POPULAR WISDOM: Or Lack There of
There are fads and trends in the worlds of conservation and ecology just as there are in the worlds of fashion and entertain. This page attempts to track when these scientific disciplines start leaning too far toward populism. When science become a fade it's doomed to fade.
We Have Met The Enemy, and It Is Us
By Mark Lennon of the IRN Recycling Network 01.15.12
Philly, April 21, 1970. Day 1 for Earth Day
I cut school in 8th grade to go to Earth Day. I asked the School Authorities if I could be excused to go to Earth Day, but they said “No”. So I cut school and went. It was the first time I ever cut school. This was in Philly and Philly had one of the biggest Earth Day gatherings.
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I remember there were a whole lot of people and I was near the back. Ralph Nader spoke among many others. I know I got a program because I still have it. No thanks to me; my Mom put it in a plastic bag and kept it. This was 1970 and there was a LOT of energy among the kids I hung out with. Not just the kids I hung out with, but kids everywhere. It was probably the peak year of all the mixing up that went on in the 60s and 70s. There were antiwar riots all across the country. Kent State happened. Richard Nixon was insisting on Peace With Honor in Vietnam and sent troops into Cambodia, and there were more riots. Nixon unleashed Spiro Agnew to stir up the “Silent Majority” against the kids in the streets. But the kids in the streets were the children of the Silent Majority, so what he stirred up was fear and distrust across dinner tables.
But somehow at the same time Richard Nixon was creating EPA and signing giant pieces of environmental legislation: Clean Air, Clean Water, Endangered Species. There was a lot of ferment. The thing about us kids of the 60s and 70s was that we were different, and we were going to make things different. And we have. We’re in charge now. We’re in our fifties and sixties. We are the people with power, the bosses, the people running the government and big companies. We have made things different. We have made them much worse. We are squeezing out of existence America’s greatest achievement, a society built on a large and secure middle class.
We are implementing policies that make the richest among us even richer, while the middle class shrinks and slides backwards. We are spending trillions of dollars on “Defense” in ways that make Vietnam look cheap and smart in comparison. Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon could at least argue that Vietnam was part of a global power play. But Iraq? Afghanistan? Given the keys to the Pentagon, my generation is wasting trillions of dollars, making enemies around the world, and leaving the U.S poorer and less secure. We are spending money and running up debt at a pace that staggers imagination. Government debt. Personal debt. We are replacing a credo that greed is something to guard against with one that greed is good – the greediest are the most successful.
There was a time when Pogo ruled.
We have systematically dismantled regulations that have kept personal and corporate greed in check. The winners are the greediest among us; the losers are everyone else. We are condoning, often encouraging, often doing it ourselves, the destruction of rain forests, depletion of oil, exhaustion of resources, extinction of species.We are implementing policies that promote the consumption of Earth’s resources as if they are ours and no one else’s, now and forever, and will never run out. We are denying that humans can have and are having an impact on the global environment and climate, even as the evidence presses in on us from all directions. We are dithering while the Earth is heating up. In 1970, I and the kids I hung out with and the kids at Earth Day and the kids marching against Vietnam were pretty sure we knew who the enemy was. It wasn’t the Vietnamese. It was boring, greedy, self-absorbed, complacent middle aged people, who could justify any wrong, as long as it didn’t interfere with their comfort and self-indulgence. We were right. That was an enemy worth fighting. What we didn’t know was who we’d become. Forty years on, the enemy is us.
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And How to Get There Again11.27.12
And How to Get There Again11.27.12
On Nov. 5 NBN starting working on this issue resigned to the fact that Romney was to be our next president. The Republican had such unsavory characters funneling money into his campaign we were convinced he would be much more inclined to cheat his way into the White House. That’s not to say Democrats aren’t similarly corrupted by special interests. NBN has been saying for years that our campaign finance system has institutionalized corruption on both sides of the aisle. It’s just that the Republicans, thanks to their unsavory supporters, seemed more corrupt than the Democrat in this election. What’s more is this was to be the election when such corruption was legitimized more than any other through the Citizens United Supreme Court Ruling. So, what went wrong, or right, this year?
Your choice, maybe. Your right? Maybe not.
NBN can only conclude that the U.S. electorate isn’t as ignorant—note we’re not saying stupid—as we were convinced it is. Yes, 59 million American’s voted for a man that wrote off 112 million Americans as shamelessly dependent. Yes, that same man embraced a running mate who extols greed as a virtue rather than the vice the religion he also allegedly embraces proclaims it to be. Yes, both men would have busied themselves from Day 1 dismantling every environmental protection possible, even as pollution-fired global warming eviscerates our coasts and desiccates our prairies. Yes, both men made clear economic growth at any and all costs was the only path to this country’s salvation. It’s perhaps that last fact that has NBN firmly believing a Romney-Ryan administration would have more American’s working sooner in an economy that, thanks to our aggressive pursuit of yet another global warming fuel source, would be growing even faster than it did during the easy money days of the last Republican president. Romney would have made this country “great” again, a lot sooner than Obama will.
Tuckerton, NJ after Sandy. Now that's waterfront.
That is, according to the definition of great which NBN believes has brought this country to the brink of ruin. That’s why we voted for Obama. It’s not because we think the unions that backed him are any less greedy than the corporations that backed Romney. We voted for Obama because somewhere in the ether of his nebulous campaign platform we discerned at least the suggestion that he might deliberate a little in his pursuit of economic growth for this country. What was missing from Obama’s message completely—what makes NBN’s endorsement of him all the more tepid—is the idea that economic growth has to be toward an eventual state of economic equilibrium. What this country and the developing world must wake up to is: economic growth, as it has been measured up to now, isn’t such a good thing. Our ever increasing standard of living has been one measured by ever increasing consumption and waste which can only come at the expense of diminishing natural resources. And while the environmental prices being paid for unchecked economic growth are multifaceted and increasingly catastrophic, one need only look at Tuckerton, NJ, after Hurricane Sandy to see global warming dwarfs them all. This is why NBN believes a Romney/Ryan administration would have been a particular disaster despite the promise of more immediate prosperity for all.
Optimism vs. Pragmatism?
Romney/Obama was Reagan/Carter all over again. However, this time it was ominously apparent the country, and the world for that matter, cannot afford the 30 years of aggressive exploitation of natural resources that followed Reagan’s election. Accordingly, to its great credit and obvious sacrifice, this country chose more wisely this time. That’s a huge deal. The fact that all the swing states went for Obama speaks volumes and NBN, for one is listening. To NBN this past election is akin to the civil rights movement taking root in the south. The level of ignorance involved in global warming denial and anti- environmentalism in general is absolutely on a par and maybe even greater than the level of ignorance behind racial bigotry. But what this election illustrates perhaps more than any other is ignorance itself is this country’s biggest problem. Which brings us to the Tea Party.
In these pages we’ve often been hypercritical of the Tea Party movement as the embodiment of ignorance largely because they indiscriminately oppose all government spending. We have to confess, NBN has been ignorant in some measures in its criticism of the Tea Party. We’ve ignored the fact that much of the economic hardships being experienced now are every bit the fault of the malignancy of municipal debt countrywide born from Democratic catering to public employee union interests. Let’s face it, government jobs are universally recognized as cushy jobs. Just as Republican catering to corporate interests has fueled global warming Democratic pandering to organized labor interests has fueled government debt and our high unemployment. Both interests have the political power to protect themselves as the country looks amp up consumer spending and slash government spending. That can only mean a double whammy for environmental protection at a time when the planet can least afford it.
That’s why NBN voted for Obama. Romney’s campaign made clear he opposed any environmental regulation that came at the expense of economic growth. He was Ronald Reagan redux and for all the reasons listed above this country does not want to be that kind of “great” again. Global warming is at a point now where the world is screwed, no matter who is in office. The question voters were just asked is: do we attempt to fix it or just pull a Thelma and Louise. The answer is sitting in the Whitehouse. This past election was Carter v. Reagan all over again and we’ve never been so happy to have been so wrong about the intelligence of the American voters.
It makes us believe this country will be great again, only according to definitions that may make us so for more than 30 years.
In the Age of Information 09.18.21
In the Age of Information 09.18.21
Popular wisdom suggests, and anyone who has spent serious time in a newsroom can’t help but agree, the so-called mainstream media are more liberal in political perspective. Popular wisdom also accepts that European countries, which have 1,000 or so more years governing experience than the US, are similarly inclined. Which prompts NBN to ask this week: What is it about individuals that gather information for a living and countries that have 1,000 or so more years experience in governing that makes them more liberal? Is it possible that folks believing governance is an integral part of a country’s growth might actually be better informed than those who think growth comes only from less governance? (How’s that for liberal elitism?) What is certain is that those of us believing we’re better informed are increasingly clueless to a key fact about those we believe are less so. Rightly or wrongly, the bulk of conservatives and libertarians in this country see the world through a vastly different lens when it comes to natural resources and what to do with them.
To illustrate that difference please turn to page 16 of Veep candidate Paul Ryan’s House Budget Committee’s 2013 Budget. It says: “Too great a percentage of America’s vast natural resources remain locked behind bureaucratic barriers and red tape.” When NBN is not diving, fishing, or hiking, we’re spending an arguably unhealthy amount of time reading internet news. We don’t see these vast natural resources, either virtually or actually. We see ocean fisheries collapsing. We see groundwater polluted by fertilizers and pesticides seeping from the nation’s farmland. We see invasive species turning thousand-year-old ecosystems into evolutionary Frankensteins. We see plastic becoming an integral part of the marine food chain, we see deadzones neutering ever-growing chunks of our coastal ecosystems and oceans.
Grey fish icons=Deadzones in DelMarVa Peninsula
There was a time when this country truly had “vast natural resources.” Say what you want about the untapped promise of shale gas, when this country was first settled it possessed natural resources that make the search for shale gas look like the desperate effort that it is. Seemingly unlimited supplies of timber, fish, and farmland helped this country leap-frog to pre-eminence among our European peers who had largely depleted their own supplies of same. That wealth positioned us perfectly to move on to monopolize the age of oil even as the source of that oil moved from western Pennsylvania and Texas to the Middle East.
Self explanatory plastic pollution shot.
So, how do we explain these two vastly different views increasingly dividing a country unique in the world for uniting people with vastly different views? And why are we writing about it in this, our Mad as Hell issue of NBN? Because all that wealth has come at enormous cost to this country’s natural resources. It’s a price Liberals seem more inclined to pay while conservatives want to keep running up the bill. Yet Liberals are accused of being the profligate spenders while staunchly anti-conservation Conservatives are credited with being thrifty. So yeah, we’re a little pissed off about it.
The only resource left from what once were vast supplies in this country is fossil fuels, and the powers behind the conservative movement know it. People’s exhibit No.1: the next line from Pg. 16 of Ryan’s budget: “This budget lifts moratoriums on safe, responsible energy exploration in the United States, ends Washington policies that drive up gas prices, and unlocks American energy production to help lower costs, create jobs and reduce dependence on foreign oil.” Folks, Ryan didn’t write this budget the Koch Brothers did. In their frenzy to wring ever more money from mining fossil fuels they are spending vast financial resources convincing the world there are “vast natural resources” still available. Sadly, people who don’t have the time to do the reading, and explore their surroundings are believing it. Why? Because the Koch Brothers and their minions are telling them just what they want to hear. We cannot have our cake and eat it any more. Worse, this generation and those to come are going to have to pay for the vast supply of cake we’ve eaten for the past 300 years when some of us weren’t so well informed.
Greenport, NY, The Jewel by the Sea? Or An Example of Excess Economic Expansion We Can Learn From? 05.14.12
Greenport, NY. A.K.A. The Horrible Little Village.
Imagine being a local newspaper reporter covering a community of roughly 800, 700 of whom carefully read your articles each week to find out what you got wrong at the last village board meeting. Now you have a taste of my five years covering the Village of Greenport, NY. Greenport was—no longer is, I hope—an enigmatic amalgam of Tammany Hall, The Dukes of Hazard and Northern Exposure. Most enigmatic of all, for me anyway, was the mayor. He was the embodiment of the ends justify the means. His ends, in hindsight, were well meaning. But in pursuing those ends, he brought a taste of Cosa Nostra to small town politics in a way I couldn't believe, or keep up with at the time. It was at once fascinating and frustrating. Let me paint a picture of Greenport Village circa 1995.
Large chunks of commercial land in the village were owned by this cabal of businessmen with just one degree of separation or so from organized crime, and the mayor. Worse, all these characters seemed to have political connections that allowed them to use Albany, the state capitol, as their own personal ATM. Tens of millions in state grants were funneled into the village to further the real estate investments these characters had made there.
Enter me, two-years out journalism School and searching for a way to make my mark in investigative journalism. Greenport Village was fresh meat for me and I was given free rein, provided of course I still cranked out 7-9 stories a week for the paper I was working for. It was a workload I struggled with, partly because I was obsessed with finding the smoking gun in Greenport Village Hall. It took me a few years to realize there was no smoking gun. State governments are supposed to funnel money to down villages like Greenport. Does it really matter if unsavory characters with undue political influence are seeing their real estate investments pay off like slot machines thanks to the government grants? Of course it does. It’s called conflict of interest and it was an integral part of what became known as Greenport's great revival under this mayor. As a brilliant cartoonist once wrote in my old paper, the mayor of Greenport had “no conflict with his interests.”
Greenport’s Carousel building: Too fancy for what was a small fishing village?
But as Al Pacino portrayed in the movie City Hall, that’s how government works in many countries and most particularly in this one. Business owners make investments in undervalued properties or industries and then influence government leaders, through political contributions or businesses opportunities down the road, to support programs that make their undervalued investments more valuable. It doesn’t matter if it’s the best use of such funds at the time. The economy grows nonetheless and the investors get rich. Everybody benefits. That is until the economy stops growing, and/or heaven forbid contracts, which is why I write about it now. Along with the mayor, these small-time power brokers plotted a vision for the village that may now be saddling it with more obligations than its economic assets and natural resources can sustain. Just as George Bush, and even Bill Clinton, saddled this country in recent years with an economy that wiser minds than mine are beginning to suspect it can’t sustain.
Two of the store fronts across from park have windows papered over.
Now, as two store fronts across from the park appear vacant and a handful of other businesses struggle to survive, the question comes up: did Greenport set its sights too high? The park and all its attractions are assets in a booming economy. They are liabilities in one that’s contracting. The same can be said for the nation’s grotesque overstock of housing and industrial buildings, the massive national highway and bridge complex, even the entire concept of the suburb and this country’s “love affair with the car” when trains are 10 times as efficient. As the intrinsic value of all these investments decline and the cost of maintaining them rises, the nation is now faced with a decision: double down or sell. That’s the thing about betting on economic growth as the mayor did in 1995 and a large percentage of this country wants to do now nationwide: the economy has to keep growing. Greenport is just 1.2 square miles. Additional growth there won't come cheap. As for the rest of the world, isn’t it time we consider economic stability instead of expansion.
_Can All These Rights be Wrong?01.03.12
_ Is Phillip Miller of Los Angeles what’s wrong with this country? He’s the fellow quoted in this NYTimes article saying he’s stocking up on 100-watt incandescent light bulbs before the onset of federal lightbulb efficiency mandates January 1. For fear he’d not bought enough, he was heading to Home Depot to buy some more when the Times’ reporter cornered him. Is it fair to say that Mr. Miller is putting his own selfish interests before the health of the planet we all share? It’s certainly unfair to single him out for doing so when our elected officials so sympathized with him that they postponed the ban until October and are vowing to repeal it altogether in forward thinking states like Texas. But let’s stick with Miller for a moment.
Should we all have the right to open one of these anywhere we want?
_ He says the federal legislation forcing him and the rest of the country to buy energy efficient lightbulbs, is “another invasion of personal liberty by our government.” Let’s ask Mr. Miller, if we can, this question: Is it also an invasion of personal liberty to deny NBN the right to build a factory hog farm in the middle on New York’s Levitown? OK, that’s a little extreme. Let’s try something a little simpler, and a little closer to Mr. Miller’s home. Is there any reason why an L.A. resident should be forced to replace the rings in a 1976 Plymouth Duster that’s burning roughly 1 quart of oil every two days? Mr. Miller might say there is, given that his city is suffering under some of the worst smog in the country. By extension, why shouldn’t the general public be compelled to reduce smog everywhere in the country by reducing energy demands on power plants a thousand times dirtier than the piece-o-crap (Rated-R) Duster? Mr Miller, why is buying efficient lightbulbs an invasion of personal liberty when keeping your car running cleanly isn’t? Is it because one affects you directly and the other doesn’t? In deference to Mr. Miller, we’re putting words in his mouth. He may love smog and defend to his dying breath the right of every American to emit as much as they want.
Near record temps after record warm Fall.
_Assuming otherwise, why is it that so many folks in this country feel laws forcing conservation are an invasion of personal liberty? This is not Miller’s fault or the dirty Duster driver’s fault. It’s a fault of leadership. No one dares mention the prospect these days that we don’t have a right to burn as much fuel as we want. We don’t have a right to throw out as much trash as we want. We don’t have a right to catch fish in ecologically devastating ways. We’re not saying that Miller should go to jail, or that he shouldn’t be allowed to use wasteful lightbulbs, drive a smoky car or build a hog farm in the middle of Levitown, Long Island. All we’re saying is that we should all be forced to pay for the damage we exact on the planet through our indulgences, in order that that damage can be fixed. If Mr. Miller wants a brighter light from his living room lamp while he’s reading the New York Times, he should have to pay more than the gal buying an efficient bulb and sitting a little closer to it to do same. And Mr. Miller, for your information, New England just experienced it’s warmest fall ever and as of this writing it’s 58 degrees outside the offices of NBN. That’s 26 degrees above average on the first day of winter, 144 miles from the Canadian border. Mr. Miller, you might well be what’s wrong with this country, but you’re certainly not alone.
_An American Zabaleen In NY? Why Not? 11.15.11
_Who among you think it’s absurd, almost embarrassing, that the entire country is screaming about the lack of jobs and money therefrom while throwing out 4.5 pounds of garbage per person per day? Raise your hands. Not many hands are going up right now because few people think a used Starbucks papercup is anything but trash. But if you rinsed it out carefully that cup would probably work for another dozen or so trips to the lips before giving up the ghost. For that matter, did anyone know that the annoying little cups take-out restaurants use for sauces and salad dressings clean up like new and can be reused for the same purposes in brown bag lunches? Few people outside Ed Begley Jr. and NBN know recycling can be so rewarding because our culture has instilled in us that it’s better to work 60-hours a week to buy stuff and throw it out than it is to not make the money and conserve. For most of us recycling is a pain. When you look at it from more extreme perspectives it’s un-American. Today we want to look at it from the trash picker’s perspective.
There are 6 Million Chinese trash pickers. Not because its fun.
_While it may be beneath Americans to pick through their garbage, folks in other countries are more than happy to get a little dirty mining what we pay no mind. The real beauty of trash picking in other countries is it’s largely left to private enterprise. NBN found this study (you have to check out the charts in it) which provided this amazing excerpt: “More than 80,000 people and their families are responsible for recycling about three million tons per year of waste in the six study cities. Due to the recycling efforts of the waste pickers, these cities do not have to spend as much on waste collection and disposal: realizing a combined costs savings of around 38.2 million Euros per year.” That means those 80,000 trash pickers are saving their governments some $650 each per year while earning money to feed their families. The real beauty of this is they are cleaning up the planet at the same time. Where are the six cities? Egypt, Romania, The Philippines, Peru, Zambia and India, not countries famed for their progressive policies.
These seagulls at NY’s Fresh Kills live off our trash. Can we?
_The point is a trash picker doesn’t have to be some Somalian six-year-old wading through mountains of toxic and septic waste hoping to mine enough discarded tin to trade for a falafel. In the U.S. that trash picker, they are called Zabaleen, could retire in Somalia after just a few weeks rummaging through the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island. We might be exaggerating, but not by much. The U.S. trash stream, by Third World standards has got to be a gold mine. Why should it be viewed any different in this country? It’s possible that part of that answer, as we discuss in Recycling News this week, is that powerful interests don’t want to see robust recycling programs put into place because those interests make more money in their absence. The more we clean and segregate our trash the more valuable it becomes. Outside of vanity, what’s to stop every American from becoming a trash picker in our own homes: meticulously separating, cleaning and storing the trash we create until enough piles up that we can turn those little sauce and salad dressing cups into a recycling center for cash?
_What’s stopping us is infrastructure. There’s no place to turn those little plastic salad cups in. Most recycling centers are miles from anywhere anybody in this country wants to live Still, if we did purify our trash before putting it out for collection it might be interesting to see what happens. Might entrepreneurial U.S. Zabaleen start collecting the stuff and find ways to cash it in before the garbage men haul it off to who knows where? Toward that end, and at the possible expense of domestic harmony, we’re launching the Great NBN Home-Groan Source Separation Event. Forget about that co-mingled recycling bin/swimming pool we wheel out to the curb every week, we’ve set aside two basement shelves where we’re going to try, to the best of our ability, to clean, segregate and stack our recyclables. We're talking real OCD stuff here, like tearing the cellophane windows from our bill envelopes. As this stuff is accumulating in the basement the search will be on for the highest price such a highly sanitized and purified raw product can produce and the results will be reported here.