Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Secret History of the War on Cancer

The book, The Secret History of the War on Cancer by Devra Davis showcases the problems caused by a profound lack of regulations on environmental toxins in the past century. I've used this information in my grade 12 Challenge and Change in Society class which focuses on human behaviour and, in this case, the question: "Why do we continue to do things that bring us long-term harm?". Every fact here is in Davis' book, unfortunately I didn't include page numbers after each bit of information.

For the Love of Water

This is a film synopsis for the excellent film Flow: For the Love of Water, featuring Canada's own Maude Barlow. I saw her speak once, and she was very inspiring. Don't miss her if she comes near your city. But she's pretty busy now as the first ever UN water advisor. The film runs 93 minutes. It's fast enough to keep kids entertained, and it's very informative and edited well.

It mixes enough depressing stories with stories of hope to make it motivating overall. It has sub-titles at times, so it's only for classes who can/will read as they watch. I use the film in my Challenge and Change in Society class but it suits a World Issues class equally well. The following are points I collected as I watched. There's no direct questions for the students here, and I apologize for the point-form-ness of the writing.

If you're interested in the topic, I encourage you to read Blue Gold, or watch the film which I haven't seen yet. Let me know if it's useful!

Heat – the Short Version

Two years ago I saw David Suzuki speak on his tour across the country. He mentioned one book that he felt was most important for people to read: Heat by George Monbiot. Then a few weeks later, Stephen Lewis came to town. He's one not to miss. Although he was primarily talking about the AIDS crisis in Africa, he was entertaining and engaging through-out his speech. It could have been so depressing that people would have to shut down to cope, but not with Lewis' stories along the way. Then he said, if there's one book you read on environmental matters, it should be Heat by George Monbiot.

So I read it. It's full of well documented information and some brilliant ideas for stopping the problems we've caused over the last couple of centuries. It's long and dense, but very readable (at a desk, not on a beach). This synopsis includes page numbers for easier reference.

The Big Necessity

This photo is from a Globe and Mail article on Oliver Parsons- Baker who, it's hard to tell, is dressed as a giant turd in order to bring attention to the plight of people without clean water. He's one of many Trafalgar Square Plinthers who mix art and activism. His sign says, "G8 leaders - take action on the sanitation crisis NOW."

When we're talking about people getting sick from drinking dirty water, the vast majority of the time it's not because of industrial pollutants clouding the water. It's feces. Human feces.

The End of Suburbia

I use this film, The End of Suburbia, to start students' understanding of cars, urban sprawl, media, and mass consumerism, and I segue into plastics, another petroleum-based product. If there's no petroleum for cars, we won't have any to make plastics either.

After reading Armed Madhouse by Greg Palast I actually question the peak oil theory. But even if we've got oodles of oil, it's being restricted in a way that's far beyond our control. No matter what, we've got to find ways to live without it. This film helps students understand how it all got so out-of-control.

Food Inc.

I offered seeing Food Inc. as a bonus project for my students and only had 2/30 takers. The title sounds boring. And to tell you the truth, the pacing is a bit slow and tedious. I started checking my watch after about an hour. Some say it tried to do too much at once. But the subject matter is fascinating. The facts are all American, but much of our stores are filled with US produce. It's making me ensure all my produce is either organically grown or from Ontario or both where possible. "You can change the world with every bite."

Here's a brief synopsis of the main points with lots of links for more information. If the movie's not playing near you, then read below and watch this instead:

The Partridge Family Energy Plan

Remember that Partridge Family episode back in 1974 where they entered a contest to use less energy? Danny read the meter wrong and suddenly they realized if they didn't make drastic changes, their names would be in the newspaper under the label Energy Hogs. How embarrassing! No more blow dryers or electric toothbrushes for them as they scrambled to reduce energy. I always wondered where they got that six-person bike to do groceries with, and why they didn't realize car use wouldn't be calculated into their home energy usage. I'll never know.

But more to the point, recent studies have discovered that people will change their behaviour in order to keep up with their neighbours, and this tidbit can be used to curb GHG emissions...

Dollar Store Cents

The Price of a Bargain, by Canadian Gordon Laird, devotes a section to the "Dollar-Store Nation."

No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart

This book has been very helpful in explaining the psychology of our choices when it comes to continuing to shop at stores that are exploiting people, animals, resources or just opportunities.  Can we be ethical consumers without threat of punishment?  Here's the handout I use.  I used to hand it out, have them read it and answer the questions, but that wastes a lot of paper.  Now I read it to them and work through the questions together, making a few notes on the board as I go.... 

Shock Doctrine

More of a social justice issue than strictly environmental, Naomi Klein's book, Shock Doctrine,  is a great introduction to the Iraq invasion, aka, Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Klein continues updates on her website. The following has been slightly augmented with another great read, Armed Madhouse by Greg Palast....  

Middle Class Guilt

Or, Can We Be Rich and Ethical?

"When the natural desires, the failing to satisfy which is nevertheless, not painful, are violent and obstinate, it is a proof that there is an admixture of vain opinion in them; for then energy does not arise from their own nature, but from the vain opinions of men." - Epicurus

As I was writing about my dream house and the prospects of having an extra smaller house in the backyard, visions of Haiti overshadowed it all. I'm middle class and have a lifestyle of excess, and I continue to live in a 1,000 square foot home despite the tragedies unfolding around the world. And I definitely think I have more than I deserve, but that's not enough for me to give it all up....

Doing What We Do in an Honourable Way

This is a lovely video of Julia Butterfly Hill who, years ago, lived in a tree she called Luna for over two years.  I came across this video at No Impact Man.  She speaks about the importance of not stopping war with war-like attitudes, about dissolving the artificial boundaries of us and them.  It made me think of Riane Eisler's Partnership Way and Martin Buber's I and Thou both of which I read way back in university. 

It's just a few minutes long, and it might change your day:

Free Economies

In the comments at the previous post, Sue sent me a link to the freeconomy community.  It's a cool site out of the UK but active in 126 countries.  You sign up and list all the skills you have to offer.  Then you can swap skills with other people who can do something you need.  It's a barter system.  We have something similar in K-W called Barterworks.  And, in case you don't know, we also have a Freecycle - like KCI's Free Store but regional....

Nestle, Aggregates, and Groundwater

Ecology isn't rocket science; it's much more complicated than that. - David Schindler

The Envirothon Team at my school was invited to an excellent set of talks about groundwater yesterday in Puslinch. It wasn't meant to be a debate, but it really could have been. It was rousing nonetheless. I'd put Trout Unlimited and Wellington Water Watchers on one side of the ring, and the OMNR, the Dufferin Aggregates Ltd., and Nestle on the other....

Teflon: You’re Soaking in It

I'm going to do a series on different toxins that are convenient but largely unnecessary in our lives.  Much of my info comes from the excellent book, Slow Death by Rubber Duck (chapter 3).  If you don't have time to read the book, read this instead. It's a good continuation of The Secret History of the War on Cancer.

And first off is my current obsession:  perfluorinated compounds or PFCs such as PFOA and PFOS, also known as C8s. In the book, the authors dose themselves with whatever chemical they're testing to see the effects, like Super Size Me, but with toxins.  PFCs were the only ones that had immediate ill-effects.... 

Phthalates: It’s not Just a Fragrance; It’s a Birth Control!

Part 2 of a series on different toxins that are convenient but largely unnecessary in our lives. Much of my info comes from the excellent book, Slow Death by Rubber Duck (chapter 2). If you don't have time to read the book, read this instead. Today's issue is phthalates (thay-lates), in which we have to choose as a species whether we'd rather smell pretty or continue to reproduce

I didn't care much about what the government did or what things were made of until I was pregnant  in 1993, and my midwife said, "You know not to wear nailpolish when you're pregnant don't you?"  I had no idea....

Flame Retardants – The Danger of Dust Bunnies

Toxins Part 3 takes us to brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in chapter 4 of Slow Death.  I grew up in a home with matches and lighters on every table, never too far from my mom's reach.  But I never played with them. Apparently I'm unusual that way....

Mercury: Poison Poisson

Chapter 5 of Slow Death deals with a naturally occurring toxin, the incredible element mercury.  When I was a kid, my dad broke open a thermometer on a glass plate to show me how wondrous it is.  We disturbed it with a pencil end, then watched it rejoin itself.  Very cool.  But he warned me to never touch the stuff with my bare hands.  When I saw The Cove, I thought the most disturbing part wasn't dolphins being slaughtered, but the footage of the children affected by mercury poisoning.  They looked a lot like the boy in this video...

Triclosan: An Ounce of Prevention?

In the words of Marilyn Manson in Bowling for Columbine:  If you make them afraid, they will consume.  Marketers know that if they can get you really worried about something, you'll spend a small fortune to protect yourself. Germs are the terrorists of the developed world....  Information below is summarized from chapter five of Smith & Lourie's Slow Death by Rubber Duck.

Pesticides: Yet Another Reason to Avoid Golfing

Remember that scene from North by Northwest when Cary Grant has to outrun a crop-duster.  Hitchcock knew how to instill terror in us:  pesticides - yikes. Industry claims they're perfectly safe.  Perhaps we're better off listening to Grant's character:  "In the world of advertising, there's no such thing as a lie. There's only expedient exaggerations."

Bisphenol A: Score One for the Babies

This is the last toxin discussed in Slow Death, and it's a success story of sorts.  At least Canada didn't wait for other people to act before banning BPA in baby bottles.  Yay us!   The fact that two out of my three kids refused to drink from a bottle is small comfort indeed though because this stuff is everywhere....

Everything Does NOT Cause Cancer

When we dwell on the toxins around us, sometimes it seems like everything is a problem, so why bother.  But that's really not the case.  There have been several chemicals developed in the last eighty years or so that are causing serious problems.  We could dramatically reduce cancer rates today by totally banning these chemicals worldwide.  But we won't.....

The Gentle Art of Persuasion

Monbiot's got a great post up about why people aren't easily swayed by clear facts.

He sites a study that finds, " some cases debunking a false story can increase the number of people who believe it. In one study, 34% of conservatives who were told about the Bush government’s claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction were inclined to believe them. But among those who were shown that the government’s claims were later comprehensively refuted by the Duelfer report, 64% ended up believing that Iraq had WMD."... 

Why Environmentalism Needs to be Legislated

Many standard-issue philosophers agree that happiness is predicated on an increase in pleasure and decrease in pain. Yet all too often the choices we make don’t lead towards our intended outcome of increased pleasure. We make choices that lead us towards misery. We want a clean world, but we drive everywhere. We want a strong uptown core, but we don’t stop shopping at Wal-Mart.....

Inside Job

I saw this movie a week ago, then took students on Friday.  Here's my handout if anyone's interested in how the whole sub-prime mortgage crisis happened.  There are current news links at the very very bottom.

Inside Job (Dir: Charles Ferguson, 2010, 108 min.)

A film exposing the truth behind the economic crisis of 2008. In a nutshell, progressive deregulation of the financial sector since the 1980s gave rise to an increasingly criminal industry, whose “innovations” have produced a succession of financial crises. Each crisis is worse than the last, yet few people are being sent to prison despite fraud that caused trillions of dollars in losses.

Water on the Table

I saw this film yesterday with the filmmaker, Liz Marshall, there to talk afterwards. After seeing Sharkwater with Rob Stewart there, I learned never to miss a filmmaker talk about his/her film.   They always have a few good stories to add.  Plus, I think I fell in love with her a little bit.  Check out this protest letter she wrote, apparently not her first, when she was 8.

She followed around Maude Barlow for a year.  By sheer luck of the dice, it happened to be the very year that Barlow was the Advisor on Water to the UN.

The rich will drink; the poor will die.


I just finished Devra Davis' new book, Disconnect, about cell phones.  Here's the main point:


This is a controversial topic, and she lays out every bit of research out there in heavily annotated detail.  I'll summarize the most compelling pieces of information below with page numbers from the book.  If you want a summary of my summary, just read what's in bold.

Silent Spring Backlash

On a student's recommendation, I checked out the book The Fly in the Ointment by Dr. Joe Schwarcz.  I'm always going on about the increase of toxins in our environment and how to avoid getting overloaded.  Schwarcz insists eating spoonfuls of DDT is perfectly safe and that Rachel Carson (of Silent Spring fame) used junk science to convince the masses that DDT is harmful.

Keeping the OWS Fires Burning

Occupy Wall Street protesters, the 99%, are pulling up stakes and leaving areas all around the world.  Regardless the perceived problems with diversity within the protest platforms, you've got to admit it was pretty impressive how many people in so many different cities were able to rally together to fight the power!

On Nuclear Power

The only safe nuclear reactor is 93-million miles away, the sun -  Daniel Hirsch

We've got record temperatures, and lots of truly frightening climate change data, just in time for a regional by-election.  The Ontario Clean Air Alliance (OCAA) is working to make nuclear power an issue this election.

We don't have any recent movies like Silkwood (a true story) or The China Syndrome (in theatres 12 days before the 3-Mile Island accident) to scare the bejesus out of people anymore.  Check out this "cooked" scene with Meryl Streep and Cher!

We just have real life.  But some still believe that nuclear is the way to get us out of this greenhouse gas mess we're in.

George Monbiot, a rigorous environmentalist and author of Heat, is an advocate of nuclear energy, and he thinks there are good ways of using waste materials to create more energy.  He was also part of a debate opposing Dr. Douglas Parr of Greenpeace - and the pro-nuke side of the debate won 63 to 9 just three months after the Fukushima disaster.  He's that good.

Monbiot used to be more nuclear-neutral.  In Heat (2006), he noted significant concerns with nuclear power (page 89):
* it increases chances of nuclear weapons being developed (see The Dark Knight Rises)
* every plant leaks radiation into the air and sea
* we only have enough uranium to last about fifty years
* it takes 20 years to build a reactor, and each reactor lasts only 20 years
* there are numerous dumping and leaking scandals and cover-ups because it's much cheaper to handle radioactive materials badly than handle them well (Tepco falsified safety data on at least 200 separate occasions - Rubin, 115)
* it's uninsurable
* it's expensive to build and run
* it's highly subsidized receiving 44 times as much government money as wind because big expensive schemes are more favoured with governments than small cheap ones (the bigger the project, the more powerful the lobby)
* BUT, it's better than coal.  If those are our only two choices, go with nuclear.  But he seemed to be in favour of renewables with natural gas backing up the system back then.

Then Fukushima happened, and people didn't drop dead en masse, and maybe suddenly he felt safer.  And climate change sure got a whole lot worse.  And he said, "Anyone who believes that the safety, financing and delivery of nuclear power are bigger problems than the threats posed by climate change has lost all sense of proportion."  James Lovelock, of the Gaia hypothesis, agrees.

And Monbiot makes a compelling argument that can't be lightly dismissed.  It's a gamble for sure.  On the one hand, if there's a nuclear meltdown we'll have an area with massive cancer deaths and contaminated land and water forever. On the other, with a global meltdown, we'll have mass starvation, desertification of agricultural land, and flooding which all will increase without our help thanks to positive feedback loops - oh, and unliveable daytime highs in much of the world.  The problem is that climate change won't be a death sentence for the wealthy bits of the world for a good 50-100 years or so, but a nuclear reactor meltdown could happen tomorrow.  According to Plato, we are all sorrily lacking in the art of measurement, and we'll see what's close up as having a much larger impact than what's further away in time or space.  And I do.  

A rebuttal from Jim Green (Friends of the Earth) also contains arguments against nuclear based on potential weapons development, and Ralph Nader lists reasons why nuclear power is a nightmare, and Paul Mobbs has an extensive, informative post illustrating some problems with Monbiot's position.

But I'm banking on this:  We're really bad at predicting - we tend to lowball how much renewable energy we'll likely use in the future.  In the 70s, experts predicted the states would need hundreds of nuclear reactors by now, but all the projections were way off.  We just don't know.
Projections of total U.S. primary energy use from the 1970s.
And if we're not going to be averaging a three degree increase in global temperatures in this century (which is the current life-threatening prediction - it was nice knowing you), then a nuclear meltdown becomes a much larger problem by comparison.

Michael Rose discusses the myths of nuclear power one being that without nuclear reactors, the U.S. cannot hope to combat climate change.
"It would be like "using caviar to fight world hunger," said Peter Bradford, former Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner and current staff member of the Environmental Law Center. The least expensive and most productive way to reduce our carbon footprint is to be energy efficient, not to build expensive nuclear power plants. "The money that was sunk into building the reactors in Japan should have gone into something that would really have helped us combat global warming like solar or wind power," and improving the national energy grid so that it's integrated, said Hirsch. We can't spend money on everything; we should spend it on solutions and not on technology that creates more problems."
The OCAA is suggesting an initiative focused entirely on cost to ensure that taxpayers don't cover any costs beyond the estimated in order to provoke a more accurate estimate - which will really show politicians and taxpayers the true cost - well, the financial cost anyway - of nuclear energy.  The reality is, government subsidies are keeping nuclear cheap.  If we had the same subsidies for renewables, we'd have solar panels on every rooftop.

David Suzuki's site suggests: "...the Liberals are still intent on investing in new nuclear capacity.  The Progressive Conservative go further by pledging to speed up nuclear power development.  The NDP want to reinvest money earmarked for nuclear power into energy efficiency and conservation, clearly a much better use for that money."

(Greens are also anti-nukes, but the NDP could actually win this one!)

Many thinker in the arena suggest it's better to work on energy efficiency and conservation than to spend money on nuclear power.  We need to get everyone to conserve.  And by that I mean get the government to stop us from being such entitled brats.

This is tricky for Canada because, as Jeff Rubin points out in The End Of Growth, we depend on money from cars and tar sands.  That's a huge psychological barrier to overcome: going for long term surviving over short term thriving.  I don't expect Harper to be the man for that.  Rubin also comes to the same conclusion as others:
"...the solution to higher energy costs is quite simple: learn to use less energy" (15), and "when it comes to reducing emissions, altering the energy mix by adding more renewable sources is a red herring.  What the world really nees to do is use less power.  And that's exactly what is about to happen in tomorrow's economy" (243).  
How do we do that?  According to Rubin, make energy crazy expensive.  Make the tax on cars more than the price of the car.  Increase electricity prices by three times.  It will hurt our industries, but that's a price we have to pay if we want to continue to exist.  And "the simple unspoken truth is that a recession is the bet possible way to tame runaway carbon emissions."  He suggests, "Curbing emission will always take a backseat to the more tangible imperatives of job creation" (239).  Luckily, renewables create more jobs than nuclear power. But, again, "The reduction in emissions that's about to occur because of high costs is exactly the kind of adjustment environmentalists say we will result from a profound slowdown in economic growth, which we currently lack the tools to fix" (249).  More products will be made locally since distance costs money, so manufacturing will come back home.  And he warns, people will have to learn to live with less and share jobs.  But in some ways that's a good thing.  Louis C.K. thinks so... (a treat for you if you've made it this far)

Speaking of space, here's a cogent excerpt from a book by Sally Ride, a physicist and the first woman in space who passed away yesterday (h/t Grist):
More than anything, though, I could see how fragile Earth is. When I looked toward the horizon, I could see a thin, fuzzy blue line outlining the planet. At first, I didn't know what I was seeing. Then I realized it was Earth's atmosphere. It looked so thin and so fragile, like a strong gust of interplanetary wind could blow it all away. And I realized that this air is our planet's spacesuit--it's all that separates every bird, fish, and person on Earth from the blackness of space.... 
To a person standing on the ground, our air seems to go on forever. The sky looks so big, and people haven't worried about what they put into the air. From space, though, it's obvious how little air there really is. Nothing vanishes "into thin air." The gases that we're sending into the air are piling up in our atmosphere. And that's changing Earth's life-support system in ways that could change our planet forever.
If only everyone would believe it and act on it!

Cross-posted from Project Earth Blog, July 25, 2012

On Environmental Intentions

A week ago, The Globe and Mail published an "essay" on the Facts & Arguments page about a woman who has chosen to retire from being an ecowarrior.  (Remember about twenty years ago when that page actually had essays on it - rigorously argued claims of interest instead of personal anecdotes??  Anyway...)   I can't link to articles from The Globe anymore because I don't pay for the on-line service - but I did get the photo attached.  You'll just have to trust my quotations are accurate.

On Judging Evilness in Others

This summer I'm having a tryst of sorts with Montaigne. I'm at the point in the relationship that I'm agreeing with everything he says and marvelling at his brilliance. He's quite a catch! Too bad he's dead. But he did seem pretty lazy when it came to maintaining his estate. Probably just as well.

On Kindness

Anne Jacobson at Feminist Philosophers has an intriguing post up about Hume on kindness to others.

She doesn't quote Hume, but here's some relevant words from A Treatise of Human Nature:

Of Friendship

"Because it was he.  Because it was I." - Montaigne on how he chose his one true friend.

It's curious to me how we qualify what counts as a friend. Since the invention of Facebook, this has been discussed at length, mostly focusing on the inauthenticity of the one-click relationship. This actually has a long history of being a topic of debate.

On Virtue and Intention

Montaigne's essay "Of Cruelty" speaks more to virtue than evil. He's sorting out what it means to be virtuous.  In a nutshell he says, "What I have in me of good, I have by chance."  Being virtuous has to be more than just the good we do that we would have done even if it wasn't considered good.  Virtuous acts are those that take a bit of struggle.

I like to think of myself as moral by choice - by the sheer strength of my willpower to resist temptation. But lately I've decided it's just my dumb luck that I tend to do things that seem virtuous at this time and place.

On Mindfulness

On yet another urging recommendation, I finally read The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh.  But I didn't read it well.  I'm a picky reader.  I can immerse myself in difficult philosophy readings, but this was a struggle.  I happily read all about Montaigne's thoughts on mindfulness, but I was trying to read this mindfully instead of expediently.  I found it repetitive, and ended up doing much of the reading in front of a movie just to get through it.

On Fear

A bit of Montaigne,
Such as are in immediate fear of a
losing their estates, of banishment, or of slavery, live in perpetual
 anguish, and lose all appetite and repose; whereas such as are actually
 poor, slaves, or exiles, oft times live as merrily as other folk.

On Pleasure and Pain

In Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle, written in his mid-60s at the end of WWI as influenza killed one of his daughters, he tries to sort out why our lives generally suck even though we seem to be driven towards pleasures and away from pains.

What I love about Freud is that, like Montaigne, he’s just figuring. He doesn’t suggest that he knows all the answers; he’s just throwing out some ideas for consideration:

Friday, June 27, 2014

On God, Our Invisible Parents

A couple of years after Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud wrote Future of an Illusion to clarify why so many people believe in God and why this is a problem for society.  All through the book he's guided along by a clever imaginary critic questioning him at every turn to ensure he presents a solid argument against religion.  He has no concerns with the book harming people by suggesting God is a hoax because those with unshakable faith will remain steadfast, but he is briefly concerned that people will write off all his theories, and all of psychoanalysis, because of his atheism. It's funny that he didn’t at all foresee that people might instead write him off for his perceived obsession with sex.  His atheism didn't become as commonly known.

On Community

It's not just my favourite TV show.

Every year I teach the prisoner's dilemma to social science students.  The upshot of the dilemma is, if a person can reduce his/her own problems by screwing over someone else, what will they do.  The best option collectively is for both to take care of each other, but the best option individually is for us to be selfish. And, we can never be sure that other people will take care of us in return.  That the big stopper to  many acts of kindness - a concern that the kindness will not be returned.  But with an expectation of return, that's not so much kindness as a covert bargain without a clear agreement established.  But even if there is an agreement, "I won't rip off you if you don't rip off me," sometimes people lie. And then we get burned.

On How to Be Happy

At 74, after the roaring twenties came to an end, and the depression was just beginning to settle in a while, Freud wrote Civilization and its Discontents. This was eight years before the Nazis would allow him to leave the country but only after forcing him to sign a statement saying he was not mistreated.  He sarcastically asked if he could add, “I can most highly recommend the Gestapo to everyone.”  This is something to remember:  He was a ballsy guy.  To write the books he wrote at the time he wrote them, took courage. He also famously noted, “What progress we are making.  In the Middle Ages they would have burned me.  Now, they are content with burning my books.”  The following year, after a long struggle with cancer, his doctor helped him die with an overdose of morphine.  He missed all the burning the Nazis did.  This book explores how to be happy in the face of misery, and he espouses a surprisingly open view of sexuality near the end.  (This very well may be the longest post in all the land!)

On Work and Love

I’ve been trying to write every day for the 21 days my youngest is at camp, but I missed Friday because it was finally cool enough to do some necessary yard work. But it gave me a chance to further contemplate Freud’s idea that work, not love, is a key to happiness.

My family of four typically produces one milk bag’s worth of garbage each week. How cool is that! I’m careful about what I buy, and I recycle and use the green bin for meat and dairy. And, I think most importantly, I compost. Sure you can put everything in the green bin, then drive to the dump to get compost for your garden, but I like to take out the middleman. It makes sense to compost and use your own garden waste on your gardens. If everyone did it, it would save the city tons of money and energy carting our leaves and orange peels across the city.  Plus, I don’t trust that someone in the region isn’t "green binning" hardy weed seeds or diseased plants or “biodegradable” plastics, which really just decompose into tiny bits and add petroleum to your carrot patch. Bletch.  So, the work...

On Sexual Perversions

I want to revisit one of Freud's ideas further in light of a few news articles from yesterday's paper.  He said,
"The demand for a uniform sexual life for all, which is proclaimed in all these prohibitions, disregards all the disparities, innate and acquired, in the sexual constitution of human beings, thereby depriving fairly large numbers of sexual enjoyment and becoming a source of grave injustice" (C&D 53).

On Addictive Pleasure and the Fear of Death

I recently read Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve, a book about the hiding and finding of the 1st century poem On the Nature of Things by Lucretius, which is a tribute to  Epicurus and his philosophy.  Lucretius writes of Epicurus, "When 'human life lay groveling ignominously in the dust, crushed beneath the grinding weight of superstition' one supremely brave man arose and became 'the first who ventured to confront it boldly'" (72).  I'm not sure the poem ushered in the modern world when it was unearthed in the 15th century, as Greenblatt suggests, but the book is quite provocative nonetheless.  And then I read Luc Ferry's A Brief History of Thought - a trip through the major western philosophies, which almost completely ignores Epicurus.  Curious.  I'll get to Ferry's book another day.

On Finding Meaning Through Love

At the end of Luc Ferry's A Brief History of Thought or Learning to Live: A User's Manual (same thing), he suggests that we can get salvation and transcendence outside any religious belief system by being elevated through a singular love.  The rest of the book is a chronology of philosophy epochs, and I might think more on that later, but I'm mainly interested in his own ideas about love saving the day.

A Crisis of Environmental Faith

A couple of sentences from Matthew Altman (from "The Green Onion") have been weighing on me for days:
Ironically, environmentalism itself can become a means of advancing our own selfish interests, as when we barely adjust our lifestyles in order to feel a disproportionately strong sense of smugness....If a well-intentioned environmentalism does nothing for nature, it only has ["morally bankrupt"] anthropocentric value:  its contribution to the environmentalist's sense of self-satisfaction.
Is the smugness the bigger problem here or the uselessness of the pursuit?  If I do all sorts to try to save the world, and still feel devastated because I recognize what little impact I have, I'm still doing precious little for nature, and then my acts don't even have anthropocentric value.  They got nothin'! My "Sisyphean" efforts do little to actually prevent global warming.  Shockingly, my letters and petitions aren't yet being acted on in parliament.

A Stoic Resurgence

In reading a few other blogs lately, Stoicism has come up a few times, and I'm seeing it in a few books I've been reading lately too.  Maybe it'll stick this time.

In Robin Hanson's blog discussing why middle aged people are most pessimistic, I suggested that maybe it's a point in life where we know too much horrible crap happening in the world, and it's making us miserable.  And we're just before a point in which we've found a way to cope with the unending tragedies that are part of being alive.  Maybe my cohort will become happier in a stoic manner - once we get our heads around how little control we have over the world, accept that many of these problems aren't ours to solve, and develop a tranquility around it all.

On An Environmentalist False Dichotomy

Margaret Wente, in her latest discourse, thinks the reason the environment's being ignored is because of all the pessimists making us too depressed about it all.  She splits all environmentalists into two camps:
"But the biggest divide is really between the purists and the pragmatists, the pessimists and the optimists - between the McKibbernists, who believe we're on the brink of global catastrophe, and those who think human beings are more resourceful and the Earth is more resilient than the doom-mongers say they are."
And I ask:  Can't it be both??

An Unprecedented Emergency

The Guardian has an excerpt of Stephen Emmott's new book, Ten Billion, about the effects of overpopulation on the environment.  The situation is dire.  I haven't read the book, but in the excerpt he delineates that we're definitely in a state of unprecedented emergency.  Unfortunately he fails to offer any significantly radical ideas to follow that could actually happen to save us all.  Here's what Emmott says...

On Monbiot's Manifesto

A just world is one in which the labour forces of all nations recognize that they can no longer evade their own problems by demanding the explitation of other people.  (Manifesto, p. 245)

To be truly free...we must be prepared to contemplate revolution.  (Manifesto, p. 253)

Via The Guardian
It's been interesting to see the path Monbiot's taken to offer grand solutions to the problem of climate change - well, the problems inherent to human nature, really.  He offers a means to overthrow the current world-wide governmental system, then a means for an overseeing organization to dramatically reduce GHG production, then he goes off to the woods to explore the other side of the story.  I'm invigorated by his passion, but I'm dubious that any of it can possibly come to pass.

On Chomsky

I think everyone should read Chomsky. He’s brilliant, yet far less dense and inaccessible as some people think. He’s a different person than you or me – well, than me for sure. He has a wealth of knowledge and an astute analysis of events pretty much from the beginning of time to now all in his head and instantaneously available to him. I have to look up the word “hegemony” every time someone uses it. But he’s also very down to earth, which makes him all the easier to follow. Most importantly, he gives us a framework of the world necessary to understand in order to help us fight the good fight.

He’s written many books, and many others were compiled from his speeches. Below are ten common threads in his work taken from Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky. (Page numbers are from the 2002 paperback edition.) The ideas here are abridged without all the evidence – you have to read the full 400-paged book for that and/or the footnotes.

Too Stupid to Live - Literally

Mound of Sound has a post at Disaffected Lib about the likelihood of doubling GHG by 2100.  If we don't do something very quickly and very intentionally, then, based on temperature projections from the 1970s on, we won't be able to live in this part of the world sixty years from now.  Most of Canada and the U.S. will be basically uninhabitable - not to mention most of the world.

I commented there:
We're no longer at a point where we need contests or incentives to get people to recycle more. We need concrete restrictions - corporate and individual. I'm all for personal freedom, but not if it's costing us our lives. For instance, we could save millions of trees from being cut down each year if we just made disposable cups illegal, forcing people to remember their travel mug or go home un-caffinated. Screw roll-up-the-rim! And that doesn't have to be a slippery slope to totalitarianism, like I'm sure some will suggest. It'll be a difficult road for politicians to face, but it'll be far worse for us all if they wimp out.

On Hedges' Empire of Illusion

"People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster."  - James Baldwin 

Thus begins Chris Hedges' Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (2009), a collection of five independent parts that lead to the same place.  We're in denial - thick and deadly.  It's similar to Jane JacobsDark Age Ahead, but I can't, for the life of me, find my heavily annotated copy of the book.  So I'll skip the comparison except to say they both suggest we're in a similar cultural place that many empires were just before collapsing.  What Jared Diamond did with environmental degredation's effect on the fall of empires, Hedges does for cultural illusions.  The problem with this fall is that it will be global.  There will be no area of the world that can rise up afterwards.  There will be no area of the world.

Here are some of the main points in brief.  It's a quick read though, so go buy it!

On Canada: A Fair Country

I used to be so proud to be Canadian and that's wavered over this difficult period in our history.  I was searching for this book to loan out, and once found, I got totally engrossed in re-reading it.  It made me feel so much better.  It's an important book about who we really are:  A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada by John Ralston Saul (2009).  What a delight!

Moving Beyond the Rational

Unlike everything else in the news, this isn't about Rob Ford.

I'm going to merge some Fraser Institute news with recent discussions in class, an old Munk Debate on religion, and some ideas from David Hume.   Here we go!

Kate McInturff writes at the CCPA that the Fraser Institute,
"would like to remove compassion from the policy debate about poverty in Canada....because....compassion is causing us to confuse those who have lower income with those who do not have enough income to sustain life."
The interesting bit to me is just these few words:  "compassion is causing us to confuse...."

A Little Hope is Effective...

A lot of hope is dangerous. - President Snow

This may be a little hokey, but I think Catching Fire is an important film to see right now.

And it's awesome!

I read the books ages ago, but even though I know how they each end, it didn't stop me from being on the edge of my seat.  And I was surprised by how inspirational I found the film to be.

Grist relates how the books chronicle what happens after climate change destroys the world and makes for scarce resources for the survivors to fight over.  We have a really interesting crisis to overcome for our time.  It's not us against the state - not just us against the state - but against our own conveniences.  Not enough of us have the foresight to vote out politicians who are supporting the pipelines.  That's one problem.  But a bigger one is that too many of us are sliding into complacency.

On Stoic Environmentalism

I'm doing the Stoic Week thing this week.  It's just a matter of contemplating specific quotations each day.  Even though I studied them years ago, and teach about them even, and maybe should have figured this all out long ago, I'm still stuck on the first reading.  I'm a slow thinker.

Here's the reading from yesterday - a little bit from the Encheiridion of Epictetus:
Some things are under our control, while others are not under our control. Under our control are conception [the way we define things], intention [the voluntary impulse to act], desire [to get something], aversion [the desire to avoid something], and, in a word, everything that is our own doing; not under our control are our body, our property, reputation, position [or office] in society, and, in a word, everything that is not our own doing.
First of all, how is desire under our control?  I wonder if desire is the best translation here because I can't control what I desire to have or avoid at all. I can only control whether or not I act on that desire.  And with a bit of practice, maybe I might be able to stop some of my desires, or desensitize myself from aversions.  But desire is pretty automatic; we desire or are repelled in an instant.

On Our Continued Sexual Repression

Sherlock & John
I watched the first episode of the new season of Sherlock last night.  There's a sub-plot with NO spoilers here:  John Watson gets engaged to Mary.  Mrs. Hudson, the landlady, is shocked that he's engaged to a woman since he and Sherlock were obviously so close - and so soon after his passing and all.   John vehemently objects to the insinuation that he is now, or ever was, gay.  

In class before the break I read a bit about Montaigne's affection for La Boétie, and the very first comment I got from a pretty enlightened group was, "He was obviously gay."

On John Stuart Mill, Free Speech, and Climate Change

I got caught up in a few arguments about climate change recently that just reinforced to me, that there’s still such a strong bashlash against the entire idea that we’re unlikely to move forward quickly enough to be effective.

Paper is trees!
My school board is fundraising for the Philippines, and I’m totally on board with it. But I commented publicly on the irony of sending each kid home with a piece of paper on the issue. That’s over 60,000 full pieces of paper or about 8 trees for something that will be crumpled at the bottom of a knapsack or tossed before it even makes it home.  We’re cutting down trees to make paper to ask people to help those affected by conditions exacerbated by the cutting down of trees. And there are other ways to get the word out like our websites and automatic phone callers. If we really want to use paper, the notices could at least be sent on half pages or on re-use-it paper (‘goos’ paper in some places).

Pretty straightforward and reasonable, right??

The Tao of Environmentalism

At Politics Respun, Stephen Elliott-Buckley suggests we make decarbonizing our New Year's resolution.  In a fit of frustration, I commented thusly:

What does it look like to join you? I mean I'm totally in, but what do I do to "seriously begin to decarbonize"? 
How to stop this?
I already don't own a car, freezer, clothes drier, or A/C, and I've got solar panels for electricity, but I still heat my house with natural gas. Do I have to get a fireplace and go completely off-grid - using zero fossil fuels - because my neighbours already think I'm a bit weird for the panels? 
I already write to Harper enough he sent my an 8x10 signed glossy as if he's a rock star getting fan mail, but my letters aren't having much of an effect. I can't convince many of my students that climate change is a tragedy caused by our unfettered use of energy, so I can't convince them to write angry letters or protest either. They tolerate having the lights off when I teach on sunny days, but I can't get other teachers to turn them off as well. 
I'll keep trying on all these fronts, but I fear there are more of them than us. Most people just won't fight to end their own conveniences. Not yet, and, therefore, not nearly soon enough. 
Like the plethora of sites that tell us HOW to lose ten pounds with one neat trick, we need to know the next steps. HOW do we convince the elites - or even just our neighbours and friends - to radically change our world? How do we change the minds of the many who are happy with Harper? How radical are we willing to be to save our species?

Further to the York University Issue....

If you haven't heard, a York University prof denied a student's request to work in all male groups for religious reasons.  York's Centre for Human Rights suggested the student should be granted the request to avoid being with women in public.   I commented with my views here:
I see education as a stepping stone for the working world. If he expects to work in Canada, he has to get used to working with women, so it's in the male student's best interest to find a way to cope with this expectation within a Canadian institution.

On Mesothelioma: Dying to Be Heard

Today isn't just Groundhog's Day, it's "Lung Leavin' Day" - a commemorative day sparked by Heather Von St. James who had her lung removed eight years ago today due to mesothelioma.  Check out the ritual she cultivated on her website and an interview with her here.  This is a very specific cancer caused by asbestos exposure.  Most people diagnosed don't last a year, but she was lucky to find a specialist who was willing to remove a lung to save her life.

How to tell if your tiles are asbestos.
She wore her dad's work coat as a kid.  That's all it takes.