August 27, 2007

Taste for Meat Marches On

Tim Flannery writes in the June 28 New York Review of Books:
Many readers will doubtless ask whether vegetarianism is better still. [Michael] Pollan [The Omnivore's Dilemma] tells us that even vegan lifestyles result in animal cruelty. Just think of the the thousands of field mice shredded by harvesters, the woodchucks crushed in their burrows by tractors, and the songbirds poisoned by pesticides when farmers grow the wheat for our bread. Pollan's message seems to be that to live we must kill, and the best we can do is both treat animals decently while they live and kill them humanely.
This is moral argument?!

Your ethical vegan practices ahimsa, or "do the least harm". Choosing organically grown food eliminates the harm from pesticides. Choosing food from small farmers reduces the harm done to animals in the fields. Growing one's own food reduces it yet more.

Michael Pollan, apparently with Tim Flannery's agreement, goes in the other direction. In recognizing that our sustenance does harm to the sustenance of other creatures, he justifies willful harm beyond unavoidable necessity.

His premise is that we must eat the corpses of other animals, and it is commendable that he would like to reduce the brutality of that practice. But that premise is invalid and based only on his unquestioned appetite.

The fact is, most of us do not need to eat the corpses of animals to survive. Many people live very well without eating flesh. So to continue eating flesh is a choice to kill unnecessarily. All the coddling of your "meal" while it is alive doesn't change the brutal fact of that choice. One can raise them and kill them less brutally, but the practice can never be called humane. The result of the feedlot is the same as that for the "happy" grass-grazing beef cow.

Flannery also reviews Bill McKibben's Deep Economy, in which we learn that McKibben is a corpse-eater, too. Has the pre-eminent voice about the dangers of global warming not heard that raising animals for food is responsible for more greenhouse gas effect than transport? Let alone the inexcusable pollution and waste of water, energy, land, and other resources.

How can anyone take these men seriously?

environment, environmentalism, animal rights, vegetarianism

August 26, 2007

Wind energy would not reduce coal emissions

Dan Boone, a naturalist in Maryland, explains in a letter to the Harrisburg, Pa., Patriot-News published Aug. 24 that air pollution would not be affected by adding wind turbines to the grid.

This is because air pollution is regulated under a "cap and trade" system that has very effectively reduced nitrous oxides (NOx) which create ozone and sulfur dioxide (SO2) which causes acid rain emitted by electricity plants. It has even reduced carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas contributing to global warming: by 19% from 1995 to 2003 in Pennsylvania, according the the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

If thousands of giant turbines were erected in different regions so that between them there would be some predictably steady electricity generation, wouldn't that reduce coal emissions even more?

No, because even if that happened, the cap and trade system relies on an already established total cap on emissions. The incentive for a plant to reduce its emissions below its assigned cap is that it can then sell that extra to another plant to allow it to pollute more. Thus the total pollution remains the same.

And the cap is unlikely to be lowered because of wind energy. The potential contribution of wind is very small (the Dept. of Energy projects will will generate 0.89% of the total electricity in the U.S. by 2030) and the effect on fuel burning even smaller (because of ramping inefficiencies).

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism

August 22, 2007

Cape Wind would not reduce use of Canal Generating Plant

Wendy Williams, in yet another self-promotional piece, this one at Renewable Energy Access (Aug. 20), writes unconvincingly: "I'm not very polished when it comes to publicity." Another howler is this:

"Cape Wind would reduce the use of the oil-fired power plant on the Cape Cod Canal."

Cape Wind's massive turbines may reduce the electricity generated from that plant, but not necessarily the oil it burns.

The Canal Generating Plant in Sandwich is a traditional thermal plant. It can't be simply switched on and off as needed, because starting up first requires heating up water to make the steam that powers the generators, and that can take hours. As a back-up to wind, therefore, it would be switched to standby mode when the wind rises, in which mode it continues to burn fuel to create steam but the steam is released and not used to generate electricity. Thus, the plant would be ready to switch back to generation mode as soon as the wind drops again.

That's the sad fact. The 24-square-mile Cape Wind facility would not clean the air or reduce oil barge traffic.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism

August 20, 2007

Ironic Times

Headline:  Angry Dems punish Gonzales by expanding his powers.

August 18, 2007

Animals and morality

Apparently it has been a central problem of philosophy to explain "morality" as a uniquely human attribute. Philosophers, however, are keen to show that they are still equal to scientific thinking, so it has been hard to reconcile a unique human morality with related behaviors among other animals, i.e., with morality necessarily being an evolutionarily derived characteristic and not so unique after all.

And so reason is evoked as the essence of morality. Reason, we reason, is uniquely human, so everything that involves it must also be uniquely human.

This is, of course, a fine example of circular reasoning. Reason is uniquely human, morality requires reason, therefore morality is uniquely human. Neither premise is proven and exists only for the benefit of the other.

How much reasoning must we expend to justify what most people would inarguably see as a moral act, such as helping someone who is hurt? Reason, it seems, is more necessary to rationalize immoral acts, such as torture, the bombing of civilians, or ignoring from a seat of relative comfort the economic plight of others.

It is immorality, it seems, that is uniquely human and requires human reason.

[] [] []

I have written before in this space about Michael Pollan's confusion of morality with appetite. His dilemma, as it is sometimes said about taste, is in his mouth. For him, being an omnivore is what makes one human, and therefore he is committed to being the most conscientious omnivore he can be without denying his humanity.

But just because we can kill and eat anything we want doesn't mean that we should. We don't eat each other, for example, and it is generally not acceptable behavior to kill or even assault one another either. So what seems to make us human is the ability to deny our appetites, not gratify them, no matter how refined the gourmet. There is, of course, a balance -- we ought to enjoy what we eat and the communion of meals -- but one thing that is uniquely human, as Michael Pollan makes clear, is to recognize the immorality of one's actions and, instead of curtailing such behavior or even accepting it as a weakness or imperfection, to write whole books to justify it as right and necessary.

[] [] []

The first section above was written after reading an article by John Gray in the May 10 New York Review of Books, reviewing a couple of books about the evolution of morality.

The second section comes after reading an incisive and very readable review in the September Atlantic of Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma: "Hard to swallow: the gourmet’s ongoing failure to think in moral terms" by B.R Myers.

And while we're on the subject of treating animals decently as fellow creatures on this earth (not as potential meals), the American Vegan Society has a good article by Dale Lugenbehl in the Summer 2007 American Vegan about the massive impacts on the planet from raising animals to eat. It is available on line here. That issue of American Vegan also includes the report from the U.N. about animal husbandry's substantial contribution of greenhouse gases (more than transport) and other related material.

environment, environmentalism, animal rights, vegetarianism

August 10, 2007

Wind "ought" to help -- but won't

To the Editor, Rutland (Vt.) Herald:

The key word in your August 10 editorial, "Wind win," is "ought." You conclude that the PSB approval of the Sheffield wind project is a "positive step that ought to improve Vermont's energy future." The fact is, unfortunately, that it won't.

Although you admit that the wind turbines would not be generating at full capacity all the time, you let stand the figure of the project's 40-megawatt installed capacity as meaningful. In fact, the facility would rarely, if ever, generate at full capacity. Its average annual output is more likely to be a fifth of that, as it is for the existing Searsburg facility and the average through the U.S. and the world: 8 megawatts. Even the developer projects an average output of only 13 megawatts.

Because of the cubic relation of output to wind speed, however, any wind energy facility generates at or above its average rate only a third of the time. And those times are at the whim of the wind, not necessarily corresponding to actual need on the grid.

Consequently, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority plans for wind energy to provide useful energy at the rate of a third of its average output. This is in line with estimates from similar studies in Europe. The Sheffield project would thus represent a contribution of only about 3 to 4 megawatts for Vermont's energy planning.

Yet this potentially small source requires blasting for foundations and roads, tons of cement for each turbine, acres of forest clearing, and the erection of 419-feet-high towers with 162-feet-long turning blades and strobing safety lights over miles of ridge line where any other development would never even be considered, much less praised by the likes of Bill McKibben and VPIRG. This is a win for industry and the robber barons that run our country again, not for the environment. And not for our energy future, either.

[Published in the Rutland Herald, Aug. 14]

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, Vermont, anarchism, anarchosyndicalism, ecoanarchism

August 5, 2007

Michael Ignatieff still doesn't get it

To the Editor, New York Times Magazine:

Michael Ignatieff ("Getting Iraq Wrong," August 5) absolves his own ideology-driven mistake of supporting the Iraq war by asserting that ideology also -- not facts or reasoned analysis, or simple morality -- was behind opposition to the invasion. He caricatures anti-war voices as Bush or America haters, implying that he at least was driven by love of Bush and America.

He is still as wrong as he was then. There was one simple reason for opposing this war. It was a war of choice, not of necessity. One does not start wars. One does not invade other countries. It is the difference between self-defense and murder.

As Bush goes down in history as our most disastrous president, as our country lies in economic and social ruin in counterpoint to Iraq's physical ruin and bloodshed, Ignatieff lamely acknowledges that "a politician's mistakes are first paid by others" (and a pundit gets paid twice, first for beating the drum and then for trying to explain his mistake). But the invasion of Iraq was not a mistake. It was a deliberate aggressive act. Working in the halls of Harvard is not an excuse for pretending that war does not mean death and mayhem.

Alas, Ignatieff still longs for a "daring" leader. Has he learned nothing? What we need are daring citizens, who have not lost the habit of thinking for themselves.

Screw the environment and communities for wind industry

Here's a couple more examples of industrial wind developers convincing lawmakers that the law is not necessary for them (which only proves that it is especially necessary -- why does the wind industry find it so hard to pass environmental muster?!).

In Massachusetts, governor Deval Patrick wants to restrict citizens' right to appeal wetlands decisions. This is in response to the successful challenge by Green Berkshires of the permit for a wind energy facility on the Hoosac Range.

In Sweden, the industry minister wants permitting laws changed to ignore local objections. The government has already relaxed environmental regulations for industrial wind facilities.

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights

August 4, 2007

The Casualties of Green Scare: The Feds' War on the Animal Rights Movement

By Kelly Overton

Late last year President Bush signed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) into law days after six young Americans began serving federal prison sentences on charges they caused economic damage to Huntington Animal Sciences, an animal-testing corporation. Sadly, jailing activists is the American way.

The imprisonment of the group, known as SHAC 7, is nothing more than history repeating itself. Those who first called for an end to slavery were imprisoned. Those who believed women should vote went to jail. Civil rights activists, supporters of gay and lesbian rights, and now animal rights activists have all been jailed. The only thing sadder than the imprisonment of animal rights activists is that they are fighting for a losing cause; for we now live in a society that slaps the wrist of a person who harms the neighbor's dog yet subsidizes the systematic annual killing of billions of other animals for food, clothing, research and sport.

The recent allegations of both illegal wire-tapping and politically motivated firings of U.S. Attorneys by the Bush administration should set off an alarm regarding the legality of the green scare, the administration's monitoring and imprisonment of environmental and animal welfare activists. And AETA isn't the only new tool corporations have to eliminate pesky activism.

The NYSE's recent decision to trade Life Sciences Research (an animal testing corporation) on the ARCA exchange -- an electronic platform that provides market makers anonymity -- signals that financial markets have also joined the war against social activism. With help from the Bush administration and the NYSE, we may be nearing a day when all of our country's flora, fauna, and public land will exist as little more than raw materials for corporate profit.

The reason nonhuman animals lack protection is simply due to the economic repercussions that would accompany such protection(s). Compassionately caring for animals is expensive and by demanding corporations treat food and research animals humanely activists are asking nothing less than a fundamental reworking of the world economy.

Sadly, any further success activists achieve at home will only expedite sending corporations that mistreat animals offshore where animal welfare regulations and activism can be made non-factors.

We no longer live in a society, we live in an economy, where right and wrong is determined not by fairness, but by profitability -- and where the law no longer dictates corporate behavior, but corporate behavior dictates the law.

AETA, Three Strikes laws and toothless environmental regulations protect profits -- not people (or animals). A society would care if animal protection activists (including the SHAC 7) were right about corporate mistreatment of animals -- but in an economy only the financial cost of activism matters.

The truth is that nonhuman animals don't need rights or legal standing. Such rights have done little to improve the lives of the majority of the world's people. For it is not just nonhuman animals that are losing their habitats and their ability to live with dignity -- the majority of the planet's humans now live truly desperate lives.

Today it is not legal but economic standing that protects a life -- and it is not a lack of rights (human, civil or animal) but a lack of empathy that is the problem, a problem that promises lives of misery and despair for an overwhelming majority of the earth's creatures. Instead of fighting to establish rights for animals, maybe activists should work to instill compassion in humans.

As a society we need to imagine others' horrors as our own. What if the sex worker was our child? The homeless woman our mother? The research dog our family pet? The unjustly imprisoned activist our child?

Only when we decide the pain and humiliation of others is not worth economic gain will the need for rights, human and animal, disappear.

Kelly Overton is Executive Director of People Protecting Animals & Their Habitats -- Sign their petition to make animal rights an issue in the 2008 elections.

Liberals Standing in the Way of Change

By Sam Smith, Progressive Review

Bill O'Reilly may be closer to the truth than usual in describing the DailyKos crowd as a hate group. After all, the mundane middle of the Democratic Party defines itself to an extraordinary degree by what it dislikes far more than what policies it supports. There is a mythology among liberals that if we just get rid of Bush, Cheney, Scooter Libby, and Bill O'Reilly everything will be fine. In fact, when you follow their advice and vote as they suggest, you find yourself stuck with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.

If you spend a lot of time talking with liberals, you find their rhetoric full of anger at certain individuals. You won't hear much talk of single payer healthcare or pension return or credit card usury. Putting Scooter Libby in jail is far more important.

Liberals didn't used to be like this. There was a time when - instead of just hating Dewey, Taft and Nixon - they actually accomplished things like these:

- Regulation of banks and stock brokerage firms cheating their customers

- Protection of your bank account

- Social Security

- A minimum wage

- Legal alcohol

- Right of labor to bargain with employers

- Soil Conservation Service and other early environmental programs

- National parks and monuments such as Death Valley, Blue Ridge, Everglades, Boulder Dam, Bull Run, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, Mount Rushmore, Jackson Hole, Grand Teton, Cape Cod, Fire Island, and San Juan Islands just to name a few.

- Tennessee Valley Authority

- Rural electrification

- College educations for innumerable veterans

- Housing loans for innumerable veterans

- FHA housing loans

- The bulk of hospital beds in the country

- Unemployment insurance

- Small Business Administration

- National Endowment for the Arts

- Medicare

- Peace Corps

Part of the problem is that liberals have become more of a demographic than a movement, and a pretty upscale one at that. Thus the groups that Democrats used to worry about have been left on their own or to be victimized by conservatives who offer them salvation in lieu of a decent job.

It isn't that the non-elite is more religious these days, it's just that liberals used to have something to profide in the here and now to compete with the vagaries of the conservative hereafter.

The DailyKos crowd is having their annual meeting and getting fond attention from a media that clearly likes their willingness not to rock the boat and to treat politics as a semiotic rather than substantive enterprise.

For the record, however, it should be noted that many of those celebrated at this event:

- Voted for the Iraq war

- Supported the egregious No Child Left Behind law

- Have backed to the hilt the cruel and unconstitutional war on drugs, forerunner of the cruel and unconstitutional war on terror.

- Supported the Clintons who dismantled social democracy and turned the Democrats into GOP Lite.

- Backed NAFTA, the WTO and other assaults on the domestic economy.

- Have refused to support single payer healthcare.

- Have been remarkably complacent as Bush dismantled the Constitution.

In short, it's the sorriest bunch of liberals in over 70 years, which is why the corporate media is so tolerant and the conservatives can continue merrily on their way, often with the help of Democratic votes

Opposing Bush and his capos is a necessity but it is not a policy. Until liberals are willing to support something more than a minimum wage that doesn't even bring us back to where we were in 1956, they're really just one more thing standing in the way of change.

August 3, 2007

Which side are you on?

Industrial-scale wind development is not green. No development can be green. It can only be necessary and less harmful than it or an alternative might. As in Maryland, where a wind developer's political connections got his and other facilities exempted from environmental review, many developers assert the presumption that wind's benefits trump any other concern and therefore -- despite carving wide strong roads through wildlife habitat and wetlands, clearing several acres per turbine, blasting and filling sites for each platform, pouring tons of cement into the ground, erecting 400-feet-high machines with blades sweeping up to 2 acres at tip speeds up to 200 mph in bird and bat migratory pathways -- they claim that they do not need to be subject to the same review that any other project would have to face.

They also resent local concerns about noise and visual intrusion, and so look to faraway bureaucrats to bypass the democratic process and people's control of their own communities.

In Britain, the national government is poised to shove several projects through against local opposition, claiming them as vital infrastructure (like invading Iraq was vital to our security). These projects include huge waste incinerators, major road schemes, new and expanded nuclear power stations, airport expansions, tidal barrages, and water reservoirs (such as one that would flood 5 square miles in Oxfordshire).

And 16 wind energy facilities.

This is the company they keep. If industrial wind were green, they would not need to pull favors to strong-arm their way into our neighborhoods. But once anyone looks beyond their spiel, that is the only recourse they have.

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, wind turbines, environment, environmentalism, human rights, Vermont, anarchism, ecoanarchism

August 2, 2007

Corporatized America

What corporate America wanted was nothing less than the Third Worlding of the US, a collapse of both present reality and future expectations. The closer the life and wages of our citizens could come to those of less developed nations, the happier the huge stateless multinationals would be. Then, as they said in the boardrooms and at the White House, the global playing field would be leveled.

And so the greatest surrender of sovereignty in US history is chalked up as an inevitable result of a better world. This abandonment was not initially controversial, nor even readily apparent, because Americans simply were not told that it had occurred. They did not know that their country -- which defeated in turn the British, the Mexicans, the Confederacy, the Spanish, the Germans (twice), the Japanese, and outlived the Soviet Union, had surrendered without a whimper to a junta of trade technocrats armed with nothing more menacing than cell phones and Palm Pilots.

Once having capitulated on economic matters, Americans would be taught to accept a similar diminution of social programs, civil liberties, democracy, and even some of the most basic governmental services. Free of being the agent of our collective will, government could then concentrate on the real business of a corporatist state, such as reinforcing the military, subsidizing selected industry, and strengthening police control over what would inevitably be an increasingly alienated and fractured electorate. We would be taught to deny ourselves progress and to blame others for our loss. --Sam Smith

"Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power." --Benito Mussolini (maybe)

The Fascist State lays claim to rule in the economic field no less than in others; it makes its action felt throughout the length and breadth of the country by means of its corporate, social, and educational institutions, and all the political, economic, and spiritual forces of the nation, organised in their respective associations, circulate within the State. --Benito Mussolini, The Doctrine of Fascism, 1935