Archive for October, 2008

Cancer

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

My wife has cancer. It started in her breast two years ago and progressed to her brain last year. It is terminal.

I inject this personal matter into the Deathstroke blog because it has taught me something about myself, about all of us: no one wants to hear bad news, particularly really bad news.

Quite soon after Judy’s initial diagnosis was made, well-meaning friends and family would call the house on a regular basis to see how she was doing. Each call would send an electric jolt through me as time and again I would be called upon to describe the details of her health and treatment, and of course, her prognosis. People don’t realize that your inner being wants to free itself from the realities of an ominous event — -to pretend if only for the here and now that things are going to go on as they always have. Reality asserts itself often enough — -in the slurred word, the stumbled step, in the letters “MRI” that daily approach on the wall calendar.

I realize that I have come to a position that, consciously or subconsciously, I drive the truth of what is coming from my active thoughts. I know that Judy has done this to a far greater extent than I. To be sure, there are moments of tears, even anguish when it all pours in, but for the most part the terrible reality of what is coming lies just beyond some invisible door that we have erected in our separate minds. I know that the day will soon come when the door will open, never to be closed again. But that day is not today. Judy and I can still live in the world that was, if only for just another day.

I raise all of this because I have come to realize that, as a species, we are doing on a global level what Judy and I am doing on a personal level — -we are consciously blocking out the reality of the most compelling truth in the history of mankind: that the world we live in has cancer.

By now, the symptoms are well known, and growing in number and intensity: the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere is rising dramatically; the Arctic and Antarctic ice caps are melting; the Great Barrier Reef will be dead by mid-century; Glacier National Park will soon have no glaciers; the honey bees are dying, the rain forests are disappearing, and the snows of Kilimanjaro will soon exist only in fiction. The list goes on. Our planet has cancer, and, like my beloved wife, I fear that it, too, is terminal.

I ask you: How are we reacting to this information? If we were told that an asteroid was going to strike the planet on June 11, 2011, we would be marshalling all of the resources of the planet to avert the threat, or to make certain that as many people as possible would survive it. Yet a catastrophe of equal magnitude is approaching. It comes for all of us — -for our spouses, our children, our grandchildren, our friends, even our beloved dogs and cats. I created Deathstroke to focus firmly on this horrendous truth. Yet, by and large, we ignore it. As a species, we have closed an invisible door so that we can go on believing that life as we know it will continue without interruption.

But the big difference between the invisible door Judy and I live behind and the one our world is living behind is that Judy’s cancer cannot be stopped. It is a certainty.

By contrast, the prognosis for the world is as yet uncertain. The scientists and others who have raised awareness of the climate crisis say that we can stop the coming disaster if we act decisively. But let me ask you this: Do you see us taking any decisive action on a global scale? Have we done anything meaningful to reduce mankind’s carbon footprint, let alone our individual ones? Or have we collectively closed that invisible door and picked up the remote to change from the Science Channel to American Idol?

No one wants to hear bad news. But some bad news needs to be heard, loud and clear. That is why I wrote Deathstroke — -to plant a stake firmly in the ground on the other side of those who say the crisis can be avoided. I am trying to say as forcefully as I possibly can, that if you don’t open that door and start acting quickly, you are going to inherit a planetary Deathstroke that cannot be reversed.

I start and end Deathstroke with the ominous phrase: “The Gorgoth is real. It comes for all of us.” It was, and it remains, a warning. It’s the bad news we can no longer afford to ignore.

Richard

Defining Moment in History

Monday, October 6th, 2008

“A defining moment in history”. We have all heard that phrase linked to some event, usually a major one.

December 7th, 1941, November 22, 1963, 9/11.

While the world went about its day-to-day routine, a major, critical defining moment came and went, virtually unnoticed by the media in the U.S., barely noticed in the rest of the world. May 1, 2008 was truly a date that provided definition.

On that date, Shell Oil Company announced that it was pulling out of the world’s largest wind generating project, the London Array, to pursue “more profitable” endeavors — -arguably, the black gold rush now taking place in northern Canada where the “tar sands” of Manitoba have become economically feasible in the new world of $100+/barrel oil.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/may/02/renewableenergy.royaldutchshell

The sands represent the world’s second largest oil field (second only to Saudi Arabia), and Shell will want its share of the gold. The wind farm was only “marginally profitable”, Shell declared as it threw the project under the bus. The withdrawal of its $1.3 billion share, roughly one third of the project cost, jeopardizes the entire project, leaving its other participants to scramble to fill the giant financial hole left by Shell.
Lost in the tiny headline was the fact that Shell’s contribution represented only a fraction of the profit it had announced just two days earlier: $8 billion dollars had been generated in three months, the largest return in company history.

The London Array was to have been the largest wind field ever constructed. It would have produced enough electricity to power one quarter of London’s homes. And, of course, all that power would have been generated without the emission of carbon into the atmosphere. Shell’s decision to abandon its share of the undertaking throws a brilliant spotlight onto a decision that mankind must make: just what is our future source of energy going to be? May 1, 2008 is a day that brings exceptional clarity to bear on that decision — -it is a Day of Definition.

Mankind has arrived at a true fork in the road. For the past 200 years, humanity has travelled a path based exclusively on carbon — -first coal, then oil. We have prospered beyond expectation because of this. But in the late 1970’s, we began to come to the realization that carbon might be toxic to the Earth’s atmosphere. As far back as 1896, it had been realized that a buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere could result in an increase in the world’s temperature. A scientist named G.S.Calendar tried raise public consciousness about the matter in the 30’s, but the whole issue went largely unnoticed until the environmental movement of the 70’s began to take a fresh look at the potential for disaster inherent in the atmospheric data. Those numbers, coupled with ominous data streaming in from the Venus probes (showing the disasterous effects of a runaway greenhouse), created a growing sense of alarm that man’s use of carbon could have a profound impact on the planet’s climate. Finally, in 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its findings, confirming that global warming was real, and that man’s use of carbon lay at the heart of it.
Enter the point of this discussion: the central issue presented by Shell’s withdrawal from the Array is one of criteria: upon what criteria should our future energy decisions be made? Shell’s decision to abandon the Array demonstrates that Shell considers the sole decision criteria to be one of “profitability” — -that it placed the Array in one pan of the scale and oil in the other. The scale promptly tipped in favor of carbon. Hence, Shell has packed its London bags and headed for Manitoba.
But the decision criteria can no longer be “what path is going to lead to the greatest return on investment?” Mankind stands at a perilous crossroad. We can turn to the left and continue to burn carbon, because it is cheaper, because we have a lot of investment in carbon-burning infrastructure, and, well, life can go on as it always has — -just pull up to the gas station and fill’er up.

Or we can make the right turn: bite the bullet and begin a global transition to a non-carbon reality. It’s not that it’s going to be some drastic, tighten-your-belt descent into a horse-and buggy world — -far from it. I have been driving an electric car for ten years now and have found it to be quite reliable and satisfactory http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_lSxhTatUU. “Sparky” is a bit of a throw-back in the world of convenience — -it has all of the creature comforts of a ‘75 Volkswagen, but I am sure that Detroit can come up with a state-of-the-art version of Sparky if they put their mind to it (GM’s Chevy “Volt” holds significant promise in this arena).

But I return to the central issue of this discussion. What is the decision criteria that we, as a species, are to use in determining which fork in the road should take for our future? It can no longer be simply one of profit. That mind set has led us to the cliff. It is time for all of us to demand that a finger be placed on the scale of that mode of thinking — -that we demand that the equation include the true cost of burning carbon. No one has ever required that the cost of cleaning up after carbon (global warming) be added to the up-front cost of a gallon of gas or a ton of coal. If it were, even the “profit” scale would tilt away from coal and oil.

We need to demand that our collective decision-makers, whether government or private industry, take the right fork in the road. We need to demand that the basis for making a decision as to which direction to go not be based upon profitability but upon the common good of future generations.

Shell’s decision to withdraw from the London Array provides us with a true “defining moment in history”. It provides a pair of glasses from which we can see into one of the most basic considerations facing mankind: is our future to be based solely upon the bottom line?
Post Note 1: It has been announced that German-based E.ON and Danish-based Dong Energy have agreed to take up Shell’s 1/3 interest. http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/07/worlds-largest-offshore-wind-farm-london-array-back-on.php

Post Note 2: My local paper has just reported that on October 1, Pfizer Inc., one of the world’s largest drug companies, has announced that it is “shifting its research focus to diseases that have a high potential for big profits” http://www.theolympian.com/business/story/602879.html. The Shell Oil decision process is not restricted to energy. Perhaps we should all pray that if we contract a serious disease, that it not be an obscure one. There just ain’t no money in it.

 

Don’t Make Global Warming a Partisan Issue

Monday, October 6th, 2008

     I was very surprised and distressed at something that I saw on television last Thursday following the Biden/Palin Debate.  One of the networks showed an audience of Palin supporters watching the debate.  The clip registered their reactions to various moments in the debate — -they would cheer when Sarah “stuck it” to Biden, and boo when the opposite happened.  But what shocked and dismayed me was their reaction to the issue of global warming.  When Palin suggested that it was not man-made, the group errupted in cheers.  That’s when I realized that it has become an “us versus them” issue in the political arena — -another ping pong ball in a basket of ping pong balls that includes gay marriage, offshore drilling, health care and taxes.

     Listen, friends, we cannot allow this important issue to become politicised — -to be just another “Democrats versus Republicans” issue.  It is far too important.  For the good of our nation, and for the good of the planet, it must become the undertaking of a bi-partisan approach, an undertaking that first and foremost agrees that global warming is taking place, and then JOINTLY procedes to take action to deal with it.  We cannot afford to lose a minute because of partisan wrangling, and finger-pointing.  It is a time for all of us to come together, not pull apart.   Save the eye-gouging for issues of great pitch and moment — -lapel pins, for example.

Sincerely,

Richard

HOLY OLE! I’M DRINKING ELECTRIC TOILET WATER!

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

Several years ago, my brother-in-law, Jim, mentioned a peculiar discovery he had made in a house he had just bought.He was doing his business when he noticed that his toilet was plugged into an outlet.Upon further examination, he discovered that the wires led to a heating element in the tank.Someone had installed this special toilet in order to prevent the water from freezing.

Now that may be all good and well if Jim lived near the arctic circle, you know, Fairbanks, or Nome, or one of those places.But we live in Western Washington where it gets below freezing maybe five days a year.It’s only hit zero once in my entire life, and that was in 1950 — -(it left an indelible impression on me because all of the kids went to see the remnants of Bobby Fowler’s tongue stuck to the shinny pole in the playground).

But the point of all of this is that someone, for some reason, decided to install and electric-heated toilet in Olympia, Washington.For years, the little robot chugged happily along, heating water that didn’t need to be heated.

Some time later, I came to realize that this was a very useful image — -a device that uses electricity to perform a function that absolutely did not need to be performed. An Electric Toilet! The essence of the concept of wasted energy!

That got me started thinking.Do I have any electric toilets in my house?Of course not.What do you think I am, stupid?

Then, a little later, I grabbed my battery-powered 24V mega electric drill and headed for the front screen door to tighten a screw.It didn’t work because the battery had gone dead.But no problema!I keep a spare plugged in for just such an emergency.I pulled the fully charged battery out of the charger and dropped the dead one back in its place. That’s when I felt the new battery — -it was warm.But I hadn’t used it in six months.Do you mean to tell me that it just keeps on charging even when it’s fully charged!?

That’s when it hit me, Holy Ole, Patron Saint of Norway! I own an electric toilet!

Then I looked over at the other chargers lined up in a neat row:the Sawsall, the Mansfield Swivel-Top-Do-Two-Things-at-Once Drill (not sold in any stores!), and my Duwalt everything kit.Four electric toilets all neatly plugged into a surge-protector strip with its own bright red L.E.D. lighting up the corner of the work bench like a Yule tree.And to think, it all started with a loose screw I could have just tightened with one of those old…what were those things called?

With some trepidation, I began to walk around the house with a new pair of glasses on — -what was that dreadful movie where some guy put on a pair of sun glasses and suddenly he could see that there were aliens everywhere masquerading as humans?Well, there were electric toilets everywhere!The electric knife was plugged into the surge strip next to the coffee maker with its little twinkle light and clock.I never use that clock, because the one on the stove is easier to read, or the one above the sink, or the one built into the fridge.I looked down at my watch—aha!Saved by the bell!My watch is a Sieko kinetic — -it winds itself with this little weight that swings around each time I blow my nose.(Actually, I was crushed to find out later that there’s a battery in there somewhere.)

I didn’t dare go up to the computer room.That jungle of wires all leads to surge strips — -a bunch of ‘em.Despondent, I slinked off to the couch and picked up the remote to the plasma screen and turned on the news.I think Al Gore was getting his Nobel Prize that night, but I didn’t pay any attention.I had just learned I was living in a toilet!

Since that night, I have seen electric toilets everywhere.Our entire way of life is filled with them.I’m not going to list all of the dozens I have discovered in my own house.I think I will leave this site open for whoever reads this to add their own toilets to the list.

THE ELECTRIC TOILET LIST

I will leave this section with the latest alien to show up in my glasses.

We keep a six-pack of bottled water in the car.If we’re thirsty or need to take a pill or something, you just grab one.“Crack!”We’ve all heard the plastic cap break open.Guzzle, guzzle, guzzle!Ahhh!

Then it dawned on me.Why am I drinking water from a plastic bottle!?When did we decide that our filtered tap water wasn’t getting it done.Somehow, almost all of us have accepted the proposition that it makes some kind of sense to have someone on the other side of the planet take their tap water, run it through a filter, shove it into a carbonized plastic bottle using an electric powered bottling machine, load it onto a pallet which is picked up by a gas-spewing forklift and dropped into a gas-spewing semi, shipped to a waiting gas-spewing ship in a harbor, where its carried half way around the world to have the process repeated until it reaches the shelf of my neighborhood Safeway.

UGHHH!

I’M DRINKING ELECTRIC TOILET WATER!

 

The truth is that it doesn’t make sense.In a very real sense, it’s nearly a crime.We use carbon to make plastic bottles, to bottle up water, and ship it all over the world to places where people have their own very acceptable drinking water.It only makes sense to an economic system that reduces the matter to a single question: “Can I make money doing it?”Obviously, that question is answered in the affirmative or else the water wouldn’t be on the grocery shelf.But that equation should and must be subjected to a carbon veto.And so should many other products that spew carbon dioxide into the air just to perform a function that doesn’t really need to be performed.

It is part of what we need to change as a species.We have wandered down a carbon brick road until the very existence of all life on this planet is in peril.We need to see the electric toilets for what they are, and we need to accept the responsibility not to use them any more.

I have to say, the best turkey I ever ate was the one my Grandpa cut with a hand-sharpened knife that sub-freezing January day in 1950.