Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Queen Noor Has Hope

Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage.  Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.

~ Augustine of Hippo

That's my idea of REAL hope, but unfortunately, too often when people hope, they have no intention of doing anything about the problem they hope gets fixed, especially if it requires sacrifice, or radical rebellion.

The following is an interview with Queen Noor, who is in the US to promote the organization Global Zero, which is dedicated to working towards a world without nuclear weapons.  Understandably, she's a bit concerned because the mideast is, as usual, on the brink of war, and rumor has it there are some nuclear weapons knocking around (although the vast majority are in the hands of the US and Russia).  To my mind, it's only a matter of a very short time before the entire region is so hot and dry that it is uninhabitable, so it was almost a relief to learn that climate change is going to render any territorial conflict moot.  Still, in the interim, the last vestiges of volatile tensions could be the catalyst for a nuclear conflagration so it's worth keeping an eye on.  Just so you wouldn't have to watch this video, since it's not all that interesting, I counted the number of times the word (or some variant of) "hope" was used:  nine (9).

It's simply astonishing how many highly intelligent people are hopeful they possess the secret to save the world, in so many splendid different ways, many of them piquantly creative.  The fourth episode from Peter Joseph's series, Culture in Decline is out, and is engagingly provocative until you start to suspect he's another egomaniacal douchebag (and I mean that in the fondest possible way) who is certain he has discovered the reason we are going to hell in a handbasket, and has the special wit and insight to inspire us into a brand new cultural paradigm which, along with some technological magic, will prevent the crash.  If you make an effort you too could join his Zeitgeist Movement...or you could instead join the Transition Movement, or, or you could become a desciple of John Michael Greer, or see if maybe you fit in with the artsy Dark Mountain Project, the prankster Yes Men, or Derrick Jensen's more militant Deep Green Resistance - any one of which would probably be better than aligning with a suicide cult.

In a recent Alternet article, which was published "in partnership with", a Study Suggests Moral Purity May Overcome Right Wing Resistance to Environmental Science.  This research into the mysterious source of a widespread insouciance about global warming is not to be confused with the newly released report from Climate Meme, a project to determine just why "Global Warming" hasn't gone viral, with the enviable lightening-fast ricochet of Gangnum Style.  The founders utilizing their unique statistical analysis to correct this failure.  This is an admirable effort although they don't seem to have considered that there is a more fundamental, and fundamentally uncorrectable reason that people don't care to confront climate change...and there may not be any meme that will ever alter that one bit.

Of course vying for your support (especially financial) there are infinite Big Green organizations such as the Sierra Club, the WWF, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Audubon Society, Lester Brown's Earth Policy Institute, and lesserly luminized but noble local or specialized groups against fracking, tar sands, mountaintop removal, ocean acidification, coal rail transport, nuclear plants, overpopulation, whaling and as many endangered species/habitats as you can imagine - all readily googled.  And that's not to mention the hundreds of government, academic, and foreign groups.

Take, for a more obscure example, this excellent TED talk by the engaging Zimbabwean biologist Allan Savory, who couldn't be more excited to explain that HIS idea of Holistic Management is essential to prevent further desertification, re-green the earth, and avert catastrophic climate change.  His Hollywood audience was so enthralled, you would have thought he found a foolproof formula for weight and wrinkle loss.  Seriously, to all appearances, he has got a terrific idea that he's been implimenting with great success for decades - but he forgets that there are so many other issues, that no one solution will save us from the utter devastation looming on the horizon from multiple converging catastrophes.

The mere fact that there are so many individuals and organizations trying to save the world could be interpreted as uplifting encouragement - except that none of them will put aside their own turf to genuinely cooperate together, which is arguably the most telling example of how misguided and futile and incoherent, however well-meaning (some more and some less), their efforts ultimately are.  What's almost funny is that most people don't know anything about any of them!  They haven't even heard of tar sands, or the pipeline, they haven't the least inkling that climate change means that THEIR lives are going to be changed!  Peak oil is some odd joke, and overpopulation is a distribution problem that will be solved by more smart people like themselves having more babies.

Ever since I belatedly noticed (ahem) that humanity is irretrievably ruining the planet at an exponential rate, I have been puzzled as to why all these groups don't bother to even try to get together, so that with our vastly greater numbers, we might seriously challenge the absolute hegemony of the elite 1%?  Occupy was the closest attempt I've seen to pull together disparate disenfranchised constituencies, to point the finger at the root problems, and to do so directly rather than working "within" the very system that oppresses the majority for the grotesquely dispropotionate benefit of the few.  Which is why the Occupiers were vilified not just by the right wing conservatives, but the "progressives" as well.

I think the painful truth is that all people can be evil, and not just the sociopaths that run our world, and not only the current myopic population influenced brainwashed by the capitalistic system...which is what most people disgruntled with modern society like to blame.  Today when I was washing the dishes I thought about how easy and typical it is to forget - or more likely never even give a passing thought to - whatever downtrodden soul had to toil in the mine and the smelter to extract and refine the minerals that went into manufacturing and transporting my lovely top-of-the-line All Clad stainless steel and copper skillet.  It's so tempting to assume without any reflection that it's a perfectly normal aspect of our lifestyle to have access to a product whose raw materials and creation were exacted at horrible costs in terms of slavery and pollution.

True, those costs are meticulously concealed from us by the billowing veils of hypnotic commercialism...but reports and photographs and films are certainly available for anyone who troubles to look, or even just chooses to think outside the matrix a little.

I have an idea (and no, I don't imagine I'm having any original thoughts, it's just what I'm thinking!) that what underlies the prevailing ability to separate our splurge in consumer goods from the horrific and hidden costs is the innate imperative humans possess to strive for higher status to the exclusion of just about anything else.  We compare what we possess, or have achieved  - our "status" - with those who we perceive to have higher status.  Naturally, there's always somebody above us or, in the rare cases there isn't, there is someone just below clawing their way to displace us on the pinnacle.  And so our lives are always left wanting, and we are always desirous of more and beyond that, we think we DESERVE even more.  All of this squabbling over the scraps means those who are beneath us don't exist except as the base upon which we scrabble up; and so we can take what we like from them, directly or indirectly, without recognition, or remorse.  It's called collateral damage, and by and large, we accept it.

"There is no such thing as enough as far as human beings are concerned."
~ F. Capra

I do realize not every person acts this selfishly and short-sightedly, but I think they are so few that they can be considered outliers - damaged or mutants.

Oh dear do I sound peevish?  Well, I confess, I am.  The New York Times has abolished not only their environmental desk but the Green Blog as well, which, in tandem with the shut down of government funding for all sorts of scientific monitoring - of pollution, food and drug safety, park protection and who knows what else - is edging our country ever more perilously towards a total blackout of real information with a ruthless Orwellian precision.  Obama's State Department is giving every indication it will approve the Keystone pipeline, and in utter disdain of climate activists who are frantically pretending it's not as bad as it looks, he appointed a fracking and nuclear loving Secretary of Energy with hair so bad it rivals  Trump's (because there's so more of it)...basically we live in a surreal world hurtling towards an ignominious end, but only after the most repugnant calamities torture any survivors of the bottleneck so that they envy the dead.

Whilst nothing of substance gets accomplished (really! - the jump in CO2 was the second highest ever, in 2012! - which isn't surprising because trees are dying, but never mind) the level of discourse has reached a new nadir.  In an despicably vituperous NYTimes column Joe Nocera attacked Dr. James Hansen, of all people - one of the very few climate scientists to have ever had the courage to speak out - and for so long, after modestly enduring so many attacks, that he should be walking around with a halo around his head.  Maybe to hide it is why he has taken to allas wearin' that hat.
Wit's End in Washington, 10/10/10
Predictably Joe Romm's vorpal sword went snickersnack after Nocera, even as JR was recuperating from surgery and reflecting on lessons his brush with the same tumor that killed Steve Jobs might have for global warming.  This odd but not surprising reaction puts him in the same camp as David Koch, who has been having close encounters with recurring bouts of prostate cancer for two decades.  Neither one of them apparently considered that they might want to ponder the CAUSE of cancer - all those health threats from pollution...the many known carcinogens unleashed in our environment?  Nope - Romm ruminates about climate change, and Koch donates hundreds of millions of dollars to find a cure.  Maybe it's a guy thing, like not wanting to ask for directions.  The article Joe Romm links to about his particular cancer discusses the need for better detection and treatment, and not ONE WORD about what causes cancers.  As far as I know, no one but me has ever raised the issue following climate science icon Stephen Schneider's death from a coronary attack, which shortly followed a course of chemotherapy known to damage the heart.

When climate hawks wonder "how many extreme weather events - droughts and floods and storms? - before people figure out that CO2 is changing the climate", I wonder "how many cancers and dead trees does it take before people figure out that pollution is toxic lethal?"

So to balance things out, I've copied portions of a recent long essay on that topic - "Fresh Air That Isn't" - so click on the link if you want more details.  (Of course in discussing the damage done by ozone to health, the parallel question of what it is doing to plants and trees, which also absorb it, isn't alluded to at all, other than a link on a sidebar...recommending the best plants to be used indoors that will soak up the pollution!)

Right around the time when the days start getting longer and temps begin to rise, it's normal to want to ditch your spin class and liberate the road bike that's been sitting idle in your garage. What's not to love about filling your lungs with fresh spring air?

Actually, there is something. If your favorite bike path winds along a busy thoroughfare, or the tennis court you frequent is located near a traffic-clogged intersection, you may be loading your lungs with harmful pollutants in the form of ozone (the main component of smog) and microscopic bits of soot, dust, aerosol, metal, free radicals, and other airborne contaminants. Not only does this toxic assault on your lungs compromise the effectiveness of your workouts, but it can also take a toll on your health.

People who exercise outdoors may still breathe in up to 10 times more airborne nastiness than those who spend less time being active outside. Whether your workout of choice is running, cycling, or taking boot-camp classes on the beach, doing any kind of vigorous outdoor exercise that causes you to breathe hard means you are gulping more air than if you were standing still, says Sam Callan, USA Cycling's sport science and coaching education manager. Even moderate exercise, such as a brisk walk, can increase the amount of air you inhale. And along with all that extra muscle-fueling oxygen comes supersize portions of unhealthy pollution.

What's worse, as you huff and puff through your mouth, some of that contamination whooshes deep into your lungs, bypassing your nasal passages, the body's natural air filter. The result? An irritated and inflamed trachea and lungs. You may wind up with symptoms such as a pesky cough, chest tightness, or a scratchy throat.

Over time, regular exposure to pollution may trigger exercise-induced asthma (an attack of wheezing and airway constriction during a workout) and ups your risk for lung cancer by 20 percent, the same as a nonsmoker living with a smoker, says George D. Thurston, Sc.D., a professor of environmental medicine at New York University School of Medicine.

Joggers who regularly run in high-ozone conditions may experience a thickening of the lining of their lungs (typically a smoker's affliction), which may prematurely age the lungs, although the exact health consequences are unknown, says Daniel Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute, a Boston nonprofit organization that studies pollution's impact on health.

Yet these effects often go unnoticed. In fact, the fitter you are, the less likely you are to see signs. "Healthy people can be affected by air pollution without experiencing symptoms," says Norman Edelman, M.D., chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. So even if you feel fine, your lungs and workout still take a hit.

Pollution affects more than just your airways, says former air pollution scientist Kenneth Rundell, Ph.D. When you inhale airborne contaminants, your body launches a defense against "foreign invaders," which then causes inflammation. Over time, chronic inflammation can wreak havoc on every organ system. So it's not surprising that long-term exposure to bad air has been linked to a host of health problems—ironically the very conditions that regular exercise helps prevent—including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes, decreased immune function, and certain cancers.

One Canadian research team mapped levels of traffic-related air pollution in Montreal against breast-cancer diagnoses. They found that women living in locations with the worst air pollution were almost twice as likely to develop breast cancer as those in the cleanest areas, says Mark S. Goldberg, Ph.D., one of the researchers and a professor in the department of medicine at McGill University.

If all this makes you want to strap on a gas mask every time you head outside, take comfort in this: Your lungs have several built-in cellular cleaning mechanisms that help neutralize irritants and rid the body of them, so you'll most likely recover pretty quickly from an occasional dose of dirty air.

The bigger concern is what happens after years of repeated exposure. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency likens breathing high levels of ozone to getting sunburned. Do it once or twice and you'll be OK; do it all the time and you could wind up with permanent damage.

"The worst pollution days are usually the hot, stale days of summer," says Greenbaum. Windy conditions often make for better air days because the breeze disperses pollution, reducing its concentration.

In spite of all the above, there is good reason to feel chipper, if you've got the time to watch the BBC docudrama embedded below.  Called "Threads", a title which gives no hint of the carnage it unflinchingly makes explicit (you'll be cringing) it is a dated but riveting examination of the potential progression and results of nuclear conflict.  I watched it yesterday evening (and dreamed about it for the rest of the night).  It was SO horrific (and so believably rendered) that oddly it makes me feel much better about near term extinction from other sources - climate change and ecosystem collapse. I expect those to happen far more quickly than the vast majority of people suspect - but not nearly so fast as multiple warheads going off. Depending on where you are (if you drown in a coastal surge or burn in a wildfire it won't much matter) for many people the descent will be at least a bit more incremental and most importantly, there will likely be a modicum of moments along the way that can be appreciated as reasonably pleasant, conceivably making survival worthwhile.  By contrast, the devastation of nuclear war begins in an instant - the burns and injury and suffering and loss - and there is never even a momentary respite in the aftermath.

So overall, this depiction has actually made me appreciate anew, much more deeply, how very, very, supremely lucky we are to have the modern luxuries we take for granted - a warm house to live in; not just a surfeit of food but delicious, exotic food; and a society that is more often free of (visible, local) violence than not.

And that is worth something.

"Living is keeping the absurd alive. Keeping it alive is, above all, contemplating it. Unlike Eurydice, the absurd dies only when we turn away from it. One of the only coherent philosophical positions is thus revolt. It is a constant confrontation between man and his own obscurity. It is an insistence upon an impossible transparency. It challenges the world anew every second. Just as danger provided man the unique opportunity of seizing awareness, so metaphysical revolt extends awareness to the whole of experience. It is that constant presence of man in his own eyes. It is not aspiration, for it is devoid of hope. That revolt is the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it."

~ Albert Camus, An Absurd Reasoning

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