Posted: Fri Apr 29, 2005 2:50 am Post subject: Environment and Spirituality
The following article that appeared in today's Calgary Herald, discusses interrelationship between the environment, economics and spirituality. It draws attention to the current situation devoid of any meaning leading to excessive consumerism to fill the void. It concludes by suggesting a return to our values of compassion and love which are enshrined in all religious traditions. These sentiments have been expressed by MHI and late Prince Sadruddin on numerous occassions.
Finding the path to a richer spirit
For The Calgary Herald
Friday, April 29, 2005
In the British newspaper, The Independent on Sunday, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and de facto head of the global Anglican Church, wrote a flagship article entitled A Planet on the Brink, warning "the price of our continued failure to protect the Earth will be violence and social collapse."
In so doing, Williams joined the growing body of spiritual leaders from major religions around the world, who are voicing their concerns about environmental degradation and its implications for the economy, society and the human spirit.
The root of the problem, they say, is that people have increasingly lost touch with our spirituality and connection to other human beings and the Earth. This has fuelled rampant consumerism to fill the void and required consumption and pollution of our natural resources much faster than they can regenerate -- with a showdown looming.
Williams has a point. The pattern has been reinforced by the demise of locally owned business and the corresponding rise of the transnational corporations, which, as bestselling author and former Harvard business school professor David Korten has documented, spend billions to manipulate us into, as one wag said, "buying things we don't want, which we can't afford, to impress people we don't like."
So, if the root of our environmental problems is our values, then maybe we should re-examine these, moving away from materialism and towards re-capturing our souls.
Williams writes of the growing realization that "the two big e-words -- ecology and economy" -- are not opposing concerns, but two sides of the same coin. "It has been said," he writes, "that the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment. The Earth itself is what ultimately controls economic activity because it is the source of the materials."
If human consumption continues to the point of environmental and economic breakdown, he adds, the consequences will be poverty and brutal conflict over the remaining resources:
"All the great religious traditions . . . insist that personal wealth is not to be seen in terms of reducing the world to what the individual can control and manipulate."
Other religions concur. Islam stresses the value of charitable giving. One of the world's foremost Buddhist leaders and champion of the global mindfulness movement, Thich Nhat Hanh, says, "Time should be much more precious than money . . . we should look more deeply to see that this empty consumption brings us no happiness, only suffering."
Many indigenous religions, as well as Shinto and Taoism, emphasize simplicity and the fulfillment and joy of focusing our lives on building a deep connection with other people and the living Earth.
Interestingly, in North America, the gap is striking between our cultural heritage, and the modern imperative to bow to spend our free time in the shopping malls. First Nations cultures emphasized the value of extended community and spiritual practice recognizing the interconnection of all things. The early Puritan settlers, as well as other influential groups such as the Quakers, believed in self-sufficiency, hard work, participation in community, simple living and devotion to spiritual life.
So, why do we do it? And if we change, does this mean living lives of boredom or deprivation? Not at all. Simply put, our insatiable drive for money and material consumption is a quest to fill a void in our lives created by a lack of love. We have come to look to money to provide the ingredients of good living, forgetting that in fact it is a forgery of the real thing. The real thing is easily within our grasp; it is gained by focusing our time and energy to develop relationships with friends and family, enjoying nature, being good neighbours, following ethical principles and developing our talents to bring both personal satisfaction and community enrichment.
As anyone who has visited Europe will know, urban areas organized around walking, cycling and public transport, with the resulting social interactions, are much more pleasurable than towns cut up by large freeways. Mealtimes which feature whole foods from the farmers' market, supporting the local economy, make us feel much better physically and psychologically than one based on expensive processed junk. A life freed from endless work to maintain image-conscious wardrobes and new cars is a life with more leisure time to spend having fun with our friends.
The idea of returning to values that emphasize the non-material, spirituality and community relationships is, of course, deeply conservative. Or is it radical? Maybe both -- a path to unite people both left and right, and from across the range of religious tradition. If Williams is right, then it's certainly worth a try.
Shelley Willson is a management consultant. She writes on environment and natural resource management issues for the Herald.
BEIJING, Aug. 25 — No country in history has emerged as a major industrial power without creating a legacy of environmental damage that can take decades and big dollops of public wealth to undo.
But just as the speed and scale of China's rise as an economic power have no clear parallel in history, so its pollution problem has shattered all precedents. Environmental degradation is now so severe, with such stark domestic and international repercussions, that pollution poses not only a major long-term burden on the Chinese public but also an acute political challenge to the ruling Communist Party. And it is not clear that China can rein in its own economic juggernaut.
Public health is reeling. Pollution has made cancer China's leading cause of death, the Ministry of Health says. Ambient air pollution alone is blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. Nearly 500 million people lack access to safe drinking water.
Chinese cities often seem wrapped in a toxic gray shroud. Only 1 percent of the country's 560 million city dwellers breathe air considered safe by the European Union. Beijing is frantically searching for a magic formula, a meteorological deus ex machina, to clear its skies for the 2008 Olympics.
God's gardeners turning places of worship green
Religious retrofits aimed at boosting energy efficiency
CanWest News Service
Sunday, September 02, 2007
Solar panels aren't mentioned in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, so Rev. Margaret Cornish has had to write her own blessing for a special dedication service on Sunday.
As she climbs on to St. Alban's Anglican Church roof in Richmond, B.C., she plans to ask that "the blessed sun shine on us and warm these panels, our hearts and this sacred place."
Solar panels are joining the crosses that adorn Christian churches, as well as a Hindu temple's parking lot lights and possibly a Calgary synagogue and Toronto mosque as faith groups across Canada act on the so-called Green Rule: "Do unto the Earth as you would have it do unto you."
Cornish said her solar panels are "an outward and very visible sign that we are deepening our commitment to important environmental issues."
Congregations are also caulking air leaks, reducing garbage, conserving water, and installing rain barrels, compact fluorescent light bulbs, energy efficient furnaces and appliances -- all in an attempt to live out their common belief that humans need to care for their planet.
"It's a whole nascent movement, a green faith movement," said Rory O'Brien, program coordinator of the Greening Sacred Spaces program run by the ecumenical group Faith and the Common Good, that has a network of affiliates in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Nova Scotia. "We were really taken aback by the interest out there."
In Ontario, Sacred Spaces is involved with 77 congregations, half Christian and half Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Bahai, Unitarian, Zen, and Hare Krishna.
"People want to be a part of it, they just don't know how to do it," added Julie Hrdlicka, Calgary co-ordinator of Faith and the Common Good.
"We're the middlemen, connecting the faith communities with the experts that do the auditing and the retrofitting."
Faith groups must offer green leadership, said David Dranchuk, co-ordinator of societal ministry for the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster in B.C., which asked its 80 churches to set goals for reducing greenhouse gases.
It also helped St. Alban's and four others with solar hot water systems plus another church with photovoltaic panels to generate electricity.
"We can never do enough," Dranchuk said. "It's incumbent on all faith communities to offer some leadership in this area, because if we have nothing to say about the environment, really, of what practical use are we?"
Greening a building starts with an energy audit that examines every nook and cranny to see how energy costs can be reduced.
Sacred Spaces will pay for audits -- which cost several thousand dollars depending on building size -- as long as congregations commit to matching that amount in energy retrofits.
Sacred Spaces paid the $4,000 audit on the schools and mosque that make up the Islamic Foundation of Toronto. Recent high-school grad Azba Hathiyani, president of the green committee, said they're now examining the results, but expects water savings will head their list. With prayer services five times a day, and up to 1,000 people attending on Fridays, water use is high since everyone cleanses themselves beforehand.
"We're washing the hand, mouth, nose, face, arms and feet," explained Hathiyani. The audit recommended low-flow or automatic shut-off taps in the four ablution rooms. "There's a lot of emphasis on water conservation in our religion as well, so that's why we've made that the primary focus."
She also hopes to mount solar panels on the high school building, install programmable thermostats, upgrade to Energy Star kitchen appliances, and reduce the number of photocopiers and computers.
O'Brien said the average cost for a whole-building retrofit is about $50,000, but a congregation could then save $8,000 per year in energy costs.
Sacred Spaces also helps congregations seek funding from local, provincial or federal sources.
Natural Resources Canada introduced a revamped EcoEnergy program in January that will help faith groups with retrofits, paying up to $50,000 or 25 per cent of project costs for energy savings, not including water. The next deadline for applications is Sept. 15. However, congregations that have already started cannot apply.
Rabbi Howard Voss-Altman, of Calgary's Temple B'nai Tikvah, plans to explore alternative energy sources such as wind and solar when the reform synagogue has its energy audit this fall.
Our home Earth is an extraordinary planet. The diversity and abundance of life is breathtaking.
About 4.5 billion years ago a planet roughly the size of Mars collided with Earth. Seventy per cent of Earth's crust was thrown into outer space, eventually coalescing to form the moon.
The remaining 30 per cent of the original crust and its continental plates were able to move more easily. This played a crucial role in the process of evolution.
In addition, that collision knocked the Earth's perpendicular axis onto a tilt that is roughly 23 degrees. This created varying day lengths and restricted the freezer-effect of the higher latitudes to the poles. It also enabled wet and dry seasons and lessened the extent of the world's deserts. The tilt is responsible for the mass seasonal animal migrations.
Earth's distance of 149.6 million kilometres from the sun appears to be the optimal distance to support life.
Ninety per cent of the world's fresh water takes place from evaporation off the ocean - the majority of that occurs around the equator in warm tropical oceans. The remaining 10 per cent comes from lakes, rivers and water released by plants.
The location of mountains has a profound effect on where that ocean moisture falls.
Tropical rainforests occupy only three per cent of Earth's land mass yet they brim with astounding diversity. Two hundred different species of trees live in a hectare of the Amazon.
The Amazon River carries almost one-fifth of the world's flowing freshwater - equal to that of the next 10 biggest rivers combined. It has over 3,300 fish species -- more than the entire Atlantic.
The most common pollinators in the Amazon are bees. Orchid bees travel up to 20 kilometres each day, searching for food, collecting and pollinating.
Moving north or south of the equator, the zones of subtropical grasslands are bathed in warm sun but the amount of moisture is significantly reduced. There are distinct wet and dry seasons. Grasses -- the most widespread land-plant, replace trees.
Grasslands or savannahs support an amazing high number of large animals. These are some of the most efficient ecosystems on the planet.
Grasslands range from: Africa to the high steppes of the Tibetan plateau: to the tall-grass pampas of South America: to the prairies of North America: to the frozen tundra in the Arctic.
They support 1.5 million wildebeests along East Africa's Serengeti, two million gazelles on Mongolia's steppes and almost three million caribou in North America's tundra. They feed thousands of predators like lions, hyenas, wolves and eagles.
Sandwiched between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn lie Earth's deserts. From outer space, astronauts can clearly see the dark red colours of Australia's Great Sandy Desert and the remarkable different patterns of the giant Namib sand dunes. Deserts cover about 50 million square kilometres -- over one third of Earth's land mass and they are growing.
About halfway between the tropics and poles are the temperate forests of oaks, beeches, maples, birch and aspens. Broad leaves are very efficient at trapping sunlight, but not tolerant of freezing. So these forests are deciduous and display brilliant leaf colours in the fall.
From northern California to Alaska the world's largest temperate rainforests are conifers. The tallest trees on the face of the Earth are redwoods. Cathedral-like Sitka spruce, western hemlocks and western red cedars thrive in lush rainforests with hundreds of millions of salmon, eagles, wolves, black bears and giant grizzlies.
Valdivian coastal rainforests of Chile and Argentina are home to the second largest temperate rainforests. There the alerce or Patagonia cypress can live for over 3,500 years. Monkey-puzzle trees thrive high in the Chilean Andes virtually unchanged since they evolved a couple hundred million years ago.
The largest contiguous forests are the boreal or taiga -- Earth's emerald crown. One third of all the trees in the world are found in the far north. European aspen is the most widespread tree on the globe and deciduous Siberian larch can withstand minus 50 C.
Earth's poles are deep freezers. The Antarctic has an average elevation of 2,300 metres with an average winter temperature of minus 50 C. Only lichens and two flowering plants live there. The emperor penguin is the only animal that stays throughout the winter.
The Arctic is a low-lying basin of frozen sea ice, in the winter it is covered by 13 million square kilometres of ice. It is home to 40 different species of mammals and 90 flowering plants.
Planet Earth is awesome.
Dr. Reese Halter is host of PBS's Dr. Reese's Planet
The land is a sacred being. You learn that when you spend enough time with her. Eventually, you come to regain your senses and you discover that you've learned to see a different way, attuned yourself to odd tonalities and structures of sound, become unable to taste the wind or rain, and accrued a second skin that deflects more than it absorbs.
But the land is healing and she returns you to original form. Eventually. It requires the risk of stepping out beyond known territories and allowing the grand sweep of her to claim you. Not merely the occasional weekend escape, but a committed surrender to the pitch and sway and rhythm of her. When you do that, she heals you.
She eases her way into the cracks and crevices of you. She seeps into the gaps that worldly understanding creates. She soothes the raw spots, the urban rasp you've come somehow to accept as natural. She reconnects you, as my people say, to the web of creation and that returning when it happens, is as familiar as a soft voice in the darkness.
You don't need to be native to understand this. We all of us came out of the womb of the same Earth and we carry within us the same filigree of attachment, the same ghost of a cord that ties us to her.
We came to live in a cabin in the mountains. We came here with a solid urban resume comprised of a gamut of attitudes and assumptions spawned in the mad rush of the city. Quiet, especially sudden quiet, was dangerous. The lack of an agenda indicated a lack of measure, of popularity, productivity or usefulness. If something wasn't happening, something wasn't happening.
It all sat on us like judgment. It took being here, allowing the land to percolate into the fibre of us, allowing time to decompress and our senses to swell again, to free us enough to appreciate the minutiae of a life on the land. At first it was glee, the freedom of kids set loose in the playground. But it's grown to become what we wear, what we say, how we think and how we dream.
It all came startlingly clear one recent morning. It had rained the night before and there was a palpable freshness to things. Colours and shapes were sharpened by the cut of clear air, and sound carried magnificently. The dog and I set out for our morning walk awed by the ever changing face of our surroundings.
A quarter mile down the gravel road is a sweeping turn that's made tighter by the thickness of bushes and trees that push out to its borders. The line of sight is restricted and traffic slows to navigate it safely. It's like a portal that slants downward sharply out of the heights and into the long slope to the lake. Walking it has always felt like a scene from a movie, the hero encountering a vista of staggering proportions.
We were walking slowly, taking everything in. When we came around the high arc of it, a deer stepped out of the bush and stared at us. I commanded the dog to sit and she dropped to her haunches immediately. The deer stood 20 feet from us, ears swivelling and nostrils flaring for scent. None of us moved beyond that.
She was a mule deer, and she had a satiny summer coat of tan with a thin ridge of black along the top of her neck. She was mature, with the confidence of several years behind her. As the dog sat staring at her, she raised her head slightly and watched us in return. Satisfied that there was no danger, she stepped closer.
The dog is a terrier, a hunter, a chaser, but she sat at the edge of the road quietly enthralled by the appearance of this magnificent creature. She didn't bark, she didn't growl or whimper at the opportunity to run and chase and play. Instead, she sat with her head tilted studying the deer who stepped closer, slowly. The deer looked at her, then at me and moved closer again.
There was a timelessness that descended on that moment. For me, breathing slowly, it took me back to moments from my boyhood when wandering the bush was like meditation, the spell of it magical and exciting and humbling all at the same time. For the creatures, it was a returning to the time when there were no barriers, when, as my people say, there were just the animals and all was harmony.
The deer edged closer. Behind us, we could hear the loons on the water, the nattering of squirrels in the trees and the crows and ravens in their garrulous conversations high in the branches. Everything was still. As I breathed, it was like I could feel the air move between us and there was no separation of our breaths.
In Ojibway, the deer is called Way-wash-ka-zhee, the Gentle One, and its medicine power is nurturing. I said her name quietly in my language and eased my hand up toward her. She tilted her head and stepped closer. The dog held her silent sit. Slowly, the deer eased forward until she was eight feet away from us. I saw her then, clearly, sharply, felt her curious, gentle power.
Only the sound of a truck on the gravel broke that timeless spell. The deer startled some, but then looked back at us before she broke for the depths of the bush. In that glance was a knowing, a recognition of a peace encountered, remembered, and carried forever. There was no threat, no difference, only a crucial joining, a shared breath of creation.
See, we don't become more by living with the land. Instead, we become our proper size. It takes unity to do that. It takes the recognition of the community we live in, this world, this Earth, this planet. When you do that, it comes to inhabit you, fill you, returns you to harmony.
September 23, 2007
China in Three Colors
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
After a week of meetings with Chinese energy, environmental and clean-car experts, I’m left with one big, gnawing question: Can China go green without going orange?
That is, can China really undertake the energy/environmental revolution it needs without the empowerment of its people to a whole new degree — à la the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004? The more I see China wrestling with its environment, the more I’m convinced that it is going to prove much, much easier for China to have gone from communism to capitalism than to go from dirty capitalism to clean capitalism.
For China, going from communism to its state-directed capitalism, while by no means easy, involved loosening the lid on a people who were naturally entrepreneurial, risk-taking capitalists. It was tantamount to letting a geyser erupt, and the results of all that unleashed energy are apparent everywhere.
Going from dirty capitalism to clean capitalism is much harder. Because it involves restraining that geyser — and to do that effectively requires a system with some judicial independence, so that courts can discipline government-owned factories and power plants. It requires a freer press that can report on polluters without restraint, even if they are government-owned businesses. It requires transparent laws and regulations, so citizen-activists know their rights and can feel free to confront polluters, no matter how powerful. For all those reasons, it seems to me that it will be very hard to make China greener without making it more orange.
China’s Communist Party leaders are clearly wrestling with this issue. I could hear it, feel it and see it. I could hear it while interviewing government officials. They’ve always wanted a steadily rising G.D.P., which is essential for China’s stability and for the legitimacy of the ruling Communist Party, whose abiding ideology is “G.D.P.-ism.”
But more and more I heard these same officials now saying they want a better environment and a higher G.D.P., because the air has become so filthy here, and the damage to China’s health, rivers, landscape, glaciers and even G.D.P. has become so severe, that the legitimacy of the communist regime, for the first time, is in some way dependent on making the air cleaner. And China’s leaders know it.
For now, though, they want to address this problem without having to change the basic ruling system of the Communist Party. They want to be green and red, not green and orange. I could feel it the minute I arrived.
“Hey, is it a little warm here in your office, or is it just me?” I found myself repeatedly asking in Beijing. No, it wasn’t just me. In June, China’s State Council dictated that all government agencies, associations, companies and private owners in public buildings had to set air-conditioning temperatures no lower than 26 degrees Celsius, or 79 degrees Fahrenheit. Air-conditioning consumes one-third of the energy demand here in summer.
The government just ordered it from the top down. Sounds effective. But then you pick up the Shanghai Daily and read: “More than half of the city’s public buildings have failed to obey power-saving rules setting air-conditioning at 26 degrees Celsius, according to local energy authorities.” Hmmm — seems to be a little problem with follow-up.
In 2005, China’s leaders mandated a 20 percent improvement in energy productivity and a 10 percent improvement in air quality by 2010. You can see why — or maybe you can’t.
I was at the World Bank office in Beijing, meeting with a green expert, and outside his big bay window all I could see through the brownish-gray haze was the gigantic steel skeleton of the new CCTV skyscraper — spectacular six-million-square-foot headquarters reaching to the heavens — one of 300 new office blocks slated for Beijing’s new Central Business District.
I play a mental game with myself now as I am stuck in traffic in Beijing. I look at the office buildings I pass — which are enormous, energy-consuming and architecturally stunning — and I count the ones that would be tourist attractions if they were in Washington, but here in Beijing are just lost in the forest of giant buildings.
And that brings me back to China’s leaders. Right now they want it all — higher G.D.P., greener G.D.P., and unquestioned Communist Party rule. I don’t think you can have all three. I also don’t think they are going to opt for democracy. I am not even sure it is the answer for them right now. So they are seeking a hybrid model — some new combination of red, green and orange. I hope they find it, but right now the vista is mostly an ugly shade of brown.
In 1991, Lawrence Summers — then the World Bank’s chief economist and later Bill Clinton’s Treasury secretary — wrote a memo suggesting that the bank should encourage the world’s dirty industries to move to developing countries. The forgone earnings of workers sickened or killed by pollution would be lower in low-wage countries, he noted, while people in poor countries also cared less about a clean environment. “The economic logic of dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable,” he wrote.
Mr. Summers later apologized, saying his words were “sardonic counterpoint,” meant to spur new thinking about the environment and development. In any case, the World Bank’s encouragement wasn’t needed. In the 16 years since, a large share of the world’s polluting industries have migrated to the largest low-wage country of all, China, helping to turn big swaths of its landscape into an environmental disaster zone.
China makes more than a third of the world’s steel, half of its cement, about a third of its aluminum. It also consumes more coal than the United States, Europe and Japan combined. Its environmental degradation is a match for Dickens at his bleakest: airborne pollution causes more than 650,000 premature deaths a year.
The problem doesn’t stay there. China is about to surpass, or has already surpassed, the United States as the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.
China’s government bears primary responsibility for failing to address the devastating environmental consequences of its breakneck growth. Industrialized countries, whose companies and consumers have benefited from China’s cheap labor and polluting industries, also bear responsibility and must work to fix this mess.
Beijing has begun to realize that its current path is not cost-free. A study commissioned by the government conservatively estimated that costs imposed by environmental degradation added up to 3 percent of G.D.P. in 2004. The government has since set targets to reduce energy use and cut emissions. China’s authoritarian leaders, however, are fearful of anything that might require slower growth and have strangled most domestic debate about the environmental disaster. After the first report they dropped the effort to measure pollution’s economic impact, and the targets are unlikely to be met.
Beijing could start investing some of the hundreds of billions of dollars China earns on exports in social and environmental programs at home. Foreign companies could help by requiring their suppliers in China to adopt best environmental practices. Western governments can also help by explaining how pollution could threaten both China’s growth and social stability — the two things its authoritarian leaders worry about most.
Perhaps the most important thing the United States could do is to set a strong international example, by dealing with its own environmental deficit. Instead, the Bush administration has been hiding behind China’s recalcitrance — allowing China to do the same.
September 27, 2007
Our Moral Footprint
By VACLAV HAVEL
OVER the past few years the questions have been asked ever more forcefully whether global climate changes occur in natural cycles or not, to what degree we humans contribute to them, what threats stem from them and what can be done to prevent them. Scientific studies demonstrate that any changes in temperature and energy cycles on a planetary scale could mean danger for all people on all continents.
It is also obvious from published research that human activity is a cause of change; we just don’t know how big its contribution is. Is it necessary to know that to the last percentage point, though? By waiting for incontrovertible precision, aren’t we simply wasting time when we could be taking measures that are relatively painless compared to those we would have to adopt after further delays?
Maybe we should start considering our sojourn on earth as a loan. There can be no doubt that for the past hundred years at least, Europe and the United States have been running up a debt, and now other parts of the world are following their example. Nature is issuing warnings that we must not only stop the debt from growing but start to pay it back. There is little point in asking whether we have borrowed too much or what would happen if we postponed the repayments. Anyone with a mortgage or a bank loan can easily imagine the answer.
The effects of possible climate changes are hard to estimate. Our planet has never been in a state of balance from which it could deviate through human or other influence and then, in time, return to its original state. The climate is not like a pendulum that will return to its original position after a certain period. It has evolved turbulently over billions of years into a gigantic complex of networks, and of networks within networks, where everything is interlinked in diverse ways.
Its structures will never return to precisely the same state they were in 50 or 5,000 years ago. They will only change into a new state, which, so long as the change is slight, need not mean any threat to life.
Larger changes, however, could have unforeseeable effects within the global ecosystem. In that case, we would have to ask ourselves whether human life would be possible. Because so much uncertainty still reigns, a great deal of humility and circumspection is called for.
We can’t endlessly fool ourselves that nothing is wrong and that we can go on cheerfully pursuing our wasteful lifestyles, ignoring the climate threats and postponing a solution. Maybe there will be no major catastrophe in the coming years or decades. Who knows? But that doesn’t relieve us of responsibility toward future generations.
I don’t agree with those whose reaction is to warn against restricting civil freedoms. Were the forecasts of certain climatologists to come true, our freedoms would be tantamount to those of someone hanging from a 20th-story parapet.
Whenever I reflect on the problems of today’s world, whether they concern the economy, society, culture, security, ecology or civilization in general, I always end up confronting the moral question: what action is responsible or acceptable? The moral order, our conscience and human rights — these are the most important issues at the beginning of the third millennium.
We must return again and again to the roots of human existence and consider our prospects in centuries to come. We must analyze everything open-mindedly, soberly, unideologically and unobsessively, and project our knowledge into practical policies. Maybe it is no longer a matter of simply promoting energy-saving technologies, but chiefly of introducing ecologically clean technologies, of diversifying resources and of not relying on just one invention as a panacea.
I’m skeptical that a problem as complex as climate change can be solved by any single branch of science. Technological measures and regulations are important, but equally important is support for education, ecological training and ethics — a consciousness of the commonality of all living beings and an emphasis on shared responsibility.
Either we will achieve an awareness of our place in the living and life-giving organism of our planet, or we will face the threat that our evolutionary journey may be set back thousands or even millions of years. That is why we must see this issue as a challenge to behave responsibly and not as a harbinger of the end of the world.
The end of the world has been anticipated many times and has never come, of course. And it won’t come this time either. We need not fear for our planet. It was here before us and most likely will be here after us. But that doesn’t mean that the human race is not at serious risk. As a result of our endeavors and our irresponsibility our climate might leave no place for us. If we drag our feet, the scope for decision-making — and hence for our individual freedom — could be considerably reduced.
Vaclav Havel is the former president of the Czech Republic. This article was translated by Gerald Turner from the Czech.
Chinese dam problems a potential 'catastrophe'
CanWest News Service
Thursday, September 27, 2007
The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River poses environmental problems that cannot be ignored, Chinese officials warned their government. It is the largest hydro project in the world.
Chinese experts are warning that the controversial Three Gorges Dam project could cause an environmental "catastrophe" unless urgent measures are taken now.
"We absolutely cannot sacrifice our environment in exchange for temporary economic prosperity," said Wang Xiaofeng, head of the office in charge of building the dam.
Xinhua, China's official news agency, reported his remarks to a meeting this week of officials and experts involved with the dam.
Wang warned of soil erosion, landslides and the contamination of many of the nearby rivers that could affect the drinking water of tens of thousands of people living in the region.
The $25-billion project on the Yangtze River in Hubei province has been controversial from the outset. It displaced 1.3 million people, flooded 116 towns, and wiped out scores of important archeological and cultural sites.
Wang told the meeting that China must finally face up to the ecological problems the construction project is creating.
He added that, earlier this year, Premier Wen Jiabao told his cabinet that dealing with the problems caused by the Three Gorges project is a priority.
Wang's unusually frank assessment comes less than a month before the Chinese Communists hold their national party Congress, which occurs once every five years. In recent weeks, many problems that the government has swept under the rug for years are surfacing in the official media, along with assurances that action is underway to deal with them.
Begun in 1994, the Three Gorges Dam is the largest hydroelectric project in the world. It is also the first line in flood protection for low-lying mega-cities like Nanjing and Shanghai. They are the motor of China's booming economy.
Still, even a nod to the environmental concerns raised by the project is more than the Chinese government has allowed in the past.
October 13, 2007
Gore Shares Peace Prize for Climate Change Work
By WALTER GIBBS and SARAH LYALL
OSLO, Oct. 12 — Former Vice President Al Gore , who emerged from his loss in the muddled 2000 presidential election to devote himself to his passion as an environmental crusader, was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, sharing it with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations network of scientists.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised both "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change."
The prize is a vindication for Mr. Gore, whose cautionary film about the consequences of climate change, "An Inconvenient Truth," won the 2007 Academy Award for best documentary, even as conservatives in the United States denounced it as alarmist and exaggerated.
"I will accept this award on behalf of all the people that have been working so long and so hard to try to get the message out about this planetary emergency," Mr. Gore said Friday in Palo Alto, Calif., standing with his wife, Tipper, and four members of the United Nations climate panel. "I'm going back to work right now," he said.
The award was also a validation for the United Nations panel, which in its early days was vilified by those who disputed the scientific case for a human role in climate change. In New Delhi, the Indian climatologist who heads the panel, Rajendra K. Pachauri, said that science had won out over skepticism.
Mr. Gore, a vociferous opponent of the Bush administration on a range of issues, including the Iraq war, is the second Democratic politician to win the peace prize this decade. Former President Jimmy Carter won in 2002.
Mr. Carter, himself a critic of Mr. Bush, was 78 when he won the prize. But Mr. Gore is just 59 and an active presence in American politics, if only as a large thorn in Mr. Bush's side — and in the side of Democrats worried that he might challenge them for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. Mr. Gore, who lost the 2000 election to Mr. Bush, has regularly said that he will not run for president again. But Friday's announcement touched off renewed interest in his plans.
Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, did not go overboard in his praise. "Of course we're happy for Vice President Gore and the I.P.C.C. for receiving this recognition," he said.
In Oslo, Ole Danbolt Mjoes, chairman of the peace committee, was asked whether the award could be seen as criticism of the Bush administration, which did not subscribe to the Kyoto treaty to cap greenhouse gases. He replied that the Nobel was not meant to be a "kick in the leg to anyone" — the Norwegian expression for "kick in the teeth."
"We would encourage all countries, including the big countries, and challenge them to think again and to say what they can do to conquer global warming," Dr. Mjoes said in Oslo.
The four other members of the peace committee generally refuse to comment on the thinking behind the award, which in recent years has moved toward issues at a degree of remove from armed conflict, like social justice, poverty remediation and environmentalism. But in a telephone interview, Berge Furre, one of the four, said, "I hope this will have an effect on the attitudes of Americans as well as people in other countries."
In its formal citation, the Nobel committee called Mr. Gore "probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted." It praised the United Nations panel, which is made up of 2,000 scientists and is considered the world's leading authority on climate change, for creating "an ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming."
While the world's major environmental groups all praised Mr. Gore for his role in raising public awareness, they praised the panel for, in the words of Greenpeace International, "meticulous scientific work."
The two approaches both play a part, scientists said Friday. The Nobel Prize "is honoring the science and the publicity, and they're necessarily different," said Spencer R. Weart, a historian at the American Institute of Physics.
Mr. Gore, who announced he would give his portion of the $1.5 million prize money to the nonprofit organization he founded last year, the Alliance for Climate Protection, said he was honored to share the prize with the panel, calling it "the world's pre-eminent scientific body devoted to improving our understanding of the climate crisis."
Mr. Pachauri said, "The message that it sends is that the Nobel Prize committee realized the value of knowledge in tackling the problem of climate change." He said the award was an acknowledgment of the panel's "impartial and objective assessment of climate change."
The climate panel, established in 1988, has issued a series of increasingly grim reports in the last two decades assessing issues surrounding climate change. It is expected to issue another report in the next few months, before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Indonesia on Dec. 3. Some 180 countries are scheduled to begin negotiations there on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, the climate adviser to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and a leading contributor to the United Nations panel's reports, said they were the result of "a painstaking process of self-interrogation."
The committee acts at "about the highest level of complexity you can manage in such a scientific assessment," Dr. Schellnhuber said in a telephone interview from Milan.
For a scientist, he said, taking part on the climate change panel entails considerable sacrifices. "It drives you absolutely crazy," Dr. Schellnhuber said. "You fly to distant places; you stay up all night negotiating; you listen to hundreds of sometimes silly interventions. You go through so many mundane things to produce the big picture."
The Nobel prizes are meant to be apolitical, and are awarded independently of one another. (The peace prize is awarded in Oslo, while the others are awarded by various academies in Sweden.) But a number of recent winners have expressed their opposition to Bush administration policies.
The 2005 literature winner, the British playwright Harold Pinter, turned his Nobel address into a blistering indictment of American foreign policy since the Second World War. A co-winner of the peace prize that year, Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, made no secret of his opposition to the American invasion of Iraq and has angered the Bush administration by his measured methods for trying to rein in nuclear proliferation, particularly in Iran.
In its citation on Friday, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said the United Nations panel and Mr. Gore had focused "on the processes and decisions that appear to be necessary to protect the world's future climate, and thereby reduce the future threat to the security of mankind."
It concluded, "Action is necessary now, before climate change moves beyond man's control."
Walter Gibbs reported from Oslo, and Sarah Lyall from London. Reporting was contributed by Jesse McKinley from Palo Alto, Calif., Somini Sengupta from New Delhi, Mark Landler from Frankfurt, David Rampe from Paris, and Andrew C. Revkin from New York.
October 14, 2007
In China, a Lake's Champion Imperils Himself
By JOSEPH KAHN
ZHOUTIE, China — Lake Tai, the center of China's ancient "land of fish and rice," succumbed this year to floods of industrial and agricultural waste.
Toxic cyanobacteria, commonly referred to as pond scum, turned the big lake fluorescent green. The stench of decay choked anyone who came within a mile of its shores. At least two million people who live amid the canals, rice paddies and chemical plants around the lake had to stop drinking or cooking with their main source of water.
The outbreak confirmed the claims of a crusading peasant, Wu Lihong, who protested for more than a decade that the region's thriving chemical industry, and its powerful friends in the local government, were destroying one of China's ecological treasures.
Mr. Wu, however, bore silent witness. Shortly before the algae crisis erupted in May, the authorities here in his hometown arrested him. In mid-August, with a fetid smell still wafting off the lake, a local court sentenced him to three years on an alchemy of charges that smacked of official retribution.
Pollution has reached epidemic proportions in China, in part because the ruling Communist Party still treats environmental advocates as bigger threats than the degradation of air, water and soil that prompts them to speak out.
October 21, 2007
Save the Planet: Vote Smart
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
People often ask: I want to get greener, what should I do? New light bulbs? A hybrid? A solar roof? Well, all of those things are helpful. But actually, the greenest thing you can do is this: Choose the right leaders. It is so much more important to change your leaders than change your light bulbs.
Why? Because leaders write the rules, set the standards and offer the tax incentives that drive market behavior across a whole city, state or country. Whatever any of us does individually matters a tiny bit. But when leaders change the rules, you get scale change across the whole marketplace. And the energy-climate challenge we face today is a huge scale problem. Without scale, all you have is a green hobby.
Have no illusions, everything George Bush wouldn't do on energy after 9/11 — his resisting improved mileage for cars and actually trying to weaken air-conditioner standards — swamped any good works you did. Fortunately, the vacuum in the White House is being filled by leaders from below.
Take the New York City taxi story. Two years ago, David Yassky, a City Council member, sat down with one of his backers, Jack Hidary, a technology entrepreneur, to brainstorm about how to make New York City greener — at scale. For starters, they checked with the Taxi and Limousine Commission to see what it would take to replace the old gas-guzzling Crown Victoria yellow cabs, which get around 10 miles a gallon, with better-mileage, low-emission hybrids. Great idea, only it turned out to be illegal, thanks to some old size regulations designed to favor Crown Vics.
Recalled Mr. Hidary: "When they first told me, I said, 'Are you serious? Illegal?'" So he formed a nonprofit called SmartTransportation.org to help Mr. Yassky lobby the City Council to change the laws to permit hybrid taxis. They also reframed it as a health issue, with the help of Louise Vetter, president of the American Lung Association of the City of New York.
"New York City has among the dirtiest air in the U.S.," Ms. Vetter said. "When it comes to ozone and particulate matter, New Yorkers are breathing very unhealthy air. Most of it is tailpipe emissions. And in New York City, where asthma rates are among the highest in the nation, the high ozone levels create very serious threats, especially for kids who spend a lot of time outdoors. Converting cabs from yellow to green would be a great gift to the city's children."
Matt Daus, who heads the taxi commission, which is independent of the mayor, was initially reluctant, but once he learned of the health and other benefits, he joined forces with Messrs. Yassky and Hidary, and the measure passed the City Council by 50 to 0 on June 30, 2005. Since then, more than 500 taxi drivers have converted to hybrids — mostly Ford Escapes, but also Toyota Highlanders and Priuses, and others.
On May 22, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the greenest mayors in America, decided to push even further, insisting on a new rule, which the taxi commission has to approve, that will not just permit but require all cabs — 13,000 in all — to be hybrids or other low-emission vehicles that get at least 30 miles a gallon, within five years.
"When it comes to health and safety and environmental issues, government should be setting standards," the mayor said. "What you need are leaders who are willing to push for standards that are in society's long-term interest." When the citizens see the progress, Mr. Bloomberg added, "then they start to lead." And this encourages leaders to seek even higher standards.
I asked Evgeny Freidman, a top New York City fleet operator, how he liked the hybrids: "Absolutely fabulous! We started out with 18, and now we have over 200, mostly Ford Escapes. Now we only put hybrids out there. The drivers are demanding them and the public is demanding them. It has been great economically. With gas prices as they are, the drivers are saving $30 dollars a shift." He said drivers who were getting 7 to 10 miles a gallon from their Crown Vics were getting 25 to 30 from their hybrids. The cost of shifting to these hybrids, he added, has not been onerous.
Now Mr. Hidary is trying to get law firms and investment banks, which use gas-guzzling Town Cars — 12,000 in the city — to demand hybrid sedans only.
This is how scale change happens. When the Big Apple becomes the Green Apple, and 40 million tourists come through every year and take at least one hybrid cab ride, they'll go back home and ask their leaders, "Why don't we have hybrid cabs?"
So if you want to be a green college kid or a green adult, don't fool yourself: You can change lights. You can change cars. But if you don't change leaders, your actions are nothing more than an expression of, as Dick Cheney would say, "personal virtue."
November 4, 2007
No, No, No, Don’t Follow Us
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
India is in serious danger — no, not from Pakistan or internal strife. India is in danger from an Indian-made vehicle: a $2,500 passenger car, the world’s cheapest.
India’s Tata Motors recently announced that it plans to begin turning out a four-door, four-seat, rear-engine car for $2,500 next year and hopes to sell one million of them annually, primarily to those living at the “bottom of the pyramid” in India and the developing world.
Welcome to one of the emerging problems of the flat world: Blessedly, many more people now have the incomes to live an American lifestyle, and the Indian and Chinese low-cost manufacturing platforms can deliver them that lifestyle at lower and lower costs. But the energy and environmental implications could be enormous, for India and the world.
We have no right to tell Indians what cars to make or drive. But we can urge them to think hard about following our model, without a real mass transit alternative in place. Cheap conventional four-wheel cars, which would encourage millions of Indians to give up their two-wheel motor scooters and three-wheel motorized rickshaws, could overwhelm India’s already strained road system, increase its dependence on imported oil and gridlock the country’s megacities.
Yes, Indian families whose only vehicle now is a two-seat scooter often make two trips back and forth to places to get their whole family around, so a car that could pack a family of four is actually a form of mini-mass transit. And yes, Tata, by striving to make a car that could sell for $2,500, is forcing the entire Indian auto supply chain to become much more efficient and therefore competitive.
But here’s what’s also true: Last week, I was driving through downtown Hyderabad and passed the dedication of a new overpass that had taken two years to build. A crowd was gathered around a Hindu priest in a multicolored robe, who was swinging a lantern fired by burning coconut shells and praying for safe travel on this new flyover, which would lift traffic off the streets below.
The next morning I was reading The Sunday Times of India when my eye caught a color photograph of total gridlock, showing motor scooters, buses, cars and bright yellow motorized rickshaws knotted together. The caption: “Traffic ends in bottleneck on the Greenlands flyover, which was opened in Hyderabad on Saturday. On day one, the flyover was chockablock with traffic, raising questions over the efficacy of the flyover in reducing vehicular congestion.” That’s the strain on India’s infrastructure without a $2,500 car.
So what should India do? It should leapfrog us, not copy us. Just as India went from no phones to 250 million cellphones — skipping costly land lines and ending up with, in many ways, a better and cheaper phone system than we have — it should try the same with mass transit.
India can’t ban a $2,500 car, but it can tax it like crazy until it has a mass transit system that can give people another cheap mobility option, said Sunita Narain, the dynamo who directs New Delhi’s Center for Science and Environment and got India’s Supreme Court to order the New Delhi bus system to move from diesel to compressed natural gas. This greatly improved New Delhi’s air and forced the Indian bus makers to innovate and create a cleaner compressed natural gas vehicle, which they now export.
“I am not fighting the small car,” Ms. Narain said. “I am simply asking for many more buses and bus lanes — a complete change in mobility. Because if we get the $2,500 car we will not solve our mobility problem, we will just add to our congestion and pollution problems.”
Charge high prices for parking, charge a proper road tax for driving, deploy free air-conditioned buses that reach every corner of the city, expand the existing beautiful Delhi subway system, “and then let the market work,” she added.
Why should you care what they’re driving in Delhi? Here’s why: The cost of your cellphone is a lot cheaper today because India took that little Western invention and innovated around it so it is now affordable to Indians who make only $2 a day. India has become a giant platform for inventing cheap scale solutions to big problems. If it applied itself to green mass transit solutions for countries with exploding middle classes, it would be a gift for itself and the world.
To do that it must leapfrog. If India just innovates in cheap cars alone, its future will be gridlocked and polluted. But an India that makes itself the leader in both cheap cars and clean mass mobility is an India that will be healthier and wealthier. It will also be an India that gives us cheap answers to big problems — rather than cheap copies of our worst habits.
November 7, 2007
The Dawn of E2K in India
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Remember Y2K? That was the “millennium bug,” the software glitch that threatened to melt down millions of computers when their internal clocks tried to roll over on Jan. 1, 2000, because they were not designed to handle that new date.
And remember that the only country that had enough software programmers to adjust all these computers so they wouldn’t go haywire, and do it at a reasonable price, was India. And remember that it was this huge operation that launched the Indian outsourcing industry — which is why I have long felt that Y2K should be a national holiday in India.
Well, remember this: there is an even bigger opportunity for India than Y2K waiting around the corner. I call it “E2K.”
E2K stands, in my mind, for all the energy programming and monitoring that thousands of global companies are going to be undertaking in the early 21st century to either become carbon neutral or far more energy efficient than they are today. India is poised to get a lot of this work.
I first started thinking about this when I heard Michael Dell declare that Dell Inc. would become “carbon neutral” in its operations by the end of 2008. He said Dell would take inventory of its total greenhouse gas outputs and then develop plans to reduce, eliminate or offset those emissions.
With a carbon tax or cap-and-trade legislation looming, every day you are going to see more and more companies doing the same thing. It is going to be the next big global business transformation. And it’s going to require tons of software, programming and back-room management to measure each company’s carbon footprint and then monitor the various emissions-reduction and offsetting measures on an ongoing basis. Guess who’s got the low-cost brainpower to do all that?
Some of the smartest Indian outsourcing companies are already positioning themselves for the E2K market.
“What did Y2K do?,” asked Nandan Nilekani, the co-chairman of Infosys Technologies, one of India’s premier outsourcing companies. “It was a deadline imposed by the calendar, and therefore it had a huge ability to concentrate the mind. It became a drop-dead date for everyone. Making your company carbon neutral is not a date, but it is an inevitability.”
When Y2K came along, some companies responded tactically, doing only the minimum reprogramming to keep their computers operational after Jan. 1, 2000. Others approached it more strategically, saying: “Since we’re going to have to go through all our software anyway, why not just retire all the old stuff and upgrade to the newer, simpler systems that will make us more efficient.”
These companies went from seeing I.T., or information technology, as a cost to looking for ways to make money from it — through data mining and using better information to cross-sell products, reduce cycle times for introducing new services and to manage inventories more efficiently.
The key to winning E2K business for the Indian outsourcing firms, said Mr. Nilekani, will be showing big global companies, like a Dell, how becoming more energy efficient or carbon neutral doesn’t just have to be a new cost they assume to improve their brand or satisfy regulators, but can actually be a strategic move that makes money and gives them an edge on the competition.
“The strategic companies will say: ‘We are stuck with this problem — why not take advantage of it and use it to revolutionize and rejigger our whole energy infrastructure,’ ” added Mr. Nilekani. They will use E.T. — energy technology — “to reduce material costs, simplify logistics, drive down electricity charges and shorten supply chains.”
As they start to do this, it will require a lot of data management, which companies will want to do as cheaply as possible. Hello India. Hello E2K.
“My impression is that there is certainly a significant opportunity for Indian outsourcing companies,” said B. Ramalinga Raju, chairman of Satyam Computer Services, another top Indian outsourcing company, adding that the precise size of that business will depend on “the speed and scale at which the carbon neutral policies are adopted by the global companies.”
To better compete for such business, Mr. Nilekani is installing solar systems and other efficiency technologies at Infosys’s Bangalore campus. Satyam is planning to do similar things with its verdant Hyderabad complex, which already has its own zoo.
I.B.M. seems to be moving into this space, too. Big Blue knows that even if Indian companies do a lot of the back-room work, there will be lots of front-end jobs nearer the customers.
So, mom, dad, tell your kids: if they’re looking for a good stable-growth career — green consultants, green designers, green builders are all going to be in huge demand. And if they can speak a little Hindi — all the better.
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