political science and the English language, are strongly affecting the course of our government on behalf of the country’s richest and most powerful people and companies. What is truly terrifying is the fact that they have now slipped the leash of their masters, and are running riot. Continue reading

BP Dumps Solar Panel Business

A rooftop solar installation like this one could power a house or a small business sustainably, relieving stress on the power grid, reducing the burning of fossil fuels and encouraging energy independence. Not interested, says America’s (formerly) largest solar panel manufacturer. (Photo courtesy Wayne Natrional Forest)

British Petroleum — the folks who tried for a while to convince us that their initials stood for “Beyond Petroleum” until it became clear that they really meant “below par”– have done it again. Having shown us how not to drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico, and how not to maintain the Alaska Pipeline, they have now demonstrated how not to use solar power to make a stronger, more sustainable America.  According to Reuters, their BP Solar subsidiary is closing its huge solar-panel manufacturing plant in Frederick, Maryland. Completely. What are they going to do instead? Solar project development. Continue reading