Climate Strike

I’ll take the day off here in solidarity, by republishing a post I wrote eleven years ago this month:

As a country we’ve made a living bragging about how ambitious we are, how audacious our concepts of freedom, liberty and happiness are as to make their fulfillment just a matter of conquering a lesser will.

Well, here’s the way to defuse most every geopolitical conflict for the next century or so, at least until things even out and Republicans can get elected again and start whining about socialism or how unjust their tax burden is. Cheap desalination powered with clean energy is the key to making the fossil fuels conundrum exit stage left. As the article points out these are massive public works projects with very sophisticated interactions with the natural environment; The question is not will they work, but do we have the will to make them work.

In the speech by House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi yesterday that had all the Republican house members whining and crying with hurt feelings, she recalled that people around the world constantly tell her that the greatest emerging market in the world is rebuilding the public infrastructure of the United States of America. She said it could be done in a fiscally responsible manner. Even with only what we know how to do right now, it could also be done in a highly innovative manner, geared toward sustainably shifting our transportation and land-use conventions in the permanent direction of clean water and low-carbon power.

Building a green house isn’t green, but takes a lot of green. The reviewer says it at the end:

Maybe the real meaning of being green is closer to what modest Kermit had in mind: learning to make the best of what we already have rather than having to create, spend and construct something “eco-friendlier.”

Yes it is. One household living off the grid does not a difference make; we need to get the grid off the grid. Meanwhile, live close to work, know where your food comes from, spend and buy accordingly.

Image: Climate strike in Sydney, September 20, 2019. Photo from Kym Chapple on Twitter

Objectively Pro-Planet

earth-shineEarth, that is.

Is there a consensus that this is the best planet? I mean, everyone talks about Mars and then there’s Jupiter. Saturn has those rings… but Earth? Do we care about it? Is it a question on familiarity? Are we bored with seven continents and the oceans maintaining certain levels, the tides and one moon? Asking for a friend.

The idea of a climate war should be the height of absurdity. But do we even register affront when news is reported this way? Maybe the media on other planets is also better.

I can see my house from here

Sorry, Ross. Check out these new images from NASA.

Earth, smaller

Massive version here.

So delicate, so just there, how would you think of defending the tiny blue band of atmosphere holding everything in place?

Hmmm? Hint: not fancy tanks or helicopters>

Green Quiz

Which is the more eco enviro? No fair if you recognize your ‘hood.

1. Paris3rd

2. allemagne

3. alpharhetta

Heuristic no. 65437929

Lester Brown has a new book, Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, and he writes about it on Grist:

Each year, the Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy magazine rank 60 “failing states,” countries which on some level fail to provide personal security or basic services, such as education, health care, food, and physical infrastructure, to their people.  The countries are evaluated using the Failed States Index, a ten-point scale for each of twelve political, social, economic, and military indicators (i.e., a state that is failing completely receives a score of 120).  

Failing states have much in common.  Seventeen of the top twenty have high population growth rates (several close to 3 percent per year or twenty-fold per century); these countries have seen enough development to reduce mortality but not fertility.  In fact, birth rates in five of these seventeen states exceed six children per woman.  Soaring population growth puts strain on educational facilities, as well as food and water supplies.  It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that almost half of the top twenty failing states depend on food from the U.N. World Food Programme or that in fourteen of them, at least 40 percent of the population is under fifteen.

As breeding grounds for conflict, terrorism, drugs, and infectious disease, failing states represent a threat to global order and stability.  In 2004, only seven countries had scores of 100 or greater.  In just four years, the number of states in this category doubled. 

Another concern addressed in Plan B 4.0 is how the growing consumption of the earth’s resources is clearly unsustainable.  Examining commodity consumption in merely two countries, the United States and China, makes this point.

China now consumes more grain than the United States.  It consumes almost twice as much meat, roughly three times as much coal, and nearly four times as much steel.  But what would happen if China’s 1.3 billion people were to consume commodities at the same rate as the United States’ 300 million?

For this exercise, we look at how an 8 percent annual economic growth rate in China (a conservative projection) would put per capita income in China at U.S. levels by 2024.  

At that point, if each person in China were to consume paper at the current American rate, China would need more paper than is produced worldwide today (there go the world’s forests).  China would require over half of the current world grain supply. China would also need 90 million barrels of oil per day; however, the world currently produces less than 86 million and is unlikely to produce much more than that in the future. 

These projections serve not to blame China for its consumption but rather to illustrate that the western economic model—with meat-rich diets, fossil-fuel powered utilities, and automobile-dependent transportation—will not work on a global scale because there are simply not enough resources.  Plan B puts us on a path toward a new kind of global economy, one that is powered largely by renewable sources of energy, that has a much more diversified transport system, and that reuses and recycles everything.

Now you know.

Hughes You Can Use

I was reading a damning indictment of the ‘art market’ by Robert Hughes the other night, about how financial speculation in art has been more important and had more impact than any other ‘ism’, movement or development in art over the last forty-plus years. He was talking about it in the context of L’Affair Rothko – the court case for fraud against Rothko’s gallerists immediately following his suicide in 1970. We’re like frogs in slowly boiling water in that this is so difficult to bring attention to or even notice anymore. Or we would be, except that it’s more like man bites frog in slowly boiling water submerged in 100 gallons of formaldehyde, shown for the first time pre-sold for $8.1 million, of course. And we don’t notice anything amiss about it.

But that essay didn’t seem to be anywhere in the Comcastiverse intertubes and since I have no time to type it out, here’s another Hughes article from Time magazine, The Sacred Mission, from 1997.

The first thing the colonists in the New World saw, the stuff they had to define themselves against, was nature. A sense of the wilderness, promising or oppressive, was one of the chief shared signs of American identity, and it became a prime subject of the country’s art. “In the beginning,” wrote John Locke in the 17th century, “all the world was America.” It was not necessarily a reassuring thought, for America seemed very strange to its first European settlers, particularly the Puritans in New England. To them, its rocky coast and tangled woods were–in the expressive phrase used by one of them–“the Lord’s waste,” an unowned biblical desert full of strange beasts and savage half-men. However, although America produced no significant landscape painting or religious art during the 17th or 18th century, by the mid-19th century, landscape was the national religious symbol.

The artist who began this process was Thomas Cole (1801-48), a transplanted Englishman from the “dark Satanic mills” of the industrial Midlands. Cole’s clients were mainly from the rich Federalist “aristocracy,” whose members, offended by Jacksonian populism, wanted pastoral images of a pure American scene unsullied by the marks of getting and spending. Skeptical of progress, Cole painted the landscape as Arcadia, which served to spiritualize the past in a land without antique monuments. He loved the freshness of primal mountains and valleys–unpainted, unstereotyped, the traces of God’s hand in forming the world. America’s columns were trees, its forums were groves, and its invasive barbarian was the wrong sort of American, the developer, the Man with the Ax.

When Cole left on a trip to Italy, his friend William Cullen Bryant, nature poet and editor, urged him in a sonnet not to be seduced by the humanized, picturesque Europe–to “keep that earlier, wilder image bright.” After Cole’s early death, that image was to get wilder and brighter still in the work of his only pupil, Frederick Edwin Church (1826-1900). Descended from six generations of Yankee ministers and merchants, patriotic and deeply religious, Church inherited Cole’s belief in a style of landscape suffused with “a language strong, moral and imaginative.” His paintings–mostly of the Hudson Valley and vistas of South American grandeur–were greeted as both religious icons and triumphs of observation, fusing piety and science in one matrix. Church hit a peculiarly American vein of feeling: Romanticism without its European component of alienation and dread, a view of the universe in which God was in heaven and all was basically right with the world.

But for all the grandeur of its pictorial rhetoric, Church’s work didn’t fully express the hot idea of westward expansion within North America–the belief in Manifest Destiny. To convey the image of the Western landscape as glorious and triumphal, the Cinerama devices first used by Church were taken up by other painters, notably Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) and Thomas Moran (1837-1926).

The German-born Bierstadt made a hugely successful career on the insight that the landscapes beyond the Missouri made America unique among nations. His style was superdetailed, bombastic and almost obnoxiously grand, intended to knock your socks off with spectacle. In Emigrants Crossing the Plains, 1867, his most extravagant anthem to Manifest Destiny, the covered wagons roll forward into a sunset of such splendor that it’s obvious God is beckoning them on, flooding their enterprise with metaphorical gold. Moran, the son of poor immigrant handweavers, was virtually self-trained as an artist but was a devotee of the great English landscapist J.M.W. Turner. He created the all-time Big American Painting, the climactic panorama of America’s years of Western expansion, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 1893-1901.

There was another strand in American landscape painting, much less extroverted, equally meaningful. Later, it would be called Luminism, because it suppressed the physical exuberance of painting (texture, big strokes, dramatic contrast) in favor of calm, almost anonymous radiance. The Luminists–Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904), Fitz Hugh Lane (1804-65) and John Frederick Kensett (1816-72)–looked east, not west: toward the eternal frontier of the Atlantic, not the receding one of the wilderness. The mood of their work fitted perfectly with Emerson’s description of his own ecstatic merging with nature, when “all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.”

After the turn of the century the Western superview, the spectacular landscape, migrated into movies: Thomas Moran lurks behind every stagecoach chase through Monument Valley. It was the more contemplative Luminist tradition that kept going, in altered forms, into 20th century painting, from Georgia O’Keeffe to Mark Rothko. The most compelling new lease on life that the sublime West got in the late 20th century was from earth art, done in the desert spaces themselves and thus, being hard to reach, known to its aficionados mainly through reproduction. One hundred ten miles southwest of Albuquerque, New Mexico, for example, is Walter de Maria’s peculiar masterpiece The Lightning Field, 1977: 400 glittering stainless-steel spikes in an empty valley, their tops forming a level rectangle like a fakir’s bed of nails one mile by one kilometer. The metal poles invite lightning strikes, which rarely happen; but this use of art to invoke the presence of Jehovah in the landscape is very much in the 19th century tradition.