Sunday, October 20, 2013

Literature and the Environment

In the Oregonian today (10/20/2013) there is an article by David Thomas Sumner and Lisa M. Weidman (Linfield College) where the idea of naming an act of civil disobedience as "terrorisms" is very dangerous. This article uses the recent sentence of Rebecca Rubin who committed acts of sabotage where there were no dangers or threats to human life, to analyze how in recent times the idea of eco-terrorism has been used to attack those environmentalist that in their pursuit of inhibiting the damages caused by modern exploitation of natural resources and of the introduction of synthetic processes in the production of food have resorted to violent means. But in any case all these cases of violence have been against property and always carried out with the idea of not harming people at all.
Even if one doesn't get into the legal definition of eco-terrorism, one must understand that when we analyze our interaction with the environment language is very important and being not only clear and articulate about what is going on, we must also be accurate and precise in the wording of our arguments. It is frequent to find in the literature (more so in the newspapers) misconceptions about energy, power, efficiency, and other technical terminology mainly due to the prejudice that as these terms are so frequently used one must immediately recognize their significance and meaning.
We have witnessed when people in high office in government or industry pronounce statements that clearly confuse terms like energy and power and use what sounds like a clear statement to attack or support a political agenda but in close scrutiny these statement do not hold water!
The lack of scientific literacy in our country is dangerously leading us to an anarchic state of affairs and will soon produce deep conflicts in our society. But one must be optimistic as there are those who know the basic principles, natural laws, and theories that are active and leading a healthy fight so at the end the truth will be known. It is possible to block the sun with a finger but it can't be done for long; and of course that will not make the sun disappear.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Metropolis good for the environment

The old idea that cities are destroying the environment has been challenged now with new data and changing paradigm of what it means "a good life". More recently we used to think that the wilderness was not only beautiful and pristine but it was the objective of all human activity. That environmental restoration had the purpose of bringing back the conditions lost by human intervention and waste. Development of our society had produced a plethora of sub-products, second-hand, undesired effects caused by the "ignorance" of developers.
In particular the industrial revolution based on the control of powerful natural energies that brought a rapid increase on the productivity of good needed for our survival. It also brought a dramatic increase of efficiency in the way we do war and destruction. None of this could have happened if not for a better understanding of nature given by scientific advances in all areas. The physical sciences in particular where "energy" and "power" are daily studied, and new forms and mechanisms for their production, control, storage, distribution, and use are being developed. A case in point would be the production of electric power using wind turbines.
So in this context it was that cities were catalogued as necessary evils for the well being of society but people with economic means will tend to move to the outskirts of the city the so called suburbs where they would enjoy the pleasures of nature. Then the end of the twentieth century brought the fact that we could have livable cities and the concept of a "green metropolis" was developed. For more on this read David Owen's Green Metropolis (Why living smaller, living closer, and driving less are keys to sustainability).
In this book we read how New York is in many ways less harmful to the environment than any suburban area based on the fact that one of the most damaging effects caused by humans in modern society is the air pollution generated by our transportation.