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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hyper-capitalism pushes Earth to edge

[Editors note: I'm going to post this article over at my enviro-blog, which I'm only now introducing here for the first time. My original intent was to separate the political from the environment, but there's simply too much common ground between the subjects, as I hope this article demonstrates.]

What kind of world are we going to leave our children? Even if you think no global warming is happening--a state of denial that must be progressively harder to live with--you can't deny something is afoot. And it's not just heating--it's cooling, flooding, raining, hailing, blowing...one extreme to another.

Rising levels of carbon monoxide, alongside methane escaping from arctic areas, has led to weather intensification. Under the new global warming paradigm, rather than hotter temperatures what we have is increased storm speed, longer and worse droughts, and extensive flash flooding caused by more rain coming down faster or harder.

Our oceans are in big trouble. Mercury levels are rising in fish, a top source of food. As more sulfur oxide enters the ocean from coal-fired emissions, the level of acidity has risen and is actually imperiling phytoplankton, the source of sustenance for krill and other tiny creatures that form the bottom of the food chain in the oceans.

The biggest problem is that we don't know what the future has in store for us. Like some horror film, we might know that something bad will soon happen but somehow can't seem to communicate that to the poor unsuspecting sap playing the role of victim.

We will need to feed more than 8 billion people here on Earth. The challenges associated with achieving that goal grow more dire and urgent with time. Already disruptions in monsoon and tropical airflows have become more pronounced, with dire consequences for those dependent on local agricultural production.

Often, it's the best of intentions that cause unforeseen consequences. In trying to save ourselves, we might end up doing as much harm as good.Recently, in a government-mandated move away from transfats, much tropical forest has been lost to palm oil plantations. Tropical forests compromise only 2% of the earth's surface area but convert more carbon monoxide to oxygen than any other terrain, the source of 50% of the world's natural reduction rising CO2.

As we get more efficient at extracting resources, species risk becoming extinct, like of overfished stocks of tuna. The stress upon nature will at some point be relieved, but with so many people's looking to an American-style hyper-capitalism as the model, we can only imagine the environmental destruction brought about by relentless consumption will continue. Must we wait 'til there's a Walmart on every block before we realize we stand to kill off the environment with our lifestyle?

It's not enough that we let our man-made machines continue to belch their Mordor-like stream of emissions into the atmosphere, gradually poisoning us and our children. And it's not that we haven't improved. But we're simply NOT DOING ENOUGH, FAST ENOUGH.

To make matters worst, our companies practice ruthless exploitation of the world's remaining natural resources. With the favoritism only money can buy, these entities ravage Mother Nature--they have no souls neither any ability to imagine or dream of a future where children run under skies free of chem-trails and mercury from coal-fired coal plants.

Big Agribusinesses, frequently using Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), have contaminated the food chain. Monsanto forces impoverished farmers in places like India to sign seed-buying contracts. Rare indigenous varieties of corn in Mexico have been undercut by global conglomerates as Mexican agricultural workers displaced by free but hardly fair, post-NAFTA prices go north to work in Tyson and Smithfield's sweat shops.

A Smithfield facility near Veracruz is suspected as the source of the so-called swine flu. Apparently flies bit a boy who lived near a huge pool of pig waste, made possible by Mexico's lax and bribe-ridden enforcement of environmental standards.

It should come as no surprise Smithfield was good friends with the Bush administration, and received preferential treatment when ICE raided their facility in North Carolina, removing suspected union organizers alongside other undocumented workers, then separating them from children waiting for them to get back from work. Instead they were incarcerated in preparation for deportation.

There's a large degree of social injustice in the way many multinational conglomerates operate. It's as if the operations, particularly in the Third World, are designed to dehumanize the people, and devastate indigenous peoples, who rely on the natural balance to sustain their traditional lifestyles.

Aquifers are systematically being privatized. As a result public access to drinkable water is being limited.

Water could be the next oil. Corporations could seek to cause any amount of environmental damage in the name of securing it, especially as supplies start to dwindle. We are seeing what could be the start of multiple resource wars.

A Russian campaign in Georgia could launched at any moment; through Georgia goes a strategic pipeline from the Caspian Sea (the unofficial holy grail of Central Asian oil.)

The US vies for strategic influence and power in Central Asia in what is called the Great Game. Russia would like to see the Georgian pipeline interrupted, as it is currently the only nation between the oil reserves and Western Europe. The Georgian pipeline would provide an alternate route.

We may be entering a sort of Last Stampede for the world's last, dwindling resources fought between giant corporate entities and the armed forces that represent them.

Resource wars are a popular theme at sites like Alex Jones' prisonplanet. The phrase "resource wars" has a corporate connotation to it. The strategy is corporatism, the modern equivalent of mercantilism as seen during Colonial times. Resource acquisition becomes the primary motivator for foreign policy. Projecting force must be bent around the goal of the investing class and corporations, between whom the ties are strong.

Rather than have government control our policies, corporate needs dictate where we must go to compete strategically with rivals like Russia and especially China. I've heard it said that Iraq may have been as much a war to keep out the Chinese, or the French for that matter.

Can we trust the government to protect us from swine flu? Millions of doses of vaccine have been made without a thorough screening of their potential side effects; if administered in large vials, these doses may contain Thimersol or ethylmercury as a preservative. are thought to contain Squalene--a chemical soup thought to have been responsible for permanent disability granted by the Department of Veteran's Affairs to over half of the veterans from that War.

We know that the last major vaccination program for Swine Flu in 1976--the government is careful to tell us this one is H1N1, so it's different--caused major health problems like Guillain-Barre's syndrome for a substantial number of vaccine recipients. See this article on that fiasco.

The US government can't be expected to know what will happen, but preparations should have been made. We've become a country of whiners who want their lifestyles granted to them in perpetuity, without having to worry about things like bird flu.

It's a political climate that relies on fear. Except it isn't fear about what will happen 10, 20 or 50 years down the line. All this hysteria is borne on the fixation that we, here and now, will not get that to which we are entitled. Deep down inside, most of us look only to our own needs and wants, and look at the environment as a never-ending source of bounty, no matter what we might collectively do to it. The leap in shared human consciousness to a level where we can simply coexist is simply too great a step from the fear-riddled existence we live.

I guess life presents too many challenges for all but a few to see the need to change before it is too late. Then of course resource acquisition becomes an end to itself, assuring ongoing environmental devastation as the have's take from Nature and the have-nots, who are too politically emaciated to protect themselves from the resource exploiters and escape permanent poverty.

The top 1% of American income-producers now constitute almost half of the total income in the US. Social mobility has become completely stagnant. Of course there's a link between the rising disparity of incomes to the congealing of political power in the hands of fewer people. The rich and the corporations they own dictate environmental policy. Meanwhile the ranks of the poor swell, forced to contend with whatever scraps fall from the master's table.

Unrepentant, mankind isn't only changing his ways, he's accelerating the pace of destruction. Probably the worst example is how petroleum producers are bulldozing huge tracts of Alberta to provide dirty oil on a massive tar sands project. The monetary costs of devastation aren't being borne by the destroyers, but rather to everyone who becomes dependent on cheap gas.

The more efficient oil producers are at getting, refining, and producing their product, the less incentive there is for consumers to change. We've become hooked as a drug addict would. If the oil "dealer" were to give us our product too expensively, we might look elsewhere, but as long as it comes plentiful and cheap, we ignore our constant use.

Oil use hasn't been increasing in the US. The recession might not go on forever though. And when the economy does climb out of its doldrums, it might do so too fast, like a scuba diver surfacing too quickly. This overheating could see the economy transition from recession to inflation in just a few months.

The whole boom and bust economic cycle seems to be at the heart of our problem. If cheap, oil and alternative energy development just isn't as high a priority for government. (Obama did manage to fund a major investment in alternative energy research, though.)

We may still be overly sensitive to short-term prices, as the $147 oil peak showed us a few years ago. Just a few miles from me in the Midwest a full-fledged ethanol plants rose up, then closed a short time later as oil prices collapsed.

Do we want a energy policy going from one extreme to another? I thought the whole purpose of government was to help secure the energy future of its citizens. Judging from the aftereffects of a run on natural gas development, where Exxon Mobil was hit with a massive fine for poisoning people with natural gas exploration and drilling chemicals. [I've followed environmental issues in the West on my enviro-blog, following the risks of uranium mine tailings in the Colorado river basin in my article "Nuclear Power Unsafe in Any Dose" and the downside of natural gas exploration, which took off late in the Bush Presidency.]

We--meaning not only the US, but the world--need to move down a path that's unsustainable. That's what sustainability is all about--not destroying the source of our sustenance. Rather than think like animals--individual, greedy, and aware of the group only as a secondary contraction, we must think and move as a group.

We're not there yet. The gap between theory and reality is still too large. Too many people are unaware how the collective sum of our actions is directly affects them. And too little accountability is being foisted on the major sources of pollution, who tend more often than not to be large corporations involved in resource exploitation or energy production.

Our enforcement of environmental laws is too ineffective to keep polluters from polluting. Government can hardly lead if it can't back up what it's saying with action. Yes, support for research into alternative sources of energy can move us in a positive direction. But no, we also need a coherent plan to getting us off the oil and CO2 emissions associated with fossil fuels.

The lack of a coherent conservation strategy also reveals how vested interests shape our government's energy policy. It's like the unsuccessful Drug War: we can't stop the importation if we don't tackle demand. Demand is the source of supply.

In the energy field, no conservation says that more is better, that demand reduction isn't a priority at all, and that we can simply produce more, which seems to be the rote response for every consumer demand since the dawn of the Industrial Age.

On top of the emissions created by combustion, we use huge quantities of energy to extract fossil fuels means the more energy produced, the more carbon dioxide. And even ethanol made from corn requires lots of fossil fuels, a good proportion imported petroleum, as well as natural gas-based fertilizers and fuel for running tractors, etc.

The combustion engine is taking humankind down a path towards its own destruction or to be more accurate, the emissions from oil-burning combustion engines are taking us to envrio-hell.

The gas byproducts don't need to contain as much CO2 as they do. We can simply use fuels that don't contain produce CO2 when they combust. Burning algae and bio-fuels may be the way to go.

Here the environment dictates that we do it right. We can't replace petroleum with cleaner-burning fuels--at some point we will need to eliminate fuels that cause any negative environmental consequences.

Once we've reduced mankind's carbon footprint, we can focus on to the next problem: how to move away from the combustion engine, to newer, lower-emitting, more efficient sources of power. Some might like nuclear, but it's extraction, and waste disposal costs are simply too big as I've explained in the past.

Why not shoot higher--towards something safer, with zero or virtually zero waste? Might not be technologically up to the task...yet. But if we can anticipate something, it is this: if we do nothing, our children will face a nightmarish world very much of our making.

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  • At 6:05 PM, Blogger jbpeebles said…

    This from guardian.co.uk (don't expect this from the corporate media here!):

    "...the development of Alberta's tar sands is no longer just an issue central to those of us living in its direct path. Rather, it has become a global challenge. The greenhouse gases emitted are contributing to climate change globally – extracting oil from these sludgy deposits produces three to five times as much CO2 as conventional oil."

    The article, "Canada's Bloody Oil," is written by First Nations author George Poitras, whose tribe is downriver of the tar sands project.

  • At 2:31 PM, Blogger alotstuff said…

    nice blog and have lots of stuff here....



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