Sunday, November 26, 2006

Environmentalism revisited (based on a Bill McKibben essay)

It has been pointed out that I came to this blog with a manifesto: a view that environmentalism must be re-visioned as a basic value rather than a political or special interest. In an August 2006 essay published in National Geographic, Bill McKibben expounds on this line of reasoning.

He begins by declaring 2005 the year in which “we finally started to understand what we are in for,” in regard to global climate change.

In 2005, much attention was focused on an increase in powerful hurricanes, the loss of Arctic sea ice, and thawing permafrost in northern latitudes. In 2005, scientist James Lovelock stated we have passed the point of no return: too much CO2 has been added to the atmosphere, and runaway global warming is inevitable (global warming may be a positive feedback system that perpetuates itself). In 2005, a NASA climatologist discussing the instability of Greenland’s ice shelf told reporters that “we can’t let it go on like this” for another ten years, without causing changes that would constitute “practically a different planet.” In 2005, even a close friend of the oil industry (President Bush) declared the US to be “addicted to oil.”

Given the likelihood that we are facing a global catastrophe (whether or not 2005 was the year in which we started to "get it"), McKibben points out that environmentalism as we know it is not designed handle such an issue. The first modern environmentalists in the US set out to protect remaining wilderness areas and ameliorate damage to certain ecosystem services (i.e., the Clean Air Act). In these goals, they have been largely successful. However, planet-wide degradation of the climate from industrialization is operating on a vastly different scale, and thus far, has not been addressed in an even remotely satisfactory fashion. Why not?

Here’s how McKibben puts it:

“The old paradigm works like this: We judge just about every issue by asking the question, Will this make the economy larger? If the answer is yes, then we embrace whatever is in question – globalization, factory farming, suburban sprawl. In this paradigm, the job of environmentalism is to cure the worst effects, and endless economic growth makes that job easier. If you’re rich, you can more easily afford the catalytic converter for the end of the tailpipe that magically scrubs the sky above your city.

But it turns out that, above all else, endless economic growth is built on the use of cheap fossil fuel…Precisely the same fuels that gave us our growth now threaten our civilization.”

Or, to put an artistic spin on it, Tom Robbins discusses “The Lie of unlimited expansion” in Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas:

“We built ourselves a fine commercial bonfire, but then instead of basking in its warmth...we became obsessed with making it bigger and hotter, bigger and hotter, until if the flames didn’t leap higher from one quarter to the next, it was cause for great worry and dissatisfaction. Well, any Bozo on the riverbank could have told us that if you keep feeding and feeding and feeding a bonfire, sooner or later you burn up all the fuel and the fire goes cold; or else the fire gets too huge to manage and eventually engulfs the countryside and chars its inhabitants. Nature has always set limits on growth: limits on the physical size of individual species, limits on the size of populations. Did we really believe capitalism was exempt from the laws of nature? Did we really confuse endless consumption with endless progress?”

The point is this: unbridled economics have drastically improved the material quality of our lives, but at a tremendous cost. That cost is being borne by every inhabitant of our planet. Regardless of your political affiliation or personal beliefs, we all have to live here, thus, it is in your own interest – literally – to “be an environmentalist.”

This is a radical idea: for everyone to embrace a broader, deeper sense of environmentalism. McKibben: “For that to happen, we’d need to change…dramatically…We’d need to see ourselves differently – identity and desire would have to shift.” Those in the developed world would need to voluntarily reduce such luxuries as eating whatever produce we desire year-round, living in enormous houses, driving large cars whenever and wherever we please.

Can we actually do that? Can we truly reduce these luxuries? McKibben notes that since World War II, the American standard of living has nearly tripled (compare growing up in the 30s to growing up in the 60s to growing up in the 90s). However, in the same time period, the percentage of Americans who consider themselves “very happy” has remained steady. We don’t need these luxuries to be happy. They are not the bounty of our inalienable right to pursue happiness.

So, perhaps it is not too radical of an idea. If we can still live our lives with the same measure of happiness, and reduce our impact on the planet, it sounds downright reasonable. Perhaps we can even enhance happiness – many environmentalist ideas embrace holistic approaches that build a sense of community (i.e. community gardens), a tried and true source of happiness.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What We Learn From Borat

I've been following the Borat discussions that have ensued the release of Sacha Baron Cohen's blockbuster movie, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan." Everyone recognizes that this satire, as well the character Borat in Da Ali G Show, exposes something unattractive about American life. But what exactly? There are two chief theories. First, being a foreigner with odd and perverse beliefs, the presence of Borat somehow naturally makes Americans feel more comfortable sharing their own odd and perverse beliefs, beliefs that they normally suppress except in extraordinary circumstances. This is the view that S. B. Cohen himself once expressed.

The second theory has been well formulated by Christopher Hitchens writing in Slate: "But it's that attitude of painfully maintained open-mindedness and multiculturalism that is really being unmasked and satirized by our man from the 'stan." According to Hitchens, Borat shows Americans most vividly what their multiculturalism amounts to with respect to the racist and sexist beliefs and actions of a man like Borat. Most Americans probably disagree with Borat, but they nonetheless act toward him and his beliefs with respect.

Both theories I think constitute the core of the story. When we combine them, however, we get a new, third theory: Borat reveals to us when it is political correct to be politically incorrect. Borat shows that Americans will express politically incorrect views in order to act politely in regards to a foreigner. If we look at how the Americans relate to this strange foreigner, they appear polite to a fault. Yet at the same time, if we focus on the politically incorrect, prejudiced opinions they assent to or espouse in the process, they appear to be a perverse, even dangerous group of people. But once we see that many of Borat's victims say politically incorrect things in order to act in a polite, politically correct way, we are able to laugh at Borat's encounter with rather ordinary American customs. Without the mixture of politically correct actions and politically incorrect beliefs on the part of Borat's victims, Borat's hijinks would not be funny. Borat thrives, then, not just on political incorrectness, but on a multiculturalism of political correctness as well.

The Return of Fancy Ray

Some time ago, the malevolent Mandingo wrote of departing Minneapolis legend Fancy Ray, also known as the best-looking man in comedy, also known as the Human Chocolate Orchid.

Well, after a sabbatical rivaling the PiedPiper's, Fancy Ray will be back on cable access for a special episode of Drinking with Ian. The episode will run on MCN 6 at 12:30 p.m. on both November 16 and November 23.

And, in case you want to gain some familiarity with Fancy Ray in the meantime, check out this video from 1994, where our enigmatic host plays with a youthful Weird Al. Wow.

Pie-Eyed Poll: Slackin' To Victory '06 Edition

Hear ye, hear ye, the Pie-Eyed Poll on global warming, which has been tallying votes for many moons, is now finished. This exhaustive study is now ranked as one of the definitive scientific tomes on the subject of climate change, and its results will be combed over by climatologists for decades. The journal Nature is, in fact, publishing our findings in its next edition. However, the statistics below represent the first time this information has been disseminated to the public. Our findings:

Question: What is your interpretation of global warming?

Inconvenient Truth - 53% (68 votes)
Convenient Truth - 37% (48 votes)
Outright Lie - 3% (4 votes)
Half-Truths and Fuzzy Science - 7% (9 votes)

I'm still waiting on analysis from Jeff Greenfield - crack statistics guy at CNN - but I'm pretty sure this poll is important in many ways.

And now, the Pie-Eyed Picayune tackles another major question of the day: How much did the Democrats shelac the Republicans in 2006?

Remember, PePpers: Vote early and vote often!

The Beginning of a Great or Terrible Joke, Depending Upon Your Perspective

So, George Allen and Jim Nussle walk into a bar, and.......

(Leave your punchline in the Comments!)

And, yes, this is how I chose to return to the blog after yet another extended hiatus.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

On Politicians of Two (or more) Minds

Some have in their heads the idea that it is bad for politicians to change their mind, not to mention 'flip-flop.' Any thinking person will tell you that this idea is stupid. Listen to John Milton's seventeenth-century prose:
Certainly parliament ought always to be impartial and free to consult the commonwealth's interests as well as is possible according to the occasion; nor should they be so devoted to their previous opinions that they should feel scruples later on about voting more wisely for themselves or the commonwealth when God has given them the understanding and the opportunity to do so.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Other random note

I haven't looked much into this but it looks like marriage amendments were successful in the face of the democratic wave.

John Bolton, US/UN Ambassador...

Looks to be the next official on the way out.

Rumsfeld Stepping Down...

To be replaced by an Ex-CIA chief. Drudge has the sirens going.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Hang Him High

It was announced yesterday that Saddam Hussein was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death by hanging.

Does anyone else find the timing of the announcement rather convenient? Since when does any court release their verdict and sentences on a Sunday, unless of course it is the Sunday before a congressional election where any good news out of Iraq could help Republicans. Maybe releasing the news the day before the election just seemed far too obvious, plus that wouldn’t give the president enough time to utilize the announcement for political purposes.

I think that Riverbend, author of the blog Baghdad Burning, summed up the situation the best.

The most ironic part of the ruling is that the crimes that Saddam was convicted of actually took place one year before the famous meeting of Saddam Hussein and Donald Rumsfeld.

Economist Blog

The Economist has jumped onto the blog bandwagon and has two new blogs: Free Exchange and Democracy in America. The primary contributor is Megan McArdle. She writes under the pseudonym " York" also has a great blog Asymetrical Information where she writes under the pseudonym "Jane Galt".

For those of you that enjoy reading economics blogs I would recommend Marginal Revolution (Tyler Cowen of George Mason University) and Greg Mankiw's blog (of outsourcing fame).

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Overheard on the Radio

"My father never told me to play the blues. But he didn't tell me not to. Heh heh."
—some dude who now plays the blues

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Comments on Kerry

John Kerry has yet again put his foot in his mouth. I am sure Rove is locked in some little nook with pictures of J.F.K. part never pasted all over a wall chortling as he engages in self-gratification. That said I think this moment will be forgotten quickly. I think this is yet more evidence that stands in the way of this notion of Kerry being smart. The guy is a moron. He got worse grades sober than Bush did drunk.

All of that aside, I find this depressing. Rewind to '04, those were the choices: Bush-Kerry. How is it that knuckle-draggers become viable candidates for the most important position in the world?