Saturday, June 9, 2007
"We are not alone."
I went to another great lecture by the folks at the Long Now Foundation last night. Paul Hawken spoke to a standing-room-only crowd about the latest social group of over 100 million people and growing- the environmental and social justice movement.
I could rave on, but I'll let my pal Stewart Brand sum it up, since he's been doing this since before I (and my mother) were born:
"The title of Paul Hawken's talk, "The New Great Transformation," has two referents, he explained. Economist Karl Polanyi's 1944 book, THE GREAT TRANSFORMATION, said that the "market society" and modern nation state emerged together in Europe after 1700 and divided society in ways that have yet to be healed.
Karen Armstrong's 2006 book, THE GREAT TRANSFORMATION, explores "the Axial Age" between 800 and 200 BC when the world's great religions and philosophies first took shape. They were all initially social movements, she says, acting on revulsion against the violence and injustice of their times.
Both books describe conditions in which "the future is stolen and sold to the present," said Hawken--- a situation we are having to deal with yet again.
His new book, BLESSED UNREST, was inspired by the countless business cards that earnest environmentalists would hand him after his lectures all over the world. After a while he had 7,000, and he wondered, "How many environmental groups are there in the world?" He began actively building a now-public database, WiserEarth.org, which includes social justice and indigenous rights organizations because he found they indivisibly overlap in their values and activities.
The database now has 105,000 such organizations. The still-emerging taxonomy of their "areas of focus" has 414 categories, amounting to a "curriculum of the 21st century"--- Acid Rain, Living Wages, Tropical Moist Forests, Peacemaking, Democratic Reform, Sustainable Cities, Environmental Toxicology, Watershed Management, Human Trafficking, Mountaintop Removal, Pesticides, Climate Change, Refugees, Women's Safety, Eco-villages, Fair Trade... Extrapolating from carefully inventoried regions to those yet to be tallied, he estimates there are over 1,000,000 such organizations in the world, adding up to the largest and fastest growing Movement in history.
The phenomenon has been overlooked because it lacks the customary hallmarks of a movement--- no charismatic leaders, no grand theory or ideology, no "ism," no defining events. The new activist groups are about dispersing power rather than aggregating power. Their focus is on ideas rather than ideology--- ideologies are clung to, but ideas can be tried and tossed or improved. The point is to solve problems, usually from the bottom up. The movement can never be divided because it is already atomized.
What's going on? Hawken wondered if humanity might have some collective intelligence that we don't yet understand. The metaphor he finds most useful is the immune system, which is the most complex system in our body--- more complex than the entire Internet--- massive, distributed, subtle, ingenious, and effective. The opposite of a hierarchical army, its power is in the density of its network. It deals with problems not through frontal attack but complex negotiation and rapprochement.
Much of the new movement, Hawken said, was inspired, at root, by the slavery abolitionists and by the Transcendentalists Emerson and his student Thoreau. Emerson declared that "everything is connected," and Thoreau wound up going to jail (and making it cool) by taking that idea seriously in social-justice terms.
Now, as in the Axial Age, activism comes from acting on the realization that "all life is sacred."
My favorite part of the lecture was when Paul linked the different movements through time. He started out with Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson and his lecture on Nature at Harvard. A young Henry David Thoreau was in attendance, and after graduation, Thoreau attached himself like a barnacle to the Emersons. Ralph's advice to David: write a journal. He did, and later his protest against unjust governance was published as a book titled "Civil Disobedience". It was that book which Mahatma Ghandi carried with him when he made his march for his people in India. Later, during the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. it was Rosa Parks who stood up to abuse as she rode the bus to classes on Civil Disobedience, where she and others like Dr. Martin Luther King JR. read about past agitators.
And it goes on and on. to where you and I are, right now.
It was great to sit there and feel connected to all the other people out there, all working towards one ideal- to look after future generations.
This lecture will be available soon for download, so check out the Long Now Website!
Visit Paul Hawken's website WiserEarth to check out our people, and register your organization!
Friday, June 8, 2007
According to Scientific American, antibacterial soaps aren't just unnecessary- they're dangerous.
"Tuberculosis, food poisoning, cholera, pneumonia, strep throat and meningitis: these are just a few of the unsavory diseases caused by bacteria. Hygiene—keeping both home and body clean—is one of the best ways to curb the spread of bacterial infections..."
But are we going too far in our worry over bacteria? Yes, says SCIAM.
These days you can find antibacterial agents in cosmetics, soaps, bedding and household cleaners, and many other products. Most of these just aren't necessary, as normal washing with hot water and soap will not only bacteria, but a whole slew of microbes that can effect our health. But there's more.
With antibacterials, there is a residue left over after bacteria are killed. The most resistant bacteria are able to use this low dose to build up resistance, sort of like the flu virus builds up resistance to vaccinations by mutation. The same happens when we use these antibacterials- in fact, we are inadvertently creating 'super bugs'. The healthiest, most resistant bacteria are not killed by the products, but in fact are made stronger. These same compounds are found in over 60% of US drinking water, making the potential for serious disease more of a risk than before there were antibacterials used in the first place.
Strange but True, read the article at Scientific American
The battle against kudzu vine is on in Tennessee, where county management programs are using goats to tackle this pervasive pest. Oh, sure, there are jokes about it. But these little eating machines are serious, and have allowed the reclaimation of lands and promotion of native species organically, without the use of herbicides.
for article in New York Times
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
Scientists have confirmed that a shark kept in captivity did indeed produce an offspring in 2001 without the fertilization from a male. Officials at the zoo were hesitant to announce the discovery until they'd confirmed that the birth was through parthenogenesis, rather than through sexual reproduction.
This discovery is important to the conservation of sharks, and could prove a double-edged sword for the declining family of cartilaginous fishes. Parthenogenesis could potentially weaken genetic diversity and make sharks more susceptible to diseases. Should shark numbers continue to fall, this asexual reproduction could essentially keep them from further evolving to survive their conditions. However, some scientists believe this was very common in early animals whose survival depended upon being able to reproduce when numbers were not large enough, as when an animals gets separated from others in an isolated area.
Other animals to have recently surprised us with their ability to reproduce without sex are komodo dragons, with two confirmed cases last year at separate zoos.
This form of reproduction has recently been a suggestion as to what happened with honey bees mysteriously disappearing, as drones of a colony are clones of the queen, giving them less resistance to diseases.
for BBC article on sharks
for BBC article on Komodo dragons
Sunday, June 3, 2007
According to a post in Green Options blog, there's a new bill in Congress called the Energy Policy Reform and Revitalization Act "The bill, according to the nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy, promotes alternative energy and efficiency, including a green building program that would require all major new facility construction projects funded in whole or in part through the Department of the Interior, National Ocean Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, or the Forest Service to meet or exceed silver level LEED standards."
But a provision in the bill, the Global Warming Wildlife Survival Act, has some clean power officials worried.
The law will require the registration of all turbines, no matter how old, to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and gives them the right to inspection without notice. Penalties would be stiff for failure to comply, up to $50,000 per citing. Some opponents say this would create difficulties for individuals wishing to put up turbines on their homes and lands. They maintain that a separate group, Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee, will be better able to regulate turbine use in the states.
for full posting on Green Options
Amyris Biotechnologies has developed an inexpensive cure for malaria, set to be released in 2008. Their next mission is to use the same technology to solve the world's energy problems.
The company technology results from years of research by Jay Keasling, a Professor of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering at UC Berkeley. During Keasling's position as Director of the Physical Biosciences Division of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, he has made great discoveries for the world of biosynthetics through his research with E. Coli.
Keasling, along with three graduates from Berkeley, founded the Amyris in 2003, and were quickly awarded grants by the Bill Gates Foundation for their work with genetically modified E. coli that will cure malaria.
The way it works, to put it simply, is that they've engineered the bacteria to produce artemisin, a plant drug occuring naturally in Artemesia. The price tag for the natural drug is $2.40 US, a price far too high for those suffering in third-world countries. According to the World Health Organization, malaria infects somewhere between 300 million to 500 million people every year. Africa and Asia are hit the hardest, with 1.5 million deaths, and most of those are children. This new, genetically modified drug will cost $.25, and is set to be available world wide as soon as 2008.
So what's next for Amryis? They've just received another grant from the Gates Foundation, this time their goal is to tackle biofuels. They're looking at how fuels are designed from nature, and will attempt to ferment sugars into fuel.
Today's biofuels just aren't scaleable for a global market. They currently require too much energy up front, and are limited by the organic raw material. The company is looking to developing a process by which a wide variety of plant sources can be used. Other constraints will be a fuel that can be readily used in automobiles, diesel and jet engines. The company has the additional goal of producing a fuel that is insoluble in water so that current pipeline infrastructure will need no retrofitting.
Technology like this could be the key to creating a fuel that we no longer need to wage war for, while ensuring our agricultural lands are preserved for future generations.
for article in New York Times