April 25, 2007

Adam Smith would drive whatever he felt like unless it benefited his wallet enough to stop.

An altruistic approach would be a cultural renaissance, a dramatic shift in our way of thinking. Thinking of the long-term collective in just the area of the environment would spill over into other areas. The implications of such a shift reach into the world of politics and economics. What would this mean for our capitalistic system? I do believe that an economy of competition is the greatest source of economic and technological advancement. The market also perfects the art of customer care (Businesses couldn’t compete if they were staffed by DMV employees). Also, our private economic sector is one of the few domains that calls for our government to be non-authoritarian – but can capitalism coexist with much more socialist styles of thought in other areas of society?

We are a progressive society, but moral progress may have to be sacrificed for the more rapid self-interest approach. People should still be reminded of the altruistic implications of their actions, if for no other reason than so that we can remember our morals.

An entirely moral approach is really way to slow and it may not even be possible to defy human nature to such a degree. The shift would be huge and probably wouldn’t mesh with certain aspects of American society. An approach that mostly appeals to the rational self-interested individual is the only way to bring about the timely change that we need.

April 19, 2007

Lets Talk About Girl Talk

I do agree that our cultural mindsets are the root cause of most environmental problems that we face today. I’d probably describe it as a culture of industry, but that broad mindset happens to spawn feelings of domination over nature. This rage is apt.

I would also agree that, on the large scale, our culture exploits the female form. I don’t necessarily feel it is immoral to display attractive women to draw attention to a product, but it is definitely used to an advantage in our society, and it is widely accepted. It is artistic marketing, just like using a catchy song or a flashy billboard, and at our base levels most of us ignore the prudish inhibitions and recognize the aesthetics. Getting back on track: yes, female bodies are mined resources in our culture (without such a negative connotation). I concede the fact that I am a male, but I don’t see the cause for rage on this level. I don’t consider this domination. This rage is not so apt.

I think the rage towards men comes from a level much below the general cultural level. Terry and Sandy over-generalize to make it seem like a cultural problem. I don’t think that most men feel the kind of estrangement with themselves that she and her friend talk about, which results in a warped sense of intimacy. They’ve apparently known some men with issues. The generalization would be insulting if I were more prone to such things. It hurts her credibility on a logical level.

The domination of women is not quite a result of culture like the domination of nature is. Domination of women is more isolated and personal, and the extrapolation to the entire population is not as founded as it is to blame our culture for environmental problems.

Is there a connection between the two? No, I don’t really see it. Domination of nature is the result of a culture oriented around industry, while occurrences of domination of women are more the result of…..I don’t know……..bad parenting?

April 11, 2007

Tranquility to the max

Lake Seagull, BWCA – 30 miles up the Gunflint Trail out of Grand Marais, Minnesota.

This is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Water is the abundant molecule, but I like to imagine the magnificent canyons I’d see if it were all drained. Water is so copious up here that land never seems more than an island – the bluffs overlooking the underwater canyons which teem with unseen life. There’s a third spatial dimension up here – depth – one that city blocks and floor plans fail to capture. This world has obvious elevations, terrain contours, peaks and valleys (much of it below water). The water's surface is the contrast – vast and smooth. You can sense that this water is a slice of perfect sphere, a seet of mirror.

The new spatial dimension requires the sacrifice of time. We were fortunate enough to make the mistake of bringing in only one clock, which we failed to set prior to the two hour paddle from car to the campsite. Cell phones were the previous reference, but they were left behind because radio waves rarely make it out here. Our noon was simply when the sun was at the zenith. That was the only indication. It was unknown to us how much dusk and dawn were pushed apart at these high latitudes. One attempt to set the terribly imprecise alarm clock for dawn was embarrassingly far off; the sun had probably been yellow for hours. I have never been through longer stretches of daylight in my life.

When wind came, this force of nature has never before seemed so impressive. Stare upwind from your swinging hammock and you see unfathomable amounts of water drifting casually towards you as many island-riding platoons of trees point their leaves your way. Numerical descriptions have no comprehensible meaning on such scales

Nor has the sun ever been so impressive, inescapable, permeating everything.

The earth is rocky, but smoothed by eons of erosion. It melds seamlessly, as if smudged by the colossal finger of an artist: into water in one direction and into grass and tree in the other. Pines can be as exotic as palms.

In this place you feel the vastness of the earth and the complexity of an ecosystem. You feel the impact and the proof of personally unverified truths. The Earth really does rotate – there’s the sun arching across the sky. At night there’s an entire planet blocking your view of it, so you build a campfire in remembrance. The planet exists even in our absence – here you are in a place dominated by life, but there’s not another person for miles. Object permanence is now fully realized. Blues have never been deeper and greens never more vibrant. They mix and balance each other perfectly. You feel as though you could approach sensory and mental overload, but inexplicably you have never felt more tranquil. No worries, only the best of friends and the rawest of nature.

April 5, 2007

He wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer. (Did Olson have friends?)

I understand what Olson is saying, but I don’t believe that human happiness and dignity are completely lost when natural spaces are absent. I just don’t think the connection is as deep as he makes it sound.

Nature can provide tranquility and a place to get away from the stress of living in modern society. It slows things down and gives us a glimpse of a larger picture. I do not doubt that there is an intrinsic connection between nature and the human psyche, but it just isn’t as powerful as Olson makes it sound.

Nature is definitely a factor in our well being, but it is not the dominating factor. I have to believe that things like interhuman relationships provide a lot more meaning and happiness in people’s lives.

We would surely loose a piece of ourselves if we lost natural spaces, but it’s not like happiness and dignity would be completely out the window. There are just a lot of other pieces that that satisfy large portions of those aspects of the human mind. Thus endeth my redundancy.

March 29, 2007

Sometimes I Spit on Nature's Face

I recycle, I don’t litter, I don’t produce a lot of trash, and I don’t actively participate in global thermonuclear war, but these things are easy. Despite these small efforts, I still think I am over my pollution budget.

Although I haven’t driven much since coming to the U, I know my car is my biggest encroachment. Although it is small and fuel efficient, it is still a heavy polluter. The catalytic converter has been removed, so harmful pollutants like carbon monoxide aren’t properly oxidized before leaving my exhaust. My PCV (positive crankcase ventilation) system also has problems that I’ve ignored for too long, adding to the amount of offensive gases coming from my engine. Furthermore, I have some slightly worn intake valve stems and guides that allow small amounts of oil to be burned and expelled into the atmosphere. And of course, I often let the tachometer climb to unreasonable heights before shifting – just for fun, which amplifies all of the aforementioned conditions.

This car is 15 years old, and I’ll probably make it last at least a few more years until I have the means to buy a new one. Along the way, I doubt I will do very much to make it more eco-friendly. I’ll drive it whenever I feel like it, and sometimes I won’t even have any particular place that I need to go. Even in the future when 70% of our cars are powered by hydrogen fuel cells or something, I know it will be very difficult for me to depart from good ol’ internal combustion gasoline engines. I am guilty of being a friend of nature only as long as it doesn’t inconvenience me (or perturb my passions in this case). I am kind of like a non-voter who can’t imagine making a difference, especially when there are power plants out there that dwarf my wildest, smoggiest dreams by factors of a billion.

I know this is a group effort, and I’m an equally important member, but I honestly can’t see myself making a major lifestyle change. I do plenty of the small easy stuff, but when it comes to a significant sacrifice of comfort, I am just not inspired enough. I want to be. I try to convince myself to be. But I am not so motivated. I admit it. I think most people share this feeling, but they haven’t admitted it. That’s why progress is so slow, even though every hypocrite wants a healthy planet.

Check this out: Our pal Al Gore being a little bit of a hypocrite

March 22, 2007

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men Gang Oft Aglee

Boyle’s story showed that we need more reverence for nature. Our efforts to tamper with nature for our benefits often end up displaying our ignorance. One example from Boyle’s story is how dramatically reducing the amount of mosquitoes also lowered the population of a certain wasp which keeps the population of a certain caterpillar in check. With the caterpillars free from their oppressors they were able to multiply to the point that they destroyed the natives’ roofs that were made of delicious palm leaves. This example shows how the natural world can often pull up unthought-of consequences for our best attempts to reshape nature. Truly we must live in accordance with nature’s unfathomable power.

March 8, 2007

Mister MIT learned me good

Some of Lindzen's points:

All the diplomatic activity over global warming can alone lead one to believe that it is a major crisis. - (Not a scientific reason)

Many in the scientific community have discredited the more catastrophic predictions. - (Scientists against the threat of global warming)

Many scientists making these predictions are not experts in the field like Lindzen is. - (Less competent science supporting the treat of global warming)

A warming like ones being predicted wouldn't even be difficult to adapt to according to economists, agronomists, and hydrologists. - (Specialized scientists saying it’s not a real threat if it is happening)

Summary: capable scientists don't all agree on the ideas that are mostly propagated by less capable scientists or politicians. Also, many capable scientists in the appropriate specialized fields don't feel that the warming, if it occurs as predicted, would be a major threat to the planet or society.

In the rest of his argument he points out the flawed logic that turns the evidence into doomsday prophecies. One good example: Water vapor constitutes 98% of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It is far more potent that CO2 and by far the most abundant greenhouse in the atmosphere, and we have no control over it. The remaining 2% that we have control over is fairly insignificant. And most likely if we burn all the fossil fuels we can we can't make the percentage in our control approach threatening levels.

I don't have a problem believing that the Earth's temperature is rising, although that point is minutely debatable. I don't even have much of a problem believing that it is our fault instead of a result of the mysterious climactic cycles of the Earth. Lindzen however makes it difficult for me to believe that global warming is the threat that most of us have been lead to believe.

March 1, 2007

Da Bears

I'm not exactly sure what Timothy thought he was doing out there. I can see that he has found meaning in his life by connecting with nature, and that's admirable. He was able to grasp the full reality of nature. He understood the harshness that many environmentalists fail to recognize.

Yet he still had a romanticized view of nature and his quest. He claimed to be protecting the bears even though they lived on federally protected land. He stylized his adventures and built them up in his head. His life was built around these trips; they saved him from alcoholism and defined his life. By convincing himself of how grand and noble his trips were he was able to feel better and better about his life.

His real achievement came in capturing the beauty of nature. The images he recorded are amazing. That's my favorite part about the film. His video relays the importance of continued protection of such places.

I find it hard to tell if he's doing more for nature or more for himself. However, the fact that he tackled such extremes makes him a much more respectable environmentalist than all those who prefer the greatest extent of their interaction with nature to be in the safety of a zoo.

Here’s a list of the 10 deadliest animals in the world. The bear is number 10 – responsible for an estimated 5-10 human fatalities per year

February 22, 2007

Mr. Crichton goes to Washington

I liked both the Parris and the Crichton articles. It is refreshing to read someone that isn't just throwing shame on all of us but rather stepping back to analyze popular belief. The arguement in the Parris article may be incomplete, but the logic is compelling.

Science is diluted when mixed with advocacy, especially political advocacy. Science becomes filtered and only catchy sound-bites are extracted. Facts (or stats - even catchier), are put through the spinner and become the popular talking points. When it comes to environmentalism this is all compounded by the fact that science has not yet encompassed all the complexity and nuance of our planet. How many systems are actually in place to keep our decadence in check?

This all is well illustrated by the issue of global warming. I am admittedly inconclusive about this issue, thanks mostly to Michael Crichton. Michael Crichton wrote a book called "State of Fear". It is a fiction novel, but Crichton did a lot of research and incorporated a lot of real facts. I only read certain sections in which he brought up evidence that gives reason to doubt global warming. One of the main points that I remember is how the calculation of the Earth's average temperature can easily yield any result one desires. Crichton inserts graphs of average temperatures of certain locations over large time spans (usually 100 years I think). Crichton shows a lot of extreme areas that were apparently used (yes, in the real world) for a widely distributed calculation of the change in the Earth’s average temperature. The impression is that the areas used for the calculation were selected deliberately rather than at random. Crichton shows data for many other regions that were not included in the calculation. Many of these even show a cooling trend. In the midwest for example, temperatures were all fairly flat. Most temperatures in this region have come nothing near as high as they were during the dust bowl. Climate trends are still largely mysterious. Using random samples from all across the globe doesn't always show a correlation with greenhouse gas measurements at Mauna Loa, but it could if you wanted it too.

This is not to say that I have no guilt when I drive my car that has no catalytic converter. I tend to take a better-safe-than-sorry approach when it comes to environmentalism. I recycle. I dispose of my motor oil correctly. I am worried. I have no doubt that we have the capacity to destroy the planet, but is our current lifestyle a real threat?

I would prefer it if we were all conscious of our relationship with the Earth, however unknowingly impactful we may be. What I don't want is to be scolded by a self-righteous hybrid driver that has done nothing more than to feed into the popular pseudoscientific conclusions about global warming (to be clear: hybrids are a good thing, but being smug about driving one isn’t). To these people, environmentalism is a religion. It gives them some meaning that they’re apparently missing as well as this obnoxious sense of self-righteousness.

Here's an excerpt from Crichton's book "State of Fear". It's called "Why Politicized Science is Dangerous". It shows parallels between global warming and the embarrassing theory of eugenics. Also check out excerpt #4 - author's message from the same site.

February 15, 2007


Environmentalism is based mostly on the science of ecology. Ecology is a branch of biology that deals with the relationships between organisms and the environment. Ecology recognizes that there is a delicate balance in any ecosystem. This balance can be easily disrupted and environmentalism is all about preserving this balance.

I personally feel that religion should mesh more easily with environmentalism than it seems to be. Ecology is a science, but not one so offensive to religion as evolution or a heliocentric model of the solar system. The religious environmentalists in Barcott's article say how we are the stewards of God's creations. God found value in his work and so should we.

One non-environmentalist in the article didn't like how environmentalism seems to imply that humans are like scabs on the Earth. I understand how this message can come across, but that is not how environmentalism should be viewed. Business-oriented conservatives like to accuse environmentalist as being anti-corporate. I think environmentalism at its core implies nothing other than that we need to take care of nature. It’s our responsibility and it’s necessary for the longevity of the human race and the planet as a whole.

For the most part Evangelical Christianity and conservative politics are allies. A lot of the resistance to environmentalism in the religious conservative community comes from fear of being associated with tree-hugging liberal hippies. I felt that the author was not being obtuse in using these words. It seemed that he was being satirical and plucking these words from the minds of the religious conservatives in order to show the reader how they view environmentalists. These strict varieties of Christians are especially large supporters of conservative politics, and politics still shapes to its constituents.

So it is easy to see why there is friction between environmentalism and conservative religions, but this friction is largely illogical.

The author walks the neutral line, but the environmentalist side seems more persuasive. Illyan, the llama guy, believes environmental stewardship won't even be a question in ten years. One commenter compares it to the toppling of bigotry, likely referring to the civil rights movement, which is now widely agreed to be a necessary aspect of our country.

Here's the official NRPE (National Religious Partnership for the Environment) website.

February 8, 2007

Faction of Nature

I like how Couturier makes the reader imagine our greatest metropolis as a conglomeration of human anthills. Skyscrapers are anthills - pillars of cooperative human efficiency. New York City is a sea of scurrying creatures, human and roach alike. The biggest of cities are just the human take on adapting to nature. Couturier after all does explain how everything we use comes from nature and is therefore natural. We are nature and everything we use comes from nature, even burning fossil fuels and the machinery they power were forged by particularly intelligent animals advancing their world.

Natural though it may be, we have created a new world. Our natural camp has estranged us from the wilderness. The roaches and mice and pigeons of Courtier's piece have all adapted to whatever extension of nature we might construct, but most of us are not so thrilled about the integration. We have grown fat off nature and many scavengers have grown fat off of us, but we don't usually accept these creatures into our lives. Roaches are still disgusting. We know we are one with nature, but we still seem to be trying to pry ourselves away. Maybe we're too proud.

Here's an article about a documentary on rats in NYC. It is predicted that there is a rat for every person in the city.

February 1, 2007

Annie Dillard likes nature, but maybe not steer or water bugs

Dillard has a carefree writing style. It never really goes anywhere that you would expect. When reading it I felt absorbed as she described things in ways I’ve noticed, but never put real thought to. Her observational skills are astounding. She can focus on the smallest thing in the greatest detail and relate it to you in a very poetic way, but it’s like she has plucked the imagery out of your own head.

I was not able to discern if she feels humanity is just an estranged part of nature, or if we have some kind of right to rule over it. Is nature just our playground that we have "so startlingly been set down on", or is our equal companion in our journey through time. She speaks of the steers' many uses without a hind of remorse. She feels no connection to them or to the water bug and she can't enjoy the nature of night. When it comes to frogs or falling birds or illuminated sycamore however, she sees the “beauty and grace? that we should try to be there for. Do things have value if we don’t label them as useful or pleasurable? Were the crueler things in nature created “in jest? or do we need to look at every facet of nature to see a manifestation of the grand scheme? Dillard’s stance on these questions is not apparent to me when reading this excerpt.

Here's the Wikipedia page about giant water bugs.

January 25, 2007

Prompt #1: Why the Woods?

Henry David Thoreau took a trip to the woods to live as a natural human - not as one assimilated into a complex culture and society built from collective thought.

A human alone in the woods is an animal just like any other, they are a product of this earth. Human beings arrived on this planet as just another organism. Humans were just another part of nature and just as "deliberate". Their powerful brain: their interaction and their rise above instinct allowed them to create their own world. Eventually a consensus was reached and customs and rules became more extensive than those of nature. A line was drawn between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, a line becoming more restrictive throughout history.

Thoreau understood that the human essence is not found in what their minds have built, but in that which built them, where they came from - nature. Alone in the woods Thoreau could observe the grand scheme. The village was a faction, a deviant, from the natural world. The village was a representative of what humans have created. The woods were representative of earth’s much more ancient wisdom and a temple to the force that created the human race.

The power of the human brain is seen not only in our evolving doctrine of justice and values, or in our rapidly approaching domination of technology. The human brain is equally amazing because it allows people like Thoreau to re-examine our place on this planet and what that place means to our species.

Here's a link to the wikipedia page about the Gaia hypothesis. I had to read something about it in a political ideologies class because it related to environmentalism. Anyways, it was in the back of my head as I was writing this response. I'm sure Thoreau would've loved it.