Allegedly smart phones don’t do anything to fix the rising spiral of problems besetting industrial civilization, but they make it easier for people to distract themselves from those problems for a little while longer.
That, I’d like to suggest, is also what’s driving the metastasis of television screens in the places that people used to go to enjoy a meal, a beer, or a cup of coffee and each other’s company.
These days, that latter’s too risky; somebody might mention a friend who lost his job and can’t get another one, a spouse who gets sicker with each overpriced prescription the medical industry pushes on her, a kid who didn’t come back from Afghanistan, or the like, and then it’s right back to the reality that everyone’s trying to avoid.
It’s much easier to sit there in silence staring at little colored pictures on a glass screen, from which all such troubles have been excluded. [snip]
Posts Tagged ‘Environment’
Oklahoma now has more earthquakes than California.
Geologists blame fracking.
Hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas involves drilling a vertical well and a horizontal tunnel through layers of shale, then setting off explosives at the end of the tunnel to fracture the shale. Liquids are pumped into the fractures to force out the oil and gas.
Geologists say the problem is not the fracturing, but that the liquids used in fracturing lubricate existing faults and allow them to shift more easily.
A disaster waiting to happen in Oklahoma? The link between fracking and earthquakes in an oil-rich town by Andrew Dewson for The Independent.
The Link Between Fracking and Oklahoma’s Quakes Keeps Getting Stronger by Tim McDonnell for Mother Jones.
I grew up with a stereotype of the Germans as prisoners of hierarchy, bureaucracy and rules, who would never be a match for us democratic, freedom-loving practical Americans.
But if that ever was true, our two countries have since traded places.
Thomas Geoghegan, a Chicago labor lawyer whose writings I admire, wrote a book in 2010 entitled WERE YOU BORN ON THE WRONG CONTINENT? How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life about how Germany is an economic role model for the United States.
He still says so in his newest book, ONLY ONE THING CAN SAVE US: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement.
In Germany, Geoghegan wrote, the laws, strong labor unions, worker representatives in management make it difficult to fire anybody. So layoffs are a last resort, not a first resort.
German management is forced to concentrate on figuring out how to get the most out of the work force, not on making workers powerless and replaceable. The result is that German corporations invest in lifelong learning for their workers, on the justified assumption that they’re going to remain with the same employer and become permanent assets to the firm.
Source: Business Insider.
Bertrand Russell once wrote that democracies would always triumph in the long run over dictatorships because dictators had the power to ignore unwelcome facts while democracies did not, thanks to contested elections, freedom of the press and the loyal opposition.
In short, although Russell did not use that word, democracies had a better system of feedback.
I hope this is true, but I wonder about American democracy’s ability to face reality, as I look at the lack of U.S. response to global climate change, the failure to keep the nation’s physical infrastructure in good repair, the erosion of civil liberties and the continuation of failed interventionist policies in the Middle East.
The California water crisis is an example of what I mean. During the past few weeks, journalists have reported that California has only a year’s supply of water in its reservoirs at current rates of use.
That’s exaggerated, because the supply can be stretched out by means of rationing and pricing schemes, but most of California, left to its natural state, would be a desert, and that is a real possibility.
California voters last year approved a bond issue to pay for long-range solutions, such as large-scale water recycling and ocean water desalinization from the ocean. But these will take years to implement.
The dangerous and destructive Alberta tar sands project may be in jeopardy economically because of falling oil prices, the Washington Spectator reported.
An end to the project would be good news, but the desperate struggles of the dying industry to survive by any means necessary could cause even more damage before it disappears.
Tar from tar sands is extracted by a process as environmentally destructive as strip mining and hydrofracking combined. Tar Sands Solutions says an area of northern Alberta the size of Florida is being devastated. Scientists say that the tar sands project in and of itself could have a measurable effect on global warming.
Extraction products a product called bitumen, a corrosive slurry that must be brought to a refinery to be converted into a useful product. This creates a high risk of pipe breaks or leaks from tanker train accidents along the way.
As oil prices fall, the higher the volume of bitumen that must be shipped from northern Alberta to generate enough revenue to keep the project going. Mark Dowie, writing in the Washington Spectator, says this creates an opportunity to block the project.
It is not necessary, he wrote, to stop all tar sands pipelines—the two planned for Canada’s west coast, the one planned for Canada’s east coast or the Keystone XL pipeline through the United States to the Texas Gulf Coast. Blocking two or three would be enough to make the project economically unfeasible.
This makes sense. But tar sands in its death throes could be even more destructive than it is now, as the owners try to ship their product by tank cars or by any other means necessary.
President Obama vetoed a bill requiring him to approve the Keystone XL pipeline on his own. But he still could approve it on his own authority. Canada could ask a NAFTA tribunal to order the United States to pay penalties if he doesn’t. Or it could wait for until a new President is elected in 2016.
I used to look upon Canada as not just a good neighbor to the United States, but as a good example. That’s no longer true under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Source: Daily Kos.
I’ve long been aware that hydraulic fracturing for natural gas is associated with earthquakes, but I had thought the main reason was the settling of the geological strata after the fracking process is complete and the fracking fluid is pumped out.
But according to a report by the U.S. Geological Survey, the main cause of fracking-induced earthquakes is the injection of the huge amounts of contaminated waste water into deep geological strata.
Large areas of the United States that used to experience few or no earthquakes have, in recent years, experienced a remarkable increase in earthquake activity that has caused considerable public concern as well as damage to structures. This rise in seismic activity, especially in the central United States, is not the result of natural processes.
Instead, the increased seismicity is due to fluid injection associated with new technologies that enable the extraction of oil and gas from previously unproductive reservoirs. These modern extraction techniques result in large quantities of wastewater produced along with the oil and gas. The disposal of this wastewater by deep injection occasionally results in earthquakes that are large enough to be felt, and sometimes damaging. Deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes and the corresponding increase in seismic hazard in the central U.S.
via USGS Release.
Meanwhile in California the Center for Biological Diversity, a non-profit conservation organization, has found deep underground storage of oil fracking waste water has allowed toxic and cancer-causing chemicals to contaminate aquifers, underground reservoirs that can be a source of irrigation and drinking water.
Progress was good for my parents. They came to a strange land as poor pioneers and prospered along with Phoenix. They lived the American Dream—not the pursuit of material manifestations of success as much as their steady improvement over time.
Their lives were better than their parents’; they had more security, more opportunity, more comfort. They didn’t do without, go hungry, or stand in unemployment lines; they were well-educated, well-fed, and well-blessed with the fruits of a robust and expanding economy.
Best of all, especially for my mother, they could travel, and they saw parts of the globe that deeply impressed them. If they had second thoughts or misgivings about progress, I never heard a word. For them, the future was always bright.
I developed a different perspective. I came of age during the heyday of progress, witnessing the good, the bad, and the ugly. Impressed at first, I have now lived long enough to see that manifest destiny was not necessarily a positive force in our history.
I will likely live long enough to see evidence that America is not exceptional after all—that despite this nation’s many admirable qualities, it is subject to the same historical forces that have worn down all great nations and empires throughout the ages.
Courtney White of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a former archeologist, Sierra Club activist and co-founder of the Quivera Coalition, which is dedicated to bringing together ranchers, conservationists, public land managers, scientists and others to improve land practices.
I’ve not read any of his books. Probably I should. Here are links to excerpts from The Age of Consequences, his latest.
Thanks to Bill Elwell for the first link and for making me aware of Courtney White and his work.
2015: Grounds for Optimism by Dmitry Orlov for ClubOrlov.
Dimtry Orlov is hopeful that the world, including the USA and the rest of the English-speaking world, is starting to reject Washington’s propaganda version of reality.
Beijing chums up to Washington by Francesco Sisci for Asia Times.
Wang Yang, vice president of China, made a speech saying that the United States is the guide of the world and China is willing to join its system. I don’t know what to make of this or how seriously to take it. 
Social protest rising in Ukraine as gov’t approves harsh austerity budget by Roger Annis for The New Cold War: Ukraine and Beyond [Hat tip to Bill Harvey].
Ukraine is being forced to raise taxes, cut services, raise prices and, most important, sell off its national assets at bargain prices in order to pay its debts. Acquisition of those assets is what the struggle over Ukraine is all about.
Thomas Frank wrote about how the fast-food industry is automating the process of processing and serving food, how the franchise system holds down wages, and how fast-food franchises are another plaything of Wall Street speculators.
Methane plume over western US illustrates climate cost of gas leaks by Joby Warrick for the Washington Post [via The Guardian]
Police union pushes for cop killings to be included in hate crimes law by Liz Goodwin for Yahoo News, with a comment on Psychopolitik.
Michael Brown case grand juror sues St. Louis County prosecutor, asking to speak out on case by Joel Currier and Michael Patrick for the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decsion to ban hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas in New York state was made for the right reason – the Precautionary Principle.
I misjudged Cuomo. I thought he intended to approve fracking, but was postponing this unpopular decision until after the election.
With falling oil and gas prices, the economic benefits of fracking are even less than before. The oil and gas locked underground in the Marcellus shale will not go away. It will still be there if someday the USA is so desperate for energy that fracking is necessary.
“This Will Have a Ripple Effect Across the Country”: State of New York Bans Fracking by Cole Stangler for In These Times. (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)
The Myth of Chinese Super-Schools by Diane Ravich for the New York Review of Books.
Diane Ravich, a foremost defender and analyst of the U.S. public school system, reviewed Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World by Yong Zhao.
Zhao, who was educated in China and now teaches at the University of Oregon, said the Chinese educational system is the best in the world for promoting rote learning, high test scores and hard-working, obedient employees. It is the worst in the world for encouraging creativity, enterprise and self-reliance.
The United States is making a big mistake by moving to a high stakes testing system that measures rote learning.
Who won the Civil War? These students at Texas Tech have no idea, a video from the History News Network (hat tip to Bill Harvey)
A video interview of Texas Tech students revealed that hardly any of them knew that the North won the Civil War or that the United States won its independence from Great Britain.
After watching this video, I thought that maybe a certain amount of rote learning might not be amiss. But my question is: Were these students never taught basic facts about the War of Independence and the Civil War? Or were they taught them, but never made to understand why these facts were worth remembering?
Can Climate Change Cure Capitalism? by Elizabeth Kolbert of the New York Review of Books.
Elizabeth Kolbert, a foremost writer on climate change, reviewed This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein. She wrote that Klein makes the issue too simple by blaming climate change on fossil fuel companies, and ignoring the drastic changes in everyday life that will be needed to keep the planet from overheating.
Is the U.S. China Climate Pact as Big a Deal as It Seems? by James Fallows for The Atlantic.
Without the USA and China, the world’s two biggest economic powers and two biggest polluters, nothing can be done to stop catastrophic climate change. The current pledge by Presidents Obama and Xi may not come to anything, but it is a necessary first step.
Sunken Soviet Submarines Threaten Nuclear Catastrophe in Russia’s Arctic by Matthew Bodner for The Moscow Times (hat tip to Naked Capitalism)
Source: Honor the Earth.
While the U.S. government ponders whether to allow the Keystone XL pipeline to transport tar sands oil from the Canadian province of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico, another Canadian company decided to short-circuit the process and transport tar sands oil across the upper Midwest to the great lakes.
The company, Enbridge, had applied for permits to transport the highly corrosive tar sands bitumen, but then it decided that it didn’t need permission, and decided to go ahead with the project anyway, the Washington Spectator reported.
The project is dubious because, among other reasons, of the danger of pipe leaks and spills, which would pollute streams and underground water. Enbridge has a bad record in this respect. Tar sands developers have been blocked by other Canadian provinces from building pipelines east and west, so they’ve chosen to go south into the United States.
The Washington Spectator reported that Enbridge already has a permit, issued in 1967, to transport oil across the border via its Alberta Clipper pipeline. The company claimed it didn’t need a new permit to expand the pipeline and transport tar sands bitumen, and federal regulators raised no objection. So unless state governments decide to stop the project, the Alberta Clipper is a done deal.
Second Canadian Company Completing Tar Sands Pipeline into the U.S. by Lou DuBose for the Washington Spectator.
How Much Will Tar Sands Oil Add to Global Warming? by David Biello for Scientific American.
This Moyers & Company broadcast was aired about a year ago.
Naomi Klein’s THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: Capitalism vs The Climate has convinced me that, in order to maintain a habitable planet, it’s necessary to limit and maybe eliminate the burning of coal, oil and gas, and that energy companies will never do this unless they are forced to do so.
What I’m not convinced of is that it is possible to painlessly transition to some green utopia, in which everybody’s material standard of living is the same as it is now, except for a small group of plutocrats.
My house is heated with natural gas, and my gas bills lately have been low, due to an abundance of gas supplied by hydraulic fracturing (of which I disapprove). My car runs on gasoline, and the computer on which I write this post is powered by electricity.
Over the years I’ve read books by Lester R. Brown, George Monbiot , and Al Gore making the case that with smart technology, I can heat my house with solar energy and better insulation, I can ride a streetcar that is almost as convenient as a private automobile, and that electricity can be provided by windmills, solar panels, other innovative sources of energy and a smart electrical grid that eliminates waste in the system.
I don’t have the knowledge to question their proposals on technical grounds. I agree with Arthur C. Clarke—that the only way to test the limits of the possible is to venture a little way into the impossible. And the alternative to trying is to accept the “long emergency” foretold by James Howard Kunstler.
But even at best, the transition will cost enormous sums of money. Who would pay? Naomi Klein says that rich people in rich countries should pay, especially countries that enjoy a high level of consumption based on fossil fuels. This means first and foremost the USA.
Here are links, with transcripts, to the complete Sept. 18, 2014 interview.
Naomi Klein thinks that, if governments had taken action in the 1990s to curb greenhouse gas emissions to control climate change, it could have been accomplished without drastic upheavals in society or in people’s lives..
Unfortunately another movement arose at the same time, a movement to remove restrictions on corporate activity, and this movement has proved more powerful than the climate movement. The corporate movement has produced privatization, deregulation, repeal of anti-trust laws and a strong and enforceable body of international law to block environmental regulation and subsidies of renewal energy.
The first chapter of Klein’s new book, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: Capitalism vs the Climate, is about how the real objection of climate change deniers is their realization that climate change, if real, would mean an end to free enterprise as they know it. She said they’re right.
Our economy is based on what Klein calls extractivism—the idea that there can be unlimited economic growth based on the burning of a limited amount of coal, oil and gas.
This is a process that will someday end in and of itself, when it is no longer feasible to dig out what little fossil fuels remain. We the people can’t afford to wait until that happens, because emissions from burning fossil fuels will have heated up the planet to the point where it is barely liveable. But moving away from extractivism is easier said than done.
An end to extractivism would require, first of all, the repeal of international trade treaties such as NAFTA and the World Trade Organization treaty that allow corporations to challenge national laws that favor local industry or interfere with the international movement of goods and services.
We know that we are trapped within an economic system that has it backwards; it behaves as if there is no end to what is actually finite (clean water, fossil fuels and the atmospheric space to absorb their emissions) while insisting there are strict and immovable limits to what is actually quite flexible: the financial resources that human institutions manufacture, and that, if imagined differently, could build the kind of caring society that we need.
==Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything
Naomi Klein’s brilliant new book, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: Capitalism vs the Climate, underlines two important things I had not quite realized.
The first is that the built-in financial incentives of the fossil fuel corporations, or capitalism generally, make it impossible for corporate executives to do anything on their own that would limit the greenhouse gasses that cause climate change.
The second is that many seemingly unrelated struggles against abuses by fossil fuel companies, or abuses by corporations generally, tie in with fighting climate change.
When native Americans fight to have Indian treaties recognized in law, when small towns in upstate New York pass ordinances against hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, when ranchers and Indians protest the Keystone XL pipeline, when other protestors object to corporate trade treaties such as NAFTA, when Occupy Wall Street protesters advocate economic democracy—all these things help other people in danger from the increase in droughts, floods and violent storms.
I confess that I did not see these connections, or did not fully realize their significance, until I read this book. I had thought of the question of climate change as primarily a question of how and how much I and other people are willing to reduce their material standard of living, or give up hope of increasing their material standard of living, so that future generations will have a decent planet to live on.
This is a real and important question, but it is not the only question. As Naomi Klein points out, the well-being livelihoods of many people are threatened by continuing on the present course. That is because the era of easily-available oil, gas and coal is long gone, and the methods of extracting them—deep water ocean drilling, tar sands, fracking, mountaintop removal—are increasingly costly, dangerous and destructive.