Thursday, April 29, 2010

Climate Change and Justice

"Must-read" essay by Mike Hulme about climate change controversies at the RSA Journal website. In particular, his claim that climate change has become an all-explaining metaphor for the future place of humans in nature:

But climate change has come to signify far more than the physical ramifications of human disturbance to the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere and its energy balance. Climate change has become as much a social phenomenon as it is a physical one. Arguments about the causes and consequences of climate change – and the solutions to it – have become nothing less than arguments about some of the most intractable social, ethical and political disputes of our era: the endurance of chronic poverty in a world of riches; the nature of the social contract between state and citizen; the cultural authority of scientific knowledge; and the role of technology in delivering social goods. Climate change has become a metaphor for the imagined future of human life and civilisation on Earth.

Here's also what Hulme has to say about how the climate change topic is framed in "lesser developed" countries:
The different meanings that can be attached to the idea of climate change are illustrated well by considering ways in which the issue is framed in India. For many in this country, the key concerns are how to secure financial reparations for environmental damage caused by northern nations through the proxy of climate and how to use climate change to advance the development of the 500 million people living in absolute poverty. This framing of climate change is very different from that which prevails in much western discourse and implies a very different set of international and domestic policy prescriptions. The issue is less about how to reverse a two-degree temperature change, how to save polar bears or how to avoid metaphorical tipping points than it is about how to secure hundreds of billions of dollars to invest in basic human welfare.
The idea of nations using climate change as a means of improving basic human welfare sheds a different kind of light on the social justice aspects of the issue. That Hulme describes India's actions as an attempt to "secure financial reparations" makes the essay especially relevant given next week's concluding topic.

The entire essay is well worth reading.

Economic and policy analysis of wind power

I'm having trouble locating the exact factoid of "total annual U.S. wind output equals output of one medium-sized coal-fired power plant," but I'll keep looking. In the meantime, here is a fairly thorough economic analysis of wind power at . Highlights relevant to some of our discussion this morning include:
Often, the most favorable locations for wind farms also happen to be the current location of particularly spectacular views in relatively unspoiled areas. Wind farms that produce only a fraction of the energy of a conventional power plant require 100 times the acreage. For instance:

Two of the biggest wind "farms" in Europe have 159 turbines and cover thousands of acres; but together they take a year to produce less than four days' output from a single 2,000 MW conventional power station - which takes up 100 times fewer acres.

A proposed wind farm off the Massachusetts coast would produce only 450 MW of power but require 130 towers and more than 24 square miles of ocean.

A wind farm occupying 192,000 acres - 300 square miles - would produce the same amount of energy as a 1000 MW nuclear plant (which has less than 1700 acres, or 2.65 square miles, within its security perimeter fence), or as a 1000 MW coal powered plant taking up 1950 acres, 3.05 square miles, for all of its associated infrastructure.

Also, wind power requires the continued existence of conventional power plans for storage and backup:
Because of intermittency problems, wind farms need conventional power plants to supplement the power they do supply. Bringing a conventional power plant on line to supply power is not as simple as turning on a switch; therefore most "redundant" fossil fuel power stations must run, even if at reduced levels, continuously. Accordingly, very little fossil-fired electricity will be displaced and few emissions will be avoided because fossil-fueled units (operating at less than their peak capacity and efficiency or operating in "spinning reserve" mode - which means they are emitting more pollution per energy produced than if operating at peak efficiency, imagine a car idling near train tracks in case the power goes out) must be kept immediately available to supply electricity when the output from wind turbines drop because wind speed slows or falls below minimums required to power the turbines. Kilowatt-hours produced by wind turbines cannot be assumed displace the emissions associated with an equal number of kWh from fossil-fueled generating units. Combined with the pollutants emitted and CO2 released in the manufacture and maintenance of wind towers and their associated infrastructure, substituting wind power for fossil fuels does not improve air quality very much.
So these are tough issues. Hard to say what is the "best" policy outcome in this case. But clearly here is a case where real-life aesthetics problems come into sharp focus.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Immigration laws in the news

Off of today's BBC newsfeed:

Arizona's governor has signed into law an immigration bill seen as one of the toughest in the US, despite strong criticism by President Barack Obama.

The bill signed by Governor Jan Brewer will require state police to question people about their immigration status if there is "reasonable suspicion".

The bill - which takes effect in 90 days - also makes it a crime under state law to be in the US illegally.

President Obama has described the law in the US border state as "misguided".

Obama's warning

Gov Brewer signed the bill into law live on television, saying it "protects every Arizona citizen".

We in Arizona have been more than patient waiting for Washington to act. But decades of inaction and misguided policy have created a dangerous and unacceptable situation
Jan Brewer Arizona governor

She said the measure would strengthen border controls in the state, which borders Mexico.

The governor also said she had to act because the federal government had failed to tackle illegal immigration.

"We in Arizona have been more than patient waiting for Washington to act. But decades of inaction and misguided policy have created a dangerous and unacceptable situation."

President Obama said he had instructed the Justice Department to examine if the bill was legal.

He also said Washington should consider enacting immigration reform at the federal level.

"That includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe," Mr Obama said.

Civil rights groups have said they will mount a legal challenge to have the law overthrown on the grounds that it paves the way for widespread discrimination against Hispanics.

One group, the National Council of La Raza, said the bill would turn Hispanics, regardless of their legal status, into suspects in their own communities.

Supporters of the bill say it will help bring illegal immigration under control in Arizona.

The state is the main entry point for undocumented immigrants into the US.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Roots of Resistance: Eco-media for Eco-justice Vol. 1

just released for earth day!

<a href="">Warrior Skit by Eco-Justice Media-Making for Sustainable Communities</a>

Monday, April 19, 2010

Environmental Justice Lecture TONIGHT!

I just found out about an Environmental Justice lecture that's going on tonight. The speaker is Lois Gibbs, founder of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. She will be speaking about her community organizing work surrounding the toxic waste in Love Canal (near Niagara Falls) in the late 1970s, which helped to start the environmental justice movement. The event starts at 7PM in Warren 131. Refreshments will be provided!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Immigration policy and misanthropy

Hey gang,
that movie I couldn't remember the title of yesterday is The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, directed by Tommy Lee Jones. With Barry Pepper as the "hero." Excellent film.

Among the other tidbits on the IMDB website: "Director/Actor Jones gave each cast member a copy of Albert Camus's The Stranger to read so that they would understand alienation, a big theme in both the novel and the film."

The trailer:

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

If Only Gay Sex Caused Global Warming...

So I was reading this article by Daniel Gilbert (a Prof from Harvard) for my Social Psych class and I couldn't help but think of our E. J. class. I hope you guys enjoy it (hah!)

Published on Sunday, July 2, 2006 by the Los Angeles Times
If Only Gay Sex Caused Global Warming
Why we're more scared of gay marriage and terrorism than a much deadlier threat.
by Daniel Gilbert
No one seems to care about the upcoming attack on the World Trade Center site. Why? Because it won't involve villains with box cutters. Instead, it will involve melting ice sheets that swell the oceans and turn that particular block of lower Manhattan into an aquarium. 

The odds of this happening in the next few decades are better than the odds that a disgruntled Saudi will sneak onto an airplane and detonate a shoe bomb. And yet our government will spend billions of dollars this year to prevent global terrorism and … well, essentially nothing to prevent global warming. 

Why are we less worried about the more likely disaster? Because the human brain evolved to respond to threats that have four features — features that terrorism has and that global warming lacks. 

First, global warming lacks a mustache. No, really. We are social mammals whose brains are highly specialized for thinking about others. Understanding what others are up to — what they know and want, what they are doing and planning — has been so crucial to the survival of our species that our brains have developed an obsession with all things human. We think about people and their intentions; talk about them; look for and remember them. 

That's why we worry more about anthrax (with an annual death toll of roughly zero) than influenza (with an annual death toll of a quarter-million to a half-million people). Influenza is a natural accident, anthrax is an intentional action, and the smallest action captures our attention in a way that the largest accident doesn't. If two airplanes had been hit by lightning and crashed into a New York skyscraper, few of us would be able to name the date on which it happened.

Global warming isn't trying to kill us, and that's a shame. If climate change had been visited on us by a brutal dictator or an evil empire, the war on warming would be this nation's top priority.

The second reason why global warming doesn't put our brains on orange alert is that it doesn't violate our moral sensibilities. It doesn't cause our blood to boil (at least not figuratively) because it doesn't force us to entertain thoughts that we find indecent, impious or repulsive. When people feel insulted or disgusted, they generally do something about it, such as whacking each other over the head, or voting. Moral emotions are the brain's call to action.

Although all human societies have moral rules about food and sex, none has a moral rule about atmospheric chemistry. And so we are outraged about every breach of protocol except Kyoto. Yes, global warming is bad, but it doesn't make us feel nauseated or angry or disgraced, and thus we don't feel compelled to rail against it as we do against other momentous threats to our species, such as flag burning. The fact is that if climate change were caused by gay sex, or by the practice of eating kittens, millions of protesters would be massing in the streets.

The third reason why global warming doesn't trigger our concern is that we see it as a threat to our futures — not our afternoons. Like all animals, people are quick to respond to clear and present danger, which is why it takes us just a few milliseconds to duck when a wayward baseball comes speeding toward our eyes. 

The brain is a beautifully engineered get-out-of-the-way machine that constantly scans the environment for things out of whose way it should right now get. That's what brains did for several hundred million years — and then, just a few million years ago, the mammalian brain learned a new trick: to predict the timing and location of dangers before they actually happened. 

Our ability to duck that which is not yet coming is one of the brain's most stunning innovations, and we wouldn't have dental floss or 401(k) plans without it. But this innovation is in the early stages of development. The application that allows us to respond to visible baseballs is ancient and reliable, but the add-on utility that allows us to respond to threats that loom in an unseen future is still in beta testing. 

We haven't quite gotten the knack of treating the future like the present it will soon become because we've only been practicing for a few million years. If global warming took out an eye every now and then, OSHA would regulate it into nonexistence.

There is a fourth reason why we just can't seem to get worked up about global warming. The human brain is exquisitely sensitive to changes in light, sound, temperature, pressure, size, weight and just about everything else. But if the rate of change is slow enough, the change will go undetected. If the low hum of a refrigerator were to increase in pitch over the course of several weeks, the appliance could be singing soprano by the end of the month and no one would be the wiser. 

Because we barely notice changes that happen gradually, we accept gradual changes that we would reject if they happened abruptly. The density of Los Angeles traffic has increased dramatically in the last few decades, and citizens have tolerated it with only the obligatory grumbling. Had that change happened on a single day last summer, Angelenos would have shut down the city, called in the National Guard and lynched every politician they could get their hands on.

Environmentalists despair that global warming is happening so fast. In fact, it isn't happening fast enough. If President Bush could jump in a time machine and experience a single day in 2056, he'd return to the present shocked and awed, prepared to do anything it took to solve the problem.. 

The human brain is a remarkable device that was designed to rise to special occasions. We are the progeny of people who hunted and gathered, whose lives were brief and whose greatest threat was a man with a stick. When terrorists attack, we respond with crushing force and firm resolve, just as our ancestors would have. Global warming is a deadly threat precisely because it fails to trip the brain's alarm, leaving us soundly asleep in a burning bed.

It remains to be seen whether we can learn to rise to new occasions. 

Daniel Gilbert is a professor of psychology at Harvard University and the author of "Stumbling on Happiness," published in May by Knopf.

Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times