Technobiophilia


Technobiophilia

We surf the net, stream our films and save stuff in the cloud. Can we get all the nature we need from the digital world?

by  Sue Thomas
Getting back to nature: a visitor takes a photo of jellyfish in the aquarium in Wuhan, China. Photo by ReutersGetting back to nature: a visitor takes a photo of jellyfish in the aquarium in Wuhan, China. Photo by Reuters

Sue Thomas is a writer and digital pioneer. Her latest book is Technobiophilia: Nature and Cyberspace (2013).

There are fish in my phone. Some are pure orange with white fins; others have black mottled markings along their orange backs. They glide, twist and turn above a bed of flat pale sand fringed by rocks and the bright green leaves of something that looks like watercress. Sometimes they swim out of view, leaving me to gaze at the empty scene in the knowledge that they will soon reappear. When I gently press my finger against the screen, the water ripples and the fish swim away. Eventually, they cruise out from behind the Google widget, appear from underneath the Facebook icon, or sneak around the corner of Contacts. This is Koi Live Wallpaper, an app designed for smartphones. The idea of an aquarium inside my phone appeals to my sense of humour and makes me smile. But I suspect its true appeal is more complicated than that.

In 1984, the psychiatrist Aaron Katcher and his team at the University of Pennsylvania conducted an experiment in the busy waiting room of a dentist’s office. On some days, before the surgery opened, the researchers installed an aquarium with tropical fish. On other days, they took it away. They measured the patients’ levels of anxiety in both environments, and the results were clear. On ‘aquarium days’, patients were less anxious and more compliant during the surgery. Katcher concluded that the presence of these colourful living creatures had a calming influence on people about to receive dental treatment. Then in 1990, Judith Heerwagen and colleagues at the University of Washington in Seattle found the same calming effect using a large nature mural instead of an aquarium in the waiting room of a specialist ‘dental fears’ clinic. A third experiment by the environmental psychologist Roger Ulrich and colleagues at Texas A&M University in 2003 found that stressed blood donors experienced lowered blood pressure and pulse rates while sitting in a room where a videotape of a nature scene was playing. The general conclusion was that visual exposure to nature not only diminished patient stress but also reduced physical pain. I’m not in pain when I look at my mobile, though I might well be stressed. Is that why I take time to gaze at my virtual aquarium?

A simple answer to this question is no. Katcher’s fish were real. Mine are animations. But there is increasing evidence that we respond very similarly to a ‘natural’ environment, whether it’s real or virtual, and research confirms that even simulated nature experiences can be remarkably powerful. In a 2008 study of Spanish energy consumers, the researchers Patrick Hartmann and Vanessa Apaolaza-Ibáñez at the University of the Basque Country examined responses to a new TV marketing campaign by one of the country’s leading energy brands, Iberdrola Energía Verde. The company was attempting to ‘green’ its image by evoking a virtual experience of nature through the use of pleasant imagery such as flying eagles, mountain scenery, and waterfalls. The intention was to evoke feelings of altruism and self-expression (‘Now, every time you switch on your light, you can feel good because you are helping nature’). The researchers found that consumers responded positively to the new branding, no matter whether they were already environmentally conscious or among the ‘non-concerned’. The ads brought the benefits of a ‘warm glow’ and a positive feeling of participating in the common good of the environment. The visual simulations were meeting a human desire to experience nature and reap its psychological benefits (pleasure, stress reduction, and so on). The research concluded that in societies where the experience of actual nature is becoming scarce, and life is increasingly virtual, the consumption of ‘green products’, especially those that evoke virtual contact with nature, can provide surrogate experiences.

The psychologist Deltcho Valtchanov at the University of Waterloo in Canada reached a similar conclusion in 2010 when he found that immersion in a computer-generated virtual reality nature space prompted an increase in positive feelings such as happiness, friendliness, affection and playfulness, and a decrease in negative feelings such as fear, anger and sadness. There were also significant decreases in levels of both perceived and physiological stress. Again, he and his colleagues concluded that encounters with nature in virtual reality have beneficial effects similar to encounters with real natural spaces. In other words, it seems that you can gain equal benefit from walking in a forest as from viewing an image of a forest or, as in my case, from watching virtual goldfish as opposed to real ones.

But what do we mean when we refer to ‘nature’? It’s a common term that seems to have an assumed collective meaning, often romanticised and sentimental. We speak of ‘getting back to nature’ as if there was once a prelapsarian baseline before we humans interfered and spoiled it. Gary Snyder, the American poet and environmentalist, offers alternative definitions from which we can choose. In The Practice of the Wild (1990), he distils down to two ways in which the term ‘nature’ is usually interpreted. One, he argues, is the outdoors: ‘the physical world, including all living things. Nature by this definition is a norm of the world that is apart from the features or products of civilisation and human will. The machine, the artefact, the devised, or the extraordinary (like a two-headed calf) is spoken of as “unnatural”.’

The other meaning is much broader, taking the first and adding to it all the products of human action and intention. Snyder calls it the material world and all its collective objects and phenomena. ‘Science and some sorts of mysticism rightly propose that everything is natural,’ he writes. In this sense, ‘there is nothing unnatural about New York City, or toxic wastes, or atomic energy, and nothing — by definition — that we do or experience in life is “unnatural”.’ That, of course, includes the products of technology. This is Snyder’s preferred definition — and mine too. However, though it’s not always made clear, I’d venture a guess that environmental psychologists might have a preference for the former, human-free definition of nature.

Either way, it’s been claimed that the love of nature derives from ‘biophilia’, or the biophilic tendency. The term, coined in the 1960s by the German social psychologist Erich Fromm, was intended to denote a psychological orientation towards nature, but it became better known when popularised by the American biologist E O Wilson in Biophilia (1984) as an ‘innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes’. Note that Wilson avoids the ‘n’ word, referring to ‘life’ instead. Of course, today the digerati are deeply engaged in conversations about what ‘life’ will mean in technologies of the future, a debate that will continue for a long time to come. More recently, the concept of biophilia has been celebrated by the Icelandic musician Björk in her 2011 album and musical project of the same name.

Perhaps biophilia can soothe our connected minds and improve our digital well-being

The notion of biophilia draws upon a genetic attraction to an ancient natural world that evolved long before we did. It appears that our urge for contact with nature can, as shown in the experiments described, restore energy, alleviate mental fatigue, and enhance attention. It also appears to be surprisingly transferable to digital environments.

In 2004 I began collecting examples of metaphors and images of the natural world commonly found in computer culture — terms such as stream, cloud, virus, worm, surfing, field, and so on. I intended to find out what can be learnt from them about the intersections between human beings, cyberspace, and nature. I quickly amassed a long list of examples but found myself unable to suggest a reason for this phenomenon, until I came across Wilson’s theory. I realised that the story had been right in front of me all the time. It can be found in the images on our machines, in the spaces we cultivate in our online communities, and in the language we use every day of our digital lives. It began the moment we moved into the alien, shape-shifting territory of the internet and prompted a resurgence of that ancient call to life, biophilia.

Our attempts to place ourselves in this new world nourished the growth of a new spur, a hybrid through which nature and technology become symbionts, rather than opponents. I have coined the term ‘technobiophilia’ for this. It’s a clumsy word — probably not quite the right one — but for now it helps to spell out what is happening so that we can understand it better. Is there the possibility that perhaps biophilia can soothe our connected minds and improve our digital well-being? How can we harness and develop our technobiophilic instincts in order to live well in the digital world?

One option would be that rather than keeping the virtual and the natural worlds separate — turning off our machines, taking e-sabbaticals, or undergoing digital detoxes, in order to connect with nature — we think about them all as integrated elements of a single life in a single world. There is already a growing sense in the wired community that connections with the natural world are vital to digital well-being, both now and in the future. This same community needs to pay attention to biophilia and to its implementation in biophilic design. With the help of biophilic insights, we can connect the planet beneath our feet with the planet inside our machines.

 

Global Warming Has Not Slowed


Global Warming Has Not Slowed

We’re seeing an onslaught of misinformation on climate in the build up to the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change release later this week.

Here’s some truth to push back.

Republican Hypocrite Whose Family Takes Government Farm Subsidies, Mocks Food Stamp Recipients


Rep. Huelskamp, Whose Family Takes Government Farm Subsidies, Mocks Food Stamp Recipients

by Brian Tashman
Religious nutcase Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), who bravely opposed federal aid to all those greedy Northeasterners affected by Hurricane Sandy, is now boasting about his support for a House GOP plan to kick four to six million people off the food stamp program.

As Jonathan Chait details, the GOP’s draconian food stamp cuts were coupled with a push to preserve excessive subsidies for farmers and agribusinesses, which the GOP refused to cut as much as the Obama administration proposed. And, surprise surprise, Huelskamp’s family has greatly benefited from such government aid:

Huelskamp has been able to see a need for federal relief closer to his home. His brother’s farm received $1.6 million in federal subsidies from 1995 to 2011. The federal payouts included more than $30,000 for disaster subsidies.

Huelskamp’s parents’ farm has also received subsidies. Politico reported in 2011 that the farm took in $1.1 million in federal farms subsidies from 1995 to 2009.

While speaking to right-wing talk show host Steve Deace yesterday, Huelskamp had fun sticking it to all those whiney poors trying to receive food assistance for their families.

Huelskamp pointed to Jason Greenslate, a California surfer who has been all over Fox News, as the face of American food stamp recipients. Media Matters points out that “labeling Greenslate a representative of SNAP recipients flies in the face of readily available data, which shows that the fraud and waste rate in the SNAP program is less than 1 percent and that 41 percent of food stamp recipients live ‘in a household with earnings.’”

Huelskamp joked that his two kids always feel “starved” under his watch, but that with his vote to cut food assistance, he only “decided to starve a surfer by the name of Jason in California who has decided that he’s not going to get a job in life because he gets food stamps.”

“Go pick up trash in a road ditch,” Huelskamp said, “you got to do something. There are 3.5-4 million American adults who are able-bodied, have no dependence and what do we require them to do to get a free check for food? Nothing.”

Huelskamp went on to call the food stamp program “out of control” because of its growth in size. Gee, it’s not like America has faced a recession or high unemployment rates or anything that might have driven up enrollment. Maybe all these working families struggling to put food on the table can just buy a big farm and get government welfare that way!

Pill To Gill | Mood Drugs In Waterways, Alter Fish Behaviour, Study Finds


Mood-changing drugs enter waterways, affect fish, study finds

Courtesy of Umeå University, Science and World Science staff

      Some medicines that end up in the world’s wa­ter­ways af­ter be­ing used are af­fect­ing fish be­hav­ior, ac­cord­ing to a new stu­dy.


Tomas Brodin of Swe­den’s Umeå Uni­vers­ity and col­leagues found that wild Eu­ro­pe­an perch ate faster, be­came bolder and acted less so­cial af­ter ex­po­sure to an anxiety-moderating drug known as Ox­aze­pam.

Perch. (Courtesy Ben       Christensen)


      Residues of the drug of­ten wind up in nat­u­ral aquat­ic sys­tems af­ter peo­ple con­sume it, the re­search­ers said. They’re ex­cret­ed, flushed down the toi­let, trea­ted at wastewa­ter treat­ment plants, and end up in the wa­ter un­changed.


Brodin and col­leagues dosed wild perch with amounts of Ox­aze­pam equiv­a­lent to those found in Swe­den’s riv­ers and streams. Their re­sults, they said, sug­gested that even small amounts of the drug can al­ter the be­hav­ior and for­ag­ing ra­tes of these fish. 


“Nor­mally, perch are shy and hunt in schools. This is a known stra­tegy for sur­viv­al and growth. But those who swim in Ox­aze­pam be­came con­sid­erably bold­er,” said Brodin, lead au­thor of the re­port, pub­lished in the Feb. 15 is­sue of the jour­nal Sci­ence. The af­fect­ed fish left their schools to seek food on their own, a be­hav­ior that can be risky, he ex­plained; they al­so ate more quick­ly.


“We’re now go­ing to ex­am­ine what con­se­quenc­es this might have. In wa­ters where fish beg­in to eat more ef­fi­cient­ly, this can af­fect the com­po­si­tion of spe­cies, for ex­am­ple, and ultima­tely lead to un­ex­pected ef­fects, such as in­creased risk of al­gal bloom­ing,” said Brodin.


“The so­lu­tion to the prob­lem is not to stop med­i­cat­ing ill peo­ple but to try to de­vel­op sew­age treat­ment plants that can cap­ture en­vi­ron­men­tally haz­ard­ous drugs,” added en­vi­ron­men­tal chem­ist Jerk­er Fick, a co-au­thor of the stu­dy.


The sci­en­tists added that the find­ings should be seen as a point­er about what might be un­der­way in many wa­ters around the world, though full­er stud­ies are re­quired be­fore any far-reach­ing con­clu­sions can be drawn.

Genetically Engineered Meat, Coming Soon to a Supermarket Near You


Genetically Engineered Meat, Coming Soon to a Supermarket Near You
 by  Bruce Friedrich

If you’re one of the 91 percent of Americans who opposes genetically engineered (GE) meat, you may have limited time to act: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed approval of the first-ever GE animal, called “AquAdvantage Salmon.” If this first approval proceeds, the process is likely to become top secret in the future: we won’t find out about new GE animals until after they’re approved for human consumption, and they won’t be labeled. Welcome to the new world of genetically engineered meat — unless we act now.

The Process

The problems begin with FDA’s bizarre decision to consider GE meat using its “New Animal Drug Approval” (NADA) process, a process designed for evaluation of new animal drugs (hence the name), not genetically engineered animals. The GE salmon themselves are, according to this analysis, the animal drug. As food blogger Ari LeVaux explains on Civil Eats, “the drug per se is AquaBounty’s patented genetic construct… Inserted at the animal’s one-cell stage, the gene sequence exists in every cell of the adult fish’s body.”

Of course, NADA was not designed to analyze the human health or environmental consequences of new animal drugs, and because the animals are the drugs in this process, their welfare is also ignored. In all three areas, there is ample reason for concern.

Human Health

Since they aren’t consumed by humans, new animal drugs are not evaluated for their human health impact, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that FDA’s analysis in this area has been almost nonexistent. Health and consumer rights advocates have raised alarms, noting among other concerns, that: 1) these animals will require massive doses of antibiotics to keep them alive in dirty, crowded aquaculture conditions, and we don’t know these antibiotics’ effect on human health; 2) the limited testing that has been conducted was carried out by or for AquaBounty and included shockingly small sample sizes; and 3) what studies have been done indicated increased allergic potential and increased levels of the hormone IGF-1, which is linked to various cancers — an outcome ignored in FDA’s approval according to the Consumers Union, Food & Water Watch, and the Center for Food Safety.

Our Environment

The process of examining new drugs’ environmental impact is also lax, so it’s also not surprising that FDA bungled this analysis as well. As just one glaring example, the agency looked only at how one small pilot project in Canada and Panama will affect U.S. waters, ignoring its legal obligations to consider the likelihood of salmon escaping as the pilot program expands—an expansion the company has already announced. Similarly, FDA suggests that the GE salmon’s lack of fear and rapacious appetite means that they could not survive escape. Another possibility, ignored by FDA and feared by environmental groups including Friends of the Earth, is that escapees would “wreak havoc on the ecosystem.” The Center for Food Safety (CFS) points out that every year “millions of farmed salmon escape, outcompeting wild populations for resources and straining ecosystems.” Regarding GE salmon, CFS continues: “Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences notes that a release of just sixty GE salmon into a wild population of 60,000 would lead to the extinction of the wild population in less than 40 fish generations.” FDA totally ignores this scenario and its vast implications for our aquatic ecosystems.

Animal Welfare

Animal welfare is the one area where we might expect NADA to do a passable job because the process is supposed to guarantee drug safety in the target animal. Sadly, FDA ignored animal welfare in its decision to recommend approval of GE meat, perhaps because it considers the GE animals to be drugs, not animals. In 2010, the American Anti-Vivisection Society and Farm Sanctuary detailed more than a dozen concerns with the AquAdvantage salmon, any one of which should have precluded approval. Yet, in its proposal, FDA ignored animal welfare concerns entirely.

Here are just a few of our concerns, none of which were addressed in FDA’s proposal:

  1. Although AquaBounty supplied limited animal welfare data, its own application indicates that it engaged in “extensive culling” of deformed, diseased, dying, and dead fish from its analysis. This would be like studying smoking’s impact only on long-distance runners who had shown no signs of cancer or heart disease.
  2. All aquaculture causes physical deformities and makes fish sick; nevertheless (and even after culling the sickest animals), the limited data supplied by AquaBounty indicates that AquAdvantage fish are even sicker and more prone to abnormalities and death losses than other farmed fish
  3. Even within these parameters, there were problems with the studies. For example, sample sizes provided were tiny and included limited data, and all analysis was done by the company (do you recall how this worked out with the tobacco companies?).
  4. Salmon in the wild are remarkable animals, swimming thousands of miles, including up streams and waterfalls; and of course, they feel pain and have similar cognitive, emotional, and behavioral complexity to other animals. AquAdvantage salmon will be crammed into tanks in grossly unnatural conditions, and slaughter will be completely unregulated (see video below). Imagine living your entire life, day and night, in an elevator with 20 other people — you can’t even stand up; you live in a pile of everyone else’s limbs and excrement. That’s aquaculture.

Brave New World

The scariest thing about approving GE animals through NADA is that once a type of technological drug advance is approved (here, genetic animal engineering), future approvals become much easier and much less transparent: the process that protects corporate drug development secrets will protect the GE process, resulting in reduced scrutiny and no transparency at all for future approvals. The American public will probably not even find out about future GE animals until after they’re approved for sale. As Friends of the Earth notes, FDA’s approval “will open the floodgates for other genetically engineered animals, including pigs and cows, to enter the food supply.”

Conclusion

FDA’s process for approving genetically engineered meat is rotten to the core, and the effects of such a bad process on human health, our environment, and animals cannot be overstated. In the 2010 process, FDA received more than 400,000 comments and letters from more than 300 health, consumer advocacy, environmental, animal protection, and other organizations. All were ignored. We have one more chance before litigation becomes necessary. Click here to take action.

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Bruce Friedrich

Climate Denial Crock of the Week


Climate Denial Crock of the Week

with Peter Sinclair

WindBaggers hire “Grassroots” Anti Wind Activists: 20 Bucks a Head to Break Wind

jobs

Grist:

Important job opportunity, everyone. From Craigslist:

Our firm needs 100 volunteers to attend and participate in a rally in front of the British Consulate/Embassy in Midtown Manhattan on the East Side on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 12 noon. The event is being held in order to protest wind turbines that are being built in Scotland and England. Your participation will be to ONLY stand next to or behind the speakers and elected officials/celebrities that will be speaking at the rally.

“Volunteers” will each get $20. That’s the going rate in New York City for a closely held political principle.

See screenshot here.

Will they make their own signs?

ClimateProgress:

Most Americans like clean energy. So when conservatives wage campaigns against clean energy initiatives, they have typically resorted to fronting astroturf groups and paying fake protesters to generate noise.

Needing 100 anti-wind protesters by next week and apparently unable to find them, a mysterious firm advertised a “quick and easy $20″ on Craigslist. According to the ad, the only thing the “volunteers” would need to do for their pay is “stand next to or behind the speakers and elected officials/celebrities” at a rally against a wind turbine project in the UK.

UPDATE:

The Independent:

A secretive funding organisation in the United States that guarantees anonymity for its billionaire donors has emerged as a major operator in the climate “counter movement” to undermine the science of global warming, The Independent has learnt.

The Donors Trust, along with its sister group Donors Capital Fund, based in Alexandria, Virginia, is funnelling millions of dollars into the effort to cast doubt on climate change without revealing the identities of its wealthy backers or that they have links to the fossil fuel industry.

However, an audit trail reveals that Donors is being indirectly supported by the American billionaire Charles Koch who, with his brother David, jointly owns a majority stake in Koch Industries, a large oil, gas and chemicals conglomerate based in Kansas.

Millions of dollars has been paid to Donors through a third-party organisation, called the Knowledge and Progress Fund, with is operated by the Koch family but does not advertise its Koch connections.

Robert Brulle, a sociologist at Drexel University in Philadelphia, has estimated that over the past decade about $500m has been given to organisations devoted to undermining the science of climate change, with much of the money donated anonymously through third parties.

Exclusive: Billionaires Secretly Fund Attacks on Climate Science


Exclusive: Billionaires secretly fund attacks on climate science
Audit trail reveals that donors linked to fossil fuel industry are backing global warming sceptics
Via:- Steve Connor
The headquarters of Koch Industries in Wichita, Kansas
A secretive funding organisation in the United States that guarantees anonymity for its billionaire donors has emerged as a major operator in the climate “counter movement” to undermine the science of global warming, The Independent has learnt.

The Donors Trust, along with its sister group Donors Capital Fund, based in Alexandria, Virginia, is funnelling millions of dollars into the effort to cast doubt on climate change without revealing the identities of its wealthy backers or that they have links to the fossil fuel industry.

However, an audit trail reveals that Donors is being indirectly supported by the American billionaire Charles Koch who, with his brother David, jointly owns a majority stake in Koch Industries, a large oil, gas and chemicals conglomerate based in Kansas.

Millions of dollars has been paid to Donors through a third-party organisation, called the Knowledge and Progress Fund, with is operated by the Koch family but does not advertise its Koch connections.

Some commentators believe that such convoluted arrangements are becoming increasingly common to shield the identity and backgrounds of the wealthy supporters of climate scepticism – some of whom have vested interests in the fossil-fuel industry.

The Knowledge and Progress Fund, whose directors include Charles Koch and his wife Liz, gave $1.25m to Donors in 2007, a further $1.25m in 2008 and $2m in 2010. It does not appear to have given money to any other group and there is no mention of the fund on the websites of Koch Industries or the Charles Koch Foundation.

The Donors Trust is a “donor advised fund”, meaning that it has special status under the US tax system. People who give money receive generous tax relief and can retain greater anonymity than if they had used their own charitable foundations because, technically, they do not control how Donors spends the cash.

Anonymous private funding of global warming sceptics, who have criticised climate scientists for their lack of transparency, is becoming increasingly common. The Kochs, for instance, have overtaken the corporate funding of climate denialism by oil companies such as ExxonMobil. One such organisation, Americans for Prosperity, which was established by David Koch, claimed that the “Climategate” emails illegally hacked from the University of East Anglia in 2009 proved that global warming was the “biggest hoax the world has ever seen”.

Robert Brulle, a sociologist at Drexel University in Philadelphia, has estimated that over the past decade about $500m has been given to organisations devoted to undermining the science of climate change, with much of the money donated anonymously through third parties.

The trust has given money to the Competitive Enterprise Institute which is currently being sued for defamation by Professor Michael Mann of Pennsylvania University, an eminent climatologist, whose affidavit claims that he was accused of scientific fraud and compared to a convicted child molester.

Dr Brulle said: “We really have anonymous giving and unaccountable power being exercised here in the creation of the climate countermovement. There is no attribution, no responsibility for the actions of these foundations to the public.

“By becoming anonymous, they remove a political target. They can plausibly claim that they are not giving to these organisations, and there is no way to prove otherwise.”

Related articles

The 2013 Climate Change Wake-up Call


The 2013 climate change wake-up call

Is an extreme heatwave enough for people to start taking the science of climate change seriously in Australia? Dr Paul Willis hopes so.

By Paul Willis

BoM heatwave map

Bureau map for January 8 shows area of deep purple over Australia. Shades of deep purple and magenta have been added to the forecast map for temperatures up to 54 degrees Celsius (BoM)

The hot weather that has besieged the nation since the beginning of the year and the associated bushfire threat has, I hope, been something of a cathartic experience for Australia. Finally an event that can be linked to climate change has been of such magnitude and impact that many people are now sitting up and taking notice.

Even so, we have been slow off the mark to discuss the linkage between extreme weather events and climate change and those discussions were still limited in extent. I’m hoping that the extreme heatwave is a ‘shot across the bow’ notice that we need to take climate change seriously — but already the climate denial camp are viewing these extreme events as business as usual.

The USA had a similar experience last year with Superstorm Sandy: a nasty, unprecedented weather event of horrendous impact that was also in line with the predictions made by climate science over the last couple of decades. Most of the US and indeed most of the world were shocked at the pictures of widespread devastation delivered by a single, freakish storm. Sandy came off the back of an even more devastating drought across much of the USA during the preceding northern summer that has also been linked to climate change.

Finally many Americans started to ask if these were the hallmarks of climate change. The country which has been the most inactive of nations with respect to recognising climate change and implementing measures to mitigate against its worst effects started to sit up and take notice. Climate change suddenly became very real and very serious. And to just drive the message home a little more clearly, last week it was announced that 2012 was the hottest year on record for the continental USA.

But perhaps the greatest influence on the American climate epiphany was not caused by the weather, nor did it even originate within their borders.

Economics counts more than science

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, insurance underwriting giant Munich Re issued a report  just before Superstorm Sandy hit their eastern seaboard. After analysing weather data from 1980 to 2011 they identified that the overall burden of losses from weather catastrophes was US$ 1,060 billion (in 2011 values). Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was the costliest single event ever recorded in the US with US$ 62.2 billion insured losses and overall losses of US$125 billion (in original values). The report went on:

“… Nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident than in North America” and “Anthropogenic climate change is believed to contribute to this trend”.

When an organisation like Munich Re issues a report like that, people, business and politicians sit up and take notice. The bottom line is that, due to the identified increased risk of damage and loss due to more severe weather events in North America, they are going to charge more for their insurance underwriting services. They have made a link between climate change and the wallets of America. And it’s when a dollar cost can be placed on something as esoteric as climate change science that people begin to take notice — we live in societies governed by economists, not scientists.

This message was reinforced this year when noted American economist Joe Stiglitz came out with nine ways that climate change is already hurting the US economy and some of these effects are huge. Stiglitz argues that climate change is likely to cost the US economy $3.8 billion per year by 2020, $6.5 billion per year by 2040 and $12.9 billion by 2080.

One would hope that most Americans awoke to 2013 with some very sobering prospects for their continued indifference and intransigence to climate change. And that’s right when Australia was delivered its climate clout: a savage reminder that what the climatologists have been saying for the last 20 years or more is real and has potentially devastating local consequences.

 

Heatwave coverage a slow burn

The New Year heralded the beginning of a widespread and intense heatwave across Australia. With this heatwave came a catastrophic risk of bushfires which went on to burn out large areas of several states. This infographic from activist group GetUp! neatly summarises the heatwave and bushfires as they stood on 10 January and places them in the context of climate change.

Let’s be clear here: attributing specific weather events to a general cause such as climate change is a tricky proposition. It’s akin to asking which individual cigarette is going to cause the lung cancer that kills the smoker. But, just as smoking has now been shown conclusively to cause cancer, there will also be an increasing occurrence of extreme weather events as predicted by climate change. While this or any specific event cannot be predicted by climate change models, the facts that they occur and their nature, is exactly what climate change models have been predicting.

While news bulletins and front pages across the nation were filled with stories covering the heatwave and bushfires, the Australian media was slow off the mark to explore the link between these events and climate change. After more than a week of record temperatures and scorching bushfires, there were no articles that suggested climate change had a part to play in the catastrophe.

Then on 8 January, The Conversation introduced climate change into the debate, and the Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC) provided expert comments to the media that explored climate change as a causal factor for the twin disasters. An AusSMC rapid reaction early that day included these comments from Dr Markus Donat, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Climate Change Research Centre, at the University of New South Wales:

“In recent studies we have analysed how extreme temperatures have changed globally. For most regions, including Australia, we found that extremely high temperatures have become more frequent and more intense, while extremely low temperatures are occurring less frequently than they did in the middle of the 20th century.

“Counting the number of very warm days (in this specific case defined as the warmest 5 per cent during the 1951-1980 period) we found that during the most recent 3 decades 1981-2010 the frequency of days in this warmest category has increased by 40 per cent globally.”

It’s a contextual statement not so much directly linking the current events to climate change but providing the wider framework within which the heatwave and the fires could be interpreted. It was reused in the media 77 times over the following couple of days.

Later the same day in another release from the AusSMC, Liz Hanna, a convenor at the Climate Change Adaptation Research Network – Human Health, at the Australian National University, provided these more impassioned comments:

“Those of us who spend our days trawling — and contributing to — the scientific literature on climate change are becoming increasingly gloomy about the future of human civilisation. We are well past the time of niceties, of avoiding the dire nature of what is unfolding, and politely trying not to scare the public. The unparalleled setting of new heat extremes is forcing the continual upwards trending of warming predictions for the future, and the timescale is contracting. This trepidation on the part of scientists and researchers, and in some cases flagrant resistance by stakeholders in the fossil fuel industry, to allow the real story to be fully revealed and comprehended by the public at large, has allowed the stalling of action to save the planet, and ourselves.

“To speak of heat alone, heat already kills more Australians than the road toll. If it is not already double, it soon will be.” …

“People who cannot access cooled environments are also at risk. The response of turning on air conditioners only exacerbates the problem of global warming. The only correct response is to slow down, and ultimately reverse, the warming.”

(I’ve reproduced Donat’s quote in full but edited the quote from Hanna as it was provided by the AusSMC).

Hanna’s comments received wider publication than Donat’s with over 202 publications using parts of her commentary. But, of those 202 publications, 182 were reprints of an article by Ben Cubby at Fairfax leaving just a handful of others that discussed the climate-heatwave-bushfire link. Thus, despite there being good and forceful comments from respectable researchers made readily available to the Australian media, the take up was rather poor and some media organisations ignored the issue completely.

The story was picked up overseas by the BBC as well as bloggers, and George Monbiot at The Guardian in the UK drew particular attention to how the heatwave was confronting evidence against climate change denial in Australia specifically naming Tony Abbot, Andrew Bolt, Ian Plimer and The Australian.

 

Force of denial

Almost as soon as the discussion got started in Australia, the forces of denial and ignorance sprang back into life. On 9 January acting Opposition Leader, Warren Truss, was quoted thus:

“Indeed I guess there’ll be more CO2 emissions from these fires than there will be from coal-fired power stations for decades.”

This is, indeed, only his guess with no numbers or data to back it up. This off-the-cuff statement of belief was comprehensively pulled apart by Philip Gibbons, senior lecturer at the Australian National University, in The Conversation. Gibbons showed, in fact, that the amount of carbon released by the current bushfires is around 2 per cent of the annual emissions from Australia’s coal-fired power stations. To equal those annual power station emissions would require incinerating a forest the size of Tasmania.

Other media outlets maintained the business as usual climate denial. In The Weekend Australian on 12 January, the environment editor, Graham Lloyd, wrote a rather confused piece taking some details that have been changed in climate outlook predictions to cast doubt on the credibility of climate science.

It included a statement that, “The jury is out on the cause of the round of heatwaves hitting Australia”, with no clear idea who that ‘jury’ is. Ever fussing in the cracks trying to obfuscate a clear picture of what is actually going on, once again our national paper gets it hopelessly wrong on this issue. And this was after The Australian published this piece on 3 January covering predictions from the Bureau of Meteorology for an increase in both the frequency and intensity of future heatwaves. A rather confused agenda.

Let us hope that future discussions around climate change and what to do about it will be free of invented factoids and misinformation. It’s time to take the science seriously. We are witnessing the consequences of ignoring that science and pretending that climate change isn’t occurring. It’s a heavy price we are paying and that debt is only going to increase if we don’t wise up.

About the author:

Dr Paul Willis is the director of RiAus, Australia’s unique national science hub, which showcases the importance of science in everyday life.  The well-known palaeontologist and broadcaster previously worked for ABC TV’s Catalyst program. This article was first published on the RiAus website.

Meet The Climate Denial Machine | Greed-Driven Shills for Corporate Oligarchs


Meet The Climate Denial Machine
Via JILL FITZSIMMONS
Despite the overwhelming consensus among climate experts that human activity is contributing to rising global temperatures, 66 percent of Americans incorrectly believe there is “a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening.” The conservative media has fueled this confusion by distorting scientific research, hyping faux-scandals, and giving voice to groups funded by industries that have a financial interest in blocking action on climate change. Meanwhile, mainstream media outlets have shied away from the “controversy” over climate change and have failed to press U.S. policymakers on how they will address this global threat. When climate change is discussed, mainstream outlets sometimes strive for a false balance that elevates marginal voices and enables them to sow doubt about the science even in the face of mounting evidence.

Here, Media Matters looks at how conservative media outlets give industry-funded “experts” a platform, creating a polarized misunderstanding of climate science.

Heartland Institute And James Taylor

The Economist has called the libertarian Heartland Institute “the world’s most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change.” Every year, Heartland hosts an “International Conference on Climate Change,” bringing together a small group of contrarians (mostly non-scientists) who deny that manmade climate change is a serious problem. To promote its most recent conference, Heartland launched a short-lived billboard campaign associating acceptance of climate science with “murderers, tyrants, and madmen” including Ted Kaczynski, Charles Manson and Fidel Castro. Facing backlash from corporate donors and even some of its own staff, Heartland removed the billboard, but refused to apologize for the “experiment.”

Heartland does not disclose its donors, but internal documents obtained in February reveal that Heartland received $25,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation in 2011 and anticipated $200,000 in additional funding in 2012. Charles Koch is CEO and co-owner of Koch Industries, a corporation with major oil interests. Along with his brother David Koch, he has donated millions to groups that spread climate misinformation. Heartland also receives funding from some corporations with a financial interest in confusing the public on climate science. ExxonMobil contributed over $600,000 to Heartland between 1998 and 2006, but has since pledged to stop funding groups that cast doubt on climate change.

Despite their industry ties and lack of scientific expertise, Heartland Institute fellows are often given a media platform to promote their marginal views on climate change. Most visible is James Taylor, a lawyer with no climate science background who heads Heartland’s environmental initiative. Taylor dismisses “alarmist propaganda that global warming is a human-caused problem that needs to be addressed,” and suggests that taking action to reduce emissions could cause a return to the “the Little Ice Age and the Black Death.” But that hasn’t stopped Forbes from publishing his weekly column, which he uses to spout climate misinformation and accuse scientists of “doctoring” temperature data to fabricate a warming trend. It also hasn’t stopped Fox News from promoting his misinformation.

Competitive Enterprise Institute

The libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute has sponsored paid advertisementsop-eds, and blogs that misrepresent scientific research to downplay the threat of climate change. CEI’s director of energy and global warming policy Myron Ebell shed light on their motivation to muddle the science on the PBS Frontline special “Climate of Doubt”:

We felt that if you concede the science is settled and that there’s a consensus, you cannot — the moral high ground has been ceded to the alarmists.

By dismissing the scientific consensus that human activity is contributing to climate change as “phony,” CEI can justify standing in the way of government action to reduce emissions. To make its case, CEI dispatches its “experts” — many of which have no scientific background — to do media appearances and op-ed pieces casting doubt on climate science and opposing any potential solutions. Ebell has been cited by Fox News, Forbes and even CNN as an energy and environmental policy expert. Senior Fellow Marlo Lewis Jr. has written in Forbes, National Review and the National Journal opposing clean air rules.

CEI has received funding from the American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil, Texaco, General Motors and the Koch Family Foundations among other fossil fuel interests over the last decade.

Chris Horner And The American Tradition Institute

Perhaps the most visible member of CEI’s environmental team is Chris Horner, a lawyer who often appears on Fox News to cast doubt on climate science and claim that scientists are manipulating temperature data to manufacture a warming trend. At both CEI and The American Tradition Institute (ATI), Horner has filed Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests in an attempt to access anything to embarrass climate scientists.

The American Tradition Institute (ATI) is a free-market think tank focused on blocking environmental regulations and “battling radical environmentalist junk science head on.” ATI was launched in 2010 by the American Tradition Partnership (ATP), an industry-backed advocacy group that has fought campaign finance disclosure laws and was accused in the 2010 election cycle of corruption and money laundering. ATI is funded primarily by ATP and a handful of individuals and foundations with ties to the oil industry.

ATI Executive Director Tom Tanton is an energy industry consultant who has conducted research for the American Petroleum Institute and formerly served as the vice president of the oil industry-funded Institute for Energy Research. Weather forecaster Joe Bastardi and climate skeptic blogger Steve Milloy serve as advisors to the think tank.

Manhattan Institute And Robert Bryce

The Manhattan Institute is a free-market think tank that advocates a “pro-growth” agenda on fossil fuels and downplays the scientific consensus on climate change. It’s website states that it is “unclear” whether human activity is contributing to rising global temperatures, adding: “Despite the certitude with which the media and politicians treat the issue, the science remains muddled.”

The Manhattan Institute has received funding from ExxonMobil and the Koch Family Foundations over the last decade. It previously questioned the science on the health effects of tobacco after receiving funding from the tobacco industry.
Robert Bryce, a Senior Fellow at the think tank, regularly authors op-ed pieces for prominent mainstream and conservative publications and appears on Fox News promoting fossil fuel production and downplaying the potential of renewable energy. On climate change, Bryce has said: “I don’t know who’s right. And I don’t really care.” In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Bryce claimed that the “science is not settled, not by a long shot.” He went on to suggest that a report of neutrinos that travel faster than the speed of light is sufficient reason to question climate science.

Heritage Foundation

The Heritage Foundation, one of the country’s most influential conservative think tanks, casts doubt on the scientific consensus that human activity is contributing to climate change and opposes efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions. A 2010 white paper states: “The only consensus over the threat of climate change that seems to exist these days is that there is no consensus.” Senior Policy Analyst Ben Lieberman has said that “global warming is clearly not a crisis and should not be addressed as one.” Citing presentations on “Climategate” at a Heartland Institute conference, he accused UN scientists of conspiring to “manufacture a global warming crisis.”

Heritage runs an online database of policy “experts” that includes climate contrarians Fred Singer, Cato’s Patrick Michaels, Heartland’s Joseph Bast, CEI’s Myron Ebell and Chris Horner, and JunkScience.com’s Steve Milloy.

The Heritage Foundation has received funding from ExxonMobil and the Koch Family Foundations.

Cato Institute And Patrick Michaels

The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, contributes to the climate confusion by amplifying the voice of Patrick Michaels, the only climate scientist on our list of prominent climate contrarians. Michaels, who previously estimated that “40 percent” of his funding comes from the oil industry, is Cato’s sole climate change expert. He is frequently quoted by major media outlets and has a Forbes column that he uses to downplay the threat of climate change. Other scientists have criticized him for misrepresenting their work.

Cato was co-founded by Charles Koch and has received millions from the Koch family. Past corporate donors include ExxonMobil, General Motors and the American Petroleum Institute.

American Enterprise Institute

In 2007, The Guardian reported that the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) was offering scientists and economists $10,000 each to write articles critical of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report on climate change. The Guardian noted that AEI has received substantial funding from ExxonMobil and that former Exxon CEO Lee Raymond — a vocal climate change skeptic — served as AEI’s Vice Chair. AEI criticized the story, saying they merely sought to subject the IPCC report to “serious scrutiny and criticism” but were not doubting the “existence of global warming.”

Nevertheless, AEI scholars have repeatedly downplayed the threat of climate change. Steven Hayward, who writes for National Review, has said that climate concerns are based on “propaganda” and that efforts to reduce emissions are “based on exaggerations and conjecture rather than science.” Former AEI president Christopher DeMuth acknowledged in 2001 that the earth has warmed but claimed “it’s not clear why this happened.” But some other AEI scholars have endorsed a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Marc Morano

Marc Morano runs the climate denial website ClimateDepot.com. He previously worked for Rush Limbaugh and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) — both vocal climate change deniers.

Although he has no scientific background, Morano has declared that the science of manmade climate change is “collapsing.” He has called global warming a “con job” and said that climate scientists “deserve to be publicly flogged.” Morano often appears on Fox News to spread misinformation on climate change, and Rush Limbaugh has repeatedly used his material to attack climate scientists.

Climate Depot is sponsored by the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), a conservative think tank that has received funding from ExxonMobil and Chevron. CFACT dismisses the scientific consensus on climate change and maintains that “real world evidence” shows that “global warming claims are failing.” To spread its message, CFACT organized the Copenhagen Climate Challenge — a conference of climate contrarians — to coincide with the UN climate conference in 2009.

Anthony Watts

Anthony Watts, a former television weatherman and climate skeptic who believes the U.S. temperature record is “unreliable,” runs the blog Watts Up With That. The blog features the fringe views of climate misinformers like Christopher Monckton and Fred Singer as guest authors and conservative media have previously seized on its misleading content.

In 2009, Watts was a driving force behind the controversy over leaked “Climategate” emails. In September 2012, he was at the center of a controversial PBS segment that aired his views as a “counterbalance” to climate experts without mentioning his ties to the industry-funded Heartland Institute. Watts was paid by the Heartland Institute for his work on temperature stations and is a regular speaker at Heartland conferences.

Steve Milloy

Steve Milloy is a lawyer and former tobacco industry consultant who was hired by the American Petroleum Institute to develop a PR strategy to downplay the threat of climate change. He has called those concerned about global warming “whacked out, intellectually and morally bankrupt.” The Washington Times regularly publishes columns by Milloy, and he frequently appears on Fox News to dismiss the need for government action to address climate change and air pollution.

Milloy runs JunkScience.com, which has previously obscured the risks of pesticides, ozone depletion, breast implants, asbestos and secondhand smoke and now seeks to similarly “debunk” global warming.

The site was initially sponsored by The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC), a now-defunct PR front group funded by tobacco giant Philip Morris to downplay the danger of cigarette smoke. TASSC later received funding from Chevron, ExxonMobil, Dow Chemical, Occidental Petroleum and other corporate donors. JunkScience.com is currently run by the Citizens for the Integrity of Science (CFIS), which does not disclose its donors.

Joe Bastardi

Joe Bastardi is a meteorologist for WeatherBell Analytics, where he provides weather forecasts for energy companies and other corporate clients. He also serves as an advisor to the American Tradition Institute and a Fox News contributor. Although he has no climate expertise, Fox regularly turns to him to analyze climate research. Bastardi, who has called manmade global warming “an obvious fraud,” has often been criticized by scientists for his “utter nonsense” on climate change.

Bastardi is not the only dubious source of climate misinformation on Fox News. Fox anchors and contributors regularly mock the threat of climate change and suggest that winter weather invalidates global temperature records. Rather than talking to actual climate scientists, the network turns to industry-funded climate denialists — including CEI’s Chris Horner, the Manhattan Institute’s Robert Bryce, Climate Depot’s Marc Morano and JunkScience.com’s Steve Milloy — to mislead its viewers on climate science. Fox Nation, a branch of FoxNews.com, regularly cites the British tabloid The Daily Mail and distorts climate research to declare that global warming isn’t happening.

Matt Ridley

Science writer Matt Ridley frequently uses his Wall Street Journal column to dismiss the threat of climate change and argue that climate scientists should not be trusted. Ridley has suggested that “the threat of a dangerously large warming is so improbable as to be negligible” and has compared climate scientists to eugenicists. The Journal does not disclose that Ridley is an unpaid advisor to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which was founded by the chairman of a company that represents several major oil companies.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page has also cast doubt on climate change, calling it a “fad-scare” and claiming that the science is “disputable.” In January 2012, the Journal published an op-ed by 16 scientists and engineers — most of which do not conduct climate research — to muddle the science and undermine action on climate change, yet reportedly rejected a climate change essay by 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences.

Larry Bell

Larry Bell, an architecture professor who has not published any peer-reviewed climate research, wrote Climate of Corruption, in which he argues that “politics is responsible for the global warming hoax.” Forbes provides Bell a weekly column where he often casts doubt on manmade climate change, which he incorrectly says is “based upon speculative theories, contrived data and totally unproven modeling predictions” when in fact there are several observed lines of evidence of rapid climate change.

Are Factory Farming’s Days Numbered?


Good News For Animal Lovers: Factory Farming’s Days May Be Numbered

Two major grocery chains are ditching factory farmed meat — will the changes cause a ripple effect?

 

Photo Credit: © koko-tewan/ Shutterstock.com

This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.

In one of history’s most stunning victories for humane farming, Australia’s largest supermarket chain, Coles, will as of January 1 stop selling company branded pork and eggs from animals kept in factory farms. As an immediate result, 34,000 mother pigs will no longer be kept in stalls for long periods of their lives, and 350,000 hens will be freed from cages.

Not to be outdone, the nation’s other dominant supermarket chain, Woolworths, has already begun phasing out factory farmed animal products. In fact all of Woolworth’s house brand eggs are now cage-free, and by mid-2013 all of their pork will come from farmers who operate stall-free farms.

Coles and Woolworths together account for a dominant 80 percent of all supermarket sales in Australia.

The move to open up the cages was fueled by “consumer sentiment,” and it has been synchronous with amajor campaign against factory farming of animals led by Animals Australia. The campaign features a TV ad, titled “When Pigs Fly,” in which an adorable piglet tells the story of animals sentenced to life in cramped cages, and then flies to freedom.

Meanwhile, in the United States, egg factory farms cram more than 90 percent of the country’s 280 million egg-laying hens into barren cages so small the birds can’t even spread their wings. Each bird spends her entire life given less space than a sheet of paper. And in a reality that does not please fans of Wilber or Babe, between 60 to 70 percent of the more than five million breeding pigs in the United States are kept in crates too small for them to so much as turn around.

There are laws against cruelty to animals in the United States, but most states specifically exempt animals destined for human consumption. The result is that the animal agriculture industry routinely does things to animals that, if you did them to a dog or a cat, would get you put in jail.

Gene Baur, president of Farm Sanctuary, explains: “Most of the anti-cruelty laws exempt farm animals as long as the practices are considered to be normal by the agriculture industry. What has happened is that bad has become normal, and no matter how cruel it is, normal is legal.”

But here, too, change is coming. Undercover investigations have led to a $497 million judgment against the now defunct Hallmark Meat Packing company, and to the recent temporary shutdown of Central Valley Meat Company over what federal investigators termed “egregious, inhumane handling and treatment of livestock.” California and Michigan have passed laws that will phase in a ban on battery cages for hens, andnine U.S. states have joined the entire European Union in heading towards a ban on confining pigs in gestation crates.

Worried that consumers are starting to find out the truth about treatment of modern farm animals and will demand further changes, industry leaders are pushing for “ag gag” laws that would hide factory farming and slaughterhouse abuses from public scrutiny. Recently passed laws in Iowa and Utah threaten jail time for anyone working undercover and taking pictures or video of animals in factory farms without permission.

What don’t they want us to know? What are they trying to hide? What would happen if the veil was lifted and we saw the level of cruelty that has become the norm in U.S. industrial meat production?

poll conducted by Lake Research partners found that 94 percent of Americans agree that animals raised for food on farms deserve to be free from abuse and cruelty, and that 71 percent of Americans support undercover investigative efforts by animal welfare organizations to expose animal abuse on industrial farms.

Most farmers don’t try to be cruel to animals, but they do worry about how to cut costs. And so long as consumers are kept in the dark about the real source of their food, farm owners have no economic incentive to do more than the minimum necessary to appease regulatory authorities.

Want to take action? Join the Food Revolution Network, an online community dedicated to healthy, sustainable, humane and delicious food for all.

Or join the Humane Society’s campaign for farm animal protection, or Farm Sanctuary’s work for animal welfare legislation. Or if you want to save 100 animals per year, you can sign up for PETA’s free veg starter kit.

The Romney Lexicon


The Romney Lexicon

KEVIN CARSON

As Thomas L. Knapp observes in a recent column, Mitt Romney — famous for complaining about the 47% who expect to be taken care of — “whined that the Obama administration has been insufficiently charitable with ‘public’ land (and taxpayer money) toward the oil companies.”

He notes that “for every dollar a timber company paid in leasing fees, the US government spent $1.27 on road-building and other projects to enable the exploitation of those timber leases.” The same applies to oil drilling in places like the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve: “the next time a natural resources extraction company offers to cover the entire cost of its own operations on ‘public’ land, let alone deliver a net profit to the US government on the deal, will be the first time.”

Extractive industries are among the biggest welfare queens in human history. Much — probably most — of the oil and mineral wealth of the planet is still in the hands of transnational corporate beneficiaries of centuries of colonial looting. Oil and mineral companies routinely use their pet states to politically guarantee access to mineral resources. Just look at the overthrow of Mossadeq in Iran — then read the Wikipedia article on BP. The politics of oil is the central factor in the slaughter of millions in the Congo, Zaire, and Angola since WWII. The same goes for the Suharto coup in Indonesia and the democide in East Timor. I think Shell actually has a Vice President for supervising death squad activity.

Most production of cash crops for corporate agribusiness, under the neoliberal “export-oriented development model” the Washington Consensus forces on the Third World, takes place on land from which peasants were either outright evicted, or reduced to at-will tenancy and then evicted, under colonialism or post-colonialism. The fastest way for a left-leaning regime to bring those “Washington Bullets” down on itself is to try putting that land back in the hands of its rightful owners — the peasants who originally cultivated it. Just ask Jacobo Arbenz.

It’s hilarious that self-described defenders of “free enterprise” like Mittens, who come down hardest on boondoggles like Solyndra, are also the biggest advocates of nuclear power and projects like the Keystone XL pipeline.

Nuclear power is the most extreme example of the phenomenon Tom Knapp described. Every step in the production chain, from the government building roads to the uranium mines on federal land to the disposal of nuclear waste at government expense — and the government indemnification against liability for meltdowns in between — is heavily subsidized by taxpayers.

As for Keystone, it’s just another example — although much smaller in scale and bloodshed — of the kind of corporate looting the fossil fuels industry carries out around the world. Never mind the fact that the extraction itself couldn’t take place in Alberta if government approval didn’t constitute a de facto indemnity, essentially preempting any potential tort action in the courts for harm from pollution.

The pipeline is being built on stolen land. From Montana to Oklahoma and Texas, TransCanada is using eminent domain to steal land — often falling afoul of treaty guarantees with Indian nations — and using local police and sheriffs as mercenaries in pitched battles against activists. Even when it crosses federal land, it amounts to a subsidy to the project. “Vacant” land — actually occupied by human beings with the legal liability of having brown skin — was originally preempted by the Spanish crown, passed into the hands of the Mexican Republic, and thence into the hands of the U.S. government via the Guadalupe-Hidalgo cession. The American state held all this land out of use, in blocs of tens and hundreds of millions of acres, so that it could eventually be handed over to favored timber, mining, oil and pipeline companies without the need to buy it up piecemeal from individual homesteaders, small forestry cooperatives and the like.

So now when you hear Mittens talk about “free enterprise,” you know what he means by it.

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory.

Europe Rejects Ban on Arctic Oil Drilling


Europe rejects ban on Arctic oil drilling

Moratorium on offshore drilling in the Arctic rejected by European parliament vote amid intense lobbying by oil industry

Greenpeace activists prepare to occupy Gazprom Arctic oil platform

Greenpeace activists prepare to occupy Gazprom Arctic oil platform. The EU has rejected a moratorium on drilling in the Arctic. Photograph: Greenpeace

The European parliament’s industry committee has rejected attempts to introduce a moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, overruling a contrary vote by its environment committee last month.

The key vote in the industry committee yesterday (9 October) instead proposed a new directive to ensure that companies have “adequate financial security” to cover the liabilities that could be incurred by any accidents.

Drilling companies would also have to submit to national authorities a safety hazard and emergency response report at least 24 weeks before the planned start of operations.

A plenary vote in December will now consider one surviving amendment from the environment committee vote, which would impel member states to refrain from licencing drills unless an effective accident response can be guaranteed.

The European Commission had initially proposed a binding EU-wide regulation, but the industry committee’s vote instead plumped for a directive, which member states can choose how to enforce according to their regional standards.

“Questions have been raised about the significant revocation and amendments of existing equivalent national legislation and guidance [a regulation] might entail,” said the parliamentary rapporteur, Ivo Belet (European People’s Party).

“Such redrafting would divert scarce resources from the safety assessments and inspections on the field,” he added.

British oil industry representatives used similar arguments, according to minutes of a stakeholder peer review meeting at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

“Implementing the Regulation would tie-up considerable resources in both industry and regulators … taking them away from the ‘front line’ where the hazards are,” representatives of Oil and Gas UK said.

After that meeting, the head of the European Commission’s coal and oil unit, Jan Panek, invited the Oil and Gas UK representatives to a separate bilateral meeting on the legal instrument and requirements in the regulation, which took place in April 2012.

Tip of the iceberg

Environmentalists suspect that this was the tip of a lobby iceberg. “This vote had the fingerprints of oil lobby all over it,” Greenpeace spokesman Joris den Blanken told EurActiv.

Amid intense industry lobbying, EurActiv has learned that the oil giant Chevron offered MEPs on the committee a free trip to its offshore Alba platform on 12-14 July, involving two nights stay in an Aberdeen hotel, helicopter trips to the platform, and several briefings.

But a Chevron representative informed EurActiv that the trip had not in fact gone ahead, due to “organisational reasons” on which she declined to elaborate.

Ivo Belet’s office said that he had “had the intention” of going on the package, but instead visited a platform in the Netherlands on a paid-for trip to GDF Suez’s K12B gas-producing platform which utilises carbon capture and storage techniques.

In March 2011, another shadow rapporteur on the committee, Vicky Ford (European Conservatives and Reformists), who tabled more than half of the 642 amendments on the report, visited a rig off the coast of Aberdeen paid for by the oil company ConocoPhillips.

Such trips are considered necessary and educational for legislators, and may not be luxurious, but environmentalists are wary of undue influence when MEPs adopt positions close to the industry’s interests.

A spokesperson at Ford’s office said that she had registered her trip on her European Parliament online declaration of interests but it was not mentioned there at the time of writing.

Camel operations in the Sahara

Oil producing countries such as Norway also pushed hard for the proposed regulation to be transmuted into a directive, because of the “massive administrative burden” and “complicated legal questions” it could raise, according to a Norwegian position paper, seen by EurActiv.

Norway’s deputy oil and energy minister, Per Rune Henriksen, went further, arguing that for the EU to claim jurisdiction over the Arctic by banning drills there “would almost be like us commenting on a camel operations in the Sahara.”

The EU sees itself as an actor in the Arctic because three EU countries have territory in the Arctic – Denmark, Finland and Sweden – while Iceland is an EU candidate.

The EU has in return applied for an enhanced observer seat on the Arctic Council, partly because climate change is a transboundary issue, affecting European weather patterns and fish stocks alike.

Gustaf Lind, the Arctic Council’s current chair, told EurActiv that “of course, as we have EU members, we can all say that we’re positive, very positive [towards the EU’s application] but we try to avoid reviewing specific applications in the media.”

Arctic resource race

The EU’s application comes as the continent’s ice has melted to its lowest level ever, carving the pristine region open for a resource race.

The US Geological Survey says that the region could be home to 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and 30% of its undiscovered gases, and gold and diamond mining companies also view its prospects with relish.

Arctic nations often bemoan a perceived southern hypocrisy that would prevent them from enjoying the same economic benefits from fossil fuel production that others have done.

Oil extracted from the Arctic emits no more greenhouse gas than that produced anywhere else but the region’s remote and hostile terrain could make rescue operations treacherous in the event of an accident.

Arctic futures

Gunnar Wiegand, a director at the EU’s External Affairs Action Service, told an Arctic Futures Symposium in Brussels on 4 October that he hoped EU legislation could inspire Arctic nations to firmer environmental legislation.

“The acquis [accumulated legislation] in the Arctic Council doesn’t go as far as any of the environmental legislation of the EU,” he said.

Maria Damanaki, the EU’s maritime commissioner, told the same conference that as the continent’s ice thawed, new opportunities could arise.

“Offshore drilling in the Arctic now becomes a viable option for big oil companies,” she said. “Arctic reserves could hold enough oil and gas to meet global demand for several years. This is a need the world economy has.”

“Though we may be greening the world economy, oil and gas remain vital for us and will do for some years,” she added.

Scientists are more concerned that the Arctic ice melt could raise sea levels, accelerate global warming by reducing the region’s ice reflectivity of solar heat, and change Gulf Stream currents.

If the Arctic’s summer ice melts completely, some scientists fear that methane hydrates currently frozen on the seabed could be released, causing a runaway and unstoppable greenhouse effect.

Eat, Pray, Kill | The Basic Brutality of Eating


Eat, Pray, Kill: The Basic Brutality of Eating

By Beatrice Marovich

“Bloody beetroots”: image courtesy flickr user kudla, via a Creative Commons license

Beatrice Marovich

[Beatrice is a PhD candidate in the Graduate Division of Religion at Drew University in Madison, NJ. She also works as a writer, editor, and communications consultant, specializing in ideas at the crowded intersection of theology, philosophy, faith and public/political life in North America.]

Some humans are deeply passionate about their meat. They love it, they gnash their teeth for it. In her 2006 spiritual travelogue Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert confessed a kind of affinity with the sensual Tuscan culture of meat. Shop windows in the Italian town, she writes, are loaded with sausages “stuffed like ladies’ legs into provocative stockings” or the “lusty buttocks” of ham. The net effect, she suggests, is the emanation of a “you know you want it” kind of sensuality. Make no mistake. Meat—the flesh of non-human animals—is a force of desire in human life.

But is there an ethical argument in favor of flesh consumption? That is, can a meat-eating human find solid moral ground for her more carnivorous appetites? Is there a soul-cure for the stomachache that comes from eating the body of another sentient creature? Are these questions that the vast storehouses of religious traditions can help us navigate?

In a culture where plates are piled high with the spoils of profligate factory farming, it would seem that the growing surge of vegans and vegetarians have claim to the moral high ground. One might even make the argument that religious vegetarianism is one of the few things that makes modern religions look good. But not everyone is satisfied with this solution. “Ethically speaking, vegetables get all the glory,” Ariel Kaminer lamented in the New York Times, playing the role of the paper’s esteemed Ethicist. And so, in an attempt to buck this trend the paper launched an essay contest in March of this year: in search of the ethical argument for meat.

Essays were judged by a star-studded panel that included vocal vegetarians like Peter Singer and Jonathan Safran Foer as well as more cautiously omnivorous foodies such as Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman. Controversy ensued over the fact that the panel was comprised entirely of men. But, gender issues be damned, results were published in late April. Six essays made the cut. The final stage was to give Times readers four days to vote on their personal favorite. Almost 40 percent of voters appeared to favor the ethical argument in favor of in vitro meat. “Aside from accidental roadkill or the fish washed up dead on the shore, it is perhaps the only ethical meat,” essayist Ingrid Newkirk baldly proffered.

If Peas Can Talk…

The argument that stirred me most, however, was one of the lower-scoring essays—earning a mere 10 percent of voter approval. Interestingly, it wasn’t really an argument in favor of meat at all, so much as it was an attempt to dramatize the moral stakes of the practice.

“We would be foolish to deny that there are strong moral considerations against eating meat,” philosophy professor Bob Fischer begins. Eating meat is clearly, from an ethical perspective, “wrong” on several counts. But morality is an ideal, he notes, something we aim for, and fall short of. This makes the moral world “tragic,” as he puts it. Moral work is a tragedy, played out on a cosmic stage. Rather than wallow in remorse, he sees this as reason to be suspicious of “any proposal that would steer us through these complexities too quickly.”

When it comes to the consumption of meat, in other words, our human hands have long been dirty. This isn’t a discouragement to stop striving for the good. But a moral proposal that promises to wash our filthy fingers spotlessly clean—in seconds flat—is suspect. Because they will still be dirty. The pressing moral question, of meat, becomes: given that human hands are obviously soiled, what can be done with these polluted tools?

The easy answer, most often, is: go vegetarian. If it feels wrong to eat meat, then stop eating it. Why waste time, really? Just go vegan. Start cleaning your hands by refusing to eat your fellow creatures. The ethical argument for meat, in other words, is an impossibility. Ending flesh consumption is one step in right direction, toward a kinder future. Some might argue, however, that the argument from empathy is a slippery slope argument. Vegetarians will surely protest. But philosopher Michael Marder, writing recently for the Times, points to research on pea plant communication as evidence of a kind of plant subjectivity. The title of his column begs the incendiary question: “If peas can talk, should we eat them?”

There are, perhaps, some practitioners of the Jain tradition who would give a resounding “no.” Strict ascetic practices in Jainism disavow not only the consumption of meat, but the practice of farming—because of the damage that agricultural tools to do the earth. The consumption of root vegetables may be prohibited (as you would be yanking the vegetable to its death), as well as the consumption of a living pea shoot, which can (as Marder suggests) talk.

These practices find their basis in ahimsa—the Sanskrit term that describes a posture of nonviolence toward all living creatures. The power of ahimsa can be genealogically traced into the vegetarian strains and variants of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. Is it when we turn to the wisdom of religious traditions that we finally find the spiritual purity we’re looking for? The sort that can clean our dirty hands from the inside out, starting with our nasty and brutish souls?

A Screaming Silence

My own thinking around religion and animals, particularly around the conundrum of eating them, was complexified at a recent conference, put on by the Graduate Student’s Association in Columbia’s Religion Department. The consumption of animal flesh was not the primary subject matter of “Pray, Eat, Kill: Relating to Animals Across Religious Traditions,” but it was perhaps the most absorbing. It was also the subject of Wendy Doniger’s keynote address. The legendary scholar of myth and religion dipped back into ancient text, citing myriad strange injunctions regarding the consumption of food in The Laws of Manu. What she finds, in these codes, is not only an attempt to deal with the old, and apparently always agonizing, moral pain of eating animal flesh. She also spoke of references, in these ancient texts, to the “screaming silence” of vegetables.

Doniger finds, in other words, a long history of reflection on the basic brutality of eating, rooted in a reflection on this concept of ahimsa. But, interestingly, what she finds is that this sympathy and compassion for animals did not always lead to the condemnation of eating animal flesh.

The fact is, religious ethics are practices that are crafted in conversation with culture and geography. There have been times when the meaning of ahimsa, or practices of animal compassion, have taken a backseat to necessity. Geoff Barstow, for example, spoke of the 18th-century Tibetan Buddhist Jigme Lingpa who displayed an extreme form of compassion for animals (addressing them as his mother). He believed that meat was a poison that bore a heavy karmic burden. But he stopped just sort of commending vegetarianism. Meat was, as Barstow put it, a kind of “necessary evil.” Was this in recognition of the fact that there simply aren’t a lot of vegetables to be had in the mountainous regions of Tibet?

Is the purity (or the arid ethical high ground) we might be aiming for a myth, itself? Is it possible to both consume and remain morally chaste? Doniger suggests that, perhaps, the most common and lasting effect we can see—as reverent humans attempt to deal with the moral ambivalence of eating meat—is that they make lists. They attempt to rationalize this ambivalence, to find a way of controlling its power. The Laws of Manu are filled with long lists of things you can and cannot eat (mushrooms, solitary animals), things you can and cannot do with animals (sacrifice is good, unlawful slaughter is bad).

Such lists are not unique to the Hindu tradition. Indeed, we see both simple and complex dietary regulations in a host of traditions and cultures. Even here in the U.S., we have “secular” regulations that prevent us from eating dogs. Many of us follow our own little personal hodgepodge of injunctions that (we believe) contributes to a more sustainable form of life, or a healthy planet.

In a larger sense, the thicket of little rules and regulations seems absurd. The “real” question, it seems, is whether or not to eat animals at all—whether to have all or nothing, flesh or no flesh. But such universal injunctions seem problematic to me. Human history is littered with smaller lists, smaller injunctions, created in ethical conversation with a particular context.

When we look back at the stages set by the history, via religion, I think we will see this moral drama—the encounter of human and non-human animal—played out in many different ways. In the messy, violent, ambivalence this encounter generates, and the stopgap measures put in place to resolve it, we see thousands of small (often contradictory, often bizarre) solutions. We might read thousands of lists! But this is not a sign of our human failure. Rather, I think we can see it as an encouragement to keep making those small lists.

Morality is a messy business—why should we expect its rules to be singular, or simple?

Conservative Myths About Socialism, Capitalism, and Who The ‘Job Creators’ Are


Deconstructing Conservative Myths About Socialism, Capitalism, and Who The ‘Job Creators’ Are

Image from http://drivetoacure.org/acne-myths-and-various-assumptions/

Conservatives have taken to a new spin on truth, by refashioning definitions of words and terms in order to provoke new connotations. Socialism is now defined as a government take over, Capitalism is now defined as patriotic, and the wealthy are now defined as job creators. But simply redefining these words will not change their true meaning, it is only myth making.

Socialism does not mean the abolition of a free market society, nor does Socialism call for a government takeover of all industry; that is Communism. Socialists acknowledge the limitation of a free market and believes that some industries should not be run for profit. Police protection, fire protection, prisons, education, health care, parks, electricity, water supplies, waste and sewage removal, and roadways are just a few examples of industries which should not be run for profit. The reasoning behind this belief is when these industries are operating for profit, not only will prices rise, but corresponding services would then be reserved only for those who can afford them. Or more succinctly, no one person should be able to profit over running services, in which everyone benefits from. One excellent example of Socialism in action is demonstrated in our banking industry. While most banks operate for the profits of their CEOs, credit unions are owned and operated by the people. The profits which are not imparted upon CEOs are reflected back to the customer in higher interest rates for investments and lower interest rates for loans. It may be important to point out that credit unions did not run the same risks as banks when our financial bubble burst, and thus did not need to request nor receive any TARP bailout money. Nor have the credit unions contributed to the faulty foreclosures as our banks have. Another example is found in health care. The free market creates for-profit businesses ranging from medications, medical testing, medical treatments, medical research, to hospitals. None of which have lowered the cost of health care through innovation or through competition. This is because the demand of which is a basic necessity, or in other words is non-negotiable. Like clean water, oil, and electricity, humans cannot survive without such products or services. The demand of which is a constant, therefore they are not subjected to the Keynes supply and demand curve. When prices go up, demand does not lessen beyond a certain threshold. Americans may forgo a pleasure trip to conserve on gasoline consumption, but their demand for gasoline to take them to and from work is non-negotiable. Where the free market brings economic ups and downs which effects everyone, Socialism believes that there is a limit on the protections a free market provides. And quite simply, some things should not be run for profit, especially at the expense of everyone else.

Capitalism is an economic term for the free market system which is structured upon the accumulation of money, where the means of production are privately owned and operates for profit. Capitalism is neither right nor wrong, it is simply an economic term. Nor is Capitalism patriotic! A system which encourages the accumulation of wealth does not salute a flag, nor is it loyal to a native country. This market system crosses state and national borders in order to provide larger profits for business owners. If labor costs are cheaper overseas, then it is capitalism which will drive businesses out of our country. If a company finds it cheaper to produce a dangerous product than it is to produce a safe one, it is capitalism which will produce the most profitable option without consideration of customer safety. Capitalism only seeks profits and will by nature migrate operations towards areas which promotes greater profits. Capitalism has no allegiance to any one country as it operates in a global economy. Again, capitalism has no allegiance with patriotism. Where would a business find themselves most profitable? Would they find a country with extremely lower labor costs to be more profitable for manufacturing than a country with higher labor costs? Would they find a lower taxed area more profitable than an area with high demand for their products? But most of all, wouldn’t it be more patriotic for an American business to spark demand in order to operate, manufacture and sell their goods or services inside America, as opposed to overseas?

The wealthy are not necessarily the job creators. Poor and desperate innovators have sparked many new business ventures despite their lack of wealth. Many small businesses began out of practically nothing, but only an idea executed inside of their garages. The fact of the matter is that neither wealth nor lower taxes create jobs; only demand creates jobs. This little tidbit of truth is lost in translation when the wealthy are deemed as “Job Creators”. This ploy is used to promote additional tax breaks for those who already have enough and while promoting cuts in public services on those who do not have enough. Another tidbit of truth which is diluted in this argument is the inequality of income between the workers and the owners. A manager typically earns 343 times more than an average employee. And while 88% of domestic profits go to corporate bank accounts and CEO bonuses, only 1% of these profits gets applied towards labor. The business owner shoulders no responsibility for producing any product or service. Rather the business owner invested their money (and in most cases time) into a business which is productive. Productivity is a result of the balance between the investors, the managers, and the workers. It is a symbiotic relationship, which many Americans cannot conceive of. For where would any business be without any one of these three elements? Despite conservative talking points, even the lowest of employees is an invaluable asset to a business. In a restaurant, an effective business owner knows that the dishwasher and busboys are just as important to their operation as their managers and customers. If you remove the dishwasher and/or busboys from the equation, the business suffers. Yet an effective manager can be absent from their responsibilities and the operation should not be sacrificed. So which employee should be valued more than the other, the laborer, the manager, or the investor? The answer is neither of the three. For without one, the other two would not have a business operate or a job to tend to. Yet the argument goes that only the wealthy create jobs. Without enough demand, even these jobs won’t last very long.

We should not tax our job creators in a time of economic recession. But we have misidentified exactly who these job creators are. When our recession is being prolonged out of a lack of demand, it is not the business owner who can create jobs. But rather it is the customers who spurn on demand who create jobs. The businesses who pocketed great sums of cash during our economic catastrophe will still be there when we come out of it without the need to create more jobs. But these businesses will find themselves with greater profits when demand picks up again, and that is what will create jobs. So let’s not overburden our true job creators, the customers. In order to spark higher demand, we must effect the largest target market we have at our disposal. It’s not the wealthy who can spark this demand; they only constitute up to 2% of our populace. Rather, we should focus our attention on the other 98% of our populace, our struggling middle class and poor. Henry Ford believed that his product meant nothing unless there were customers who were able to purchase it. In order to ensure his company’s success, he paid his laborers more than other businesses, so they may buy his cars. This enabled his employees to comfortably afford to buy Ford products. This sparked higher demand, which in turn produced higher job growth. Which led to Ford’s success story. Henry Ford did not believe in paying the least amount possible for labor, eliminating the minimal wage, or acquisitioning higher profits. Instead he realized the symbiosis between business and labor and between the business and its customer.

Peak Water? ‘Last Call at the Oasis’ – Why Time Is Running Out to Save Our Drinking Water


‘Last Call at the Oasis’: Why Time Is Running Out to Save Our Drinking Water
A new film provides a much-needed wake-up call for Americans: Our false sense of water abundance may be our great undoing.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock/Ev Thomas

The first voice you hear in the new documentary Last Call at the Oasis is Erin Brockovich‘s — the famed water justice advocate whom Julia Roberts portrayed on the big screen.”Water is everything. The single most necessary element for any of us to sustain and live and thrive is water,” says Brockovich as her voice plays over clips of water abundance — gushing rivers and streams. “I grew up in the midwest and I have a father who actually worked for industry … he promised me in my lifetime that we would see water become more valuable than oil because there will be so little of it. I think that time is here.”

The film then cuts to images of water-scarce populations in the world: crowds of people at water tankers, stricken children, news reports of drought in the Middle East, Brazil, China, Spain.

The images are heart-wrenching and alarming … and so are the ones that come next, which are all in the U.S. Water parks, golf courses, car washes, triple shower heads, outside misters — all point to our folly when it comes to water.

We live with a false sense of water abundance and it may be our great undoing. Even though the film opens with Brockovich’s prophecy that water is more valuable than oil, Last Call at the Oasis mostly focuses on how we’ve yet to grasp this news. The film, which is the latest from Participant Media (Inconvenient Truth, Food Inc., Waiting for Superman), delves into our addiction to limitless growth, our blindness to pressures from global warming, and the free pass that industry and agriculture get to pollute.

The narrative of the film, which is directed by Jessica Yu, is driven by interviews, historical footage and some outstanding cinematography. We’re taken to Las Vegas, so often the starting point for discussions of our impending water crisis. We see a receding Lake Mead, learn that Hoover Dam may be close to losing its ability to generate power as water levels drop, and that the intake valve for Las Vegas’ water supply may soon be sucking air.

We hear from Pat Mulroy, Las Vegas’ infamous water manager, about a plan for the city to pipe water over 250 miles from a small agricultural community. The town of Baker, population 150, looks to be on the sacrificial altar for Sin City. As Mulroy says, it is a “project out of sheer desperation.” But that will be little consolation to the folks in Baker. Or to the rest of us. Because what we learn next is that “we’re all Vegas.”

Phoenix and LA also face water pressures, as the Colorado River strains to meet growing demands. The film shows hotspots like the California’s Central Valley, where 7 million acres of irrigated agriculture have turned near desert into the source of one-quarter of the nation’s food — at a steep environmental price.

California is often warned it will be the next Australia, where a decade of drought has devastated the agricultural sector. At the peak of Australia’s drought, the film tell us, one farmer committed suicide every four days. We meet families who are struggling to save their farms, faced with having to slaughter all of their animals. The scenes of heartbreak in Australia are one of the few times in the film the narrative ventures outside the U.S. Mostly the storyline is focused on America’s own evolving plight.

We see Midland, Texas where a community is stricken by cancer from hexavalent chromium in its drinking water. A reoccurring voice throughout the film is Brockovich, who works as a legal consultant all over the U.S. for communities that often find themselves powerless in the face of industry pollution. “There are 1,200 Superfund sites the EPA can’t deal with,” says Brockovich. “The government won’t save you.”

For all our clean water laws, we aren’t very good at enforcement. From 2004 to 2005 an investigation found that the Clean Water Act was violated more than half a million times. It’s not just industry, but pesticides like atrazine, which we learn can be detected in the rain water in Minnesota when it’s being applied in Kansas. In Michigan we see another awful side to Big Ag, the liquid waste from factory “farming,” known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. These CAFOs threaten drinking water with chemicals, antibiotics and growth hormones.

So what do we do in the face of these threats to our drinking water? Apparently we buy bottled water — which the film details is not only potentially less safe (it has different regulations from tap water) but is environmentally destructive as well.

There are a few bright spots in the film, including strides that have been made in Singapore and other places to recycle water for drinking. (We could at least start in the U.S. by recycling water for re-use in toilet flushing, irrigation and other non potable uses.) And we get to see a hilarious behind-the-scenes look at an advertising company trying to come up with a campaign to pursuade Americans to drink recycled water. Porcelain Springs anyone?

If you don’t know much about water issues, the film is an essential wake-up call. And judging from the way Americans use water, this film looks like it should have a large audience. It covers a lot of ground, but how well?

Last Call offers a few solutions but — except for a segment on recycled wastewater — little about how to traverse the tangled political, social and economic pathways to achieve them. In fact, at times its ‘stars’ show the exasperation and resignation that comes from years spent seeing the tires spin in the same wheel ruts,” writes Brett Walton at Circle of Blue. “With so many problems to choose from, some worthy candidates are excluded and some issues are insufficiently explored, but the writers make good use of the material they have selected. They explain technical issues, while never losing sight of the lives that are affected.”

Overall the film is beautiful and compelling but misses the mark in one important place — it fails to address energy in any meaningful way. There are split-second clips of tap water being lit on fire (fracking!) and what looks to be a flyover of a mountaintop removal mining site, but the filmmakers never talk in depth to any of the people who live in our energy sacrifice zones in this country. What about the devastation in Appalachia and the growing threats from fracking and tar sands extraction?

The issues of energy and water are inextricably linked. It takes energy to move and treat water and it takes water to keep our lights on and our cars running. The more we ignore the reality of our fossil-fuel addiction, the more we become tethered to a future of climate chaos — droughts, floods and more turbulent storms. It’d be nice to see a film about U.S. water issues that starts in West Virginia, Pennsylvania or Nebraska instead of Las Vegas. This is the most significant lost opportunity in a film that will hopefully have a large reach across the country as it imparts its other important messages.

Look for a screening near you and check out the trailer below.

Tara Lohan is a senior editor at AlterNet and editor of the new book Water Matters: Why We Need to Act Now to Save Our Most Critical Resource. You can follow her on Twitter @TaraLohan.

Have Monsanto and Big Corporations Hijacked Higher Education?


How Corporations Like Monsanto Have Hijacked Higher Education
Student research is often dictated by corporations that endow professorships, give money to universities, and put their executives on education boards.
 

Photo Credit: Shutterstock/mostafa fawzy

Here’s what happens when corporations begin to control education.

“When I approached professors to discuss research projects addressing organic agriculture in farmer’s markets, the first one told me that ‘no one cares about people selling food in parking lots on the other side of the train tracks,’” said a PhD student at a large land-grant university who did not wish to be identified. “My academic adviser told me my best bet was to write a grant for Monsanto or the Department of Homeland Security to fund my research on why farmer’s markets were stocked with ‘black market vegetables’ that ‘are a bioterrorism threat waiting to happen.’ It was communicated to me on more than one occasion throughout my education that I should just study something Monsanto would fund rather than ideas to which I was deeply committed. I ended up studying what I wanted, but received no financial support, and paid for my education out of pocket.”

Unfortunately, she’s not alone. Conducting research requires funding, and today’s research follows the golden rule: The one with the gold makes the rules.

A report just released by Food and Water Watch examines the role of corporate funding of agricultural research at land grant universities, of which there are more than 100. “You hear again and again Congress and regulators clamoring for science-based rules, policies, regulations,” says Food and Water Watch researcher Tim
Schwab, explaining why he began investigating corporate influence in agricultural research. “So if the rules and regulations and policies are based on science that is industry-biased, then the fallout goes beyond academic articles. It really trickles down to farmer livelihoods and consumer choice.”

The report found that nearly one quarter of research funding at land grant universities now comes from corporations, compared to less than 15 percent from the USDA. Although corporate funding of research surpassed USDA funding at these universities in the mid-1990s, the gap is now larger than ever. What’s more, a broader look at all corporate agricultural research, $7.4 billion in 2006, dwarfs the mere $5.7 billion in all public funding of agricultural research spent the same year.

Influence does not end with research funding, however. In 2005, nearly one third of agricultural scientists reported consulting for private industry. Corporations endow professorships and donate money to universities in return for having buildings, labs and wings named for them. Purdue University’s Department of Nutrition Science blatantly offers corporate affiliates “corporate visibility with students and faculty” and “commitment by faculty and administration to address [corporate] members’ needs,” in return for the $6,000 each corporate affiliate pays annually.

In perhaps the most egregious cases, corporate boards and college leadership overlap. In 2009, South Dakota State’s president, for example, joined the board of directors of Monsanto, where he earns six figures each year. Bruce Rastetter is simultaneously the co-founder and managing director of a company called AgriSol Energy and a member of the Iowa Board of Regents. Under his influence, Iowa State joined AgriSol in a venture in Tanzania that would have forcefully removed 162,000 people from their land, but the university later pulled out of the project after public outcry.

What is the impact of the flood of corporate cash? “We know from a number of meta-analyses, that corporate funding leads to results that are favorable to the corporate funder,” says Schwab. For example, one peer-reviewed study found that corporate-funded nutrition research on soft drinks, juice and milk were four to eight times more likely to reach conclusions in line with the sponsors’ interests. And when a scrupulous scientist publishes research that is unfavorable to the study’s funder, he or she should be prepared to look for a new source of funding.

That’s what happened to a team of researchers at University of Illinois who were funded by a statewide fertilizer “checkoff” after they published a finding that nitrogen fertilizer depletes organic matter in the soil. Checkoffs are a common method used to market agricultural products, and they are funded by a small amount from each sale of a product – in this case, fertilizer. Richard Mulvaney, one of the U of I researchers, feels it is twisted that, in this way, farmers fund research intended to promote fertilizer use with their own fertilizer purchases.

But often the industry influence may be more subtle. Joyce Lok, a graduate student at Iowa State University, said, “If a corporation funds your research, they want you to look at certain research questions that they want answered. So if that happens it’s not like you can explore other things they don’t want you to look at… I think they direct the research in that way.”

John Henry Wells, who spent several decades as a student, professor and administrator at land grant universities sees it a different way. As an academic, he hopes that his research is relevant to real world problems that agriculture faces at the time. “When you ask the question, did I ever outline a research plan with the explicit notion of is this going to be fundable, I would say no. But I thought very deeply about whether my research plan was going to be relevant, and one of the indicators of relevancy would be if the ideas I put forward would get the attention of trade associations, private industry, benefactors, etc.”

If scientists use fundability as an important criteria of selecting research topics, research intended to serve the needs of the poor and the powerless will be at a disadvantage. However, Wells says that this is hardly a new phenomenon: land grants have existed to serve the elites since their creation in the 19th century.

“As its basis, the land-grant university was intended to cater to a narrow political interest of landowners and homesteaders – individuals who had the right to vote and participate in the political structure of a representative democracy.” he says. “Contemporarily, it is not so much that the land-grant university has been corrupted by modern agro-industrial influence, as it has been historically successful in focusing on its mission in the context of our Constitutional framework of governance. For the land-grant university, its greatest strength – a political collaboration spanning the top-to-bottom echelons of influence – has been its greatest weakness.”

Land grant universities and the USDA itself first came into being at a time when the academic view of agriculture was fundamentally changing – even if most farmers at the time ignored the advice of academics, dismissing them as “book farmers” who knew little about actually working the land. Will Allen writes about this period in his book The War on Bugs, telling the story of Justus von Liebig, a prominent agricultural chemist in Germany.

“In the 1830s, Liebig began asserting that the most essential plant nutrients were nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. His theories fueled the development of chemical fertilizers and ushered in a new age of agricultural science and soil chemistry in the 1840s and 1850s. Though many of Liebig’s theories were wrong, he was the first great propagandist for chemistry and for chemical-industrial agriculture.” Perhaps the most significant of his mistakes was his belief that organic matter in the soil was unimportant.

Dozens of Americans studied under Liebig and returned to the U.S. to continue their work. Two of these students established labs at Harvard and Yale, and soon “all agricultural schools and experiment stations in the country followed their lead.” Thus, practically from the start, the elites in this country served the interests of those who peddled chemical fertilizers and other agricultural inputs – even if that wasn’t their intent. No doubt many were enticed by the prospect of founding a new, modern, scientific form of agriculture, as they felt they were doing.

The unholy trinity of industry, government and academics promoting industrial agriculture and de-emphasizing or dismissing sustainable methods has a long history and it continues today. In its report, Food and Water Watch advocates a return to robust federal funding of research at land grant universities. But government is hardly immune from serving the corporate agenda either.

Take, for example, Roger Beachy, the former head of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the agency in the USDA that doles out research grants. Beachy spent much of his career as an academic, collaborating with Monsanto to produce the world’s first genetically engineered tomato. He later became the founding president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Monsanto’s non-profit arm, before President Obama appointed him to lead NIFA.

As Schwab noted, policy is often based on research, but good policy requires a basis in unbiased, objective research. In a system in which corporations and government both fund research, but due to the revolving door, the same people switch between positions within industry, lobbying for industry, and within government, what is the solution?

Jill Richardson is the founder of the blog La Vida Locavore and a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board. She is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It..

Warmest Year Ever For United States


U.S. Sees Warmest Year Since Record-Keeping Began 117 Years Ago

U.S. Sees Warmest Year Since Record-Keeping Began 117 Years Ago

Things are heating up in the United States. Over the past 12 months, the average national temperature reached the highest ever recorded since the government began keeping track in 1895.

From May 2011 to April 2012, the nationally averaged temperature was 2.8 degrees Fahrenheit above what scientists called the “long-term average” for the entire 20th century.
Last month alone, warmer-than-average temperatures occurred in nine states located in the Central and Northeast regions. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that above-average temperatures also were recorded in the Southeast, Upper Midwest and much of the West.
So far in 2012 (not counting the month of May), the U.S. (minus Alaska and Hawaii) has experienced the warmest four-month period on record, with an average temperature of 45.4 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature was 5.4 degrees above the long-term average, according to the NOAA.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
To Learn More:
U.S. Temperatures for April Third Warmest on Record (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
Ten Warmest 12-month Periods for the Contiguous U.S. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Is There A War On Religion?


 

Is There A War On Religion?

No…. But There Is A Religious Right/Catholic Hierarchy Attack On Individual Freedom

 

Featured
By Rob Boston

From a posh residence in the heart of New York City that has been described as a “mini-mansion,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan is perhaps the most visible representative of an American church empire of 60 million adherents and vast financial holdings.

Dolan and his fellow clergy move easily through the corridors of political power, courted by big-city mayors, governors and even presidents. In the halls of Congress, they are treated with a deference no secular lobbyist can match.

From humble origins in America, the church has risen to lofty heights marked by affluence, political influence and social respect. Yet, according to church officials, they are being increasingly persecuted, and their rights are under sustained attack.

The refrain has become commonplace: There is a “war on religion.” Faith is under assault. The administration of President Barack Obama has unleashed a bombardment on religion unlike anything ever seen.

The average American would be hard-pressed to see evidence of this “war.” Millions of people meet regularly in houses of worship. What’s more, those institutions are tax exempt. Many denominations participate in taxpayer-funded social service programs. Their clergy regularly speak out on the issues of the day. In the political arena, religious leaders are treated with great respect.

Furthermore, religious organizations often get special breaks that aren’t accorded to their secular counterparts. Houses of worship aren’t required to report their income to the Internal Revenue Service. They don’t have to apply for tax-exempt status; they receive it automatically as soon as they form. Religious entities are routinely exempted from employment laws, anti-discrimination measures and even routine health and safety inspections.

Unlike secular lobbies, religious groups that work with legislators on Capitol Hill don’t have to register with the federal government and are free from the stringent reporting requirements imposed on any group that seeks to influence legislation.

Religion in America would seem to be thriving in this “hands-off” atmosphere, as evidenced by church attendance rates, which in the United States tend to be higher than any other Western nation. So where springs this “war on religion” talk?

Twin dynamics, mutually related and interdependent, are likely at work. On one hand, some religious groups are upping their demands for even more exemptions from general laws. When these are not always extended, leaders of these groups scream about hostility toward religion and say they are being discriminated against. This catches the attention of right-wing political leaders, who toss gasoline on the rhetorical fires.

A textbook example of this occurred during the recent flap over coverage of contraceptives under the new health care reform. The law seeks to ensure a baseline of coverage for all Americans, and birth control is included. Insurance firms that contract with companies must make it available with no co-pays.

Houses of worship are exempt from this requirement. But religiously affiliated organizations, such as church-run hospitals, colleges and social service agencies, are dealt with differently. The insurance companies that serve them must make contraceptives available to the employees of these entities, but the religious agencies don’t have to pay for them directly.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) attacked this policy and insisted that it violates the church’s right of conscience. Furthermore, the hierarchy insisted that all private employers should also have the right to deny any medical coverage that conflicts with their beliefs – no matter what the religious views of their employees.

The issue quickly became mired in partisan politics. Claims of a “war on religion” expand on long-held Religious Right seasonal claims of an alleged “war on Christmas.” The assertions of yuletide hostility paid great dividends to the Religious Right. They boosted groups’ fund-raising efforts and motivated some activists to get involved in politics.

Religious Right leaders and their allies in the Catholic hierarchy are hoping for a similar payoff through their claims of a war on religion.

With the economy improving, Republicans may be on the verge of losing a powerful piece of ammunition to use against Obama. The party’s Religious Right faction is eager to push social issues to the front and center as a way of mobilizing the base.

Many political leaders are happy to parrot this line. For the time being, they’ve latched on to the birth control issue as their leading example of this alleged war.

To hear these right-wing politicians tell it, asking a religiously affiliated institution that is heavily subsidized with taxpayer funds to allow an insurance company to provide birth control to those who want it is a great violation of “religious liberty.”

In mid February, House members went so far as to hold a hearing on the matter before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, stacking it with a bevy of religious leaders who oppose the rule on contraceptives. Among them was Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., who heads up a new Catholic lobbying effort on this and other social issues.

Americans United submitted testimony to the committee, but Republicans on the panel denied the Democrats’ request to hear testimony from Sandra Fluke, a student at Georgetown Law School who supports the contraceptive mandate, thus leaving the panel stacked with religious figures – mostly men – who are hostile to contraceptives. (See “No Fluke,” April 2012 Church & State.)

The idea was to create the impression that the religious community – and by extension the American public – is up in arms over the regulation. In fact, the religious figures who spoke at the event were from ultra-conservative traditions that represent just one segment of religion in America. Many religious leaders and denominations support access to contraceptives, and several polls have shown support for the Obama administration’s position hovering at around 65 percent. (Polls also show that many American Catholics disagree with the church hierarchy on this issue.)

This isn’t surprising in a country where use of contraceptives is widespread. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 98 percent of women who engage in sexual activity will use at least one artificial form of birth control at some point in their lives.

Contraceptives are also often prescribed for medical reasons, such as shrinking ovarian cysts or relieving menstrual pain. Americans respect religious liberty, but most believe it can be maintained while safeguarding access to needed medications.

Most Americans, in fact, understand the need to balance rights. Religious organizations have the right to believe and preach what they want, but their ability to rely on government to help them spread these views is necessarily limited.

In addition, valid social goals can override an overly broad definition of religious liberty. In some states, fundamentalist Christian parents have been ordered by courts to take their children to doctors. The theory is that a child’s right to live free of sickness and disease outweighs the parents’ religious liberty concerns.

In addition, religious liberty has not traditionally been construed as license to trample on the rights of others.

“People who cry moral indignation about government-mandated contraception coverage appear unwilling to concede that the exercise of their deeply held convictions might infringe on the rights of millions of people who are burdened by unplanned pregnancy or want to reduce abortion or would like to see their tax dollars committed to a different purpose,” wrote Erika Christakis, an early childhood educator and administrator at Harvard College, on a Time magazine blog recently.

The courts have long recognized this need to balance rights. In the late 19th century, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down plural marriage, which was then practiced by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormon practice, the court held, was disruptive to society and had no roots in Western tradition; thus it could be banned.

In the modern era, the court devised a test whereby government could restrict religious liberty if it could demonstrate a “compelling state interest” and that it had employed the “least restrictive means” to meets its goals.

That standard was tightened even further in 1990, when the Supreme Court handed down a decision in a case known as Employment Division v. Smith. The decision, written by arch-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, held that government has no obligation to exempt religious entities from “neutral” laws that are “generally applicable.”

Since then, many religious groups have turned to the political process to win exemptions from the law. Generally speaking, they’ve been very successful. In a ground-breaking 2006 New York Times series, the newspaper chronicled the various exemptions from the law granted to religious organizations covering areas like immigration, land use, employment regulations, safety inspections and others.

The Times reported that since 1989, “more than 200 special arrangements, protections or exemptions for religious groups or their adherents were tucked into Congressional legislation….” The paper noted that other breaks “have also been provided by a host of pivotal court decisions at the state and federal level, and by numerous rule changes in almost every department and agency of the executive branch.”

But religious groups, like any other special interest, don’t get everything they want. On occasions when they’ve failed, some religious organizations have been quick to complain that discrimination or a hostility toward religion did them in. In fact, political leaders might have simply concluded that certain demands of religious groups are not in the best interests of larger society.

Is there any evidence that Obama is stingier with exemptions than past administrations or that the president has it in for religious groups? Not really.

Under Obama, the “faith-based” initiative, an idea that goes back to the days of George W. Bush, has continued to flourish. Obama even stepped back from a vow he made while campaigning in 2008 to require religious groups that receive support from the taxpayer to drop discriminatory hiring policies.

Mother Jones magazine reported in February that if Obama is hostile to religion, he has an odd way of showing it.

“But all the outrage about religious freedom has overshadowed a basic truth about the Obama administration: When it comes to religious organizations and their treatment by the federal government, the Obama administration has been extremely generous,” reported Stephanie Mencimer for the magazine. “Religious groups have benefited handsomely from Obama’s stimulus package, budgets, and other policies. Under Obama, Catholic religious charities alone have received more than $650 million, according to a spokeswoman from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where much of the funding comes from.”

Obama’s Justice Department hasn’t always pleased religious conservatives, but it has hardly been hostile to faith. The department sided with the state of Arizona in defending at the Supreme Court a private school tax-credit scheme that overwhelmingly benefits religious schools, going so far as to assist with oral arguments before the justices. When a federal court struck down the National Day of Prayer as a church-state violation in 2010, the administration criticized the ruling and quickly filed an appeal.

“If Obama is ‘warring’ against religion, he’s doing it with a popgun and a rubber knife,” Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, told The Washington Times recently. “On core religious freedom issues, they have been moderate, to a fault…. It’s not much of a war.”

Other observers note that in a nation where the government’s regulatory touch over religiously affiliated institutions is exceedingly light, it’s hard to take claims of a war on religion seriously.

“People who claim the government is hostile to religion are either insincere or uninformed,” said Steven K. Green, director of the Center for Religion, Law and Democracy at Willamette University. “Religious entities enjoy a host of benefits and advantages that their non-religous counterparts lack.

Green, who was legal director at Americans United during the 1990’s, added, “At the same time, many religious entities that enjoy exemptions from neutral regulations receive subsidies from the government for their operations. Rather than there being a ‘war on religion,’ the government surrendered its regulatory forces a long time ago.”

The ‘Primitive’ Conservative Right Wing Brain


Tory voters found to have larger ‘primitive’ lobe in brain

Our political allegiances could be hard-wired into our brains, neuroscientists believe.

Researchers have found evidence that the brains of conservatives are a different shape to those of Left-wingers.

Scans of 90 students’ brains at University College London uncovered a ‘strong correlation’ between the thickness of two particular areas of grey matter and an individual’s political views.

David Cameron and Nick CleggBrain buddies? Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron (right) is more likely to have a thicker amygdala while Liberal Nick Clegg could be expected to have a larger anterior cingulates

Self-proclaimed right-wingers had a more pronounced amygdala – a primitive part of the brain associated with emotion.

It is an almond-shape set of neurons located deep in the brain’s medial temporal lobe.

However, those aligned to the left had thicker anterior cingulates – which is an area associated with anticipation and decision-making.

The research was carried out by Geraint Rees director of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience who said he was ‘very surprised’ by the finding, which is being peer reviewed before publication next year.

It was commissioned as a light-hearted experiment by actor Colin Firth as part of his turn guest editing BBC Radio 4‘s Today programme but has now developed into a serious effort to discover whether we are programmed with a particular political view.

An MRI scan of the brain. The right amygdala - an ancient part of the brain - was larger in those people who described themselves as conservativeAn MRI scan of the brain. The right amygdala – an ancient part of the brain – was larger in those people who described themselves as conservative. It’s located where the yellow area meets the red in the centre of the picture

Professor Rees said that although it was not precise enough to be able to predict someone’s stance simply from a scan, there was ‘a strong correlation that reaches all our scientific tests of significance’.

‘The anterior cingulate is a part of the brain that is on the middle surface of the brain at the front and we found that the thickness of the grey matter, where the nerve cells of neurons are, was thicker the more people described themselves as liberal or left wing and thinner the more they described themselves as conservative or right wing,’ he told the programme.

‘The amygdala is a part of the brain which is very old and very ancient and thought to be very primitive and to do with the detection of emotions. The right amygdala was larger in those people who described themselves as conservative.

Colin Firth commissioned the study as a light-hearted experiment but that has now developed into something more seriousColin Firth commissioned the study as a light-hearted experiment but that has now developed into something more serious

‘It is very significant because it does suggest there is something about political attitudes that are either encoded in our brain structure through our experience or that our brain structure in some way determines or results in our political attitudes.’

Mr Firth – who recently declared he had ended public support for the Liberal Democrats – said he would like to have party leader and now Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg subjected to the tests.

‘I think we should have him scanned,’ he said.

He said the coalition made him ‘extremely uneasy’ but would not rule out voting Lib Dem in future.

‘I would have to see what identity they took on because I don’t recognise them at the moment. I think all three parties are in a state of re-evaluation.’

Talking about the experiment, he said: ‘I took this on as a fairly frivolous exercise: I just decided to find out what was biologically wrong with people who don’t agree with me and see what scientists had to say about it and they actually came up with something.’

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1342239/Brain-study-reveals-right-wing-conservatives-larger-primitive-amygdala.html#ixzz1qDdxqUtp

SCIENCE NEWS


Skulls from Triceratops (bottom) and Torosaurus (top) have revealed old and young individuals in both species, challenging the claim that one dinosaur is merely the younger version of the other. Full Story N. Longrich

seperator

Measuring the leap of a lizard Creatures use their tails to balance during complex maneuvers Vying for the title of World’s Fastest Cell Scientists film 58 kinds of mobile cells to study movement Back to the moon’s future Orbiter scouts oldest spots on the lunar surface for prospective landing sites

Are Floating Homes The Future?


Floating Homes Are The Future

Floating HomeMany people are aware of problems such as glacial melt and overpopulation, yet when it comes to how these will impact the way we live on this planet in the future, most people don’t know where to start. The fact is, issues such as these will cause many toxic problems throughout the world, the worst by far being the fact that land will likely become inhabitable. While this would’ve likely meant the end of civilization in the past, the constant advancement of technology ensures that we will one day be able to expand to the waters of the world.

Since most people live in brick and mortar, wood or aluminum homes that exist on land, the world would have to go through a massive shift in ideals, as society would be forced to move to the water. This, however, would not have to be a negative change, as new homes and communities could be built to exist solely on the oceans and seas of the world. While it would likely begin as small homes being crafted to float on the water, many people believe that entire floating cities will find their way into existence in the future; cities that would be clean, affordable, and “green” in every way possible.

While the technology for this isn’t necessarily one-hundred percent there yet, it is certainly getting there. Jacque Fresco, mastermind behind The Venus Project, is a huge proponent of what he calls “memory metal,” metal that can be bent into whatever shape or form one would like and – when contacted with a certain heat – will return to its original state. Fresco believes that memory metal will be used to create floating structures in the future, as it can be easily transported, broken down and rebuilt with the simple application of heat. Those who are proponents of movements like The Venus Project believe that floating homes and cities are inevitable because of the way mankind has treated the planet thus far. Rises in crime, population and global warming all point to a wasteful future if nothing is done, and chances are the land will one day become completely nonviable. Since the planet is mostly water, however, the Earth is ripe with opportunity to create floating, sustainable communities for people to live, work and thrive upon.

As work continues to be done to support the advancement of technology necessary to turning these ideals into a reality, people the world over are on board with the possibility of floating cities in the future. While Fresco’s work may seem entirely futuristic and possibly even far-fetched to some, it is representative of a shift in consciousness that must occur if human beings are to continue living on this planet. His view of communities built out of reusable, sustainable materials is in stark contrast to the way most of the world operates today. The future of floating homes depends on those working to advance technology.  The more that get on board, the faster it will happen.

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Eco-Tech | Safe And Sustainable Farming


Safe And Sustainable Farming

What would you think of a tractor with sensor controlled motion path determination, adjustable suspension, with 24-hour usability thanks to 360-degree night vision camera? What would you say about tractor who, beside pulling heavy equipment and attachments also can assess topographic datas and use them in farming activities? You would probably say – no way! And today I can tell you – yes, closer than you think!

Designers Prithu Paul and Ankit Kumar made this futuristic tractor concept. He is designed to keep up with the ecological problems and climate change in the years to come. That’s why he would use hydrogen fuel cells for power. This multi-dimensional tractor will make farming safe, simple and sustainable in the future.