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Environment and Spirituality
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Joined: 27 Mar 2003
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 29, 2005 2:50 am    Post subject: Environment and Spirituality Reply with quote

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

Shelley Willson
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.
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 26, 2007 6:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There is an interesting multimedia summarizing a very lengthy essay at:

26, 2007

As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly Extremes


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.
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 27, 2007 5:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 28, 2007 8:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

vasanji wrote:

It is just tottally sttupid.

I am not sure what you are implying. Are you saying because it is not their fault, the problem does not exist and we should ignore all the facts and the seriousness of the issue?
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 28, 2007 4:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 02, 2007 3:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

God's gardeners turning places of worship green
Religious retrofits aimed at boosting energy efficiency

Kathryn Young
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.

© The Calgary Herald 2007
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 02, 2007 4:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Appreciating Earth's awesome natural diversity

Dr. Reese Halter
Calgary Herald

Sunday, September 02, 2007

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 Calgary Herald 2007

Lessons learned from quieting the soul

Richard Wagamese
For The Calgary Herald

Sunday, September 02, 2007

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.

Richard Wagamese, a former Calgary Herald columnist, is the 2007 recipient of the Canadian Authors Association Award for fiction and a former National Newspaper Award-winning columnist
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 23, 2007 4:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

September 23, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
China in Three Colors

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.
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 24, 2007 2:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

September 24, 2007
Cleaning Up China

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.
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 27, 2007 2:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

September 27, 2007
Our Moral Footprint

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'

Aileen McCabe
CanWest News Service

Thursday, September 27, 2007

CREDIT: Reuters
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.

© The Calgary Herald 2007
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 13, 2007 4:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

October 13, 2007
Gore Shares Peace Prize for Climate Change Work

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.
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 14, 2007 8:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

There are interesting and striking multimedia presentations highlighting the crisis and summarizing a very lengthy essay linked at:

October 14, 2007
In China, a Lake's Champion Imperils Himself


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.
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 21, 2007 6:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

October 21, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
Save the Planet: Vote Smart

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 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."
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 04, 2007 5:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

November 4, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
No, No, No, Don’t Follow Us
New Delhi

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.
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 07, 2007 3:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

November 7, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
The Dawn of E2K in India
New Delhi

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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PostPosted: Sat Nov 17, 2007 6:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Confessing consumer self-interest
It's good for the soul and the rest of the global village

Phil Reinders
Calgary Herald

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Could it get any better for the average consumer? A soaring loonie, strapping economy, and a waning GST. The good times are rolling with a vengeance and with the growing backlog of shipping at Canada Post as early evidence, it seems there's nothing to constrain every last consumer impulse.

Yet, a recent Globescan poll suggests that Canadians are willing to rein in their consumption patterns and change their lifestyle, doing their part to stave off the effects of a global environmental crisis. With polls measuring opinion and not intention, I'm not sure how to take this. If anything, it's a tacit admission that our economy and consumer lifestyle are not benign; we're aware they've contributed to global warming and some external constraint is needed to chasten our consumptive lifestyle. But do we need to take this confession out of the poll booth and make it more explicit?

We may not have to because another crisis may smack us in the face soon enough, one equally devastating as the environmental yet one mostly off our radars. You might call it the inequity crisis. Our prosperous Western lifestyle, envied by the rest of the world, is also enjoyed off of the sweat and backs of the poor of the world. There's a growing gap in the global village where rich and poor neighbours, the haves and have-nots, are more segregated than ever.

Here's some of the dreary realities (you can check out big screen versions of these statistics at this weekend's Marda Loop Justice Film Festival): half of humanity scrapes by on less than $2 a day, children are forced to work around the clock in clothing sweatshops, 10.6 million children die every year from preventable causes, 1.1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water, and over 4,900 people die per day from waterborne illnesses.

Isn't something drastically wrong with this picture? Look around you right now and find a child; if you can't find one, call to mind a young child you know. Isn't the simple fact that this North American youngster has an exponentially greater chance of flourishing and finding general success than a child born on the African continent proof of the enormous inequity of distribution of resources and opportunities? Why should one child be so advantaged to live and thrive while another is destined to die in poverty and misery simply because of where they were born? It's an exhibit of the inequity crisis in our global village rooted in the advantages that this unjust world has dealt us in the West.

It's an inequity we've helped purchase. Adam Smith gave us a metaphor that has dominated our understanding of the market economy. He believed that consumer self-interest in a competitive market formed a benign "invisible hand," a larger force that guided the economy for the common good. While this larger force may have promoted some semblance of common good in a localized industrial economy, in a globalized economy it has not produced an equitable wealth among the nations. The invisible hand of self-interest has become a strong-arm that tips the global economy so far towards the West that an unjust inequity of wealth is its legacy.

It's striking that at the heart of modern economics is the humble understanding that a larger force governs our economic life; it's an admission of the spiritual nature of economics. On that point, Adam Smith was right, but his trust in self-interest, and our belief that consumerism will produce a sustainable future for the globe, is a misplaced faith. It seems more like an idol that has us in chains.

Don't we need a better guiding force to inspire our economic imagination than the invisible hand of self-interest? Dare we dream that a self-giving compassion might be the new invisible hand guiding our global economy into an equitable and sustainable future? We will never enjoy an enduring experience of abundance unless everyone in the global village enjoys a sense of enough.

Canadians realize the need for external constraints to bridle the self-interest of our environment wrecking, consumptive lifestyle. Can we imagine, alongside a carbon tax that encourages a sustainable environment, a justice tax that curbs the self-interest propelling our consumer economy and encourages an equity of advantage and opportunity for all people?

After the last Alberta oil boom, some cars in Calgary sported a bumper sticker that read "Lord, give us one more oil boom, and we'll promise not to piss it away this time." It was a cheeky confession that our self-interest got the best of us and a pledge to do something different next time around.

Well, our prayers have been answered, but what are we doing differently today?

Phil Reinders is pastor at First Christian Reformed Church

© The Calgary Herald 2007


War footing pushed for global warming fight
UN panel warns of species loss, famine, wildfires

Margaret Munro and Mike De Souza
CanWest News Service

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Climate scientists believe global warming is accelerating and in a landmark report out today make a case for global action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

"What we need is comparable to the mobilization for World War Two," says Danny Harvey, a climate specialist at the University of Toronto, and one of many Canadian contributors to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC.

Scientists say aggressive programs are needed to both slash emissions and prepare for the inevitable change.

The panel of more than 2,000 scientists has assessed ominous changes in the climate and spelled out the evidence in detail in the first three volumes of the IPCC report released earlier this year. Today's report, the fourth and final volume of Climate Change 2007, sums up the scientists' case.

Experts who worked on the United Nations climate panel, which releases its final report in Spain this morning, say the document leaves little doubt global warming is real and accelerating. (Details are at

The panel has already warned warming is underway and humans are fouling the atmosphere with carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. Grim consequences are predicted -- loss of upwards of 20 per cent of all species, more famine, wildfires, the flooding of many low-lying regions now home to millions of people -- if emissions are allowed to keep rising.

But scientists and climate change experts say options and technologies are available to cut emissions.

It is up to world leaders, governments and individuals , they say.

Canada's Environment Minister John Baird says he expects today's report to spur on the talks toward a new climate deal.

"The science is powerful," Baird said in Ottawa this week. "It's becoming stronger every day and it compels governments to take more action."

But he stressed it is important to get all large polluting countries involved.

"Rich countries like Canada have got to move forward and (show) leadership and move first and we've done that with a commitment to an absolute reduction of 20 per cent by 2020," Baird said. "What we do need is to get other countries on board, like the United States, like China, like India."

Harvey agrees international action is essential, but says the Conservatives' climate plan does not go nearly far enough. He believes Canada needs a carbon tax and should place a moratorium on Alberta oilsands development. The country should invest more than $6 billion a year on rapid transit and introduce much tougher regulations to drive production of fuel-efficient vehicles and improve efficiency of Canadian homes and buildings.

"We are talking about radical, fundamental changes over . . . a few decades," says Harvey. "People have to realize the enormity and magnitude of the effort . . . needed to turn this around."

The IPCC has concluded there is clear evidence the climate system has been fundamentally altered by greenhouse gas emissions, generated largely through the burning of fossil fuels. It says the resulting planetary meltdown threatens everything from the boreal forests to coral reefs.

"We need huge cuts in emissions," says Andrew Weaver, a climatologist at the University of Victoria and IPCC co-author. His work indicates emissions will have to be slashed by 90 per by 2050 to avoid a two-degree Celsius rise in the global temperature -- a threshold scientists fear could trigger melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

"The longer we put off mitigation, the greater the impacts will be," say Werner Kurz, a senior researcher at the Canadian Forest Service and co-author of the report.

Kurz notes the cost of the Iraq and Afghan wars is pegged at an estimated $1.5 trillion. "If the world can find $1.5 trillion to fight a perceived enemy, maybe it can find another $1.5 trillion to deal with climate change," he says.

© The Calgary Herald 2007
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 25, 2007 7:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Biofuel: Viable source or recipe for disaster?

Kathryn Young
CanWest News Service

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Unlike many Canadians who shudder when they pull up to the gas pump, Bernie Daly feels good as he fills the tank of his company car, a flex-fuel Chevrolet Impala, with E85 -- a blend of conventional gasoline and 85 per cent ethanol made from corn.

"I just wish it was mainstream, that everybody was filling up because you know there's less pollutants going into the air," said Daly, who makes sure his tank is low when he's near Guelph and Chatham, Ont., so he can fill up at the only two E85 pumps in Canada.

On Vancouver Island, daffodil farmer Ryan Vantreight is greening his farm in stages, starting by fuelling all his tractors, forklifts, trucks, front-end loaders and excavators with B20 -- a blend of petroleum diesel (nicknamed dino-diesel) and 20 per cent biodiesel made from soybeans.

"It's something that was a no-brainer for us," said Vantreight, who is not only saving money by switching to biodiesel, but has also reduced his farm's emissions of greenhouse gases by an estimated 53 tons a year.

This past summer, the Indy 500 race cars ran on E100 for the first time, while the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel began fuelling its golf course and groundskeeping machinery with biodiesel. And one of the hotel cooks makes biodiesel for his own car with used cooking oil from the staff cafe, said spokeswoman Lori Grant.

Biofuels, made from plants and animal waste, have developed to the point where consumers can use them in automobiles, farm equipment and even oil furnaces -- as long as they can get them. Biodiesel is most readily available to farmers and fleet vehicles such as city buses or government trucks. And while low-ethanol blends of up to E10 are available at gasoline pumps across Canada, the high-ethanol E85 blend, which experts say can cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 30 per cent, is available only at the two Ontario retail pumps.

The Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association and the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association have lobbied government for programs and tax incentives, not only to increase production of biofuels but also to get them to customers. "You've got to be able to allow them to source the fuel," said Gordon Quaiattini, president of the renewable fuels group.

Robert Sicard, president of UPI Energy which opened the first E85 pump in Guelph last January, said it costs $30,000 to convert a gas pump to handle E85 and government incentives would help spread them across Canada much faster, as it has done in the United States.

There are some 600,000 flex-fuel vehicles on Canada's roads.

Many Canadians don't even know they own a flex-fuel vehicle (the gas cap will be yellow), which isn't surprising because many car salespeople don't know what they are either, said Sicard.

"They didn't know they had flex-fuel vehicles on the floor," said Sicard, who supplied Guelph and Chatham car dealerships with yellow tags to hang on the rear-view mirrors saying "You are sitting in a flex-fuel vehicle," with a map on the reverse to the fuel station. Sales have picked up. Who doesn't like this stuff? Who can find fault with environmentally friendlier products?"

Well, Jean Ziegler, the United Nations' special rapporteur on the right to food, for one.

Ziegler recently called for a five-year moratorium on biofuel production, which he described as a "crime against humanity" and a "recipe for disaster" because he says it raises food prices and contributes to world hunger.

A natural recovery

The Ottawa Citizen

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The streams are turning brown across North America and Europe, and that's good news. It's evidence that humans can address environmental crises, that nature can heal itself if given the chance.

A report in the journal Nature says that less nasty stuff going into the atmosphere means there's more natural stuff in the water. Or, as the editors of Nature put it, "Dissolved organic carbon concentrations may therefore be returning towards levels that would have been typical prior to the first onset of acid rain during the nineteenth century."

We're not just talking about halting the increase of pollution -- we're talking about reversing it, potentially to pre-industrial levels.

At first, people living near darkening streams thought they were witnessing a sign of climate change, because no one alive today has first-hand knowledge of what surface water is supposed to look like when humans aren't polluting it.

Thirty years ago, acid rain was among the biggest environmental worries. Now, because people paid attention and did something about it, it's a success story. Improved emission standards do make a difference.

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency is reporting massive reductions in the emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides (components of acid rain and smog), as compared with 1990 levels.

This is attributable to a cap-and-trade program and rigorous monitoring, the EPA says. Today's big environmental worry, climate change, has different causes and effects, and might be a more difficult problem to tackle.

Nonetheless, the successful fight against acid rain should give us all courage and hope.

© The Calgary Herald 2007
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 02, 2007 9:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

December 2, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
The People We Have Been Waiting For

It was 60 degrees on Thursday in Washington, well above normal, and as I slipped away for some pre-Christmas golf, I found myself thinking about a wickedly funny story that The Onion, the satirical newspaper, ran the other day: “Fall Canceled after 3 Billion Seasons”:

“Fall, the long-running series of shorter days and cooler nights, was canceled earlier this week after nearly 3 billion seasons on Earth, sources reported Tuesday.

“The classic period of the year, which once occupied a coveted slot between summer and winter, will be replaced by new, stifling humidity levels, near-constant sunshine and almost no precipitation for months.

“‘As much as we’d like to see it stay, fall will not be returning for another season,’ National Weather Service president John Hayes announced during a muggy press conference Nov. 6. ‘Fall had a great run, but sadly, times have changed.’ ... The cancellation was not without its share of warning signs. In recent years, fall had been reduced from three months to a meager two-week stint, and its scheduled start time had been pushed back later and later each year.”

You should never extrapolate about global warming from your own weather, but it is becoming hard not to — even for professionals. Consider the final report of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (I.P.C.C.), which was just issued and got far too little attention. It concluded that since the I.P.C.C. began its study five years ago, scientists had discovered much stronger climate change trends than previously realized, such as far more extensive melting of Arctic ice, and therefore global efforts to reverse the growth of greenhouse gas emissions have to begin immediately.

“What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future,” said the I.P.C.C. chairman, Rajendra Pachauri.

And sweet-sounding “global warming” doesn’t really capture what’s likely to happen. I prefer the term “global weirding,” coined by Hunter Lovins, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, because the rise in average global temperature is going to lead to all sorts of crazy things — from hotter heat spells and droughts in some places, to colder cold spells and more violent storms, more intense flooding, forest fires and species loss in other places.

While the Bush team came into office brain dead on the climate issue and will leave office with a perfect record of having done nothing significant to mitigate climate change, I’m heartened that our country is increasingly alive on this challenge.

First, Google said last week that it was going to invest millions in developing its own energy business. Google described its goal as “RE < C” — renewable energy that is cheaper than coal — adding: “We’re busy assembling our own internal research and development group and hiring a team of engineers ... tasked with building one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity that is cheaper than coal.” That could power all of San Francisco.

Its primary focus, said’s energy expert, Dan Reicher, will be to advance new solar thermal, geothermal and wind solutions “across the valley of death.” That is, so many good ideas work in the lab but never get a chance to scale up because they get swallowed by a lack of financing or difficulties in implementation. Do not underestimate these people.

Last week, I also met with two groups of M.I.T. students who blew me away. One was the M.I.T. Energy Club, which was founded in 2004 by a few grad students discussing energy over beers at a campus bar. Today it has 600-plus members who have put on scores of events focused on building energy expertise among M.I.T. students and faculty, and “fact-based analysis,” including a trip to Saudi Arabia.

Then I got together with three engineering undergrads who helped launch the Vehicle Design Summit — a global, open-source, collaborative effort, managed by M.I.T. students, that has 25 college teams around the world, including in India and China, working together to build a plug-in electric hybrid within three years. Each team contributes a different set of parts or designs. I thought writing for my college newspaper was cool. These kids are building a hyper-efficient car, which, they hope, “will demonstrate a 95 percent reduction in embodied energy, materials and toxicity from cradle to cradle to grave” and provide “200 m.p.g. energy equivalency or better.” The Linux of cars!

They’re not waiting for G.M. Their goal, they explain on their Web site — — is “to identify the key characteristics of events like the race to the moon and then transpose this energy, passion, focus and urgency” on catalyzing a global team to build a clean car. I just love their tag line. It’s what gives me hope:

“We are the people we have been waiting for.”
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 15, 2007 5:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

There are a related video and a slide show linked at:

December 15, 2007
In China, Farming Fish in Toxic Waters

FUQING, China — Here in southern China, beneath the looming mountains of Fujian Province, lie dozens of enormous ponds filled with murky brown water and teeming with eels, shrimp and tilapia, much of it destined for markets in Japan and the West.

Fuqing is one of the centers of a booming industry that over two decades has transformed this country into the biggest producer and exporter of seafood in the world, and the fastest-growing supplier to the United States.

But that growth is threatened by the two most glaring environmental weaknesses in China: acute water shortages and water supplies contaminated by sewage, industrial waste and agricultural runoff that includes pesticides. The fish farms, in turn, are discharging wastewater that further pollutes the water supply.

"Our waters here are filthy," said Ye Chao, an eel and shrimp farmer who has 20 giant ponds in western Fuqing. "There are simply too many aquaculture farms in this area. They're all discharging water here, fouling up other farms."

Farmers have coped with the toxic waters by mixing illegal veterinary drugs and pesticides into fish feed, which helps keep their stocks alive yet leaves poisonous and carcinogenic residues in seafood, posing health threats to consumers.

Environmental degradation, in other words, has become a food safety problem, and scientists say the long-term risks of consuming contaminated seafood could lead to higher rates of cancer and liver disease and other afflictions.

No one is more vulnerable to these health risks than the Chinese, because most of the seafood in China stays at home. But foreign importers are also worried. In recent years, the European Union and Japan have imposed temporary bans on Chinese seafood because of illegal drug residues. The United States blocked imports of several types of fish this year after inspectors detected traces of illegal drugs linked to cancer.

This week, officials from the United States and China signed an agreement in Beijing to improve oversight of Chinese fish farms as part of a larger deal on food and drug safety.

Yet regulators in both countries are struggling to keep contaminated seafood out of the market. China has shut down seafood companies accused of violating the law and blacklisted others, while United States regulators are concentrating on Chinese seafood for special inspections
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 16, 2007 7:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

December 16, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
It’s Too Late for Later
Bali, Indonesia

The negotiators at the United Nations climate conference here in Bali came from almost 200 countries and spoke almost as many languages, but driving them all to find a better way to address climate change was one widely shared, if unspoken, sentiment: that “later” is over for our generation.

“Later” was a luxury for previous generations and civilizations. It meant that you could paint the same landscape, see the same animals, eat the same fruit, climb the same trees, fish the same rivers, enjoy the same weather or rescue the same endangered species that you did when you were a kid — but just do it later, whenever you got around to it.

If there is one change in global consciousness that seems to have settled in over just the past couple of years, it is the notion that later is over. Later is no longer when you get to do all those same things — just on your time schedule. Later is now when they’re gone — when you won’t get to do any of them ever again, unless there is some radical collective action to mitigate climate change, and maybe even if there is.

There are many reasons that later is over. The fact that global warming is now having such an observable effect on pillars of our ecosystem — like the frozen sea ice within the Arctic Circle, which a new study says could disappear entirely during summers by 2040 — is certainly one big factor. But the other is the voracious power of today’s global economy, which has created a situation in which the world is not just getting hot, it’s getting raped.

Throughout human history there was always some new part of the ocean to plunder, some new forest to devour, some new farmlands to exploit, noted Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, who came to observe the Bali conference. But “now that economic development has become the prerogative of every country,” he said, we’ve run out of virgin oceans and lands “for new rising economic powers to exploit.” So, too many countries are now chasing too few fish, trees and water resources, and are either devouring their own or plundering those of neighbors at alarming rates.

Indeed, today’s global economy has become like a monster truck with the gas pedal stuck, and we’ve lost the key — so no one can stop it from wiping out more and more of the natural world, no matter what the global plan. There was a chilling essay in The Jakarta Post last week by Andrio Adiwibowo, a lecturer in environmental management at the University of Indonesia. It was about how a smart plan to protect the mangrove forests around coastal Jakarta was never carried out, leading to widespread tidal flooding last month.

This line jumped out at me: “The plan was not implemented. Instead of providing a buffer zone, development encroached into the core zone, which was covered over by concrete.”

You could read that story in a hundred different developing countries today. But the fact that you read it here is one of the most important reasons that later has become extinct. Indonesia is second only to Brazil in terrestrial biodiversity and is No. 1 in the world in marine biodiversity. Just one and a half acres in Borneo contains more different tree species than all of North America — not to mention animals that don’t exist anywhere else on earth. If we lose them, there will be no later for some of the rarest plants and animals on the planet.

And we are losing them. Market-driven forces emanating primarily from China, Europe and America have become so powerful that Indonesia recently made the Guinness World Records for having the fastest rate of deforestation in the world.

Indonesia is now losing tropical forests the size of Maryland every year, and the carbon released by the cutting and clearing — much of it from illegal logging — has made Indonesia the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, after the United States and China. Deforestation actually accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars and trucks in the world, an issue the Bali conference finally addressed.

I interviewed Barnabas Suebu, the governor of the Indonesian province of Papua, home to some of its richest forests. He waxed eloquent about how difficult it is to create jobs that will give his villagers anything close to the income they can get from chopping down a tree and selling it to smugglers, who will ship it to Malaysia or China to be made into furniture for Americans or Europeans. He said his motto was, “Think big, start small, act now — before everything becomes too late.”

Ditto for all of us. If you want to help preserve the Indonesian forests, think fast, start quick, act now. Just don’t say later.
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 21, 2007 4:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There is a video summarizing the essay linked at:

December 21, 2007
China Grabs West's Smoke-Spewing Factories

HANDAN, China — When residents of this northern Chinese city hang their clothes out to dry, the black fallout from nearby Handan Iron and Steel often sends them back to the wash.

Half a world away, neighbors of ThyssenKrupp's former steel mill in the Ruhr Valley of Germany once had a similar problem. The white shirts men wore to church on Sundays turned gray by the time they got home.

These two steel towns have an unusual kinship, spanning 5,000 miles and a decade of economic upheaval. They have shared the same hulking blast furnace, dismantled and shipped piece by piece from Germany's old industrial heartland to Hebei Province, China's new Ruhr Valley.

The transfer, one of dozens since the late 1990s, contributed to a burst in China's steel production, which now exceeds that of Germany, Japan and the United States combined. It left Germany with lost jobs and a bad case of postindustrial angst.

But steel mills spewing particulates into the air and sucking electricity from China's coal-fired power plants account for a big chunk of the country's surging emissions of sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide. Germany, in contrast, has cleaned its skies and is now leading the fight against global warming.

In its rush to re-create the industrial revolution that made the West rich, China has absorbed most of the major industries that once made the West dirty. Spurred by strong state support, Chinese companies have become the dominant makers of steel, coke, aluminum, cement, chemicals, leather, paper and other goods that faced high costs, including tougher environmental rules, in other parts of the world. China has become the world's factory, but also its smokestack.

This mass shift of polluting industries has blighted China's economic rise. Double-digit growth rates have done less to improve people's lives when the damages to the air, land, water and human health are considered, some economists say. Outmoded production equipment will have to be replaced or retrofitted at high cost if the country intends to reduce pollution.

China's worsening environment has also upended the geopolitics of global warming. It produces and exports so many goods once made in the West that many wealthy countries can boast of declining carbon emissions, even while the world's overall emissions are rising quickly.
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 23, 2007 8:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

December 23, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
In the Age of Noah
Jakarta, Indonesia

A couple of weeks ago, The Times’s Jim Yardley reported from China that the world’s last known female Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle was living in one Chinese zoo, while the planet’s only undisputed, known giant soft-shell male turtle was living in another — and together this aging pair were the last hope of saving a species believed to be the largest freshwater turtles in the world.

It struck me as I read that story that our generation has entered a phase that no previous generation has ever experienced: the Noah phase. With more and more species threatened with extinction by The Flood that is today’s global economic juggernaut, we may be the first generation in human history that literally has to act like Noah — to save the last pairs of a wide range of species.

Or as God commanded Noah in Genesis: “And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.”

Unlike Noah, though, we’re also the ones causing The Flood, as more and more forests, fisheries, rivers and fertile soils are gobbled up for development. “The loss of global biological diversity is advancing at an unprecedented pace,” Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s environment minister, recently told the BBC. “Up to 150 species are becoming extinct every day. ... The web of life that sustains our global society is getting weaker and weaker.”

The world is rightly focused on climate change. But if we don’t have a strategy for reducing global carbon emissions and preserving biodiversity, we could end up in a very bad place, like in a crazy rush into corn ethanol, and palm oil for biodiesel, without enough regard for their impact on the natural world.

“If we don’t plan well, we could find ourselves with a healthy climate on a dead planet,” said Glenn Prickett, senior vice president of Conservation International.

I met one of our generation’s Noahs here in Indonesia: Dr. Jatna Supriatna, a conservation biologist who runs Conservation International’s Indonesia programs. One of his main projects is saving the nearly extinct Javan gibbon, a beautiful primate endemic to the Indonesian island of Java. The Javan gibbon population, decimated by deforestation, is down to an estimated 400, spread out around 20 tropical forest areas in West Java.

Mr. Supriatna helps run the Javan gibbon rehabilitation center, a collection of cages embedded in the mountains of Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park, near Jakarta, where male and female gibbons — which are known for their lengthy courtships, not one-night stands — get to know each other over months. First, they live in forest cages side by side, then together and then, if everything works, they produce a couple of babies.

But the process is so slow, and the species so endangered, we may soon be down to the last few pairs — a great loss. Watching a gibbon swing from tree limbs, ropes and bars is like watching a small ape win the Olympic gold medal in gymnastics.

The only way to head off species loss in Indonesia, the country with the most diverse combination of plants, animals and marine life in the world, is the old truism, “It takes a village.” So much of his work here, said Mr. Supriatna, is trying to build coalitions by melding businesses that have an interest in preserving the forest — the geothermal energy investor, for example, who needs trees to maintain the watershed for his power plant — with local governments, which have an interest in preventing illegal logging, with local villagers who need forests to prevent soil erosion and provide fresh water.

Environmentalists here constantly have to work against corrupt local officials, who get bought off by logging interests, and villagers who don’t understand how important the forests are to their daily lives. One of his recent projects, said Mr. Supriatna, was to pipe fresh water from the forest watershed to a nearby village so people there understood the connection. Lately, he has taken his work to the imams who run the local Muslim schools.

“We teach them that the source of the water comes from the mountain and the park,” he said. “And if the park is gone, they will not have the clean water they need for prayer rituals. If you influence the imam, he will influence all the kids.”

For so many years, Indonesians, like many of us, have been taught that life is a trade-off: healthy people with lots of jobs or healthy forests with lots of gibbons — you can’t have both. But the truth is you have to have both. If you don’t, you’ll eventually end up with neither, and then it will be too late even for Noah.

(This is my last column until April. I will be on leave, writing a book on energy and the environment. Happy holidays!)
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 25, 2007 7:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

December 25, 2007
A Threat So Big, Academics Try Collaboration

It is a basic tenet of university research: Economists conduct joint studies, chemists join forces in the laboratory, political scientists share ideas about other cultures — but rarely do the researchers cross disciplinary lines.

The political landscape of academia, combined with the fight for grant money, has always fostered competition far more than collaboration.

But the threat of global warming may just change all that.

Take what’s happening at the Rochester Institute of Technology. In September the school established the Golisano Institute for Sustainability, aimed at getting students and professors from different disciplines to collaborate in studying the environmental ramifications of production and consumption.

“The academic tradition is to let one discipline dominate new programs,” said Nabil Nasr, the institute’s director. “But the problem of sustainability cuts across economics, social elements, engineering, everything. It simply cannot be solved by one discipline, or even by coupling two disciplines.”

Neil Hawkins, Dow Chemical’s vice president for sustainability, sees it that way, too. Thus, Dow is giving $10 million, spread over five years, to the University of California, Berkeley, to set up a sustainability center.

“Berkeley has one of the strongest chemical engineering schools in the world, but it will be the M.B.A.’s who understand areas like microfinance solutions to drinking water problems,” Mr. Hawkins said.

That realization is spreading throughout academia. So more universities are setting up stand-alone centers that offer neutral ground on which engineering students can work on alternative fuels while business students calculate the economics of those fuels and political science majors figure how to make the fuels palatable to governments in both developing nations and America’s states.

“We give professors a chance to step beyond their usual areas of expertise, and we give students exposure to the worlds of science and business,” said Daniel C. Esty, director of the year-old Yale Center for Business and the Environment, a joint effort between the School of Management and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Similar setups are getting easier to find. Last year, the University of Tennessee consolidated all of its environmental research programs under a new Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment. Arizona State University did the same in 2004, when it inaugurated its Global Institute of Sustainability.

The Arizona institute reports directly to the university president and is run by Jonathan Fink, who is also the university’s sustainability officer.

“We want all the departments to contribute without thinking they own the initiative themselves,” Mr. Fink said. Already, experts in biogeochemistry — the study of the scientific underpinnings of earth’s origins and existing biosystems — are working with social scientists to study the impact of rapid urbanization on plants and animals.

It is impossible to quantify the growth of stand-alone centers. There is no naming convention — some are sustainability centers, some are environmental institutes and some are global warming initiatives. And many do not stand alone at all, but are neatly tucked inside an existing school.

For example, in 2003 the University of Pittsburgh School of Engineering dedicated the Mascaro Sustainability Initiative, which studies green construction and sustainable water use.

Nor do the environmentally themed names necessarily convey an enviro-centric agenda. Many sustainability centers — the Kenan-Flagler Center for Sustainable Enterprise at the University of North Carolina is a good example — address global cultures, business ethics and corporate social responsibility along with environmental issues.

The Aspen Institute’s Center for Business Education compiled a list of more than 600 academic centers that, at first blush, sound as if they would be stand-alone environmental facilities. Rich Leimsider, its director, figures only a handful really are.

“We are seeing more centers framed as sustainability, but they may not be qualitatively different from the ethics, innovation or globalization centers of 15 years ago,” he said. “Universities realize that you can discuss sustainability with a C.E.O. and not get laughed out of the room.”

But Mr. Leimsider said he does see more stand-alone centers that are devoted primarily to analyzing environmental problems, influencing environmental policy and preparing students to think collaboratively when they try to solve those problems outside the academic world.

Many of the centers have one foot set squarely outside the ivory tower. Mr. Esty said the Yale center was developing an “eco-services clinic” that would help companies address various environmental issues. Duke’s Corporate Sustainability Initiative, which is a joint venture of its earth sciences, business and environmental policy schools, is also a founding member of the Chicago Sustainable Business Alliance. Its faculty and students have already developed a small wind turbine for private use, and have helped local businesses reduce their carbon footprints.

Nor does the money for the centers necessarily come from university coffers. Often, it comes from individuals who are passionate about the environment.

More than 10 years ago, Frederick A. and Barbara M. Erb gave $5 million to the University of Michigan to found the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise. They have given an additional $15 million since.

Thomas P. Lyon, the institute’s director, said much of the money goes to defray third-year costs for graduate students who pursue a dual degree in business and natural sciences. But the institute is now talking to venture capitalists about teaching students to invest in green technologies, and is setting up projects for students in China and elsewhere. It also gives small research grants to professors who affiliate with the institute; most recently, it awarded money for a study of botanical gardens.

“We provide a community where students and professors can discuss research with different disciplines,” Mr. Lyon said.

Similarly, Julie A. Wrigley, who has a home in Arizona, provided $15 million for Arizona State’s institute, and this year gave an additional $10 million to create a degree-granting School of Sustainability within the institute.

The vast majority of the money for the Golisano Institute in Rochester came from B. Thomas Golisano, the founder of Paychex and one of the underwriters of the Clinton Global Initiative.

Mr. Golisano, who donated $10 million, said he expected the institute to “produce the first generation of professionals with the vision and know-how to deliver on the promise of sustainability.” Indeed, Mr. Nasr said the institute already offers courses on sustainability to all freshman and is asking students to submit ideas for projects.

Sometimes, government chips in. Mr. Fink notes that Phoenix is “the poster child” for the so-called urban heat island effect — the phenomenon in which big cities absorb heat during the day and release it at night, causing temperatures to rise. So his institute has amassed funds from the Environmental Protection Agency, the State of Arizona and some local businesses for a project to see if certain construction materials can alleviate the problem.

Companies are getting into the financing act as well. Unlike traditional partnerships between business and academia, in which companies that provide funds have the right to commercialize any breakthroughs, most of these funds come with no strings attached.

Several years ago Enterprise Rent-a-Car donated $10 million to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis for research on growing crops for food. This year it gave $25 million to create the Enterprise Institute in conjunction with Danforth, to do research into biobased fuels.

“Danforth understands cellulosic research, so they are best positioned to figure out how to make fuel from soy and corn,” said Patrick T. Farrell, vice president for corporate responsibility at Enterprise.

Four companies — ExxonMobil, General Electric, Schlumberger and Toyota — have anted up for the Stanford University Global Climate and Energy Project, which explores new energy technologies. The Shell Oil Foundation has been financing Rice University’s Shell Center for Sustainability since 2002. Wal-Mart has promised money for an Applied Sustainability Center at the University of Arkansas.

Berkeley, meanwhile, is using Dow’s gift to set up a Sustainable Products and Solutions Program within its existing Center for Responsible Business. That is in the Haas Business School, but Kellie A. McElhaney, the center’s director, insists the program will draw on Berkeley’s chemists, biologists, financial analysts, policy specialists, even lawyers.

The program is now taking applications for grants from Berkeley students and professors who want to conduct collaborative research into topics like providing clean drinking water or more efficient fuels. And Ms. McElhaney said other companies have expressed willingness to kick in funds.

“Commercialization takes forever if the chemical engineers and the business types do not coordinate,” she said. “So think how much easier it will be for chemistry graduates to work inside a company if they already know how to interact with the business side.”
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 29, 2007 7:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Beijing's Olympic Quest: Turn Smoggy Sky Blue

BEIJING — Every day, monitoring stations across the city measure air pollution to determine if the skies above this national capital can officially be designated blue. It is not an act of whimsy: with Beijing preparing to play host to the 2008 Olympic Games, the official Blue Sky ratings are the city's own measuring stick for how well it is cleaning up its polluted air.

Thursday did not bring good news. The gray, acrid skies rated an eye-reddening 421 on a scale of 500, with 500 being the worst. Friday rated 500. Both days far exceeded pollution levels deemed safe by the World Health Organization. In Beijing, officials warned residents to stay indoors until Saturday, but residents here are accustomed to breathing foul air. One man flew a kite in Tiananmen Square.

For Beijing officials, Thursday was especially depressing because the city was hoping to celebrate an environmental victory. In recent years, Beijing has steadily increased its Blue Sky days. The city needs one more, defined as scoring below 101, to reach its goal of 245 Blue Sky days this year. These improving ratings are how Beijing hopes to reassure the world that Olympic athletes will not be gasping for breath next August.

"We're definitely hoping for the best," said Jon Kolb, a member of the Canadian Olympic Committee, "but preparing for the worst."

For the world's Olympians, Beijing's air is a performance issue. The concern is that respiratory problems could impede athletic performance and prevent records from being broken. For the city's estimated 12 million residents, pollution is an inescapable health and quality-of-life issue. Skepticism about the validity of the Blue Sky ratings is common.

Moreover, the concern is whether the city can clean itself up long after the Games are over.

Beijing has long ranked as one of the world's most polluted cities. To win the Games, Beijing promised a "Green Olympics" and undertook environmental initiatives now considered models for the rest of the country. But greening Beijing has not meant slowing it down. Officials also have encouraged an astonishing urbanization boom that has made environmental gains seem modest, if not illusory.

Beijing is like an athlete trying to get into shape by walking on a treadmill yet eating double cheeseburgers at the same time. Polluting factories have been moved or closed. But auto emissions are rising as the city adds up to 1,200 new cars and trucks every day. Dirty, coal-burning furnaces have been replaced, lowering the city's sulfur dioxide emissions. But fine-particle pollution has been exacerbated by a staggering citywide construction binge that shows no signs of letting up.

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 13, 2008 5:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

April 13, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
Extended Forecast: Bloodshed

Here’s a forecast for a particularly bizarre consequence of climate change: more executions of witches.

As we pump out greenhouse gases, most of the discussion focuses on direct consequences like rising seas or aggravated hurricanes. But the indirect social and political impact in poor countries may be even more far-reaching, including upheavals and civil wars — and even more witches hacked to death with machetes.

In rural Tanzania, murders of elderly women accused of witchcraft are a very common form of homicide. And when Tanzania suffers unusual rainfall — either drought or flooding — witch-killings double, according to research by Edward Miguel, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

“In bad years, the killings explode,” Professor Miguel said. He believes that if climate change causes more drought years in Tanzania, the result will be more elderly women executed there and in other poor countries that still commonly attack supposed witches.

There is evidence that European witch-burnings in past centuries may also have resulted from climate variations and the resulting crop failures, economic distress and search for scapegoats. Emily Oster, a University of Chicago economist, tracked witchcraft trials and weather in Western Europe between 1520 and 1770 and found a close correlation: colder weather led to more crackdowns on witches.

In particular, Europe’s “little ice age” led to a sharp cooling in the late 1500s, and that corresponds to a renewal in witchcraft trials after a long lull. And there’s also micro-evidence: in one area, a brutally cold May in 1626 led outraged peasants to call for punishment of witches thought responsible. Some scholars have also argued that the Salem witch trials occurred after a particularly cold winter and economically difficult period.

The point is that climate change will have consequences that will be difficult to foresee but will go far beyond weather or economics. There is abundant evidence that economic stress and crop failures — as climate scientists anticipate in poor countries — can lead to violence and upheavals.

In the United States, for example, some historians have found correlations between recessions or declines in farm values and increased lynchings of blacks.

Paul Collier, an Oxford University expert on global poverty, found that economic stagnation in poor countries leads to a rising risk of civil war. Professor Collier warns that climate change is likely to reduce rainfall in southern Africa enough that corn will no longer be a viable crop there. Since corn is a major form of sustenance in that region, the result may be catastrophic food shortages — and civil conflict.

The area that may be hardest hit of all — aside from islands that disappear beneath the waves — is the fragile Sahel region south of the Sahara Desert in West Africa. The Sahel is already impoverished and torn by religious and ethnic tensions, and reduced rainfall could push the region into warfare.

“The poorest people on Earth are in the Sahel, barely eking out an existence, and climate change pushes them over the edge,” Professor Miguel said. “It’s totally unfair.”

His research suggests that a drought one year increases by 50 percent the risk that an African country will slip into civil war the next year.

Ethnic conflict in Darfur was exacerbated by drought and competition for water, and some experts see it as the first war caused by climate change. That’s too simplistic, for the crucial factor was simply the ruthlessness of the Sudanese government, but climate change may well have been a contributing factor.

In a forthcoming book, “Economic Gangsters,” Mr. Miguel calls for a new system of emergency aid for countries suffering unusual drought or similar economic shocks. Such temporary aid would aim to reduce the risk of warfare that, once it has begun, is enormously costly to stop and often damages neighboring countries as well.

The greenhouse gases that imperil Africa’s future are spewing from the United States, China and Europe. The people in Bangladesh and Africa emit almost no carbon, yet they are the ones who will bear the greatest risks of climate change. Some experts believe that the damage that the West does to poor countries from carbon emissions exceeds the benefit from aid programs.

All this makes the United States’ reluctance to confront climate change in a serious way — like a carbon tax to replace the payroll tax, coupled with global leadership on the issue — as unjust as it is unfortunate.

So let’s remember that the stakes with climate change are broader than hotter summers or damaged beach houses. The most dire consequences of our denial and delay may include civil war — and even witch-killings — among the poorest peoples on earth.

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 27, 2008 6:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

There is an illuminating slideshow related to the article linked at:

April 27, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
Odd Couple of the Jungle

Douglas McMeekin was a failed businessman in Kentucky, and Juan Kunchikuy was a hunter in a remote nook of the Amazon rain forest who killed monkeys, deer and wild pigs with a blowgun and poison darts.

Now this unlikely pair has joined forces in a remarkable campaign to save the rain forest, “the lungs of the earth” that suck up the carbon we spew out. Of all the struggles to fight climate change, this is one of the more quixotic — and inspiring.

The Amazon rain forest that both men treasure is being hacked down, along with other tropical forests around the world. More than half of the world’s tropical rain forest is already gone, and every second of every day, another football-field-size chunk is destroyed.

Mr. McMeekin, now 65, started out not as an environmentalist but as an entrepreneur running a hodgepodge of small businesses in Lexington, Ky., employing about 50 people. In the 1982 recession, he went bankrupt.

Pained and disillusioned, he decided to go far away — to Ecuador, where he eventually found work in the Amazon as a liaison between international oil companies and indigenous tribes. He came to love the people, and his heart went out to them.

In school, Mr. McMeekin had suffered from undiagnosed dyslexia. “I was just a ‘dumb kid,’ and carrying that burden is difficult,” he recalled. The stigma left him empathizing with the Amazon natives, who were often scorned by outsiders as slow and backward because they were unschooled.

Mr. McMeekin began the Yachana Foundation in 1991 to promote education among natives of the Amazon, and in the course of his travels by canoe (there are few roads in the region), he met Mr. Kunchikuy, then a boy living in a cluster of huts a five-hour walk from any other village. Mr. Kunchikuy and his family were semi-nomadic, speaking an obscure tribal language (his real name is Tzerem, but an Ecuadorian official filling out his birth certificate turned that into “Juan”). They survived largely by hunting with darts tipped with home-made curare poison.

Mr. Kunchikuy was one of 12 siblings, of whom five died in childhood. One of his grandfathers was speared to death in a war with a rival tribe; another grandfather adorned his house with the shrunken heads of enemies he had killed.

At the time, in 1995, Mr. McMeekin was building an eco-lodge in the jungle for American tourists, to finance his dreams of promoting education for local people. So he invited the boy to move to the lodge and work and study. At the age of 17, Mr. Kunchikuy left his pocket of the rain forest for the first time — and encountered such wonders as shoes, electricity, running water, telephones and cars.

It was soon obvious that Mr. Kunchikuy had a first-rate mind, so Mr. McMeekin sponsored his education and a home-stay visit to Boston, where in the winter he encountered a puzzling white substance that was very cold. His tribal language, Shiwiar, has no word for snow, ice, freezing or even anything very cold. So after his return, it was tough to describe to his friends how his host family had taken him ice skating and snow-boarding.

Mr. Kunchikuy now speaks fluent English, on top of his other languages — Shiwiar, Spanish, Quichua, Achuar and Shuar, not to mention his mastery at calling monkeys and birds in the jungle. He became a naturalist and guide at the Yachana Foundation’s 18-room eco-lodge, which tourists reach by riding in a canoe for nearly three hours.

Now 30, Mr. Kunchikuy points wildlife out to American tourists and demonstrates that grubs can be tasty. He also displays his impressive collection of scars, from vampire bats, a piranha, a caiman, a stingray, and a shaman who operated on his chest to block another shaman’s black magic. In his spare time, he demonstrates how to shoot a blowgun.

“It has a range of up to 150 feet,” he explained. “It’s better than a shotgun, because it’s silent. You can shoot repeatedly if you miss the first time.” (Keep an eye on in the coming days for a video of Mr. Kunchikuy using his blowgun to spear a papaya balanced on my head — but don’t tell my wife.)

Yet the traditions he grew up with are eroding, much like the rain forest. Loggers are chipping inexorably away at the Amazon, robbing the planet of biodiversity and of a great carbon sink that absorbs our greenhouse gas emissions. On top of that, the deforestation itself, including slash-and-burn clearing, accounts for 20 percent of global carbon emissions, the same amount as that produced by the United States or China. Several studies declare that the low-hanging fruit in the war against climate change is keeping these forests alive.

In my next column, on Thursday, I’ll tell you how Mr. McMeekin and Mr. Kunchikuy are doing just that.

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 30, 2008 4:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

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PostPosted: Thu May 01, 2008 4:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

May 1, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
Can We Be as Smart as Bats?

Vampire bats are remarkably well-adapted to the rain forest. They come out at night and use heat sensors to find a goat, child or other mammal, which they feed upon only after determining from its breathing that it is truly asleep.

If the prey is an animal with fur, vampire bats use special teeth to shave the skin. Then they use incisors to cut the skin almost painlessly, while the saliva prevents clotting, and they lap up the blood.

So the question is: Can we humans adapt as effectively to the rain forest as vampire bats have?

It doesn’t seem so. Instead of living in harmony with the rain forest — or only as parasitically as, say, a vampire bat — we’re destroying the jungle in ways that contribute hugely to global warming.

Somewhere in the world, we humans cut down an area of jungle the size of a football field every second of every day, and deforestation now contributes as much to global warming as all the carbon emitted by the United States. By one calculation, four years of deforestation have the same carbon footprint as all flights in the history of aviation up until the year 2025.

That’s the challenge that Douglas McMeekin and Juan Kunchikuy are trying to address. As I noted when I began their story in my Sunday column, they make an unusual pair: Mr. McMeekin is a 65-year-old American businessman who came to Ecuador after going bankrupt at home in Kentucky, and Mr. Kunchikuy is a 30-year-old naturalist and guide from an indigenous tribe who grew up in the rain forest with his blowgun and never wore shoes or saw electricity until he was 17.

They have joined forces to protect the rain forest by working with local inhabitants, trying to create incentives for them to leave trees standing — while also raising local living standards. “Save the Rain Forest” bumper stickers don’t sustain local families, who earn an average of only $300 per year and see trees as a way to boost their incomes.

“People have to make a living,” Mr. McMeekin said. “But they can chop down 50 acres of forest to make a pasture, or they can earn the same income by chopping down 5 acres and planting cacao.”

So his organization, Yachana Foundation, is distributing high-quality cacao seedlings to encourage farmers to manage small plots that leave most of the jungle intact. Yachana also operates a factory that buys the cacao and turns it into mail-order chocolate.

Yachana also encourages family planning — to reduce population pressures that lead to deforestation — and runs a new private high school to train young people from throughout the Ecuadorian Amazon. The 120 students in the school get a superb education with English taught by American volunteers; the first graduation will be in July.

One aim is to build a core of indigenous leaders who can represent local views internationally and also serve as agents of change within the region. Mr. Kunchikuy — who speaks fluent English and serves on the board of Yachana Foundation — is a prototype. After all, there aren’t many board members as comfortable with a microphone as with a blowgun (and who have scars on their noses from vampire bats).

The school focuses on practical skills, such as how to graft cacao or fruit-tree saplings, or how to operate fish ponds. The idea is to earn significant incomes without large clear-cuts.

Many students work part time in the foundation’s neighboring eco-lodge, Yachana, which has 18 rooms catering to American tourists (and generates part of the cash to pay for the school).

As I walk through the jungle paths here, serenaded by the twittering of birds and monkeys overhead, or the splashing of turtles in the river, I marvel at this land. The Amazon is grand for putting us humans in our place — until you reach a clear-cut, and the spell breaks and you realize maybe we’re not so puny after all.

One approach to saving the rain forests is to pay poor countries to preserve them. Research suggests that by paying tropical countries $27.25 per ton of carbon not emitted by destroying forests, the world could avoid $85 in damage per ton from the carbon.

But these can’t just be transactions with governments; too often we lose sight of the inhabitants of the forests. In a remote part of Central African Republic, I once found teams of Western volunteers dedicated to preserving gorillas — but there were no volunteers helping local Pygmies who were dying of malaria.

With Yachana, this partnership of a bankrupt American businessman and an Amazonian hunter, we have a model of how to help the forest by helping the people who live in it. Preserving the rain forest should be a priority, if we have a bat’s brains.

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PostPosted: Sat May 10, 2008 5:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Catholics enlisted in green war
'Christians have a duty of activism,' U.S. professor says

Graeme Morton
Calgary Herald

Saturday, May 10, 2008

People of faith must become champions of a cleaner environment while simultaneously holding industry and government to account for public health concerns.

That's the message from Kristin Shrader-Frechette, a University of Notre Dame biology and philosophy professor who is in Calgary today for a conference sponsored by the Calgary Catholic diocese.

"We here in North America lag well behind Europe and Japan when it comes to caring for the environment and the toll on human health from pollution from coal-fired power plants, automobile exhaust and pesticides," says Shrader-Frechette.

Shrader-Frechette says countless North American cases of cancer and respiratory woes such as asthma can be traced to unacceptably high pollution levels. She says money and greed are substantial contributors to our environmental malaise, spawning a society where both science and politics are fuelled by massive funding from industrial concerns with their own agendas.

"The sad thing is that many of these deaths are environmentally induced and, theoretically, preventable," says Shrader-Frechette.

"But if you control the science and do a lot of message spinning and advertising, the truth doesn't get out to the public. We all need to make the effort to educate ourselves about what's really going on."

Shrader-Frechette says those of us in the wealthy western world are enjoying cheaper prices for our consumer products at the expense of the health of millions in developing nations.

She draws the analogy of dumping our garbage over the fence into our neighbour's backyard and thinking we will never have to clean it up.

"We have to be prepared to pay more for our products to create a cleaner environment. We can't keep getting a free lunch at the expense of the poor," Shrader-Frechette adds.

That's where the church and people of faith must stand up and be counted, she contends.

"We need a new Pope Leo XIII," says Shrader-Frechette, referring to the leader of the Catholic Church from 1878 to 1903 who championed the impoverished working class of his era.

"Christians have a duty of activism when they confront institutional sin and that's what's involved in our collective attitude toward the environment, pollution and health," says Shrader-Frechette.

"The church should be one of the most powerful institutions in society. We need to partner with non-governmental agencies to work as forces for change," she says.

Today's environment/health conference runs from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at St. Luke's Roman Catholic, 1566 Northmount Dr. N.W.

© The Calgary Herald 2008
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PostPosted: Thu May 22, 2008 11:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

May 23, 2008
Italy Plans to Resume Building Atomic Plants

ROME — Italy announced Thursday that within five years it planned to resume building nuclear energy plants, two decades after a public referendum resoundingly banned nuclear power and deactivated all its reactors.

“By the end of this legislature, we will put down the foundation stone for the construction in our country of a group of new-generation nuclear plants,” said Claudio Scajola, minister of economic development. “An action plan to go back to nuclear power cannot be delayed anymore.”

The change is a striking sign of the times, reflecting growing concern in many European countries over the skyrocketing price of oil and energy security, and the warming effects of carbon emissions from fossil fuels. All have combined to make this once-scorned form of energy far more palatable.

“Italy has had the most dramatic, the most public turnaround, but the sentiments against nuclear are reversing very quickly all across Europe — Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Germany and more,” said Ian Hore-Lacey, spokesman for the World Nuclear Association, an industry group based in London.

The rehabilitation of nuclear power was underscored in January when John Hutton, the British business secretary, grouped it with “other low-carbon sources of energy” like biofuels. It was barely mentioned in the government action plan on energy three years earlier.

Echoing the sentiment on Thursday, Mr. Scajola said, “Only nuclear plants safely produce energy on a vast scale with competitive costs, respecting the environment.”

A number of European countries have banned or restricted nuclear power in the past 20 years, including Italy, which closed all its plants. Germany and Belgium have long prohibited the building of reactors, although existing ones were allowed to run their natural lifespan. France was one of the few countries that continued to rely heavily on nuclear power.

Environmental groups in Italy immediately attacked any plan to bring back nuclear power. Giuseppe Onufrio, a director of Greenpeace Italy, called the announcement “a declaration of war.”

Emma Bonino, an opposition politician and vice president of the Italian Senate, said building nuclear plants made no economic sense because they would not be ready for at least 20 years.

“We should be investing more in solar and wind,” she said. “We should be moving much more quickly to improve energy efficiency, of buildings, for example. That’s something Italy has never done anything with.”

But conditions were very different in the 1980s, when European countries turned away from nuclear power. Oil cost less than $50 a barrel, global warming was a fringe science and climate change had not been linked to manmade emissions. Perhaps more important for the public psyche, almost all of Europe’s nuclear bans and restrictions were enacted after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union in which radioactivity was released into the environment.

The equation has changed. Today, with oil approaching $150 a barrel, most European countries, which generally have no oil and gas resources, have been forced by finances to consider new forms of energy — and fast. New nuclear plants take 20 years to build. Also, Europeans watched in horror in 2006 as President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia cut off the natural gas supply to Ukraine in a price dispute, leaving it in darkness.

New green technologies, like solar power, wind and biofuel, cannot yet form the backbone of a country’s energy strategy, and it is not clear that they will ever achieve that level.

Italy is the largest net energy importer in Europe, but nearly all European countries rely heavily on imported energy — particularly oil and gas.

Enel, Italy’s leading energy provider, announced this year that it would close its oil-fired power plants because the fuel had become unaffordable. Italians pay the highest energy prices in Europe. Enel has been building coal plants to fill the void left by oil. Coal plants are cheaper but create relatively high levels of carbon emissions, even using the type of new “clean coal” technology Enel had planned.

A few European countries, like Germany and Poland, could likewise fall back on their abundant coal reserves if they rejected oil and gas — but most of the coal mined in each country is of low grade and pollutes highly.

After the government announcement opening Italy to nuclear power, Enel’s managing director, Fulvio Conti, said, “We are ready.” But he added that “new regulation and strong agreement on the plan within the country” would be needed.

Enel, which operates power plants in several European countries, already has at least one nuclear plant, in Bulgaria, and has been researching so-called fourth-generation nuclear reactors, which are intended to be safer and to minimize waste and the use of natural resources. Italy’s old reactors still exist, but are too outdated to be reopened. New ones would have to be built.

The Italian government laid out few specifics to back its announcement and officials at the Ministry of Economic Development said they were still studying issues like exactly what kind of plants could be built, and whether a new referendum would be required to re-open Italy to nuclear power.

Marzia Marzioli, who leads a citizens’ campaign against new coal plants in Italy, said nuclear was equally repellent. “As with coal, nuclear energy is the exact opposite of what we would like for Italy.”

“It is a choice that doesn’t consider the alternatives,” such as solar power, she said.

To build nuclear plants, Italy would almost certainly have to improve its system of dealing with nuclear waste. The plants that were shut down years ago still store 235 tons of nuclear fuel.

Daniele Pinto contributed reporting.

Daniele Pinto contributed reporting.
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