Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Canadian ETC Group Warns Against British Geo-Engineering Experiments

A wacky British "Earth-cooling" project that has the flavour of mad science or a '50s comic has attracted negative reaction from around the globe, including Canada.

A group of British scientists are preparing to unleash an experiment intended to mimic the effect of a volcano, ultimately scattering water and other particles into the atmosphere, with the result of "cooling" the Earth. The project involves a balloon the size of Wembley Stadium connected to the ground by a hose.

According to the Guardian article, ETC Group, a multinational NGO based in Canada, has come out strongly against the whole concept.

"What is being floated is not only a hose but the whole idea of geo-engineering the planet. This is a huge waste of time and money and shows the UK government's disregard for UN processes. It is the first step in readying the hardware to inject particles into the stratosphere. It has no other purpose and it should not be allowed to go ahead," said Pat Mooney, chair of ETC Group in Canada, an NGO that supports socially responsible development of technology.

ETC Group has created a body of work that addresses global environmental issues and has been actively cautioning about jumping into geo-engineering of many types.

In an open letter to the IPCC's working group meeting held in Peru this June, ETC said, "The prospects of artificially changing the chemistry of our oceans to absorb more CO2, modifying the Earth’s radiative balance, devising new carbon sinks in fragile ecosystems, redirecting hurricanes and other extreme weather events are alarming."

Among the potential risks are "accidents, dangerous experiments, inadequate risk assessment, unexpected impacts, unilateralism, private profiteering, disruption of agriculture, inter-state conflict, illegitimate political goals and negative consequences for the global South is high".

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Burning Man Sees Role as Global Catalyst for Creative Culture and Social Entrepreneurship

Burning Man 2011 is now in full swing, as the organization behind the event seeks to spread its philosophical approach to creative community building around the world.

The week-long annual assembly of thousands of participants in the middle of the Nevada desert is now in its 25th year and this year's event began yesterday with the art theme: "Rites of Passage".

As a rite of passage for the organization, Burning Man's new, or additional, orientation as a vehicle for social change and entrepreneurship provides an obvious connection with the theme. The event known as a place for radical self expression and radical self reliance now becomes a catalyst for radical, global, cultural community building.

Burning Man's new vision for itself as a catalyst, called the Burning Man Project, was announced in a series of press releases over the past number of months.

The project's endeavours will tap into BM's unique body of know-how and experience, gained over decades of creative community building of both the practical and conceptual sort. The physical and logistical challenges alone of bringing tens of thousands of people together to live, create and share in the middle of the empty desert, putting up and tearing down "Nevada's fifth largest city" are easily imagined. One of the ideas of the project is that the knowledge gained from this work gain be applied in many communities around the world where similar challenges are faced. Since the Burning Man settlement, Black Rock City, is built from scratch each year and removed without leaving a trace, a multitude of basic issues such as food, water, shelter, sewage, refuse, communication and transportation are dealt with.

The Burning Man Project has six pillars: Art, Civic Involvement, Education, Culture, Philosophical Center and Social Enterprise. Each of these related areas are being addressed from the standpoint of the "ten principles" of Burning Man. All of which is elaborated in plenty more detail on the links given.

Burning Man Live Webcast

To see Burning Man right now, there is a live webcast feed here. The soundtrack on it is from the BM radio, BMIR.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

German Nuclear Shutdown Will Cost 9,000-11,000 Jobs, New Dangers of Nuclear

Is the world already too dependent on nuclear power?

Germany's decision to shut down nuclear power generation years early, following the earthquake and nuclear disaster in Japan this March, will result in up to 11,000 job losses at E.ON, the country's largest energy company.

This was confirmed last week as E.ON posted a net loss of €1.49 billion for the quarter ending in June, compared with a profit of €1.63 billion for the same period last year. Company officials blamed the loss on the government's decision to bump up Germany's nuclear free date from 2036 to 2022, as well as on a new tax on nuclear fuel introduced last year.

In order to cut costs over the next years, CEO Johannes Teyssen said the the company's board needed to make deep job cuts, primarily in administrative areas, according to a report in

"We cannot afford any unnecessary management levels, processes, and duplication of work," Teyssen said when presenting E.ON's half-year results in Dusseldorf.

The company is now projecting profit for the year in the order of €2.1-2.6 billion, a reduction of 30-40% on earlier estimates.

Meanwhile the nuclear shutdown is continuing to reverberate around the Germanan economy. Bayer, for example, employer of 35,000 in Germany, has threatened that they may have to pull out of Germany if energy prices are not competitive. As it is, Bayer is in the midst of a 4,500 worldwide layoffs, while planning to add 2,500 employees in Russia, China, Brazil or India.

In abandoning nuclear, Germany will have to replace the 23% share of the country's energy it produces. The share of renewables is expected to rise from an already high (in proportion to many countries) 17% to an estimated 35%.

The situation is also impacting other countries. A Swedish energy company blamed huge losses on the German decision. E.ON announced a 15% price hike to its 5 million U.K. residential customers and France, which is highly dependent on nuclear, is now faced with the sudden unrelated difficulty of extremely low water levels in rivers that are used to cool their reactors. At one point in June, Switzerland had requested that France shut down one of their reactors.

While just scratching the surface of recent developments, it is evident that, as countries struggle to readjust their power models in the wake of the Japan earthquake, there is another danger of nuclear power that has been overlooked.

That is that nuclear power is extremely addictive for world economies.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

This Guy Still Thinks He's Orchestrating a Campaign for Richard Nixon

Could the truth really be worse than you ever imagined?

In this case, quite possibly.

A fascinating read in The Guardian concerning the rise of Roger Ailes and Fox News.

Everything that you always suspected is true.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Murdoch-Fox Journalism is not Postmodern, it is Dishonest

Canadians were taken by surprise a month ago by the sudden resignation of CTV Quebec City Bureau Chief, Kai Nagata.

"Nagata's personal experience is an in-the-flesh example of how the adoption of economic values and assumptions, this time in the TV journalism industry, have slowly overtaken journalism's traditional values," wrote Flora Stormer Michaels a few days ago in The Tyee, in a perceptive analysis of Nagata's very public statement.

Over this same timeframe, Canadians have also had the benefit of dissecting the whole News of the World phone-hacking scandal in the U.K. This scandal has rocked the right-wing Murdoch's global media empire to its core, with subsidiaries Fox News and others treading very carefully around the perimeter of this issue as best they can.

The story got a lot of traction, which was surprising, in a sense, because of the dismal reflection it cast on all contemporary media. But of course other networks and papers had more to gain by making Murdoch look bad so they ran with it for all it was worth, until the Norway incident and U.S. debt crisis knocked everything else off the front pages.

Sniffing around on the morning after journalism's brief moment in the news, we wonder what can be gained. Does Nagata's initiative end as an item with "100,000 page views and 1,300 comments" on a blog? Does Murdoch go one step back and two steps forward?

Micahels writes that Nagata inadvertently refers in his "manifesto" to two competing cultural stories about what journalism is:  The "old" journalism is about keeping citizens informed for the public good, where information, which wasn't a commodity, allowed citizens to hold their democratic leaders accountable. The "new" journalism is about using whatever attracts eyeballs.... (...for the purpose of generating revenue).

This view suggests that the current state of journalism is a postmodern movement, where reality is defined by a socially scripted story, which has become (as if randomly): "create content that will generate the most interest and revenue."

Sorry, I don't buy it.

What Michaels refers to as "new journalism" is not what they wish it were.

It is not a "cultural story" that the good corporate citizen has gone MIA. It is simply greed at work in an unethical age.

Over and above basic greed, a political filter which demands cultivating good will for the political system perceived to be most favorable towards business, is also now entrenched. This is present in virtually all news media today, to a greater or lesser degree. It is up for discussion whether this has been premeditated, or has just been a gradual encroachment.

Let's hope that the actions of Kai Nagata and other enlightened journalists can turn this around.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Free Energy?: Waste - to -Oil not Free But Good to Go

With several promising technologies for producing "free energy" now amongst us, experience is showing that, while nothing in life is "free" something looks sure to give in the near future. Thermal depolymerization, the technology required to efficiently transform plastic and all sorts of waste into oil and other usable products has been around for years.

These technologies were invented in the 1990s and the industry has been spearheaded by a privately-owned company, Changing World Technologies, (CWT) since it was founded in 1997 by Brian S Appel.

Unlike many world-changers, this one actually has or had functioning units in the field on a fully-scaled basis. But, just as the company seemed ready to literally change the world, a combination of factors have apparently stalled its progress.

A subsidiary started jointly with ConAgra Foods, Renewable Environmental Solutions, LLC,  (RES) has an industrial facility in Carthage. MO, that has proven capable of transforming 250 tons of turkey offal and fat per day into 500 barrels of renewable diesel. Located adjacent to the ConAgra Butterball turkey plant, the RES facility has run into a variety of problems, including higher than expected costs, resident complaints about odor, an unsuccessful IPO by the parent company, and presumably the collapse of oil prices in '08. It operated for years, was shut down in 2009 and is expected to reopen (or has reopened) shortly, apparently as a wholly-owned CWT property.

Appel has stated that by processing all the agricultural waste in the U.S. using this system, enough oil could be produced to eliminate imports.

Similar technology has been developed by the Blest company of Japan. This concept focuses on plastic to oil, also has working units in the field and has demonstrated some scalability. Again this technology has been around for a while.

Plastic to Oil Fantastic from UNUChannel on Vimeo.

Another plastic to oil player is Agilyx, in the U.S. They have been running a pilot operation in Portland, OR, and are presently ramping up a demonstration scale plant. Agilyx has recently announced major "upstream and downstream" investments from Waste Management and Total.

Agilyx, whose process yields approximately 200 to 240 gallons of synthetic crude per ton of waste plastic, is eyeballing the 162 million tons of industrial and municipal plastic finding its way to landfills each year.

Keeping in mind the these multiple ways of producing enough petroleum to quench American thirst are already out there, and that the oil sands of Alberta are also ramping and ready to build and fill new pipelines, it only adds to the intrigue when one considers, for example, the 38 million hectares of the non-edible oil crop, Jatropha, that are on the drawing board in India.

In a deal announced today between Bharat Petroleum and SG Biofuelssome 80,000 acres were specifically identified out of a total of 250,000 involved in the project. Under Indian government targets, in order for biofuels to meet 20% of the petro supply, 38 million hectares will need to be planted. According to regulations, the inedible oil crops must be planted on wasteland so as not to jeopardize food security.

We will continue to follow these developments as we try to get everything in perspective and develop an overview of the global energy situation, as we ll as Canadian and North American perspectives..

Monday, August 8, 2011

Pierre "Bourqueing" Up the Wrong Tree

For the past couple of years and certainly through the recent federal election campaign, Pierre Bourque's Newswatch has been one of the more balanced general news sources out there.

His coverage of the Turmel situation, unfortunately, is fast undoing a lot of hard-earned cred from the perspective of this writer.

Even today (eons, in media terms, after the story broke), this non-issue continues to hog headlines on Bourque's front page with Sun-esque, simple-minded, empty derision, the likes of:

'Chompers' Turmel a huge liability

 The article linked to, in the Hill Times, is far more even-handed in its treatment of Turmel, mentioning precedents, such as Transport Minister Denis Lebel, who belonged to the Bloc Quebecois prior to joining the Conservatives.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Canada Now Being Lectured by Croatia on Democratic Practices

“In the past few months we have encountered many difficulties in organizing the exhibitions, usually connected to interventions of the Canadian Government or institutions under Canadian governmental control.  We continued to look for ways to collaborate with the homeland of the artist, although at times we felt patronized and even intimidated, as a small NGO trying to reach an understanding with a powerful state. This was most surprising given Canada’s reputation over many decades as a leader in promoting democratic freedoms, the right of free expression and also supporting the international community (through its role as a peacekeeper and in many other ways).  It is clear that Canada has a difficult position to resolve in relation to its narrower national interests (in particular the exploitation of natural resources) and its wider responsibility in the international community.” ~ Sandra Antonovic, Nektarina Non Profit

I first saw this issue mentioned on Creekside

Friday, August 5, 2011

Eco Art/Art Basel Miami The Effort Someone Will Go to to Get 72 Views on Vimeo in Three Years

One fine day, a pair of twins, Sunny and Joy, decided to go to Art Basel Miami and make a video about some of the artists there doing eco art.

They called themselves "The Traveling Twins" and made about 13 videos over the course of a year or two, shot in such varied locales as India, Sardinia, Portofino, New York and Miami.

The eco art video was one of their earlier ones, featuring interviews with several of the artists and even the mayor of Miami.

So I click on this video yesterday and see that it has received the grand total of 72 views in three years!

This is far from the worst video on Vimeo. It is easy to see that there was tons of work involved.

They interviewed architects from Situ Studios, Wes Rozen and Matthew McGuiness, in the process of putting up their "Solar Pavilion" and a dude named Rudolph who was working on a statuary pipeline.

Then they have a pretty good interview with German artist Dida Zende, who was setting up one of his earlier versions of FIT — "Freie Internationale Tankstelle" (translation: free international filling station). Which dispenses the "energy of creativity" for "free" (although the Goethe Institute I believe incurs some fairly considerable expenses in keeping the supply of this creative energy flowing!) Interestingly, Zende set up one of his free gas stations this year at the Waldorf Hotel "creative compound" in Vancouver.

There is a brief visit with Niki Pike, who has an adopt-a-plant project.

There's a guy called Luis Valenzuela from Art@46. A fair organizer from Green Art and yet another guy named Rudolph, who has a contraption called an Ozotron, and there could have been a few other interviews.

Check it out:

Eco Art-Miami Dec 2007 from The Travelling Twins on Vimeo.

As all of their videos, this one is well scripted for amateur work. Some of them are a little boring, but you would think they would find an audience. In some cases the exotic locations really compensate for any lack of pizzazz. The idea behind the presentation is ok. The twins, who were "born in New York and raised in Paris" have faint French accents that just sound like a weird way of speaking. They could have worked on that, I think.

All in all, I come back to my first impression. It is simply astounding that anyone would go to all this work to get 72 views on Vimeo! Since there is nothing new on their website for the past two years, I presume the twins have gone on in other directions.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

When Society Progresses in the Reverse Direction

When I saw this post, it reminded me of how I met up with a friend from elementary school last summer and, over the course of our conversations, we realized something unsettling was at work in the country.

I don't really know what this phenomenon is called. But I do know what it is. What happens is, society forgets the lessons it has already learned and we begin to progress in the reverse direction.

Sometimes we are just so stupid that we don't even learn the lesson in the first place. Like for example, "You can occupy Afghanistan but you cannot make it into the Truman Show."

But there are many lessons we have learned. Like, "libraries are a good thing". This is a historical fact.

We learned that a strong middle class is a good thing. We learned that child labour is not a good thing. We learned that a 40-hour work week was something that had to be fought for,

So why does Rachel Maddow have to give lessons on MSNBC about the benefits of collective bargaining?

Why can you find a rather cutesy (so as to be even more insidious) defense of child labour on one of the country's more popular blogs? (I won't link it - look it up if the urge takes you) Why is there an eclectic mix of pro and con comments on something like a Youtube video showing a Nazi bookburning in 1933 with narrative by Dr. Goebbels?

For one thing, there is an intense propaganda war, the likes of which Goebbels never even imagined, going on which is extremely one-sided.

One problem is obviously that financing for typical "right-wing" media is far easier to assemble than it is for progressive media. Another part of the problem is that those who would carry the banner of equality of opportunity and the rights of the middle class do make the assumption that we have already learned our lessons and shouldn't need to learn them again.

So there has been a great deal of neglect in terms of education of young people. Perhaps there is also an element of the young rebelling against the ideas of their baby boomer parents.

There has been a presumption on the part of many that the lessons learned by society had successfully created a playing field where the landscape was level and the rules were fair and fairly applied. Suddenly you open your eyes and see that it is not true.

For crying out loud, libraries are under attack!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lithuanian Traffic Blotter: Vilnius Mayor Flattens Illegally Parked Car with a Tank

He looks like he's had some practice at that, too!

Update: they're getting something like 50,000 views an hour. Great publicity stunt for the city. Putting Vilnius on the map may be a tough assignment, especially with Youtube audiences, but you gotta hand it to them for trying. 

Down Syndrome: Technological Advances Raise Soul-Shaking Questions About the Meaning of Life

Within a matter of months, the progress of science has outstripped our ability to process the new reality of Down syndrome and, unnoticed by most everyone, stands on the precipice of redefining human life.

Ever since the rise of humanity, Down syndrome, or trisomy 21, has been an integral part of the human condition. Despite all the efforts of medicine and therapy, Down syndrome has always been present. The population with Down syndrome plays a considerable role in almost all communities around the the globe. This may not be the place to discuss the extent of this role. Suffice to say that it is significant, it has existed since time immemorial and it provides a window into the human soul that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to find. Sooner rather than later, it is going to be left up to us to decide what value this role has to humanity.

Now, as has become widely known over the past number of weeks, the possibility of non-invasive prenatal testing for Down syndrome in the first trimester is imminent. This in itself is a development that pushes the philosophy and boundaries of human reproduction in a new direction that could take decades to assess and understand. It also represents an idea that will be controversial and contentious for all foreseeable time.

Then, just as this bombshell has landed right in our philosophical kitchen, science has launched another barrage on another front. As discussed here yesterday, drug therapies that can be expected to improve memory and other cognitive abilities in people with Down syndrome, are in human trials. And, even if this particular drug isn't as effective as hoped, there is plenty of reason to believe that some other drug will be identified in the near future. 

Where does this all leave Down syndrome?

The fact is that the new prenatal testing regime is just around the corner and its use will spread prolifically. After all, it seems inconceivable that society would forcibly put the responsibility of raising and caring for Down syndrome children onto people who do not feel able to accept this destiny. At the same time, many people will work to slow the effect of this testing. Pro-life advocates and religious fundamentalists will be front and centre. There are countries, even in the advanced western world, such as Ireland, that don't even have prenatal screening because abortion in any form is illegal.

So things will take some time to unfold completely. Who knows? The possibility of effective cognitive therapies may even give more people the courage to see Down syndrome pregnancies through to term even when screening comes out positive.

Yet, even with that outcome, we may find that Down syndrome as we know it will eventually come to an end as drug and other therapies mitigate the effects of the condition to a point where it becomes beyond recognition.

Which brings us back to the original question - do we have the right to interfere with this process?

Considering that, as it is, as many as 90% of Down syndrome pregnancies end in miscarriage, it could be understood that any birth of a child with Down syndrome is a minor miracle of nature all by itself. Something like the salmon that leap raging waterfalls to make their way upstream to spawn. Only a small few make it through. But do they have an important job to do? Virtually everyone who has had contact with Down syndrome people inevitably declares that their lives have been changed and that Down syndrome people have brought them joy, insight, empathy and even some kind of magic.

Many many people have tapped into the metaphor (or is it a cliche?) of Down syndrome children as "angels".  You may or may not understand this in a religious sense. However, you may be mistaken if you view this question as one of religious vs. secular values. Or, for that matter, pro-life vs. pro-choice. For a person with Down syndrome, there is no "versus." (ok, perhaps a little self-defense in a tight spot)

Yes, having a child with Down syndrome is challenging and painful in many ways. But is this a necessary pain for humanity? Is it the price we pay to have messengers of unconditional love living amongst us?

Is this one kernel of the essence of humanity that we cannot do without?

(this has been largely double posted from one of my other blogs)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Conspiracy Theorists Rally to Oslo

Not surprising, when you think about it.

First there are obvious anomalies, such as the police taking such a long time to get to the island where the massacre took place.

Then there is also the possibility/probability of people manufacturing "evidence" that would imply conspiracy and disseminating it on the internet.

People saying Breivik has different coloured eyes, people saying there was more than one shooter, people saying that both the entire operation and the downtown bomb were too complex for a lone operative and so forth.

So let the theories rain down from cyberspace. The possible motives and conspirators out there would boggle the mind!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Scientist, You May Speak Freely

Quite the kerfuffle erupted last week over the federal government muzzling a leading fisheries scientist whose work could shed light on the reasons for the crashing of salmon stocks off the west coast of Canada.

This has led to further criticism of the Conservative government's poor relationship with science in general, the meddling in grant allocations, and other attempts to control the message and the undertakings of science in this country.

A refreshing departure from this trend would seem to be the work of the Pavilion Lake Research Project, which is exploring a pair of lakes in British Columbia that are endowed with an extremely rare bio-geological phenomenon. Underwater structures there, called macrobialites, are thought to have been created billions of years ago due to the actions of ancient bacteria which were some of the most primitive lifeforms on Earth.

The cool thing about this project is that there is a fairly comprehensive Youtube record of activities, as well as a blog that many of the scientists have participated in since 2009.

Since the exploration occurs underwater, with many complexities in a hostile environment, the project makes an excellent model (or "analog" as they say) for possible future space missions. Therefore, the partners in the project include NASA, the Canada Space Agency and several universities. A truly multidisciplinary project.

The relatively wide open public communication of this project could be due mostly to the fact that there is little conceivable controversial material that could emerge, and the win - win dynamics of the operation across several fields, not the least of which the Vancouver developer of the submersible exploration unit, Nuytco Research Ltd.

Be that as it may, the public information they make available is extremely interesting and is a prime example of how the work of science can be shared with a public that would love to have more of this information.In fact, getting more exposure for this type of information would probably be the best thing that could ever be done in order for science to capture the interest of more young people.