The World is Coming to an End

Apparently while we rejoiced over the death of Osama bin Laden, the Mississippi river was flooding the South, primarily Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana.

… didn’t we just go through a country-devastating earthquake-tsunami double-play?

Natural disasters in the not-even-first-half of 2011:

  • Flooding in the US southern states
  • Earthquake + tsunami in Japan
  • Earthquake in New Zealand
  • Flooding in Australia
  • Flooding in Brazil

Too many consecutive questions about whether we’ve hit record precipitation, whether the rate of natural disasters has increased, etc. have come up in a nauseatingly short time span. No one is thinking about the accelerating build up of crazy things happening around the world.

Forget the 401K, the condo, the life insurance, the bachelor’s degree, all that stuff. If the land we live in floods and Manhattan is underwater, everything I worked for and invested in has no future value.

If conservatives in Congress are so hawkish about our government’s expenditure, why don’t they care more about the cost that all the Mississippi flooding is going to incur? Someone’s going to have to rebuild that area, and it’s not going to be China funding it (well maybe indirectly through buying our Treasury bills).

I think we should take note of the natural disaster insurance being claimed and use that as an index of how much time we have left. Even Lloyd’s of London knows the numbers add up: “This series of catastrophic events is unprecedented so early in a year,” said the firm’s chief executive, Stephen Catlin. “Rates for certain classes of business are starting to rise following the first-quarter catastrophes. In the light of the more than $50bn in natural catastrophe losses incurred since the beginning of this year – including the damage from tornadoes in the US in April – combined with the prolonged low investment return environment, it would be totally appropriate for rates to increase on a widespread basis.”

Calling Captain Planet…. HELP!!!

Sources:

Snowfall Records Blowup

Today while casually browsing the video news clips, I came across a segment on the Northeast experiencing record-breaking snowfall accumulation this winter. Frighteningly, many cities have actually exceeded maximum snowfall accumulations for the month.

It’s tough to find consolidated studies and statistical data to compare overall trends. Most of the info on the web consists of singular news events designed to shock each viewer into an instant paralysis before racing for bread and milk and shovels.  It’s hard to find some compelling graphs with clear regression lines, but I will be scouring. However, here are a couple in-your-face observations to weave into the bigger picture:

  • Already NYC, Newark NJ, and Bridgeport CT have exceeded total snowfall record for any January (record keeping began in 1869 in NYC)
  • NYC’s snowiest month ever was Feb 2010 at 36.9 inches
  • Atlanta has accumulated 5.9 inches, the second-most after 10.3 in 1982-83
  • Florida and Georgia experienced the lowest avg monthly temperatures last December on record

Notice how I listed averages over a time span. I’m not so concerned with single-events because, after all, we are talking about weather. Let’s be reasonable here. There are cycles and huge variability. However, when you look at the trend over the past decade, it’s startling.

This snowfall stuff doesn’t work like inflation where the units of currency needed continually breaks through new highs. The fact that NY broke a record snowfall of any January since snowfall records started is sickening. It’s even more terrifying that the snowiest month on record was only in 2010.

If the weather statistics alone don’t scare you, then hear this: NYC has exhausted its snow emergency budget of $38M. That means the tax revenue will be reallocated for more snow cleanup. This is a new, unexpected expense that can’t be siphoned away by deficit hawkishness. We either pay to clean up the city, or we pay to clean up the city. So, if what you understand is dollars and price tags, that’s what global warming does to your wallet.

In the meantime… ever seen “Day After Tomorrow”? “Inconvenient Truth”?

By the way, the news clip I was watching ended with children joyfully sledding in a winter wonderland. Gleeful and rosy-cheeked on their escape from a day of institutionalized learning. One kid slid down and laughed so hard he was swept into the snowbank, like a supine snowangel, by the force of his jubilation. This is a fitting ending…. for a horror movie cliffhanger.

Sources: Reuters, WSJ Online

I Thought You Could Recycle Paper Towels…

True story: Ever since I influenced (some say forced) my Captain Planet-style recycling on my roommie, I’ve periodically encountered… of all things… paper towels gently cresting the pile of paper recyclables. To which I shake my head while mentally chuckling because, although naive, it makes so much sense! They ARE made of paper (plus, I used to do this myself, which automatically makes it rational).

Think about it: Recycling centers do not hand-treat and prep each item for recycling. It’s not a Chanel shop. Recycling is a massive industrial activity – think assembly-line. So recycling centers can only treat certain things and have to put them into categories. Check this out:


(It really starts to suck at 0:57)

Your best bet: Visit your city government page and find out what they can handle. NYC probably handles a lot more stuff than other cities because … we are NYC. But prove me wrong; I hear Portland, Oregon is one of the greenest cities in the US.

Paper recycling Don’ts for NYC (as of Dec, 2010):

  • hardcover books
  • napkins, paper towels, or tissues
  • paper or paper products soiled with food or liquid
  • paper with a lot of tape and glue
  • paper coated in wax or plastic or chemicals (candy wrappers, take-out containers, photographic paper, etc.)

-EDIT- I’ve been known to slip in a pizza box on the off-chance that recycling facilities have somehow matured to handle this. I has heard you shouldn’t include used food containers. But like you, I don’t set to my homepage to NYCWasteLess, so I don’t get streaming real-time updates on recycling. I’ve wondered whether I was doing more damage by contaminating the entire paper pile with a pizza box, but the good men and women at single-stream recycling plants have idiot-proofed that.

Interesting initiatives:

  • RecycleBank – If your community is eligible, you can earn coupons or reward points for recycling and use them at participating retailers
  • City Programs like “Take-it-Back” – Lists businesses that are required to or voluntarily accept exotic items like print cartridges or Brita filters.
  • Recycle your Christmas Tree – Apparently you can recycle your Christmas tree in groovy Portland, OR

For all the naysayers: If you’re of the mind that it takes more energy to recycle than otherwise, I would rebut that transporting machinery, fueling machinery, cutting trees, transporting heavy timber, chopping trees, and processing pulp is energy too. Plus, it means you have to kill a tree. If you’ve read Shel Silverstein’s Giving Tree, you understand me.

Moral of the story: If the US recycled every newspaper, we could save 250 Million trees (and forest wildlife, greenhouse gas emissions, and icebergs, etc.)! It’s so easy, the systems have been set up…. I don’t have one legitimate reason NOT to that wouldn’t paint me selfish, ignorant, or both.

SourcesNYC’s Bureau of Waste PreventionDoSomething.org, Waste Management

Seeing the forest for the trees

Borneo Rainforest

Borneo Rainforest

Did you know that the US actually adds more forest area than it destroys? This is done by either planting trees or allowing a forest to regenerate.

Why did I pose this as a question… you ask? Because it means that the US is indeed not the ravenous, manifest destiny-realizing machine of deforestation that the scientific and environmental community has painted it as.

Why are forests so important? Besides being alluring landscape for the October calendar spread, they house biodiversity, maintain the water cycle (evapotranspiration), and absorb atmospheric carbon and pollutants, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Some facts to help you understand the magnitude of deforestation:

  • An area the size of England is being deforested every year
  • Remaining forest covers about 31% of the Earth’s land surface, equivalent to about 10% of the Earth’s total surface.
  • Almost half of the remaining forest is the tropical kind, with a third of that in Brazil
  • In the past 60 years, 60% of the rainforest has been deforested (imagine how this rate has been accelerating with the growth of developing countries)
  • Agriculture is the primary driver of deforestation – clearing forest for farmland; Brazil being the worst offender over the past 2 decades

So the US plants a shivering sapling in the crater where a redwood stood … what else? Well, an international organization, REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), was set up … to basically exploit the conscience of rich countries into paying developing countries to practice abstinence from deforestation. The main focus of REDD is the tropical rainforest (understandably since they are magical wonderlands where unicorns live). The hard truth is that the countries where most of the rainforest lies are indeed developing countries that don’t have a lot of sophisticated alternatives to revenue besides exploiting their natural resources. To be fair, it’s what the US has been doing since before it was born.

There are other interesting ideas like establishing forest-carbon credits in the carbon market as a financial incentive to preserve forest. This means that countries with rainforest would naturally have forest-carbon credits and be able to trade them for their equivalent monetary value to other countries (so they can in effect, pollute more by paying for it).  I guess the credits are replenished over time, so they would be a constant revenue stream if they are maintained. Also, I guess nothing is sacred where monetization is concerned.

So who are we to tell them to take the higher route and earn their living through R&D, patent royalties, and information technology? Well, we can’t self-contain our pollution with the same geopolitical borders our countries use. So we are just going to have to use teamwork on this one.

Ways to feel empowered:

Sources: Economist (Sep 25, 2010), Guardian.co.uk

A Self-Professed Environmentalist’s Manifesto

What: Yet another blog in the blogosphere.

Yes – that’s the reaction I’m scared of. So I ask myself: why do I need a public space to spout my (often nonsensical) thoughts? Am I just another speck in the firmament of virtual media…. another online diary useful to myself and myself only, as a vehicle for catharsis?

Why: I’ve heard rock stars swear that the height of euphoria is achieved while they’re on stage, holding an audience captive to each note, each vocal wail. I’ll admit – I’m a victim of the same disposition – in that my most prolific, consistent work comes when I have an audience to receive it and react to it; thereby improving the quality.

Really why: Conclusively, this blog is for me, and ideally, for you too. First and foremost it’s my canvas for a deeply rooted passion that has progressively been institutionalized in academia, politics, and government over the years. Ever since I can remember, I was defacing my home with stickers of furry pandas captioned “Save the Planet”; like a squirrel diligently storing nuts for the winter, I mounted miscellaneous pieces on the pile of “recyclable” paper in our laundry room, dreaming it would be reincarnated into a more noble form. That passion and hope persists today (ask my roommate and coworkers).

Ask yourself: Think about the changes that have ravaged our planet since the dawn of industrialization – maybe in the past 200 years. Think about that 200 years in comparison to how long humans have been inhabiting, and probably can continue to inhabit, the Earth. The damage incurred over a relatively short period modern civilization is mind-boggling. The outrage deficit-hawks spew at TARP is the same outrage I feel … but is directed towards the cumulative environmental damage by irresponsible industrialization and commercialization. TARP is almost paid back, but one plastic container can take 1,000 years to biodegrade.

Ayn Rand: mankind’s progress and social responsibility do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Finally: So what am I trying to say? That this blog is about me, but my intention makes it inevitably about you too, and about both of us trying to live elegantly on this Earth.