Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Oil spills and paying the bill

Accidents can't be prevented by definition. Everything we do as humans has certain degree of hazard. The hazardous nature normally come from the degree or level at which the human activity is realized. Of course the hazardous nature could be at a low level but the idea is that any damage can be contained easier if the amount is minor. Let's say that we are going to transport one barrel of oil and we have a spill, it is going to be easy to find a way for the clean up of this happening. But what if thousands or millions of barrels are spilled. It is going to be more difficult and costly to 'manage' and clean the spill.

So the question is: who should be responsible for the safe transport of chemicals like oil that if released to the environment are highly damaging?

Let's think about what is going on in Glendive Montana where thousands of inhabitants are not able to drink municipal water. To read more click here. Here you have a situation where many citizens are affected by multinational corporations doing business in our country.
Oil Spill under a frozen river
We know that these multinational corporations are employing people and by doing so they are supporting the communities in which they operate. But make no mistake, they are not giving anything back, they are getting much more of what they are paying to the community. They are recipients of 'rent" as Economy Noble Prize winner Joseph E. Stiglitz clearly explained in his book "The Price of Inquality"
Of course, the immense economic/political power of these multinational corporations are using our government for advantageous laws that allow them to externalize their losses at the same time that they maximize their profits by not paying fair taxes on the one hand and not paying for damages on the other hand.

It is little what we individuals can do to stop the damage to the environment by these huge corporations, and to help those that are directly affected by the overexploitation of  natural resources. But we should not be discouraged as we can do much if we act together. We should keep our enthusiasm as we are confident that at the end reason will prevail and we'll be able to have a sustainable economy.

What would you say about something you can do to keep this Earth livable?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Dire changes in the Earth

In the Washington Post (January 15, 2015) we can read an article by Joel Achenbach (for the full article click here ) that makes reference to a scientific paper just published in the journal Science by 18 researches. It sure is an interesting article that in simple words warns us of the dire situation into which we are putting our environment. The news that we are destroying our environment is not news any more, even though almost every day the most important newspapers of the world are publishing articles about the deep seriousness of the issue. The New York Times for instance has in the Jan 15 issue an article by Carl Zimmer (for the full article click here) with this image:
Dead whales and other mammals being found in the oceans of the world are a sign that, as the article mentioned, "Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction."

So if the news that we are destroying our environment are not news, what are we supposed to do?
  
Are we to become idle observers of the catastrophe? Or, are we supposed to become active advocates for taking care of our environment?

There are of course as many answers as are human beings, each one of us has to come to terms with each of our own answer. I know there are thousands of us that think that we are to become, and in some cases already are, advocates, activist defending our environment. Of course we have many ways of participating in this advocacy and many levels to engage in activism. Some can and will do it at a leadership level some other will do it as active members of a team where there will strengthen the effort by following the lead of someone else but always with the heart of knowing they are doing the right thing.

In his book "A Spirituality of Resistance" Roger S. Gottlieb states the dilemma of an ethicist expressing his concern that doing good for the environment is not simple, easy, nor immediate. Other issues like being against war, sexism (or sex discrimination), racism can be stated in simpler terms and one can (in a clearer way) be congruent with a position where our actions and our ideas go hand in hand. But, how can you do it when working in favor of the environment?

We know that burning hydrocarbons is creating a problem with our atmosphere, but how can we live without using our cars? We know that excessive use (or misuse) of plastics is also damaging our environment, but how can we live without the convenience of plastic? (As it is with many other 'conveniences' of our modern world.) This is the conundrum of the ethicist!

At Warner Pacific College we are teaching several classes that help us and our students clarify and address these issues. One course is Earthkeeping (HUM 212) that among other objectives has the one of describing the philosophic foundation of deep ecology. As we look at human nature from a philosophic perspective (with ethical and moral implications) we are able to see the need for balance and justice. Finding balance and justice in our actions and discovering that the problems facing our society come from a lack of balance and justice, becomes a central tenet of our conversation in class.



Saturday, January 10, 2015

Earthkeeping

Passionate Advocacy for Our Home in Space.

There is the Universe, everything we know is part of the universe thus everything is related. We (humans) are an integral part of Earth's environment, and therefore we have a responsibility to perform our activities guided by a sense of stewardship. This stewardship (ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources) has to be based on a deep understanding of how nature works. Including how human nature works.

At Warner Pacific College we have developed a hybrid (humanities/science) course called Earthkeeping that addresses the need to prepare students to be good stewards of God's creation. We look at both human and non-human nature. We teach the strong and intrinsic relationship between our human society and the natural resources that sustain it. As a Christ-centered, urban, and liberal arts college we base and foster our teaching on the liberal arts. We value service in and beyond the city therefore we promote active engagement. This means that teachers and students will have a dynamic participation during lecture times but we expect that participation will overflow to outside the classroom, both in space and time.

By asking fundamental questions about who we are; what motivations drive our actions; what is the connection between the satisfaction of our needs (biological and psychological) and the availability of natural resources; how can we balance individual and social needs (social justice); and more we establish a framework and a context that allows everybody to become an active participant that is holistically prepared to be an advocate for our home in space.

As we start the new semester this Tuesday, I am thinking about an initial question to ask. It is difficult to find one as so many are in my mind. What would be a question that you'd ask to start this conversation?  

Friday, January 2, 2015

Our Global Responsibility

This world of us is highly interconnected. There is not a single action that we take that is isolated from the rest of the world or the rest of society. There is no neutrality when it comes to our actions and the environment, including social environment.
When it comes to looking for our wellbeing we realize that our lives are interconnected within our spirituality, biology, sociology, and psychology with a greater sense of reality.
So one question we might pose is what is reality? As this question is too profound for me to be able to find an easy answer, it is better to translate it to: What is really going on with our environment?
In trying to find answers to the latter question I came across ideas that intertwine the physical with the metaphysical, that is the appearance of the connection between what we think and what we believe. In his book "A Spirituality of Resistance" Roger Gottlieb
makes sure that the reader find a strong sense of responsibility and accountability in connection to taking care of the environment. Using the way in which some Germans behaved during the holocaust Gottlieb emphasizes the strong need of humans to belong to society, to have a place in the 'production' line, and to be someone through what it is 'accomplished.' Gottlieb is direct in pointing out that we are guilty of harming the earth just by being complacent and unaware that with our daily routines we are contributing to an irreversible damage to the environment.
In the Oregonian today we read good news about an epidemiologist researcher at Oregon State University who is studying pollution at a global level. The article is a reprint from the Corvallis Gazette-Times. You can read the article here.
Perry Hystad received one of the Early Independence Award by the National Institute of Health. The $250,000 a year (for up to five years) will help Hystad continue his research correlating community with health risks. No doubt he will be able to get valuable information helping all of us understand how with our daily ramblings interact and change the environment. We will find for sure information that will help develop new strategies for social behavior, that will help all of us to have a much better life. Not only in the economic sense but in the holistic sense of spiritual, psychological, social, and material interconnectedness.

Have you ever thought about how your daily life is affecting the environment, and how you can change your lifestyle to have a positive effect?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The True Cost of Operations

I read in the 'Nation/World' section of The Oregonian today (10/18/14) a very brief note about an oil well leak in North Dakota. Quote: "Authorities say workers are attempting to contain an out-of-control oil well in North Dakota. North Dakota regulators announced Friday that a well near Watford City in the western part of the state has been leaking oil, gas, and water since Thursday. They say there's no immediate health risk."

Small note in the newspaper, and browsing news on the web it is hard to find too. This link is to the ABS News website  where again a short reporting is published. As the quoted by The Oregonian regulators say there is no immediate health risk, then I would add: so why bother?

Why bother? No immediate health risk? How far is our 'immediate', 'instantaneous' society going with forgetting any medium or long term effects?

I will try to address two aspects of these kind of issues. One is the distance in time, the other is the distance in geography. After all we live in a space-time tetra-dimensional world.

The true cost of this leak is going to be paid by all of us. Sooner or later this leak will damage the environment in a way that will affect us all. Those close to the incident will suffer first but in the long run we all will be affected. I remember in my youth visiting the beaches near Tampico in the state of Tamaulipas in Mexico where the sand was tainted with oil. Oil coming from the petroleum related activities in the area. Of course the industry was and still is a source of economic revenue in the area, the inhabitants were beneficiaries of this economic activity, but the cost was not properly evaluated. Having oily stained beaches was only considered a nuisance. I don't think that today we would consider that a nuisance anymore!

Time has been re-calibrated for short term gain. We live in a world of yearly budgets, annual reviews and taxes, the man or woman of the year, and plenty of other yearly prizes like the Nobel. But is our life really about one year? Isn't that even though these prizes like the Nobel are given every year they are honoring a life-long achievement? We shouldn't never forget that it is based on the life-long achievements of individuals and institutions that we are able to claim any progress. Our technology, seen through the eyes of transportation-communication, health-medicine, and others like leassure-travel has been developed by visionaries that were not concerned with short term gains or accomplishments.

You can quote me in saying: "life achievements take a life to achieve"

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Not In My Backyard

What would you do if someone tries to build something inside your property? How would you react if you are asked to give up some of your property because is for the benefit our society? Who will determine what is the benefit for society when your property is used in ways that you don't like? How can be assessed the damage to your property by the use of it for common good?
The Oregonian on Friday August 29th, 2014 has an article that addresses this questions. For more information click here.
Landowner Bill Gow is facing 'eminent domain' as a canadian oil pipeline company has obtained the rights to bury a 36-inch diameter high-pressure pipeline through his land. Eminent domain is the lawful act through which a government can forceful purchase land from private owners for use in a way that has communal value. That would be the case of constructing new roads, bridges, or infrastructure that will benefit the whole community. In this case the land will be used by a privately own company that claims that the jobs created will benefit the whole community.
Where would you draw the line? How can we assess the benefit of a community when benefiting a private enterprise?

There is another aspect of 'not in my backyard'. This one is related to how laws and regulations are applied to industries that create a lot of jobs but at the same time externalizing some to the costs caused by pollution. Take Title V of the Clean Air Act. http://www.epa.gov/air/caa/title5.html that sets the need for industries to get a permit to pollute.
For those living in the Hillsboro OR neighborhood what is now happening with the new Intel D1X plant being build relates to the same question of having an industry that supports the local economy and uses resources human and environmental in its activities. You have to read Luke Hammill who has been reporting news related to Hillsboro OR to see how Intel may benefit by Supreme Court ruling http://www.oregonlive.com/hillsboro/index.ssf/2014/08/intel_may_avoid_strict_federal.html
that will allow it not the have to get a Title 5 CAA permit for its emissions of fluoride for which it was fined $143,000 this year.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Scott Buser's view on things to come

 Warner Pacific College
August 11, 2014
ENVIRONMENT STUDIES
Finally, after 5 weeks I get the opportunity to share the information I have learned by attending the Environment Studies class at Warner pacific College. Five weeks really is not enough time to master all that someone would need to be an authority on the environment, but what I have learned is a good start. Who know that a vehicle powered by hydrogen would produce water from its emissions? Maybe that’s the answer to our vehicle smog issues.
            I’ve thought about how I leave a footprint on the environment; I recycle plastic, cardboard and the oil from the vehicles my wife and I drive. The garbage we send to the land fill from our house is very little. Although we are a part of helping the environment with recycling there is more we can do. My wife and I have also made some commitments to not driving as much, conserving the use of fossil fuels. This year instead of going camping on our vacation, we’re staying home to clean our home and send unwanted items to recycling centers.
The Bureau of land management (BLM) has more influence than any of our 50 states. The BLM oversees 945 million acres of land, a force of thousands employees that oversee landslides, mineral production, land policies and restoration of forest. I believe their mission is a good one for the planet. I also believe that with government support we could build on their programs that help preserve nature. After all, isn’t taking care of our environment about taking care of nature?           
I have learned over the last 4 weeks more about the environment then I have over 55 years. What’s more startling is learning how bad the world will be if we don’t do something about it. If we continue to cut down the CO, 2 makers, (trees) we will certainly suffocate from lack of oxygen. As humans, if we continue to pollute our H2O, (water) we will die of thirst.
            In searching the web I found that you can actually make oxygen, right in the kitchen of your home. “How to Make Oxygen and Hydrogen from Water Using Electrolysis.” For $249 you can even buy a kit for your car that produces hydrogen. What is interesting is that to produce the oxygen in your kitchen, you must use DC power, which is a batter, manmade; which is very harmful to our environment. It just boggles my mind; we take manmade discoveries to make what nature has already provided to us. Why don’t we trust nature, arrest the systems that destroy our existents.
Look at all the millionaires that built their homes on the edges of a coast. The architects looked over the land; they bought permits, and paid someone to build. Then one year a strong storm comes in and washes the costal line away. Soon their property is destroyed and gone. Who was really the designer of the costal edge? Surely not the architect, or the home builder. It was, and is nature! Those that build their homes on hill sides, reap the same rewards as the edge dwellers. Although we can never predict Mother Nature, we can save ourselves agony by not presuming she won’t have an effect on our lives. 
The few watersheds we have should be preserved. Here in Portland, Oregon, we have several open water reservoirs. On Mount Tabor, there is one that has continuously been violated by vandals. Sometime urinated in, or dead animals thrown in just to make some kind of dumb statement or anger towards life in general. What about the companies that have a history of creating toxins and hiding the factory excretion in our oceans and rivers? How do we balance our effects on nature, yet provide life to those that oppose change and accountability to the environment? Here’s one thing I thought about! I have a fences around my property, about 175 feet. Now, with my understanding of my foot print, I’m refuse to stain my fence. Why? Because the stain that’s put on the fences, country wide, are eventually washed away by the rain. From the rain water it can seep into our ground water, which eventually will return to us though evaporation, condensation or well, river water. Another aspect of change for our house is to not use lawn fertilizer on our property. The same results and negative impact on our rivers and streams. United States geological surveys. (USGS). There is so much water on our planet. How do we continue to live with all the pollution and survive?
I would challenges everyone to take a longer look at their own environmental footprint. Others will say that one person can’t change the total of many. I think that the change in one can, by hope. I believe that from this class at Warner collage, there’s 6 people that will change how they see and change how they impact the environment. There is also hope by the influence we each have on others around us. Stop, remove a tossed plastic bottle from the garbage and place it in a recycling can. One person can learn, others can too. My children, grown up now, continue to tell their children to shut off the lights, don’t throw paper in the garbage, and put it in the recycling bin. Once a year I load up my truck with scrap metals, on my way to the mental scrap yard I stop and both my daughters to get any metal. Once recycled I split the funds between them both. Kind of a reward for not filling the garbage with recyclable materials.
You got to love teachable moments!

Reference
Warner Pacific College. (2014). retrieved from http://www.warnerpacific.edu/admissions/adult-degree-program/
Bureau of Land Management. (2014) retrieved from http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/energy.html
The City of Portland Oregon. Mount Tabor (2014). Retrieved from        http://www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/finder/index.cfm?PropertyID=275&action=ViewPark
USGS for a changing world. (2014).The USGS Water Science School. Retrieved from http://water.usgs.gov/edu/earthgwquality.html