Friday, January 27, 2012

Women and Climate Change in the Developing World

January's DC EcoWomen speaker was Suzanne Ehlers, President & CEO of Population Action International. Ehlers had a lot to say about the importance of women's reproductive rights in general, but also the connection between women's rights and environmental issues. She pointed us to this recent video produced by PAI about the ways that climate change is effecting women's lives in poorer regions of the world where access to natural resources is a daily struggle.

Friday, January 20, 2012

"The Most Fully-Realized American Place"

Last month I reviewed Taubman's new photography book Detroit: 138 Square Miles. In it, Jerry Herron describes Detroit as "the most fully-realized American place", a place created by leaving and forgetting, by immigrating "moment by moment to someplace we hadn't dreamed of yet", a place where we sacrificed the past for material plenty.

My friend Anoop (who used to live in Detroit) recently pointed me to this video which illustrates those ideas in a video format. On the one hand, Michigan occasionally seems like a mundane place to me (as the place we grow up often seems to be). On the other hand, stepping away for awhile, it really is an interesting, almost mythic place when viewed through the lens of industrial history:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Environmental News Roundup: Turkey

The controversial Ilısu Dam, currently under construction.
(Photo: Brandon King)
"Rather than view nature as a pool of resources that exist to be used and exploited by humans, the IEC wants Turkey’s environment to be valued as its own subject, with its own set of “rights”. The group wants the constitutional changes to reflect the truth that the rest of human society is impossible without a healthily functioning ecosystem."   Will Turkey’s New Constitution Include Ecological Protections?

"The regulation, approved in late November by Ankara’s Biosecurity Committee and put into effect at the start of 2012, gives the green light to the importation and sale of 13 genetically modified varieties of corn for livestock feed, a sign to activists and biotech lobbyists alike that Turkey’s once bio-technologies adverse climate may be coming to an end."  Genetically modified corn regulation sows seeds of discontent

"The history of wheat goes back a long way in Anatolia -- 8,000 years or so. In fact, the area that is now Turkey is believed to have been where the grain was first domesticated and developed as a crop. Some modern varieties date back to those long-ago ancestors…"These 8,000 year-old varieties can be destroyed if GMOs are allowed in to Turkey," Defne Koryürek of Slow Food Istanbul told TreeHugger recently."  Celebrating Wheat's 8,000-Year-Old History in Turkey

"Turkey’s astonishing amount of biodiversity, especially for a temperate country of its size, is being destroyed rapidly, partially in the past decade during which “Turkey’s Great Leap Forward” has put the country at the risk of “cultural and environmental bankruptcy.”  Turkey’s Conservation Crisis: Global Biodiversity Hotspots Under Threat 

Vietnam, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and others, are still intent on acquiring civilian nuclear reactors for electricity despite the Fukushima disaster."  Doomsday Clock Ticks Closer to Midnight

"The deputy undersecretary for the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Sedat Kadıoğlu, evaluated the matter and said, “Turkey is the only member country of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that doesn’t have a nuclear plant and so we have to explain the details of nuclear power to the public in order to prevent information pollution."  Turkey surprises Russian nuclear firm with new conditions

 "Given the magnitude of the Caspian's oil and gas reserves, many energy firms are planning new production operations in the region, along with the pipelines needed to bring the oil and gas to market. The European Union, for example, hopes to build a new natural gas pipeline called Nabucco from Azerbaijan through Turkey to Austria. Russia has proposed a competing conduit called South Stream. All of these efforts involve the geopolitical interests of major powers, ensuring that the Caspian region will remain a potential source of international crisis and conflict."  Fuel duel: Top three energy conflict hot spots

 "Turkish hydro projects along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, for example, have dried up large swathes of former marshland in Iraq and Syria as well as dams that desert communities rely on, forcing entire communities to resettle and severely affecting local plant and animal life. Sadly, the UN report seems to have changed little about Turkey’s hydroelectric plans."  Hydroelectric Dam In Turkey May Cause Environmental Catastrophe In Georgia 

"Turkey, through its own means and domestic resources, has reduced its GHG emissions by 20 percent since 1990,” Rende said of Turkey’s progress on the road to drastic reduction in the emissions of GHG, concentrations of which in the atmosphere are believed to be the main trigger of temperature increase on earth. On the other hand, Rende noted, Turkey has also invested $2 billion in forestry over the past few years, and the positive effects of that are not included in the country’s GHG reduction statistics."  Climate negotiator Rende: Turkey ready to do its part on climate change

"The proposed 1,200 MW coal plant is among the first of over 50 coal plants now being pushed in Turkey. It’s already been a 3 year struggle for heroic local residents to block the project. This year they’ve been camping by the hundreds and protesting by the thousands for weeks and months on end. When over 10,000 people took to the streets together in November, one sign in particular caught my eye. It read: "the people of Gerze do not stand alone.""  Support Turkey Climate Activists Fighting Huge Coal Power Plant

"Greece reaffirmed its support for the Turkey-Greece-Italy (ITGI) natural gas pipeline in a joint announcement issued on Friday by the Greek ministries of foreign affairs and environment, energy and climate change. The announcement, as ANA reported, was made in view of decisions due to be made concerning the pipeline that will supply natural gas from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz gas field." - Energy: Greece reaffirms support for ITGI gas pipeline

"Groups such as the Istanbul Chamber of Urban Planners argue that previous bridges have eventually increased traffic and boosted the city’s urban sprawl – and that the third bridge would endanger the city’s natural habitat, notably the Belgrade Forest to its north."  Turkey: building bridges regardless

"German utility E.ON wants to invest in the energy sector in Turkey, with a particular focus on power generation, and is seeking Turkish partners."  E.ON considering Turkey investment – minister

Friday, January 13, 2012

Afternoon View: Dulles Metrorail Construction

Construction is humming along on the final stop of Phase I of the Dulles Metrorail extension (Wiehle Ave. Station, opening in 2013). I took these today, the air not quite as smoggy as last summerHere's a map of the new Metro line extending from DC to Dulles Airport. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Poems for the Weary

Last night was the second meeting of the DC chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby. We're working on building the political will to pass climate legislation (in the form of a carbon tax). Everyone in the group is passionate about doing something, but I'm constantly aware that people have demanding pressures in their lives and don't want anyone (including myself) to feel burdened by their voluntary participation. I want the group to be a place of respite rather than additional source of stress. What keeps me coming back are the inspiring people I'm meeting and working with.

Although I studied literature in college, there is very little poetry in my life these days. The quest to find a job and develop some meaningful activism has given me tunnel vision. What poetry I do have comes from my friend Jim. This one he sent me, Everyday People by Albert Goldbarth, empathizes with those who carry weariness in the face of big problems (excerpt):

The oceans are dying. They require a hero,
or a generation of heroes. The oceans are curdling
in on themselves, and on their constituent lives,
they're rising here, and lowering there,
I swear I've heard them gasping. And my friends ... ?
Are brooding over who their kids are playing with
on the streets. Are coming home after a day where some
midlevel management weasel sucked
their souls out like a yolk from an egg—right through
a tiny puncture-hole in the dome of the skull. The cat
has worms. The price of gas is nearly what
their grandparents' wedding rings cost. The oceans

sorely need a paladin, but my friends are exhausted
disputing how many angels can trample the truth
from a twelve-dollar overcharge on a cell-phone bill.
Our privacy is disappearing, cameras sip it up
like thirsty beasts surrounding a shrinking pool of water, my friends
are worried, oh yes certainly they're worried, but also the tumor
and the marriage and the alcoholic uncle. The war
that's this war but is any war and all war is requesting
a little attention in the cause-part, maybe only
a little more in the effect-part, but my friends know
how impossible it is to attend to even a single other
person sufficiently, plus the dentist, plus the eye exam,
and can't they spend some time renewing their sense
of making beauty in this wreckage, Edie
her hummingbird feeders, Sean his libretto, Omar
his amazing organic noodles: something like Balenciaga

the haute couture designer whose life I'm reading compulsively
while the ice caps and the red tide and the polar bears,
Balenciaga for whom "the business of making beautiful things
absorbed him totally, and there was no room in his life
for anything else," he did a piece of sewing "every day
of his adult life: from the age of three," in 1913 (age eighteen)
"he was learning the women's-wear trade" as the guns
of the World War cleared their throats and aimed, and through
the world depression, "a fishnet cloak
of knotted white velvet, and swathes of parachute silk
to make pink-and-white flowers," and through
the Spanish Civil War, "regarded making dresses
as a vocation, like the priesthood, and an act of worship,"
through (he bargained with Franco) World War II,
chantilly, chenille, mohair, tulle,
"he took the sample of intractable material
into his sanctum and returned in only moments
with a superbly accomplished buttonhole: it
would have been a half-hour's labor for anyone else,"
a buttonhole while Israel was forged in 1948,
a buttonhole for Sputnik, yes a buttonhole,
a perfect—consummate—buttonhole, is this
a condemnation of my friends (and so myself)

or an exoneration? I truly don't know...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Lessons in a Foraged Past?

I tend to bring up my dad a lot on this blog - on the surface we don't often agree on politics and his sometimes negative reactions to my ideas on environmental issues allow me to confront my assumptions. During one particularly heated exchange a few months ago, he accused me of wanting to send modern human civilization back to living in huts, back to collecting "nuts and berries" as the Talking Heads lyric goes. Setting aside the possibility that our current consumptive lifestyle may be sending us in that direction anyway, is his charge correct? And if so, should I deny or embrace it? 

Like many people, my dad would characterize the hunter-gatherer condition as Thomas Hobbes did: "nasty, brutish, and short", full of conflict and poverty. A counterpoint to this argument is contained, interestingly, in a book about the evolutionary psychology of sex that came out in 2010: Cacilda Jethå and Christopher Ryan's Sex at Dawn. I haven't yet read the book but I've gotten the gist of it from a recent interview and some of Ryan's articles. While the book primarily examines how modern notions of monogamy and "proper" sexual behavior didn't exist in pre-agriculture societies, their research also draws broader conclusions about the central importance of cooperation and sharing in these societies - sharing sexual partners, yes, but also everything else:
What if—thanks to the combined effects of very low population density, a highly omnivorous digestive system, our uniquely elevated social intelligence, institutionalized sharing of food, casually promiscuous sexuality leading to generalized child care, and group defense—human prehistory was in fact a time of relative peace and prosperity? If not a “Golden Age,” then at least a “Silver Age” (“Bronze Age” being taken)? Without falling into dreamy visions of paradise, can we—dare we—consider the possibility that our ancestors lived in a world where for most people, on most days, there was enough for everyone? By now, everyone knows “there’s no free lunch.” But what would it mean if our species evolved in a world where every lunch was free? How would our appreciation of prehistory (and consequently, of ourselves) change if we saw that our journey began in leisure and plenty, only veering into misery, scarcity, and ruthless competition a hundred centuries ago?
My tweep GLEthnohistory (Great Lakes Ethnohistorian Megan McCullen who blogs here) tipped me to a more nuanced view of pre-ag societies in the book The Foraging Spectrum: Diversity in Hunter-Gatherer Lifeways. Here's an excerpt from a review of the book, which warns about the dangers of simplifying the past for good or ill:
Hunter-gatherers are not the alter ego of Western civilization; they are not simplistic societies; they are not humanity in a virginal state of nature; they are not Pleistocene relics; they do not preserve ancient ways of life; and we cannot reconstruct ancient human society by extrapolating backward from living hunter-gatherers (p. xiii). Throughout the text Kelly achieves his objectives by elucidating the variability which has been observed in the foraging lifestyle and by giving account of the factors which have led to variability; these include differences in subsistence activities, mobility, trade, sharing, territoriality, demography, and socio-political organization.
Aware of this diversity, anthropologist Greg Downey hesitates to endorse Sex at DawnAs appealing as Jethå and Ryan's findings are (our ancestors cooperated better, had a broader conception of the family than we do today), it may not be entirely accurate:
Although many of their innovative ideas are well worth considering, if for no other reasons to cleverly counter-balance other pervasive accounts of human sexuality in evolution, the book does run the danger of a competing partiality, however important the corrective may be.
I'm constantly looking for models of the future. If our present world isn't working for us, is the past a better model? If anthropologists reject a monolithic "past", or an overarching "human nature", how will we know what works, what kind of future we should be building together?